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July 2006

The Internet Is Useless!

It cannot answer a simple yet urgent question: why isn't K.T. Tunstall's "Suddenly I See"--the opening credits song--on "The Devil Wears Prada" soundtrack album?

The Devil Wears Prada Soundtrack @ Movie Music . com: Music by various artists for the 2006 movie. Released 7/11/2006 on the Warner Bros label, catalog number 44383. Tracklisting:

  1. Vogue - Madonna
  2. Bittersweet Faith - BitterSweet
  3. City of Blinding Lights - U2
  4. Seven Days in Sunny June - Jamiroquai
  5. Crazy - Alanis Morissette
  6. Beautiful - Moby
  7. How Come - Ray LaMontagne
  8. Sleep - Azure Ray
  9. Feelin Hypnotized - DJ Colette
  10. Tres Tres Chic - Mocean Worker
  11. Here I Am - Keenan, Tamra, David Morales
  12. Score Suite - Theodore Shapiro

FIRST DRAFT: SYLLABUS: Economics 101b Fall 2006

FIRST DRAFT: SYLLABUS: Economics 101b Fall 2006:

Before class begins: background reading: chapters 1, 2, and 3 of DeLong and Olney...


Week of August 22: DeLong and Olney, ch. 4: The Theory of Economic Growth
Week of August 29: DeLong and Olney, ch. 5: The Reality of Economic Growth


Week of September 5: DeLong and Olney, ch. 6: Building Blocks of the Flexible-Price Model
Week of September 12: DeLong and Olney, ch. 7: Equilibrium in the Flexible-Price Model
Week of September 19: DeLong and Olney, ch. 8: Money, Prices, and Inflation in the Flexible-Price Model


September 26: REVIEW


Week of October 3: DeLong and Olney, chs. 9-10: The Sticky-Price Framework: THe IS Curve
Week of October 10: DeLong and Olney, ch. 12: The Phillips Curve, Expectations, and Monetary Policy
Week of October 17: DeLong and Olney, chs. 13 and 15: Stabilization Policy
Week of October 24: DeLong and Olney, ch. 14: Budget Balance, National Debt, and Investment

October 31: REVIEW


Possible topics include:

  • America's Huge Trade Deficit
  • Japan's Decade-Long Slump
  • Europe's High Unemployment
  • America's "New Economy"
  • Emerging Market Financial Crises
  • U.S. Income Inequality
  • Reform in Eastern Europe
  • The East Asian Miracles
  • The Rise of China
  • The Rise [?] of India


This is the short and sketchy syllabus for Economics 101b, Intermediate Macroeconomics. I have found that putting out a long, complete, and detailed syllabus at the start of this particular class never works well: things wind up going either much more quickly and smoothly or much more slowly and bumpily than the syllbabus expects. So we will start out, we will see how we do, and we will adjust along the way.

Things to Read:

  1. The intermediate macroeconomics textbook I am most comfortable with is the one that I and Marty Olney have written. DeLong and Olney (2005), Macroeconomics 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin)
  2. Here is our explanation of why we wrote it the way we did:
  3. The Economic Report of the President, available online at
  4. Recent economic data at

Course Details:

This is the go-faster and do-more version of intermediate macroeconomics--the study of the determination of output, production, income, employment, and prices in the economy as a whole. Since this is a go-faster do-more course, we will go faster and do more. As a group, the class will be made up of people comfortable using calculus, so we'll feel free to use it in lectures, handouts, and in problem sets (and on exams). If you aren't comfortable using calculus, you probably don't belong here and may well not have a good time...

We are keenly aware that almost everybody signing up for this course could alternatively take and do very well in Economics 100b. We are anxious not to have students vote with their feet for an easier course and learn less because they fear the consequences of lowering their grade point average. Therefore this course will have a high curve: the idea is that nobody should get a lower grade than they would have gotten had they decided to take Economics 100b instead.

There will be three exams: a first midterm on September 28 (primarily to serve as a reality check for the instructors), a second midterm on November 2, and a final on TBA. These three exams count for two-thirds of your grade. No makeups will be offered. Miss one exam and the other two will be upweighted. Miss two exams and do not expect to pass.

The rest of students' grade will depend on class and section participation and on problem sets--fail to hand it in on time, no credit; hand in a piece of paper with markings on it, half credit; hand in a piece of paper that represents a serious and largely successful attempt to answer all the questions, full credit. Problem sets will be due on Tuesdays at the very start of lecture.

Hoisted from Comments: RT Watches Tom Ricks Take a Dive on NPR

An observation on Tom Ricks:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post Edition): Ricks was on NPR yesterday afternoon, on Bob Edwards' Sunday afternoon show. He discussed Congress' failures, the media's failures, etc. during the run-up to war and during the early stages of the war.

When he discussed Congress' failures, he pretty much did a 'both sides are to blame' number, pointing out Congress' unwillingness to hold hearings, the Dems' lack of interest in asking hard questions for fear of seeming unpatriotic, and the GOP's unwillingness to go up against the White House.

Driving down I-95, I kept on yelling at the radio, "the REPUBLICAN CONGRESS' failure to hold hearings!!!"

Damned hard for the Dems to ask good questions if there isn't a hearing to ask them at.

But Ricks just did the usual media thing of apportioning blame evenly between the parties, despite the reality that only one of those parties was in a position to initiate oversight.

I appreciate his contribution to the historical record, but he still hasn't broken out of the boxes that have kept the media from reporting honestly.

Posted by: RT | July 31, 2006 at 12:08 PM.

The End of Checklist Liberalism

Mark Schmitt has smart things to say, as usual:

The End of Checklist Liberalism | TPMCafe: Two comments on Adam Nagourney's Lieberman story yesterday:

  1. It's not said explicitly, but it sure does sound like the Party Of One option is now considered likely to fizzle. Nagourney focuses only on the way in which the move alienated Democrats, and says, "should Mr. Lieberman lose the primary, all indications are that most Democratic leaders will abandon him in the general election race." Even David Broder, painfully unable to understand what's happening and dreaming that sanity will one day return - "the early successes of these elitist insurgents have been followed by decisive defeats when a broader public weighs in" - seems to have little hope that the general election in Connecticut will be that return to normalcy. Lieberman, I'm told, calculated that he had a 50% chance of winning the primary and an 85% chance of winning the general as an independent, making his decision obvious. But of course that was a terrible miscalculation, because among other things it failed to factor in the effect of the decision itself. If he had a 50% chance of winning the primary the day before the election, that chance dropped enormously the day after, as both Nagourney and Broder say. And there was never an 85% chance of winning the general after being tagged as a loser, with Democratic officials and donors unable to help, with 40% of the vote sufficient for victory. I point this out only because you read it here first.

  2. Nagourney writes: "Mr. Clinton had told him to acknowledge that Democrats should be able to hold contrary opinions on the war, Mr. Lieberman recounted. But Mr. Clinton also recommended that Mr. Lieberman aggressively try to refocus the debate on other topics." A longtime associate spoke of sending an e-mail message to Mr. Lieberman suggesting that he talk about domestic issues important to liberal Democrats: blocking oil drilling in Alaska, protecting affirmative action and preserving abortion rights. Is "refocus the debate on other topics" really brilliant, insightful advice for Lieberman? Hasn't he been trying to change the topic? Isn't the whole point that that's not working? And what about Clinton? This is the guy who is assumed to be the de facto strategist-in-chief for the front-running Dem 08 candidate. Is "refocus the debate" the best he can do? Or, "acknowledge that Democrats should be able to hold contrary opinions on the war," which if Lieberman can't or won't do, he's got some serious problems. (If Lieberman won't even acknowledge that views other than his own are legitimate within the party, then who's the unyielding ideologue here?)

And then the second paragraph, which I think says it all about why the mainstream Democrat advice to Lieberman misses the point. This paragraph is not attributed to Clinton, although its positioning implies that it expands on the advice Clinton gave. It's a great expression of the Democratic Party of 1996: You got your enviros, you got your minorities, you got your women. Each group has one issue. For the enviros, it's ANWR (the most trivial of victories, but the one that raises the money). For the minorities, affirmative action. (Likewise, of minor relevance to the actual structure of economic opportunity for most African-Americans and Latinos.) For women, it's all about "preserve abortion rights." There are a couple others, but those are the basic buttons you press to be credentialed as a good liberal Democrat. After you press them, you can do whatever you want.

But has Lieberman failed to press those buttons? No! In fact, he's been pounding on them like that guy at the elevator who thinks that if he presses "Down" hard enough and often enough, eventually the elevator will recognize how important and how late he is.

But it's not working. Why? Two reasons: One of course is that Iraq, and the constellation of foreign policy and security failures it represents really is huge. And while Democrats can accept a fairly wide range of viewpoints, roughly from Biden's make-it-work to Murtha's get-out-now, only Lieberman's stay-the-course is ridiculous. It's pretty difficult to look at ANWR and Iraq and conclude that a good position on ANWR more than offsets a bad one on Iraq. (Especially if there's no reason to think that Ned Lamont has a different position on ANWR or the other three buttons.)

The second reason is that Lamont supporters actually aren't ideologues. They aren't looking for the party to be more liberal on traditional dimensions. They're looking for it to be more of a party. They want to put issues on the table that don't have an interest group behind them - like Lieberman's support for the bankruptcy bill -- because they are part of a broader vision. And I think that's what blows the mind of the traditional Dems. They can handle a challenge from the left, on predictable, narrow-constituency terms. But where do these other issues come from? These are "elitist insurgents," as Broder puts it - since when do they care about bankruptcy? What if all of a sudden you couldn't count on Democratic women just because you said that right things about choice - what if they started to vote on the whole range of issues that affect women's economic and personal opportunities?

But caring about bankruptcy, even if you're not teetering on the brink of it or a bankruptcy lawyer yourself, is part of a vision of a just society. And a vision of a just society - not just the single-issue push-buttons of a bunch of constituency groups - is what a center-left political party ought to be about. And at the end of this fight, I don't expect that we'll have a more leftist Democratic Party, but one that can at least begin to get beyond checklist liberalism.

FIRST DRAFT: Economics 210a Fall-Winter 2006-2007


SYLLABUS: Economics 210a: Introduction to Economic History: Fall-Winter 2006-2007

University of California at Berkeley

Barry Eichengreen (Evans 603, W 2-4, 2-0926,
Brad DeLong (Evans 601, W 11-12, 2-3, 3-4027,

Course Purpose

Economics 210a is required of Ph.D. students in Economics, and is taken in the first year of the graduate program. Graduate students in other degree programs may enroll subject to the availability of space and with the instructors' approval. The course is designed to introduce a selection of themes from the contemporary economic history literature. While themes are presented chronologically, the purpose of the course is not to present a narrative account of world economic history. Instead, emphasis is placed on the uses of economic theory and quantitative methods in history and on the insights that a knowledge of history can give to the practicing economist.

Course Requirements

Class meetings will consist of a mixture of lecture and discussion. When the course goes well, it is primarily discussion; when the course goes badly, it is primarily lecture. Because discussion will focus on the issues raised, resolved, and left unanswered by the assigned readings, readings should be completed before class. To encourage doing the reading in advance, a 200 word (or more) typewritten "reaction" to one or more of that week's assigned articles is due at the beginning of each class. An informed contribution to the class counts significantly toward students' grades.

The course requires a final research paper of 20 pages or so--in order to keep your prose-writing muscles from atrophying in the first year of grduate school. This paper should go beyond summarizing or synthesizing some subliterature of economic history: students should use the tools of economic theory and empirical analysis to pose and answer an historical question. The paper should have historical substance; this is not a requirement in applied economics or econometrics that can be satisfied by relabeling the variables in theoretical models taught elsewhere in the program or by mechanically applying modern statistical techniques to old data. More on the paper guidelines can be found below.

The course also requires a--cumulative, open book--final exam at the end of the course. Think of the exam, the paper, and the reading-reactions and classroom discussion as carrying equal weight.

Course Readings (fall 2006)

October 18: The Curse of Malthus: Was the Agricultural Revolution a Big Mistake?

October 25: Escape from the Malthusian Trap: The Demographic Transition

November 1: "Surplus" and "Embedded" Economies

November 8: Economic Institutions

November 15: Commercial and Industrial Revolutions

November 29: The Creation of Industrial Societies

December 6: The New World

December 13: The First Global Economy

Paper Assignment Guidelines

The final paper required for Economics 210a is a research paper due on the last Friday before spring vacation. We take the word research seriously: the paper should provide new information or evidence on a topic in economic history. It should not merely summarize an existing literature in the field. The writing and submission process requires that you meet two benchmarks: submit approximately ten pages' worth of a literature review and a statement of your hypotheses by the last day of hte fall semester. Aim for roughly 20 pages.


The paper may cover almost any topic in economic history. You are certainly not limited to the material covered in 210a. You may, for example, work on time periods or countries of particular interest to you. The only requirement is that the topic must genuinely involve the past. Comparisons of past and current events are certainly fine, but studies of developments solely after 1973 are not.


As the readings on the syllabus make clear, historical evidence comes in a wide range of form and styles. It is often empirical, but not always. Sometimes the key evidence is just a list of goods traded or what policymakers said they were trying to accomplish. With empirical evidence, tables and graphs of important variables are often enough to make a compelling argument.

The key requirement is that you present some historical evidence. That is, you must have some data or narrative evidence from the past. A theoretical model can certainly be a part of a good history paper, but it needs to be grounded in historical fact. You would need to justify the assumptions and format of the model with detailed analysis of the institutions and economic variables of the time. (This is what would make the paper suitable for an economic history course as opposed to a course in economic theory.) Similarly, statistical and econometric analysis can be part of a good history paper, but the analysis again needs to be grounded in historical fact. It would have to explain how the methods are suited to the nature of the data — that is, to the time from which they come and to the way they were generated. (This is what would make the paper suitable for an economic history course, as opposed to a course in applied econometrics.)


Good papers do come in a wide variety of sizes. However, for this assignment aim at a length of ten pages or so for the literature review, and more for the final paper. A final paper less than 15 pages tends to make your instructors suspicious, while a final paper more than 25 pages tends to make your instructors cranky.

Successful Paper Topics from Previous Years

Coming up with a promising paper topic is arguably the most useful part of this whole exercise. Your entire graduate career (indeed, for most of you, your entire career) will center around identifying interesting questions to be answered. For this reason, we will not give you a list of topics (though we often toss them out in the course of class discussion). Instead, we will describe the type of topics that have been successful in the past and suggest ways of finding similarly successful topics.

  1. A comment on an interesting paper: Perhaps the easiest type of paper to write is a comment on an existing paper. Such comments often turn out to be more important than the original work. Think about flaws in some paper that you read. Is there selection bias? Has the author left out a potentially crucial variable? One year a student noticed a footnote in a paper by on the reading list that said one observation had been left out of the figure because it was so large relative to the others. This same extreme observation was included in the empirical analysis. The student got the data and showed that his results depended crucially on this one observation.
  2. A comparison of past events with present events: Few economic events have no historical antecedents. If there is a modern development you are interested in, you could look for its historical roots or counterparts. For example, so much has been written about the rise of the Internet and the revolution in communication in the 1990s. How do these developments compare to the rise of the telegraph and the telephone? The rise of TV and radio? Were there similar changes in investment in the 1890s as in the 1990s? One year a student looked at how the U.S. experience with free banking in the mid-19th century compared to some of the developments in European currency relationships in the 1990s.
  3. Analysis of an interesting source: While it is not a good idea to let data availability drive your topic, it is perfectly reasonable to let serendipity play a role. Have you come across an unusual source in the library or during your undergraduate years? Is there an interesting question that this source could be used to answer? One year a student came across the catalogs for the 1851 World’s Fair. She had the idea that these descriptions of what each country exhibited could be used as a measure of innovation. She wrote a paper looking at the industrial composition of innovation across countries. Another student was looking through newspapers from San Francisco in the 1870s. He found many classified ads that read something like: "Wanted — man to work in store and loan store $1000." This student wondered why companies would tie employment and loans. He wrote a paper investigating whether ads such as these were a sign of credit market imperfections or a way of ensuring worker loyalty and honesty.
  4. A new test of an old debate: A very successful way to write papers follows the example of Peter Temin’s article on British trade during the Industrial Revolution found on this course's reading list. Take some interesting debate in economic history and come up with a clever, alternative way of testing it. Usually, such a test involves using a new type of data. For example, if everyone has been using quantities, think about a way to use prices. An example of this type of paper involves the debate over how business cycles have changed over time. One researcher suggested that instead of fighting over very imperfect estimates of real GDP, one could look at stock prices as an indicator of the volatility of the macroeconomy.
  5. A natural experiment: Just as one should be on the lookout for interesting sources, one should also be thinking about interesting events. History is full of natural experiments--some weird tax is passed, a war is fought, a new regulation is imposed. Often such experiments can be used to answer crucial questions in economics--for example, what the changing speed with which liberty ships were built during World War II tells us about the size of learning-by-doing effects.

There are few economic historians. There is lots of economic history. Paper topics lie thick on the ground.

Gail Russell Chadwick: Find a Different Profession, Please (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

Ezra Klein writes:

Ezra Klein: Mike Pence: No "Fiscal Hawk": By Neil the Ethical Werewolf: Gail Russell Chaddock's article on the GOP estate tax bill in the Christian Science Monitor:

"I want permanent death tax relief. But I cannot in good conscience vote for a bill that also contains an excessive minimum wage increase that will hurt small businesses and cost American jobs," said Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana, a fiscal hawk.

Why is Pence being called a "fiscal hawk" for liking a tax cut that screws up American fiscal policy? (I doubt that this is a sly reference to the way that hawks have screwed up our foreign policy.) Pence likes spending cuts, but fiscal policy has two sides, and an estate tax cut would knock a $300,000,000,000 hole in the budget over ten years. While there is general media awareness that spending more increases deficits, the equally obvious fact that tax cuts increase deficits seems to be beyond their ken.

Because Gail Russell Chaddock of the Christian Science Monitor is in the tank, and needs to find a new profession?

Today's History Lesson

It was one of the strangest and most bizarre--most pathetic and tragic--episodes in Middle Eastern history ever. As a result of the strange bloodthirsty vicissitudes of European politics, they showed up on the easter shore of the Mediterranean. Battling their way inland with deeds of great nobility, great courage, great destruction, and great atrocity, they conquered Jerusalem and set up their state in the small area between the Jordan River and the sea.

The surrounding Muslims were horrified. They weren't Muslims! They were infidels! But they were powerful infidels--well-organized, ideologically committed to their cause, with superior military organization, weapons, and doctrine. The lightly-armed and largely untrained Arab and Egyptian militias couldn't stand against them. Besides, the local Muslim princes had other fish to fry. They would talk about the necessity of eliminating this horrible, monstrous, un-Muslim regime. They would contribute money toward its elimination. They even fought a few--largely disastrous--wars and eventually learned the lesson of their tactical inferiority on the pitched battlefield. But it was an annoyance only. The real power politics Muslim the shifting alliances and betrayals among the major powers of the Arab world: the Turks, the Egyptians, the Persians, Damascus, and Baghdad continued their dance.

All might have ended happily except for the unpleasant, premature death of that noble statesman dedicated to peaceful coexistence and to honor and cooperation. Peaceful coexistence required that the Jerusalem regime never become more than a minor irritant, less worrisome to Damascus and Baghdad and Cairo than they were to each other. But after the death of the last statesman to rule in Jerusalem, a harsher, stupider current rose to power--one that talked of the "clash of civilizations."

It is hard to say when the line was finally crossed. Perhaps it was the slaughter of the pilgrim ships to Mecca--even though the Jerusalem government's denials that it had intended or authorized the atrocity were convincing. Perhaps it was the raids that touched the major princes. There was a clear shift when Egypt joined the confrontation front. The alien Jerusalem regime changed from being a minor irritant to being a unifying focus for the Muslim world. Support from the west dried up--it had other concerns. The Arabs plus the Egyptians unified--the Turks and the Persians remained aloof, and their united and focused power was greatly multiplied.

On July 4, 1187 A.D.--25 Rabi al-Akhir 583 A.H.--the armies of King Joe the Winner, son of Job, called "the Righteousness of Faith"--that is, al-Malik un-Nasir Salah-ed-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub--destroyed the crusader army at the Horns of Hattin on the road to the Sea of Galilee, and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem died.

Ehud Olmert is not Guy de Lusignan. Dan Halutz is not Gerard de Ridefort. Yitzhak Rabin was not Baldwin IV, the Leper King of Jerusalem. Nobody--great thanks be to the Holy One of Israel--looks to be Reynaud de Chatillon. History does not repeat itself.

But it does sometimes rhyme.

Paul Krugman on Joe Lieberman

Paul Krugman on Joe Lieberman 16 months ago:

The $600 Billion Man - The Archive - The New York Times: In his Jan. 15 radio address, President Bush made a startling claim: ''According to the Social Security trustees, waiting just one year adds $600 billion to the cost of fixing Social Security.'' The $600 billion cost of each year's delay has become a standard administration talking point.... In fact... Bush was grossly misrepresenting the meaning of a technical discussion of accounting issues... which has nothing to do with the cost of delaying changes in the retirement program. The same type of ''infinite horizon'' calculation applied to the Bush tax cuts says that their costs rise by $1 trillion a year. That's not a useful measure of the cost of not repealing those cuts immediately.

So anyone who repeats the $600 billion line is helping to spread a lie.... [I]n his latest radio address, Mr. Bush -- correctly, this time -- attributed the $600 billion figure to a ''Democrat leader.'' He was referring to Senator Joseph Lieberman, who, for some reason, repeated the party line -- the Republican party line -- the previous Sunday. My guess is that Mr. Lieberman thought he was being centrist and bipartisan, reaching out to Republicans by showing that he shares their concerns.... [But] Mr. Lieberman gave the administration cover by endorsing its fake numbers....

Meanwhile, the party missed a big opportunity to make its case against increasing families' risk by acquiescing to the credit card industry's demand for harsher bankruptcy laws.... Mr. Lieberman stated clearly what was wrong with the bankruptcy bill: ''It failed to close troubling loopholes that protect wealthy debtors, and yet it deals harshly with average Americans facing unforeseen medical expenses or a sudden military deployment,'' making it unfair to ''working Americans who find themselves in dire financial straits through no fault of their own.'' A stand against the bill would have merged populism with patriotism, highlighting Democrats' differences with Republicans' vision of America. But many Democrats chose not to take that stand. And Mr. Lieberman was among them: his vote against the bill was an empty gesture. On the only vote that opponents of the bill had a chance of winning -- a motion to cut off further discussion -- he sided with the credit card companies. To be fair, so did 13 other Democrats. But none of the others tried to have it both ways.

It isn't always bad politics to say things that aren't true and claim to support things you actually oppose: just look at who's running the country. But Democrats who engage in these tactics right now create big problems for a party that has been given a special chance -- maybe its last chance -- to remind the country of what Democrats stand for, and why.

What was most interesting was Lieberman's response: he counterattacked, claiming to know more about economics than Paul Krugman:

Protecting Social Security - The Archive - The New York Times: To the Editor:

Paul Krugman (''The $600 Billion Man,'' column, March 15) claims that when I say that every year we do nothing about Social Security's coming insolvency we add $600 billion in unfunded liabilities, I am ''helping to spread a lie.''

Nonsense. Experts we've consulted at the Social Security Administration have confirmed this estimate.

Everyone knows that Social Security is on a path to insolvency. Every year that we wait to make the program solvent will cost us more.

I know that Mr. Krugman opposes the president's carved-out private savings accounts. So do I. But if we stop there, the victims will be tens of millions of seniors who need Social Security to escape poverty.

As a columnist, Mr. Krugman has the right to just say no. As a lawmaker, I have a responsibility to work with other members of Congress in both parties and with the administration to protect this great program.

And as a Democrat, I feel a special responsibility to preserve one of my party's most effective initiatives ever.

Joe Lieberman

Certainly Lieberman does not believe he needs support from the reality-based community.

Recently in Shrillblog!

Recently in Shrillblog--the Official Weblog of the Ancient, Hermetic and Occult Order of the Shrill: those (i) who were formerly well-anchored in sanity; but (ii) who have been driven into shrill unholy madness by the mendacity, malevolence, disconnection from reality and sheer incompetence of George W. Bush, his administration, his acolytes, and his enablers; and (iii) who now ululate their shrill screeds of Bush-hatred beneath the dead uncaring stars:

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post Edition)

A little more than a week ago, we were sent rolling on the floor in howls of laughter after reading this sentence by Washington Post White House reporter Michael Abramowitz:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another Washington Post Edition): It has not helped the neoconservative case, perhaps, that the occupation of Iraq has not gone as smoothly as some had predicted...

with its unmistakeable echoes of the Emperor Hirohito's surrender broadcast at the end of World War II:

Whiskey Bar: The Hirohito Effect: "Despite the best that has been done by everyone... the war situation has developed not necessarily to our advantage."

A number of Washington Post staffers told me that they thought Abramowitz intended his sentence to be read straight. But I couldn't quite believe it. So I wrote to Abramowitz and asked him whether the echoes of Hirohito were intentional, and he was being snarky.

He doesn't dare to reply.

So it is true. Abramowitz's sentence does indeed reveal how pathetically, incompetently, ridiculously weak he is: somebody who dares not do more than hint at the truth about the occupation of Iraq--that the occupation of Iraq has been a huge, horrible fiasco because of the incompetence, disconnection from reality, malevolence, and mendacity of the Bush administration--because if he does somebody might call him up and speak harshly to him. Somebody who thinks making a huge joke of himself is preferable to crossing White House media affairs in even a small way.

Tom Ricks's Fiasco talks about the failures of the American press corps, including the Washington Post--about the media's "inability... to find alternate sources of information [outside the Bush administration] about Iraq and the threat it did or didn't present to the United States," and because "Republicans weren't going to confront their own president and the Democrats were enfeebled.... The media didn't stand up because they had no one to quote."

But what's Abramowitz's excuse today? He has plenty of people to quote. Alternate sources of information abound. The example of Michael Abramowitz indicates that Ricks should have written "The media didn't stand up because they did not want to."

Thinking Aloud...

Would making Berkeley's first-year economics Ph.D. graduate students this fall read short biographies of William Gates and William Marshall as a way of getting at the idea that there are non-market societies that work very differently from our own today--would that be a teaching idea of extraordinary brilliance or of total insane lunacy?

Guillaime de Marechal:

The New York Review of Books: The Knight of Knights: Maurice Keen

William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry
by Georges Duby, translated by Richard Howard
Pantheon, 155 pp., $15.95

Duby opens this biography... at the deathbed of William Marshal, called "the Marshal." He died at his manor of Caversham, whither he had been carried by water from London, in March of the year 1219.... William in 1219 was a very great man: earl of Pembroke in his wife's right, and up to the spring of 1219 he had been regent for the boy-king Henry III; so his death was a great event.... We see the master of the Temple arrive to admit him to his order: this is when he bids farewell to his countess, whom afterwards, as one bound by the order's rule, he must not approach. We see him ordering h s coffers to be opened and his goods distributed. Finally, we watch the stately progress of his body from Caversham to London....

[T]he verse biography that William's heir commissioned of his father... virtually the only full-scale life story that has survived from this age of a great secular magnate who was less than a king or prince. Put together from what William's friends, and above all his faithful knight John d'Erley, could recall of what William himself had told them of his life, it is at one remove only from the memoirs of the man himself. Above all, it is exceptional in that it traces the whole story, from childhood (and the moving tale of how, as a boy hostage in the civil wars, he played games with King Stephen in the royal tent before besieged Newbury) down to the very end....

Born (somewhere about 1145) as the fourth son of a baron of distinctly middling rank, he started life without prospects; for the last two years before his death he was virtually ruler of England. He had carved the way for himself, almost literally, with his sword. In the crucial early days—-and really, indeed, down to his marriage in 1189—-he was carried forward by his knightly prowess, displayed on the battlefield and in countless tournaments that were disputed scarcely less briskly th n battles. His great chance came when, in 1170, Henry II of England singled him out to be the tutor in knighthood of his fifteen-year-old heir. Henry "the young king."...

This young Henry had been crowned in 1167, but his father granted him no share in the government of his widely flung territories (this drove the frustrated young prince into rebellion in 1173). That rebellion apart, he and his household—-and William with it—-led over the next decade an extravagant and fairly aimless life in northern France, which centered principally on a constant round of tournaments: "Almost every week, tournaments were held in one place or another." These tournaments were very rough affairs, mock battles ranging widely over the countryside; and fatalities were common. Yet both the "high barons" and the young knights-errant who formed their followings flocked to them. There were two great attractions: the glory that could be won in them and the prospect of rich pickings, since those who were taken prisoner were put to ransom.... William built a distinguished reputation, on his loyalty and on his skill and valor in combat, and also on his generosity, for of his own prizes he kept nothing, distributing largess recklessly among his companions.

These three qualities, loyalty, valor, and largess, were, as Duby stresses, the nucleus of the tough, martial, knightly ethic of the twelfth century.... In 1183 Henry the young king died at his castle of Martel on the Dordogne, and it fell to William to discharge on his behalf the vow that he had taken to go on crusade... when he returned from the Holy Land, with his fame still further enhanced, he was taken into the personal service of his late master's father, Henry II himself. In the old king's last years he served him with the same loyalty that he had shown his dead son, and this good service brought him at last reward of the kind for which every adventurer of his stamp hoped, the promise of marriage to an heiress in the king's gift... Isabella, daughter of Richard Strongbow, earl of Clare, lord of Pembroke, and lord too of wide lands in Normandy, by Aoife, daughter of Dermot, king of Leinster, who had brought to Richard his claim to the lordship of Leinster in Ireland. When William married her, just after the accession of Richard I, he exchanged overnight the status of a poor if famous knightly adventurer for that of one of the greatest lords of the Angevin dominions in England, France, and Ireland. From this point forward, he was at the center of affairs in a new way, and one that opened new problems, new tensions, and new tests of loyalty.

The difficulty here, as Professor Duby explains lucidly, was the crisscrossing of feudal allegiances.... The lands that William now held in Ireland he held not of Richard I, his lord in England and Normandy, but of Richard's restive and untrustworthy brother John. When John became king and lost his hold on Normandy, William's lands there came to be held of John's enemy, King Philip of France.... Loyalty, carefully, scrupulously but at the same time often schemingly maintained, had been the theme of William Marshal's life history; that and his courage. It is a splendid story, and Professor Duby tells it splendidly... he uses it as the vehicle for his perceptions about the aristocratic society of the age... his sharpest attention is concentrated on the early period of the Marshal's life, when he was a "bachelor knight" in the service of the "young" Henry... the significance of the bands of young adventurers, cadets mostly and consequently landless, who made up the martial followings of the high baronage and of its heirs—-adventurers of whom William was a prime example. The way of life and aspirations of these unsettled men at the fringes of seigneurial society were, Duby argues, important factors in promoting the contemporary craze for tournaments, in sustaining the Crusades, and in the rise of the cult of courtly (and often adulterous) love....

In his account of William Marshal's early life Professor Duby is able also to pursue another theme of social importance, the way in which, as he sees it, the knightly ethic of the late twelfth century was becoming strained in its relation with practical reali y by the chivalrous aversion to the power of money. Chivalry's tough and masculine martial spirit, its exultation over blows and gifts of weapons and horses, had be n created in a preceding age when, as Duby puts it, "gift and countergift constituted almost everything which, in the movement of wealth, did not proceed from inheritance."...

From a single source, and in a book of small compass, Professor Duby has reconstructed a living picture of a particular sector of society at a crucial moment.... The vividness, the intimacy, and the historical perception with which he presents his picture of the fascinating and eventful life of the Marshal, and of the world in which he lived, will win him readers not just among scholars, but among all who are drawn by the unending interest of the humanity of the human past.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

Adam Nagourney of the New York Times doesn't just bury the lead. He erases the lead with white-out. The funniest thing I've seen all week:

After Sluggish Start, Lieberman Heeded Warnings of Trouble - New York Times: [The New York Times, in an editorial published on Sunday, endorsed Mr. Lamont over Mr. Lieberman, arguing that the senator had offered the nation a "warped version of bipartisanship" in his dealings with President Bush on national security.]

That's all Nagourney says about the most important piece of news in his story. All. Not an additional word.

That's the news. That's not what Nagourney talks about.

What does Nagourney talk about? He claims that Lieberman has a "sharp new message":

The price of Mr. Lieberman's slow start was on display on Friday, 11 days before the Aug. 8 primary. Mr. Lieberman, reshuffling his schedule after Democrats warned him that he was still not campaigning with enough urgency, set off on a 10-day bus tour across the state, with a sharp new message.

What is the "sharp new message"? Does Nagourney tell us? No, he does not.

Nagourney tells us of the return of a bunch of old advisors--not that Nagourney reports that they actually do anything:

A half dozen advisers from Mr. Lieberman's past campaigns turned up at his headquarters to provide support, responding to e-mail messages and other entreaties, including some from Mr. Lieberman's wife, Hadassah.

Nagourney tells us of Senator Dodd's efforts to "help." (It's been a long time since I've seen a nastier dagger-in-the-ribs than Dodd's observation that Lieberman finds it "painful" to have to say, first, "I'm a Democrat.)

Christopher J. Dodd, the other Connecticut Democratic senator, stepped in roughly six weeks ago with his own political advisers to bolster a Lieberman campaign staff that associates said Mr. Dodd viewed as too inexperienced for a campaign that had become so difficult. Mr. Dodd recounted telling Mr. Lieberman that he needed to embrace his Democratic roots -- explicitly and repeatedly. Friends described Mr. Lieberman as indignant at the challenge from liberals to his Democratic credentials. "I said, as painful as it is, the first words out of your mouth and the last words out of your mouth every time you speak have to be 'I'm a Democrat,'" Mr. Dodd recounted on Thursday. "You can say whatever you want after that."

Of course, "I'm a Democrat" is not the first thing Lieberman thinks, is it?

Mr. Lieberman is facing the prospect of a summer that may define his career as nothing else has, since he was elected to the State Senate in 1970. He has said he will run as an independent if he loses to Mr. Lamont, an announcement that one associate said only further hurt his standing with Democratic voters and elected officials who already were questioning his loyalty. Should Mr. Lieberman lose the primary, all indications are that most Democratic leaders will abandon him in the general election race against Mr. Lamont and the Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger.

And Nagourney let's Lieberman lie himself blue in the face:

Mr. Lieberman, in an interview aboard his campaign bus on Friday, said he had long expected to face this kind of challenge, given his support for the Iraq war. He said the timing of his response had been appropriate because voters were just beginning to focus on the race. "I want to assure you that I'm not surprised that I am in a fight for the Democratic nomination," he said. "I always expected that I would have a primary challenge based on Iraq. I was hoping that God would send me a poor challenger. I am being tested with a rich challenger." He added: "Look, I could have told you this would be very close at the end. I know now it is very close."...

But "sharp new message"? Nagourney says not a word about what Lieberman's "sharp new message" is.

Macroblog: An Unteachable Moment

Macroblog says that the Bush tax cuts are good for growth because even though they have so far been financed by borrowing, they will be financed--at some point in the future--by spending cuts:

macroblog: A Teachable Moment: Says DeLong:

What proportion of students will be able to follow the syllogism?

  • Tax relief is good for growth only if the tax reductions are financed by spending restraint.
  • The Bush tax reductions have been financed not by spending restraint but by borrowing.


  • The Bush tax reductions have been bad for growth.

I hope the answer is none, because one of the premises is irrelevant. The question is not have the tax cuts been financed by spending cuts, but rather will they be financed by spending cuts. Brad's expectation may be reasonable given the politics of the situation, but you obviously cannot draw conclusions by assuming a condition that has yet to be determined...

It's possible that there are huge spending cuts relative to GDP in our future. It's not terribly likely.

If I were Macroblog, I would say, instead, that the Bush tax cuts are good for growth because in response to the tax-cut magic the Growth Fairy will appear, wave her wand, and instantaneously boost labor productivity by 5%. That seems more likely than Macroblog's scenario.

There is a serious issue here: When one does policy evaluation of the proposals of an administration, does one evaluate the effects of the policies that the administration has proposed? Or does one evaluate the effects of the policies that the administration has proposed plus policies that the administration has not proposed, shows no inclination to propose, but that one wishes it would propose?

It seems to me that the answer is clear: Let the Bush administration propose a policy mechanism--like the Budget Enforcement Act, say--to cut discretionary and entitlement spending, title by title, as shares of GDP starting in 2010, and I'll be happy to evaluate it. But only tamed economists give politicians credit for policies the politicians won't propose. It muddies the waters and degrades the quality of debate to do so.

Not One of the Twenty-Five Million People You Would Think Might Be President Someday

Josh Micah Marshall does not exaggerate:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: BREAKING: President Bush Really Big Doofus: Yes, I grant you, this may have been reported in other outlets before. But we're here listening to the Bush-Blair press conference. And a few minutes ago a reporter (I think David Gregory, but will check on that) asked the president in so many words: You said Iraq was going to bring about new Middle East but now the Middle East is a complete disaster. Certainly, this would be a challenging question on more levels than one. But the president's answer, quite a lengthy one actually, showed in a really frightening detail how President Bush seems to be basically brain dead on this issue. We'll try to get a copy of it up on line. You really have to hear it to believe it...

And here it is. Our President speaks:

Remarks by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair of the United Kingdom in Press Availability : Q Thank you. Mr. President, both of you, I'd like to ask you about the big picture that you're discussing. Mr. President, three years ago, you argued that an invasion of Iraq would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. And yet today, there is an Iraqi Prime Minister who has been sharply critical of Israel. Arab governments, despite your arguments, who have criticized Hezbollah, have now changed their tune. Now they're sharply critical of Israel. And despite from both of you, warnings to Syria and Iran to back off support from Hezbollah, effectively, Mr. President, your words are being ignored. So what has happened to America's clout in this region that you've committed yourself to transform?

PRESIDENT BUSH: David, it's an interesting period because instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.

For a while, American foreign policy was just, let's hope everything is calm, kind of managed calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested in its -- on September the 11th. And so we've taken a foreign policy that says, on the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short-run by being aggressive and chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice -- and make no mistake, they're still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for -- in the long-term, to defeat this ideology, and they're bound by an ideology. You defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom.

And, look, I fully understand some people don't believe it's possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred. I understand that. I just happen to believe it is possible, and I believe it will happen. And so what you're seeing is a clash of governing styles, for example. The notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them, and so they respond. They've always been violent.

I hear this amazing kind of editorial thought that says, all of a sudden Hezbollah has become violent because we're promoting democracy. They have been violent for a long period of time. Or Hamas. One reason why the Palestinians still suffer is because there are militants who refuse to accept a Palestinian state based upon democratic principles.

And so what the world is seeing is a desire by this country and our allies to defeat the ideology of hate with an ideology that has worked and that brings hope. And one of the challenges, of course, is to convince people that Muslims would like to be free, that there's other people other than people in Britain and America that would like to be free in the world.

There's this kind of almost -- kind of weird kind of elitism, that says, well, maybe certain people in certain parts of the world shouldn't be free; maybe it's best just to let them sit in these tyrannical societies. And our foreign policy rejects that concept. We don't accept it.

And so we're working. And this is -- as I said the other day, when these attacks took place, I said this should be a moment of clarity for people to see the stakes in the 21st century. I mean, there's an unprovoked attack on a democracy. Why? I happen to believe, because progress is being made toward democracies. And I believe that -- I also believe that Iran would like to exert additional influence in the region. A theocracy would like to spread its influence using surrogates.

And so I'm as determined as ever to continue fostering a foreign policy based upon liberty. And I think it's going to work, unless we lose our nerve and quit. And this government isn't going to quit.

Q I asked you about the loss of American influence in the region.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, David, we went to the G8 and worked with our allies and got a remarkable statement on what took place. We're working to get a United Nations resolution on Iran. We're working to have a Palestinian state. But the reason why -- you asked the question -- is because terrorists are trying to stop that progress. And we'll ultimately prevail, because they have -- their ideology is so dark and so dismal that when people really think about it, it will be rejected. They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people, don't come and bother us because we will kill you.

And my attitude is, is that now is the time to be firm. And we've got a great weapon on our side, and that is freedom, and liberty. And it's got -- those two concepts have got the capacity to defeat ideologies of hate.

Tony Blair is almost as bad--although, admittedly, less incoherent:

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I don't think, actually, it's anything to do with a loss of American influence at all. I think -- we've got to go back and ask what changed policy, because policy has changed in the past few years.

And what changed policy was September the 11th. That changed policy, but actually, before September the 11th this global movement with a global ideology was already in being. September the 11th was the culmination of what they wanted to do. But, actually -- and this is probably where the policymakers, such as myself, were truly in error -- is that even before September the 11th, this was happening in all sorts of different ways in different countries.

I mean, in Algeria, for example, tens and tens of thousands of people lost their lives. This movement has grown, it is there, it will latch on to any cause that it possibly can and give it a dimension of terrorism and hatred. You can see this. You can see it in Kashmir, for example. You can see it in Chechnya. You can see it in Palestine.

Now, what is its purpose? Its purpose is to promote its ideology based upon the perversion of Islam, and to use any methods at all, but particularly terrorism, to do that, because they know that the value of terrorism to them is -- as I was saying a moment or two ago, it's not simply the act of terror, it's the chain reaction that terror brings with it. Terrorism brings the reprisal; the reprisal brings the additional hatred; the additional hatred breeds the additional terrorism, and so on. But in a small way, we lived through that in Northern Ireland over many, many decades.

Now, what happened after September the 11th -- and this explains, I think, the President's policy, but also the reason why I have taken the view, and still take the view that Britain and America should remain strong allies, shoulder-to-shoulder in fighting this battle, is that we are never going to succeed unless we understand they are going to fight hard. The reason why they are doing what they're doing in Iraq at the moment -- and, yes, it's really tough as a result of it -- is because they know that if, right in the center of the Middle East, in an Arab, Muslim country, you've got a non-sectarian democracy, in other words people weren't governed either by religious fanatics or secular dictators, you've got a genuine democracy of the people, how does their ideology flourish in such circumstances?

So they have imported the terrorism into that country, preyed on whatever reactionary elements there are to boost it. And that's why we have the issue there; that's why the Taliban are trying to come back in Afghanistan. That is why, the moment it looked as if you could get progress in Israel and Palestine, it had to be stopped. That's the moment when, as they saw there was a problem in Gaza, so they realized, well, there's a possibility now we can set Lebanon against Israel.

Now, it's a global movement, it's a global ideology. And if there's any mistake that's ever made in these circumstances, it's if people are surprised that it's tough to fight, because you're up against an ideology that's prepared to use any means at all, including killing any number of wholly innocent people.

And I don't dispute part of the implication of your question at all, in the sense that you look at what is happening in the Middle East and what is happening in Iraq and Lebanon and Palestine, and, of course, there's a sense of shock and frustration and anger at what is happening, and grief at the loss of innocent lives. But it is not a reason for walking away. It's a reason for staying the course, and staying it no matter how tough it is, because the alternative is actually letting this ideology grip a larger and larger number of people.

And it is going to be difficult. Look, we've got a problem even in our own Muslim communities in Europe, who will half-buy into some of the propaganda that's pushed at it -- the purpose of America is to suppress Islam, Britain has joined with America in the suppression of Islam. And one of the things we've got to stop doing is stop apologizing for our own positions. Muslims in America, as far as I'm aware of, are free to worship; Muslims in Britain are free to worship. We are plural societies.

It's nonsense, the propaganda is nonsense. And we're not going to defeat this ideology until we in the West go out with sufficient confidence in our own position and say, this is wrong. It's not just wrong in its methods, it's wrong in its ideas, it's wrong in its ideology, it's wrong in every single wretched reactionary thing about it. And it will be a long struggle, I'm afraid. But there's no alternative but to stay the course with it. And we will.

The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert is a national treasure:

YouTube - Colbert making fun of morning news for deriding his program

Colbert's clips from "Today" and "Good Morning America" are priceless. Colbert says:

I asked Congressman Lyn Westmoreland who proposed requiring the display of the ten commandments in the House and Senate chambers if he could name the ten commandments. What I should have asked him [according to "Today" and "Good Morning America" was this:

  • Is tanning addictive?
  • How long did it take you to grow that [beard]?
  • Do you really need to wait a half hour after you eat to go swimming?

Why Nobody Should Trust Glenn Reynolds

Outsourced to Fontana Labs:

Unfogged: This Instapundit post certainly gets off to a good start: "JOHN PODHORETZ WONDERS if Israel is too nice to win." Shazam! But the real source of my irritation comes in the next line: "This reminds me of Josh Marshall's 2003 worry that we weren't killing enough Iraqis and that this would come back to haunt us. I think they're both probably wrong. I certainly hope so."

Reynolds has said this about Josh Marshall before; I think he enjoys it because it's his chance to tweak Josh by making him sound like Misha. (Reynolds likes these 'strange bedfellows' sorts of zingers; see also his use of "civil rights" while talking about gun ownership and his idea that liberals should support annexing foreign oil fields because they like wealth redistribution.... When you follow the links and read Josh's column, it turns out, predictably, that Reynolds' gloss is inaccurate.... Reynolds' representation of Josh's position seems seriously dishonest to me. "He's worried that we're not killing enough Iraqis" suggests, on a straightforward reading, that he endorses killing more of them. No: he's making a point about the conditions for successful reconstruction.

It's very frustrating to read this sort of thing, even more so from someone who's so keen on the blogosphere.

On a lighter note, do check out the Podhoretz piece, which is remarkable because it contains not a single declarative sentence.

Nominal Compensation, Real Compensation, and Inflation

Not a tight labor market. Jared Bernstein writes:

Compensation Up, But So Is Inflation: Jared Bernstein

Today’s Employment Cost Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a pickup in the growth of compensation, to 0.9% in the second quarter of the year, compared to 0.6% in the first quarter. However, consumer inflation was 1.3% in the second quarter, meaning compensation fell in real terms.

Though the tighter job market has recently generated slightly faster growth in workers’ pay, inflation has accelerated also. As the figure shows, real compensation (wages plus benefits) has declined, on a yearly basis, for the past four quarters.

Furthermore, today’s GDP report shows much slower growth in the second quarter (2.5% versus 5.6% in the previous quarter), suggesting that Fed rate hikes, higher energy costs, and the cooling housing market are taking hold in the overall economy. As this slower growth translates into weaker job growth, compensation too may slow in coming quarters. Thus, even considering average compensation—a measure which includes wages and benefits of all workers, even the very highest earners—most workers continue to fall behind, even as the economy expands.

Jared Bernstein

Economic Policy Institute
1333 H St, NW
Suite 300, East Tower
Washington, DC 20005

w: 202-331-5547
e-mail: [email protected]
fax: 202-775-0819

Look for my book, All Together Now: Common Sense for a Fair Economy, and visit

Favorite Weblogs

A friend of Greg Mankiw's asks him for advice:

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Favorite Blogs: A econ professor friend of mine emails me some comments on this blog, as well as a request to its readers:

I now think of the blog, including the comments, as the equivalent of a bunch of people with common interests sitting down in a coffee shop and discussing topical economic issues, with the discussion topics chosen by you. I see this as very valuable. Many of us live in places where it's hard to find a group of people with whom to regularly and frequently have such discussions. Yours is the first blog I've read regularly. But of the trillion or so other blogs out there, there must be a few good ones that serve this function as well. I'm wondering which are the better ones....Would you entertain the idea of posting a new item at your blog asking your regular readers for recommendations on what other blogs they regularly read, and why they like them?...

My current top 20 weblogs by attention, according to NetNewsWire:

  1. Political Animal:
  2. Talking Points Memo:
  3. Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal:
  4. Economist's View:
  5. Crooked Timber:
  6. Marginal Revolution:
  7. MaxSpeak, You Listen!:
  8. TPMCafe - Matthew Yglesias:
  9. Greg Mankiw's Blog:
  10. Boing Boing Blog:
  11. The Washington Note:
  12. Infectious Greed:
  14. NYT > Business:
  15. Daniel Gross:
  16. TPMCafe - The Coffee House:
  17. Brad Setser's Web Log:
  18. Daniel W. Drezner:
  19. Washington Wire:
  20. Making Light:

No, no matter how hard I try, I can't get myself to pay more attention to my own weblog than to Political Animal or Talking Points Memo

Obsidian Wings: Asymmetric Warfare and *Jus in Bello*

Sebastian Holsclaw successfully takes on Chris Bertram, and clarifies thought in an excellent post on jus in bello:

Obsidian Wings: Asymmetric Warfare : By Sebastian: Discussions about rules of warfare tend to mix and muddle the reasoning behind such rules. A classic example of this is can be found here at Crooked Timber:

Of course the reason people don’t line up to be shot at, wearing proper uniforms, distinguishing themselves from the civilian population, and so on, is that it would be suicidal so to do. And here lies a real difficulty for conventional just war theory. If recourse to war is sometimes just—and just war theory says it is—but it may only be justly fought within the jus in bello restrictions, then it looks as if an important means to pursue justice is open to the strong alone and not to the weak. Faced with a professional army equipped with powerful weaponry, people who want to fight back have no chance unless they melt into the civilian population and adopt unconventional tactics. If those tactics are morally impermissible because of the risks they impose on non-combatants, then it looks as if armed resistance to severe injustice perpetrated by the well-equipped and powerful is also prohibited. And that looks crazy.

The Ethics of War (eds Sorabji and Rodin). Rodin proposes to address the problem by strengthening the jus in bello constraints on the strong. In particular he suggests that they be restrained from attacking “grey area” targets (targets that have potentially military uses by serve important civilian functions, such as TV stations, and power plants), that before an attack is authorised they be required to establish with a far higher degree of certainty than at present that a proposed target is indeed legitimate, and, third, that they be made to take “exceptionally rigourous” steps to ensure that civilians are not exposed to collateral harm and also to ensure that the environment in which those civilian live is not damaged and degraded.

Needless to say this is a problem that is simply ignored by the many blogs that drone on incessantly about jus in bello violations by the weak (and, in the face of those violations, parrot the synthetic moral outrage of the spokespeople for strong states). On the other side, though, it hardly seems to be satisfactory to say that non-conventional forces should be subject to weakened jus in bello restrictions, since the restrictions are there to protect those who have immunity from attack and whose immunity is not removed or diminished by the fact that one side or the other are militarily disadvantaged. So I was interested to read a recent paper by David Rodin, “The Ethics of Asymmetric War” in

The first error is in thinking that the rules of war are interested in the underlying justice claims of the combatants.... [T]he Hague Conventions and Geneva Conventions are very pragmatic.... If two sides are willing to go to war, it should be obvious that there is a serious disagreement between them about the underlying justice claims.... The rules of warfare... are not about getting to the most just resolution. The fact that a more just but weaker force will often lose... is a different... problem [from the one the Hague and Geneva Conventions address].... Since the Hague Conventions, the rules of warfare have tended to have two organizing principles: First that war should be conducted between combatants... second... war methods should be proportional to their aims... "non-combatant immunity" and "proportionality". I will use these terms because they are the proper terms of art, but I want to take special note of the fact that they are specialized terms.... "[P]roportionality"... [i]n the laws of warfare context it should not conjure the idea of a tit-for-tat response... but rather whether or not the means is justly related to the ends.... "[N]on-combatant immunity"... does not mean that non-combatants can never be injured in war. It means that they are not to be targeted in war.

These principles lead to a number of secondary issues.... In order to facilitate non-combatant immunity... the Hague Conventions, Geneva Conventions, and other codifications of the laws of war outline a large number of things that are supposed to separate combatants from non-combatants... identification schemes... organizational schemes (so that there is someone to negotiate an end to hostilities), and spatial rules.... All of these rules are designed to minimize civilian casualties by allowing the combatants to focus on fighting only one another.

Modern asymmetric warfare is about turning the rules of non-combatant immunity and proportionality on their heads... target[ing] civilians and civilian objects... attacks... linked to no military objective... no distinguishing uniform... place their military targets in or next to civilians and civilian objects... gravely endangers civilians on both sides. This strategy serves a number of purposes. It protects their own fighters by making them difficult to target. It allows propaganda victories whenever they kill civilians on the other side. It allows propaganda victories whenever civilians near them are killed. Killing civilians (on both sides of the conflict) is not a side effect of trying to hide from the enemy. It is the most important positive strategy of asymmetric warfare. As a result of these practices, civilians are placed in much more danger than they would otherwise face.

Rodin's proposal (and I believe from his post that Bertram endorses it) would have a number of negative effects... it would dramatically extend the length of wars. Fighting guerrillas is already very tough... would make negotiated settlements or surrenders very unlikely. The wars can (and do) continue across many generations. This isn't good for civilians.... [I]t would reinforce the already existing impulse to mix military and civilian targets. If you give extra-special protection to mixed targets, you are directly incentivizing the co-location of military and civilian targets...

I, too, found Chris Bertram's argument to be bizarrely off-center, particularly the argument that jus in bello "looks crazy":

Faced with a professional army equipped with powerful weaponry, people who want to fight back have no chance unless they melt into the civilian population and adopt unconventional tactics. If those tactics are morally impermissible because of the risks they impose on non-combatants, then it looks as if armed resistance to severe injustice perpetrated by the well-equipped and powerful is also prohibited. And that looks crazy.

Recall that "melting into the civilian population" and "adopting unconventional tactics" help "armed resistance to... the well-equipped and powerful" only if the well-equipped and powerful are themselves followers of jus in bello. If you eliminate jus in bello, then the well-equipped and powerful use the well-tried strategy of solitudinem faciunt et pacem appellant. To eliminate jus in bello is bad for the guerrillas, and is very bad for the people caught in the crossfire they purport to be fighting "for." Can we say that U.S. aid and support to those violating jus in bello in their fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s wound up doing the people of Afghanistan a lick of good? Wouldn't it have been better to cool down the situation, let the Afghan Communist Party build roads and schools and powerplants, and to have waited for Gorbachev?

Hoisted from Comments: On Mike Allen, Tom Ricks, Journamalism, Rumsfeld, TipFids, and Other Topics

Hoisted from Comments: Ginger Yellow:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Mike Allen: Degenerating from Journamalism to Propaganda: "This post, like a number of others recently, is too hard on the journalist. Unlike, say, the UK, we don't have an adversarial or partisan tradition of press coverage in the U.S. The journalist has to report what both sides say."

He doesn't have to. He just does. It is, as you say, a tradition and traditions cease to apply when they are not observed. But it's not the fact that he reports what both sides say that is the problem. It's that having done so he (and most of his American journalistic colleagues) refuses to then take what both sides say, compare them with other evidence and come to a conclusion. It's not about being adversarial, it's about being brave enough to make explicit judgements. All journalists make value judgements when they decide who to talk to, who to quote, whose side to put at the top. All we're asking is that instead of hoping that clever/informed readers will see through the kabuki to the facts, and leaving the less sophisticated readers to flounder about in disinformation, journalists should in fact make those value judgements plain and call a spade a spade. For instance if you've spoken to "some specialists", and you agree with them, then either quote them or speak in your own (paper's) voice. It adds no value whatsoever to just cite anonymous people whose authority is completely unknown.

I don't think this article is particularly egregious, the use of "some" aside. But it's very symptomatic of the US journalistic malaise. Nearly every article in the WaPo or the NYT these days is equally impenetrable for the casual reader: dropping the interesting or important information to the bottom where nobody will read it, leaving utter nonsense unchallenged except by a partisan source, and failing to provide the necessary context. It doesn't have to be this way. The FT doesn't write like that, and nobody accuses them of raging partisanship. The news pages of the WSJ are perfectly forthright, yet they are respected as much by lefties as by righties. But from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, US establishment papers seem petrified of taking a stand for truth. This is not healthy.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | July 27, 2006 at 11:44 AM

Jay Rosen of *NYU* writes:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Dana Milbank vs. Helen Thomas: From Brad's Where Are the Heirs of Walter Lippman? Brad: Those "patterns" begin to find some explanation when you realize that categories like "hard news" rather than "analytical piece" are simultaneously serving as a reality-reporting system, and a risk-reduction method. Hard news is supposed to be lowest risk, not necessarily harder information. It's lower risk to just say what happened ("Rove said...") without saying what's true. An "analysis" piece means you can speculate about motives and what might happen from here. Slightly higher risk, but not necessarily more "analytical."

Or let's take the classic in press watcher frustration... He said this happened, she said that happened. It tries to inform you in a half-hearted way, but it secures protection from being wrong in a full-throated way. "I'm just telling you what they said." It's not truthtelling but innocence-establishing behavior-- see? no agenda.

Here's the catch: officially, journalists only engage in truthtelling. That they would the choose the more innocent account over the more truthful one contradicts the professional self-image. So it doesn't happen, even though it does. When what journalists are doing makes no sense at all to you on the reality-reporting scale, switch yourself over to the risk-reduction (or "refuge") scale and measure it there.

Why don't journalists work together and coordinate their assaults to get a better answer from the President? Might make sense on the reality-reporting front, but fry the circuits on risk reduction. They'd open themselves to "cabal" charges, or so they think.

Why didn't Leonard Downie join with Bill Keller and Dean Baquet in their joint op-ed explaining the need to report on classified programs sometimes? (He was asked.) He didn't want to risk the impression that news organizations act together to "get" something.

For we are dealing not only with the risk of being wrong, but of coming under effective attack in the culture war's politicized theatre of news. Outside actors can influence the news by raising the perception of risk.

Posted by: Jay Rosen | July 18, 2006 at 03:26 PM

John Emerson:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Mike Allen: Degenerating from Journamalism to Propaganda: Blister, the idea that reporters, especially during this administration, write favorable stories in exchange for access is pretty well accepted by people who watch the scene. If you're clueless, it's not DeLong's responsibility to reinvent the wheel right in front of you. (In the context of your mooncalf understanding of journalism, your condescending last line is laughable.)

Reading between the lines is a responsibility of all readers of journalism, and the worse the journalism, the more important that responsibility is. How close is the American press to the Pravda standard by now? (Under the Czarist regime a whole new "Aesopian" genre of journalistic writing was developed to slip ideas past the censors, and under the Soviet regime this method was adapted to the new, even worse conditions.)

The interesting thing here, as in other similiar statements by journalists, is that American journalists are now writing so that sophisticated readers will understand the truth, whereas careless readers will miss the point and remain ignorant. This is pretty much the Aesopian method. It allows the elite to feel superior and sneer at the mass, but it doesn't bother Karl Rove at all, because he relies on mass votes.

One negative consequences of this style of journalism is that the well-informed citizens tend to end up powerlessly in opposition, while the ill-informed people give the government blind support right up until the point when everything collapses.

The censorship we are talking about is not government censorship. For whatever reason, the high management of the Post, the Times, Time, and most of the broadcast media have chosen to publsih weak journalism that doesn't harm Bush much. (My guess is that they are motivated mostly by tax incentives, their investments outside journalism, advertiser pressure, and fear of rightwing zombie media critics.)

Why do BOTH the right and the left complain? Because the right knows that if it quits complaining, everyone whill understand that they won. And it still could get worse. A major faction of the right doesn't want a free press at all, but an uncritical, patriotic, team-player press fully cooperating with the unitary executive.

Posted by: John Emerson | July 27, 2006 at 07:33 AM

And an anonymous lurker who works in a remarkably senior position , in email:


Did you see Tom Ricks's response, in his Washington Post chat, to the gnawing criticism of the weblogs? It was quite a defense of "he said, she said" journalism:

Tom Ricks: FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq: Tom Ricks: This is an interesting question because it brings home to me how polarized the country is by this war. It especially bothers me that there seems to be little room for "loyal dissent." People who try to make honest criticisms are attacked instantly. I am seeing this on the left as well as the right, by the way. I sometimes think that the left would only be happy if we started labelling all their enemies liars. I noticed that one leftish blogger criticized me for quoting generals who said in 2003 that we were winning the war. I don't think he understands that part of my job is to quote people accurately--even if I don't agree with what they are saying. Next!

I think Ricks is quite alarmed, or he would be more coherent. Back when he was writing softball profiles of Paul Wolfowitz for the front page of the Washington Post December 23, 2003 Style section, it never crossed his mind that in two and a half years there would be angry people in bathrobes with computers accessing his clippings file and calling for him to explain himself. It would never have crossed his mind in a million years that anybody would ever see a highly complimentary profile of a Deputy Defense Secretary on the front of a soft-news section as a violation of journalistic ethics, or of duty to readers.

Read through the first chapters of Fiasco again. You will find Ricks complaining that the media fell down in the run-up to the war, that the media was incapable of finding speakers putting forth an alternative point of view to the Bush administration, that it was Congress's fault for not having prominent Doves willing to make strong quotable statements. "The Silence of the Lambs" is the way he puts it.

Yet the opposition to Bush's war plans contained Scowcroft, Baker, Zinni, Schwarzkopf, the leaders and high officials of all our major allies (including Britain), and a lot of very smart people at State, at CIA, and at the Pentagon. (As soon as the war started, publications like the National Journal had no trouble finding sources to say that Rumsfeld's interference with force planning and logistics had the potential to cause great trouble. Inside-baseball sentences like "A lot of people around here can get very emotional talking about the lack of a TipFid for this operation" carry a very powerful message for those who think about logistics. And it was because of Rumsfeld's misunderstanding of modern war that the camoaign required V Corps to resort to such stopgaps as pulling the 101 Air Assault Division back from the spearhead to use as LOC troops.)

In large part the media fell down because elite reporters like Ricks decided to go along with Cheney, Rumsfeld, and company, even though they believed they were highly ideological and disconnected from reality--good inside the Pentagon and in the AEI conference rooms, but noplace else. They didn't want to elevate the critics, because they thought that would have meant "taking sides," and taking sides against the USA.

China's Foreign Exchange Reserves Reach a Trillion Dollars

Brad Setser muses on the international financial situation:

RGE - A trillion dollars does tend to concentrate the mind: Brad Setser: Statistical agencies usually are not the authoritative source of information on a country’s reserve portfolio. Nor do they usually comment on exchange rate policy or the investment decisions of a country’s firms. But then again China may be different.

There is no doubt that China would love to see its companies invest more abroad, slowing its reserve growth. And China clearly has figured out that buying an asset that is likely to decline in value has a cost, even if the carry is positive. That said I am more confident that the RMB will rise in value v. both the euro and the dollar over time than I am that the euro will rise (further) in value v. the dollar....

A trillion dollars is just a number. But it is a big number. And a big milestone. By my count China already has over a trillion dollars in reserves and reserve-like assets. But I am counting the funds the PBoC shifted to the state banks. In a couple of months, though, China will formally announce that its reserves now top a trillion dollars. So it isn’t exactly a surprise that Chinese policy makers would be spending a bit of time thinking about how to use those funds.

The key fact for the global economy is not that China holds a trillion dollars in reserves. It is that those reserves are growing at a pace of around $20b a month/ $250b a year. This reserve increase has continued even as interest rate differentials have moved steadily in the dollar’s favor. China constantly struggles not just to invest its existing reserves productively, but to find new places to park its ever growing reserves.

Right now, there is no reason to think that China won’t have $1,500b in reserves in about two years time. Not unless Chinese policy makers show an ability to act far more decisively than they have so far....

Lex argues - echoing lots of academics - that China’s dollar reserves finance a net flow of FDI back into China.... I disagree, at least in part. China’s growing dollar reserves don’t finance US investment in China. They finance US imports of Chinese (and other) goods.... Chinese inflows support US domestic consumption, not US investment abroad.

The picture of central bank inflows financing FDI works - but for Europe. Europe attracted a ton of reserve inflows in 2005. Maybe $200b in total, and at least $50b from China. That financed a good chunk of Europe’s FDI....

Europe is now to the world what the US was during the heyday of the original Bretton Woods system: growing euro reserves finance Europe’s growing investment abroad. The US, by contrast, needs those reserve inflows to finance a big current deficit. There is a difference.

Cleaning Out the Attic: Warren Buffett on Squanderville vs. Thriftville

Cleaning Out the Attic: Warren Buffett on Squanderville vs. Thriftville:

Squanderville versus Thriftville (Warren Buffet) : I'm about to deliver a warning regarding the U.S. trade deficit and also suggest a remedy for the problem. But first I need to mention two reasons you might want to be skeptical about what I say. To begin, my forecasting record with respect to macroeconomics is far from inspiring. For example, over the past two decades I was excessively fearful of inflation. More to the point at hand, I started way back in 1987 to publicly worry about our mounting trade deficits -- and, as you know, we've not only survived but also thrived. So on the trade front, score at least one "wolf" for me. Nevertheless, I am crying wolf again and this time backing it with Berkshire Hathaway's money. Through the spring of 2002, I had lived nearly 72 years without purchasing a foreign currency. Since then Berkshire has made significant investments in -- and today holds -- several currencies. I won't give you particulars; in fact, it is largely irrelevant which currencies they are. What does matter is the underlying point: To hold other currencies is to believe that the dollar will decline.

Both as an American and as an investor, I actually hope these commitments prove to be a mistake. Any profits Berkshire might make from currency trading would pale against the losses the company and our shareholders, in other aspects of their lives, would incur from a plunging dollar. But as head of Berkshire Hathaway, I am in charge of investing its money in ways that make sense. And my reason for finally putting my money where my mouth has been so long is that our trade deficit has greatly worsened, to the point that our country's "net worth," so to speak, is now being transferred abroad at an alarming rate.

A perpetuation of this transfer will lead to major trouble. To understand why, take a wildly fanciful trip with me to two isolated, side-by-side islands of equal size, Squanderville and Thriftville. Land is the only capital asset on these islands, and their communities are primitive, needing only food and producing only food. Working eight hours a day, in fact, each inhabitant can produce enough food to sustain himself or herself. And for a long time that's how things go along. On each island everybody works the prescribed eight hours a day, which means that each society is self-sufficient.

Eventually, though, the industrious citizens of Thriftville decide to do some serious saving and investing, and they start to work 16 hours a day. In this mode they continue to live off the food they produce in eight hours of work but begin exporting an equal amount to their one and only trading outlet, Squanderville. The citizens of Squanderville are ecstatic about this turn of events, since they can now live their lives free from toil but eat as well as ever. Oh, yes, there's a quid pro quo -- but to the Squanders, it seems harmless: All that the Thrifts want in exchange for their food is Squanderbonds (which are denominated, naturally, in Squanderbucks). Over time Thriftville accumulates an enormous amount of these bonds, which at their core represent claim checks on the future output of Squanderville. A few pundits in Squanderville smell trouble coming. They foresee that for the Squanders both to eat and to pay off -- or simply service -- the debt they're piling up will eventually require them to work more than eight hours a day. But the residents of Squanderville are in no mood to listen to such doomsaying.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Thriftville begin to get nervous. Just how good, they ask, are the IOUs of a shiftless island? So the Thrifts change strategy: Though they continue to hold some bonds, they sell most of them to Squanderville residents for Squanderbucks and use the proceeds to buy Squanderville land. And eventually the Thrifts own all of Squanderville. At that point, the Squanders are forced to deal with an ugly equation: They must now not only return to working eight hours a day in order to eat -- they have nothing left to trade -- but must also work additional hours to service their debt and pay Thriftville rent on the land so imprudently sold. In effect, Squanderville has been colonized by purchase rather than conquest.

It can be argued, of course, that the present value of the future production that Squanderville must forever ship to Thriftville only equates to the production Thriftville initially gave up and that therefore both have received a fair deal. But since one generation of Squanders gets the free ride and future generations pay in perpetuity for it, there are -- in economist talk -- some pretty dramatic "intergenerational inequities."...

So what does all this island hopping have to do with the U.S.? Simply put, after World War II and up until the early 1970s we operated in the industrious Thriftville style, regularly selling more abroad than we purchased. We concurrently invested our surplus abroad, with the result that our net investment -- that is, our holdings of foreign assets less foreign holdings of U.S. assets -- increased (under methodology, since revised, that the government was then using) from $37 billion in 1950 to $68 billion in 1970. In those days, to sum up, our country's "net worth," viewed in totality, consisted of all the wealth within our borders plus a modest portion of the wealth in the rest of the world....

In effect, our country has been behaving like an extraordinarily rich family that possesses an immense farm. In order to consume 4 percent more than we produce -- that's the trade deficit -- we have, day by day, been both selling pieces of the farm and increasing the mortgage on what we still own. To put the $2.5 trillion of net foreign ownership in perspective, contrast it with the $12 trillion value of publicly owned U.S. stocks or the equal amount of U.S. residential real estate or what I would estimate as a grand total of $50 trillion in national wealth. Those comparisons show that what's already been transferred abroad is meaningful -- in the area, for example, of 5 percent of our national wealth.

More important, however, is that foreign ownership of our assets will grow at about $500 billion per year at the present trade-deficit level, which means that the deficit will be adding about one percentage point annually to foreigners' net ownership of our national wealth. As that ownership grows, so will the annual net investment income flowing out of this country. That will leave us paying ever-increasing dividends and interest to the world rather than being a net receiver of them, as in the past. We have entered the world of negative compounding -- goodbye pleasure, hello pain.

We were taught in Economics 101 that countries could not for long sustain large, ever-growing trade deficits. At a point, so it was claimed, the spree of the consumption-happy nation would be braked by currency-rate adjustments and by the unwillingness of creditor countries to accept an endless flow of IOUs from the big spenders. And that's the way it has indeed worked for the rest of the world, as we can see by the abrupt shutoffs of credit that many profligate nations have suffered in recent decades.

The U.S., however, enjoys special status. In effect, we can behave today as we wish because our past financial behavior was so exemplary -- and because we are so rich. Neither our capacity nor our intention to pay is questioned, and we continue to have a mountain of desirable assets to trade for consumables. In other words, our national credit card allows us to charge truly breathtaking amounts. But that card's credit line is not limitless...

The History of the Shrill

Now that Peggy Noonan has joined the Ancient, Hermetic, and Occult Order of the Shrill--those who have been driven into shrill unholy madness by the mendacity, incompetence, malevolence, and disconnection from reality of George W. Bush and his administration:

OpinionJournal - Peggy Noonan: Republicans hearken back to Reagan... they agreed with what he did... they believe he was a very fine man.

This is not now how they feel about Mr. Bush....

William F. Buckley this week said words that... had the power to make one sit up and take notice.... Mr. Buckley's judgments... raise the question of what Bush's political philosophy is--I mean what he thinks it is.... He doesn't believe in smaller government. Or maybe he "believes" in small government but believes us to be in an era in which it is, with the current threat, unrealistic and unachievable? He believes in lower taxes. What else? I continually wonder, and have wondered for two years, what his philosophy is--what drives his actions.

Does he know? Is it a philosophy or a series of impulses held together by a particular personality? Can he say?... People... feel safer with a sense that their leaders have aims that are intellectually coherent. It would be good for the president to demonstrate that his leadership is not just a situational hodgepodge, seemingly driven and yet essentially an inbox presidency, with a quirky tilt to the box...

Now that there is nobody at all not paid-for who thinks George W. Bush has any business sitting in the Oval Office, it is time to answer some of the questions the yung'uns have about the origins of the Order of the Shrill, which I date to an exchange between me, Tyler Cowen, and Andrew Northrup:

Tyler Cowen: I've had enough. Here is our latest foreign policy initiative: "New US curbs on travel to communist-ruled Cuba went into effect on Wednesday..." Here is the full, sad story. Here are more details about the human costs of the policy. Here is some material on America's failed use of sanctions against Cuba. What do you have to do to join The Ranks of the Shrill? Does someone have to send you an E-Invite? Posted by Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen Seeks to Join the Ranks of the Shrill: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal: By the power vested in me by Paul R. Krugman, and through the invocation of the ideas of Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Lord Acton, John Stuart Mill, and all the other friends of liberty, I hereby enlist and welcome Brother Tyler Cowen to The Ranks of the Shrill.

The Poor Man: The Coalition of the Shrilling: Brad DeLong intones the forbidden verses which consecrates an aspirant into the Occult and Hermetic Order of the Shrill:

By the power vested in me by Paul R. Krugman, and through the invocation of the ideas of Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Lord Acton, John Stuart Mill, and all the other friends of liberty, I hereby enlist and welcome Brother Tyler Cowen to The Ranks of the Shrill.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Krugman R'lyeh wagn'nagl fhtagn! Aaaaiiiiii!!!!

Posted by The Editors at July 2, 2004 09:18 AM


That is not shrill which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even shrillness may die. Posted by: Hal at July 2, 2004 09:57 AM

Why does Yog-Sothoth, the goat with a thousand young, hate America? Posted by: Tweety Fish at July 2, 2004 10:13 AM

Yog-Sothoth hates America too, but every student of the dark lore knows that Shub-Niggurath is the black goat of the woods with a thousand young. Now, if you'll excuse me I must go and re-heat my breakfast burrito. Posted by: Comic Book Guy at July 2, 2004 10:48 AM...

More seriously (or is it less seriously?), those were (and these are) strange days.

I guess it started, I think, with that extremely strange and not-very-analytical Svengali of the Bush Social Security reform plan, Peter Ferrara, who wrote back in 2001 about "the fierce, shrill, and unreasoned denunciations of allowing workers the freedom to choose a personal-account option for Social Security may impress the gullible... and denounced ..the highly irascible Paul Krugman...

That was, I think, the start of a very peculiar meme: a piling-on of critics of Bush--especially of Paul Krugman--whose sole criticism was that he was "shrill." The critique was neither that he was a bad economist, nor that his accusations that the Bush administration was lying about a whole bunch of stuff were incorrect (indeed, one of Paul's most vicious critics, Andrew Sullivan, gloried in the fact that Bush was lying about his tax cut. See So if you wanted to attack Krugman, but could not attack him because his analytics were right, and could not attack him because his accusations of Bush administration dishonesty were correct, what can you do? Well, a bunch of right-wingers led, IIRC, by Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan found a way.

Here's Kaus:

"Comparative Advantage" by Nicholas Confessore: "[Krugman] is obviously a very smart guy, basically liberal, with complicated views, who once recognized when his own side was wrong. And at some point he switched and became someone who only sees what's wrong with the other side, in fairly crude terms," says Mickey Kaus. "The Bush tax cut is based on lies. But it's not enough to criticize a policy to say that it's based on lies. You have to say whether it's good or bad for the country."

(Never mind, of course, that Paul always spent a lot of time, space, wordcount, energy, and breath criticizing the substance of Bush's idiot policies. Yes, they were bad for the country--and Paul said why.)

And here's Sullivan: - Daily Dish: I have long found Paul Krugman an insufferably pompous, shrill, Bush-bashing pseudo-populist...

The accusation--the only line of critique--is that Paul "only sees what's wrong with the other side, in fairly crude terms," or--in shorthand--is "shrill."

God alone knows why they thought this line of attack would do anything other than shred their own reputations. God knows why others took up this line of attack. But take off it did, both as a narrowly-focused attempt to degrade the reputation of Paul Krugman, and as a broader attempt to marginalize all who pointed out that the policies of the Bush administration were (a) stupid, and (b) justified by lies, and it took off both among the yahoos of the right and also among the denizens of the center-left.

Why did it take off? I think the reasons were well laid out by Nick Confessore:

"Comparative Advantage" by Nicholas Confessore: On balance, Krugman's record stands up pretty well. On the topics he writes about most often and most angrily--tax cuts, Social Security, and the budget--his record is nearly perfect. "The reason he's gotten under the White House's skin so much," says Robert Shapiro, a former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, "is that he's right. None of it is rocket science."

So if dismantling the facade of lies around, say, Bush's tax cut is so easy to do--and makes you the most talked-about newspaper writer in the country--why don't any other reporters or columnists do it themselves? Because doing so would violate some of the informal, but strict, rules under which Washington journalists operate. Reporters usually don't call a spade a spade, unless the lie is small or something personal. When it comes to big policy disagreements, most reporters prefer a he-said, she-said approach--and any policy with a white paper or press release behind it is presumed to be plausible and sincere, no matter how farfetched or deceptive it may be.

Similarly, among pundits of the broad center-left, it's considered gauche to criticize the right too persistently, no matter the merits of one's argument. The only worse sin is to defend a politician too persistently; then you become not a bore, but a disgrace to the profession and its independence--even if you're correct...

This seemed to hit the nail on the head: it was (and is) considered impolite to take what the Bush administration said about the rationales for its policies seriously. Consider the Washington Post's Richard Cohen, sneering on September 16, 2004 at those who took Bush's impact on the country seriously:

I was only briefly enamored of George W. Bush... who went to war in Iraq for stated reasons that turned out to be baseless and for unstated reasons that have yet to be publicly acknowledged... neoconservative foreign policy agenda in which violence plays too prominent and casual a role.... chilled by assertions of near-royal power... choice of judges, his energy policy, his unilateralism or the manner in which he has intruded religion into politics.... I nevertheless cannot bring myself to hate Bush.... In fact, Bush haters go so far they wind up adding a dash of red to my blue...[1]

In this context, given that criticisms of George W. Bush and the malevolence, mendacity, incompetence and disconnection from reality of him and his administration are--no matter how sound their analytics or how true their factual claims--going to be dismissed by many as impolite and "shrill," why not have some fun with and embrace the term?

And so the idea was off and running...

Faisal grabbed the website, after emailing "must. resist. temptation. to set up. group weblog" and being answered "Why is this temptation to be resisted? :-)." Andrew introduced the conceptual link to H.P. Lovecraft. (Wikipedia has the appropriate background reading:

And the ranks of the shrill are now... impressive indeed. Even the truly cowardly are now shrill. Only the bought-and-paid-for have not joined the ranks of the highly critical who have been driven into shrill unholy madness by the mendacity, malevolence, incompetence, and disconnection from reality of George W. Bush and his administration.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Krugman R'lyeh wagn'nagl fhtagn!

[1] And, of course, it was only a month later that Cohen became what he had sneered at:

I do not write the headlines for my columns. Someone else does. But if I were to write the headline for this one, it would be "Impeach George Bush."... Not since the Spanish-American War has the United States gone off to war so casually, so half-cocked and so ineptly.... Yet from Bush comes not a bleep of regret, not to mention apology. It is all "steady as she goes" -- although we have lost our bearings and we no longer know our destination. (Don't tell me it's a democratic Middle East.) If the man were commanding a ship, he would be relieved of command. If he were the CEO of some big company, the board would offer him a golden parachute -- and force him to jump...

Israel Inflicts an Enormous Strategic Defeat Upon Itself

"Justice" Minister Haim Ramon inflicts an enormous defeat upon Israel:

Legitimate targets II: Posted by Henry. The New York Times today.

"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world," Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Israeli radio, "to continue this operation, this war, until Hezbollah won't be located in Lebanon and until it is disarmed." Mr. Ramon also raised the possibility of an expanded air assault, saying "all those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah."

And, of course, we have Jonathan Chait thanking God that Israel is fighting according to the just war tradition, and is trying to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage as it responds to Hezbollah's crimes:

The Plank: Hezbollah began the crisis with an act of war that included a cross-border incursion and a kidnapping. Israel retaliated by attacking the parts of Lebanon's infrastructure that could be used to spirit the kidnapped soldiers out of the country, and followed it up by trying to destroy Hezbollah's artillery. In so doing they made every effort to minimize civilian casualties, including dropping leaflets warning residents to leave the targetted areas. Hezbollah has been lobbing rockets in the general direction of Israeli cities with no intent other than to kill civilians.

And Richard Cohen thanks God that Israel has thrown the just war tradition into the toilet, and is taking "disproportionate" action in response to Hezbollah's crimes:

. . . No, It's Survival: Israel may or may not be the land of milk and honey, but it certainly seems to be the land of disproportionate military response -- and a good thing, too.... Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that proportionality is madness.... The only way to ensure that babies don't die in their cribs and old people in the streets is to make the Lebanese or the Palestinians understand that if they, no matter how reluctantly, host those rockets, they will pay a very, very steep price....

Israel is, as I have often said, unfortunately located, gentrifying a pretty bad neighborhood. But the world is full of dislocated peoples.... [W]ho today cries for the Greeks of Anatolia or the Germans of Bohemia? These calls for proportionality rankle. They fall on my ears not as genteel expressions of fairness, some ditsy Marquess of Queensberry idea of war, but as ugly sentiments pregnant with antipathy toward the only democratic state in the Middle East...

Dot-Com Companies in a Mature Market

Daniel Gross writes about how hard Yahoo! and company are finding it to mature gracefully. Having an exclamation point! in your name doesn't help:

Why Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon, and AOL are tanking. By Daniel Gross: By Daniel Gross: From the ashes of the 2001-2002 crash there emerged four horsemen of the dot-com apocalypse:, Yahoo!, eBay, and AOL. This quartet of iconic companies, wounded but not destroyed in the crash, survived the plague years and flourished when the market recovered. But in recent weeks, at a time when online advertising and e-commerce are enjoying strong growth, all four have pulled up lame.... [E]ach derives the lion's share of its revenues from a maturing U.S. market, each is finding profit margins slipping as it tries to diversify, and each has foolishly reached back to tried-and-failed ideas of the dot-com era for salvation.

On Tuesday afternoon, Amazon, the leading e-tailer, announced its quarterly earnings. The top line was good: Revenues rose 22 percent from the year before. The bottom line? Not so much. Operating income fell 55 percent to $47 million from $104 million in the year-earlier quarter. Why? Amazon ramped up spending on technology and content, slashed prices, and offered more free and reduced-rate shipping. In other words, it had to work a lot harder for the money.... eBay also took some lumps when it reported earnings last week.... Operating income fell 18 percent in the quarter.... Yahoo! reported a similar story. Revenues, 88 percent of which came from advertising, rose a very healthy 27 percent. But operating income fell 12 percent.... AOL's parent company, Time Warner, won't announce its second-quarter earnings until next week. But the first quarter... saw operating income fall—by about 14 percent, from $314 million to $269 million. And on July 11, the Wall Street Journal reported that AOL might soon adopt a new business strategy: It will morph from a subscription-powered Internet-access provider to an advertising-supported portal.... [I]f it can keep people using AOL for e-mail (and hence as a launching pad for the Internet), it might be able to capture more of the Internet-ad-sales market...

David Frum Proposes an Endgame in Iraq

David Frum accepts the fact of American defeat in Iraq--"First best is to win. But that will take more commitment than the administration was prepared to offer yesterday"--and plots how to avoid a fundamentalist Iranian victory:

David Frum's Diary on National Review Online: Jul. 26, 2006: Iraq: New Plan Wanted: Hands up, everybody who believes that the "hundreds" of troops that the Pentagon plans to move from the rest of Iraq into Baghdad will suffice to secure the capital against the sectarian militias now waging war upon the civilian populations of the city? Anybody? No, I didn't think so.

To take back the capital from the militias that now terrorize it will take thousands, not hundreds, of American plus tens of thousands of Iraqis. No sector in Iraq can spare the loss of so many forces (our current troubles in Anbar date back to the decision in 2004 to shift troops from Anbar to the siege of Fallujah - when they returned, they discovered that every pro-US informant and ally in the province had been murdered, usually horribly and publicly). So a real plan for success in Baghdad will have to be built upon additional troops from out of area, potentially raising US troop levels back up to the 150,000 or so of late 2005.

Manifestly, neither the administration nor the Congress will contemplate such a move. Which means, most likely, continuing violence in Iraq and a continuing rise in the power of the militias, especially the Iranian-backed Shiite militias: the Hezbollah of Iraq.

What then? Well, then...

Uncontrolled militias (some of them working tacitly with the pro-Iranian Islamists at the Ministry of the Interior) will wage intensifying war against each other.

The Sunnis will use random terror: car bombings, suicide bombings, kidnappings and massacres.

The Shiite militias - supported by their friends in the Ministry of the Interior and in the police forces - will respond with increasingly coordinated terror, such as that which killed dozens of Sunnis in the al-Jihad neighborhood on July 9. It is hard to imagine that a few hundred American advisers can put a stop to such atrocities.

As the tide of urban warfare turns in the Shiites' favor, those Sunnis who can flee the city will do so.

Gradually, Baghdad will come to look like Basra, Iraq's Shiite-dominated second city, now effectively ruled by Iranian-backed Shiites with the tacit acquiescence of the British military authorities.

Baghdad - and therefore central Iraq - will in such a case slide after Basra and the south into the unofficial new Iranian empire. (Classically minded readers will remember that the pre-Islamic Persian empires of the Parthians and Sassanids were ruled from Ctesiphon, about 20 miles southeast of Baghdad. And here is a map of the boundaries of the Safavid empire in the 1500s, the last time the Persians counted for much of the history of the world: Pretty much all of present-day Iraq except Anbar is on the inside.) American troops will be free to stay or go, depending on whether we wish to deny or acknowledge defeat.

The consequences for the region and the world will be grim.

Averting such a fate means fighting to win Baghdad. But if the president decides against such a fight - either because it would be too bloody or too politically costly or even because he doubts that the US can ultimately succeed - then we need a backup plan. The present plan - "as the Iraqis stand up, we stand down" - has not worked to date, as the president admitted yesterday, and there seems little reason to hope it will work better over the next months than it has in the recent past.

This is not, as some American commentators argue, because the Iraqis refuse to fight for their country. Thousands of brave Iraqis, civil and military, have laid down their lives fighting or working for a secure and democratic Iraq. But Iraq has powerful enemies, inside and out. To date, the US has fought only a limited war against those enemies. Iran understands that the war in Iraq is a regional war. Syria understands it too. Only the US has tried to pretend that the war zone stops at the international border. In some horrible rerun of Vietnam, the US has let the enemy establish safe havens just on the other side of the line, from which it draws supplies and reinforcements with impunity. It's like some baby boomer nightmare: after decades of swearing that we would never repeat the mistakes of our parents, we are re-enacting the errors committed in Indochina in the 1960s and 1970s, every single one.

As I said, we may need a backup plan.

Peter Galbraith offered an interesting one on the NYT oped page yesterday. Galbraith it should be noted served as US Ambassador to Croatia in the 1990s and was a brave first-hand observer of Saddam's murderous extermination campaigns against the Kurds in the late 1980s.

As an alternative to using Shiite and American troops to fight the insurgency in Iraq’s Sunni center, the administration should encourage the formation of several provinces into a Sunni Arab region with its own army, as allowed by Iraq’s Constitution. Then the Pentagon should pull its troops from this Sunni territory and allow the new leaders to establish their authority without being seen as collaborators.

Seeing as we cannot maintain the peace in Iraq, we have but one overriding interest there today — to keep Al Qaeda from creating a base from which it can plot attacks on the United States. Thus we need to have troops nearby prepared to re-engage in case the Sunni Arabs prove unable to provide for their own security against the foreign jihadists.

This would be best accomplished by placing a small “over the horizon” force in Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan is among the most pro-American societies in the world and its government would welcome our military presence, not the least because it would help protect Kurds from Arab Iraqis who resent their close cooperation with the United States during the 2003 war. American soldiers on the ground might also ease the escalating tension between the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey, which is threatening to send its troops across the border in search of Turkish Kurd terrorists using Iraq as a haven.

From Kurdistan, the American military could readily move back into any Sunni Arab area where Al Qaeda or its allies established a presence. The Kurdish peshmerga, Iraq’s only reliable indigenous military force, would gladly assist their American allies with intelligence and in combat. And by shifting troops to what is still nominally Iraqi territory, the Bush administration would be able to claim it had not “cut and run” and would also avoid the political complications — in United States and in Iraq — that would arise if it were to withdraw totally and then have to send American troops back into Iraq.

It's a second best. First best is to win. But that will take more commitment than the administration was prepared to offer yesterday. If we forfeit the best outcome, and refuse to plan for second best, we stand in very grave danger of ending up with the worst.

Keeping the Mullahs of Qom far from the oil of the Gulf was one of the principal objectives of U.S. Middle Eastern policy under Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton. The Frum plan--with its implicit surrender of Shia southern Mesopotamia to Iran-friendly forces--greatly magnifies Iran's influence over the Gulf states.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

Daniel Gross points out how sad it is that the Washington Post's Peter Baker has lost his mind--or perhaps never had a mind at all: how true that is!

Daniel Gross: July 23, 2006 - July 29, 2006 Archives: Very strange analysis by Peter Baker in the Washington Post on how the Lebanon crisis has affected Bush's political fortunes.

For the president, the timing could not be much worse. In a second term marked by one setback after another, the White House was in the midst of a rebuilding effort aimed at a political comeback before November's critical midterm elections. Now the president faces the challenge of responding to events that seem to be spinning out of control again, all but sidelining his domestic agenda for the moment and complicating his effort to rally the world to stop nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. . . .

At home, political strategists said, Bush faces the perception that he is presiding over one brushfire after another, hindered in his efforts to advance a positive agenda at a time when Republican control of Congress appears at risk. His most prominent domestic priority of the year, a comprehensive immigration plan, already seemed stalled until after the elections. The escalation of killing in Iraq may have unraveled any chance of major U.S. troop withdrawals before the elections. And the conversation is now dominated by rockets flying in and out of southern Lebanon.

Rebuilding effort? Political comeback? Positive agenda? It makes you wonder whether Baker has spent any time in Washington in the last several months. Prior to the escalation of war, Bush's only domestic achievements were: crowing about the fact that the huge deficit didn't meet the massive projections his administration had earlier put put and vetoing a popular stem cell measure. Oh, and there was the whole gay marriage thing. And the flag thing. The polls, the action on the ground, and the activity in Washington over the past several months don't show anything except continued drift.

The most illuminating thing that one of Peter Baker's peers has said to me to explain stories like this is: "We really have to write these sort of things to maintain access. But we don't believe them. And everybody serious reading our newspaper knows we don't believe them." Seems to me that somebody needs to have a talk with Peter Baker about the importance of not printing stuff that is false, for the only asset the Washington Post might ever have would be credibility as a news source.

Nouriel Roubini Forecasts Recession

RGE - Google News Barometer on Recession and Stagflation Risks...and A Few Simple Questions to Chairman Bernanke...: It is hard to predict with certainty whether the U.S. and global economy will suffer of serious stagflation or even a recession (my bearish views are fleshed out in my recent blogs here and here). I have been arguing that those risks are large and rising; and I have recently argued that the probability of a US recession in 2007 is, in my view, as high as 50%. In brief, the Three Bears of high oil prices, rising inflation leading to higher policy rates, and a slumping housing markets will derail the Goldilocks (of high growth and low inflation) and trigger a sharp U.S. slowdown in 2006, that may turn into a recession in 2007.

One potential barometer of such recession concerns - with all the appropriate caveats - is how many news articles are citing terms such as stagflation, U.S. recession, or recession in general.... [I]t is not just obscure publications that are worrying about stagflation and recession. Recent detailed discussions of such risks were recently front page on the WSJ and on Bloomberg. And the number of private sector folks, experts and academics talking about such risks is rising. The authoritative Mike Mussa, former Chief Economist at the IMF, now puts the odds of a US recession at 25-30% while the Fed's own internal yield curve model now predicts that the probability of a U.S. recession in 2007 is almost 40%. As the proverb says, talk is cheap (if so sweet) but in this case the evidence that many folks and leading media publications are increasingly and systematically talking about recession and stagflation to the tune of 1000s of recent articles and commentaries should be at least a signal, to policy makers and market folks, that these risks may be rising (and the talk is no sweet).

Fed Chairman Bernanke is downplaying the risks of a recessions but many out there are starting to worry about it a lot. The Fed may also want to learn from its previous serious forecasting mistakes. In 2000, it took six months for the U.S. to go from overheating into outright recession: in Q2 of 2000 the economy was growing at an annualized rate of over 5% and it slowed down to close to 0% by Q4 and entered into an outright recession by Q1 of 2001. As late as September 2000, Fed discussions - see their Minutes - were showing the FOMC being mostly clueless about the upcoming recession and still worrying more about the alleged rising inflation (with their view of the balance of risks stressing rising inflation rather than slowing growth). It then took a suprising and lousy Chrismas season of sales and a crashing Nasdaq at the beginning of the new year session on January 2nd 2001 to get the Fed into reality check, panic mode and start reducing the Fed Funds rate at an exceptional inter-FOMC meeting point.

And in 2000, the triggers for the recession were suprisingly similar to 2006: then a tech sector investment bust (now a real estate sector bust); then a Fed tigthening of 175bps (between June 1999 and June 2000), now a 425bps (soon 450bps) tigthening; then a modest oil shock (with oil rising from low teens to high teens in 2000 on the basis of Mid-East tensions and the beginning of the second intifada), now oil rising from $ 20 to 40 to 60 to 75 (and soon enough to 80) on the wave of much more serious Mid-East tensions (Israel conflict with Palestinians and Lebanon, growing security mess in Iraq, rising risks of a confrontation with Iran on the nuclear proliferation issue); then, there were worries - mostly unfounded in reality - on the risks of rising inflation, while now there are much more serious real worries (in spite of Bernanke's latest flip-flop on the issue, to cite Steve Roach today) on a truly rising inflation rate (see also WSJ's Greg Ip on Bernanke keep on saying one thing and doing another for the last few months; so much for Fed transparency and consistency of its communication strategy).

So, why does Bernanke believe that a "U.S. recession is not likely?" Why are things better now than in 2000 when all indicators show similar vulnerabilities but only more severe and scary ones now than in 2000?...

Worth Reading, 20060726

Worth reading, July 27, 2006:

Talking Points - The Rise of the Super-Rich by Teresa Tritch - New York Times: [I]n the United States today, there’s a new twist to the familiar plot. Income inequality used to be about rich versus poor, but now it’s increasingly a matter of the ultra rich and everyone else. The curious effect of the new divide is an economy that appears to be charging ahead, until you realize that the most of the people in it are being left in the dust. President Bush has yet to acknowledge the true state of affairs, though it’s at the root of his failure to convince Americans that the good times are rolling...

Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald: What makes someone a "chicken hawk"?: Jeff Jacoby launched an impassioned attack in The Boston Globe on Sunday against what he calls "the chicken hawk slur."... Jacoby completely distorted what it actually means.... [T]he "chicken hawk" criticism is not typically made against someone who merely (a) advocates a war but (b) will not fight in that war.... Something more than mere support for a war without fighting in it is required to earn the "chicken hawk" label. Chicken-hawkism is the belief that advocating a war from afar is a sign of personal courage and strength, and that opposing a war from afar is a sign of personal cowardice and weakness...

Clear Enough | TPMCafe: Clear Enough. By Matthew Yglesias: Kevin Drum writes a bit about the considerable evidence that environmental factors play a large role in reducing the IQs of poor children and says "it's still unclear what to do about this. Intensive educational interventions are the most obvious possibility, but results on this front haven't been very promising."I think it actually is rather clear what to do. Evidence suggests that across a broad range of criteria having poor parents is bad for children in ways that are very difficult to mitigate through child-targeted interventions. The best way to cope with this would be to take steps to enhance the material living standards of poor adults. That would be a nice favor to the adults and would significantly reduce the challenges facing their children. Unfortunately, while the electorate has a reasonable willingness to try and do things to help out poor kids (because it's "not their fault" that their parents are poor) there's a lot of reluctance to providing serious assistance to poor adults who are deemed to "deserve" their fate. This is a significant political challenge, but I think the policy issue is reasonably clear -- the best way to help poor children is to help poor people generally...

Andrew Sullivan lies about Al Gore: Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish: "I finally saw the Gore movie yesterday. It's thoroughly persuasive about the reality of global warming and the contribution of carbon dioxide emissions to it. I'd recommend it strongly to anyone. Its blindspots were, however, obvious. No mention is made anywhere of the fact that Al Gore was a very powerful vice-president for eight years in a critical period for this issue. His fulminations against others' indifference would have been a little more credible if he'd at least addressed and explained his own failure to do anything when he was able to.... I think a serious gas tax and a tough increase in mandatory fuel economy standards in the U.S. are essential to prompting the technological breakthroughs that alone can ameliorate this. And yet Gore balked. Just like he did when he was in power..." Shame on you, Andrew Sullivan. Shame. Al Gore worked like a dog to try to get an energy tax through the Congress in 1993--and got remarkably far given the united opposition he faced from the Republican Party and the American Petroleum Institute. Al Gore then switched gears, and spent the rest of the Clinton administration trying (a) to get a push for new, cleaner technologies in gear, and (2) to mobilize world civil society to commit to fight global warming via the Kyoto negotiations. I think his switched-gears strategy was mistaken--I am a card. But it was his best judgment, he did work very hard at it, and in his willingness to place his political career on the line in order to mobilize the country and the world for action against a truly serious, serious problem...

[The cry of the chickenhawk[( Cliff May, another National Review blogger and prominent right-wing pundit, objected. May insisted that Lopez, by blogging for the National Review was “fighting a war” and this war was “equally consequential” with the wars that are fought by the U.S. military. An excerpt: 'There is a war of arms. And there is a war of ideas. They are not just inter-related, they are interdependent. They are equally consequential.... Let’s take just one example: In the 1930s, Churchill fought a war of ideas. He tried to warn the world about Hitler; tried to warn Europe and America that Hitler’s hatred and ambition had to be checked. But most people did not listen. Churchill’s ideas did not prevail. They called Churchill a “war monger.”... So yes, Kathryn, you are fighting a war. And your e-mailer is ignorant about how wars are fought, about how wars are won and lost, and about the way the world actually works."... [B]logging on the National Review (or ThinkProgress, for that matter) is not the equivalent of Churchill warning the world about Hitler. And blogging is not “equally consequential” to the wars fought by members of the United States military, who put their lives at risk every day....

A Tiny Revolution: We're Making Real Progress!: Here's the famous story of George Packer's from March 2, 2003: "Bush is a man who has never shown much curiosity about the world. When he met with [Kanan] Makiya and two other Iraqis in January, I was told by someone not present, the exiles spent a good portion of the time explaining to the president that there are two kinds of Arabs in Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites." Now, here's a Newsweek story about the recent G-8 Summit: "[Bush, Blair and Chirac] quickly agree on how to proceed against Hizbullah, while keeping the pressure on Syria and Iran. "Chirac was very strong in recognizing that Hizbullah and Syria and Iran are part of the Shia arc in the Middle East," Bush says later." You see, he's learning! True, according to the CIA Factbook, Syria is 74% Sunni, 16% Alawite, Druze, and other Muslim sects, and 10% Christian. So Bush doesn't know who or where different kinds of Muslims are. But still, after a brief 5 years of our "war on terror," he has learned they exist! This is exactly the kind of effort that should be praised in three year-olds and the president of the United States. Yes: Russia is big and China is big. That's very, very good. Tomorrow, we will move onto tying your shoes...

Stop now, immediately - Haaretz - Israel News : Stop now, immediatelyBy Gideon LevyThis war must be stopped now and immediately. From the start it was unnecessary, even if its excuse was justified, and now is the time to end it. Every day raises its price for no reason, taking a toll in blood that gives Israel nothing tangible in return. This is a good time to stop the war because both sides can claim they won: Israel harmed Hezbollah and Hezbollah harmed Israel. History shows that no situation is better for reaching an arrangement. Remember the lessons of the Yom Kippur War. Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds and with foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hezbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon. It has gotten most of what it could have out of this war. The aerial "target bank" has mostly been covered. The air force could continue to sow destruction in the residential neighborhoods and empty offices and could also continue dropping dozens of tons of bombs on real or imagined bunkers and kill innocent Lebanese, but nothing good will come of it. Those who want to restore Israel's deterrent capabilities have succeeded. Hezbollah and the rest of its enemies know that Israel reacts with enormous force to any provocation. South Lebanon is cleaner now of a Hezbollah presence. In any case, the organization is likely to return there, just as it is likely to rearm. An international agreement could be achieved now, and it won't be possible to achieve a better deal at a reasonable price in the future...

Bob Sutton: Strong Opinions, Weakly Held: I’ve been pretty obsessed about the difference between smart people and wise people for years. I tried to write a book called “The Attitude of Wisdom” a couple times. And the virtues of wise people – those who have the courage to act on their knowledge, but the humility to doubt what they know – is one of the main themes in Hard Facts. We show how leaders including Xerox’s Ann Mulcahy, Intel’s Any Grove, Harrah’s Gary Loveman, and IDEO’s David Kelley turn this attitude into organizational action. Perhaps the best description I’ve ever seen of how wise people act comes from the amazing folks at Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future. A couple years ago, I was talking the Institute’s Bob Johansen about wisdom, and he explained that – to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward – they advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” They've been giving this advice for years, and I understand that it was first developed by Instituite Director Paul Saffo. Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions. This is what psychologists sometimes call the problem of “confirmation bias.”...

Blood & Treasure: sinister Sefton: his legacy: This sounds like a typical application of airpower theory. Squadron A is told to drop leaflets on homes urging civilians to flee by any means tat heir disposal. Squadron B is told to attack anything on the roads that just might conceivably be capable of concealing troops or weapons. The contradiction in terms is carefully never discussed, and the apologists get to work...

A Sound Marketplace For Recorded Music: A Sound Marketplace For Recorded MusicBy Steven PearlsteinWednesday, July 19, 2006; D01: Here in Washington, there is nothing more amusing than watching business interests work themselves up into a righteous frenzy over a threat to their monopoly profits from a new technology or some upstart with a different business model. Invariably, the monopolists (or their first cousins, the oligopolists) try to present themselves as champions of the consumer, or defenders of a level playing field, as if they hadn't become ridiculously rich by sticking it to consumers and enjoying years in which the playing field was tilted to their advantage. A recent example is the political and legal attack mounted by the music-recording industry against the upstarts of satellite radio. You'd think an industry that has managed to turn out so much mediocre music for so many years, done so much to lower moral standards and lost so much business to illegal file-sharing would have something better to do than attack some of the few distributors that are actually expanding the market and charging for music. But the prospect that the industry might not extract every last penny out of the new satellite radio services and their customers is simply unacceptable to the Recording Industry Association of America...

Eric Umansky: Look Out: July 22, 2006 Look Out Tom Ricks, the Wash Post's ace military correspondent, has a book coming that details "the American adventure in Iraq." The title: FIASCO. Among the revelations cited in a press release for the book: * U.S. policies and tactics helped create the insurgency. * Abuse of Iraqi prisoners was far more widespread than just a few "bad apples" at the Abu Ghraib prison, and was, in fact suggested by senior military officers. * U.S. military leaders failed their troops by sending them to Iraq unprepared for the task at hand. * One of the most abusive units was the 4th Infantry Division. The general who led this division, Raymond Odierno, is scheduled to become the no. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq later this year. * The U.S. military was frequently at odds with U.S. civilian officials, resulting in internal friction that undermined the American mission. * The U.S. military didn't launch a counterinsurgency campaign until August 2004-some 17 months after the fall of Baghdad and a full year after the insurgency began. The generals and officials involved in abuse might be damned good at their jobs. That's why they're always getting promoted. Anyway, the book is out Tuesday...

High-ranking officer: Halutz ordered retaliation policy: By YAAKOV KATZ: A high-ranking IAF officer caused a storm on Monday in an off-record briefing during which he told reporters that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz had ordered the military to destroy 10 buildings in Beirut in retaliation to every Katyusha rocket strike on Haifa. The officer said that the equation was created by Halutz and that every rocket strike on Haifa would be answered by IAF missile strikes on 10 12-story buildings in the Beirut neighborhood of Dahiya, a Hizbullah stronghold. Since the beginning of Operation Change of Direction, launched on July 12 following the abduction of two soldiers during a Hizbullah cross-border attack, over 80 buildings in the neighborhood have been destroyed. After the officer's remarks were published on The Jerusalem Post website as well as other Israeli news sites, the IDF Spokesperson's Office released a statement insinuating that reporters had misquoted the senior officer and claimed that the publications were false and that Halutz had never issued such a directive. The IDF Spokesperson's Office later retracted its accusation that reporters had misquoted the officer and issued a second statement claiming that the high-ranking officer had made a mistake and was wrong in claiming that Halutz had issued such a directive...

Mike Allen: Degenerating from Journamalism to Propaganda

I'm reminded of Matthew Yglesias's reporting on his exchange with then-Washington Post, now Time magazine reporter Mike Allen:

Matthew Yglesias: He Said / She Said: Allen... said that news writers are trying to present both sides' points-of-view, hence the 'he said, she said' quality to it, but that they're trying to present these points-of-view in such a way so that a discerning reader can tell who's right based on reading the story.

I tried then to revise my statement of the situation. A good news reporter, on my revised view, tries to 'lead a horse to water,' while a blogger is more likely to try and 'throw the horse in the lake.' He seemed happier with that restatement. And I think the restated view has some truth to it. Oftentimes, even though a story doesn't come out and say, 'so-and-so said such-and-such and he was lying,' it's pretty clear from reading the strory that so-and-so was, in fact, lying. Indeed, oftentimes it's only because it is so clear from the story as written that so-and-so was lying that I, as I reader, find myself annoyed that the reporter didn't come out and say so. I think, though, that a higher proportion of news writing really is pure 'he said, she said' than Allen seemed willing to say. At the same time, he's one of the better political reporters out there, so probably sees his craft more through the lense of how he practices it.... Last but by no means least, I think the 'horse to water' model to some extent suffers from a lack of thought.... If you need to read something -- especially an A1 story that jumps to the inside -- all the way through to figure out what's going on, a very high proportion of readers aren't going to do that...

And, indeed, if we look at Mike Allen's latest, you see he is up to the same tricks of journamalism: Print Page: Nation -- Into the Fray: [T]he President's team says it sees the opportunity for a "leadership moment"--and, however counterintuitive, an unexpected new chance to make headway on Bush's grand goal of leaving the Middle East more democratic than he found it...

Note the "says": the "President's team says." Not "the President's team believes." Not "there is." Says.

Allen goes on:

This may help the Secretary of State create what she envisions as an "umbrella"--the word coalition having been spoiled by Iraq--of Arab allies willing to condemn terrorism. Some specialists call the goal naive...

Are there any specialists who do not call the goal naive? Allen doesn't say.

[I]t's looking ever more likely that the country [of Iraq] won't be peaceful before [Bush] leaves office.

What can anybody say to this? If Mike Allen had been reporting during the thirteenth century, he would have written: "It may be that the Anjou occupation army in Sicily did not enjoy vespers as much as they expected to."

Then Allen leaves journamalism completely for propaganda, as he tries to pile up Josh Bolten and Tony Snow points so that they will give him future leaks:

[T]he West Wing is relatively upbeat.... People close to Bush say chief of staff Josh Bolten and press secretary Tony Snow have given the place a desperately needed karmic injection. Bolten has pleased the President by giving him straight talk instead of cheerleading and has imposed a new accountability on the staff. Snow--with his bankerly suits, full tank of confidence and dash of celebrity--went on the breakfast shows last week to defend the pace and results of Bush's diplomacy, scoffing at the impatience of those who demanded "egg-timer diplomacy."

I can assure you that the West Wing is not relatively upbeat. I can assure you that with probability one. Josh Bolten and Tony Snow are, however, grateful to Mike Allen for claiming that the West Wing is "relatively upbeat."

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

The Snarky Little Professor

Very well done:

The Little Professor: How to Write a CoHE "First Person" Essay: A Handy Multiple-Choice Guide: While the CoHE has printed its share of worthy essays in the "First Person" section, there is nevertheless a certain type of essay--melancholy, sulky, or otherwise gloomy--that frequently elicits strong reactions of a not altogether positive nature. This evening, while on a break from executing Anne Boleyn, it occurred to me that we could save future writers for the CoHE considerable time and effort by supplying an easy-to-follow guide. For example:

  1. I am: _ writing under a clever pseudonym writing under an uninspired pseudonym __ using my own name

  2. At present, I am: _ tenured, unfortunately, at a wonderful college tenured, unfortunately, at the campus from hell tenured, unfortunately, at an institution that fails to appreciate my scintillating qualities untenured, unfortunately, at a wonderful college untenured, unfortunately, at the campus from hell untenured, unfortunately, at an institution that fails to appreciate my scintillating qualities a much put-upon administrator _ a recently-fired (without cause!) administrator

  3. I'm terribly, terribly unhappy, because: _ I thought life after tenure would be bliss, and it's just the same-old, same-old my colleagues fail to appreciate my scintillating qualities there's a poststructuralist/Marxist/cultural materialist/New Historicist/Lacanian/ deconstructionist/other in my department there isn't a poststructuralist/Marxist/cultural materialist/New Historicist/Lacanian/ deconstructionist/other in my department there are politics! in academia! if I had been born fifty years ago, there would have been no politics! in academia! if I had been born fifty years ago, there would have been my kind of politics! in academia! academic work isn't all about Twoo Wuv for your subject people are so mean to me _ students don't appreciate all the effort I put into teaching them

  4. I can prove that what I say is true, because: _ I have personal anecdotes I'm going to reveal confidential data from job searches and personnel decisions __ the CoHE published this essay, and therefore it must be true

  5. Blogging is: _ a sign of the imminent Apocalypse not done by trustworthy people not done by employable people _ ...what is a blog?

  6. Everything would be so much better if _ someone granted me an endowed chair at a research university with a 2-2 load I gave up tenure to farm sheep in New Zealand everybody published scholarship of interest to me being in graduate school was all about Twoo Wuv __ students were really interested in the Meaning of Life

  7. But none of this will happen, because: _ I'm not politically correct sheep give me hives nobody cares about academics like me graduate school is all about politics! __ students these days just can't appreciate the Sheer Joy of Learning

  8. Still, at least I can tell you that the Little Professor will be invited to write an essay for the CoHE when: _ pigs fly cats obey orders __ professors in the English department make more money than professors in the Business department

July 22, 2006 in Academic, Satire | Permalink

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» The Little Professor whomps on the CHE anonymous columns from Sherman Dorn: Miriam Burstein (aka The Little Professor) whacks the anonymous dyspeptic column for 6. Best academic snark I've seen in a while (and I have access to much good academic snark)

Angel Station: Them!


Walter Jon Williams: Angel Station: Them!: You know, giant insects never really scared me.

What scares me is lots of little insects. This brings me to this article from a Montgomery paper describing the giant yellowjacket nests sprouting up throughout the South, so big they swallow cars and furniture.

'The largest nest Ray has inspected this year filled the interior of a weathered 1955 Chevrolet parked in a rural Elmore County barn. That nest was about the size of a tire in the rear floor seven weeks ago, but quickly spread to fill the entire vehicle, the property owner, Harry Coker, said. Four satellite nests around it have gotten into the eaves of the barn, about 300 yards from his home. '"I'm kind of afraid for the grandkids. I had to sneak down there at dark and get my tractor out of the barn," Coker said. "It's been a disruption.". . .

'These gigantic nests may have as many as 100,000 workers and multiple queens.'

Okay. Scared now.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Tom Ricks of the *Washington Post,* This Is Your Clippings File Talking Edition)

CORRECTION: I erred. This original post was wrong: in December 2003 Tom Ricks was not more interested in keeping open lines of communication to Paul Wolfowitz than informing his readers. He was, I would now argue, interested in informing his readers by striking a balance between two points of view: Wolfowitz's and Zinni's.

A senior reporter in Washington writes:


The attacks on Tom Ricks are so over the top, so beyond the pale, and so disproportionate that I've just got to offer this intervention.... [P]lease consider this a friendly effort to keep you from airing views that are, in my opinion, utterly misplaced.

It's particularly astonishing to me that Tom's piece on Wolfowitz is being savaged. Maybe if the story had run by itself, in isolation, it would be subject to legitimate criticism. But for cryin' out loud, it ran alongside an absolutely brilliant profile of Anthony Zinni--on the same day, on the same front page of Style. I don't know if you ever saw the hard copy version, but I vividly remember reading those two pieces, one after the other, as my cornflakes got soggy. The effect was galvanic. The opposing cases, pro-war and anti-war, were laid out by probably the most articulate advocates anyone could find anywhere for each side. And boy, did the arguments stick to your ribs, because they had been presented in such personal terms. I have rarely felt so in awe....

I certainly hope you won't dismiss this as just another example of "he said, she said" journalism. Yes, the pieces stopped well short of making explicit judgments; in his authorial voice Tom obviously refrained from calling either guy a liar or a charlatan. The reader was left to make up his or her mind. Still, it was great, memorable writing and reporting.... [B]oth of Tom's pieces were illuminating--one because it reinforced the opinion I already had, the other because it forced me to test my opinion against what seemed like the strongest case possible....

I just want to make sure that you and your readers know the full picture about Tom's Wolfowitz profile; to ignore the Zinni profile is to present his work in a ridiculously skewed fashion.


[M]y very strong recollection of Tom's Wolfowitz piece was that it was intended mainly as a counterpoint to the Zinni profile, not as a comprehensive look at Wolfowitz's history as a policymaker. That is, the reader was getting a chance to see a kind of debate between two extraordinarily articulate advocates, with one guy saying the war was justified and the other saying it was a disaster.... [T]he Wolfowitz profile, because it DID elevate a critic, to an equal level with a deputy defense secretary.[1]

I don't know if you or your readers were aware of the Zinni piece before--forgive me, I haven't read every single comment that's been posted. But I just saw red when I saw attacks like the one I just mentioned, because I have such vivid memories of those twin profiles being so wonderfully enlightening, juxtaposed as they were.... I hope that the Zinni profile either has gotten, or will get, some mention by you or others, because otherwise this criticism is simply taking Tom's work grossly out of context.

Good points, and entirely correct. I erred in simply grabbing the last thing about the administration Ricks wrote in 2003 and considering it in isolation. Ricks meant his Wolfowitz profile to be read not in isolation--in which case it looks like a hagiographic attempt to gain Wolfowitz point--but in point-counterpoint alongside the profile of Zinni that appeared indeed, alongside it. Dangers of being a bit too good at narrowly focusing archive searches.

My belief and accusation that Ricks was too interested in scoring Wolfowitz points in December 2003 to do his job properly was false. And I apologize.

[1] Here I disagree. Where my commentator sees Ricks as "elevat[ing] a critic," a private citizen, "to an equal level with a deputy defense secretary," I see Ricks as putting his thumb on the scales to preserve "balance" between Zinni and Wolfowitz by overlooking important facts that reveal Wolfowitz as the ideologically-blinded idiot he is. A reality-based, a fair and balanced profile of Wolfowitz as of December 2003 has to, has to talk about:

  • Wolfowitz's role in the "Team B" claims in the late 1970s that the rapidly-growing economy of the Soviet Union was supporting a military machine that threatened to greatly surpass that of the United States--claims that turned out to be false.
  • The strange "Wolfowitz Memorandum" of 1992, with its declaration that the United States needs to prevent any other power "from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to general global power.... We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."
  • Wolfowitz's advocacy in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that the U.S. strike Iraq first--before the Taliban, or even Al Qaeda.
  • Wolfowitz's role in pushing the idea that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11.
  • Wolfowitz's role in pushing the idea that Saddam Hussein was a near-imminent threat to the United States
  • Wolfowitz's role in pushing the number of troops in the invasion of Iraq far below what the military planners desired.
  • Wolfowitz's role in pushing the idea that allies--especially Arabic-speaking allies who could provide lots of Arabic-speaking military police--were not needed.

Ricks's profile is much, much kinder and gentler to Wolfowitz than any reality-based profile has any business being. Ricks doesn't talk about Team B, or about Global Hegemony, or about the campaign--the successful campaign--to convince Americans that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11, or about the big problems with pre-war intelligence that were obvious by May of 2003 (some of my friends say by January of 2003, when the arms inspectors came up cold), or about Wolfowitz's role in turning 130,000 of the finest high-tech mechanized soldiers in the world into military police in a country where they don't speak their language, or about Wolfowitz's role in the anti-diplomacy effort that ensured that our "coalition" would lack Arabic-speaking military police.

[End of note 1]

Here's the original post:

It is recommended that one read Thomas Ricks's Fiasco with one's left eye while reading his 2003 Washington Post stories with one's right eye. I'm with Billmon on this. It's guaranteed to make one vomit.

Tom Ricks today, from Fiasco, p. 4:

How the U.S. government could launch a preemptive war based on false premises is the subject of the first, relatively short part of this book. Blame must lie foremost with President Bush himself, but his arrogance and incompetence are only part of the story. It takes more than one person to make a mess as big as Iraq. That is, Bush could only take such a careless action because of a series of systemic failures in the American system. Major lapses occurred within the national security bureaucracy, from a weak National Security Council (NSC) to an overweening Pentagon and a confused intelligence apparatus. Larger failures of oversight also occurred in the political system, most notably in Congress, and in the inability of the media to find and present alternative sources of information about Iraq and the threat that it did or didn't present to the United States.... The runup to the war... laid the shaky foundation for the derelict occupation that followed.... While the Bush administration--and especially Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and L. Paul Bremer III--bear much of the responsibility for the mishandling of the occupation in 2003 and early 2004...

And here we have Tom Ricks's last article about the Bush administration in 2003, a profile of Paul Wolfowitz that can only be called hagiographic:

Holding Their Ground: Holding Their Ground As Critics Zero In, Paul Wolfowitz Is Unflinching On Iraq Policy [FINAL Edition]. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. Author: Thomas E. Ricks. Date: Dec 23, 2003. Start Page: C.01. Section:STYLE. Document Types:Feature. Text Word Count:2334. Copyright The Washington Post Company Dec 23, 2003:

In late September, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz appeared in Manhattan at an event sponsored by the New Yorker magazine. As he began to speak, he was interrupted by shouts of "War criminal!" and "Murderer!"

"I can't resist," he said evenly, surveying the audience. "This is what is wonderful about this country. It is -- " Another shout: "Shame on you."

Wolfowitz drove on: " -- and what is finally wonderful is 50 million, roughly 50 million Afghans and Iraqis, are finally able to speak this way without having their tongues cut out."

A few minutes later, a young man ran to the base of the stage, jabbed a finger at Wolfowitz and shouted: "You should be tried for treason, you Nazi!"

If Wolfowitz was jarred by the attack, he showed no sign of it. Rather, he looked a bit distant as he coolly responded: "Frankly, my own reading of history is that exactly this kind of tactic is what the Nazis did and what the totalitarians did in trying to stop people from listening and talking."

Saddam Hussein, he went on to say, was a malevolent dictator who clearly needed to be removed for the good of both the American and the Iraqi peoples. "I think anyone with the slightest bit of moral sense understood what an evil man Saddam was and how much better off the world would be with him gone." Later in the same session, he added, "To me, it's almost beyond argument."

No deputy secretary of defense has ever held the prominence that Wolfowitz has had over the last two years. He is widely seen inside the Pentagon as the most likely replacement if Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld steps down. And no figure in the administration, with the possible exception of Vice President Cheney, is as closely identified with the drive to invade Iraq and depose Hussein. "This is Wolfowitz's baby," said one person who has served as a senior official of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-led occupation power in Iraq. "He feels responsible for it."

To understand Paul Wolfowitz and the policies he advocates, notes a friend and former colleague, it is important to understand that Wolfowitz believes there is real evil in the world, and that he is confronting it. The lesson that Wolfowitz took away from the Cold War, says Eliot Cohen, who knew him at Johns Hopkins University, where Wolfowitz was a dean before moving to the Pentagon, is "that the world really is a dangerous place, and that you have to do something about it."

Paired with that is his belief that the United States can best respond to totalitarianism by emphasizing freedom and democracy. Wolfowitz possesses "a basic optimism about the potential of human beings for moderation and self-governance, and a belief in the universal appeal of liberty," Cohen says. That combination of a hardheaded view of some men with an idealistic faith in mankind, Cohen concludes, adds up to "a distinctively American take on the world."

So when Wolfowitz talks with great intensity about Iraq, it isn't just because his political future and his place in history are likely to be determined by the course of events there. He sees the U.S. invasion as part of a larger campaign against terrorism, and that post-Sept. 11, 2001, fight as the third great American struggle against totalitarianism, the new century's successor to the great fights against Nazism and Soviet communism. A recent conversation with him in his Pentagon office skipped among those three eras, moving from the Holocaust to the crimes of Hussein to the Cold War's Cuban missile crisis.

"The differences are as great as the similarities" in those three struggles, he says. But there is a basic similarity in that "we're dealing with a fundamental existential threat to our way of life, to our values."

The main parallel, he says, is "not so much in the nature of the enemy we're confronting as in the nature of the challenge it presents to us. That is, it really does require mobilization of a major effort on our part. It requires contemplating a long-term struggle."

This isn't just theorizing. Wolfowitz's own life runs through all three of those confrontations.

Though he didn't say so that day in New York when he was accused of being a Nazi, he lost most of his extended family in the Holocaust, with his line surviving because his father had emigrated from Poland in 1920 as a child. Wolfowitz, who just turned 60, shies away from discussing his family's losses. Asked about it, his response is seemingly off point. "The event that happened in my college years that had the biggest single impression on me, even more than Kennedy's assassination, was the Cuban missile crisis" -- that is, the prospect of nuclear holocaust. Pressed, he says, "It was a fairly poor family in Poland." Does he know how many relatives were lost, and where? "I really don't," he says. Some observers of Wolfowitz speculate that one lesson he took from the Holocaust is that the American people need to be pushed to do the right thing, because by the time they entered World War II, it was too late for millions of Jews and other victims of the Nazis.

Asked about this, Wolfowitz agrees but expands on the thought -- and connects it to Iraq. "I think the world in general has a tendency to say, if somebody evil like Saddam is killing his own people, 'That's too bad, but that's really not my business.' " That's dangerous, he continued, because Hussein was "in a class with very few others -- Stalin, Hitler, Kim Jong Il. . . . People of that order of evil . . . tend not to keep evil at home, they tend to export it in various ways and eventually it bites us."

During the concluding phases of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, under Presidents Carter, Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Wolfowitz served in a series of posts at the State Department and the Defense Department.

"We learned in the last century that democracies cannot live peacefully and undisturbed in a world where evil people control whole nations and seek to expand their bloody rule," he said in a speech last month. "We may have forgotten that lesson in the euphoria over the end of the Cold War." But, he added, we were reminded of that harsh lesson by Sept. 11.

Wolfowitz has been in the limelight in recent weeks because it was his signature on a controversial Pentagon document that barred companies from Russia, Canada, France and Germany from bidding on prime contracts for postwar reconstruction in Iraq. In the interview, he expresses some puzzlement about the splash that move made. "Why it struck people as news was a little bit of a mystery," he says. It was the right policy, he continues, and it wasn't intended to punish any countries but rather to reward more than just American companies. "By the way, it wasn't my decision," he adds, though he says he agrees with it. "This was an administration decision. . . . I was simply signing the implementing instruction."

The contract action does fit into his view of the Cold War. One of the lessons of that conflict, he wrote in an essay three years ago, was the necessity of "demonstrating that your friends will be protected and taken care of, that your enemies will be punished, and that those who refuse to support you will live to regret having done so."

That calculating approach surprises some who see him as an idealistic academic. Indeed, he is a second-generation Ivy League intellectual, a former Yale political scientist who is the son of a Cornell mathematician. "Wolfowitz comes across as smart, likable, well-meaning and deep," Wesleyan University Professor Phyllis Rose wrote with a touch of puzzlement in a recent issue of the American Scholar, the journal of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

He can also mystify some of his colleagues in government. "A lot of us know him and like him as a person, but some of the policies he advocates are very difficult to understand or deal with," said a senior State Department official who had worked with Wolfowitz. "He's a man full of contradictions." But to Wolfowitz, there is no contradiction between calculated policies and idealistic goals. Rather, he contends, they can reinforce each other. Indeed, Wolfowitz is most confrontational when he is most idealistic.

Nowhere is that more evident than in his advocacy of transforming the politics of the Middle East, a policy that frequently is attacked as unrealistically idealistic. As he put it to the Jerusalem Post earlier this year, "The idea that we could live with another 20 years of stagnation in the Middle East that breeds this radicalism and breeds terrorism is, I think, just unacceptable."

Pentagon insiders say this vision of a democratic transformation of the troubled region is probably the biggest single area of discrepancy in policy views between Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, who is said to doubt that such a sweeping change is possible. Asked whether there is daylight between him and his boss on this issue, Wolfowitz said, "Democracy in the Middle East is the president's policy, and we both support it enthusiastically."

Some see Wolfowitz's views on the Middle East as dangerously naive. "Wolfowitz doesn't know much about the business he's in," says retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, a former chief of the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the region. "He knows very little about war fighting. And he knows very little about the Middle East, aside from maybe Israel."

Likewise, the latest issue of Parameters, the official journal of the U.S. Army War College, carried some tart commentary aimed at Wolfowitz and his colleagues. Jeffrey Record, a former staffer for the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote that "the Bush Administration, and more specifically the civilian leadership of the Pentagon, made faulty assumptions about postwar Iraq and failed to plan properly for Iraq's reconstruction." He particularly faulted "the 'liberation' scenario peddled by the Defense Department's neoconservative naifs."

Wolfowitz responds, "I think I know a lot about Islam, as a whole, and I know a lot about the Middle East. I've been following it for a very long time." He also notes that the experts frequently have been wrong about whether one Arab state would attack another, as Iraq did to Kuwait in 1990, or what the reaction of the "Arab street" would be to the U.S. invasion of Iraq this year.

But to Wolfowitz, trying to change the Middle East is far from unrealistic. Rather, it is using universal ideals to achieve the practical end of curtailing terrorism. Just as much of East Asia democratized in the 1980s and 1990s, so too is there a chance that the Middle East could change radically. "It could," he says. "And it's certainly worth a try."

"Change has to start someplace," he says. "The status quo . . . produced [Osama] bin Laden and produced thousands of people eager to kill themselves in order to kill Americans." Another charge, sometimes muttered in the military, is that Wolfowitz and his hawkish colleagues would act differently if they had ever been in combat. Retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, for example, says that if Wolfowitz and others in the administration -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their advisers -- had experienced combat as young men, they might have thought longer about invading and occupying Iraq. "I think it would have changed them," says Zinni, one of the more prominent critics of Bush administration policy in Iraq. "I just wish somebody in that chain of command would have seen combat at that time." He believes this is a moral issue. "They were my contemporaries. They should have been there, and they found a way not to serve. And where are their kids? Are their kids serving? My son is in the Marines."

Wolfowitz responds calmly to this charge. He notes that he has visited soldiers badly wounded in Iraq. "I am not at all unmindful of what it means to send American kids into combat," he says. "I go up to Walter Reed enough to see some of the consequences."

And he is careful not to be dismissive of his critics. "I think that those people who have experienced war have an even deeper distaste for it. And that is something I have a lot of respect for and a lot of time for."

But there are other considerations that must be kept in mind. And that takes him back to the Nazis. "Certainly the failure to confront Hitler was largely from fear of what the consequences would be, and that led to much greater consequences." Wolfowitz has shown physical courage on his two trips to Iraq, not only coming under rocket attack in his hotel in October, but also walking some streets and mixing with crowds.

But the specialty he has chosen is intellectual combat. In the campaign against terrorism, he said in a speech last month, "there is definitely an element of it that is in the realm of the battle of ideas, not just the battle of guns and bullets."

And so he charges into the fray. Appearing at Georgetown University in October, he stood on a stage and listened as a student denounced him. "I think I speak for many of us here when I say that your policies are deplorable," she said, standing at a floor microphone. "They're responsible for the deaths of innocents" -- here a wave of applause -- "and the disintegration of civil liberties."

When she finished, Wolfowitz calmly responded: "I have to infer from that you would be happier if Saddam Hussein were still in power." Here others in the audience cheered and clapped even louder. It was like watching a Parris Island drill instructor drop a recruit with a flick of his wrist.

The book is quite good, Mr. Ricks. But you are much too late to the party. And Paul Wolfowitz dismissing real concerns by accusing a student of being a Saddam-lover is not like "a Parris island drill instructor drop[ping] a recruit with a flick of his wrist." Not like that at all. It never was.

At the time, the profile probably seemed a reasonable thing to do--it got you lots of goodwill points from Paul Wolfowitz, didn't it, as well as some praise from your editors and from corporate, right?

But is it something you are proud of today?

Here's the Zinni piece:

Continue reading "Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Tom Ricks of the *Washington Post,* This Is Your Clippings File Talking Edition)" »

Nell Henderson Dives into the Tank for the Bush Administration

Outsourced to Tom Bozzo:

Marginal Utility: Fair and Balanced Lying at the WaPo: Via the Lovely and Talented Shakes comes a piece of tripe in the Washington Post.... [Nell] Henderson...

The Treasury report did not openly address the much-debated contention of many conservative analysts that the tax cuts will boost economic growth so much over time that the resulting increase in taxes paid will offset much or all of the initial loss in government revenue -- that tax cuts can essentially pay for themselves.

The report acknowledged the debate delicately, saying "the issue of how, or even if, these policies need to be financed remains a source of discussion among economists."

No. Simply no. There is not an economist in his or her right mind--not Mankiw, who engineered them, not DeLong, and certainly not Jason Furman--who would question whether the extensions "need to be financed"--save for those who agree that they should not happen at all.

Nell Henderson could have done the math: the Treasury report says that in the favorable case it expects $200 billion per year worth of tax cuts financed by spending reductions to boost GDP by 0.9%. 0.9% of $13 billion trillion is $120 billion. 25%--the marginal federal revenue share--of $120 billion is $30 billion. The Treasury's most favorable scenario is that $200 billion of tax cuts needs to be financed by $170 billion of spending cuts.

But that would require that Nell Henderson think that informing her readers have a higher priority than not being yelled out by staffers from White House Media Affairs, wouldn't it?

A Syllogism About Tax Cuts

Daniel Gross finds Greg Mankiw and Robert Carroll asking a leading question:

Daniel Gross: July 23, 2006 - July 29, 2006 Archives: BURYING THE LEDE: Gregory Mankiw and Robert Carroll have an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today on the Treasury department's study on dynamic scoring and tax policy.

They posit three lessons:

  1. "[A] permanent extension of the recent tax cuts leads to a long-run incraese in the capital stock of 2.3%, and a long-run increase in GNP of 0.7%."
  2. Cutting taxes on rich people -- i.e. reducing capital gains and dividends -- juices the economy more than cutting taxes on middle-class and poor people.
  3. Without actually saying so, they argue that the way the Bush administration -- of which Mankiw was a part -- and the Republican Congress have gone about cutting taxes will actually harm long-term growth.

Lesson No 3: How tax relief is financed is crucial for its economic impact.

Like all of us, the government eventually has to pay its bills. In technical terms, the government faces an intertemporal budget constraint that ties the present value of government spending to the present value of tax revenue. This means that when taxes are cut, other offsetting adjustments are required to make the numbers add up.

The Treasury's main analysis assumes that lower tax revenue will over time be accompanied by reduced spending on government consumption. But the report also shows what happens if spending cuts are not forthcoming. In this alternative scenario, a permanent extension of recent tax relief is assumed to lead to an eventual increase in income taxes.

The results are strikingly different. Instead of increasing by 0.7% in the long run, GNP now falls by 0.9%. Tax relief is good for growth, but only if the tax reductions are financed by spending restraint...

What proportion of students will be able to follow the syllogism?

  • Tax relief is good for growth only if the tax reductions are financed by spending restraint.
  • The Bush tax reductions have been financed not by spending restraint but by borrowing.


  • The Bush tax reductions have been bad for growth.

The Stupid Party

No. Not the Republicans. Today it is the Congressional Democrats who are the Stupid Party. Jim Henley reports:

Unqualified Offerings: A funny thing happened on the way to the al-Maliki address to the US Congress:

House Democrats on Monday crafted a letter to Hastert urging him to cancel the speech by al-Maliki to the chamber. The letter, which was being circulated for signatures, argues that if the Iraqi leader's positions are at odds with U.S. foreign policy goals then he should not be given the honor of giving an address from the speaker'9s podium.

The greatest offense?

"The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon's infrastructure," al-Maliki is quoted in the paper as saying last Wednesday during a news conference in Baghdad. "I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression."

The letter also goes into some stuff about al-Maliki's coalition being "increasingly influenced by the government in Iran." But if that were the real problem, the Congressional Dems have had plenty of time to draw up a letter before now. Maliki%u2019s real offense is forcefully stating an opinion of the current conflict between Israel and Lebanon that is held, in some form, almost everywhere on Earth outside the United States and Israel. For that the House Dems have produced this piece of paper, to roll it up and use it to swat al-Maliki's nose.

Republican Speaker Hastert told reporters that even if al-Maliki doesn't apologize for earlier comments condemning Israel for its assault on Hezbollah terrorist targets in Lebanon, the prime minister "should address Congress.... The U.S. has 130,000 troops [in Iraq]" and Washington must maintain a dialogue with the Iraqi government.

Yep. House Democrats. Scoring cheap domestic political points without regard to the national or world interest.

Of course, Jim Henley points out that the Republicans are the Stupid Party too:

Forgive me for thinking that if a Democratic leadership had invited al-Maliki to speak to Congress in these circumstances, a Republican minority would have drafted the same letter.

Perhaps they should keep a copy on file.

The Invisible College

J. Bradford DeLong (2006), "The Invisible College," Chronicle of Higher Education Review 52:47 (July 28, 2006):

The Chronicle: 7/28/2006: The Invisible College: Right now I'm looking out my office window, perched above the large, grassy, Frisbee-playing, picnicking, and sunbathing area that stretches through Berkeley's campus. I'm looking straight out at the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a view that I marvel at every day. I wonder why the chancellor hasn't confiscated such offices and rented them out to hedge funds to improve the university's finances.

I walk out my door and look around: at the offices of professors who know more about topics like the history of the international monetary system or the evolution of income distribution than any other human beings alive, and at graduate students hanging out in the lounge. It's a brilliant intellectual community, this little slice of the world that is our visible college. You run into people in the hall and the lounge, and you learn interesting things. Paradise. For an academic, at least.

But I am greedy. I want more. I would like a larger college, an invisible college, of more people to talk to, pointing me to more interesting things. People whose views and opinions I can react to, and who will react to my reasoned and well-thought-out opinions, and to my unreasoned and off-the-cuff ones as well. It would be really nice to have Paul Krugman three doors down, so I could bump into him occasionally and ask, "Hey, Paul, what do you think of .. ." Aggressive younger people interested in public policy and public finance would be excellent. Berkeley is deficient in not having enough right-wingers; a healthy college has a well-diversified intellectual portfolio. The political scientists are too far away to run into by accident — somebody like Dan Drezner would be nice to have around (even if he does get incidence wrong sometimes).

Over the past three years, with the arrival of Web logging, I have been able to add such people to those I bump into — in a virtual sense — every week. My invisible college is paradise squared, for an academic at least.

Plus, Web logging is an excellent procrastination tool. Don't feel like grading? Don't feel like writing that ad hoc committee report or completing the revisions demanded by clueless referee X? Write on your Web log and get the warm glow of having accomplished something.

Plus, every legitimate economist who has worked in government has left swearing to do everything possible to raise the level of debate and to communicate with a mass audience rather than merely an ivory-tower audience. That is true of those on the right as well as the left. Web logging is a promising way to do that.

Plus, there is the hope that someday, somehow, all of this will develop in a way to provide useful tools for teaching or marketing one's books, or something — that Web logging is a lottery ticket to something in the future, unknown but good.

Plus — and this is the biggest plus — it is a play in the intellectual influence game. My blog got about 20,000 page-views a day last month.

The hope of all of us who blog is that we will become smarter, do more useful work, be happier and more productive, and will also impress our deans so they will raise our salaries. The first three hopes are clearly true: Academics who blog think more profound thoughts, have a bigger influence on the world — both the academic and the broader worlds — and are happier for it. Are we more productive in an academic sense? Maybe. We will see when things settle down.

Are our deans impressed? Not so far, but they should be. A lot of a university's long-run success depends on attracting good undergraduates. Undergraduates and their parents are profoundly influenced by the public face of the university. And these days, a thoughtful, intelligent, well-informed Web logger like Juan Cole or Dan Drezner is an important part of a university's public face. Michigan gains in reputation and mindshare from having a Cole on its faculty. Yale loses from not having an equivalent.

A great university has faculty members who do a great many things — teaching undergraduates, teaching graduate students, the many things that are "research," public education, public service, and the turbocharging of the public sphere of information and debate that is a principal reason that governments finance and donors give to universities. Web logs may well be becoming an important part of that last university mission.

Must... Not... Succumb... Eddie Lazear... Is a Good Guy... in an Impossible Position...

Daniel Gross is shrill:

Daniel Gross: July 23, 2006 - July 29, 2006 Archives: It's tough being part of the Bush economic team, in large part because there are so many of chunks of the recent record that are difficult to defend/spin. Indeed, it's been my experience that the academic types who have served in the administration are, as a group, far more intelligent, honest, and engaging as private citizens than they were as public servants. Looks like Ed Lazear, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, is going to be in that same mold. Edward Luce and Krishna Guha report in the Financial Times.

The US is now in its fifth year of growth since the last recession. Yet median weekly earnings (wage earners who are at the 50th percentile of income distribution, with half the workforce earning more and half less) have fallen by 3.2 per cent in real terms since the start of the recovery in October 2001.... Senior administration officials believe the public's frequently expressed economic dissatisfaction - more than two-thirds of Americans believe their country is heading in the wrong direction - reflects Washington's inability to get its message across to the US heartlands.... Ed Lazear, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisors, says the growing focus on wage stagnation is misleading for two reasons.

First, there are signs that hourly earnings growth is beginning to accelerate after an unusually long lag. And second, the measure fails to capture broader growth in worker compensation, which includes pensions and healthcare provided by employers. "Hourly wages have grown more slowly than total compensation," Mr Lazear said in a speech last week. "The relevant measure is total compensation." Mr Shapiro disagrees: "This is not about whether the American public is hearing the right message - it is about what most people are experiencing."

Translation: "We're not pissing on you. It's just raining." Note the super-hyper conditionality attached to the discussion of wage growth: there are signs that hourly earnings growth is beginning to accelerate. And regarding overall compensation, he must be kidding. It may be true that wages are growing more slowly than overall compensation due to increased spending on health benefits and pension. In fact, for many people, they're not growing at all. But I'd bet a lot of that growth in benefits spending has to do with inflation in health care, not in a broadening of benefits....

And pensions? Lazear has got to be kidding here, too. Is there any evidence that workers who aren't getting wage increases are getting big pension increases? If so, I haven't seen it. We're in the midst of a massive cram-down, whereby many very large companies are freezing defined-benefit pension plans, thus slashing retirement benefits for hundreds of thousands of workers.


Must... not... succumb... Eddie Lazear... is a good guy... in an impossible situation... Must... not... snark... Must... stay... calm...

Hoisted from Comments: Kate G. and K. Harris on the *Washington Post*

Hoisted from comments. Understanding what Washington Post reporters think they are doing:

Kate G:


I agree absolutely with your assessement. Ricks' work goes far beyond the critique of the 4thID--it doesn't stand or fall (or rather, it falls) on whether he did or did not have sources "inside the iraqi resistance" or anywhere else at a particular time. His work stands or falls as propaganda, and falls of its own weight, because he didn't bother to report the inconsistencies, unliklihoods, falsehoods, and dreams with which he was presented when he was reporting on the ground as inconsistencies, unliklihoods, falsehoods and dreams. Instead he reported them, by his tone and his style, as "true." That was part of the war effort--part of the propaganda effort.

Ware's reporting is neither here nor there. A good reporter develops sources outside those in the military. To the extent that he is reporting only what the military says, he should always be aware that they will be lying to him at every minute. That is their job. Ricks and everyone else was warned that psy-ops and the resolve of the american people were paramount to the bush administration, and that controlling american opinion was a major part of the war effort.

I'd like to point out that whether you agree with bilmon's critique or not, it remains "incisive"--it may not be "conclusive" or it may not be "persuasive" but if it got any more incisive ricks' head would have bounced off his shoulders and down the road when he read it.

Kate G.

K. Harris:

There is a division in time around each event. There is a point prior to which the outcome could have been changed, and past which the outcome is inevitable. I move my children's drink glasses back to the middle of the table, when they put them down near their elbows, because I know it will be too late to change the outcome once the elbow meets the glass.

I remember the frustration of reading the press day after day and finding only the case for war. I could go to the internet any day and find the case against. If I could do it, so could reporters. By and large, they did not.

This crap about "balance" that we hear from the press? Easy to manipulate. If I have the megaphone, all I have to do is say extreme things. Then whatever the other side chooses to say, balance will always be skewed in my direction. I'd guess Karl Rove has figured that out. Even balance was missing back when there was a chance to change the outcome. In the end, there is no balance when the press alternates between so-called "balance" and stenography.

The reason for a free press is that it informs the public in time for the public to have a real voice in government. That requires that the press tell us the other side, the side that opposes the desires of the powerful, while the outcome is still in question.

Ricks wants credit for doing a better job now that it's too late. Why? What good would it do? Rewarding behavior reenforces the behavior. Ricks' behavior was to give liars a voice when it mattered, then change his view along with public opinion. That is not the behavior we need to reward.

How about this? Ricks could, starting now, report extensively on the guys who got it right. Pundits, thinkers, other reporters. No "he said" for the Bush administration to balance the "she said" of early critics. The early critics have been proven right. That's the whole story.

How about if Ricks, rather than whining about how he improved, tell us how he intends to avoid doing a bad job next time? How about apologizing for failing his readers, his country, and the protections our forefathers granted his profession?

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Morons?

From Mark Thoma:

Economist's View: Democrats in the Closet: just received an interesting email:

From "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the former chief Washington Post correspondent in Iraq, pub date Sept. 22, p. 81:

Bumper stickers and mouse pads praising President Bush were standard desk decorations in the Republican Palace. Other than military uniforms, "Bush-Cheney 2004" T-shirts were the most common piece of clothing. (Dan Senor, Bremer's spokesman, wore one for a Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Trot" road race in the Green Zone.) CPA staffers weren't worried about employment prospects after Baghdad. "Oh, I'll just work on the campaign" - the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign - several told me.

"I'm not here for the Iraqis," one staffer said. "I'm here for George Bush." When Gordon Robison, a staffer in the Strategic Communications office, opened a care package from his mother to find a book by Paul Krugman, a liberal New York Times columnist, people around him stared. "It was like I had just unwrapped a radioactive brick," he recalled. The CPA did have a small contingent of Democrats. Most were soldiers and diplomats who, by law, could not be queried about their political leanings... The group faced regular harassment from hardcore Republicans... Their posters were either ripped from the bulletin board or defaced with pro-Republican graffiti.... One... compared being a Democrat in the Green Zone to being gay in a small town. "If you know what's good for you, you stay in the closet," he said...

It would have been nice for the American people to know the state of play in Paul Bremer's Viceroyalty in 2004, wouldn't it?

UPDATE: An observer of Rajiv Chandresakaran writes that he did tell as much of the truth about Paul Bremer's operation as his editors would allow him to, as rapidly as they would allow him to, and refers me to articles like

"Mistakes Loom Large as Handover Nears: Missed Opportunities Turned High Ideals to Harsh Realities," By Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Washington Post Foreign Service. Sunday, June 20, 2004; Page A01: The American occupation of Iraq will formally end this month having failed to fulfill many of its goals and stated promises intended to transform the country into a stable democracy, according to a detailed examination drawing upon interviews with senior U.S. and Iraqi officials and internal documents of the occupation authority. The ambitious, 15-month undertaking stumbled because of a series of mistakes that began with an inadequate commitment of resources and was aggravated by a misunderstanding of Iraqi politics, religion and society in occupied Iraq, these participants said....

On the eve of its dissolution, the CPA has become a symbol of American failure in the eyes of most Iraqis.... The criticism is echoed by some Americans working in the occupation. They fault CPA staffers who were fervent backers of the invasion and of the Bush administration, but who lacked reconstruction skills and Middle East experience. Only a handful spoke Arabic. Within the marble-walled palace of the CPA's headquarters inside Baghdad's protected Green Zone, there is an aching sense of a mission unaccomplished. "Did we really do what we needed to do? What we promised to do?" a senior CPA official said. "Nobody here believes that."...

Several current and former CPA officials contended that key decisions by Bremer favored a grandiose vision over Iraqi realities and reflected the perceived prerogatives of a military victor. Critics within the CPA also faulted Bremer for working to advance a conservative economic agenda of tax cuts and free trade instead of focusing on the delivery of basic services....

The CPA also lacked experienced staff. A few development specialists were recruited from the State Department and nongovernmental organizations. But most CPA hiring was done by the White House and Pentagon personnel offices, with posts going to people with connections to the Bush administration or the Republican Party. The job of reorganizing Baghdad's stock exchange, which has not reopened, was given in September to a 24-year-old who had sought a job at the White House. "It was loyalty over experience," a senior CPA official said...

The problems are not with this reporter's intelligence or insight, but with the institution for which he works.

David Kirp on Heredity and IQ Once Again...

In the New York Times magazine:

After the Bell Curve - New York Times: Then along came Eric Turkheimer.... In combing through the research, he noticed that the twins being studied had middle-class backgrounds.... Together with several colleagues, Turkheimer searched for data on twins from a wider range of families. He found what he needed in a sample from the 1970s of more than 50,000 American infants, many from poor families, who had taken I.Q. tests at age 7. In a widely-discussed 2003 article, he found that, as anticipated, virtually all the variation in I.Q. scores for twins in the sample with wealthy parents can be attributed to genetics. The big surprise is among the poorest families. Contrary to what you might expect, for those children, the I.Q.s of identical twins vary just as much as the I.Q.s of fraternal twins.... [H]ome life is the critical factor for youngsters at the bottom of the economic barrel.... This provocative finding was confirmed in a study published last year. An analysis of the reading ability of middle-aged twins showed that even half a century after childhood, family background still has a big effect -- but only for children who grew up poor. Meanwhile, Turkheimer is studying a sample of twins who took the National Merit Scholarship exam, and the results are the same. Although these are the academic elite, who mostly come from well-off homes, variations in family circumstances still matter: children in the wealthiest households have the greatest opportunity to develop all their genetic capacities. The better-off the family, the more a child's genetic potential is likely to be, as Turkheimer puts it, "maxed out."

In seeking to understand the impact of nature and nurture on I.Q., researchers have also looked at adopted children. Consistent with the proposition that intelligence is mainly inherited, these studies have almost always found that adopted youngsters more closely resemble their biological than their adoptive parents.... But researchers in France noted a shortcoming in these adoption studies... those investigations have had to focus only on youngsters placed in well-to-do homes... because most adopted children come from poor homes, almost nothing is known about adopted youngsters whose biological parents are well-off.

What happens in these rare instances of riches-to-rags adoption? To answer that question, two psychologists, Christiane Capron and Michel Duyme.... The average I.Q. of children from well-to-do parents who were placed with families from the same social stratum was 119.6. But when such infants were adopted by poor families, their average I.Q. was 107.5 -- 12 points lower. The same holds true for children born into impoverished families: youngsters adopted by parents of similarly modest means had average I.Q.s of 92.4, while the I.Q.%u2019s of those placed with well-off parents averaged 103.6....

A later study of French youngsters adopted between the ages of 4 and 6 shows the continuing interplay of nature and nurture. Those children had little going for them. Their I.Q.s averaged 77, putting them near retardation. Most were abused or neglected as infants.... Nine years later, they retook the I.Q. tests.... The amount they improved was directly related to the adopting family's status. Children adopted by farmers and laborers had average I.Q. scores of 85.5; those placed with middle-class families had average scores of 92. The average I.Q. scores of youngsters placed in well-to-do homes climbed more than 20 points, to 98.... Taken together, these studies show that the issue has changed: it is no longer a matter of whether the environment matters but when and how it matters. And poverty, quite clearly, is an important part of the answer.

That is not to say that an affluent home is necessarily a good home. A family's social standing is only a proxy for the time and energy needed to keep a youngster mentally engaged, as well as the social capital that helps steer a child to success. There are, of course, many affluent parents who do a bad job of raising their children, and many poor families who nurture their kids with care and intelligence. On average, though, well-off households have the resources...

It really does look like all the "most variation in IQ is heredity" statements are really statements about the limited variability of environment within the pool studies. Robert Waldmann told me he thought this was the case back when he was 20, after closely observing R.J. Herrnstein.

As the Situation in Iraq Continues to Deteriorate...

Patrick Cockburn despairs as he watches the civil war in Iraq:

Independent Online Edition > World Politics: Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad: Published: 22 July 2006: Parents dare not let their children wander the dangerous streets of Baghdad alone, but until a few days ago they could give them a treat by taking them to al-Jillawi's toyshop, the biggest and best in the city, its windows invitingly filled with Playstations, Barbie dolls and bicycles.

They go there no longer. Today the shop on 14 Ramadan Street in the once-affluent al-Mansur district is closed, with a black mourning flag draped across its front. The three sons and the teenage grandson of the owner, Mehdi al-Jillawi, were shutting down for the evening recently, bringing in bicycles and tricycles on display on the pavement in front of the shop. As they did so, two BMWs stopped close to them, and several gunmen got out armed with assault rifles. They opened fire at point-blank range, killing the young men....

While the eyes of the world are elsewhere, Baghdad is still dying and the daily toll is hitting record levels. While the plumes of fire and smoke over Lebanon have dominated headlines for 11 days, with Britain and the US opposing a UN call for an immediate ceasefire, another Bush-Blair foreign policy disaster is unfolding in Iraq.... More people are dying here - probably more than 150 a day - in the escalating sectarian civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslims and the continuing war with US troops than in the bombardment of Lebanon.

In a desperate effort to stem the butchery, the government yesterday imposed an all-day curfew on Baghdad, but tens of thousands of its people have already run for their lives. In some parts of the city, dead bodies are left to rot in the baking summer heat because nobody dares to remove them.... Few shops were open. Those still doing business are frantically trying to sell their stock. A sign above one shop read: "Italian furniture: 75 per cent reductions.'' Iraqis are terrified in a way that I have never seen before.... The UN says 6,000 civilians were slaughtered in May and June, but this month has been far worse. In many districts it has become difficult to buy bread because Sunni assassins have killed all the bakers who are traditionally Shia....

The Iraqi government is a prisoner of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified enclave defended by US troops in the centre of Baghdad. Entering it is like visiting another country. Soldiers at the gates spend longer looking at documents than do officials at most European frontiers. "Some ministers have never visited their ministries outside the Green Zone," said one ex-minister. "They have their officials bring them documents to sign."

It seems unlikely that Baghdad will ever come together again. Sunni are frightened of being caught in a Shia district, and vice versa. Many now carry two sets of identity documents, one Sunni and one Shia. Checkpoints manned by the Mehdi Army know this and sometimes ask people claiming to be Shia questions about Shia theology. One Shia who passed this test was still killed because he was driving a car with number plates from Anbar, a Sunni province.

Where are the Americans in all this? Iraqis who used to say that they were against the US occupation but at least the Americans prevented civil war now think that a civil war has started regardless of their presence.

The Iraqi army and police are themselves divided along sectarian lines. Recognising this, the Shia-controlled Interior Ministry ludicrously suggested that people challenge the ferocious police commanders and demand their identity cards in order to distinguish real police from death squads. It is hard to think of a surer way of getting oneself killed.

I never expected the occupation of Iraq by the US and Britain to end happily. But I did not foresee the present catastrophe. Baghdad has survived the Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 Gulf War, UN sanctions, more bombing and, finally, a savage guerrilla war. Now the city is finally splitting apart, and - most surprising of all - this disaster scarcely gets a mention on the news as the world watches the destruction of Beirut so many miles away...

And predicts the end of the country:

Independent Online Edition > Middle East: Sectarian break-up of Iraq is now inevitable, admit officials. By Patrick Cockburn in Amman Published: 24 July 2006: The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, meets Tony Blair in London today as violence in Iraq reaches a new crescendo and senior Iraqi officials say the break up of the country is inevitable. A car bomb in a market in the Shia stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad yesterday killed 34 people and wounded a further 60 and was followed by a second bomb in the same area two hours later that left a further eight dead. Another car bomb outside a court house in Kirkuk killed a further 20 and injured 70 people.

"Iraq as a political project is finished," a senior government official was quoted as saying, adding: "The parties have moved to plan B." He said that the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties were now looking at ways to divide Iraq between them and to decide the future of Baghdad, where there is a mixed population. "There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into [Shia] east and [Sunni] west," he said. Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, told The Independent in an interview, before joining Mr Maliki to fly to London and then Washington, that in theory the government should be able to solve the crisis because Shia, Kurd and Sunni were elected members of it. But he painted a picture of a deeply divided administration in which senior Sunni members praised anti-government insurgents as "the heroic resistance".

In the past two weeks, at a time when Lebanon has dominated the international news, the sectarian civil war in central Iraq has taken a decisive turn for the worse. There have been regular tit-for-tat massacres and the death toll for July is likely to far exceed the 3,149 civilians killed in June. Mr Maliki, who is said to be increasingly isolated, has failed to prevent the violence. Other Iraqi leaders claim he lacks experience in dealing with security, is personally very isolated without a kitchen cabinet and is highly dependent on 30-40 Americans in unofficial advisory positions around him.

"The government is all in the Green Zone like the previous one and they have left the streets to the terrorists," said Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Iraqi politician. He said the situation would be made worse by the war in Lebanon because it would intensify the struggle between Iran and the US being staged in Iraq. The Iraqi crisis would now receive much reduced international attention. The switch of American and British media attention to Lebanon and away from the rapidly deteriorating situation in Baghdad is much to the political benefit of Mr Blair and Mr Bush. "Maliki's trip to Washington is all part of the US domestic agenda to put a good face on things for November," a European diplomat in Baghdad was quoted as saying.

Ever since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein a succession of Iraqi political leaders have been fêted in London and Washington where they claimed to have the insurgents on the run. Mr Maliki's meetings with Mr Blair today and Mr Bush tomorrow are likely to be lower key but will serve the same purpose before the US Congressional elections in November. US commanders are considering moving more of their troops - there are some 55,000 near the capital into Baghdad to halt sectarian violence...

Billmon of the Whiskey Bar Explodes...

Make that 15 km. Stay at least 15 km away from Billmon at all times:

Whiskey Bar: Pity Party: Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks thinks I'm being a little hard on him because I keep pointing out out the glaring contradictions between his original reporting from Iraq and the very different picture of the war painted in his new book. He complains that I'm not leaving enough room for "loyal dissent." Here he is holding forth on this theme at one of the Post's online chat sessions today:

It especially bothers me that there seems to be little room for "loyal dissent." People who try to make honest criticisms are attacked instantly. I am seeing this on the left as well as the right, by the way. I sometimes think that the left would only be happy if we started labelling all their enemies liars. I noticed that one leftish blogger criticized me for quoting generals who said in 2003 that we were winning the war. I don't think he understands that part of my job is to quote people accurately--even if I don't agree with what they are saying.

Well, I gotta admit, Ricks has me there -- he's a damned fine stenographer. And if by word or deed I somehow implied that he is not, then he has my deepest and sincerest apology.

But, as even Ricks seems to understand, things have changed a bit since 1500 B.C. and faithfully scribing the words uttered by Pharoah and his generals is now only part of a reporter's job -- and not even the most important part (although I wouldn't say that too loudly around the White House press office or you might get some really dirty looks.)

The problem is that Ricks' reporting from Iraq (at least through early 2004, which is as far as I've gotten) not only quoted the generals and colonels and majors accurately, but reflected their views entirely and almost exclusively. Ricks is using his official sources as human shields now, but I think any fair reading of his dispatches shows he swallowed their optimistic, gung ho predictions (predictions which he now admits were flat wrong) hook, line and proverbial sinker. The tone is one of a mutual admiration society, in which Ricks felt privileged to be a junior member.

But don't take my word for it. Go read some of them yourself...

By the way, Mr. Ricks, many of your sources in 2003 were liars, weren't they?

Treasury Staff

Good news:

Start Making Sense: Eric Solomon update: Thanks to the efforts of Ellen Aprill and Paul Caron, among others, a law profs' petition in favor of Eric Solomon's confirmation is rapidly gaining signatures. There will also be a petition from former Treasury officials and Congressional staffers, along with that from tax lawyers at the New York State Bar Association.

Where do I sign up?

Technorati: A Disappointment

John Battelle congratulates Technorati:

John Battelle's Searchblog: Technorati's New Groove: A major release for the venerable blog search engine. Why describe all the new features, when they've make a really watchable screencast? Congrats, guys.

But when I use Technorati to search for links in the past two days to, I get:

Technorati Search: The Emirates Economist 6 hours ago in The Emirates Economist by jbchilton · 62 blogs link here Economics Blog Favorites Arnold Kling Becker-Posner The EclectEcon Econbrowser Economics Blogs (via Brad Delong) Economics Blogs (via NABE) Economics Blogs (via Truck&Barter) Economics Roundtable Greg Mankiw's Blog Knowledge Problem Mahalanobis Marginal Revolution Market...

This is a company that claims to be:

Technorati: About Us: Currently tracking 49.4 million blogs... the recognized authority on what's going on in the world of weblogs.... Technorati tracks the number of links, and the perceived relevance of blogs, as well as the real-time nature of blogging.... [I]t can track the thousands of updates per hour that occur.... Technorati. Who's saying what. Right now.

Yet it finds only one of the perhaps fifteen links made to in the past 48 hours.

The Chronicle of Higher Education Has a Symposium on Juan Cole

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a symposium on the career of Juan Cole. Its anonymous editorial voice writes:

The Chronicle: 7/28/2006: Can Blogging Derail Your Career?: Juan R.I. Cole became arguably the most visible commentator writing on the Middle East today. A professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and president of the Middle East Studies Association, Cole has voiced strong opposition to the war in Iraq and to the treatment of the Palestinians, garnering him plaudits from the left and condemnation from supporters of Israel and President Bush's foreign policy. In the words of a colleague, Cole has done something no other scholar of the region has done since Bernard Lewis: "become a household word."

Among the worthwhile contributions are Juan Cole's:

The Chronicle: 7/28/2006: Juan R.I. Cole Responds: The ability to speak directly and immediately to the public on matters of one's expertise, and to bring to bear all one's skills to affect the public debate, is new and breathtaking. I have had some success in explaining the threat of Al Qaeda and suggesting how it should be combated, and have addressed U.S. counter-terrorism officials on numerous occasions on those matters. And then there is Iraq, about which I was one of the few U.S. historians to have written professionally before the 2003 war. In the summer of 2003, when the general mood of the administration, the news media, and the public was unrelievedly celebratory, I warned that a guerrilla war was building and that powerful sectarian forces such as the movement of Moktada al-Sadr were a gathering threat. I gained a hearing not only with broad segments of the public but also at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

I am a Middle East expert. I lived in the area for nearly 10 years, speak several of its languages, and have given my life to understanding its history and culture. Since September 11, 2001, my country has been profoundly involved with the region, both negatively and positively. Powerful economic and political forces in American society would like to monopolize the discourse on these matters for the sake of their own interests, which may not be the same as the interests of those of us in the general public. Obviously, such forces will attempt to smear and marginalize those with whom they disagree. Before the Internet, they might have had an easier time of it. Being in the middle of all this, trying to help mutual understanding, is what I trained for. Should I have been silent, published only years later in stolid academic prose in journals locked up in a handful of research libraries? And this for the sake of a "career"? The role of the public intellectual is my career. And it is a hell of a career. I recommend it.

Michael Berube:

The Chronicle: 7/28/2006: The Attention Blogs Bring: By MICHAEL BÉRUBÉ: Juan Cole's blogging may, indeed, have cost him a job at Yale. I think that's Yale's loss rather than Cole's, so I don't see it as a blow to academic freedom or to the professor's scholarly reputation.... Cole is sui generis: He's a prominent academic blogger who writes about the contemporary Middle East. For the culture warriors of the right, it doesn't matter that he is a moderate who supported the removal of Saddam Hussein; what matters is that he has become the go-to person on the Middle East for many readers of liberal blogs, where is he widely admired (and sometimes criticized) for his commentary on the war in Iraq and all related matters. I can't think of another academic blogger who would generate the kind of vile attacks mounted against him this year by John Fund at The Wall Street Journal (who called him "Taliban Man") and Christopher Hitchens at Slate (who called him "a minor nuisance on the fringes of the academic Muslim apologist community").

But in another way, the campaign against Cole bespeaks a broader phenomenon. In much of academe, blogs are still considered to be variants of personal diaries or individual soapboxes. When two young bloggers — one a political scientist, one a physicist — were denied tenure at the University of Chicago last year, academic bloggers speculated that their blogging had something to do with the decision.... I don't know whether my own blogging has enhanced or damaged my academic career. I know it's brought more public attention to some of my academic work; I know it's allowed me to respond quickly and effectively to people like David Horowitz, and I've enjoyed debunking some of his more lunatic claims about me — and about liberal professors in general. So far, most of the feedback I've gotten from colleagues has been good, but I've had plenty of detractors, too...

Siva Vaidhyananthan:

The Chronicle: 7/28/2006: The Lessons of Juan Cole: By SIVA VAIDHYANATHAN: Ever since the publication in 1987 of Russell Jacoby's narrative The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe, I have been rolling my eyes every time I read or hear yet another public intellectual complaining that they don't make public intellectuals like they used to. Now, I've never considered the heyday of the Partisan Review and Dissent the apex of intellectuals' relevance in the United States. But most of all, I am tired of hearing that there is no space for intellectuals to make a difference today in American thought and political debate.

There has never been a better time to be a public intellectual, and the Web is the big reason why. Juan Cole is exhibit No. 1. Cole is an academic who writes clearly and forcefully about the most trenchant issues of the day (academics are not supposed to know how to do that, remember?). Cole gets quoted by the mainstream news media. He appears regularly in popular publications like Salon. And — love it or hate it — everyone who is anyone reads his blog. For the past four years, he has been as influential as any other major American academic. If Jacoby were right, Juan Cole never should have happened...

Dan Drezner:

The Chronicle: 7/28/2006: The Trouble With Blogs: [T]op departments are profoundly risk-averse when it comes to senior hires. In some ways, that caution is sensible — hiring a senior professor is the equivalent of signing a baseball player to a lifetime contract without any ability to release or trade him. In such a situation, even small doubts about an individual become magnified. The trouble with blogs is that they seem designed to provoke easy doubts. Blogs are an outlet for unexpurgated, unreviewed, and occasionally unprofessional musings. What makes them worth reading can also make them prone to error....

In some ways, this problem is merely the latest manifestation of what happens when professors try to become public intellectuals.... Blogging multiplies the problem a thousandfold, creating new pathways to public recognition beyond the control of traditional academic gatekeepers or even op-ed editors. Any usurpation of scholarly authority is bound to upset those who benefit the most from the status quo...

And Brad DeLong.

What Is China?

Bob Reich tries to think about what China is:

China: Capitalism Doesn't Require Democracy : by Robert B. Reich: You may remember when the world was divided between communism and capitalism, and when the Chinese were communists. The Chinese still call themselves communists, but now they’re also capitalists. In fact, visit China today and you find the most dynamic capitalist nation in the world. In 2005, it had the distinction of being the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

China is the manufacturing hub of the globe. It’s is also moving quickly into the highest of high technologies. It already graduates more computer engineers every year than the United States. Its cities are booming. There are more building cranes in use today in China than in all of the United States. China’s super-highways are filled with modern cars. Its deep-water ports and airports are world class. Its research and development centers are state of the art. At the rate its growing, in three decades China will be the largest economy in the world.

Communist, as in communal? Are you kidding? The gap between China’s rich and poor is turning into a chasm. China’s innovators, investors, and captains of industry are richly rewarded. They live in luxury housing developments whose streets are lined with McMansions. The feed in fancy restaurants, and relax in five-star hotels and resorts. China’s poor live in a different world. Mao Tse Tung would turn in his grave. So where are the Chinese communists? They’re in government. The communist party is the only party there is. China doesn’t have freedom of speech or freedom of the press. It doesn’t tolerate dissent. Authorities can arrest and imprison people who threaten stability, as the party defines it. Any group that dares to protest is treated brutally. There are no civil liberties, no labor unions, no centers of political power outside the communist party.

China shows that when it comes to economics, the dividing line among the world’s nations is no longer between communism and capitalism. Capitalism has won hands down. The real dividing line is no longer economic. It’s political. And that divide is between democracy and authoritarianism. China is a capitalist economy with an authoritarian government.

For years, we’ve assumed that capitalism and democracy fit hand in glove. We took it as an article of faith that you can’t have one without the other. That’s why a key element of American policy toward China has been to encourage free trade, direct investment, and open markets. As China becomes more prosperous and integrated into the global market -- so American policy makers have thought -- China will also become more democratic. Well, maybe we’ve been a bit naive. It’s true that democracy needs capitalism. Try to come up with the name of a single democracy in the world that doesn’t have a capitalist economy. For democracy to function there must be centers of power outside of government. Capitalism decentralizes economic power, and thereby provides the private ground in which democracy can take root. But China shows that the reverse may not be true -- capitalism doesn’t need democracy. Capitalism’s wide diffusion of economic power offers enough incentive for investors to take risks with their money. But, as China shows, capitalism doesn’t necessarily provide enough protection for individuals to take risks with their opinions.

I am not sure that he is right. I need to think harder about the relationship between China's upper economic class and its upper political class.

No Progress Toward Freer Trade Under Bush

Yet more Bush-Quality policy:

Econbrowser: The Gamble Fails: Doha talks collapse: The Bush Administration's quid pro quo of early-on steel protectionism in exchange for fast track negotiating authority for the Doha Round seems like a bad bet (May 24) in retrospect. From Reuters:

GENEVA (Reuters) - Global free trade talks, billed as a once in a generation chance to boost growth and ease poverty, collapsed on Monday after nearly five years of haggling and resuming them could take years. The suspension of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Doha round came after major trading powers failed in a last-ditch bid to overcome differences on reforming world farm trade, which lies at the heart of the round. "The WTO negotiations are suspended," Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath told journalists. When asked how long the suspension could last, he replied: "Anywhere from months to years."

The round, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, stumbled from the start over how far rich nations would go to dismantle their huge farm subsidies and open up their markets. Fourteen hours of talks between the so-called G6 -- the United States the European Union, Brazil, Australia, Japan and India -- yielded no breakthrough on Sunday on the question. The European Union and India firmly pointed the finger at the United States for the final breakdown, saying that Washington had been demanding too high a price for cutting into the some $20 billion it spends annually on farm subsidies. Accusing the United States of "stone-walling," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said: "Surely the richest and strongest nation in the world, with the highest standards of living, can afford to give as well as take."

But the United States was adamant neither the EU nor India had been prepared to offer the sort of access to their markets that Washington needs to make a deal on subsidies worthwhile. It has said all along it preferred no deal to one that brought it no new business.

Are there any defenders of Bush trade policy left? Any at all? No? Good.

Meanwhile, in Iraq Today...

Patrick Cockburn writes:

Independent Online Edition > World Politics: Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad: Published: 22 July 2006: Parents dare not let their children wander the dangerous streets of Baghdad alone, but until a few days ago they could give them a treat by taking them to al-Jillawi's toyshop, the biggest and best in the city, its windows invitingly filled with Playstations, Barbie dolls and bicycles. They go there no longer. Today the shop on 14 Ramadan Street in the once-affluent al-Mansur district is closed, with a black mourning flag draped across its front. The three sons and the teenage grandson of the owner, Mehdi al-Jillawi, were shutting down for the evening recently, bringing in bicycles and tricycles on display on the pavement in front of the shop. As they did so, two BMWs stopped close to them, and several gunmen got out armed with assault rifles. They opened fire at point-blank range, killing the young men.

Sectarian slaughter is not the only way to die in Iraq.

Yesterday US troops killed five people, including two women and a child, in the city of Baquba during a raid, claiming they had been shot at. At best it was a tragic error, at worst it spoke to the cavalier attitude of the US towards Iraqi civilian lives. Local police said that a man had fired from a rooftop at the Americans because he thought a hostile militia force was approaching. While the eyes of the world are elsewhere, Baghdad is still dying and the daily toll is hitting record levels. While the plumes of fire and smoke over Lebanon have dominated headlines for 11 days, with Britain and the US opposing a UN call for an immediate ceasefire, another Bush-Blair foreign policy disaster is unfolding in Iraq....

In a desperate effort to stem the butchery, the government yesterday imposed an all-day curfew on Baghdad, but tens of thousands of its people have already run for their lives. In some parts of the city, dead bodies are left to rot in the baking summer heat because nobody dares to remove them. I drove through empty streets in the heart of the city yesterday, taking a zigzag course to avoid police checkpoints that we thought might be doubling as death squads. Few shops were open. Those still doing business are frantically trying to sell their stock. A sign above one shop read: "Italian furniture: 75 per cent reductions.''

Iraqis are terrified in a way that I have never seen before.... The UN says 6,000 civilians were slaughtered in May and June, but this month has been far worse. In many districts it has become difficult to buy bread because Sunni assassins have killed all the bakers who are traditionally Shia. Baghdad is now breaking up into a dozen different hostile cities, Sunni or Shia, heavily armed and living in terror of the other side. On 9 July, Shia gunmen from the black-clad Mehdi Army entered the largely Sunni al-Jihad district in west Baghdad and killed 40 Sunni after dragging them from their cars or stopping them at false checkpoints. Within hours the Sunni militias struck back with car bombs killing more than 60 Shia.

Nouri al-Maliki, the new Iraqi Prime Minister is to leave Iraq tomorrow on his way to Washington. He was appointed after five months of wrangling and intense pressure from the American and British embassies. The Iraqi government is a prisoner of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified enclave defended by US troops in the centre of Baghdad. Entering it is like visiting another country. Soldiers at the gates spend longer looking at documents than do officials at most European frontiers. "Some ministers have never visited their ministries outside the Green Zone," said one ex-minister. "They have their officials bring them documents to sign."...

Where are the Americans in all this? Iraqis who used to say that they were against the US occupation but at least the Americans prevented civil war now think that a civil war has started regardless of their presence.

The Iraqi army and police are themselves divided along sectarian lines. Recognising this, the Shia-controlled Interior Ministry ludicrously suggested that people challenge the ferocious police commanders and demand their identity cards in order to distinguish real police from death squads. It is hard to think of a surer way of getting oneself killed.

I never expected the occupation of Iraq by the US and Britain to end happily. But I did not foresee the present catastrophe. Baghdad has survived the Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 Gulf War, UN sanctions, more bombing and, finally, a savage guerrilla war. Now the city is finally splitting apart, and - most surprising of all - this disaster scarcely gets a mention on the news as the world watches the destruction of Beirut so many miles away.