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July 2009

Quintuple Meta Post on Health Care...

Robert Waldmann goes quadruple meta on the triple meta Matthew Yglesias:

Robert's Stochastic thoughts: Quadruple meta: Matt Yglesias goes triple meta in his blog post "Stay First-Order on Health Care." writing

It’s difficult, of course, to critique the impulse to “go meta” without falling prey to accusations of going double meta...

You can be the first (OK in the first million) to go quintuple meta on the blogosphere by linking to this post...

Don't break the chain!

Things They Would Not Expect to Go Together...

John Scalzi:

In the Category of “Things I Would Not Expect to Go Together” « Whatever: Apparently people who buy wolf urine on Amazon also buy The Last Colony. And LEGOs. And toilet paper, but that almost kinds makes sense. Almost.

In the Category of “Things I Would Not Expect to Go Together” « Whatever

Charlie Stross:

Charlie's Diary: Scared now.: Amazon sell some really weird stuff; for example, tins of uranium ore. No, that's not the scary bit. The scary bit is that customers who bought this item (the aforementioned uranium ore) also bought copies of Halting State and Volume Four of Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming (insofar as extracts are available for purchase). I seem to recall writing about that here. I think I'm going to go and hide under the bed now. (Yes, the bedroom is circular; not a right angle in it!) Uranium Ore: Electronics

Amazon.com_ Uranium Ore_ Electronics-1

Joelle Nebbe aka Iphigenie:

Charlie's Diary: Scared now.: You think the connection with your book is scary, but what I find truly scary are the other items attached to the Uranium: the book Forbidden Lego Projects ("Using LEGO bricks in combination with common household materials along with some very unorthodox building techniques, you'll learn to create working models that LEGO would never endorse") and the Dremel multi tool.

Stimulus Effect Breakdown

Josh Bivens:

More than 500 days of recession: Despite the overall contraction, the fingerprints of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act could be seen in some aspect of today’s report. Federal government spending grew at an 11% rate in the quarter, adding roughly 0.8% to overall GDP. State and local government spending grew at a 2.4% annual rate, the fastest growth since the middle of 2007. It is clear that the large amount of state aid contained in the ARRA made this growth possible.

Furthermore, real (inflation-adjusted) disposable personal income rose by 3.2% in the quarter, after rising by only 1% in the previous quarter. A large contribution to this increase was made by the Making Work Pay tax credit passed in conjunction with the ARRA, as this was the first full quarter that the credit was in effect. Inflation-adjusted transfer payments (including a one-time payment to Social Security recipients)  rose at an annual rate of over 6% in the quarter as well.

This increase in disposable personal incomes did not translate into a sharp boost in consumption spending because the personal savings rate jumped again — rising to 5.2% in the second quarter, up from 4% in the previous quarter. This slippage between personal incomes and consumption spending caused by a rising savings rate makes plain that, instead of focusing on even more tax cuts, it was wise to make sure that much of the ARRA was devoted to direct public investment spending. The public investment spending in the ARRA, while not having a significant impact in the second quarter, will provide an even stronger boost to the economy in quarters to come.

The consensus of macroeconomic forecasters is that ARRA contributed roughly 3% to annualized growth rates in the second quarter. This means that absent its effects, economic performance would have resembled that of the previous three quarters, when the economy contracted at an average annual rate of 4.9%. In short, the recovery act turned this quarter’s economic performance from disastrous to merely bad. This is no small achievement, but with even more public relief and investments, the U.S. economy could do much better.


A second quarter annualized GDP contraction of 1.5%, instead of the 4.5% contraction that would have occurred without the Recovery Act, translates into approximately 720,000 jobs that were created or preserved as a result of the ARRA. Given that actual job loss in April, May, and June of this year totaled 1.3 million, this means that job loss would have been more than 50% higher without the moderating influence of ARRA...

Republicans: The Party for People Who Are Insane. Southern Republicans by Contrast...

Glenn Thrush:

58 percent of GOP not sure/doubt Obama born in US - Glenn Thrush - Shocker poll from Kos/Research2000 today: A whopping 58 percent of Republicans either think Barack Obama wasn't born in the US (28 percent) or aren't sure (30 percent). A mere 42 percent think he was. That means a majority of Republicans polled either don't know about -- or don't believe the seemingly incontrovertible evidence Obama's camp has presented over and over and over that he was born in Hawaii in '61.

It also explains why Republicans, including Roy Blunt, are playing footsie with the Birther fringe. Surprise, surprise: Birther sentiment was strongest in the South and among the 60-plus crowd - presumably because seniors can't log on to the Internet and rely on rumor, word of mouth and right-wing talk radio.

When do we start a serious dialog about the Birther movement being a proxy for racism that is unacceptable to articulate in more direct terms?

The Washington Monthly

Can we please get another, very different opposition party to the Democrats?

Barack Obama's birth announcement published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Sunday, Aug. 13, 1961:

announcementclose-up.jpg 303չ9 pixels

Stimulus and the Second Quarter

Larry Mishel guesses:

the stimulus' impact on [the annualized] GDP [growth rate] in this [second] quarter was about 3%. Without that the GDP decline would have been comparable to that of the prior three quarters. Josh Bivens notes this in the analysis about to go up on our web site. Particularly important were the Making Work Tax cut, the boost to retirees and to state spending, all of which show up in the GDP report...

You Can't Hedge Yourself

The sharp-eyed and highly intelligent Andrew Samwick writes:

Trouble Below the Surface at AIG | Capital Gains and Games: If you are going to regulate an industry, by all means, empower the regulators to intervene when sensible policies are violated.  Mary Williams Walsh -- in my opinion one of the very best reporters working today -- has the story in yesterday's New York Times....

state regulatory filings... show that A.I.G.’s individual insurance companies have been doing an unusual volume of business with each other... investing in each other... borrowing from each other... guaranteeing each other... even when they have lacked the means to make good. Insurance examiners working for the states have occasionally flagged these activities, to little effect.

A facade of regulation is worse than no regulation at all.  How many examples of this will we have to observe before we learn our lesson?

And sends us to Mary Williams Walsh:

After Rescue, New Weakness Seen at A.I.G. - In the months since A.I.G. received its $182 billion rescue from the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, state insurance regulators have said repeatedly that its core insurance operations were sound — that the financial disaster was caused primarily by a small unit that dealt in exotic derivatives. But state regulatory filings offer a different picture. They show that A.I.G.’s individual insurance companies have been doing an unusual volume of business with each other for many years — investing in each other’s stocks; borrowing from each other’s investment portfolios; and guaranteeing each other’s insurance policies, even when they have lacked the means to make good. Insurance examiners working for the states have occasionally flagged these activities, to little effect.

More ominously, many of A.I.G.’s insurance companies have reduced their own exposure by sending their risks to other companies, often under the same A.I.G. umbrella. Echoing state regulators’ statements, the company said the interdependency of its businesses posed no problem and strongly disputed that any units had obligations they could not pay. “There is absolutely no concern about the capital in these companies,” said Rob Schimek, the chief financial officer of A.I.G.’s property and casualty insurance business. The company authorized him to speak about these issues.

Nothing is wrong with spreading risks to other companies, a practice known as reinsurance, when it is carried out with unrelated, solvent companies. It can also be acceptable in small amounts between related companies. But A.I.G.’s companies have reinsured each other to such a large extent, experts say, that now billions of dollars worth of risks may have ended up at related companies that lack the means to cover them...

New York Times Crashed-and-Burned Watch


First Draft: Three Reporters: The Internet continues its slaughter of serious journalism about serious things:

New York Times reporters Helene Cooper, Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny live-blogged the so-called beer summit of President Obama, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and the officer who arrested him in Cambridge nearly two weeks ago, Sgt. James Crowley.

It took three of them to "live-blog" the "beer summit." I mean, I'm sorry, but Puck and Willie B could have handled that assignment admirably and Puck just right now ran headfirst into a table leg, so.

Five years, New York Times. I give you five years--and then you are gone.

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

links for 2009-07-31

Greg Mankiw and the Tax Foundation Try and Fail to Fool Andrew Gelman

From Andrew Gelman:

The Monkey Cage: Income tax burden != tax burden: Greg Mankiw quotes a Tax Foundation report saying:

IRS data shows that in 2007—the most recent data available—the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 40.4 percent of the total income taxes collected by the federal government. This is the highest percentage in modern history. By contrast, the top 1 percent paid 24.8 percent of the income tax burden in 1987, the year following the 1986 tax reform act. Remarkably, the share of the tax burden borne by the top 1 percent now exceeds the share paid by the bottom 95 percent of taxpayers combined. [italics added]

It’s an interesting question what to make of this sort of statistic: the income distribution is more skewed than it used to be, so there are some super-rich people paying a lot of taxes. But what I wanted to focus on here was the shift from “income taxes” to “the tax burden.” This could be misleading.

Yep. It is.

Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet in the Pages of the Wall Street Journal!

Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet in the Pages of the Wall Street Journal!

My friend Mark Thoma is trying to diminish my quality of life by emailing me links to Donald Luskin writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Luskin: President Barack Obama proposed last month that the Fed act as an overall “systemic risk” regulator, with consolidated supervisory responsibility over “large, interconnected firms whose failure could threaten the stability of the system.” Now William C. Dudley, the ex-Goldman Sachs economist just appointed president of the New York Federal Reserve, has upped the ante.... Mr. Dudley is effectively asking for the power to control asset prices...




The Federal Reserve is not "asking for the power to control asset prices." It already has the power to control--or, rather, profoundly influence--asset prices already. When the Federal Reserve carries out an expansionary open-market operation, the whole point of the exercise is that it boosts bond and stock prices. The Federal Reserve buys bonds for cash. There are then fewer bonds out there for the private sector to hold. By supply and demand, the prices of those bonds goes up, and their yields--the interest rates quoted in the financial press--go down. Also by supply and demand, when bonds are yielding less investors are willing to pay more for substitute assets like equities and real estate, and their prices go up as well.

When the Federal Reserve carries out a contractionary open market operation, the same process works in reverse: the whole point of the exercise is that it lowers bond and stock prices. The Federal Reserve sells bonds for cash. There are then more bonds out there for the private sector to hold. By supply and demand, the prices of those bonds goes down, and their yields--the interest rates quoted in the financial press--go up. Also by supply and demand, when bonds are yielding more investors are willing to pay less for substitute assets like equities and real estate, and their prices go down as well.

For Luskin to claim that Dudley is asking for something new--that there is an extraordinary increase in the big, bad government's power to regulate financial markets contained in Dudley's "effectively asking for the power to control asset prices" is to demonstrate a degree of cluelessness that takes my breath away. The Federal Reserve already has the power to control asset prices. It has had this power since its founding in 1913. That's the point. That's what a central bank does. That's what it's for: it's an island of central planning power seated in the middle of the market economy.

If you don't like it, call for its abolition. But don't pretend that it isn't there--don't pretend that "Mr. Dudley... asking for the power to control asset prices" is some wild change in our current system.

Jeebus save us...

So what did Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley say at the 8th Annual BIS Conference in Basel last June 26?

He said:

  1. We had not understood that interconnection had breached the firewalls of the banking system--that it was no longer enough to guarantee the stability of the financial system that the FDIC guaranteed deposits and the Federal Reserve supervised commercial banks, as we saw when the disruption of the securitization marktes of the shadow banking system quickly transmitted itself to the entire financial sector and caused the biggest globl economic decline since the Great Depression. Thus "the U.S. Treasury is right in proposing a systemic risk regulator as part of their regulatory reform plan... we shouldn’t kid ourselves about how difficult this will be to execute.... It will take the right people, with the right skill sets, operating in a system with the right culture and legal framework. I don’t believe creating this oversight process will be an easy task"...

  2. We need to try to "engineer out of the financial system" destabilizing positive-feedback mechanisms like: (a) collateral tied to credit ratings; (b); collateral and haircuts; (c) compensation "tied to short-term revenue generation, rather than long-term profitability over the cycle"; (d) incentives for banks to fail to "raise sufficient capital to be able to withstand bad states of nature... many banks did not hold sufficient capital and market participants knew this"...

  3. Specifically, we need to add debt that automatically converts to equity on the downside

  4. And, specifically, we need CDOs and other securitized obligations that are easier to value, and we need more public reporting of exposures.

It's only after this that Dudley gets to monetary policy and asset bubbles, and his belief that we need "a critical reevaluation of the [Greenspanist] view that central banks cannot identify or prevent asset bubbles, they can only clean up after asset bubbles burst." There is an opportunity for the government to "lean against the wind" in real time, Dudley believes, and cites as an example that "the compressed nature of risk spreads and the increased leverage in the financial system was very well known going into 2007."

The problem with "leaning against the wind" to some degree to try to curb the growth of asset bubbles, Dudley says, is that the standard tool that the Federal Reserve uses to affect asset prices are open-market operations directed at the short end of the yield curve, and "the instrument of short-term interest rates... is not well-suited to deal with asset bubbles." The problem is that using short-term interest rates to manipulate asset prices raises or lowers all asset prices together, which means that one risks curbing the bubble by attacking the economy and causing the recession one wants to avoid. In a bubble the Federal Reserve does not want to lower all asset prices but, rather, just the prices of those risky assets that are affected by the bubble.

One way to think about it is that standard Fed tools allow it to affect the market rate of time preference and thus the level of asset prices, but that the configuration of asset prices is actually a two-dimensional animal in which both the rate of time preference and the premium on risk are important. The Fed then needs two different policy instruments to do its job. Open-market operations that affect the rate of time preference are one. And Dudley thinks that banking collateral regulatory policy--"we might give a systemic risk regulator the authority to establish overall leverage limits or collateral and collateral haircut requirements... limit leverage and more directly influence risk premia..."

But nobody should believe the Wall Street Journal when it tells us that Dudley wants to move us into a world in which for the first time the Federal Reserve "is effectively asking for the power to control asset prices." That's not what is going on at all.

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

Required Book Readings for Econ 115: Twentieth Century Economic History

Three required books for Econ 115:

ETA Press Release: Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report


ETA Press Release: Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report: In the week ending July 25, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 584,000, an increase of 25,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 559,000...

We are almost past the summer seasonal spike in unemployment insurance claims, and it looks as though the recent downward spike in seasonally-adjusted claims was spurious: claims are settling at a level 50% above what they were last summer--which means that the unemployment rate is in all probability still rising.


Economagic: Economic Chart Dispenser

The Downward Multiplier Process Kicks in...

Matthew Goldstein:

Unemployment spreads distress in U.S. home loans | Reuters: the source of the mortgage trouble has swung from lax lending standards to unemployment. Some of the areas with the most severe foreclosure activity have started to show improvement as price cuts and first-time buyer tax credits lure purchasers. With the unemployment rate near a 26-year high and many employers cutting wages, more consumers in areas that were initially spared in the foreclosure explosion are now behind in their home loan payments.

More than 20 percent of areas with above-average foreclosure activity were in Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Arkansas, Illinois and South Carolina in the first half of the year. That shift points to growing unemployment more than to fallout from subprime and adjustable-rate loans, RealtyTrac said in its midyear metropolitan foreclosure market report. While total foreclosure activity kept rising, "some of the markets that had the highest saturation of foreclosures over the past few years have seen declining rates, while new markets like Provo, Utah, and Boise, Idaho, have seen large increases," James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, said in a statement. "As unemployment rates increase in different parts of the country, it's very likely that we'll see similar patterns develop elsewhere," he said....

"As unemployment rises, we are seeing a change in the financial profile of the people seeking our help," Suzanne Boas, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta, said this week. "We are serving an increasing number of people who work in professional services and skilled trades," she said. "These people have maintained solid incomes their entire lives, but are now in financial trouble and are reaching out for counseling to help avoid foreclosure." In June, 72 percent of homeowners who got foreclosure prevention counseling from the agency, which serves all 50 states...

Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet (Special McMegan Edition)

Congratulations to the bride-to-be, and the groom-to-be, and to their currently-unconceived issue-to-be (if any).



Why I Oppose National Health Care: Look at the uptick in stories on obesity in the context of health care reform.  Fat people are a problem!  They're killing themselves, and our budget!  We must stop them!  And what if people won't do it voluntarily?  Because let's face it, so far, they won't. Making information, or fresh vegetables, available, hasn't worked--every intervention you can imagine on the voluntary front, and several involuntary ones, has already been tried either in supermarkets or public schools. Americans are getting fat because they're eating fattening foods, and not exercising. How far are we willing to go beyond calorie labelling on menus to get people to slim down? These aren't just a way to save on health care; they're a way to extend and expand the cultural hegemony of wealthy white elites. No, seriously.  Living a fit, active life is correlated with being healthier. But then, as an economist recently pointed out to me, so is being religious, being married, and living in a small town; how come we don't have any programs to promote these "healthy lifestyles"?...

And she quotes Paul Campos:

America's Moral Panic Over Obesity - Megan McArdle: There is literally not a shred of evidence that turning fat people into thin people improves their health. And the reason there's no evidence is that there's no way to do it...

Four comments:

(1) Both Paul Campos and Megan McArdle appear to have missed the point by several quadrants. We have managed to turn thin people into fat people--a great many Americans today who are fat would be thin if they had lived forty years earlier in the America-that-was a generation ago. Surely if we can do this, we can undo it?

(2) Both Paul Campos and Megan McArdle appear to have missed the point by several quadrants. Changing sedentary, high-cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar fat people into more active, low-cholesteral, normal blood pressure, normal blood sugar fat people certainly does improve their health.

The governor of California is incompetent at budgeting, but these words of his are well worth listening to:

This exercise is extremely effective for your lats[issimi dorsi] and your upper back. Stand with your feet on either side of an open door and grasp the doorknobs with both hands. Slowly sink away from the door so that your back jackknifes and your arms extend fully and lock. Now pull yourself back up to the starting position. Let your arms, not your legs, complete the motion. I will count out thirty repetitions. Beginners should do 10, intermediates 20, and advanced the full amount. LET'S DO IT! 1... 2... 3... 4, AND STRETCH YOUR BACK!... 5... 6... 7, DON'T USE YOUR LEGS!... 8... 9... 10... 11... 12... 13... 14... 15... 16, JUST USE YOUR ARMS!... 17... 18... 19... 20... 1... 2... 3, CONCENTRATE ON YOUR BACK!!... 4... 5... 6... 7, THREE MORE!... 8... 9, AND NOT LAST ONE!... 30... WE'RE DOING FIVE MORE!!... 31, 32... HA! HA!... 33, 34, 35. Next we have in our program a wonderful leg exercise, the lunges. This exercise develops the front part of your thighs...

(3) And we do have a great many programs and cultural norms to promote these alternative healthy lifestyles. As [email protected] emails:

Um, we do have public policies and programs that... subsidize or incentivize religion (nonprofit status of religious orgs, tax deductions for charitable contributions, various exemptions and civil rights protections for religious folk, release policies for religious instruction, etc.); being married (various legal benefits/protections connected to marriage, tax benefits for some people, and of course the government has actually spent money on programs explicitly promoting marriage!), and living in small towns (the U.S. Postal service, overinvestment in roads). In contrast, we have lots and lots of policies that incentivize or subsidize unhealthy food choices and not exercise and the measly policy efforts to encourage healthy eating and exercise don't hold a candle to those...

(4) The argument that "Obamacare is bad because it will oppress fat people" is... ummm... opportunistic. As [email protected] emails

We should just be clear that the embrace of this argument is 100 percent opportunistic. If the current political conversation were heading in a different direction, she'd be posting about how health reform will never save money and the real issue is that Americans are too fat. People may recall this argument from such events as "every time liberals point out that life expectancy is higher in Europe notwithstanding our allegedly better health care system."

Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet in the White House Briefing Room!

Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet in the White House Briefing Room!

Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal raises his hand in the White House Briefing Room and asks a question:

(1) Is there a point where you really are endangering the planet, where the focus on sub-lunar issues has ben excessive and there's just no way you can properly guard against the threat of the ravening Hexans from North Polar Jupiter?

My mistake. He actually said:

(2) Is there a point where you really are soaking the rich, where the carrying capacity of this small group of people has been exceeded and there's just no way you can keep lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?

But the truth value of the two statements is the same. A look across the pond at the fact that the societies of western Europe continue to function and a look at our current tax rates:

Effective Average Federal.xls

Source: Tax Policy Center Tax Facts

reveals that the premises of Weisman's question (2)--that we are (a) lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on the top 1% of households and (b) close to the edge of cracking our economy because of high tax rates on America's rich--are simply false:[2] only slightly more likely than the premise of question (1)--that we are faced with the imminent threat of invasion from North Polar Jupiter.

Put me down as somebody who thinks that questions asked by news reporters should be based in reality, rather than vehicles for stovepiping the false claims of lobbyists for rent-seekers into the general public discourse.

David Sirota thinks so too:

D.C.'s Media Matrix: They Believe They Decide the "Facts": My column last week generated some Official Pushback from the biggest of big media. The column focused, in part, on how the Washington press corps plays a deleterious role in distorting the parameters of our political debate.... Here was the paragraph where I cited some examples of the media implying that the proposed surtax on the wealthy to pay for universal health care is an attempt to persecute or disproportionately burden rich people:

Washington Post editors deride surtax proponents for allegedly believing "the rich alone can fund government." Likewise, Wall Street Journal correspondent Jonathan Weisman wonders why the surtax "soak(s) the rich" by unduly "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?"...

[I]t's far from controversial or crazy to believe these kinds of questions or assertions are... loaded down with subjectivity and ideology... slanted...

And then things got a little crazy. David goes on:

But that's not what the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman thought - and his and his parent company's response gives us an amazingly candid look....

Weisman sent me a series of emails... he seemed to suggest that it wasn't ethical or permissible to quote him asking his rigged question at a televised press conference because "it's not from anything I've actually written."... [H]e said he wasn't making "a statement of anything at all"... "a question is designed to elicit a response": "If I ask Robert Gibbs what he thinks of the birth certificate issue, does that mean I don't believe Barack Obama was born in the United States?" Weisman asked me in his email. A few hours later, me and my editors at Creators Syndicate received a series of emails from Dow Jones the parent company of the Wall Street Journal) formally demanding a published "correction" to my column for "misquoting" Weisman....

[W]hat have we learned?...

  1. ...some D.C. reporters believe they can say anything on television or in a very public, agenda-shaping forum like a White House press briefing, and... not even quoted....

  2. Many D.C. reporters... believe that by virtue of something being posed as a question, it is an empirical fact that it includes no opinion.... I think this makes absolutely no sense at all for obvious reasons.... [A] reporter could have asked President Bush, "Why do you love killing Iraqi children?" and another reporter could have asked Bush "Why have you taken such extraordinarily brave steps to limit civilian casualties in Iraq?"... [Q]uestions can quite obviously convey ideology....

  3. Many Washington reporters don't really have a basic understanding - or are willfully ignorant - of the role they play in framing the political debate....

  4. Some D.C. reporters cannot stand having their own statements put under the scrutiny....

  5. ...most interesting... Weisman really believes... his particular question was completely objective...

Here's the background:

On July 24, David Sirota wrote:

The Attack of the One-Percenters

Here's a truism: The wealthiest 1 percent have never had it so good.... But what really makes the ultra-wealthy so fortunate... is the unprecedented protection the 1-percenters have bought for themselves on the most pressing issues.... Congress is considering universal health care legislation financed by a surcharge on income above $280,000.... [I]t is so miniscule, those making $1 million annually would pay just $9,000 more in taxes every year.... Nonetheless, the 1-percenters have deployed an army to destroy the initiative before it makes progress.

The foot soldiers are the Land Rover Liberals.... Democratic lawmakers secure their lefty labels by wearing pink-ribbon lapel pins and supporting good causes like abortion rights... [but] routinely drive their luxury cars over middle-class economic interests.... Boulder, Colorado's dot-com tycoon Rep. Jared Polis, D.... Echoing that demand are the Corrupt Cowboys... like Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mt... quietly build insurmountable campaign war chests as the biggest corporate fundraisers in Congress... publicly preen as jes' folks, make twangy references to "voters back home," and now promise to kill the health care surtax because they say that's what their communities want....

That fantastical fairly tale, of course, couldn't exist without the Millionaire Media -- the elite journalists and opinionmongers who represent corporate media conglomerates and/or are themselves extremely wealthy. Ignoring all the data about inequality, they legitimize the assertions of the 1-percenters' first two battalions, while actually claiming America's fat cats are unfairly persecuted.

For example, Washington Post editors deride surtax proponents for allegedly believing "the rich alone can fund government." Likewise, Wall Street Journal correspondent Jonathan Weisman wonders why the surtax "soak(s) the rich" by unduly "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?"...

On Jul 24, 2009, at 8:03 AM, Weisman, Jonathan wrote:

Umm, where is this quote from? It’s not from anything I’ve actually written.

the surtax "soak(s) the rich" by unduly "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?"

You know, David, I really don’t care that you want to say I’m a plutocrat protecting my nest. My wife is an economist at McKinsey & Co., so it’s not that massive, evil MSM salary that may be at issue here. And because I understand the workings of marginal tax rates and taxable income, I know that any of these tax plans would barely nick us, if they touch us at all.

But if you’re going to call me out by name, you might say where the quote is coming from, since it is not coming from the Wall Street Journal.

From: David Sirota: Friday, July 24, 2009 10:07 AM. To: Weisman, Jonathan:

You said it at the press conference. Um, just because you didn't write it, didn't mean you didn't preen around on a television camera and say it. What's the frickin' difference?


On Jul 24, 2009, at 8:09 AM, Weisman, Jonathan wrote:

Because a question is designed to elicit a response. It is not a statement of anything at all. If I ask Robert Gibbs what he thinks of the birth certificate issue, does that mean I don’t believe Barack Obama was born in the United States?

From: David Sirota: July 24, 2009 8:12:22 AM. To: "Weisman, Jonathan":

You know, that's exactly what I aimed at in my piece - this idea that if you ask someone a rigged question, you aren't rigging the debate and aren't transmitting wholly ideological assumptions. It's that very devious tactic which journalists hide behind.

Your question wasn't objective in the least. It was the economic equivalent of asking Gibbs when Obama stopped beating his wife.

Don't take the column personally. We all get dinged from time to time. If you think I'm out of line, then be confident that I'm out of line. If you think I'm right, then perhaps consider what I've said. I think I'm right (obviously), but I respect your disagreement. But don't pretend for one second that your opinion about your own objectivity is just an empirical fact - it's not.


From: Robert H. Christie. To: David Sirota:

Dear Mr. Sirota:

In your column today, ”The Attack of the 1-Percenters,” you misquoted Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Weisman based on a question he asked during a recent White House press briefing. Since your readers expect you to be accurate and fairly report an important issue like taxes, we request that you offer your readers a clarification of Mr. Weisman’s statement. The full quote from the White House transcripts appears below:

It was actually like a 2-percentage point tax on incomes over $250,000. They even said that would be a difficult doughnut hole. But anyway -- but the point is -- my point is, is there a point where you really are soaking the rich, where the carrying capacity of this small group of people has been exceeded and there's just no way you can keep lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Regards, Bob

Robert H. Christie. Vice President, Communications. Dow Jones & Company

Fom: David Sirota. Friday, July 24, 2009 3:35 PM. To: Christie, Robert:

My article said:

Wall Street Journal correspondent Jonathan Weisman wonders why the surtax "soak(s) the rich" by unduly "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?"

The quote you sent over is this:

"Is there a point where you really are soaking the rich, where the carrying capacity of this small group of people has been exceeded and there's just no way you can keep lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?”

So the quote, word-for-word, from the White House website, as you acknowledge and admit, is, word-for-word, what I quoted. Additionally, I made sure to include the fact that Mr. Weisman asked a question, rather than stated a fact.

So, I don't think I'll be issuing a "correction" for a "misquote" unless you can explain how I've "misquoted" him. The dictionary definition of "misquote" is "to quote incorrectly." I quoted him word-for-word. If you don't like that I didn't include the entire quote, that's too bad. It's not like I changed the meaning of his quote at all. I said it was a question, and quoted him directly and verifiably accurately.

Coming from a news organization, I'm sure you know your reporters conduct interviews or read transcripts of interviews and for their articles use excerpts, quoted accurately, rather than printing entire exchanges. That's what I've done.

Thanks for your inquiry - if you have further questions, you can take it up with Creators.


From: Robert H. Christie. To: David Sirota:

What you have attributed to Jonathan is taken out of context and does not accurately reflect it was a question for the White House. This can be easily interpreted as personal opinion or something that we actually reported. Here is what your pub wrote and please let me know if some how we have this wrong…

This is what you reported:

For example, Washington Post editors deride surtax proponents for allegedly believing "the rich alone can fund government." Likewise, Wall Street Journal correspondent Jonathan Weisman wonders why the surtax "soak(s) the rich" by unduly "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?" And most brazenly, NBC's Meredith Vieira asks President Obama why the surtax is intent on "punishing the rich?"

Robert H. Christie. Vice President, Communications. Dow Jones & Company

From: David Sirota: Friday, July 24, 2009 3:52 PM. To: Christie, Robert:

Um, yes. Jonathan Weisman was on national television at a White House press conference, as I wrote, "wondering why the surtax "soak(s) the rich' by unduly 'lumping all of these problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?"

I mean, are you contesting the fact that the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman was on television wondering that? We can dig up the tape, if you'd like, and just roll it.

So I'm not sure what you mean "taken out of context" nor do I understand your claim that it "does not accurately reflect it was a question" considering I explicitly said he was asking a question.

So again, unless you can explain what was "misquoted" - again the definition being "to quote incorrectly" - unless you can explain what I said Jonathan asked but he didn't actually ask (and on national TV, no less), unless you can explain what is "not correct" about what I wrote, I'm not sure what you want "corrected."


From: Robert H. Christie. To: David Sirota:

Again, what you presented in your article can be easily interpreted by your readers as an opinion of our reporter or a statement that was made in the Wall Street Journal and as we both know is not accurate. It was a question designed to illicit response from Robert Gibbs.

Robert H. Christie. Vice President, Communications. Dow Jones & Company

From: David Sirota. July 24, 2009 2:06:01 PM. To: "Christie, Robert":

Well, frankly, that's your opinion that it's "not an opinion of your reporter." Indeed, part of the explicit point of my article is that Washington journalists' rigged questions include assumptions and ideological opinions that artificially limit and frame the debate of issues like taxes and health care. Jonathan's question was a perfect example of a rigged, ideological question - one that, in my opinion, distorts the debate. The idea that it is some sort of unassailable empirical "fact" that Jonathan's question doesn't forward highly subjective opinion and therefore help frame the tax/health care debate is ridiculous.

Now, you have a right to be of the belief that Jonathan's question included no opinion. That's your right, you can disagree with that opinion. But asking for a "correction" on a quote that is quoted accurately, word-for-word, and in context just because you disagree with my opinion is, frankly, absurd.

What I might suggest you do is post a comment on the Creators website or write a letter to the editor of the newspapers that ran the column. Perhaps you didn't know that was standard procedure in the newspaper business when a reader or a source doesn't agree with an opinion piece. They write a letter to the editor, they don't ask for a correction on a quote that is, verifiably, accurate and in context.


[1] Joe Gibbs on the fly gave half of the right answer to Weisman's question:

MR. GIBBS: I don't know how that 1 percent of the households did over the past sort of 10 to 15 years, but my sense is pretty well, whether it was a pretty darn good economy for seven or eight years in the '90s, or a tax system that -- as I know, you have looked at the causes for the long-term deficit that we're now working on and understand that some of those very tax policies make up a sizable portion of the current deficit that we carry. So I think the bottom line is that I think the President believes that the richest 1 percent of this country has had a pretty good run of it for many, many, many years.

The right answer is to say:

  1. That America's rich have benefitted enormously and disproportionately from economic changes over the past three decades, and they should pay their fair share.

  2. That the premise of the question is completely false--that the proposals of the Obama administration still keep us very, very far away indeed from the point at which there is any danger of "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households."

[2] It is interesting to note that Weisman knows that those premises are false: that the burden on the rich of Obama's tax proposals as very small indeed, for he writes: "My wife is an economist at McKinsey & Co., so it’s not that massive, evil MSM salary that may be at issue here.... I understand the workings of marginal tax rates and taxable income, I know that any of these tax plans would barely nick us, if they touch us at all..."

links for 2009-07-30

  • For reasons I won't get into, I wanted to track some recent comments by one-time NY Lt. Governor Elizabeth "Betsy" McCaughey about the Obama Administration's health care proposals. Ms. McCaughey has had three big moments in the spotlight in talking about medical care. One happened in the early Clinton years, when she was a prominent (and, as I argue here, completely misinformed and destructive) voice opposing "Hillarycare." Another was early this year, when she again launched a willfully misinformed attack, this time on "Obamacare." The third is just this month, when she has come up with another wild assertion about provisions of Obama's plan.
  • "But his posts have a downside. After reading his harsh denunciations of Obama's decision not to release the latest batch of torture photos, I began to lose sight of the persuasive arguments that other commentators have made in support of the President's position." How does one lose sight of persuasive arguments if they are indeed persuasive? It sounds to me as if he's describing being swayed by GG's arguments, but even as that is happening he still needs to consider the "other side's" arguments as having the same standing. Isn't the point of having a debate to consider all arguments, persuasive as they may be, and hopefully find one that makes more sense? How is that a downside? Reflexive attempts at 'balance' indeed.
  • In the Western Hemisphere, one small country has outperformed its larger, richer, neighbors to the north. Its export-dependent economy has weathered the global credit tsunami in good shape. Its stock market, which took a big hit in 2008, has more than doubled this year, spurring investment firms to introduce products allowing Americans to invest there directly. Its public finances seem to be sound, and the authorities appear to be making the right countercyclical moves. What's the name of this mystery country that finds itself on an economic shining path? If you guessed Peru, you're right.... In December 2008, García announced a stimulus program... 10 percent of Peru's GDP.... The central bank's 2008 vigilance against inflation left it with plenty of room to cut rates. So far this year, it has reduced the benchmark lending rate from 6.5 percent to 2 percent.
  • Andrew Sullivan had a fascinating piece on the evolution of the New York Times' willingness, or lack thereof, to use the term "torture" to describe, well, torture (for definite lack of a better word).  As Sullivan demonstrates, prior to the Bush administration, the Times repeatedly and reflexively referred to interrogation methods such as sleep deprivation, waterboarding, hypothermia, stress positions and physical beatings as torture.  No euphemism, no equivocation, no even-handed airing of the torturers' rationale/argument and no concern for the associated political controversy.  It was simply torture.  In recent years, however, the Times has begun to use euphemisms to describe those exact same techniques
  • Well, the relocation family, sale of a home, and entry into life with a commuting partner all for the sake of a 4/4 teaching load, it's in full swing. Myself and almost-4-ohmygod-year-old-V and sometimes Mr. V are here and without any major trips on the horizon to distract us from the fact that we live here now. I am finding this period to be particularly awkward - school hasn't started (for me or the kid), but I have some shit to do, but not a whole lot of shit honestly, any routines little V and I establish over the next few weeks will just have to be replaced by the more laborious routines of the school year, so we're just sort of floating through the days.
  • The completely democratic constitution of the Paris Commune, based on universal suffrage, on the immediate recall of every office-holder by the simple decision of his electors, on the suppression of bureaucracy and the armed force as opposed to the people, on the electiveness of all offices – that is what constitutes, according to Marx, the essence of the dictatorship of the proletariat. He never thinks of opposing such a dictatorship to democracy.
  • The answer that reformers have come up with is that you don't change the current system. In the short term, you strengthen it with subsidies and regulations on insurers. You make it kinder and gentler. But you also build the beginnings of a new, better health-care system off to the side. You let it demonstrate its efficiencies and improvements. You let the lure of lower costs and higher quality persuade Americans to migrate over of their own accord. This is what the health insurance exchange is designed to do. It is arguably the single most important element of health-care reform, because it is the bridge between the system we have and the system we want. But amid the clamor over public insurance options -- which, incidentally, would be housed on the exchange -- and employer tax exclusions and all the other points of controversy, the health insurance exchange is hardly being discussed. And there are signs that it, and thus the long-term promise of reform, might be in danger.
  • Technically, Brown's wording is correct.  But it's not helpful, since most people don't have even a vague notion of how much cumulative inflation there's been since 1977.  The revised wording, however, is helpful: it gives people a correct impression of how much more we spend treating heart attacks these days.  Namely, two to three times as much as 30 years ago. This wasn't just a slip of the keyboard.  Brown and his editor obviously made a deliberate decision to use nominal figures even though this doesn't give the average reader a very good idea of how much costs have actually risen.  I'd sure like to hear their explanation for why they made this decision.
  • Bubbles are also less common with more experienced traders - this is one of the strongest findings.  Don't get too excited about this, however, it's experience with bubbles that counts not just trading experience.  I once asked Vernon, for example, how the lab evidence generalized to the larger economy.  In particular, I asked whether 3 bubble experiences in the lab--the number which seems to be necessary to dampen bubbles--might translate to 3 big bubbles in the real world such as the dot com, commodity and housing bubbles (rather than to experience with your run of the mill bubble in an individual stock).  He thought that this was a reasonable inference from the evidence.  Thus we may not see too many big bubbles during the trading lifetime of current market participants but experience is a very costly teacher.  Can we do better? The last factor that does seem to make a difference is that bubbles liftoff and reach higher peaks when there's a lot of cash floating around...
  • On Monday, I espoused my theory on Twitter about the birth of Politico, which led The Columbia Journalism Review to compare that thesis to the much different Politico-birth mythology created by its Editor-in-Chief, John Harris.  Some mischevous Politico editors seem to have wanted to take my side in that dispute, as they today provide a perfect illustration of what I meant.
  • Appearing on Larry King Live, Colin Powell criticized the Republican Party for not standing up to Rush Limbaugh. "The problem I'm having with the [Republican] Party right now is that when he says something that I consider to be completely outrageous and I respond to it, I would like to see other members of the party do likewise, but they don't," said Powell.

News from Capitol Hill

Brian Buetler:

House Retains Public Option In Compromise, But Delays Vote Until September: Ok, here's some late breaking detail on the nature of the compromise between House Blue Dogs and Democratic leaders. I'll fill in more blanks as I get more information, but here's my immediate read on the situation: Substantively, leadership seems to have given up very little, but, Blue Dogs succeeded at slow walking the bill, which won't get a vote until after the August recess...

Radley Balko: Serve and Protect

What Radley Balko said:

The Agitator » Blog Archive » Response to Patterico and Jack Dunphy: The LAPD officer who writes under the pseudonym Jack Dunphy and blogger and prosecutor Patterico have each put up posts taking issue with my Reason colleague Brian Doherty’s and my criticism of one of Dunphy’s posts at National Review Online. Doherty and I... say that Dunphy believes the lesson from the Henry Louis Gates affair is that anyone who asserts his constitutional rights when confronted by a cop risks being shot. Patterico and Dunphy both say Doherty and I misread Dunphy. If Dunphy didn’t intend for that to be the point of the post, he should retract it. Because it’s difficult to interpret it any other way. Here is the meat of Dunphy’s post:

And now we are told, in a further attempt at damage control, that the Gates arrest can serve to educate all those mouth-breathing cops out there who may yet stumble into an unpleasant encounter with some other Ivy Leaguer. It’s our hope, said Gibbs, invoking that insufferable locution that one hopes will soon fade from common usage, that the Gates arrest can be “part of a teachable moment.” So, since the president is keen on offering instruction, here is what I would advise he teach his Ivy League pals.... You may be as pure as the driven snow itself, but you have no idea what horrible crime that police officer might suspect you of committing.... [T]he officer is not all that concerned with trying not to offend you. He is instead concerned with protecting his mortal hide from having holes placed in it.... And you, if in asserting your constitutional right to be free from unlawful search and seizure fail to do as the officer asks, run the risk of having such holes placed in your own....

Patterico and Dunphy argue that Dunphy’s “lesson” here applies only to the specifics of his hypothetical—that the only time he meant to imply that you risk getting shot for asserting your rights is in the limited circumstance that an officer is looking for an armed, dangerous felon, and you happen to fit the very specific description of said felon given to police. I can’t speak for Doherty, but I stand by my original characterization of Dunphy’s post....

First, if this was Dunphy’s point, it’s unclear why he would invoke it in response to the Gates case, where there was no armed robbery, no getaway car, and no specific description.... Either he meant for his “lesson” to be applied more broadly, or his entire post was a red herring.

Second... Dunphy explicitly sets up the hypothetical by stating that its lesson should be taken to heart by “anyone else who may find himself unexpectedly confronted by a police officer.”...

Third, Dunphy was responding negatively to the idea that the “teachable moment” in all of this ought to be for the police to be more cognizant of our rights....

Fourth... the innocent driver of the Hupmobile has no idea why he has been pulled over.... This is precisely Dunphy’s point. He’s arguing that you can’t possibly know what’s going on in a police officer’s head when he stops you or confronts you.... So you’d best just shut up and submit, even he asks you to do something that you aren’t obligated to do.... Dunphy’s using his unlikely hypothetical to plant the threat that any noncompliance with an officer’s demands may end with him shooting you... giving lip about your rights may well endanger your life.

Finally, I’d add that I, Doherty, and L.A. Times editor Paul Thornton (also mentioned in Patterico’s post) were hardly the only ones who interpreted Dunphy’s post this way...

Hoisted from Comments: How Rich Is Fitzwilliam Darcy?: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal

One Hundred Interesting Mathematical Calculations: Number 16: How Rich Is Fitzwilliam Darcy?: The mother of the bride-to-be says:

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XVII of Volume III (Chap. 59): Good gracious! Lord bless me! only think! dear me! Mr. Darcy! Who would have thought it! And is it really true? Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! Jane's is nothing to it -- nothing at all. I am so pleased -- so happy. Such a charming man! -- so handsome! so tall! -- Oh, my dear Lizzy! pray apologise for my having disliked him so much before. I hope he will overlook it. Dear, dear Lizzy. A house in town! Every thing that is charming! Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! Oh, Lord! What will become of me. I shall go distracted.... My dearest child.... I can think of nothing else! Ten thousand a year, and very likely more! 'Tis as good as a Lord! And a special licence. You must and shall be married by a special licence. But my dearest love, tell me what dish Mr. Darcy is particularly fond of, that I may have it tomorrow.

So how rich is Fitzwilliam Darcy, anyway? What does ten thousand (pounds) a year in the aftermath of the Napoleonic War mean, really?

I have two answers, the first of which is $300,000 a year, and the second of which is $6,000,000 a year.

Consider it first in relative income terms. Output per capita--annual GDP in America today divided by the number of people in America--is valued at some $36,000. Our crude estimates tell us that output per capita in Britain just after the Napoleonic Wars was valued at some 60 pound sterling a year.

Thus in relative income terms--relative to the average of disposable incomes in his society--Fitzwilliam Darcy's 10,000 pounds a year of disposable income gave him about the same multiple of average income in his society as an annual disposable income of $6,000,000 a year would give someone in our society.

On the other hand, my guess is that someone today with a disposable income of $300,000 a year can spend it to get the same or higher utility as Fitzwilliam Darcy could by spending his disposable income of 10,000 pounds a year. This is a guess--a guess that our material standard of living today is some twenty times that of Mr. Darcy's England.

Nevertheless, it is an informed guess. By our standards, early nineteenth century Britain was desperately poor. Moreover, things are made much more complex by the fact that there are lots of things we take for granted--and that are for us trivially cheap--that Fitzwilliam Darcy could not get at any price. Consider that Nathan Meyer Rothschild, richest (non-royal) man in the world in the first half of the nineteenth century, died in his fifties of an infected abscess that the medicine of the day had no way to treat.

Doug Elmendorf on the Hot Seat

Stan Collender:

CBO Could be Hurt Badly By Health Care Debate | Capital Gains and Games: At this point there's little doubt  that CBO is coming under attack from health care reform proponents for its analysis. For example, take a look at this column by Bruce Vladek in yesterday's Roll Call.  Although there are many, here's what I consider to be the money quote:

...CBO’s track record in predicting the effects of health legislation is abysmal. Over the last two decades, the CBO has routinely overestimated the costs of expanded government health care benefits and underestimated the savings from program changes designed to reduce expenditures.

This is actually a debate that's been raging for weeks in a variety of ways within the budgeting community.  I received a lengthy e-mail several days ago from a friend and budget scholar (whose name and material I don't have permission to use) that went into great detail about this.  That's typical.  After all, a discussion on estimating techniques is the stuff that dreams are made of for many budget wonks.

But when the situation changes dramatically when the discussion breaks out into the open as has happened with the very public dispute on this issue between Office of Management and Budget Director (and immediate past CBO Director) Peter Orzag and the current CBO Director Doug Elemendorf... here's the money quote from what Orzag posted in his blog on Monday:

In providing a quantitative estimate of long-term effects without any analytical basis for doing so, CBO seems to have overstepped.

That may seem gentle, but it's as close as you get to a knife fight among federal budgeteers...

I think Doug should have drawn a distinction between "we score this, and the savings are zero" and "we can't score this." Changes in congressional procedures that do not write spending levels into law are not things that CBO can bank on--but that doesn't mean they should score the at zero, because that's wrong too: congressional procedures do matter a lot. They should just not score them...

Colin Powell Says that He Is the Only Republican Left

Eric Kleefeld:

TPMDC Morning Roundup: Powell: GOP Should Respond To Limbaugh's "Completely Outrageous" Statements: Appearing on Larry King Live, Colin Powell criticized the Republican Party for not standing up to Rush Limbaugh. "The problem I'm having with the [Republican] Party right now is that when he says something that I consider to be completely outrageous and I respond to it, I would like to see other members of the party do likewise, but they don't," said Powell.

Guys: you will never gain a legitimate place in American governance until you start giving Powell some backup...

links for 2009-07-29

Avedon Carol Issues Marching Orders

Pass it on:

The Sideshow July 2009 Archive: Lambert has been saying for some time that we should stop saying "Single-Payer" and start saying "Medicare for All". Paul Krugman has proof that he's right - because a lot of Americans don't get that Medicare is a government program, which is where that disconnect comes from when they make it clear that they love Medicare but hate "government programs". Weirdly, they do the same thing with Social Security. You actually hear people say with a straight face that they've never taken anything from the government and never will, they get by on Social Security and they have their Medicare. (I can't help but wonder where they think it comes from.)

My Day: Magister Ludi, or From Econ 115 to Tesla to Gernsback to "The Skylark of Space" to Oliver Wendell Holmes...

My day starts with the fall course: Econ 115, Twentieth Century Economic History. The question is how to teach the acceleration of global and North Atlantic economic growth around 1870. Before 1870 the capital- and resource-corrected efficiency of labor in the North Atlantic region looks to have grown by only some 0.4% per year--a pace at which it would take 180 years for the efficiency of labor to double. America supports real income growth of some 1.0% per year before 1870 only by conquering and expanding across the continent, greatly increasing the stock of natural resources the economy has at its disposal faster than its population grows.

Then around 1870 the frontier closes: natural resources per capita begin to fall. But real income growth does not fall: it doubles. Post-1870 real income growth is driven by (a) much faster increases in the efficiency of labor, and (b) capital deepening made possible by inventions that cheapen old and make possible the production of an entirely new range of capital goods. And both of these processes are in turn driven by (a) the application of science to technology, and (b) the scent of profit in the nostrils of financiers and entrepreneurs opened up by the possibility of applying science-based technologies to make both old goods (i.e., dyestuffs, steel, etc.) and new goods (electric lights, airplanes, etc.).

And I decide that the right way to teach this is to make them wake up by telling them about the life of autism-spectrum genius inventor Nikola Tesla, known for, according to Wikipedia: the Tesla turbine, teleforce, Tesla's oscillator, Tesla electric car, the Tesla principle, Tesla's egg of Columbus, Alternating current, Tesla's AC induction motor, the rotating magnetic field, wireless beamed-power technology, particle-beam weapons, death rays, terrestrial standing waves, the bifilar coil, telegeodynamics, and electrogravitics; recipient of the Elliott Cresson Medal (1893), the Edison Medal (1916), and the John Scott Medal (1934).[1]

Tesla then leads me to Tesla's autobiography, My Inventions, published in 1919 in Electrical Experimenter magazine, which was then edited by... science-fiction genre founder Hugo Gernsback, after whom science fiction's Hugo awards are named, who later edited Amazing Stories.

And so I found myself at the gym reading not David Wessel's In Fed We Trust nor Thomas Levenson's Newton and the Counterfeiter nor Gillian Tett's Fool's Gold nor Tyler Cowen's Create Your Own Economy nor Rafael Yglesias's A Happy Marriage but instead a book I last read when I was twelve: E.E. Smith's The Skylark of Space, written in 1915-1921 and published in 1928 in Gernsback's Amazing Stories--and then compounding the offense with Spacehounds of IPC.

Seven things strike me about E.E. Smith and Skylark:

  • The hero is a chemist--admittedly, a chemist who liberates "intra-atomic energy" through some bizarre catalytic process and then directs the energy via electromagnetic and other etheric disturbances (weak? strong? whatever extension to the standard model produces proton decay?), but a chemist.
  • The villains are big business--"World" Steel--and the effete wealthy financial WASP establishment--"Brookings"[2] (plus the adversarial Nietzschean chemist-uebermensch).
  • The adversarial Nietzschean chemist-uebermensch--Marc DuQuesne--will steal, will kill, will kidnap, but he will not lie: his word is good. Moreover, he will not engage in preemptive violence: he will not kill you on general principles simply because you might be an obstacle later, because he is always sure that he could deal with you if it were to become necessary.
  • A "computer" is not a machine but rather a human job description.
  • Smith doesn't understand special relativity at all.
  • The casual genocide--alien women and children (or perhaps I should say "brooders" and "younglings") are exterminated by the billions without anyone batting an eyelash.
  • The casual eugenics--evolution as directed toward greater scientific nerdity (but it is a very buff scientific nerdity)[3] and intelligence, this directed evolution as desired by the First Cause or as the point of it all, and the duty to assist in the improvement of the species (or perhaps specieses).

And this then led me to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Buck v. Bell (1927):

Carrie Buck is a feeble-minded white woman who was committed to the State Colony.... She is the daughter of a feeble-minded mother... and the mother of an illegitimate feeble-minded child.... An Act of Virginia, approved March 20, 1924, recites that the health of the patient and the welfare of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization of mental defectives....

The attack is not upon the procedure [i.e., due process] but upon the substantive law.... We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson. v. Massachusetts, 197 U. S. 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

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Just as young men can be drafted and compelled to give their lives for the health of the state (or is it the volk?) in war, so feeble-minded women can be drafted and compelled to give their fertility for the improvement of the genome.

Let me say that this is a case where I suspect that a wise Latina justice might have been more able to consider the proper equities than Justice Holmes was.

And let me say that if we are going to play at genetics and eugenics it should be done not by a literary-intellectual judge but by a real live professional scientist, like Arianne Emory I:

[A]bsolutely essential... are adequately diverse [human] genepools.... We do not create Thetas because we want cheap labor. We create Thetas because they are an essential and important part of human alternatives. The ThR-23 hand-eye coordination, for instance, is exceptional. Their psychset lets them operate very well in environments in which... geniuses would assuredly fail. They are tough, ser, in ways I find thoroughly admirable, and I recommend you, if you ever find yourself in a difficult [wilderness] situation... hope your companion is a ThR... who will survive, ser, to perpetuate his type, even if you do not...[4]

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Unfortunately, I only have half an hour of lecture--1/6 of one week--to talk about Tesla and company this fall--and I now easily have enough material outlined that I could now lecture for three weeks on science, invention, technology, popular culture, eugenics, and the idea of progress at the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries. God knows if I will ever teach it or write it up--or if anybody would be interested if I did...

[1] When Tesla died in 1943, an old man living on charity in the New Yorker Hotel and talking to pigeons, Wikipedia claims that FBI head J. Edgar Hoover seized his property and turned it over to the government's Alien Property Custodian (despite the fact that Tesla had been a citizen for 51 yeara) while the FBI searched frantically for a working model of Tesla's death ray. Six months later Chief Justice Stone of the Supreme Court ruled that Tesla's beamed-power patent of 1897 incidently invalidated Marconi's later radio patents, and so the U.S. Navy did not have to pay for using Marconi-designed radio equipment. (Marconi's patent by then had a company, and lawyers. Tesla's patent did not.)

[2] To name your chief villain "Brookings" and have him reside in Washington DC in a book written over 1915-1921--when Robert S. Brookings is one of the U.S. economy's wartime central planners on the War Industries Board, is Chair of the Board of Directors of Washington University (St. Louis), and founding the three organizations that are going to become the Brookings Institution (the Institute for Government Research, the Institute of Economics and the Brookings graduate school) and is bankrolling Harold Moulton who is drafting legislation to create the Budget Bureau (now OMB)--is perilously close to libel before the Supreme Court changes the law in New York Times v. Sullivan.

[3] I.e., the Hero and the Ingenue in Spacehounds of IPC:

"Well, you've seen it, Miss Newton," Stevens said regretfully, as he led her toward the captain's office. "The lower half is full of heavy stuff—accumulators, machinery, driving projectors, and such junk, so that the center of gravity is below the center of action of the driving projectors. That makes stable flight possible. It's all more or less like what we've just seen, and I don't suppose you want to miss the dance—anyway, a lot of people want to dance with you."

"Wouldn't you just as soon show me through the lower half as dance?"

"Rather, lots!"

"So would I. I can dance any time, and I want to see everything. Let's go!"

Down they went, past battery after battery of accumulators; climbing over and around the ever-increasing number of huge steel girders and bracers; through mazes of heavily insulated wiring and conduits; past mass after mass of automatic machinery which Stevens explained to his eager listener. They inspected one of the great driving projectors, which, built rigidly parallel to the axis of the ship and held immovably in place by enormous trusses of steel, revealed neither to the eye nor to the ear any sign of the terrific force it was exerting. Still lower they went, until the girl had been shown everything, even down to the bottom ultra-lights and stern braces.

"Tired?" Stevens asked, as the inspection was completed.

"Not very. It's been quite a climb, but I've had a wonderful time."


"I think it's all perfectly wonderful!" she breathed. "Just think of traveling in comfort through empty space, and of actually seeing through seamless steel walls, without even a sign of a window! How can such things be possible?"

"I'll have to go pretty well back," he warned, "and any adequate explanation is bound to be fairly deep wading in spots. How technical can you stand it?"

"I can go down with you middling deep—I took a lot of general science, and physics through advanced mechanics. Of course, I didn't get into any such highly specialized stuff as sub-electronics or Roeser's Rays, but if you start drowning me, I'll yell."

"That's fine—you can get the idea all x, with that to go on. Let's sit down here on this girder. Roeser didn't do it all, by any means, even though he got credit for it—he merely helped the Martians do it. The whole thing started, of course, when Goddard shot his first rocket to the moon, and was intensified when Roeser so perfected his short waves that signals were exchanged with Mars—signals that neither side could make any sense out of. Goddard's pupils and followers made bigger and better rockets, and finally got one that could land safely upon Mars. Roeser, who was a mighty keen bird, was one of the first voyagers, and he didn't come back—he stayed there, living in a space-suit for three or four years, and got a brand-new education. Martian science always was hot, you know, but they were impractical. They were desperately hard up for water and air, and while they had a lot of wonderful ideas and theories, they couldn't overcome the practical technical difficulties in the way of making their ideas work. Now putting other peoples' ideas to work was Roeser's long suit—don't think that I'm belittling Roeser at all, either, for he was a brave and far-sighted man, was no mean scientist, and was certainly one of the best organizers and synchronizers the world has ever known—and since Martian and Tellurian science complemented each other, so that one filled in the gaps of the other, it wasn't long until fleets of space-freighters were bringing in air and water from Venus, which had more of both than she needed or wanted.

"Having done all he could for the Martians and having learned most of the stuff he wanted to know, Roeser came back to Tellus and organized Interplanetary, with scientists and engineers on all three planets, and set to work to improve the whole system, for the vessels they used then were dangerous—regular mankillers, in fact. At about this same time Roeser and the Interplanetary Corporation had a big part in the unification of the world into one nation, so that wars could no longer interfere with progress."

"WITH this introduction I can get down to fundamentals. Molecules are particles of the first order, and vibrations of the first order include sound, light, heat, electricity, radio, and so on. Second order, atoms—extremely short vibrations, such as hard X-rays. Third order, electrons and protons, with their accompanying Millikan, or cosmic, rays. Fourth order, sub-electrons and sub-protons. These, in the material aspect, are supposed to be the particles of the fourth order, and in the energy aspect they are known as Roeser's Rays. That is, these fourth-order rays and particles seem to partake of the nature of both energy and matter. Following me?"

"Right behind you," she assured him. She had been listening intently, her wide-spaced brown eyes fastened upon his face.

"Since these Roeser's Rays, or particles or rays of the fourth order, seem to be both matter and energy, and since the rays can be converted into what is supposed to be the particles, they have been thought to be the things from which both electrons and protons were built. Therefore, everybody except Norman Brandon has supposed them the ultimate units of creation, so that it would be useless to try to go any further...."

"Why, we were taught that they are the ultimate units!" she protested.

"I know you were—but we really don't know anything, except what we have learned empirically, even about our driving forces. What is called the fourth-order particle is absolutely unknown, since nobody has been able to detect it, to say nothing of determining its velocity or other properties. It has been assumed to have the velocity of light only because that hypothesis does not conflict with observational data. I'm going to give you the generally accepted idea, since we have nothing definite to offer in its place, but I warn you that that idea is very probably wrong. There's a lot of deep stuff down there hasn't been dug up yet. In fact, Brandon thinks that the product of conversion isn't what we think it is, at all—that the actual fundamental unit and the primary mechanism of the transformation lie somewhere below the fourth order, and possibly even below the level of the ether—but we haven't been able to find a point of attack yet that will let us get in anywhere. However, I'm getting 'way ahead of our subject. To get back to it, energy can be converted into something that acts like matter through Roeser's Rays, and that is the empirical fact underlying the drive of our space-ships, as well as that of almost all other vehicles on all three planets. Power is generated by the great waterfalls of Tellus and Venus—water's mighty scarce on Mars, of course, so most of our plants there use fuel—and is transmitted on light beams, by means of powerful fields of force to the receptors, wherever they may be. The individual transmitting fields and receptors are really simply matched-frequency units, each matching the electrical characteristics of some particular and unique beam of force. This beam is composed of Roeser's Rays, in their energy aspect. It took a long time to work out this tight-beam transmission of power, but it was fairly simple after they got it."

He took out a voluminous notebook, at the sight of which Nadia smiled.

"A computer might forget to dress, but you'd never catch one without a full magazine pencil and a lot of blank paper," he grinned in reply and went on, writing as he talked.

"For any given frequency, f, and phase angle, theta, you integrate, between limits zero and pi divided by two, sine theta d...."

[4]The implications of the fact that Arianne Emory I is probably lying to some degree when she says that Union "do[es] not create Thetas because we want cheap labor. We create Thetas because they are an essential and important part of human alternatives..." is left as an exercise for the reader.

Life Was... Short

Source: Nikola Koepke and Joerg Baten (2006), "The Biological Standard of Living in Europe During the Last Two Millennia"

My visualization of the Cosmic All is deficient: why can we see the impact of the Black Death on living standards in female adult heights but not in male adult heights?

And do we take the rise in heights during the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west as a sign (a) that the barbarians killed a lot of people or (b) that post-barbarian invasion income distributions were much more equal than Roman ones?

And is it right to infer that the status of women was unusually and especially low in the Roman Principate and in the High Middle Ages?

We Are Live at Project Syndicate with "Conservative Interventionism"

Khaleej Times Online - Conservative Interventionism: At this stage in the worldwide fight against depression, it is useful to stop and consider just how conservative the policies implemented by the world’s central banks, treasuries, and government budget offices have been. Almost everything that they have done – spending increases, tax cuts, bank recapitalisation, purchases of risky assets, open-market operations, and other money-supply expansions – has followed a policy path that is nearly 200 years old, dating back to the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, and thus to the first stirrings of the business cycle.

The place to start is 1825, when panicked investors wanted their money invested in safe cash rather than risky enterprises. Robert Banks Jenkinson, Second Earl of Liverpool and First Lord of the Treasury for King George IV, begged Cornelius Buller, Governor of the Bank of England, to act to prevent financial-asset prices from collapsing. “We believe in a market economy,” Lord Liverpool’s reasoning went, “but not when the prices a market economy produces lead to mass unemployment on the streets of London, Bristol, Liverpool, and Manchester.”

The Bank of England acted: it intervened in the market and bought bonds for cash, pushing up the prices of financial assets and expanding the money supply. It loaned on little collateral to shaky banks. It announced its intention to stabilize the market – and that bearish speculators should beware.

Ever since, whenever governments largely stepped back and let financial markets work their way out of a panic out by themselves – 1873 and 1929 in the United States come to mind – things turned out badly. But whenever government stepped in or deputised a private investment bank to support the market, things appear to have gone far less badly. For example, the US government essentially authorized J.P. Morgan to act as the country’s central bank in the aftermath of the 1893 and 1907 panics, created the Resolution Trust Corporation at the start of the 1990’s, and, together with the IMF, intervened to support Mexico in 1995 and the East Asian economies in 1997-98.

At the very least, few modern governments are now willing to let financial market heal themselves. To do so would be a truly radical step indeed.

The Obama administration and other central bankers and fiscal authorities around the globe are thus, in a sense, acting very conservatively, even as they embrace deficit-spending programmes, boost the volume of government bonds, guarantee risky private debt, and buy up auto companies. I understand what they are trying to do, and I am somewhat reluctant to second-guess them.  They are all doing their absolute best, and I know that if I were in any of their shoes I would be making bigger mistakes than they are – different mistakes, probably, but bigger ones for sure.

Nevertheless, I do have one big question. The US government especially, but other governments as well, have gotten themselves deeply involved in industrial and financial policy during this crisis. They have done this without constructing technocratic institutions like the 1930’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the 1990’s RTC, which played major roles in allowing earlier episodes of extraordinary government intervention into the industrial and financial guts of the economy to turn out relatively well, without an overwhelming degree of corruption and rent seeking. The discretionary power of executives, in past crises, was curbed by new interventionist institutions constructed on the fly by legislative action.

That is how America’s founders, such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, envisioned that things would work. They were suspicious of executive power, and thought that the president should have rather less discretionary power than the various King Georges of the time. Yet, today’s crisis has led to the establishment of such financial institutions.

So I wonder: why didn’t the US Congress follow the RFC/RTC model when authorising George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s industrial and financial policies? Why haven’t the technocratic institutions that we do have, like the IMF, been given a broader role in this crisis? And what can we do to rebuild international financial-management institutions on the fly to make them the best possible?

Lo and Behold, There Is a Worse Columnist than Amity Shlaes: It Is Richard Cohen, and He Works for the Washington Post

I admit I am surprised--but I shouldn't be.

Let's outsource it to Adam Serwer:

TAPPED Archive: Look, I should probably stop reading Richard Cohen. But I happened to bring a copy of the Post with me to lunch today, and I just can't figure out for the life of me why he's still writing. Today's column, is among other things, about how health care is too boring for him to bother figuring it out:

In truth, I did not seek an exclusive interview with the president of the United States not only because I wanted to write something that would be noticed but also -- actually mainly -- because I feared that if I did get an exclusive interview I would be expected to ask him something about health-care reform, about which I know next to nothing. What was worse, despite reading six newspapers a day, watching cable news shows, network news shows, the "NewsHour" and being online all the livelong day, I could not fathom what the president wants to do with health care. I suppose this is all my fault since, I learn from reading my e-mails, almost everything is.

How could it possibly be Cohen's own fault that he's too lazy to be informed about issues he's writing about? That's absurd! I would bring out my tiny violin, but I just smashed it across the table after reading that last paragraph. I'm always astounded by "journalists" (including opinion columnists) who complain that their job is too boring for them to do--if that's the case, find a new job. There are plenty of hard working journalists out of work right now who would be perfectly willing to do yours if you aren't.

Indeed, most Americans agree with Cohen that health care is hard to follow. But they also think it's important, and they're looking to people like him to help explain it. Cohen, however, has better things to do, like catch reruns of daytime TV (just wait).

This last sentence however, takes the cake and tosses it into moving traffic:

I checked my records and diaries and discovered that I had been offered many opportunities to exclusively interview the president, but only after he had been exclusively interviewed by all the other columnists and bloggers and, of course, the anchors of all the networks, including cable -- basic as well as premium. A review of the record showed that the president usually said nothing or nearly so, and indeed things have gotten to the point that when I see Obama on TV, I hurry on to another channel, even one with a Maury Povich rerun. I recently came across Anderson Cooper, who was interviewing Obama in Africa or some such place, and after noticing how they were both so trim, I quickly channel-surfed my way to Animal Planet. I knew I had not missed anything important.

"Or some such place". I can't quite figure out what he meant by that, but my eyeball is twitching.

The first black president of the United States visiting the Western Coast of Africa, where most of the slaves black Americans are descended from were kidnapped and thrust into servitude? How could that possibly be interesting?

Maybe the Animal Planet channel has an opening, or maybe Cohen could intern for Maury. Maybe then the WaPo op-ed page could find a columnist who happens to actually be interested in writing about public affairs other than to complain about how boring they are.

I don't think Animal Planet has an opening for Richard Cohen. They have standards.


My view: endnotes are totally useless. Footnotes are useful. But instead of endnotes you should make up a file of your footnotes and post it on the web keyed to pages. That way people can at least open a window on their computer as they read the book--it's close to footnotes, if they are at their computer. End notes... fah!

John Quiggin:

Endnotes, again — Crooked Timber: I really, really hate endnotes. But now that I am writing a book I have to decide whether I have to swallow my pride and use them, and if not, what alternative to adopt. To start with, I want to distinguish between explanatory notes, spelling out a point that is marginal to the main text and references giving authority for some claim made in the text, or examples or a person making a claim that I may endorse or criticise. In academic work, I’m used to the Harvard format where explanatory notes are placed as footnotes, and references cited in the body of the text as “Quiggin (2009)”, then listed in full at the end. This is much better than the all-footnotes system used, for example, in legal writing.

For a popular book on a technical subject like “Zombie economics”, there are a few options, which can be mashed up in various ways.

  • The standard endnotes setup with explanatory notes and references listed at the end of the book
  • Footnotes for explanation only: this leaves open the question of how to deal with references
  • A further reading section at the end of each chapter, in place of references
  • A book without references, but with an online hypertext version in which readers who want to chase references can find them.

Any thoughts?

Yet Another Reason America Is in Trouble Today...

Philip Rucker:

Sen. DeMint of S.C. Is Voice of Opposition to Health-Care Reform: At a recent town-hall meeting in suburban Simpsonville, a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to "keep your government hands off my Medicare." "I had to politely explain that, 'Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,' " Inglis recalled. "But he wasn't having any of it."

Yet Another Harvard Professor Crashed-and-Burned Watch (Alan Dershowitz)

As the Atlantic's Jeffrey Rosenberg said, people on the American left--like J Street--seek to preserve the Democratic character of Israel and the Jewish character of Israel. Others, like Alan Dershowitz, do not.

Matt Duss:

Wonk Room » Dershowitz: Palestinians ‘Played A Significant Role In The Holocaust’: [Y]esterday Alan Dershowitz took it even further. In his Jerusalem Post column — which, in a bit of unintentional irony, is called “Double Standard Watch.”... “The truth,” wrote Dershowitz, “is that the Palestinian leadership, supported by the Palestinian masses, played a significant role in Hitler’s Holocaust.” This claim is preposterous.... [A] Palestinian leader, Husseini, had a relationship with the Nazis, and that many Palestinians still consider Husseini something of a nationalist hero. The idea that Husseini, let alone the Palestinians as a whole, played a “significant role in Hitler’s Holocaust” is laughable, as if the Nazis required one of the sub-human races to sign off on their plans for mass murder.

This is obviously not... simply polemic. It is the attempted slander of the Palestinian people...

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Jonathan Weisman/Wall Street Journal Edition)

Let's turn the mike over to Dvid Sirota:

A Revelatory Look at D.C.'s Media Matrix:: Friday, when my column hit newspapers, [Wall Street Journal reporter] Weisman sent me a series of emails in protest. In his first note, he seemed to suggest that it wasn't ethical or permissible to quote him asking his rigged question at a televised press conference because "it's not from anything I've actually written." Then, in a subsequent message, he said he wasn't making "a statement of anything at all"... (I, of course... [had]said he was "wondering" not "stating). Finally, and most importantly, he insisted he was merely asking a question and "a question is designed to elicit a response." "If I ask Robert Gibbs what he thinks of the birth certificate issue, does that mean I don't believe Barack Obama was born in the United States?" Weisman asked me in his email.

A few hours later, me and my editors at Creators Syndicate received a series of emails from Dow Jones the parent company of the Wall Street Journal) formally demanding a published "correction" to my column for "misquoting" Weisman. For reference, here is what I wrote juxtaposed to the official White House transcript of Weisman's question:

SIROTA COLUMN: "Wall Street Journal correspondent Jonathan Weisman wonders why the surtax 'soak(s) the rich' by unduly 'lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?'"

WEISMAN QUOTE FROM THE OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE TRANSCRIPT: "My point is, is there a point where you really are soaking the rich, where the carrying capacity of this small group of people has been exceeded and there's just no way you can keep lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?"

Dow Jones did not dispute that I wrote what I wrote, and did not dispute that Weisman publicly wondered this. Additionally, Dow Jones was not asking for a "correction" for the syntax change (ie. the change from "soaking" to "soak(s)" and from "those" to "(its)". No, Dow Jones wanted a much broader "correction," stating in its emails to me and my editors that "What you presented in your article can be easily interpreted by your readers as an opinion of our reporter or a statement that was made in the Wall Street Journal and as we both know is not accurate."

So what have we learned? I'd say a few things....

D.C. reporters believe they can say anything... in a very public, agenda-shaping forum... and not only never be asked or challenged about what they're saying, but not even quoted.... D.C. reporters and media executives believe that by virtue of something being posed as a question, it is an empirical fact that it includes no opinion.... As the Dow Jones Vice President wrote in his letter to me and my editors, it is simply "not accurate" for anyone to "interpret" Weisman's question as conveying any opinion.... This makes absolutely no sense....

[A] reporter could have asked President Bush, "Why do you love killing Iraqi children?" and another eporter could have asked Bush "Why have you taken such extraordinarily brave steps to limit civilian casualties in Iraq?" Likewise, a reporter can ask the White House "Are you pushing a tax on the top 1 percent of Americans because those people have benefitted so disproportionately over the last three decades?" or he can ask if the White House is "soaking the rich" by "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?" The point here is that questions can quite obviously convey ideology - and the idea that they can't simply because they are questions "designed to elicit a response" is preposterous...

That Weisman is staggering around clueless about what is going on and what he is doing is no surprise. It's not the exception, it is the rule. For example, from the archives:

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Structural Flaws Edition): Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal: I've been trying to think about why so much of America's elite press corps is so flawed--does such a lousy and incompetent job so much of the time. I don't have answers. I do have observations....

Consider the passage below from [Jonathan Weisman of] the Washington Post. It's one of a hundred or so examples I've filed away over the past year or so--examples of egregiously bad political-economic reporting from elite journalistic institutions. It's not the worst such example, but it is selected from a set of howlers. The reporter (Jonathan Weisman) is not the worst example, but I certainly wouldn't employ him to cover American economics and politics.... Let's roll the tape:

Economy Provides No Boost For Bush: The nation's economy is growing smartly, wages have begun to rise, and employers have added more than 1.4 million jobs to their payrolls in the past nine months. Yet voters continue to give President Bush poor ratings on his handling of the economy....


Bush is not the first president to suffer from a disconnect between objective economic indicators and voter perceptions on the economy. The economy began growing steadily in March 1991, when President George H.W. Bush registered a 49 percent approval rating on his handling of the economy. But by July of 1992, those approval ratings had slid to an abysmal 25 percent, presaging his electoral defeat three months later...

Ask any economist not bought and paid for by the Bush campaign why there is currently a "disconnect" between "objective economic indicators" and "voter perceptions", and the first answer you will get back is that the question is simply badly posed. Recent economic news has been good. But the current economic situation is not good--the current situation is mixed. The productivity picture is amazingly good. The level and rate of growth of production are both more than satisfactory. But on the labor side, employment is still well below what it was three and a half years ago (and with our growing population we would have needed employment to grow by 4 or 5 million to keep the employment-to-population ratio steady), and wage and salary incomes have been essentially flat since the last business cycle peak. While the productivity situation is excellent, and the production situation is good, the labor-side situation--and that's what the overwhelming bulk of voters see: they aren't coupon clippers--is quite bad.

There is a similar flaw in the reporter's historical example: production began growing after March 1991, yes, but the unemployment rate peaked more than a full percentage point higher in the summer of 1992. Is it any wonder that George H.W. Bush's approval ratings fell?

Thus here we have an example of a Washington Post reporter writing on page A1 about American economics and politics who:

  1. Doesn't understand the current economic situation.
  2. Doesn't understand the economy history of the Bush I administration.
  3. Poses a false problem--i.e., why the "disconnect" between the good economy and the grouchy voters.
  4. Fails to listen or understand when the potential sources he talks to tell him that he has posed a false problem.

It gets worse. Later on in the story our reporter then finds a "public opinion expert" at--surprise--the American Enterprise Institute, who says that "Americans are a show-me people.... They need to be shown that things have actually been changed, and I think in an economic recovery, this means seeing the guy down the street getting his job back rather than good jobs numbers." The reporter doesn't think to wonder: if there are good jobs numbers, doesn't that mean that the guy down the street is getting his job back? What could good jobs numbers possibly be other than the guy down the street getting his job back?

With a straight face, our reporter then writes that:

For Republicans, frustration is beginning to show. Last week, when the Labor Department announced that an additional 248,000 jobs had been created in May, House Ways and Means Committee Republicans e-mailed reporters, blaring, "It's a Booming Economy, Stupid."

The reporter doesn't seem to wonder about the bona fides of the Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee. Is an economy in which unemployment is above its natural rate and in which there are few if any inflationary pressures an economy in a boom? Nobody but a bunch of congresscreatures seeking to fuzz the issues and muddy the waters would ever say so.

Overall, Weisman's article is like... it's like... it's like somebody totally drunk staggering around the neighborhood in the middle of the night, mistaking lampposts for trees, bushes for people, and busses for elephants. Someone who knows next to nothing about the issue area--and who seems incapable of learning--is turned loose on page A1 to try to interpret the state of the economy and how that is affecting current American politics. "How in God's name," I ask myself, over and over again, "did we ever get such lousy reporters* like this ensconced in the center of our elite press corps?"

And the first article by Jonathan Weisman I remember reading was his beat-sweetener for Glenn Hubbard, where Weisman did a similarly incompetent job:

Why We Need a Better Press Corps: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal: January 23, 2003: I was cited in a Washington Post profile of CEA Chair R. Glenn Hubbard yesterday: An Economist On a Mission: ...Princeton University economist Paul R. Krugman, also a New York Times columnist, and J. Bradford DeLong, a Clinton administration Treasury official now at the University of California at Berkeley, accuse Hubbard of sacrificing his sterling academic reputation with politically motivated but nonsensical economic utterances. "This is a delicate game," DeLong wrote on his Web site. "You need to retain political credibility as a team player while preserving enough analytical distance to tell the president what he needs to hear. . . . I think Glenn Hubbard played the game well for his first 20 months at the CEA. But now I think he's lost his balance and fallen off the tightrope."

Notice that this Washington Post reporter tells his readers absolutely nothing of why Paul and I are annoyed with Glenn. It's an outsiders-critical-of-administration-official story--which, in the context of Washington, is dog-bites-man: not news at all....

[It] is not that [Weisman] had no space to talk about the substance of policies and criticisms. He has space to tell his readers that Glenn Hubbard is "owlish," that Larry Lindsey's shirttail often hangs out, that Glenn Hubbard writes meticulous handouts and gives crisp Powerpoint presentations. He is simply not very interested in the substance of policy--no matter whether it favors Democrats or Republicans.

This is not a partisan point. The article is at least as unfair to Glenn Hubbard as it is to me. It says that Glenn believes that cutting taxes on dividends is a step "toward a more fundamental reform of the tax system -- no taxation of capital investment. A tax system based on consumption rather than savings and investment would remove a primary impediment to economic growth." But it doesn't say why Glenn believes that the social costs of capital taxation are high. it doesn't say why Glenn believes--as he does--that the benefits from this small step in the reform of taxes on capital income outweigh the costs of the expanded deficit. A reader knows no more about why Glenn believes that reductions in dividend taxes are a very good thing after reading the article than she did before she started reading it.

And so from Glenn's point of view as well as from my own, the article is a loss: it is a failed chance to educate Americans about what kinds of taxes are good and what kinds of taxes are bad, as well as a failed chance to educate Americans about why it would be much better to be running budget surpluses than budget deficits...

Is Michael Massing Making a Joke?

Michael Massing writes:

The News About the Internet - The New York Review of Books: The bloggers I have been reading reject such reflexive attempts at "balance," and it's their willingness to dispense with such conventions that makes the blogosphere a lively and bracing place. This is nowhere more apparent than in the work of Glenn Greenwald...

So far, so good. Most of what makes Glenn Greenwald worth reading is his unwillingness to say that everything is all grey and that every argument is made in good faith--his belief that there is right and wrong, and the fact that that belief compels him to investigate issues and argue strenuously that:

  • Any process in which 100 prisoners of the United States die under interrogation is one of systematic torture.
  • Torture is against the law.
  • Laws ought to be followed.
  • When laws are not followed, the government officials who did not follow them should be prosecuted.
  • If the officials seek to plead that it was necessary to break the law, then they should make that plea first to their jury, and then to the president when they petition for a pardon--and let first the jury and, if appropriate, the president judge the worth of that plea.

But two paragraphs later Michael Massing is saying that the thing wrong with Greenwald is--guess what--that he is "unbalanced":

In June [2009 Glenn Greenwald] wrote:

The steadfast, ongoing refusal of our leading media institutions to refer to what the Bush administration did as "torture"—even in the face of more than 100 detainee deaths; the use of that term by a leading Bush official to describe what was done at Guantánamo; and the fact that media outlets frequently use the word "torture" to describe the exact same methods when used by other countries—reveals much about how the modern journalist thinks.

For the press, Greenwald added, "there are two sides and only two sides to every 'debate'—the Beltway Democratic establishment and the Beltway Republican establishment." In so vigilantly watching over the press, Greenwald has performed an invaluable service. But his posts have a downside. After reading his harsh denunciations of Obama's decision not to release the latest batch of torture photos, I began to lose sight of the persuasive arguments that other commentators have made in support of the President's position. As well-argued and provocative as I found many of Greenwald's postings, they often seem oblivious to the practical considerations policymakers must contend with. This points to some of the more troubling features of the journalism taking shape on the Web. The polemical excesses for which the blogosphere is known remain real...

But Massing never says what the "persuasive arguments" against Greenwald are, or why Greenwald should be moved by them. The total content of Massing's critique of Greenwald is that Greenwald is (a) shrill and (b) effective, and that that makes Massing uncomfortable.

This is an excellent and reflexive example of exactly what Massing earlier in the article had called "reflexive attempts at 'balance'" the absence of which "makes the blogosphere a lively and bracing place"--and the presence of which sucks the lifeblood out of the mainstream print media and will soon consign it to a sodden death.

Does Massing understand that by not making a real critique of Greenwald--by not saying what the "persuasive arguments... in support of the president's position" are, that he is performing the kind of journamalism that he has condemned for most of the article? Is it just a little albeit sophisticated joke on his part?

The consensus of observers is no, that it is not a joke. Massing has, at this stage in his article, decided that he needs to cover his flank: to:

establish his I'm-not-shrill bonafides here...

as one of Massing's peers put it in email, and that Massing does so:

in a shameful way...

If Massing thinks that the arguments against Greenwald are persuasive, then they are worth laying out in the article. If they are not worth laying out in the article, then they are not persuasive--and Massing should not claim that they are.

links for 2009-07-28

  • Wow. As of now, my post on why free markets can’t solve the health care problem has 827 comments; I hear that a diary about it hit the top of the Daily Kos rec list. And I thought I was just saying what everyone knows. Put it down to the wonkish fallacy: when you spend a lot of time immersed in a subject, you tend to forget that others aren’t. But I think there’s another lesson here that I’ll have to remember — namely, a lot of people are hungering for a discussion of the basics. It’s way too easy, as a pundit, to focus on the latest story or the current state of negotiations. At least once in a while, I need to bring it back to the underlying principles. Anyway, thanks to all the readers interested enough to weigh in!
  • Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Sunday said he engineered the central bank's controversial actions over the past year because "I was not going to be the Federal Reserve chairman who presided over the second Great Depression."... "It wasn't to help the big firms that we intervened," Mr. Bernanke said, diving into a discourse on the damage to the overall economy that can result when financial firms that are "too big to fail" collapse. "When the elephant falls down, all the grass gets crushed as well," Mr. Bernanke said. He described himself as "disgusted" with the circumstances that led him to rescue a couple of large firms, and called for new laws that would allow financial firms other than banks to fail without going into bankruptcy.
  • Did living standards stagnate before the Industrial Revolution? Traditional real-wage indices typically show broadly constant living standards before 1800. In this paper, we show that living standards rose substantially, but surreptitiously because of the growing availability of new goods. Colonial luxuries such as tea, coffee, and sugar transformed European diets after the discovery of America and the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope. These goods became household items in many countries by the end of the 18th century. We use the Greenwood-Kopecky (2009) method to calculate welfare gains based on data about price changes and the rate of adoption of new colonial goods. Our results suggest that by 1850, the average Englishman would have been willing to forego 15% or more of his income in order to maintain access to sugar and tea alone. These findings are robust to a wide range of alternative assumptions, data series, and valuation methods.
  • Here's how this game works:  Republican and centrist Dems attack the stimulus and force changes that make it less effective.  Then, a few months later, these same parties turn around and attack the stimulus as being ineffective, even though their own requested cuts and critiques made it less effective.
  • Look, who are you gonna believe? A painstakingly prepared Inspector General's report or a guy who has an interest in making sure he doesn't go down in history as being associated with illegal and unethical activity that also turned out to be pretty useless in fighting terrorism?
  • You will live for longer than 1% of the entire history of human civilization. The first civilization started in Mesopotamia around 5000 BCE (more or less), which is 7,000 years ago. If you live until age 80, that's more than 1% of the history of civilization. Just throwing it out there for anyone else who'd never thought about it before. Certainly changed my perspective a bit.
  • The Washington Post Editorial Page -- keeper of all establishment Washington wisdom -- today advocates that low-level CIA interrogators who went beyond John Yoo's torture guidelines, and only them, be criminally investigated and prosecuted by the Justice Department

With a Little Bit of Luck...

Felix Salmon waxes his moustachios, laughs evilly, sneers, and asks a question:

Felix Salmon: Monday links: Brad DeLong’s dreams of reaching primary surplus - does anybody (including Brad) really believe it’ll happen?

In 2006 and 2007 we had primary balance--and that was even with the Bush administration behaving very, very badly indeed. In 2000 we had a primary surplus of 4% of GDP. So yes, Felix, I believe we can get there. And the CBO baseline has us in primary surplus from 2012 to 2020.

So yes, Felix, with a little bit of luck and PAYGO we can get to primary balance--and then pray that it continues to be the case that g > r.

Yet More Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned Watch (Anti-Social Insurance Puritanism Edition)

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? Outsourced to Paul Krugman:

Kings of pain: Steve Benen is puzzled by David Broder’s negative view of proposals to give the independent Medicare advisory commission more power to determine what the program pays for:

I’m a little surprised by Broder’s apprehension. After all, the IMAC idea was proposed by the right, and accepted by the left, as part of a larger effort to save money and take political considerations out of the process. In other words, it’s an idea with bipartisan appeal, with an eye towards fiscal responsibility. Isn’t this exactly the kind of policymaking Broder says he wants?

Yes, it’s what he says he wants. But I’ve been watching commentary from Broder and other “centrist” pundits like Robert Samuelson, and I think I see a pattern. They complain a lot about rising public spending, but confronted with any actual proposal to control spending, they reject it — unless it has one crucial attribute: it must weaken the social safety net. Unless you end up slashing benefits, or denying health care to more people, it’s not what they’re looking for.

And so the cost-saving measures under consideration now — which are the first real effort to tackle Medicare costs, ever — are pooh-poohed, because they’re part of a plan that would expand coverage, not contract it.

H.L. Mencken once defined Puritanism thus: "Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy..."

David Broder, Robert Samuelson, Jonathan Rauch, Clive Crook have a slight variant. For them, their Puritanism is, as Dan Gross says,[1] that haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be collecting on their social insurance...

[1] Gross includes Niall Ferguson, George F. Will, and Andrew Sullivan among his Puritans...

Republicans: The Party for People Who Are Simply Bats--- Insane

Steve Benen:

INHOFE BLAMES OBAMA FOR RIGHT-WING CONSPIRACY THEORY...y: Sen. James Inhofe (R) caused a bit of a stir today, when the Politico reported that the right-wing Oklahoman believes Birther activists "have a point." Greg Sargent contacted Inhofe's office today, and the senator's spokesperson responded by blaming the White House -- not for Inhofe's stupid comment, but for the larger right-wing conspiracy theory.

The point that they make is the Constitutional mandate that the U.S. President be a natural born citizen, and the White House has not done a very good job of dispelling the concerns of these citizens.

Now, this isn't exactly the same argument. Inhofe initially argued that the fringe activists "have a point"; now he's arguing that whether they have a point or not, White House officials are responsible for satisfying the bizarre demands of unhinged wingnuts. One would like to think an experienced member of the U.S. Senate would have the courage and decency to simply say, "I don't want anything to do with these lunatics." I'd add that Inhofe is the second high-profile conservative to blame the Obama White House for the Birther madness in less than a week. Last week, Liz Cheney said it's the president's fault, and today, Inhofe did the same.

It's as if they're handing out crazy pills at RNC headquarters.

Republicans: The Party for People Who Think Evidence of Global Warming Threatens the National Security of the United States

Brad Johnson:

Think Progress: Obama administration reveals evidence of global warming kept secret under Bush: The Obama administration has “released more than a thousand intelligence images of Arctic ice,” following a declassification request by the National Academy of Sciences. These high-resolution spy photos of rapid sea ice loss off the northern coast of Alaska, kept classified by the Bush administration, show “the devastating impact of global warming in the Arctic”. The newly-declassified images also reveal the retreat of glaciers in Washington and Alaska. USGS scientist John Crowe tells ThinkProgress that “security issues” prevented the U.S. Geological Survey from launching the Global Fiducials Library website until now, saying he had been “working for some time to get this data to the public.” The same day the images were made public, NOAA anounced that the world’s ocean surface temperature in June 2009 was the warmest on record.

The Republican Path to an Enduring Electoral Majority in Twenty-First Century America

Republican Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Member Jeff Sessions:

I used to think they [the Ku Klux Klan] were OK until I learned some of them are pot smokers...

Republican Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Member Jeff Sessions:

[The NAACP is] un-American... communist-inspired... they forced civil rights down the throats of people...

Republican Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Member Sessions today:

I don’t believe that Judge Sotomayor has the deep-rooted convictions necessary to resist the siren call of judicial activism. She has evoked its mantra too often. As someone who cares deeply about our great heritage of law, I must withhold my consent...

Nikola Tesla Proposes the ICBM, the Robot, and Peace via Mutual Assured Destruction

Nikola Tesla (1919), "My Inventions," Electrical Experimenter (Hugo Gernsback, ed.)

[W]hen I was a student at college I conceived a flying machine quite unlike the present ones... devoid of sustaining planes, ailerons, propellers, and other external attachments... capable of immense speeds and... very likely to furnish powerful arguments for peace in the near future. Such a machine, sustained and propelled entirely by reaction... controlled either mechanically, or by wireless energy.... [I]t will be practicable to project a missile of this kind into the air and drop it almost on the very spot designated, which may be thousands of miles away.

But we are not going to stop at this. Telautomats will be ultimately produced, capable of acting as if possessed of their own intelligence, and their advent will create a revolution. As early as 1898, I proposed to representatives of a large manufacturing concern the construction and public exhibition of an automobile carriage which, left to itself, would perform a great variety of operations involving something akin to judgment. But my proposal was deemed chimerical at the time and nothing came of it...

tesla_colorado_springs_station.jpg 646մ39 pixels

The Blue Dogs Have Been Bought by the Health Insurance Companies

Paul Krugman writes:

An Incoherent Truth: Right now the fate of health care reform seems to rest in the hands of relatively conservative Democrats — mainly members of the Blue Dog Coalition, created in 1995. And you might be tempted to say that President Obama needs to give those Democrats what they want. But he can’t — because the Blue Dogs aren’t making sense....

Blue Dogs... they talk a lot about fiscal responsibility, which basically boils down to worrying about the cost of those subsidies [to purchase insurance]. And it’s tempting to stop right there, and cry foul. After all, where were those concerns about fiscal responsibility back in 2001, when most conservative Democrats voted enthusiastically for that year’s big Bush tax cut.... But it’s actually much worse than that — because even as they complain about the plan’s cost, the Blue Dogs are making demands that would greatly increase that cost... Blue Dog opposition to the public option... a plan without a public option to hold down insurance premiums would cost taxpayers more than a plan with such an option.... Blue Dogs have also been complaining about the employer mandate, which is even more at odds with their supposed concern about spending. The Congressional Budget Office has already weighed in on this issue: without an employer mandate, health care reform would be undermined as many companies dropped their existing insurance plans, forcing workers to seek federal aid — and causing the cost of subsidies to balloon. It makes no sense at all to complain about the cost of subsidies and at the same time oppose an employer mandate....

Maybe they’re just being complete hypocrites. It’s worth remembering the history of one of the Blue Dog Coalition’s founders: former Representative Billy Tauzin of Louisiana. Mr. Tauzin switched to the Republicans soon after the group’s creation; eight years later he pushed through the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, a deeply irresponsible bill that included huge giveaways to drug and insurance companies. And then he left Congress to become, yes, the lavishly paid president of PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry lobby. One interpretation, then, is that the Blue Dogs are basically following in Mr. Tauzin’s footsteps: if their position is incoherent, it’s because they’re nothing but corporate tools, defending special interests....

But I guess I’m not quite that cynical...

Paul isn't, but I am. The Blue Dogs have been bought and paid for. They do not want a fiscally-responsible bill. They want to please their masters from the health insurance industry by trying their best to keep there from being a bill at all.

Monetary Expansion Cures Incipient Depression in Small Open Economies with Flexible Exchange Rates

Yves Smith:

naked capitalism: Iceland Proves That in a Financial Crisis, Breaking Glass and Trashing Currency is a Good Remedy: The headline exaggerates, but not by much. Back in April, a Vanity Fair story about Iceland's remarkable financial blow up was grist for a Vanity Fair story by Michael Lewis, "Wall Street on the Tundra". The quick version is that Icelandic men were not merely reckless, that is such a common male pathology as to barely warrant mention, but were possessed of a particular fondness for physical aggression and bullheadedness that helped made Iceland ground zero for the most spectacular banking industry boom and bust in the history of man. Iceland managed to go on a debt party that saw its obligations soar to 850% of GDP, leaving America at a mere 350% firmly in the dust.

So how is Iceland faring now? One would assume still broke and chastened. One would be dead wrong.

The krona is down 50% from its peak, and it seems to have sparked a speedy revival. I remarked when Iceland fell apart that someone should swoop in and buy a business that sold strictly in international markets (I had thought fish oil would be a good candidate). But that takes time, legwork, and walking around money.

This is the same remedy that the Nordic countries used in their banking crises, save they nationalized the banks, put in new management, cleaned them up, and reprivatized them, But they also devalued their currencies versus the ECU.

But Iceland and the Nordic countries can make move like that without precipitating competitive devaluations. What works individually does not work collectively.

In a Good World, There Would Simply Be No Such Thing as the Washington Post

Glenn Greenwald:

The Washington Post endorses Abu Ghraib scapegoating for torture: The Washington Post Editorial Page -- keeper of all establishment Washington wisdom -- today advocates that low-level CIA interrogators who went beyond John Yoo's torture guidelines, and only them, be criminally investigated and prosecuted by the Justice Department.

We reject the distorted interpretations that underpin the OLC memos and that serve as legal justification for harsh interrogation techniques that either border on or constitute torture. But those who relied on the memos and shaped their behavior in the good-faith belief that they were following the law should not be subject to prosecution. It is an entirely different story for those who went well beyond the often-extreme measures authorized by the memos.

In 2004, the Pentagon reported that 34 deaths had occurred in detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan; at that time, nine deaths were classified by military medical examiners as homicides. . . .

We continue to believe that an independent commission would best be able to shed light on a wide range of questions regarding detainee detention and treatment policy. It would help to ensure that such mistakes are never repeated. But some acts, including the violent deaths of detainees at the hands of U.S. personnel, must be investigated and addressed by law enforcement.

That, in a nutshell, is the twisted Washington mentality when it comes to lawbreaking: when political crimes become so blatant and extreme that they can no longer be safely excused (Watergate, Iran-contra, Abu Ghraib), then it's necessary to sacrifice some underlings who carried out the crimes by prosecuting them, but -- no matter what else happens -- the high-level political officials responsible for the crimes must be shielded from all accountability. In ordinary criminal justice, what typically guides prosecutions is the opposite mindset.... Note the distortions on which the Post Editors rely in order to justify their two-tiered justice system. DOJ torture-authorizing memos should shield those who acted in accordance with them because they were created and followed in "good faith." That assertion is groundless and false. The Post itself this morning reports what has long been known: that a DOJ ethics reports due in the next several weeks will not only "renounce Yoo's approval of harsh CIA interrogation practices [but also] recommend that he and Jay S. Bybee, a former colleague, be referred to their state bar associations for discipline." The necessary conclusion of that DOJ recommendation is that the torture-authorizing memos were written in bad faith (i.e., not merely wrong, but entirely groundless and produced with bad intent), since only a finding of "bad faith" (not mere error) could justify ethics proceedings against these lawyers.

A recently released report from five Inspectors General makes clear that Dick Cheney and David Addington selected Yoo to write these memos because they knew in advance that he'd approve of whatever they wanted to do. This process was the opposite of "good faith": what happened was that the highest-level political officials wanted to break the law, and so they found a hardened ideologue at the DOJ willing to write memos to classify those crimes as legal. To describe that process as "good faith" is to twist that phrase beyond recognition. It was blatant criminality accompanied by advanced bureaucratic cover from John Yoo -- the same person who wrote memos advising the President that not even the Bill of Rights could constrain his actions....

[T]he "principle"... that the Post Editorial Page today expressly endorses... [is] that Presidents are free to break the law as long as they can find a low-level DOJ functionary to write a memo justifying that conduct in advance. It's impossible to imagine any President -- occupying the most powerful political office in the country and commanding blind loyalty from all sorts of operatives -- who would be unable to find a lawyer-underling willing to endorse whatever he wants to do. Richard Nixon had lawyers defending what he did in Watergate.... Presidents are literally no longer bound by the rule of law. If the crimes are embarrassing enough, we'll find a Lynndie England -- or some obscure, easily demonizable, extra-sadistic CIA interrogator -- to scapegoat and punish in order to pacify the citizenry and create the illusion that the rule of law still prevails. But the one thing that remains off-limits in Washington culture above all else is subjecting high-level political officials to the rule of law when they commit crimes. The low-level scapegoating which the Post today endorses is the approach which, by all accounts, Eric Holder is likely to pursue.

The most ironic aspect of the Post's Editorial is its oh-so-solemn plea that we do what's necessary "to ensure that such mistakes are never repeated." Leaving aside the perversity of referring to a formal torture regime as a "mistake," what the Post advocates -- enabling Presidents to break the law as long as they have a low-level DOJ permission slip -- is to ensure that these sorts of things will happen over and over. We have rampant lawlessness in our political class precisely because the consequences for high-level lawbreaking no longer exist.

In a good world, there would simply not be a Washington Post.

In a fair world, every employee of the Washington Post would resign today.

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

links for 2009-07-27

  • [W]hy should Democrats do anything other than celebrate?  The Republicans, after all, seem to be in total disarray.  Isn't that good news for the party in power?  It isn't.  For one thing, in a democracy, a skilled and plausible opposition keeps a government on its toes....  But more important, someday... the Republicans are going to win back the presidency.... The election of a well-born and genial cipher to the premiership in Britain next year doesn't promise to be catastrophic. But the results in Italy in 1922 and Germany in 1932 weren't nearly so innocuous.... When... political battles are deliberately waged... over... the contrived question of whether one candidate personally freed a convicted rapist for a weekend furlough, or went to Moscow as a student in order to enlist as a Soviet spy, or somehow faked his heroism in Vietnam, or is a Muslim or a socialist or an illegal alien... we have ventured into... pig-f------. It debases all public discourse. No one finally benefits...
  • Even Peter Pace – the marine general who as chairman of the joint chiefs was sufficiently close to Mr Rumsfeld for Robert Gates, current defence secretary, to refuse to nominate him for a customary second term – weighed in after his retirement. “I’m not an apologist for Secretary Rumsfeld,” he said. “He’s a son of a bitch. And I told him that.”
  • David Broder's latest column reads as if it had been written by the health insurance lobby. He's trying to scare people with the idea that "five unelected ... commissioners" will "determine how they will be treated when they are ill."... I'd rather have five unelected commissioners, or five names drawn at random from the phone book, determine how I will be treated than have that determination made by an... insurance-company... [that] makes money by denying me care. I used to think that Broder was simply a victim of Beltway insideritis... now he's taken an actual stand on a vital issue, and it's clearly the wrong stand... "cost control" is precisely what the Republicans and the Blue Dogs have been demanding.... But when Obama proposes something that, as Broder admits, would actually control cost, Broder sticks his thumb in Obama's eye. Maybe it's not insideritis after all.... Broder's just too rich and has been hanging out with too many rich people.
  • [T]he status quo is untenable. The Zionist vision of a Jewish democratic state won't survive the demographic and moral realities.... [P]eople in J Street... most... want to preserve both Israel's democratic and Jewish character. That's more than I can say for some people in the "mainstream" pro-Israel community, who blind themselves to the coming crisis.
  • Here is David Brook.... "Ae they really my guys? Do I have guys anymore? At the moment, I feel politically closer to Barack Obama than to House Minority Leader John Boehner.... On the other hand, I feel politically closer to Lindsey Graham than to Henry Waxman." Henry Waxman will likely end up voting with Barack Obama well over 90% of the time (Obama had a more liberal voting record in the Senate than Waxman does in the House). Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham might sound like a moderate but [is]... solidly in the middle of the Republican caucus.... Brooks prefers Obama's style and attitude to Boehner's--just as he (Brooks) prefers Graham's moderate tone to Waxman's more visible partisanship. But senate votes matter to people's lives, and I have the suspicion that if Brooks paid more attention to them, rather than to the personalities of Washington politicians, he might find himself drifting leftward on the political spectrum.