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June 2008

Public Campaign Financing

Francis Wilkinson is smart:

Bring It On: Ever since Watergate, the ideal of campaign finance reform has been to replace a system fueled by special interests and big money with either full public financing or a system of civic-minded small donors. The former is abhorred by much of the public while the latter looks remarkably like In effect, the Obama campaign has come closer to achieving the ideals of campaign finance reform than 30-plus years of regulation. To condemn the campaign’s departure from the system is to elevate rules over the principle that gave birth to the rules in the first place.

If reformers make Mr. Obama out to be the bad guy, that may be fine by him. Despite what we have witnessed with our own eyes, some people remain under the illusion that Mr. Obama is soft. (Apparently they missed the part where, two years into his first term in the Senate, he ran for president against the most powerful political machine in America and steadily ground it down.) Mr. Obama’s willingness to snub reformers isn’t exactly akin to taming a lion or wrestling an alligator. But more than four months before the election, even beating up on a toothless bunny might send a message.

Marx and Engels on "Communitarian" Anti-Capitalism

Insightful, for 1848:

The Communist Manifesto: In order to arouse sympathy, the aristocracy... formulate[d] its indictment against the bourgeoisie in the interest of the exploited working class alone.... In this way arose feudal socialism: half lamentation, half lampoon; half an echo of the [communitarian] past, half menace of the future; at times, by its bitter, witty and incisive criticism, striking the bourgeoisie to the very heart's core, but always ludicrous in its effect.... [T]he feudalists forget that they exploited under circumstances and conditions that were quite different and that are now antiquated.... [I]n ordinary life, despite their high falutin' phrases, they stoop to pick up the golden apples dropped from the tree of industry, and to barter truth, love, and honor, for traffic in wool, beetroot-sugar, and potato spirits.

As the parson has ever gone hand in hand with the landlord, so has clerical socialism with feudal socialism. Nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a socialist tinge....

The feudal aristocracy was not the only class that was ruined by the bourgeoisie.... The medieval burgesses... the small peasant proprietors... a new class of petty bourgeois.... Thus arose petty-bourgeois socialism. Sismondi was the head of this school, not only in France but also in England. This school of socialism dissected with great acuteness the contradictions in the conditions of modern production. It laid bare the hypocritical apologies of economists. It proved, incontrovertibly, the disastrous effects of machinery and division of labor; the concentration of capital and land in a few hands; overproduction and crises; it pointed out the inevitable ruin of the petty bourgeois and peasant, the misery of the proletariat, the anarchy in production, the crying inequalities in the distribution of wealth, the industrial war of extermination between nations, the dissolution of old moral bonds, of the old family relations, of the old nationalities.

In it positive aims, however, this form of socialism aspires either to restoring the old [communitarian] means of production and of exchange, and with them the old property relations, and the old society... it is both reactionary and Utopian.... [C]orporate guilds for manufacture; patriarchal relations in agriculture...

Washington Post Death Spiral Watch (Robert Woodward and Deborah Howell Edition)

From Washington Post [unprintable] Deborah Howell:

When Speech Isn't Free - The Post Stylebook's ethics and standards section says only: "We freelance for no one and accept no speaking engagements without permission from department heads." Broder and Woodward did not check with editors on the appearances Silverstein mentioned.... rule, journalists are not to take fees or awards from government agencies, partisan groups or special-interest groups that focus mainly on lobbying. Speaking to educational or nonprofit groups for fees may be approved; whether to allow expenses to be paid is decided case by case....

Woodward said all his speaking fees -- which range from $15,000 to $60,000 -- go to a [charitable] foundation he started in the 1990s with his wife, journalist Elsa Walsh. The Woodward Walsh Foundation has about $2.3 million, he said. He gave me its latest 2008 IRS filing, which will be made public, showing total gifts of $107,874, compared with $17,500 in 2007. Its largest donation in the past year was $51,000 to his daughter's Sidwell Friends School. Among other recipients were Investigative Reporters and Editors, Martha's Table and D.C. College Access. [Ken] Silverstein questioned whether the foundation gave away 5 percent of its net investment assets as required by law. Woodward said the foundation "rigorously" follows the law...

Five percent of $2.3 million is $115,000, not $17,500.

I find this a very interesting journalistic tick: you draw the dots, but you do not connect them, and the person you are writing about--in this case, Robert Woodward--breathes a big sigh of relief because there is no bottom-line quote that can be pulled out of the story that makes him look bad.

And I must point out that Sidwell Friends is not a "charity" in any proper sense of the world. Don't get me wrong--it is a wonderful school, from which I received a truly excellent education from many teachers who were paid far less than they were truly worth. Five stick out in my memory right now: Peter Cohen, Joe Wildermuth, George Lang, Florence Fassinelli, Richard Brady.

But it is not moral or just to classify gifts to Sidwell as worthy of the charitable deduction on your income tax form.

Let's give the mike, once again, to Ken Silverstein:

David Broder’s and Bob Woodward’s Lame Alibis--By Ken Silverstein (Harper's Magazine): Woodward told Howell “all his speaking fees — which range from $15,000 to $60,000 — go to a foundation he started in the 1990s.” He added, “It’s a straight shot into the foundation that gives money to legitimate charities. I think that’s doing good work.”... Woodward... really shouldn’t treat Post readers with such contempt. The facts are clear. He reaps significant tax savings by giving the fees to a “charity” that gives away a small fraction of its assets, and by far the biggest beneficiary of his foundation is Sidwell Friends, the elite private school sitting atop a reported $30 million endowment and attended by his own children...

Washington Post Death Spiral Watch (David Broder and Deborah Howell Edition)

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

Ken Silverstein talks about Robert Woodward's and David Broder's outside speaking engagements. Most interesting is Broder, who, as a commenter on the Post's website puts it:

David Broder’s and Bob Woodward’s Lame Alibis--By Ken Silverstein (Harper's Magazine):

  • Broder... said he broke the [Post's own] rules on those speeches.
  • He also said he had cleared his speeches with Milton Coleman, deputy managing editor, or Tom Wilkinson, an assistant managing editor.
  • Neither remembered him mentioning them.

Ok, so:

  • When Broder was first confronted he lied about the speeches.
  • When he was faced with clear evidence he then admitted that he broke the rules but then tried to blame it on others by saying that he had told them.
  • They, of course, didn’t remember him saying a word (remind you of Judy Miller at the NYT?).
  • Mr. Broder is obviously a serial liar who thought he could BS his way out of a mess of his own making.
  • So the only question left to ask is--what is the Post going to do about his repeated unethical conduct?

The answer, of course, is "nothing."

Here's what Silverstein has to say about Broder:

Broder... has been flagrantly dishonest with his own employer.... Broder gave roughly a score [of speeches for pay].... Broder first [said]... “I have never spoken to partisan gatherings in any role other than [that of] a journalist nor to an advocacy group that lobbies Congress or the federal government.” That turned out to be false... so Broder came back to say, “I am embarrassed by these mistakes and the embarrassment it has caused the paper.”

Broder... [said] he attended an event at the American Council for Capital Formation, “but did not give a speech.” So apparently someone at the ACCF made up this account of Broder’s speech to the group?... Broder gave a speech at a meeting of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (which paid him, he now admits, $7,000), which was a PAC fundraiser.... “Mary Beth Coya, the Realtors’ senior vice president for public and governmental affairs, said the event was not a fundraiser but was attended by elected officials ‘to promote our government affairs programs’.” The event in fact was clearly promoted as a PAC fundraiser....

Broder specifically denied to [ombudsman] Howell that I [Silverstein] had sought comment from him... even though I contacted him several times, by phone and email, beginning forty-eight hours before posting the first story...

Silverstein also takes on Washington Post--well, I won't call her an "ombudman" because there are many very good ombudsmen at many newspapers around the world, it is not fair to tag them with the misdeeds of Washington Post spin and coverup artist Deborah Howell. High up in Howell's column, she writes:

When Speech Isn't Free: The Post Stylebook's ethics and standards section says only: "We freelance for no one and accept no speaking engagements without permission from department heads." [David] Broder and [Robert] Woodward did not check with editors on the appearances Silverstein mentioned...

Then the spinning begins. Let's turn the mike over to Ken Silverstein"

Howell goes very easy on Broder... and Woodward.... Howell deals with only a few speeches by Woodward and Broder... [does not inform her readers] that the two men, and especially Woodward, are regulars on the talk circuit and that the problem is not restricted to the few speeches she discusses in her column.... Howell doesn’t mention [that]... Post reporters, it seems, will call people to ask about their actions but won’t take calls about their own [actions from people like me, Silverstein.... [Howell doesn't mention that] Broder specifically [and falsely] denied to Howell that I [Silverstein] had sought comment from him....

Howell reports that the Post’s executive editor, Len Downie, “unearthed a 1995 memo outlining the rules on speeches, but it is not widely known about in the newsroom.” So the Post, it seems, has thirteen-year-old guidelines on paid speeches by employees, but few at the newspaper know about it.... Howell might want to review old editorials the paper ran vehemently denouncing members of Congress who accept outside speaking fees. In a 1991 editorial, and there were numerous similar ones, the Post complained that the Senate had not subjected itself to a ban on outside speaking and that senators and staffers could still accept up to $2,000--one thirtieth of [Robert] Woodward’s current top fee--for speaking before

interest groups whose legislative fortunes they control.... That’s wrong, and as the Senate discusses the higher standard of conduct it has righteously voted to impose on others, the disparity will be all the more apparent...

Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness. We once again prove the first law of American vacations: gain 300 feet in elevation above the nearest paved two lane road, and you are effectively alone. Oh, there are exceptions: the tops of gondolas and the Vernal Falls trail in Yosemite Valley come to mind immediately. But can you think of any others?
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In Celebration of the Unfogged Community

"Doug" writes:

11D: Dangerous Women: Unfogged is a tough crowd, but I like'em. They're smart and witty, and there's real back and forth. Plus people are willing to stick around for hundreds of comments because interesting things happen even deep in the threads. The only other place I visit regularly where that happens is Making Light...

You will like the community of commenters and webloggers at if that is the kind of thing you like. It and Making Light are, in my experience, unique in the intelligence and wit of their participants--Algonquin round tables for the onrushing Age of the Global Village. But Unfogged, especially, will not be to everyone's taste.

Why are there so few gold-standard high-quality internet intellectual communities around? And are there others of equally high and consistent quality of which I am unaware?

Impeach Every Single Member of the Bush Administration. Now.

Andrew Sullivan:

The Daily Dish: [T]he administration originally seized far, far more detainees than it could prove guilty (or ever tried to prove guilty) and has released thousands falsely imprisoned. Of the thousands seized... many were abused and tortured, with over a hundred deaths occurring during interrogation, two score of whom the administration has itself conceded were murder-by-interrogation. All this occurred after the president decided his actions as commander-in-chief could not be constrained by the law, after he had waived the baseline Geneva Convention protections for prisoners in wartime - in violation of the policy of every previous president of the United States from Washington on - and after critical memos were signed allowing American interrogators to do anything to prisoners short of death or loss of a major organ.

Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff explains what this means in terms any morally responsible person would understand:

As I compiled my dossier for Secretary Powell, as I did further research, and as my views grew firmer and firmer, I needed frequently to reread that memo. I needed to balance, in my own mind, the overwhelming evidence that my own government had sanctioned abuse and torture which, at its worst, had led to the murder of 25 detainees in a total of at least a 100 detainee deaths. Death, Mr. Chairman, seems to me to be the ultimate torture, indisputable and final. We had murdered 25 or more people in detention; that was the clear low point of the evidence.

And all this was done not in the chaos of a battlefield or even by rogue units or POW camps. It was not done in a war with anything like as many soldiers and battles as World War II. It was done in a closely managed war by a professional military and intelligence service in every theater of combat as a concerted policy... authorized directly in the chain of command by the president, who knowingly broke the law and hired lawyers to tell him he hadn't. No clever argumentation that "only" 270 prisoners remain at Gitmo can gainsay that.... Now, you could argue that the administration, after initial understandable over-reach, has tried to set things right. But you would be wrong....

[I]t may be true that the administration would, in an ideal world, have preferred that every person they seized was actually guilty; and that every person they tortured gave up accurate information. Police states would love it if this were true as well. But the point is that this cannot happen and has never happened in the real world - and recognizing this fact is a core principle of Western civilization. If you suspend the Geneva Conventions, give the green light to anything that will get intelligence, round up thousands all over the globe with reckless disregard for guilt or innocence, you are effectively and knowingly issuing orders to seize innocent people and torture them. Any president who decides to do that and then says it was not his intention to do that is a fraud or a fool. It matters not a whit what fantasy the president had cooked up in his own mind about what he was doing. This is what he was doing.

Major Gen Antonio Taguba, trusted enough by this administration to run an earlier report on the abuse scandal, puts it plainly enough:

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account...

The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest

Worth following:

How to play (and win!) the New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest | The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest is an interactive — no wait, Web 2.0 — parody of The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. Every Monday, when the New Yorker publishes a new uncaptioned cartoon, I post that same cartoon on this site. But while the New Yorker is looking for (and rarely finding) good captions, I'm looking for the worst captions possible. I'll choose one winner and two finalists who will be "rewarded" with a prominent spot directly under the cartoon and web links if any were provided. Below those I'll post any number of anti-captions deserving honorable mention...

Forced to Be (Drug) Free! Singaporean Nannystate Edition

Dancing along the gemeinschaft-gesellschaft community--associative society tightrope, we have Alameida of Unfogged on teh Singapore Nannystate:

Unfogged: I have a sponsee now... a Singaporean heroin addict, she has used off and on, sometimes staying clean for a few years, in and out of jail, but is just now giving the 12-step thing the old college try.... The other interesting thing is her attitude towards the state that imprisoned her for possession for so many years. I was angry on her behalf, because I think it's a terrible system of laws. She was more philosophical, taking the view that the government meant her well, that they were trying to force her onto the right path but their efforts failed because of her own weakness. The time in jail itself she speaks of almost positively. No drugs (unlike in a US jail), healthy food that wasn't bad at all, nothing to do but get exercise, read, and educate herself (she did her A levels from prison, tutoring herself with a workbook.) She did a lot of self-reflection, but it was never enough to keep her clean once the gates swung open.

Ask the Gemeinschaft: E. Roy Weintraub and Stephen Marglin Edition

Tyler Cowen sends us to Weintraub:

ECONOMICS: First, Kill the Economists: It is not often that a scholar with no particular historical or philosophical expertise trashes the Western.... Stephen A. Marglin's argument in The Dismal Science is that economics--with its focus on an individual's preferences, the freedom to engage in activities to promote his or her well-being, and the pursuit of self-interest variously construed--perverts a natural moral order:

the foundational assumptions of economics are in my view simply the tacit assumptions of modernity. The centerpiece in both is the rational, calculating, self-interested individual with unlimited wants for whom society is the nation-state.

And what modernity shunned was "community."

His main line is that "The market undermines community because it replaces personal ties of economic necessity by impersonal market transactions.... Economics is not only descriptive; it is not only evaluative; it is at the same time constructive--economists seek to fashion a world in the image of economic theory." Economics and thinking like an economist are bad for the health of the world....

The argument about the proper way to do economics is an old one. An 1832 complaint in The Eclectic Review charged the work of Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo with leading the public far from "the true path of inquiry" and making political economy "a hideous chain of paradoxes at apparent war with religion and humanity."... The professionalization of economics was a late 19th century phenomenon. Cambridge's Alfred Marshall, in attempting to construct a scientific economics, was not able to establish economics as a separate discipline until the death of Henry Sidgwick, the university's professor of moral philosophy, under whose direction lectures in political economy had been organized....

The kind of economics from which Marglin recoils is, however, not of the sort that was present in writings of individuals (e.g., Smith, Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Marshall, and John Commons) who have been claimed as ancestors by modern economists. It is instead what developed in the post-World War II stabilization of economic discourse and the final professionalization of the discipline. It was during that postwar period, not in the Enlightenment, that economic science became normal in Thomas Kuhn's sense.

Marglin... believe[s] that the ideas he engages and then casts aside (ideas about the economic agent, preferences, equilibrium, models, and markets) all grew up not in the 20th century but hundreds of years earlier--and that those ideas have had stable meanings ever since:

For four hundred years, economists have been active in the enterprise of constructing the modern economy and society, both by legitimizing the market and by promoting the values, attitudes, and behaviors that make for economic success. No apology is due for this--except for the pretense of scientific detachment and neutrality and the unwillingness to confront the ideological beam in our collective eye.

The ahistoricity of such a statement is startling; for instance, it assumes wrongly that there were individuals called economists 400 years ago and that science in 1600 meant the same thing as it does in 2008.

In his critique, Marglin moves back and forth between moralizing about the loss of community and contempt for the economists' tools and models. He claims:

By promoting market relationships, economics undermines reciprocity, altruism, and mutual obligation, and therewith the necessity of community. The very foundations of economics, by justifying the expansion of markets, lead inexorably to the weakening of community...

From the first times economic arguments were parsed and markets described, there were those who found both contemptible, and this was well before the Enlightenment. Attacks on money lending at interest go back even earlier than Jesus on the temple steps.... William Coleman showed how over the centuries the very idea of economics has been loathed by left, right, and center; Christian, Jew, and anti-Semite; pope and communist dictator; lawyer and business mogul; and scientist and humanist.

In this same tradition of anti-economics, Marglin sees the future of the field as bleak, with the current generation of economics students avoiding large questions in their search for career advancement. And the problems that economics creates will only get worse, he claims, because globalization will make the national community as obsolete as the market has made the local community.

I note in closing that the lead dust-jacket blurb for this volume was provided by the noted economist and social theorist Bianca Jagger (sic). Whatever was Harvard University Press thinking?

I have always found it remarkable that Marglin cannot but assume that "personal ties of economic necessity" are a good thing. Whenever I hear somebody say that they wish I were bound to them by "personal ties of economic necessity," I think that what they really mean is:

I want a world where you don't get to eat unless I approve of what you are doing, so you will be very careful to do only things I approve of.

I don't like that world, much.

Perhaps the most ironic thing about Marglin's rants against associative gesellschaft society in general and economics in particular as destructive of normal, natural, good, right, just, human, blood-and-soil, gemeinschaft community is that Stephen Marglin has spent his life not in a gesellschaft but in a gemeinschaft: for forty years he has been a tenured professor in Harvard's economics department. Few positions in the world today offer a life more embedded in a structured traditional community than his.

The gemeinschaft that is the professional community of Ivy League economists in which Marglin has been embedded for the past forty years has not treated him with "reciprocity, altruism, and mutual obligation" but has--rather--in a very gemeinschaftlich way done what gemeinschaften traditionally do to corral their deviant members and to discourage others from imitating them. It has not been pretty.

But it seems to have had no effect on Marglin's thinking, none at all, for reasons I do not understand.

Meterror Impacts Once Again

Hoisted from Comments: Frank:

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: The Semi-Daily Journal Economist Brad DeLong: impact rates based on the cratering record are pretty much in line with estimates based on the population of Earth-crossing asteroids. Size distributions roughly fit an inverse square law distribution (i.e., 2 x diameter = 1/4 probability; 1/2 diameter = 4 x probability). Using this one can calculate impact rates based on a probability of a 500 m impactor every 100,000 years. So on average, 50 m projectiles should impact every 10,000 years or so (10 x 10 times more frequent). Once you get down to about 50 m the probability of the projectile exploding in the atmosphere (like Tungusaka) is quite high. Much smaller events might be like nuclear explosions, but they are rare and very unlikely to hit populated areas.

More to the point of the Easterbrook article, I've searched the Web of Science publication database for papers by the chief protagonist in his article. DH Abbot has not published a significant paper in 5 years and has never published anything other than unreviewed abstracts on this subject that I can find. Looks like a squeeky wheel getting Easterbrook's attention, but no follow-up to credible experts in this field.

And then there is the cross-section problem: we have what? 6000 cities each of roughly 100 square miles = 600,000 square miles of devastating impact cross section in a world of 200M square miles. That means only 1 out of 400 50M impacts will be "devastating" if we say that a 50 meter meteorite--2 megatons, Barringer crater-sized--hitting a city is our threshold for "devastating."

So we are down to one devastating every 4,000,000 years--not the one every thousand years of the Atlantic Monthly's lead to Gregg Easterbrook's article.

Atlantic Monthly Death Spiral Watch (Marc Ambinder Edition)

Outsourced to Publius of Obsidian Wings:

Obsidian Wings: "So Called Quote Habeas Corpus Suits": Marc Ambinder has been spending a lot of time lately defending John McCain. But this post on habeas was too much. Ambinder claims that “on the question of what should be done to the Gitmo detainees, the candidates' rhetorical differences are greater than their policy differences.” That’s wrong. Really really wrong.

First, and before I get to policy differences, the larger problem is that Ambinder is ignoring the fact that political rhetoric matters. McCain has adopted the worst sort of demagoguery on the habeas case. He claimed the decision was one of the worst in history. He also referred to writs of habeas corpus — one of the oldest civil liberty protections in Anglo-American law — as “so-called, quote, Habeas Corpus suits.”

In doing so, McCain is providing support for the political movement to deny the detainees all legal rights. It doesn’t matter what he privately thinks or what he said years ago. Today, when it matters, he’s siding with the “no rights” crowd — and his actions have consequences. (And for the record, the point of protecting those rights is not to release terrorists but — say it with me people — to determine if these people are terrorists in the first place).

But that aside, Ambinder’s also off on the policy. It’s frustrating to even have to say this, but McCain and Obama have major policy differences on the Gitmo detainees.

First, Ambinder claims the McCain’s gripe is procedural rather than constitutional. That distinction, however, doesn’t make much sense. He writes:

[McCain’s] concern now... is procedural, rather than constitutional: the detainees' having access to habeas in our federal courts would create a tangled web of lawsuits, would expose intelligence secrets, and would needlessly draw out these legal proceedings.

Ugh, where to start. It’s true that there’s a difference between rights and remedies. It’s also true that habeas is a procedural remedy to vindicate a pre-existing right (e.g., due process). The problem, though, with Ambinder’s statement is that this particular procedural remedy (habeas) also happens to be a guaranteed constitutional right. Indeed, its purpose is to prevent precisely what Bush is doing. Thus, McCain’s problem with “procedure” is necessarily a constitutional problem. And the fact that constitutional rights are messy is, you know, the point. I mean, I guess the Fourth Amendment would be ok and all if didn’t make police do messy things like get warrants. It just really drags out the process needlessly.

Things get worse in the next part though:

McCain believes that it’s OK for foreign-national detainees to have habeas corpus rights, even if they are somewhat restricted...

No he doesn’t. I mean, he may say that. He may even think that. But he’s acted in a completely different way.

Rights don’t exist if you eliminate all procedures to vindicate those rights. Otherwise, the rights become only words on paper, rather than living breathing liberties that must necessarily be enforced.

In short, actions speak louder than words. And in the world of action, McCain has been a consistent opponent of habeas. In fact, he’s consistently voted to completely strip ALL habeas protections from the Gitmo detainees. For instance, he has (1) supported the DTA; (2) supported the MCA; and (3) filibustered a bill to restore the habeas rights eliminated by the prior two laws. Collectively, these votes completely eliminated habeas remedies and replaced them with kangaroo courts. Maybe Ambinder could take a stab at squaring these actions with McCain’s words and press releases.

To repeat, it’s impossible to support a right if you oppose all remedies to vindicate that right. A right without a remedy isn’t a right at all. And on that very note, Ambinder writes:

[T]he [Bush] administration favors indefinite detention and opposed the granting of any habeas corpus rights; McCain clearly took another approach.

“Clearly” different approach, eh? Again, it doesn’t matter what McCain says about indefinite detention or limited habeas. Actions are what matter. And McCain’s actions (and Bush’s and the GOP’s and several spineless Dems’) have led to indefinite detention and the complete elimination of habeas rights. Further, McCain’s Hannity-esque rant politically strengthens the more extreme anti-habeas positions and gives them credibility.

Finally, Ambinder argues the candidates simply differ on who will oversee the combatant review process. He writes:

For McCain, the military would oversee those hearings; for Obama, federal judges would.

That's extremely misleading. First, I don’t like the framing here — it’s essentially saying “military versus liberal meddling judges.” In any event, it’s also factually incorrect. The DTA and the MCA incorporate a federal court (the DC Circuit) into the review process. To be sure, the laws provide for only a narrow and excessively limited review of a kangeroo court process, but those meddlin’ federal courts are in fact involved.

But even assuming that no federal court is involved, there’s a larger problem with Ambinder’s characterization — it’s not as simple as “military” versus “federal judges”. A better way to describe the choice is (1) “an extremely limited review process run by the military with no habeas protections” versus (2) “an extremely limited review process run by the military with habeas protections to ensure there is actually evidence for the detention.”

It’s not like the federal courts are going to take over everything, as Ambinder implies. Further, once the government faces the prospect of habeas, it will (ironically enough) lessen the need for habeas litigation. That’s because the government will respond by actually producing evidence and, even better, making the initial trials and review processes less kangaroo-ish.

In any event, these are major differences about vitally important rights. It’s not just angry rhetoric masking a broad consensus about some trifling procedural point.

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

Sam Boyd Is a National Treasure

He reads Slate, so we don't have to poison our minds. And comments on William Saletan:

TAPPED Archive | The American Prospect: this is the same logic that people used to justify homeowners who didn't want to rent to minorities. That's just terrible, they clucked, but I wouldn't want to live in a world where the government told people who they could rent to. Well, as it turns out, that world is a lot better than the one it replaced...

It is a good point. Consider:

William Saletan on contraception:

William Saletan, 2008: You bring your scrip to the pharmacy, and the guy at the counter says, "Sorry, we don't stock contraceptives." That's annoying and, in my view, stupid. But nobody's walling you in. Your burden consists of finding another pharmacy...

William Saletan on fair housing:

William Saletan, 1978: You go to the open house, and the real estate broker says, "Sorry, we don't sell to Negroes." That's annoying and, in my view, stupid. But nobody's walling you in. Your burden consists of finding another house to buy...

Is there a difference between these two?

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

Stupidest Man Alive (William Saletan/Slate Edition)

From Avedon Carol:

The Sideshow June 2008 Archive: You know, when William Saletan was complaining that pro-choice people never do anything to promote ways to reduce the need for abortion, I figured he'd just been hit on the head with an Acme anvil and got amnesia about the existence of organizations like Planned Parenthood. However, I see that His Lordship actually thinks it's no big deal if women can't get contraception, so I'm beginning to suspect that, his protestations to the contrary, Lord Saletan is actually a secret supporter of forced pregnancy...

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

Reported Deaths and Injuries from Meteorite Impact

From Oberlin College, we read:

Meteorite Impact Structures Student Research:

  • 1420 BC  Israel - Fatal meteorite impact.
  • 588 AD China - 10 deaths; siege towers destroyed.
  • 1321-68 China - People & animals killed; homes ruined.
  • 1369  Ho-t'ao China - Soldier injured; fire.
  • 02/03/1490 Shansi, China - 10,000 deaths.
  • 09/14/1511 Cremona, Italy - Monk, birds, & sheep killed.
  • 1633-64 Milono, Italy - Monk killed.
  • 1639 China - Tens of deaths; 10 homes destroyed.
  • 1647-54 Indian Ocean - 2 sailors killed aboard a ship.
  • 07/24/1790 France - Farmer killed; home destroyed; cattle killed.
  • 01/16/1825 Oriang, India - Man killed; woman injured.
  • 02/27/1827 Mhow, India - Man injured.
  • 12/11/1836 Macao, Brazil - Oxen killed; homes damaged.
  • 07/14/1847 Braunau, Bohemia - Home struck by 371 lb meteorite.
  • 01/23/1870 Nedagolla, India - Man stunned by meteorite.
  • 06/30/1874 Ming Tung li, China - Cottage crushed, child killed.
  • 01/14/1879 Newtown, Indiana, USA - Man killed in bed.
  • 01/31/1879 Dun-Lepoelier, France - Farmer killed by meteorite.
  • 11/19/1881 Grossliebenthal, Russia - Man injured.
  • 03/11/1897 West Virginia, USA - Walls pierced, horse killed, man injured.
  • 09/05/1907 Weng-li, China - Whole family crushed to death.
  • 06/30/1908 Tunguska, Siberia - Fire, 2 people killed. (referenced throughout paper)
  • 04/28/1927 Aba, Japan - Girl injured by meteorite.
  • 12/08/1929 Zvezvan, Yugoslavia - Meteorite hit bridal party, 1 killed.
  • 05/16/1946 Santa Ana, Mexico - Houses destroyed, 28 injured.
  • 11/30/1946 Colford, UK - Telephones knocked out, boy injured.
  • 11/28/1954 Sylacauga, Alabama, USA - 4 kg meteorite struck home, lady injured.
  • 08/14/1992 Mbole, Uganda - 48 stones fell, roofs damaged, boy injured.

Meteorite Impact Structures Student Research: The most incredible Chinese report is that of the Chíing-yang Meteorite Shower of 1490.  Supposedly, tens of thousands of people were killed during the shower in the Shansi province.  Yau et al. tell us that "[t]he Chíing-yang incident seems rather implausible in terms of the total number of casualties and the narrow size distribution of the meteorite fragments (Yau et al. 1994)," but they also point out its similarities to the Tunguska event, which would have devastated a populated area.

Yau, K., P. Weissman, and D. Yeomans. "Meteorite Falls in China and Some Related Human Casualty Events." Meteoritics 29, 864-871. [Geobase]

Impact event - Wikipedia: Near misses and forecasts:

  • On 19 May 1996 a 300–500 m asteroid, 1996 JA1, passed within 450,000 km of Earth; it had been detected a few days before.
  • On 18 March 2004 a 30 m asteroid, 2004 FH, passed within 40,000 km of Earth only a few days after it had been detected. This asteroid probably would have detonated in the atmosphere and posed negligible hazard to the surface, had it been on impact course.
  • On 31 March 2004, a 6 m meteoroid, 2004 FU162 made the second closest near miss pass ever observed (closest so far was The Great Daylight 1972 Fireball) with a separation of only 1.02 Earth radii from the surface (6,500 km). Because this object is certainly too small to pass through the atmosphere, it is classed as a meteoroid rather than an asteroid.
  • In 2004, a newly discovered 320 m asteroid, 99942 Apophis (previously called 2004 MN4), achieved the highest impact probability of any potentially dangerous object. The probability of collision on 13 April 2029 is estimated to be as high as 1 in 17 by Steve Chesley of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, though the previously published figure was the slightly lower odds of 1 in 37, calculated in December 2004. Later observations showed that the asteroid will miss the earth by 25,600 km (within the orbits of communications satellites) in 2029, but its orbit will be altered unpredictably in a way which does not rule out a collision on 13 or 14 April 2036 or later in the century. These possible future dates have a cumulative probability of 1 in 45,000 for an impact in the 21st century.
  • Asteroid 2004 VD17, of 580 m, previously was estimated to have a probability of 1 in 63,000 of striking earth on 4 May 2102 (as of July 2006), with risk 1 on the Torino scale, but further observations lowered the estimate. As of the observation on December 17, 2006, JPL assigns 2004 VD17 a Torino value of 0 and an impact probability of 1 in 41.667 million in the next 100 years.
  • Asteroid (29075) 1950 DA has a potential to collide with Earth on March 16, 2880. The probability of impact is either 1 in 300 or zero, depending on which one of the two possible directions for the asteroid's spin pole is correct. This asteroid has a mean diameter of about 1.1 km. The energy released by the collision would cause major effects on the climate and biosphere and may be devastating to human civilization. The Atlantic Ocean is predicted to be facing towards the asteroid on the day of the potential collision.
  • Asteroid 2007 TU24 with an estimated diameter between 300-500-m came very close to earth orbit by 1.4 ld(lunar distance) on January 29, 2008. The orbit of the asteroid is shown on NASA's website [6].
  • Relatively small objects that burn up in the atmosphere can be dangerous beyond their own capabilities. In 2002, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden told members of a U.S. House of Representatives Science subcommittee that the U.S. has instruments that determine if an atmospheric explosion is natural or man-made, but no other nation with nuclear weapons has that detection technology. He said there is concern that some of those countries could mistake a natural explosion for an attack, and launch nuclear retaliation. In the summer of 2001 U.S. satellites had detected over the Mediterranean an atmospheric flash of energy similar to a nuclear weapon, but determined that it was caused by an asteroid.
  • As of March 2008, the Near-Earth Asteroid with the highest probability of impact within the next 100 years is 2007 VK184, with a Torino scale of 1.

Bad News for the WSJ News Pages; Good News for the Economist

Felix Salmon writes:

Greg Ip on the WSJ, the Economist, and Blogging: How could Greg Ip leave the WSJ for the Economist? I mean, he's a brand - and the Economist doesn't do brands, except its own. (And that it does exceedingly well.) What did he mean when he told Reuters that he's looking forward to "a more analytical and critical style of writing"? Was he not allowed to do that at the Journal? And what about Real Time Economics, his extremely successful WSJ blog? Could he really just walk away from such a franchise? I felt I had to ask. And Ip, mensch that he is, replied in some detail.

Ip certainly didn't have anything but praise for the Journal. But he did seem to imply that the Economist will give him a bit more elbow room:

The Journal has traditionally encouraged its reporters to become knowledgeable enough in their beat that they can apply their own analysis to their subjects, and I certainly followed that tradition. That said, I think The Economist by its nature is particularly conducive to the application of one's critical judgment (they sometimes call themselves a "Viewspaper"), so long as that judgment is based on facts, rigorous analysis and, where possible, economic principles.

And the blog?

I'm proud of what Real Time Economics has become - a source of added value on economic issues that draws high traffic especially from economists and people on Wall Street. Traffic is particularly high on days when big economic news breaks, like a surprise Fed decision. Though I did take the lead in its creation, it is now the product of many people in the U.S. and overseas (allow me a shoutout to editor Phil Izzo who more than anyone else keeps it vital). That means I was able to take a break from blogging without worrying it would have no fresh material.

I am sorry to leave RTE but I will now be contributing to the online edition and the blogs of The Economist, in particular Free Exchange, the economics blog. Like the newspaper, the blog is anonymous, the idea being that readers would want to engage with The Economist rather than individual writers.

It'll be interesting to see whether Ip can help turn Free Exchange into something as vital as RTE.... Ip signed off by saying that "the people I most want to reach almost all read The Economist," which I daresay is true. I wonder how many of them will be trying to second-guess which articles came from Ip.

Hawley-Smoot Tariff Day

I missed Hawley-Smoot Tariff Day.

Eric Rauchway writres:

Asinine. « The Edge of the American West: On this day in 1930 the Smoot-Hawley Tariff became law. I swear when I was in eighth grade it was the Hawley-Smoot Tariff. Apparently the forces of Smoot have ensured that he takes pride of place. Or maybe it’s the forces of Hawley who have ensured that Smoot takes the brunt of blame...

A tariff is a revenue bill. And revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives. (Although what "originate" means when procedure allows amendments in the nature of substitutes I do not know.) So it is Hawley-Smoot.

Eric goes on:

Because the law is virtually synonymous with a Bad Thing. Remember this Golden Television Moment? There’s Gore (yes, younger and thinner; so was I then) with his portrait of Smoot and Hawley, explaining Tariffs are Bad.... [T]here is a general consensus that the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was bad. It prevented other countries from trading to the U.S. at a time when that might have kept them out of depression, and it probably wouldn’t have hurt the U.S. either. Instead the renewed American commitment to protectionism prompted increases in other countries’ tariffs....

If you want to know how a law generally regarded as “asinine” got passed, you might look at Barry Eichengreen’s paper.

And then he flogs his excellent little book:

If you want to know who called it “asinine,” and who predicted this kind of problem eleven years before it occurred, and other exciting stuff about the Great Depression and the New Deal, you know where to look. (Yes, I know you can find out using Google. But really, you should buy the book. Unless it would be a hardship for you. Otherwise, buy it. Please? Pretty please?)

Thomas Jefferson's DNA

Dana Goldstein:

Dana Goldstein: Monticello.... I visited there last Memorial Day weekend. Today, via Matt Yglesias, I see Ben Smith is reporting that Paula Abeles -- a white Jefferson descendant who's been active in keeping black descendants out of Monticello family reunions -- has become a John McCain volunteer after initially support Hillary Clinton. I've long been fascinated by Jefferson and his family history, and it's worth expanding, I think, upon how deeply racist and out-of-the-mainstream folks like Abeles are.

Conclusive DNA evidence linking Jefferson or one of his brothers to the black Hemings line has existed since 1998. In 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation concluded it was likely that Jefferson himself fathered all six of his slave Sally Hemings' children. The dates of their births correspond quite neatly to nine months after the rare times Jefferson and Hemings were simultaneously at the estate. And historical documents indicate, the foundation found, that "several people close to Thomas Jefferson or the Monticello community believed that he was the father of Sally Hemings' children."

If you visit Monticello today, you'll hear chilling, wrenching stories about the lives of the hundreds of enslaved people who lived there. Jefferson, although thought of in his own time and today as a "benevolent" slave-owner, did instruct his overseer to beat his slaves. Jefferson sold husbands away from wives and teenagers away from their parents. Jefferson publicly tortured and humiliated runaways.

Those Jefferson descendants who continue to reject their black brethren are facing off against both science and history, choosing to embrace an outdated and, quite literally, white-washed image of their scion...

Perhaps the Strangest Article I Have Read, Ever (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

Howell Raines on Jim Romanesko:

Jim Romenesko's Impact on Journalism: How the first media gossip site inadvertently ushered in the era of fact-free journalism: [We] ink-stained traditionalists... were aflutter about Poynter['s]... nervy decision to hire an obscure gossip blogger... on Poynter’s dignified website....

[T]he famously reclusive blogger... cloistered digital monk... a true obsessive... a lonely-guy existence....

[D]isgruntled newsies... quickly discovered that by having Romenesko post their internal memos they could manipulate their bosses... the late Gerald Boyd and I... were among the first to get Romenesko’d out of our jobs.... I never really blamed the messenger.... [M]any editors [do],... grousing that Romenesko’s blog at feeds gloom and doom in the nation’s newsrooms... a high-tech tom-tom for angst-ridden members of a dying tribe....

Newspaper publishers assumed that even if the printing press disappeared, the internet would still have an insatiable need for their basic product--verified facts, hierarchically arranged by importance. But Romenesko’s rapid growth showed that even newsrooms are part of the emerging market for an unprocessed sprawl of information... it’s not technology per se that’s killing newspapers; it’s plummeting demand for quality information....

I’m not sure Romenesko has yet grasped that the informational storm he unleashed a decade ago is already undermining his prominence.... Romenesko is Poynter’s highest-paid nonexecutive employee, at more than $170,000 a year....

[But] Gawker now reaches an audience several times larger than Romenesko’s and has paid backhanded tributes to “mild-mannered Jim Romenesko, who runs the most feared blog in journalism (except for this one).”... [I]ts readers tend to speak of Romenesko more as a historical figure than a must-read. “I don’t feel obligated to check it daily since a lot of the news doesn’t directly relate to me,” says a young New York-based reporter at a major newspaper.... “Romenesko... provides a great top-line summary for a dying industry--an invaluable tool for that master’s thesis 20 years from now on the fall of paper.”...

The swift rise and incipient eclipse of Romenesko illustrates what a quick trip it is from guru to geezer in cyberspace... the Manhattan buzz is that Gawker too has already peaked. Traditionalist critics view Romenesko as the guy who opened the first and biggest hole in the sacred wall between news and gossip in reporting about the media. The newer media blogs, however, see him as being confined by passé, self-imposed rules, such as his steady refusal to make his own website into a political soapbox and post the most extreme commentators from the alternative press....

Yellow journalism begat objective journalism, which begat investigative journalism, which begat advocacy journalism... New Journalism... gossip journalism to our next stop: fact-free journalism.... [Romanesko has] proven that speedily aggregated, often unsubstantiated information is marketable....

Roy Peter Clark and others at [Poynter]... are anxious that an internet giant like Microsoft, Google, or Yahoo will soon dangle a big salary in front of [Romanesko] to shift-key his daily bundle of nearly 100,000 unique visitors over to its website.... I say this to the Monk of Evanston about the next time the big dogs come sniffing around: Take the money.

There are comments on the Portfolio website:  

I don't know where Raines gets the idea that Romenesko's blog is gossip that can easily be dismissed. Some of it is, of course. But links to the more scurrilous stuff are listed right alongside the links to Howard Kurtz, Richard Perez-Pena and whoever covers media at the Wall Street Journal these days. Sometimes, the smaller fry have better insights and better facts, and write it in a more interesting way. Some of those folks pushed Raines from his NYT perch.... By PSteiger

Romenesko aggregates articles almost wholly from newspapers and the traditional press, so if it's a collection of unverified facts, that only goes to show what a poor job Raines's old pals are doing. By SteveRhodes

I'm sorry, but what did Howell Raines ever build from scratch? Jim Romenesko started with zero daily viewers and now gets a steady stream of 100,000-plus readers. Raines was handed the reins of the Times DC bureau and later the entire paper, just as he was handed the reins of this blog. When Raines was in charge of the Times, he didn't do much to prevent shrinking readership or to reach the young readers he now contends are no longer as interested in Romenesko's site. I never thought it possible, but Raines is actually jealous of Jim Romensko. Well done, Jim! By DeanRotbart

Jim Romensko was in Minnesota, not Wisconsin, when he started his site. By kal

There are, I think, only three "facts" I did not already know--and I don't know much about Jim Romanesko or Poynter: (1) Poynter pays Jim Romanesko $170K a year. (2) Jim Romanesko turned down an offer to jump to Brill's Content five years ago. (3) Gawker's "readers tend to speak of Romenesko more as a historical figure than a must-read. 'I don’t feel obligated to check it daily since a lot of the news doesn’t directly relate to me,' says a young New York-based reporter at a major newspaper.... 'Romenesko... provides a great top-line summary for a dying industry--an invaluable tool for that master’s thesis 20 years from now on the fall of paper'..."

And, of course, this third is not a "fact." Howell Raines has no magic surveillance machine with which he takes the pulse of what Gawker's readers say. And we all know how worthless is Howell Raines's ability to find one reporter who--anonymously--will serve as a sock puppet and do Howell Raines's bidding by saying that Jim Romanesko is a has-been about to be consumed by the monster he created. It would be something--but not much--if the "young New York-based reporter at a major newspaper" were willing to be named. It would be considerably more if Howell Raines had made some effort to demonstrate that the views of his sock puppet were in any sense representative or influential. But he doesn't. And so there are no "facts" here--at least not for any meaningful definition of "facts"--save for some interesting conclusions about the soul of Howell Raines that jump out of the page and seize one by the throat.

By contrast, I always find a huge number of interesting facts about the world whenever I surf on over to Romanesko...

Atlantic Monthly Death Spiral Watch (Outsourced to the Poor Man Edition)

If the Atlantic Monthly survives the new media hurricane in any form whatsoever, it will be because it maintains and strengthens its reputation as a good filter of information: a periodical that publishes what smart and competent people think about important topics, and so informs its readers. Once readers have to start throwing out whole sections of the magazine as untrustworthy, its likelihood of survival in any form is very low.

The Poor Man explains, slowly and patiently and politely, why publishing Gregg Easterbrook is the road to destruction:

The Poor Man Institute » Raise your hand if your opinion on global warming is worth more than s---. Whoa, whoa, whoa - not so fast, Mr. Easterbrook.: I would like to highlight one rather egregious item... from his dramatic announcement that, at long last, the science behind global warming has earned the coveted Gregg Easterbrook Seal of Sound Science:

When global-warming concerns became widespread, many argued that more scientific research was needed before any policy decisions. [sic] This was hardly just the contention of oil-company executives. “There is no evidence yet” of dangerous climate change, the National Academy of Sciences declared in 1991.

The thing is, Easterbrook was wrong about global warming, wrong and foolish, as he has been wrong and foolish about countless scientific questions over the years. This is not surprising, considering that he has no actual scientific background of any sort, and generally adopts a fashionably contrarian posture on whatever scientific topic he happens to be addressing. However, as he has (somehow) fashioned a professional career based on his “expertise” in “Environmental policy; Global warming; […] Science; Space policy”, it doesn’t look good if he is found out to be just another dilettante crackpot. So history - his, and everyone else’s - will have to be re-written, in order that he can claim that his anti-science position was informed, prudent, and consistant with the mainstream of scientific opinion. It was not.

Here is the relevent passage from that 15-year-old NAS report:

During the last 100 years the average global temperature has increased between 0.3° and 0.6°C (0.5° and 1.1°F). This temperature rise could be attributable to greenhouse warming or to natural climate variability; with today’s limited understanding of the underlying phenomena, neither can be ruled out.

Increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations probably will be followed by increases in average atmospheric temperature. We cannot predict how rapidly these changes will occur, how intense they will be for any given atmospheric concentration, or, in particular, what regional changes in temperature, precipitation, wind speed, and frost occurrence can be expected. So far, no large or rapid increases in the global average temperature have occurred, and there is no evidence yet of imminent rapid change. But if the higher GCM [General Circulation Models] projections prove to be accurate, substantial responses would be needed, and the stresses on this planet and its inhabitants would be serious.

Easterbrook cilps 5 words from page 2 of this report as evidence that the NAS was cautioning against making any policy decisions. Seventy pages later, in a chapter titled “Recommendations”, you find this:

Despite the great uncertainties, greenhouse warming is a potential threat sufficient to justify action now.

Ten pages of immediate policy recommendations follow. Again, this report came out 15 years ago.

The fundamental point is not that Gregg Easterbrook is not an authority on climate science - a glance at his resume could tell you that. Nor is it that, due to personal dishonesty or lack of interest, he doesn’t seem capable of absorbing not-at-all subtle points from minimally-technical overview documents put together - at great effort - by committees of actual world-class authorities, aimed directly at people who - like Easterbrook - who are interested in environmental policy. Nor is it that Easterbrook has a lot of poorly-concealed resentment directed at scientists and science … although, while we’re on the subject, I can’t resist bringing up this old chestnut:

Cosmologists talk rather casually of alternate dimensions during the Big Bang or of the “many worlds” hypothesis in which there are billions of parallel universes, perhaps an infinite number, occupying an infinity of different dimensions. Physicists rather casually speak of ten unobservable dimensions, in addition to the obvious three, existing in our own reality, all around us. […]

But the article left out the really interesting part, which is what the question of other dimensions says about the spiritual debate. At Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and other top schools, researchers discuss ten unobservable dimensions, or an infinite number of imperceptible universes, without batting an eye. Scientists banter offhandedly about invisible realities that might incorporate trillions of billions of galaxies, and suppose such things are real in spite of there being no physical evidence whatsoever to support such speculation. No one considers discussion of other dimensions to be peculiar. Ten unobservable dimensions, an infinite number of invisible parallel universes–hey, why not?

Yet if at Yale, Princeton, Stanford, or top schools, you proposed that there exists just one unobservable dimension–the plane of the spirit–and that it is real despite our inability to sense it directly, you’d be laughed out of the room. Or conversation would grind to a halt to avoid offending your irrational religious superstitions.

To modern thought, one extra spiritual dimension is a preposterous idea, while the notion that there are incredible numbers of extra physical dimensions gives no pause. Yet which idea sounds more implausible–one unseen dimension or billions of them?

Yeah, maaaaaaan. Additionally, while making up all these extra dimensions, these so-called “scientists” consistantly ignore the seminal rock group The Fifth Dimension, who were “too far” out and “cosmic” for any telescopes!

Though, like I said, that’s not the point. Most people aren’t authorities on climate science, or on much of anything, but that’s not some horrible moral failing. Most people don’t want to read all the way to chapter 9 of some assiduously dry science policy document; and, let’s face it, most people are full of weird ideas about shit they don’t know anything about. I know I am. The problem is that - for reasons I can’t begin to understand - Easterbrook is sitting in the chair that should be occupied by someone who knows what the hell they are talking about. There is no value added when you filter the ideas and opinions of experts through someone whose capacity for, and interest in, these subjects is so clearly limited. So now know-nothing Gregg Easterbrook believes that the science of global warming is solid enough to justify action. Who cares what Gregg Easterbrook thinks? There are plenty of professional scientists who are willing to write general interest stuff about their area of expertise, the public policy implications of their field, or whatever. Or, if you are really hard up, you could just reprint the relevent sections of some document produced by NAS or some similar organization, which, while not being particularly exciting reading, would have that most under-appreciated virtue of not being utter horseshit. There is simply no excuse for having burnouts like Easterbrook...

Outsourced Washington Post Death Spiral Watch

Over in comments, Low-Tech Cyclist writes:

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: The Semi-Daily Journal Economist Brad DeLong: Time to get back to the Washington Post Death Spiral. On today's front page, upper left, is an analysis piece by someone named Neil Irwin, who can't make sense of why consumer confidence is at its lowest level in 30 years.

He doesn't mention that job creation stays down a lot longer around each recession than it used to, that incomes haven't made it back to where they were before the last recession, that the unemployment rate seems to have lost its connection to the number of Americans employed, and that there's no sense that anyone knows how high the price of oil will go, how low the value of their houses will go, or how far the dollar will fall. People know they had no leverage to get a raise during the boom, and they know it's only going to be worse during the bust.

In other words, people know their personal situations are shaky, and they're afraid the economy's fundamentals may be screwed too. That oughta do it. But Irwin doesn't see any of this.

The Atlantic Monthly Death Spiral Watch (Gregg Easterbrook Asteroid Devastation Edition)

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? The Atlantic Monthly features Gregg Easterbook, who writes:

The Sky Is Falling: The odds that a potentially devastating space rock will hit Earth this century may be as high as one in 10. So why isn’t NASA trying harder to prevent catastrophe?

If the odds that a devastating space rock will hit the earth in a century are one in ten, then the chances that we have gone...

  • one millennium without a DSR hitting the earth are 0.35...
  • two millennia without a DSR hitting the earth are 0.12...
  • four millennia without a DSR hitting the earth are 0.014...

It's possible a devastating space rock hit the earth between eight and four millennia ago and we know nothing about it--but it's not terribly likely. It's very hard for me to believe that a devastating space rock has hit the earth since 3000 BC. We have Tunguska--and that's pretty much it[1].

That means that if you started out with a 50-50 prior probability that Gregg Easterbrook knows what he is talking about, your posterior probability that the lead of his Atlantic article is better than birdcage liner given no rock since 2000 BC is 0.0138. But we start with a lower probability than that, don't we? Gregg Easterbrook has a history, doesn't he? I would start with a prior probability that Easterbrook knows what he is talking about of one in a ten, in which case our posterior judgment, given no rock since 3000 BC, is 0.0014. If the Atlantic published an article by Gregg Easterbrook every month, we would have to wait 41 years before there was a 50-50 chance that even one of the Easterbrook articles was right.

"Odds that a potentially devastating space rock will hit Earth this century may be as high as one in 10." Feh!!

[1] Yes, I know that Easterbrook claims that the abnormally cold weather of 536-537 was caused by a dust cloud raised by a "space object about 300 meters in diameter hit[ting] the Gulf of Carpentaria, north of Australia, in 536 A.D." But I had thought that sulphur left in ice cores in 536-7 was strong evidence that the cause was a volcanic eruption: see Easterbrook doesn't mention SO4 concentrations in ice cores.

Impeach George W. Bush and Richard Cheney! Impeach Them Now!

Impeach every presidential appointee in the Bush administration. All of them. Now:

Spencer Ackerman: This torture hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee is really a watershed. I’m begging you to read some of this stuff over at The Streak. Here’s the guidance of a CIA lawyer to Guantanamo officials: “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.” Here’s how the torture went from Guantanamo to Iraq. Here’s some conveniently-missing memories. Here’s Joe Lieberman being Joe Lieberman. And we’re not even on the second panel yet...

DeLong Smackdown Watch: Beauty, Accessibility, Crowding, Expense

The country today has 320 million people in it, compared to 150 million or so at mid-century. And the country has a much better transportation system. Therefore, increasingly, places will be one or more of:

  • ugly
  • inaccessible
  • expensive
  • crowded

Barbara Ehrenreich's basic problem, I think, is that she doesn't like beautiful places that are crowded, especially crowded with the wrong people--recall her dismissal of Maine's beautiful (and accessible! and affordable!) Old Orchard Beach as a "rinky-dink blue-collar resort."

But here is Robert Waldmann to perform the smackdown:

Robert Waldmann: I will now defend Ehrenreich...

OK I got it. The key phrase is "live there". Brad -- you can't afford to live in Yosemite or Banff. They are parks. You can't afford the bribes it would take to be allowed to build a house there. You can afford to visit. You can't afford to own or rent with a lease.

In fact your point and Trotsky's is that, while the market system would condemn the non-rich to never experiencing beauty, public ownership has saved the day.

Parks are one way in which market failures are solved. There are two reasons for public parks:

  1. people derive pleasure from knowing that unspoiled nature exists. We can't be forced to pay for this pleasure except with taxes.
  2. It would be very easy to evade large fees charged to enter large open areas. A private non theme park would have to use intrusive offensive security measures to force people to pay enough to be profitable.

They can't allow people to have solitude while backpacking if they have to check if you have a ticket.

She's argues that laissez faire doesn't work. I mean she isn't a Trotskyite.

Now she is also complaining that rich people now have similar tastes to hers. This is too bad for her, but better for someone else (imagine what gas would cost if they all decided to buy personal 747s to tour the world). However, the problem of rich people who want to own nature and keep others off has been rather important in the past oh 2000 years and it's worth remembering that--unless we make sure that policy remains "the way it was after Teddy Roosevelt, when the Socialists took over."

UPDATE: Think Ehrenreich's article might have something to do with this?

Washington Post Death Spiral Watch (Alec Klein and Zachary A. Goldfarb Edition)

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? Dean Baker thinks that Alec Klein and Zachary Goldfarb of the Washington Post do a predictably lousy job in their A1 story about the housing bubble.

Me? I barfed at the opening of the story:

The black-tie party at Washington's swank Mayflower Hotel seemed a fitting celebration of the biggest American housing boom since the 1950s: filet mignon and lobster, a champagne room and hundreds of mortgage brokers, real estate agents and their customers gyrating to a Latin band. On that winter night in 2005, the company hosting the gala honored itself with an ice sculpture of its logo. Pinnacle Financial had grown from a single office to a national behemoth generating $6.5 billion in mortgages that year. The $100,000-plus party celebrated the booming division that made loans largely to Hispanic immigrants with little savings. The company even booked rooms for those who imbibed too much. Kevin Connelly, a loan officer who attended the affair, now marvels at those gilded times. At his Pinnacle office in Virginia, colleagues were filling the parking lot with BMWs and at least one Lotus sports car. In its hiring frenzy, the mortgage company turned a busboy into a loan officer whose income zoomed to six figures in a matter of months. "It was the peak. It was the embodiment of business success," Connelly said. "We underestimated the bubble, even though deep down, we knew it couldn't last forever"...

A $100K party for "hundreds" of mortgage brokers--say, 500. That's $200 per broker. That's a very nice fringe benefit--but Belshazzar's court at Babylon it is not. Klein and Goldfarb think that the right way to begin their story is to evoke the themes of the righteous vengeance of YHWH against decadent luxury that are part of our culture from the way-back stories of the dogs licking the pooled blood of Jezebel and of Daniel reading the writing on the wall--why, "the company even booked [hotel] rooms for those who imbibed too much"! My reaction on finishing the lead was that Klein and Goldfarb really don't get out much.

But let's turn the mike over to Dean Baker, who has some more intelligent things to say:

Beat the Press: The Post Misses the Housing Bubble Yet Again: The Washington Post contributed to the housing bubble in the late 90s and first half of this decade by consistently presenting the views of housing market cheerleaders and rarely presenting the opinions of analysts who recognized the problems in the housing market... the most widely cited expert on the housing market in the Post in the years from 2003 to 2006 was David Lereah... chief economist of the National Association of Realtors... author of Are You Missing the Real Estate Boom?: The Boom Will Not Bust and Why Property Values Will Continue to Climb Through the End of the Decade - And How to Profit From Them....

The first article today relies exclusively on the views of analysts who failed to recognize the bubble... fundamentally distorts the phenomenon.... [A]ttributes the bubble to the proliferation of subprime and exotic loan instruments. in fact, the bubble preceded the surge in subprime and the development of exotic financial instruments... [but] house prices had begun to diverge from their long-term trend in the mid-90s.... By 2002, real house prices had already increased by more than 30 percent.... If the Post (and the rest of the media) had allowed the views of economists who recognized the bubble into its pages, it might have mitigated the damage....

The growth of subprime and the spread of exotic financing is characteristic of the later stages of financial bubbles.... [T]he Post has confused cause and effect in making this the centerpiece of its analysis. In presenting the bad financing as central, the Post... conceals its own culpability....

Prior to the collapse of the bubble, it would have been very difficult to know exactly which banks were involved in which bad practices unless inside sources were willing to come forward. However, the fact that bad lending practices were taking place on a very large scale was easily knowable....

The Post bizarrely describes a scenario in which Greenspan "puzzled over one piece of data a Fed employee showed him in his final weeks. A trade publication reported that the subprime mortgages had ballooned to 20 percent of all loans, triple the level of a few years earlier." If this is true, then it implies an incredible level of incompetence on Greenspan's part. The rise in subprime lending was not some obscure fact known only to a privileged few. It was a widely noted development in the housing market over the years 2003-2005. If Greenspan was just made aware of this growth as in the last month of his tenure in January of 2006, then he was incredibly negligent in performing his job. The growth in housing prices had been the central fuel of the U.S. economy in the recovery following the 2001 recession. Greenspan had been an eager proponent of housing, dismissing the concerns of those who warned of a housing bubble. If he did not even know of the surge in subprime lending, then it is difficult to imagine any possible basis on which he could have ruled out the existence of a bubble in the housing market. (The article says that Greenspan "did not recall" whether he mentioned the growth in subprime lending to Bernanke. If Bernanke, did already know about the growth in subprime, then he is not competent to be chairman of the Fed.)

In short, this article does more to conceal than reveal the developments that led to the current housing crash. There were no deep mysteries.... [T]he Post and the rest of the media relied almost exclusively on analysts who somehow failed to recognize the housing (and stock) bubbles or worse, had a direct interest in perpetuating these bubbles...

Dean Baker is much more right than wrong, but I don't think that he is completely write about everything.

Back in 2005, apropos of housing prices, I wrote somewhere that there were seven elements:

  • A pure real estate bubble element.
  • A temporary fall in long-term interest rates due to an unsustainable capital inflow element.
  • A permanent fall in long-term real interest rates element.
  • A congestion-because-of-the-filling-up-of-America (or at least of much of its coasts) element.
  • A richer country able to pay more for location element
  • In California, an unpleasant legacy of Howard Jarvis element--California levies a uniquely large "tax on moving" that makes lots of empty-nesters very slow to downsize.
  • A NIMBY element--he transformation of America's local governments from cabals to enrich real estate developers to cabals to preserve and augment the values of voters' single-family homes.

The question was how big were the first two elements, the worrisome ones from the standpoint of future financial crisis, compared to the other five. Back in 2005 I would have said that the first two were one-quarter of the nationwide housing price runup since the mid-1990s, and Dean Baker would have said that they were three-quarters at least.

During the past two and a half years reality has forced me to come up from one quarter to one half, but no further. Dean would say that I am still in denial and that an intervention is called for--and he may be right.

Jack Balkin Is Wrong

Jack Balkin says that the Bush legal revolution has failed. He is wrong: it has just not yet succeeded. A McCain victory in November and another statist Supreme Court appointee, and that's it for the rights of any whom the president classifies as an outlaw.

Balkin acknowledges this at the end. Better he had done so at the beginning:

Balkinization: This is what a failed revolution looks like: It is still available to the President and Congress to try to suspend the writ [of habeas corpus], and the Court could then decide whether the suspension was successful. However, there is almost no chance that the current Congress would agree to suspend the writ. It is also likely that the Congress that passed the MCA would not have voted to suspend the writ if the choice were clearly posed on those terms.... And that is precisely the point... the constitutional revolution proposed by the Bush Administration after September 11, 2001 has failed.

Following the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush and his supporters proposed a significant change in constitutional norms... preemptive war... new surveillance techniques, including domestic surveillance... preventive detention, including detention of american citizens without access to courts... legal black holes... torture and torture-lite... enhanced secrecy and classification... unitary executive theory that claimed that Congress could not constitutionally limit the President when he claimed to act under his powers as Commander-in-Chief... [the power to] disregard certain features of laws passed by Congress without telling the public any details about... non-enforcement....

[W]e can say that this attempt at a constitutional revolution has failed.... Hamdi, Rasul, Hamdan, and now Boumediene... the Supreme Court... does not get behind a proposed constitutional revolution unless it is quite clear that the country is also behind it and demonstrates this support over a sustained period of time....

Bush's proposed revolution lost steam for three reasons... there was no successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil after 9/11... the public grew increasingly concerned about reports of torture and mistreatment... [that] greatly damaged America's image as a symbol of liberty around the world and distrubed Americans image of themselves as the good guys... Bush's adventure in Iraq, which he repeatedly claimed was intrinsically connected to the global war on terror, did not succeed.... Bush is now one of the most unpopular presidents in modern American history....

And then Balkin takes it back:

Even failed constitutional revolutions, however, may have lasting effects. The next president will be stuck... Iraq... Gitmo... preventive detention... surveillance... the Bush Administration's attempt at a constitutional revolution... may revive.... John McCain... may appoint additional movement conservatives to the Supreme Court, who may be more than happy to carry out a constitutional transformation... The country may face a new terror attack... the future is... likely to surprise us.

An Essay I Wish I Had Written...

Alan Blinder:

Two Bubbles, Two Approaches for the Fed: LATELY more and more people have been questioning the received wisdom about what a central bank should do when confronted by an asset price bubble. That piece of wisdom, shared by Alan Greenspan and Ben S. Bernanke, the former and present Federal Reserve chairmen, holds that deliberate bubble-bursting is something between impossible and dangerous — and thus best avoided. Instead, according to this view, the Fed should let bubbles burst of their own accord, and then be prepared to mop up after.

This strategy has modest objectives... to limit collateral damage to the rest of the financial system, and especially to the overall economy. The Fed executed such a mop-up-after strategy with great success when the tech bubble popped spectacularly in 2000....

Those who now attack the Greenspan-Bernanke position make three main points: First, the strategy of letting bubbles die of natural causes, then mopping up, seems not to have worked so well this time around.... Second, critics contend that the mopping-up-after strategy sows the seeds of yet more bubbles... that the Fed’s superlow interest rates after the stock market bubble burst led us directly to the housing bubble. The Fed now stands accused of being a serial bubble blower. Third... that the Greenspan-Bernanke policy is inherently inflationary because of a built-in asymmetry....

In taking up these three arguments, it’s crucial to distinguish between... “bank-centered bubbles”... principally fueled by... crazy bank lending... other asset bubbles... [like the] tech-stock bubble....

I would argue that the central bank’s proper role is fundamentally different in the two types of bubbles.... When bubbles are not based on bank lending, the Fed has no comparative advantage over other observers in distinguishing between rising fundamentals and bubbly valuations.... I recall Mr. Greenspan thinking that he saw a stock market bubble as early as 1995, when Internet stocks barely existed and the Dow was under 5,000. Fortunately, he did not make the mistake of trying to burst it. Conversely, the tech bubble became obvious only in 1999 — by which time it was already enormous. That’s the first problem, and it’s a huge one. Here’s the second: Once a central bank correctly recognizes a bubble’s existence, what is it supposed to do? The Fed has no instruments aimed directly at, say, tech stocks, and practically no instruments aimed at stock prices more broadly....

But a bank-centered bubble is starkly different.... Whereas the Fed’s kit bag is pretty much empty when it comes to stock-market prices, it is stuffed full when it comes to taking aim at bank lending practices....

Finally, regarding inflation, let’s look at the record. The core inflation rate — that is, excluding food and energy prices — was in the 2 1/2 to to 3 percent range in 1995 to 1996, when serial bubble-blowing supposedly began. It has hovered in the 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 percent range in 2007 and so far in 2008. Do you see a rising trend?...

The Fed could have raised margin requirements on stocks in the 1990s, and served as national punchbowl-taker-away by speaking more and more gloomily about irrational exuberance. So it is not completely powerless: the bully pulpit is worth something. And the Fed's toolkit is not all that full when it comes to regulating non-bank banks--or has not been all that full: we very much hope this will change. But Alan Blinder definitely has his finger on it.

Richard Green Says $4 per Gallon Gasoline Raises the von Thunen House Price Gradient by $3,000 a Mile

His math looks good to me:

Richard's Real Estate and Urban Economics Blog: $4 per gallon gasoline and the urban land market: Over the past six years, the price of gasoline has risen about $2 per gallon. What does this mean for relative urban land prices?

Let's say the average household makes five one-way trips per day--for work, shopping, entertainment, etc. Let's also say that the average car gets 20 mpg in city driving. Each mile of distance to work, shopping, etc. is therefore now 50 cents per day per household more expensive than before. A household living immediately adjascent to work and shopping should then be willing to pay $5 per day more in rent than a household 10 miles away compared with six years ago, all else being equal. This becomes $150 per month, or $1800 per year. Assuming a five percent cap rate for owner occupied housing, this translates to $36,000 in relative change in value. Given that the median house price in the US is about $220k, this is kind of a big deal.

The assumptions here are pretty crude (particularly the ceteris paribus assumption), but if gas remains at its current real price, we will see the shape of US cities change.

Very good free ice cream. But I want more: how much more Europe-like will our cities become, and how fast?

Ummm... No!

Barbara Ehrenreich's Fear of Falling, Blood Rites, and The Hearts of Men are among the finest works of sociology I have every read or ever expect to read. Which is why it is so very hard for me to read things like this--to which the only reaction is "that's simply not true!":

This Land Is Their Land: I took a little vacation recently... Sun Valley, Idaho.... I found a tiny tourist village... the boutiques were displaying outdoor racks of summer clothing on sale!... things started to get a little sinister... even at a 60 percent discount, I couldn't find a sleeveless cotton shirt for less than $100. These items shouldn't have been outdoors; they should have been in locked glass cases.

Then I remembered the general rule, which has been in effect since sometime in the 1990s: if a place is truly beautiful, you can't afford to be there...

And the essay has gone totally off the rails. The places she talks about: Sun Valley, Idaho; Driggs, Idaho; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Key West, Florida; skybox "suites" costing more than $100,000 for a season; The Hamptons; Cape Cod; Telluride. Yes, Sun Valley, Driggs, Jackson Hole, Key West, The Hamptons, Cape Cod, and Telluride are beautiful. Yes, they are expensive--as are Vail, Aspen, Back Bay, the Upper East Side, Santa Monica, Pacific Heights, and La Jolla. But it is a truly impoverished person who thinks that those rich yuppie watering holes are the only truly beautiful places in North America.

The place I really want to go back to right now is the spine of the Canadian Rockies from the corner of Moose and Squirrel Streets in Banff to Malign Lake outside of Jasper. But Yosemite is always tugging at my heart. What's your favorite truly beautiful place to go that's cheap?

The essay continues. But what's the point?

All right, I'm sure there are still exceptions--a few scenic spots not yet eaten up by mansions. But they're going fast....

Of all the crimes of the rich, the aesthetic deprivation of the rest of us may seem to be the merest misdemeanor. Many of them owe their wealth to the usual tricks: squeezing their employees, overcharging their customers and polluting any land they're not going to need for their third or fourth homes. Once they've made (or inherited) their fortunes, the rich can bid up the price of goods that ordinary people also need--housing, for example. Gentrification is dispersing the urban poor into overcrowded suburban ranch houses, while billionaires' horse farms displace rural Americans into trailer homes. Similarly, the rich can easily fork over annual tuitions of $50,000 and up, which has helped make college education a privilege of the upper classes.

There are other ways, too, that the rich are robbing the rest of us of beauty and pleasure. As the bleachers in stadiums and arenas are cleared to make way for skybox "suites" costing more than $100,000 for a season, going out to a ballgame has become prohibitively expensive for the average family. At the other end of the cultural spectrum, superrich collectors have driven up the price of artworks, leading museums to charge ever rising prices for admission....

If Edward O. Wilson is right about "biophilia"--an innate human need to interact with nature--there may even be serious mental health consequences to letting the rich hog all the good scenery. I know that if I don't get to see vast expanses of water, 360-degree horizons and mountains piercing the sky for at least a week or two of the year, chronic, cumulative claustrophobia sets in....

[N]ow I flinch when I hear Woody Guthrie's line "This land was made for you and me." Somehow, I don't think it was meant to be sung by a chorus of hedge-fund operators.

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

Ask the Mineshaft

Three questions:

  1. How do I get my few old Amazon digital downloads onto my brand-new Amazon Kindle? I mean, an ebook should be an ebook should be an ebook, shouldn't it?
  2. How do I get my Google Books books onto my brand-new Amazon Kindle?
  3. Why does call its advice sections "Ask the Mineshaft" anyway?

Paul Krugman Ruins My Peaceful Saturday Afternoon

Job creation? - Paul Krugman - Op-Ed Columnist - New York Times Blog

Paul Krugman writes:

Job creation? - Paul Krugman - Op-Ed Columnist - New York Times Blog: Dean Baker is upset at a news report suggesting that John McCain — unlike Barack Obama! — is concerned with job creation. I feel his pain. If there’s one thing that stands out above all over the economic record of the past 16 years, it’s the contrast between stellar employment performance under Clinton and dismal performance under Bush. You can offer various excuses and explanations, but how anyone can suggest that Republicans are more committed to and/or credible about job creation is a mystery...

And so sends me on a pass through the internet that ruins what was a nice, peaceful Saturday afternoon.

The reporter is Perry Bacon Jr., of (surprise! surprise!) the Washington Post, whose death spiral thus continues:

McCain, Obama Clash on Economy: On Tuesday, both candidates discussed their plans to reduce health-care costs, an issue that provides one of the starker contrasts between McCain's emphasis on job creation and reducing regulation and Obama's focus on immediately easing financial problems.

McCain has proposed tax credits of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families. They would have a limited impact on reducing the number of uninsured, but would reshape how Americans receive health care by encouraging more to get it on their own rather than through employers. Obama aims to reduce health-care costs and make health care affordable for every American, in part through greater regulation of insurance companies....

McCain aides said that, despite Obama's rhetoric about bringing people together, he has little record of doing so and that his ideas on the economy are those of a typical liberal Democrat. "We're not for increasing spending; that's the other campaign," Holtz-Eakin said...

To establish tax credits for health insurance requires the creation of a bureaucracy to assess and monitor health insurance plans--somebody has to decide purchase of which health insurance plans qualifies one for the tax credit, and which does not. Regulation via tax expenditur4es and a bureaucracy to define and monitor them is regulation--a point that eludes Perry Bacon Jr. His example of how McCain is for reducing regulation--well, that dog just won't hunt. And as for job creation--covering the uninsured definitely creates health-care jobs; tax credits to persuade people who almost all already receive employer-sponsored insurance to switch to catastrophic-only coverage is not and is not intended to be a job-creation measure. But Perry Bacon doesn't seem to realize this.

Nor does Bacon appear to realize that a government that spends through tax expenditure creates as many potential distortions as a government that spends through, well, spending--that is why they are called tax expenditures, after all.

We find this so often: reporters who have made no effort to get up to speed on issues so that they can have a chance of covering them in a way that informs their audience. This is no anomaly: remember: Perry Bacon Jr. is already known as the reporter who wrote the worst story fo the 2008 presidential campaign, and it is no accident that he works for the Washington Post.

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

Dean Baker has already done the heavy lifting on this:

Beat the Press Archive | The American Prospect: [Perry Bacon Jr. of t]he Washington Post contrasted the economic policies of Senators McCain and Obama by telling readers that "one of the starker contrasts between McCain's emphasis on job creation and reducing regulation and Obama's focus on immediately easing financial problems." While Obama has certainly made a point of crafting policies that are intended to ease the financial problems of low and moderate income families, most notably providing universal health care, it would be difficult to characterize Senator McCain's agenda as focusing on job creation.

Senator McCain's economic proposals center on maintaining the tax cuts put in place under the Bush administration. The economy has sustained the slowest pace of job creation on record during the Bush years, creating jobs at annual rate of just over 700,000 a year (0.5 percent). By contrast, it created jobs at almost a 3 million annual rate during the Clinton years. It would be wrong to attribute the entire falloff in the pace of job creation between the Clinton and Bush administrations to President Bush's tax cuts, but it would be difficult to argue that an economic policy that centers on maintaining these tax cuts has a "emphasis on job creation" as the Post told readers.

Louis Uchitelle on Jason Furman

The odd thing is that Jason Furman has a very strong and very wide reputation as an honest broker and as a consensus builder, which is exactly the kind of thing that you want in the job--as long as you think that truth is on your side, and thus that you are more likely than not to win honest, substantive, evidence-based debates.

It's not right to say thatJason Furman is closely associated with Robert Rubin without also saying that he is closely associated with Joe Stiglitz...

Louis Uchitelle:

Union Critical of Obama’s Top Economics Aide: Acting quickly after securing his party’s presidential nomination, Barack Obama picked a well-known representative of Bill Clinton’s economic policies as his economic policy director and signaled this week that the major players from the Clinton economics team were now in his camp — starting with Robert E. Rubin.

Senator Obama, Democrat of Illinois, hired Jason Furman, a Harvard-trained economist closely associated with Mr. Rubin, a Wall Street insider who served as President Clinton’s Treasury secretary. Labor union leaders criticized the move, and said that “Rubinomics” focused too much on corporate America and not enough on workers. “For years we’ve expressed strong concerns about corporate influence on the Democratic Party,” John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said Wednesday in a statement implicitly critical of the symbolism of the appointment, no matter Mr. Furman’s economic skills.

The Obama camp has cast Mr. Furman, 37... to tap the expertise of economists representing a broad spectrum of views. “My own views, such as they are, are irrelevant,” Mr. Furman said.... Mr. Furman’s appointment rang some alarm bells that Mr. Obama might be tilting toward the corporate side — a tilt that Mr. Rubin says does not exist. He argued in an interview on Wednesday that his views were essentially in line with Mr. Obama’s already stated policies.... Mr. Furman, who served as an adviser in John Kerry’s 2004 campaign for president, came to his new post suddenly on Monday, moving hastily to Chicago....

In his statement criticizing Mr. Furman’s appointment, Mr. Sweeney said, “The fact that our country’s economic policies have become so dominated by the Wall Street agenda — and that it is causing working families real pain — is a top issue we will be raising with Senator Obama.” The Rubin camp and the group loosely led by union leaders also differ on which should take precedence: balancing the budget or public investment. The Rubin camp gives preference to budget balancing, but Mr. Rubin says the choice is no longer as stark as it was when Bill Clinton came to office in 1993....

Mr. Obama, without regard for which should come first, calls for a balanced budget and, speaking in Raleigh, N.C., on Monday, he called for the creation of “millions of new jobs by rebuilding our schools, roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure.”...

Mr. Furman... “I am not here to tell Senator Obama what to think about Wal-Mart,” he said, “but to help him implement his ideas, and they are ideas I share, like universal health insurance, progressive taxation and not privatizing Social Security.”


John Holbo:

Crooked Timber » » Douthat on Conservatism: Ross Douthat takes a stab at defining American ‘conservatism’.... Here it is:

A commitment to the defense of the particular habits, mores and institutions of the United States against those socioeconomic trends that threaten to undermine them, and those political movements (generally on the left, but sometimes on the right) that seek to change them radically in the pursuit of particular ideological goals.

This has to be a complete failure, but I’m not going to snark too severely... little definitional exercises are always failures... [but] instructive....

Take out the parenthetical bit and you have something that is much closer to a definition of ‘liberalism’ than ‘conservatism.’... Douthat himself... agrees with me about this:

This “revolution or bust” tendency has defined traditionalist conservatism for some time now, with an alienation from actual-existing American politics coexisting with sweeping visions for what American politicians ought to be doing with themselves instead; it’s manifested itself frequently among religious conservatives....

Liberals are more resistant to “Revolution or Bust” because they tend to be more attached to “the particular habits, mores and institutions of the United States against those socioeconomic trends that threaten to undermine them.” I don’t expect Douthat simply to agree to that. But the fact that there is considerable truth to it means that just saying the opposite will never do as a definition of ‘conservatism’....

What does Douthat’s parenthetical add?... [I]t amounts to the claim that conservatives are those who object to proposals for change from the left, on the grounds that change is bad, but don’t as readily object to proposals for change from the right, on the grounds that change is bad. That is to say, ‘conservative’ must mean right-winger with a bad conscience. As a liberal, I’m half inclined to say my suspicions are confirmed. As a conservative intellectual, Douthat can surely do a bit better...

I think John is a little too easy on Ross Douthat, largely because I do not believe that conservatism is a political philosophy. Conservatism is the practical principle that the pieces of furniture you have that suit and are comfortable should not be thrown away. And conservatism is a rhetorical mode of justification--effective on those who respect authority. But it isn't a philosophy.

I have written about this before:

From <>:

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: The Semi-Daily Journal Economist Brad DeLong: Jacob Levy thinks he has a problem: he cannot present conservatism attractively in his classes because there are no attractive modern conservatives.... I say cut the Gordian knot. THERE ARE NO ATTRACTIVE MODERN CONSERVATIVES BECAUSE MODERN CONSERVATISM SIMPLY IS NOT ATTRACTIVE. DEAL WITH IT!!

You can see this most clearly if you take a close look at Edmund Burke. Edmund Burke does not believe that Tradition is to be Respected. He believes that good traditions are to be respected. When Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France makes the argument that Britons should respect the organic political tradition of English liberty that has been inherited from the past, he whispers under his breath that the only reason we should respect the Wisdom of the Ancestors is that in this particular case Burke thinks that the Ancestors--not his personal ancestors, note--were wise.

Whenever Burke thought that the inherited political traditions were not wise, the fact that they were the inherited Wisdom of the Ancestors cut no ice with him at all. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that they would conquer, torture, and rob wogs whenever and wherever they were strong enough to do so. That tradition cut no ice with Edmund Burke when he was trying to prosecute Warren Hastings. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that all power flowed to Westminster. That tradition cut no ice with Burke when he was arguing for conciliation with and a devolution of power to the American colonists. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that Ireland was to be plundered and looted for the benefit of upwardly-mobile English peers-to-be. That tradition, too, cut no ice with Burke.

Even in Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke doesn't argue that Frenchmen should build on their own political traditions--the traditions of Richelieu and Louis XIV, that is. He argues--well, let's let him talk:

Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France: We [in Britain] procure reverence to our civil institutions on the principle upon which nature teaches us to revere individual men; on account of their age; and on account of those from whom they are descended.... You [in France] might, if you pleased, have profited of our example, and have given to your recovered freedom a correspondent dignity. Your privileges, though discontinued, were not lost to memory. Your constitution... suffered waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls, and in all the foundations, of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old foundations. ... In your old [E]states [General] you possessed that variety of parts corresponding with the various descriptions of which your community was happily composed; you had all that combination, and all that opposition of interests, you had that action and counteraction which, in the natural and in the political world, from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers, draws out the harmony of the universe.... Through that diversity of members and interests, general liberty had as many securities as there were separate views.... [B]y pressing down the whole by the weight of a real monarchy, the separate parts would have been prevented from warping and starting from their allotted places.

You had all these advantages in your antient [E]states [General].... If the last generations of your country appeared without much lustre in your eyes, you might have passed them by, and derived your claims from a more early race of ancestors. Under a pious predilection for those ancestors, your imaginations would have realized in them a standard of virtue and wisdom.... Respecting your forefathers, you would have been taught to respect yourselves. You would not have chosen to consider the French as... a nation of low-born servile wretches until the emancipating year of 1789.... [Y]ou would not have been content to be represented as a gang of Maroon slaves, suddenly broke loose from the house of bondage....

Would it not... have been wiser to have you thought... a generous and gallant nation, long misled... by... fidelity, honour, and loyalty... that you were not enslaved through any illiberal or servile disposition... [but] by a principle of public spirit, and that it was your country you worshipped, in the person of your king? Had you made it to be understood... that you were resolved to resume your ancient [liberties,] privileges[, and immunities]... you would have given new examples of wisdom to the world. You would have rendered the cause of liberty venerable in the eyes of every worthy mind in every nation. You would have shamed despotism from the earth...

Burke's argument is not that France in 1789 should have followed its ancestral traditions. Burke's argument is, instead, that France in 1789 should have dug into its past until it found a moment when institutions were better than in 1788, and drawn upon that usable past in order to buttress the present revolutionary moment. This isn't an intellectual argument about how to decide what institutions are good. It is a practical-political argument about how to create good institutions and then buttress and secure them by making them facts on the ground.

What are good institutions? Burke sounds like Madison: checks-and-balances, separation of powers, rights of the subject, limitations on the state. Burke's views on what good institutions are Enlightenment views--that branch of the Enlightenment that took people as they are and politics as a science, that is, rather than the branch that took people as Rousseau hoped they might someday be and politics as the striking of an oppositional pose. Because he finds that the English past is usable as a support for his Enlightenment-driven views, Burke makes conservative arguments in Reflections. But whenever conservative arguments lead where Burke doesn't want to go--to Richelieu or Louis XIV or the plunder of Ireland or the Star Chamber or Warren Hastings or imperial centralization--Burke doesn't make them and they have no purchase on him. England's inheritance of institutions and practices is to be respected wherever it supports Burke's conception of properly-ordered liberty, and ignored wherever it does not. For Burke, conservatism is a sometimes useful rhetorical weapon, not a set of principles.

Washington Post Death Spiral Watch

Robert Samuelson:

A Vote for McBama: [Barack Obama's] actual agenda is highly partisan and undermines many of his stated goals. He wants to stimulate economic growth, but his hostility toward trade agreements threatens export-led growth (which is now beginning). He advocates greater energy independence but pretends this can occur without more domestic drilling for oil and natural gas.... Obama's clever campaign strategy would put him in a bind as president. Championing centrism would disappoint many ardent Democrats. Pleasing them would betray his conciliating image. The fact that he has so far straddled the contradiction may confirm his political skills and the quiet aid received from the media, which helped him by virtually ignoring the blatant contradictions...

These are, as we all know, extremely weak examples of "high partisanship" and "blatant contradiction." Energy independence does not require subsidizing domestic drilling if it is a subordinate goal in the context of moving toward a less carbon-based economy. Whether we get export-led growth depends 100% on the value of the dollar and 0% on whether we conclude new trade agreements.

Samuelson knows that these are extremely weak examples of "blatant contradiction" and "high partisanship." But you try to delude your readers with the ammunition you have, not the ammunition you wish you had.

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

In Which We Rue the Confirmation of Roberts and Alito...

Hilzoy writes:

Obsidian Wings: Boumediene For Dummies: [T]he Supreme Court has ruled in Boumedienne et al v. Bush.... Boumediene and the other petitioners are detainees at Guantanamo. They want to know: do they have the right to file a writ of habeas corpus -- that is, to ask the government to justify their detention?

[T]he Constitution says (I.9): "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." That sounds pretty definitive: the Military Commissions Act contained no finding that the United States has been invaded, or is in the midst of a rebellion, nor is there any evidence that either condition obtains.... [H]ere are two questions the Court needs to answer: who has habeas rights? And where do they extend? The court's answer to the first question (who?) is, basically: everyone has them. (Meaning: if you are detained by the US government, in circumstances in which habeas rights would normally obtain, your lack of citizenship is no obstacle.)

As for the second question (where?), the Court looks at its own precedents, which concern such fascinating questions as: to what extent does the US Constitution extend to territories and possessions? It also looks at the British common law from before the Constitution was adopted, to see what the framers of the Constitution and those who adopted it might have understood "the" Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus to involve. Did it extend, say, to people detained by the British in India, which was not then part of the British empire? What about Ireland and Scotland? And so on and so forth. The Court concludes that these cases do not settle the issue one way or another.

The government argues that people detained in Guantanamo do not have habeas rights, because the US government does not have legal sovereignty over Guantanamo.... Petitioners argue that the US nonetheless exercises complete control over Guantanamo, and so habeas rights should extend there. The Court sides with the petitioners, and its language is quite striking:

The Government’s view is that the Constitution had no effect there, at least as to noncitizens, because the United States disclaimed sovereignty in the formal sense of the term. The necessary implication of the argument is that by surrendering formal sovereignty over any unincorporated territory to a third party, while at the same time entering into a lease that grants total control over the territory back to the United States, it would be possible for the political branches to govern without legal constraint.

Our basic charter cannot be contracted away like this. The Constitution grants Congress and the President the power to acquire, dispose of, and govern territory, not the power to decide when and where its terms apply. Even when the United States acts outside its borders, its powers are not “absolute and unlimited” but are subject “to such restrictions as are expressed in the Constitution.” Murphy v. Ramsey, 114 U. S. 15, 44 (1885). Abstaining from questions involving formal sovereignty and territorial governance is one thing. To hold the political branches have the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will is quite another. The former position reflects this Court’s recognition that certain matters requiring political judgments are best left to the political branches. The latter would permit a striking anomaly in our tripartite system of government, leading to a regime in which Congress and the President, not this Court, say “what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803).

These concerns have particular bearing upon the Suspension Clause question in the cases now before us, for the writ of habeas corpus is itself an indispensable mechanism for monitoring the separation of powers. The test for determining the scope of this provision must not be subject to manipulation by those whose power it is designed to restrain.

Or, in short: if we accept the government's argument, we would concede that it can legally do what it has tried to do in fact: to create a legal black hole in which it can act outside the law and the Constitution. We cannot do that. This is, to my mind, the most important holding in the opinion. It defends the separation of powers against an attempt by the Executive to free itself from the constraint of law. That is immensely important....

It's also worth noting that this decision was 5-4, with Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito in dissent. If Bush had been able to fill one more vacancy, and if he had (as he has in the past) chosen someone who shares the Cheney/Addington view of executive power, this decision would have come out differently. That is, to me, a terrifying thought. Because Publius' headline is accurate: with this decision, Court Reaffirms Existence Of Constitution. But had one vote changed, they would have given the Executive the power to avoid it at will.

Felix Salmon on Jeff Bercovici on Citizen Journalism

Felix Salmon thinks Jeff Bercovici has confused "ethics" with "access":

Felix Salmon: Blogonomics: Citizen Journalists: I'm puzzled by my colleague Jeff Bercovici's take on the concept of citizen journalism. Yesterday, he pronounced, in a blog entry headlined "'Citizen Journalists' Don't Get a Pass on Ethics", this:

Being a "citizen journalist" doesn't mean you get to pose as a citizen and then publish as a journalist.

Really? Because I thought that's exactly what it means. (Let's ignore, for the time being, the fact that journalists, as a rule, are citizens. You can't "pose" as a citizen if you are one already.) But Jeff reckons that if the Huffington Post pulls such stunts, it will lose its "credibility as a news organization".

Today he clarifies his position: by "credibility" he means "access".

Much as the site claims to disdain the access-based Beltway news paradigm, it does seek access, whether in the form of an exclusive statement from Barack Obama, an interview with Dan Rather or invitations to cover events. (How many Huffpo reporters did I see at the Time 100, again?) Hell, Huffpo was founded on access -- Arianna Huffington's access to the bold-faced names who blog for her. As it increasingly adopts the trappings of a conventional news organization, then, Huffpo becomes subject to the same kind of reprisals as a conventional news organization.

This is nothing to do with ethics any more, it's simple expediency. If Huffpo wants its precious access, then it had better learn to play by the rules, or else face "reprisals" (which would presumably take the form of Dan Rather no longer granting the site interviews).

I, for one, hope it does no such thing. Huffpo is a new form of journalism; that's the whole reason for its existence. There's no equity in its transforming slowly into "a conventional news organization". If individuals want to give access to Huffpo and its new journalists, they can; on the other hand, if they don't want to, no one is forcing them to. So far, the amount of access that Huffpo has been getting has only been going up, which implies that they must be doing something right. And Jeff adduces no evidence that Huffpo has been on the receiving end of any "reprisals" as a result of its citizen journalism. Indeed, there's a much stronger case to be made that its Huffpo's citizen journalism which is precisely what got it that access in the first place....

Jeff's worries about access stem from the way in which newsmakers try to control news coverage of them. It's an invidious practice, which I hope will slowly fade away. Maybe if conventional journalists didn't need to worry so much about access, they would do a better job. That's where citizen journalists come in: without worries about access, they can be as honest as conventional journalists would often like to be...

Washington Post Death Spiral Watch (Perry Bacon Edition)

We have seen the mendacious, unethical, and incompetent Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon before. Here's a roundup of the last time we saw his fungus-like countenance:

Tom Toles:

Opinions: Tom Toles Cartoons - ( Obama's Eating of Vegetables Fuels Rumors About Him: Barack Obama doesn't hide his enjoyment of peas and beans, fueling Internet rumors that he's a jihadist vegetarian who will take the oath of office with his hand on a slab of damp tofu. He denies the rumors, but he sure does eat a lot of vegetables, including tofu at times, and the real significance of the rumors is how they will hurt him if they get repeated enough. Inside: Are the rumors true? More discussion of them first.

Paul McLeary:

CJR: Is Perry Bacon Serious?: In The Washington Post this morning, reporter Perry Bacon Jr. wrote what may be the single worst campaign ‘08 piece to appear in any American newspaper so far this election cycle. In the front-page piece, Bacon muses over how the chances of Barack Obama getting elected president might be affected by the fact that he’s not Muslim. Seriously. To build his case, Bacon stumbles artlessly through all manner of rumor, innuendo, and xenophobic smear—never bothering to refute any of it, even though there is plenty of well-documented evidence to knock down much of this stuff.... Further down in the piece, we’re given the evidence for Bacon’s assertion: selected quotes from a variety of right-wing nut jobs.... Problem is, none of this is true, though Bacon never gets around to telling us that...

The SideTrack: Fried Bacon, Jr.: Under critical blow-back, Bacon has issued a statement defending the article.... Bacon in his statement above calls the Obama Muslim smears "falsehoods." But they aren't identified as such in [Bacon's original piece.... [I]t is at least worth asking what the point of this article was.... [I]t does nothing to illuminated the previously verified fallacies of the smear campaign. This now passes for journalism? This is being a "watchdog of democracy?" Would it kill today's media to ask themselves "how will what I am writing better inform the public?" In not doing so, they leave it up to us to ask how we will be better informed by reading what passes for content in many of today's newspapers, and support only those who offer us more...

And today we see him on display once again. Let's take the last paragraph:

McCain, Obama Clash on Economy: Obama has continued the criticism of free-trade agreements and big corporations that marked his primary campaign, and next week, he plans to focus on job creation and trade. He is also casting himself as more fiscally responsible than McCain, arguing that he would balance the budget and that McCain would increase the deficit.

Judging by their plans, Obama is more fiscally responsible than McCain. He is not "casting himself" as more fiscally responsible than McCain. He is more fiscally responsible. Perry Bacon should say that. But he doesn/t dare.

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

Greg Anrig on Tom Hamburger on Jason Furman

Apropos of LA Times reporter Tom Hamburger's gross mispresentation of Jason Furman:

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: The Semi-Daily Journal Economist Brad DeLong: Obama's selection of Jason Furman as economic advisor is criticized: [Jason Furman] was also quoted in a transcript from a CNBC interview in 2006 as suggesting openness to changes in Social Security that might include private accounts and benefit cuts. The approach he described sounded similar in some ways to that proposed at the time by President Bush. The Bush private accounts idea was anathema to labor activists, who successfully challenged the president's initiative.

Greg Anrig comments:

It wasn't a matter of "space" -- Hamburger simply got the facts totally wrong. If he had left out his errors about Social Security, he would have had more space. Jason may have been the single most effective wonk in the victory against SS privatization.

What was special about Jason's work was his relentlessness in turning around pointed analysis with fresh numbers every time new details came out about various plans, and all in nice user-friendly formats that the media could understand. Those kinds of skills are really huge assets for a campaign, as well as an administration.

And, yeah, Dean [Baker]'s work was also huge. As well as EPI's, TPMs, most of the economists, and many of the bloggers...
No sign of any climbdown on the part of the LA Times...

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

We Get an Email from Tom Hamburger...

Apropos of the astonishing and false claim in this morning's LA Times that Jason Furman is some sort of a crypto-Bushie with views on Social Security matters "similar" to those Bush proposed in 2005, I write to the reporter involved, Tom Hamburger. And he writes back:

Mr. Hamburger's bottom line appears to be that his leaving a lot of readers with a false view of Jason Furman's position on Social Security is OK because that was "not the point of this story..."

So I write back:

On Wed, Jun 11, 2008 at 12:22 PM, Hamburger, Tom wrote:

Dear Mr. DeLong: Thanks for writing. I'll respond briefly and welcome the chance to chat with you further, if you wish. 1/I not only googled "Furman and social security"...

Then how did you miss the first two substantive results in your search?

The Impact of The President’s Proposal On Social Security Solvency ... by Jason Furman,

Contrary To Claims By Its Supporters, The Congressional Budget ... by Jason Furman ...

I don't understand how anyone can write in good faith that Jason Furman's views on Social Security were "similar in some ways to that proposed at the time by President Bush," or could in good faith write that "labor activists... successfully challenged the president's initiative" without also feeling under a moral obligation to note that it was Jason Furman's quantitative analyses of the Bush plan for CBPP that provided a lot of the most effective ammunition against the Bush Social Security plan.

What you wrote simply isn't fair. It also isn't true--unless you rely want to rely very, very heavily on your two weasel words "similar" and "in some ways." It would have been much truer and fairer to write that Jason Furman's views on Social Security are "very different in many ways from those proposed by President Bush, and Furman was at the time one of Bush's harshest critics."

You seem to offer a defense of your article that I can only call half-hearted:

I did not suggest [Jason Furman] was a cheerleader for Bush, only that he was open to discussing some things -- i.e. private accounts and benefit cuts, which is what he said on the show...

To which the rest of us can only respond that you mischaracterize your own article. The article you are now describing says that Furman's views on Social Security were "similar in some ways but different in many others from those proposed at the time by President Bush." To just say that his views were "similar"--and to suppress the role he played in analyzing the Bush proposal in 2005--is to suggest that he was if not a cheerleader at least neutral. Which is false.

You've left a lot of readers with a false impression of Furman's views on Social Security. You owe them a correction. And you owe yourself a correction as well.

Instead, you say:

I wish our anemic news business had more space to include more info. In the future I plan to include some of Furman's social security views. But that was not the point of this story...

To which the rest of us can only respond that a story that says that labor activists are worried that Jason Furman is a crypto-Bushie on Social Security but they are wrong because he was actually a harsh critic of Bush Social Security proposals back in 2005 informs the LA Times's readers, while a story that says that labor activists are worried that Jason Furman is a crypto-Bushie on Social Security and his views are indeed "similar" to Bush's proposals misinforms the LA Times's readers. And there is an important distinction here somewhere.

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

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Tom Hamburger of the Los Angeles Times Edition)

To: Tom Hamburger
From: Brad DeLong
About: Your Needed Change of Career...

On June 11, 2008, you wrote:

Obama's selection of Jason Furman as economic advisor is criticized: [Jason Furman] was also quoted in a transcript from a CNBC interview in 2006 as suggesting openness to changes in Social Security that might include private accounts and benefit cuts. The approach he described sounded similar in some ways to that proposed at the time by President Bush. The Bush private accounts idea was anathema to labor activists, who successfully challenged the president's initiative.

Back on April 29, 2005, apropos of Bush's Social Security reform, Jason Furman wrote:

HOW WOULD THE PRESIDENT’S NEW SOCIAL SECURITY PROPOSALS AFFECT MIDDLE-CLASS WORKERS AND SOCIAL SECURITY SOLVENCY?: In last night’s press conference, President Bush endorsed a proposal... described as reducing benefits for the most affluent Americans, it would result in large benefit reductions for middle-class workers, as well. All workers with incomes above $20,000 today would be subject to benefit reductions, and the benefit cuts would escalate sharply in size as income climbed above $20,000. A worker making $35,000 today would be subject to benefit reductions more than half as large as the benefit cuts imposed on people at the highest income levels. A worker making $60,000 today would be subject to benefit reductions more than 85 percent as large as someone making several million dollars a year....

How disability benefits would be affected is unclear, although the President implied they would not be reduced. The President’s proposed change in the Social Security benefit structure is essentially a plan known as “progressive price indexing” that has been designed by investment executive Robert Pozen... [that] would reduce benefits for average earners retiring in 2075 by 28 percent, relative to the current benefit structure, and that this reduction would apply equally to retirees, survivors, and people with disabilities.... The White House last night issued a fact sheet stating that its proposals... would close 70 percent of Social Security’s financing problems. To do that, the President’s plan either must cut disability and survivor benefits substantially — after all, one-sixth of the savings in the Pozen plan come just from reductions in disability benefits — or cut retirement benefits for middle-class workers even more deeply than the figures cited above...

Jason Furman was not a friend, advocate, or supporter of President Bush's Social Security privatization plan back in 2005, but instead one of its most strident and effective opponents--as you would have found almost immediately had you typed "jason furman social security" into your web browser's google box, and followed the first substantive link to, which gives Jason Furman's full view of the Bush Privatization plan.

Why didn't you google "Jason Furman social security" before your wrote?

And when and how are you going to retract large portions of your article?

Obama 74%, McCain 12%

Apostropher writes:

Unfogged: Polls predict unprecedented Obama landslide: If we can figure out a way to hold the election in Europe, that is.

A poll in late May of five major countries -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia -- showed Sen. Obama getting 52% support, compared with 15% for Sen. McCain. In France, 65% favor Sen. Obama, compared with 8% for Sen. McCain, according to the poll for the United Kingdom's Daily Telegraph newspaper. Another poll published online Saturday in Belgium's Le Soir newspaper showed Belgians prefer Sen. Obama over Sen. McCain 74% to 12%. "Belgians are rooting for Obama because, let's face it, the guy knows what he's talking about, especially compared to Bush," says Stephane Mangnay, a 34-year-old house husband in Villers-la-Ville.

Heathers: They're Gonna Get Mean, and They're Gonna Get Ugly Somehow, and There's Gonna Be a Million More of Them...

Paul Krugman and Clive Crook congratulate America for becoming its best self.

I am not so sure.

Here's one of the mean ones: Robin Givhan of (surprise!) the Washington Post:

Just before Barack Obama celebrated his victory, Hillary Clinton celebrated her tenacity. She was in New York and she took the stage with Bill Clinton, who was wearing a dark suit and a burgundy tie. One desperately wanted to speed-dial one of his aides to suggest he stop wearing those red and orange ties because they have a tendency to make him look inflamed. As Hillary Clinton spoke, she was smiling that talk-show smile -- the one that never wavers. She was dressed all in cobalt blue: her pants, her jacket and the blouse or tunic she had on underneath it. Stylists will often advise clients to dress in a single hue to elongate their figure, but they're usually talking about subdued colors such as black or navy. The only people who dress from head to toe in bright blue are more than likely telling you to put your seat tray in the upright and locked position. What would possess a woman seeking the highest office to dress in a manner that only Veruca Salt could love?...

And here's one of the ugly ones: Tom Sowell of the (surprise!) Hoover Institution in the Orville Faubus role:

There is one big difference between now and the 1930s.... [W]hen all the West's industrial and military forces were finally mobilized, the democracies were able to turn the tide and win decisively. But you cannot lose a nuclear war for three years and then come back. You cannot even sustain the will to resist for three years when you are first broken down morally by threats and then devastated by nuclear bombs. Our one window of opportunity to prevent this will occur within the term of whoever becomes President of the United States next January.... [W]e do not have the luxury of waiting for our ideal candidate or of indulging our emotions by voting for some third party candidate to show our displeasure-- at the cost of putting someone in the White House who is not up to the job. John McCain has been criticized in this column many times. But, when all is said and done, McCain has not spent decades aiding and abetting people who hate America...

To quote the immortal Guy Fleegman: "I don't like this. I don't like this at all.... [I]n a second they're gonna get mean, and they're gonna get ugly somehow, and there's gonna be a million more of them..."

Washington Post Death Spiral Watch

Attaturk comments on the egregious Fred Hiatt, he who "speaks with excessive certainty":

Rising Hegemon: Wank more into the breech: Today Fred Hiatt writes yet another editorial exempting both Bush and himself from the Iraq War fiasco. It's rather sad and hilarious that Hiatt continues to do this...and gets away with it. Especially since many of the journalist that write for the Post such as Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Thomas Ricks (whose book was even called "FIASCO" for chrissakes) have shown Fred to be shit-pusher No. 1.... Fred goes into a full-throated defense of the Bush Administration not lying -- for the obvious reason that Fred Hiatt doesn't want to be portrayed as the incredible chump he is. With this kind of cult-like cognitive dissonance Fred might consider getting himself into his best sweat suit and sneakers and start eating those pudding cups.

The real secret to being Fred Hiatt is not reading your own paper.oday on the "Walter Pincus Page" of the Post [A15]-- just after the Car Ads and just before the Adult Bookstore Ads -- he could read this:

There is an important line in last week's Senate intelligence committee report on the Bush administration's prewar exaggerations of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. It says that the panel did not review "less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the Executive Branch."... [T]here was no effort to obtain White House records or interview President Bush, Vice President Cheney or other administration officials whose speeches were analyzed because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report.

One obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. The group met weekly in the Situation Room. Among the regular participants (many have since left or changed jobs) were Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James R. Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio; and policy aides led by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, as well as I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff. As former White House press secretary Scott McClellan wrote in his recently released book, "What Happened," the Iraq Group "had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public."

"The script had been finalized with great care over the summer," McClellan wrote, for a "campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary."

Washington Post Death Spiral Watch (Fred Hiatt Edition)

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? Fred Hiatt tells a lot of lies himself as he cherrypicks the Rockefeller report. Duncan Black notes:: "the headline given... is 'Blaming Bush for Iraq Is Too Easy.' And that's true! I also blame Fred Hiatt!"

Fred Hiatt would prefer it if we didn't say that Bush and Cheney lied. He says that there is "no question" that Bush and Cheney "spoke with too much certainty" at times--but, he says, that's not lying:

'Bush Lied'? If Only It Were That Simple: Search the Internet for "Bush Lied" products, and you will find sites that offer more than a thousand designs. The basic "Bush Lied, People Died" bumper sticker is only the beginning.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, set out to provide the official foundation for what has become not only a thriving business but, more important, an article of faith.... [H]e claimed to have accomplished his mission, though he did not use the L-word. "In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent," he said.

There's no question that the administration, and particularly Vice President Cheney, spoke with too much certainty at times and failed to anticipate or prepare the American people for the enormous undertaking in Iraq. But dive into Rockefeller's report... and you may be surprised by what you find.

On Iraq's nuclear weapons program?... "generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates." On biological weapons, production capability and those infamous mobile laboratories?... "substantiated by intelligence information." On chemical weapons, then? "Substantiated by intelligence information." On weapons of mass destruction.... "Generally substantiated by intelligence information." Delivery vehicles such as ballistic missiles? "Generally substantiated by available intelligence." Unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to deliver WMDs? "Generally substantiated by intelligence information."...

[S]tatements regarding Iraq's support for terrorist groups other than al-Qaeda "were substantiated by intelligence information." Statements that Iraq provided safe haven for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other terrorists with ties to al-Qaeda "were substantiated by the intelligence assessments," and statements regarding Iraq's contacts with al-Qaeda "were substantiated by intelligence information." The report is left to complain about "implications" and statements that "left the impression" that those contacts led to substantive Iraqi cooperation....

[T]he phony "Bush lied" story line distracts from the biggest prewar failure: the fact that so much of the intelligence upon which Bush and Rockefeller and everyone else relied turned out to be tragically, catastrophically wrong. And it trivializes a double dilemma... when to act on a threat in the inevitable absence of perfect intelligence and how to mobilize popular support for such action, if deemed essential for national security, in a democracy that will always, and rightly, be reluctant.

For the next president, it may be Iran's nuclear program, or al-Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan, or, more likely, some potential horror that today no one even imagines. When that time comes, there will be plenty of warnings to heed from the Iraq experience, without the need to fictionalize more.

Here are six of Bush, Cheney, and now Hiatt's lies, via David Kurtz:

Talking Points Memo | Phase II:

  • Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa'ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa'ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.
  • Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.
  • Statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the postwar situation in Iraq, in terms of the political, security, and economic, did not reflect the concerns and uncertainties expressed in the intelligence products.
  • Statements by the President and Vice President prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq's chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community's uncertainties....
  • The Secretary of Defense's statement that the Iraqi government operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes... was not substantiated by available intelligence information.
  • The Intelligence Community did not confirm that Muhammad Atta met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in 2001...

Four years, Washington Post. Four years.

She "Lost" Her Phone, Ha-Ha!

Megan McArdle says that she has to buy a new-model iPhone today because she "lost" her cell phone:

Megan McArdle: What do you do with your old iPhone?: Well, today's the day that Jobs is supposed to unleash his new creation on the world--and not a moment too soon, as I seem to have lost my old cell phone...

I would snark without mercy, except that I really did lose my cell phone last week. Honest. Swear. I can provide affidavits...

For those who have not lost their iPhones, she has advice:

For those who are still in full possession, however, this presents a problem, at least if they are iPhone owners. The new phone will have better data speeds, probably better call quality, and several new features like GPS. This suddenly renders the price of their old phones--well, probably you can still trade it in that currency composed entirely of gigantic stones. The word on the street from my shadowy hipster associates is that the thing to do is jailbreak the phone and then ebay it internationally to some country where the iPhone is not yet sold through a carrier. In those fabled lands, a jailbroken iPhone 1.0 is probably worth almost as much as you paid for it.