May 31, 2003

FLOODING THE ZONE?....I guess the New York Times deserves the abuse it's been getting, but at the same time some of the criticism is just starting to get childish: today they got the name of the ambassador to Romania wrong.

Come on, folks, this is just a routine error, and the Times publishes a dozen corrections of this kind of stuff daily. You really need to find something a little more substantive if you want to keep complaining.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:04 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

O'REILLY VS. FRANKEN....Thanks to a comment from Linkmeister below, I just caught some CSPAN-2 coverage of a luncheon at the LA BookExpo featuring Bill O'Reilly, Al Franken, and Molly Ivins. Ivins and O'Reilly gave a presentation on their upcoming books, and then Franken got up and just tore into O'Reilly, telling a long story about how O'Reilly misrepresented an award he won and never corrected himself. O'Reilly just sat there fuming, and when Franken was done they started snarling at each other like a pair of wolves. Well worth the price of admission!

Franken sure is pissed these days. He's still funny, of course, but he sounded dead serious most of the time, and he's really, really tired of right wing demonizing of liberals. Plus he's one of the few people who can hold his own against O'Reilly.

The comments to this post have sort of a real time commentary on the show if you want to read more. And if CSPAN repeats it (and they usually do), it's well worth tuning into. Plenty of fireworks.

UPDATE: Right now (2 pm Pacific) they're doing an interview and phone-in with Franken and Ivins. Tune in if you're interested.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 01:54 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (30)

INCOME INEQUALITY....David Adesnik pulls this quote out of a Business Week article:

From the ages of 18 to 65, the average male college grad earns $2.5 million over his lifetime, 90% more than his high school counterpart. That's up from 40% more in 1979, the peak year for U.S. manufacturing.

This goes to the heart of whether you think increasing income inequality is a problem. I think it's quite true that as our economy has become increasingly reliant on brainpower it has naturally rewarded smart college graduates far more than any other group. There are two basic reactions to this:

  • This is just the free market at work. People are paid what they're worth, and smart people are worth a lot these days. That's the way it goes.

  • This trend is likely to continue, and since not everyone can go to college we will eventually end up with an enormous class of ill-paid (or unemployed) workers who are going to be pretty pissed off about things.

The free market does indeed reward certain classes of people far more than others, and it's not just the risk-taking entrepreneurs. The question is, do you think this trend toward increasing inequality should be allowed to play itself out naturally? Or do you think it's going to lead to some pretty serious problems?

UPDATE: Dan Drezner's take on income inequality is here. He gets the "income mobility" argument right, I think, but is much too sanguine about the health of the middle class. Sure, more kids are going to college, but that's never going to be more than a minority of the population. And while resentment toward the rich may indeed be muted in America, will it stay that way if current trends continue? I have my doubts.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:15 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (26)

A STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF BILL O'REILLY....Here's a peculiar coincidence: last night I happened to be thinking about Bill O'Reilly (yeah, yeah), and what I was thinking was that he was a fraud and a bully who barely lets his guests get a word in edgewise.

Now, this morning, via Virginia Postrel, I find that The Progressive Review has mathematical proof of this! Check it out.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:30 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (39)

PAUL WOLFOWITZ AND VANITY FAIR....Compare and contrast. Here is how Deutsche Welle reported Paul Wolfowitz's interview with Vanity Fair:

US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has admitted that the decision to wage war on Iraq was not based on the regime's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. Wolfowitz, an outspoken hawk in the Bush administration and a key architect of the Iraq campaign, said in a magazine interview that the weapons issue was agreed on simply for "bureaucratic reasons". He told "Vanity Fair" that it was something everyone in the administration could agree upon. Wolfowitz indicated that the real reason was that a toppled Iraqi regime would allow the withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia thus removing them as terrorist targets. Seven weeks after the war, no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found in Iraq.

Is that what he really said? Yes and no. Here's the relevant part of the interview:

Wolfowitz: There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed--but it's huge--is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government. It's been a huge recruiting device for al Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things.

I don't want to speak in messianic terms. It's not going to change things overnight, but it's a huge improvement.

Q: Was that one of the arguments that was raised early on by you and others that Iraq actually does connect, not to connect the dots too much, but the relationship between Saudi Arabia, our troops being there, and bin Laden's rage about that, which he's built on so many years, also connects the World Trade Center attacks, that there's a logic of motive or something like that? Or does that read too much into --

Wolfowitz: No, I think it happens to be correct. The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but....

There have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two.

....The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it. That second issue about links to terrorism is the one about which there's the most disagreement within the bureaucracy, even though I think everyone agrees that we killed 100 or so of an al Qaeda group in northern Iraq in this recent go-around, that we've arrested that al Qaeda guy in Baghdad who was connected to this guy Zarqawi whom Powell spoke about in his UN presentation.

Obviously, the German spin is pretty misleading. Wolfowitz didn't say that the "real reason" for the invasion was removing troops from Saudi Arabia, nor did he say that WMD was just a pretext.

In fact, just the opposite. Wolfowitz did say that reason #3 was insufficient and reason #2 was too unsubstantiated to hang the case for invasion on. So for purposes of selling the war, they chose to emphasize WMD.

This is roughly how the U.S. media has portrayed it, so I don't think Wolfowitz has been done any major disservice. In fact, if anything, I think it confirms the importance of WMD as a justification for war: Wolfowitz himself says the humanitarian argument is insufficient, and there are dozens of countries with terrorist ties as extensive as Iraq's. It's WMD and the willingness to use it that set Iraq apart.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:49 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (21)

May 30, 2003

BLAIR COOK ON WMD....This is from Fred Kaplan's article in Slate today about the missing WMD:

Like most public events, wars, even premeditated wars, rarely have a single rationale. But a powerful rejoinder comes from Tony Blair, the British prime minister. "I have absolutely no doubt at all about the existence of weapons of mass destruction," Blair told reporters on Thursday. Asked if it matters whether they exist, Blair replied, "It matters immensely because the basis on which the war was sold to the British House of Commons, to the British people, was that Saddam represented a serious threat."

Good for Tony, I thought, at least he's sticking to his guns that the existence of WMD was vitally important as a justification for war.

Nope. Kaplan screwed up. That quote actually comes from Robin Cook, who opposed the war all along.

Blair, it turns out, was in Warsaw at the time, obviously getting a little bit sweaty and overtalkative about the whole situation....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (16)

WMD AGAIN....YES, AGAIN....I guess the Bush administration has already pretty much admitted that their pre-war WMD evidence was about as honest as a byline from Jayson Blair, but even so this story is discouraging as hell:

Jack Straw and his US counterpart, Colin Powell, privately expressed serious doubts about the quality of intelligence on Iraq's banned weapons programme at the very time they were publicly trumpeting it to get UN support for a war on Iraq, the Guardian has learned.

....The meeting took place at the Waldorf hotel in New York, where they discussed the growing diplomatic crisis. The exchange about the validity of their respective governments' intelligence reports on Iraq lasted less than 10 minutes, according to a diplomatic source who has read a transcript of the conversation.

The foreign secretary reportedly expressed concern that claims being made by Mr Blair and President Bush could not be proved. The problem, explained Mr Straw, was the lack of corroborative evidence to back up the claims.

....Mr Powell shared the concern about intelligence assessments, especially those being presented by the Pentagon's office of special plans set up by the US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz.

....But he told Mr Straw he had come away from the meetings "apprehensive" about what he called, at best, circumstantial evidence highly tilted in favour of assessments drawn from them, rather than any actual raw intelligence.

Mr Powell told the foreign secretary he hoped the facts, when they came out, would not "explode in their faces".

I don't know, I really don't. At this point I'd say that these guys have about the same scruples as used car salesmen, but I'm afraid that might be unfair to used car salesmen.

What I don't understand is why people on the right aren't more upset about this. A lot of liberals felt deeply betrayed by Clinton when the truth about Monica Lewinsky came out — and said so repeatedly. Most of us didn't think it rose to the level of an impeachable offense, but we were seriously pissed off that we had supported a guy who lied so baldly about this.

Shouldn't war supporters be feeling the same way? George Bush is your guy, and even if we do eventually find some small amount of WMD it's getting more and more obvious that he fabricated the entire public justification for the war. Aren't you at all angry about that?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:17 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (63)

TAX PROTESTERS....From the letters to the editor over at WorldNet Daily:

I wish these income-tax activists would quit saying they are going on hunger strikes just to wimp out later on. I know that sounds mean, but they are making a laughing stock out of the movement.

Every time someone promises to go on a hunger strike, they wimp out and the politicians know it. Why should they care anymore? I used to follow these stories, but I'm not going to bother anymore. It's getting old. Just another dead movement that's going nowhere fast.

Yeah, dammit, they're making a laughingstock out of the tax protest movement. If a few of them would shrivel up and die like they're supposed to — well, that might give them some real credibility.

UPDATE: And as long as you're over there, check out Kevin McCullough's anguish over the fact that too many of his fellow conservatives are going soft on gays. It's shocking!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:54 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (21)

WE'RE #2!....Everybody knows the biggest, the longest, and the first, but how about the second biggest, second longest, and just plain second? See how you do on this 10-question quiz about second place finishers.

(And if it's too easy for you, give it to your kids. It's a good exercise in learning how to use the internet to look stuff up!)

Question

1st

2nd

What is the highest mountain in the world? The second highest?

Mt. Everest

_______________________

Who was the first king of England? The second?

William the
Conqueror

_______________________

Who was the first man to walk on the moon? The second?

Neil Armstrong

_______________________

What country has the highest population? 2nd highest?

China

_______________________

What is the first element in the periodic table? The second?

Hydrogen

_______________________

What is the longest river in the world? The second longest?

The Nile

_______________________

Who was the first black man to play major league baseball? The second?

Jackie Robinson

_______________________

What is the bestselling book of all time? The 2nd bestselling?

The Bible

_______________________

Who made the first solo airplane flight across the Atlantic? Who was 2nd?

Charles Lindbergh

_______________________

What plane dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima? The 2nd one on Nagasaki?

Enola Gay

_______________________

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:16 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (28)



$44 TRILLION?....Yesterday I wrote a post about a Financial Times article claiming that a Treasury estimate of long-term deficits had been suppressed by the Bush administration. Today, via Instapundit, Lynxx Pherrett looks at the transcripts of the interviews that FT did and says their story was wrong.

Lynxx's post combined with the FT interviews turns out to be pretty long and complex, but here's my best attempt at a summary:

  • Social Security and Medicare deficits are normally calculated over a 75-year period.

  • The Treasury study in question was related to private accounts for Social Security and Medicare and the authors were concerned that the traditional 75-year horizon made proposals for private accounts look worse than they are. Basically, they say that the costs of private accounts are all within the 75-year period but some of the benefits fall beyond this period. So traditional accounting makes private accounts look more expensive than they are.

  • To fix this, they recalculated the deficits over a very long time horizon. When they did this, the total deficits naturally went up a lot. That's where the $44 trillion number comes from.

  • This new analysis was indeed left out of the 2004 budget. The authors are circumspect about why, suggesting that the new Treasury team confirmed earlier this year (after Paul O'Neill was fired last November) wasn't comfortable with the new approach and needed more time to digest it. On the other hand, it's also likely that the new team's decision was partly political since Bush was in the middle of trying to get his tax cut passed.

So what to think? The FT piece pretty clearly implied that the report was suppressed for political reasons, and while this is a reasonable guess it's not really backed up by the interviews. They seem to have overreached on this one.

But what about that longer time horizon? Is it legit? I doubt it. The longer horizon seems to have been set up for an overtly political purpose (justifying private accounts), which makes me pretty cautious about accepting it. What's more, I'm generally skeptical about even the 75-year horizon that the Social Security trustees use. In fact, when I blogged about this yesterday I restricted myself to a 30-year horizon.

Why? First, because too many things can happen in 75 years. Policies change, tax law changes, medicine advances, etc. There's just not much point in projecting current policies over such long periods.

Second, because the longer the horizon the more sensitive you become to very small changes in assumptions. If you assume economic growth of, say, 2.75% instead of 3%, it makes a moderate difference over ten years, a bigger difference over 30 years, and an enormous difference over 75 years. Compound interest, you know. (The trustees are well aware of this, by the way, and provide multiple estimates based on different assumptions. The "middle" estimate is the one that gets all the attention.)

So there you have it. Fascinating, eh?

UPDATE: Max says the infinite horizons ("generational accounting") are hooey. His reasons are roughly the same as mine except far more learned.

He also makes the point that Medicare is not a generational problem, it's a problem with the healthcare system in general. I quite agree, and treating Medicare like some kind of future annuity is silly. Healthcare is an ongoing expense, and all that really matters is (a) how much will it cost each year and (b) how will we pay for it each year?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:14 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (8)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Since yesterday was my mother's birthday, today we have pictures of her cats. (Hey, where do you think my love of cats came from, anyway?)

On the left is Cadbury, who is convinced she is the most beautiful cat in the world. And maybe she's right! On the right is....um, Lucy. She's the little black blob in the very back. Do you see her? Lucy is a shy cat and I haven't succeeded yet in taking a picture of her.

Bonus cats: John Scalzi has a cute new kitten here, and Henry Farrell has a pair of them here.

"Mental Magpie" Elisabeth Riba has a pair of cats who, like mine, enjoy reading the newspaper. Also like mine, they appear to simply absorb the news by osmosis, as opposed to the inefficient "reading" technique that we humans use.

Finally, Ben Longman points us to yet more dressed up Japanese cats. Yikes.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:48 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (8)

PRIVACY....Kenneth Adelman is a millionaire environmental activist who takes pictures of the California coast from a helicopter. His pictures are frequently used to document illegal activity, and a few years ago he embarked on a mission to photograph the entire coast in order to have a permanent record of what the shoreline looks like today in case it's needed in a court case later.

Of the 12,000 pictures he has taken, one is of Barbra Streisand's house, which is on the coast in Malibu. So she's suing him for invasion of privacy.

Result: the picture of her house is printed in the LA Times and seen by about a million people. I'm sure it will be on the local news tonight as well. And it's making life more difficult for a guy dedicated to environmental goodness.

Smart strategy, Barbra, smart....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:43 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (22)

LIBERTARIANISM....A couple of days ago Eugene Volokh wrote a long post about the "Harm Principle." This is the principle that's roughly summed up by the famous libertarian aphorism, "Your right to swing your fist stops where my face begins."

This is fine, as long as you can define "swing," "fist," "stops," "face," and "begins." But that's a lot of definitions, isn't it? Eugene uses his post to argue that libertarian principles don't necessarily mandate sexual liberty because, after all, sex can sometimes cause harm to other third parties.

This is a good example of why I've never been able to take libertarianism seriously: it simply doesn't provide any meaningful real-world guidance for what governments should and shouldn't do. Once you agree that "harm" also means "potential harm" or "harm done to third parties down the road" or "unintentional harm" or — well, or anything, really, then you no longer have a principle at all. Virtually every human action there is can plausibly be supposed to cause harm of some kind, which in turn means that we are left to judge policies by balancing their effects on personal liberty with the protections they provide us against harmful behavior by others. Which is exactly what Eugene proposes.

But that's just what everyone does, liberals and conservatives alike. So exactly how does libertarianism help us make these decisions?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:13 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (5) | Comments (30)

POLITICAL LYING....When is it OK for a president to tell a lie? A big lie?

Let's take the canonical case in recent history: FDR and World War II. Did Roosevelt know that the Japanese were planning an attack on Pearl Harbor? This is still a matter of intense speculation, but let's suppose he did. Was he right to let it happen anyway?

In hindsight, most of us would say yes. The dual threats of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were so great that he was justified in getting America into the war regardless of whether he gave honest reasons. History has proven that his judgment was wise, and if it took a lie to convince America to go to war, then that lie was warranted.

This brings us to the great divide between left and right regarding the Iraq war. It's becoming clearer and clearer, as this Guardian article summarizes, that the Bush administration flatly lied about the reasons for going to war. There was no WMD in significant quantities, there was no link to al-Qaeda, and there was no threat to the United States.

So were those lies OK? The evidence of the polls is that no one really cares. If you trust George Bush's judgment and believe that Gulf War II was the domino that will eventually bring peace and stability to the Middle East, then the lie was justified and it causes you no lost sleep.

In a broader sense, though, it's just another sign that nobody on either side of the aisle even pretends to care about political lying anymore. Or worse: the current mood of the country is so partisan, and the country so evenly divided, that I think a lot of people feel that loud and public lying is the only way to get anything done. The other side won't listen to reason, so there's really no choice, is there?

It's not just that we don't care about political lying anymore, it's that we actively approve of it. From our own guys, anyway.

This strikes me as a devil's bargain that eventually does no one any good. Maybe once in a century a big lie turns out to be a last resort that history eventually endorses, but used routinely they provide no lasting victory. Policies built on lies can't last, and those who use them may win their battles but will eventually lose their wars.

Or so I would like to believe. Am I just an incurable optimist?

UPDATE: Paul Krugman is puzzled too. Maybe war supporters are just trying to avoid cognitive dissonance over Iraq, he says.

Maybe. I think I'm closer to the truth.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:29 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (158)

May 29, 2003

BAGHDAD BLOG....This is interesting. Last week the Guardian caught up with Salam Pax, the Iraqi blogger and author of Where is Raed? who became famous during the buildup to Gulf War II. Today, they report that Salam will be writing a biweekly column for them starting next Wednesday. Looks like he's starting to hit the big time.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:16 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (22)

THE RIEMANN HYPOTHESIS....A few weeks ago I blogged about a book I had just finished that told the story of a mathematical problem called the Riemann Hypothesis. Why, you might wonder, was I reading this book? Today I'll tell you.

It goes back to this post from April, where I wrote offhandedly that "I imagine that lunch with John Derbyshire would be quite enjoyable if we stuck to discussions of mathematical puzzles and prime numbers." This reminded me that Derb was writing a pop math book of some kind, so I searched for it and found out that it was a book about....the Riemann Hypothesis.

I was curious to see what kind of book he might write, so I went off to my local bookstore to buy a copy. It turned out that it hadn't been released, but I did notice another book on the shelf about the Riemann Hypothesis by a guy named Karl Sabbagh. That seemed like a remarkable coincidence, so I bought that book instead.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Derb's book finally came out. I bought it and finished reading it a couple of days ago and it was pretty good. What was most interesting to me was that I had just finished two books on the same arcane subject, but there was almost nothing in common between them. Sabbagh's book skipped lightly over the actual math and spent a lot of time on current efforts to solve the RH. Derb's book concentrated on the history of efforts to solve the RH and went into the actual math much more deeply.

In the end, Derb's book — for me — was much better. I like history and I like math, whereas the idiosyncracies of mathematical culture hold only a small attraction for me. If you're the opposite, Sabbagh's book is for you. And if you couldn't care less about any of this stuff, then skip them both.

POSTSCRIPT: Actually, it turns out there's also a third book published recently about the Riemann Hypothesis: The Music of the Primes, by Marcus du Sautoy. Three popular books on the Riemann Hypothesis within a month! This has got to be a monumental drag for the authors, who were each writing a book with a pretty small audience to begin with and now have to split their audience three ways.

Why did this happen? A few years ago a $1 million prize was offered for solutions to seven different problems, and the Riemann Hypothesis was one of them (and certainly the most famous of them). All three of these guys must have thought this was a good hook for a book (not to mention this guy, who wrote a book about all seven problems.) I guess it wasn't quite as unique an idea as they thought.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:10 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (4)

TAXES....Taxes, taxes, taxes, how much is enough?

This post isn't about persuading anybody about anything. I just want to present a few numbers to put the whole tax/budget debate into perspective.

The chart on the right shows total federal tax receipts. As you can see, they have been relatively steady for the past 50 years, averaging about 18% of GDP (yellow line). There's also a pretty obvious dynamic at work: whenever taxes start to rise to around 20% of GDP, they get reduced. This happened most recently in 2001, and during the 2000 election there was a bipartisan consensus that taxes ought to be lowered. (Bush and Gore differed on the size and nature of the cuts, but both agreed that taxes should come down.)

But what about the future? It's remarkable, really, that even with the growth of Social Security and Medicare over the past half century tax rates have stayed pretty stable. But it can't last forever, and the best estimates of the Social Security trustees are that taxes have to increase by about 3% of GDP over the next three decades in order to fund Social Security at its present level (Figure II.D5 in this report). Medicare has similar problems, and the best estimate is that its cost will also grow by about 3% of GDP during the same period (Figure I.E2 in this report). That's a total of 6%.

(Of course, it's possible that Medicare as it currently exists will be gone by 2030 and America will have some kind of national health plan. I'm ignoring that possibility.)

So here's the deal: if tax rates have averaged 18% of GDP, and we need to raise that by 6 points over the next few decades, that's an increase of about one-third. In other words, a lot.

But — if we're running budget deficits of 3-4% of GDP into the far future, then in order to fund Social Security and Medicare and balance the budget, tax rates may need to rise by 9 or 10 points. That's an increase of over 50%.

This is why deficits and current tax cuts matter. If we want to keep Social Security and Medicare around in their current form — and I think a large majority of people do — then taxes will have to rise by about 1% a year over the next 30 years. If Republicans keep cutting taxes and we end up having to fix a chronic deficit as well, then taxes have to go up nearly 2% a year instead. That's a big difference.

Social Security and Medicare are expensive programs, and we should have a national debate about their future. The current round of tax cuts is part of that debate, but their impact is being obscured by tax cut zealots who are deliberately trying to create a crisis atmosphere in which it's "obvious" that we can't continue to fund these programs.

But we can. Repeal the Bush tax cuts and agree to a tax increase of 1% a year for the next 30 years and we can do it. If you don't think that's worth it, fine. Make your argument. But in any case, let's argue honestly and may the best argument win.

UPDATE: From comments, I see that a couple of things are unclear. First, this chart does include payroll taxes, which have gone up fairly steadily for the past few decades. Second, the final year in the series is 2003. My charting software didn't make that clear.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:38 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (44)

DAILY KOS....I know I could have just asked this a long time ago, but I've always wondered where the name "Daily KOS" came from. If you've wondered too, you'll be glad to know that its proprietor has now furnished a complete explanation.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:30 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (10)

SPELLING....The National Spelling Bee is on ESPN right now. Greg Saunders at The Talent Show says you should check it out.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:18 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (10)

WMD QUOTES....Via Atrios, Billmon has the canonical list of WMD quotes from administration sources. It's devastating.

And as a pre-emptive strike against those of you who want to claim that WMD wasn't really the main reason for war and us whiny libs are making too big a deal out of it, please re-read George Bush's State of the Union speech from January. The section dealing with Iraq starts with "Twelve years ago, Saddam Hussein faced...." and ends with the phrase "we will lead a coalition to disarm him." It consists of 18 paragraphs and 1,200 words. Out of that, 16 paragraphs and 1,100 words are dedicated to WMD.

So please don't insult our intelligence by pretending that WMD wasn't the main selling point of the war. We all know it was.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:08 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (67)

REPUBLICAN DEBT....Let's see, the current level of U.S. debt is right around $6 trillion. But according to a Treasury report from last year, it's likely to get just a wee bit higher:

The Bush administration has shelved a report commissioned by the US Treasury that shows America faces a future of chronic federal budget deficits totalling at least $44,200bn (£27,000bn) in current US dollars.

The study, the most comprehensive assessment of how the US government is threatened with being overwhelmed by the future healthcare and retirement costs of the "baby boomer" generation, was commissioned by Paul O'Neill, then Treasury secretary.

$44 trillion, eh? I guess that might explain why Paul O'Neill is out of a job, even if the report was just a "thought-piece to stimulate discussion."

Of course, this report comes from the alarmist and notoriously leftist Financial Times, so there's probably nothing to it. Go about your business.

UPDATE: Just for the record, yes, that was a joke about the Financial Times.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:25 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (31)

JESSICA LYNCH....The warhawkish side of the blogosphere continues to go nuts over the BBC's allegations that the rescue of Jessica Lynch wasn't quite what it seemed to be. The problem is that they're obsessively focusing on the Iraqi doctor who claimed that some of the rescuers' guns were firing blanks, a rather minor part of the story, and ignoring everything else.

So I'll say it again: all the Pentagon has to do is release the raw tape of the rescue and everything will be made clear. And since the BBC is clearly a tool of Saddam and it's inconceivable that the Pentagon would ever lie about anything, the blogo-hawks should be all in favor of this, right?

Right?

UPDATE: I'm really not a fan of Robert Scheer, but I have to admit that he makes a telling point in his column today about the Lynch rescue:

What is particularly sad in all of this is that a wonderfully hopeful story was available to the Pentagon to sell to the eager media: one in which besieged Iraqi doctors and nurses bravely cared for — and supplied their own blood to — a similarly brave young American woman in a time of madness and violence. Instead, eager to turn the war into a morality play between good and evil, the military used — if not abused — Lynch to put a heroic spin on an otherwise sorry tale of unjustified invasion.

Yeah, they had a perfectly good story already, but they just couldn't leave well enough alone. Remember, even the British press liaison thought the Lynch rescue was "hugely overblown," and surely he's not a mere tool of Saddam?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:09 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (57)

BIRTHDAY....Most of you may be thinking of today as Bob Hope's 100th birthday, but to me it's actually my mother's birthday. And she's nowhere near 100.

Happy birthday, Mom!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:57 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (4)

May 28, 2003

WMD HUNT UPDATE....Jeez, I almost forgot to link to the latest administration speculation from Donald Rumsfeld about the missing WMD. For the record, here are the theories so far, along with their authors:

  1. Lots of people: Dammit, it wasn't about WMD, it was about liberation.

  2. Ariel Sharon and Richard Perle (among others): Saddam surreptitiously moved the WMD to Syria before the war.

  3. Jim Lacey: Saddam's underlings never built any WMD, but they hid this from Saddam out of fear.

  4. Kenneth Adelman: Saddam didn't have any WMD but launched a massive disinformation campaign to convince everyone that he did.

  5. Donald Rumsfeld: Saddam destroyed all his WMD before the war.

Am I missing any?

From now on I will just refer to these theories by number, OK? It ought to speed up future posts. If everyone else could standardize on this system too, that would be great. It should save us all a lot of time.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:12 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (44)

TAX CUT FUN!....We all know that Bush's tax bill is bad. Really, really bad. So bad that even conservatives mostly think it stinks. So bad that it can't get any worse, right?

Think again, you foolish liberals, you. Here's item 1 from Quaker in a Basement:

The New York Times reports the final version of the latest tax cut bill leaves out the poorest families. The portion of the bill that was supposed to provide relief to low- and middle-income families increases the Child Tax Credit. But a last minute adjustment by the conference committe reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill dropped a provision that would allow families earning between $10,500 and $26,625 to claim some or all of the new credit. The savings? Exactly one percent of the total cost of the bill. Of course, tax relief for dividend earners was kept entirely intact.

But it turns out they made up for this elsewhere! Here's item 2 from Angry Bear:

My last post made me think about how clever the Republicans are. That 5% tax rate on dividend and capital gains income for lower income families is tactically brilliant. First, it makes a great sound byte:

Intrepid Reporter: Senator X, isn't the new tax bill you just voted for a big give away to the wealthy?

Senator X: Not at all, my young friend. In fact, while we did cut the rate for the wealthy to 15%, we cut the rate on poor and middle income families down to 5%.Thats one-third as much.

Intrepid Reporter: Isn't that essentially meaningless, given that only a handful of poor and middle income familes earn any income at all from dividends and capital gains. Virtually all of their disposable income is spent on day care, the mortgage, health care, maybe college savings. How many families with children making $41k have, outside of retirement accounts, more than $1,000 in stocks, Senator?

Intrepid Reporter: Oh, neat. I'll write that up.

Second, it's close to free: since the large majority of the people to whom the 5% rate will apply don't have any dividend or stock income, the actual cost of this 5% provision is probably quite low (the costly part is lowering the rate on the wealthy from 35% to 15%). Third, insofar as the 5% rate does in fact apply to some people, who are they? Seniors! What's so special about seniors? Well, of course we love each and every one of them. But in politics, what they are really known for is voting in large numbers. It's a trifecta!

As AB says, decreasing the dividend tax on low income families is sort of like giving them a tax break for buying a yacht. But it provides a nice little way to confuse everyone into thinking you're watching out for the little guy, doesn't it?

The cynicism of these folks never ceases to amaze me. They're a real piece of work.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:40 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (19)

CENTERLINE....In June we get to vote on whether or not we want to approve the construction of CenterLine, a light rail system. Now, I happen to think that Orange County is about the worst place you could choose to build light rail, but what really annoys me is the campaign flyer I just got from the pro-CenterLine forces. They give me two reasons to vote in favor:

  • CenterLine will not pass through Woodbridge (my neighborhood).

  • There's no cost to Irvine taxpayers. It's all paid for by the state and the feds, and if we don't use the money then it will just go somewhere else.

Let's give conservatives their due: this is the kind of stuff that gives liberals a bad name when it comes to projects like this. Don't worry, it will only annoy other people, not you! And it's not real money anyway!

Crikey. It's real money even if it is federal money. And arguing that if we don't use it then someone else will — well, if someone else with a genuine need for light rail gets to use it, that's fine. Let 'em.

The flyer didn't even bother to give me a single real reason to vote for CenterLine, just a couple of reasons why I shouldn't oppose it. Great use of taxpayer dough, guys.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:34 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (36)

A QUESTION....Our electrician is coming over tomorrow to do some work for us. Should I be a good liberal and pay by check, thus ensuring that he pays his taxes? Or should I be a good liberal and pay in cash, thus allowing an oppressed member of the working class to stick it to The Man?

Decisions, decisions....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:47 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (33)

TREASURERS....I know I'm not the first person to realize this, but here's a list of the Treasurers of the United States since 1949:

  • Georgia Neese Clark

  • Ivy Baker Priest

  • Elizabeth Rudel Smith

  • Kathryn O'Hay Granahan

  • Dorothy Andrews Elston Kabis

  • Romana Acosta Banuelos

  • Francine Irving Neff

  • Azie Taylor Morton

  • Angela Marie Buchanan

  • Katherine D. Ortega

  • Catalina Vasquez Villalpando

  • Mary Ellen Withrow

  • Rosario Marin

Every single one is a woman. What's the deal with this? How did it become a tradition that the Treasurer is always a woman?

Does anyone happen to know the answer to this?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:25 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (17)

AUSTRALIAN LITERATURE....The Australian Society of Authors asked its members to list their favorite Australian books and Tim Dunlop has the list on his site. I haven't heard of a single one of them. Nor have I heard of a single one of the authors.

I'm trying to figure out if I think this is surprising or not. Is American taste in books really so provincial? After all, they are written in English, and a good book is a good book. But I have to assume that their publishers would promote them heavily over here if there was any chance of gaining a large audience.

Of course, I guess it's possible that these books are all pretty well known to literate Americans and I'm just a philistine. But that's an even more dismal thought, so I think I'll stick to my first explanation.

Still a bit of a puzzle, though.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:08 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

PASSION....Mary Lynn F. Jones has an article in The American Prospect today that compares Nancy Pelosi's style to that of Robert Byrd in recent interviews about national security. Here's the careful and restrained Pelosi:

People have lost their lives. I would not want to leave the impression that because we have not found weapons of mass destruction, it was not a worthy sacrifice. So, I don't place a high premium on it.

And here's the call-a-spade-a-spade Byrd:

What new worlds do they want to conquer now? We went through Iraq like a dose of salts. We were told by this president that Saddam Hussein constituted an imminent threat to our security. Bunk! That man couldn't even get a plane off the ground!

I'm not quite sure what to think about this. Passion is surely a good thing, but on the other hand William Jennings Bryant had plenty of passion and he lost three presidential races in a row. Hmmm....

But in any case, it's a thought provoking (and short) article. Go read it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:51 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (26)

STARVING THE GOVERNMENT....This is weird. Yesterday I wrote about the conservative (or neoconservative?) idea that large budget deficits are actually a good thing because they starve the government and eventually force cutbacks in social programs. I honestly didn't think of this as especially controversial, but rather as a fairly orthodox part of conservative doctrine these days. By chance, however, Paul Krugman wrote about the same thing yesterday and here's what James Taranto — in full sarcasm mode — had to say about this in the Wall Street Journal:

Well, heck. We're all in favor of cutting spending on social programs, especially popular ones (shared sacrifice and all that), but we'd have more faith that this is what Republicans plan to do if government spending weren't increasing while they control the White House and both houses of Congress. This "starve the government" stuff seems to be the latest in a series of Democratic delusions: the "stolen election," the "neocon conspiracy," "unilateral war in Iraq," "questioning John Kerry's patriotism," etc. The partisan left puts these crazy ideas forward with such regularity and intensity that it almost seems to arise from a medical condition of some sort.

A "Democratic delusion"? Let's go to the tape. Here is former Reagan staffer Bruce Bartlett in the LA Times on Sunday:

As he was thinking about what this new economic policy might be, [Irving] Kristol came in contact with Jude Wanniski, then an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, who was intrigued by some new ideas about tax cutting advocated by economists Arthur Laffer and Robert Mundell.

....When California's Proposition 13 came along in 1978, Kristol saw another way in which tax cutting was useful. By denying government its fuel, tax cuts forced politicians to cut spending. In this sense, supply-side economics echoed the thinking of conservative economist Milton Friedman, who wrote in a 1978 column that "the only effective way to restrain government spending is by limiting government's explicit tax revenue — just as a limited income is the only effective restraint on any individual's or family's spending."

....Starving the beast and increasing incentives for work, saving and investment are still good reasons to cut taxes today.

So let's see, in just this one article we have Bruce Bartlett, Irving Kristol, Jude Wanniski, and Milton Friedman all buying into this idea. And when they talk about "starving" the government, I'm pretty sure they aren't talking about cutting back on military spending.

I think Taranto is the one who must be suffering from a medical condition of some kind. I'll leave it up to you to figure out which one.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:57 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (49)

GAY MINISTERS....Here's some good news:

A Presbyterian Church (USA) committee approved a proposal Tuesday that calls for removing the denomination's 25-year prohibition on allowing non-celibate gays and lesbians to serve as ministers, elders and deacons.

....Many Presbyterians are weary of the debate - two other efforts to repeal the ban have failed in recent years by increasingly wider margins. In addition, the newly elected moderator of the assembly and a prominent pro-gay ordination lobby group, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, have said it is too soon after the unsuccessful votes to try again.

Instead, the measure heads to the full assembly with momentum.

This is more evidence, I think, that the country's mood is changing on the issue of gays. More and more people are accepting the simple fact that discrimination against gays makes no sense, and are ready to send a message to the Rick Santorums of the world.

Let's hope this proposal passes the full assembly.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:15 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (47)

IRAN....I haven't been over to the NRO site for a while, so I hopped over this morning and saw that one of the featured columns today is "We must defeat Iran." Goodness, I thought, another war so soon?

But then I noticed that the author was Michael Ledeen. Since Ledeen basically thinks that the United States should quit screwing around and just invade and occupy the entire Middle East, I figured this was more of the same from him and wrote it off. But for some reason, instead of moving on I clicked on the article and read it.

And here's what's weird: Ledeen says he doesn't want a war. Here's what he wants:

  • A coherent Iran policy from the Bush administration.

  • More funding for Farsi language radio broadcasts.

  • Support for Iraqi Shiites who oppose the Iranian mullahs.

  • Support for the Iranians who have called for a general strike in July.

I can't comment on how practical any of this is — do Iraqi Shiites really have much influence in Iran? — but it sure sounds pretty unobjectionable. In fact, it sounds rather like the kinds of things that mushy liberals tend to call for, not muscular anti-terrorists like Ledeen.

Is he going soft? Or am I missing something?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:05 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (28)

INCOME INEQUALITY REDUX....Boomshock, responding to my series of posts about income inequality (specifically this one), picks up on a comment by David Adesnik suggesting that inequality isn't as bad as I make it out to be because the poor get additional income from government programs (food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, etc.) He cites some figures from Stephen Cohen showing that while the rich are indeed getting a larger percentage of national income than they did in 1980, the after-tax effect isn't as dramatic as I make it out to be.

Maybe, but as Boomshock notes, no matter how you spin the numbers the basic trend is still the same as I suggested: the rich are getting richer a lot faster than anyone else. However, a couple of comments:

  • The poor do indeed get government benefits, but so do all of us. Remember, the government doesn't put its money under a mattress, it spends it. What's more, when you go down this road you open yourself up to wildly varying interpretations, so you have to be careful. What's the value of the court system to a rich person vs. a poor one? If the rich guy wins a settlement worth $10 million, it's worth quite a lot, isn't it?

  • Although I'm in favor of government programs that help the needy, my real concern when I talk about growing income inequality is the middle class. My reading of history tells me that a growing and thriving middle class is essential to democracy and to a flourishing economy. Both suffer if the middle class stagnates for too long, and that's what's been happening for the past 20 years.

The problem of the working poor and the unemployed is, I think, different from that of the middle class and requires different approaches. An increase in the minimum wage, for example, would help the poor, while reforming executive compensation to bring it more in line with average worker pay would benefit primarily the middle class.

We have deliberately followed policies for the past 20 years that have brought about these problems, and that's what I object to. For the working poor, the minimum wage has fallen dramatically in real terms. The working class has been squeezed by union contracts that barely match inflation and nonunion jobs that don't even provide that much. The higher reaches of the middle class have been punished by corporate "downsizing" that forces down average salaries and cuts benefits.

But if all those workers are being squeezed, where is their income going? The economy is still chugging along, producing ever more income every year, and if you deliberately squeeze the poor, the working class, and the middle class, there's only one place for all that income to go: the upper class. And guess what? That's exactly what's happened.

UPDATE: John Quiggin has more on this subject.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:48 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (48)

WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' TRUST FUNDS....I was reading through the comments on this post from yesterday and noticed that it eventually morphed into a wildly confused discussion of Social Security and whether it would eventually go bankrupt. These discussions never cease to amaze me.

Please, forget about trust funds, forget about treasury securities, forget about the fact that Social Security is now in balance but eventually it won't be. Forget about all that. It doesn't matter.

Here's the deal: The government takes in money and pays it out. That's it. The details are just fluff. Honest.

Last year, the federal government's tax receipts were about 18% of GDP and expenditures were 19.5% of GDP. In 50 years, when the baby boomers are all retired, Social Security spending will need to increase by 3% of GDP, so total spending will increase to 22.5% of GDP — roughly what it was back in the socialist hell of 1990. That's it.

Of course, if you believe the federal budget needs to be balanced in the long term, then that means that it will have to collect 22.5% of GDP in taxes. Maybe you think that's too much, maybe you don't, and we can have a rousing argument about it. But that's all it is. 18% vs. 22.5%.

So don't get tangled up in minutiae. The simple fact is that (a) of course Social Security is getting more expensive, (b) of course we're going to have to pay for it, and (c) paying for it — and getting the budget back in balance — will require increasing taxes by about 4% of GDP over the next few decades. Not a crisis, just a fairly routine problem that can be solved in a number of different ways.

There's only one real question here: is it worth it? It's a question of values, not technical financing details, and that's what we should be arguing about.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:23 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (39)

BUSINESS PROCESS PATENTS....I've never been a fan of "business process" patents, an idea that strikes me as open to laughable levels of abuse, and it looks like eBay is the latest victim of these things — to the tune of $35 million:

The victor in the case is Thomas Woolston, a 39-year-old electrical engineer in Great Falls, Va. An avid collector of baseball cards, Woolston said he got the idea to create a virtual marketplace during the Major League Baseball player strike in 1994. He envisioned an online swap meet where collectors could gather to securely buy and sell baseball cards.

....Among Woolston's patents are one for a system for selling items at a fixed price and for a technology that lets buyers compare prices from multiple online sellers.

The jury found that EBay's "Buy It Now" option, which lets people purchase items outright without having to go through the auction process, violates the first patent, and that EBay subsidiary Half.com infringes the second patent by simultaneously displaying the prices of several Web merchants, said Woolston's attorney, Scott L. Robertson of Hunton & Williams in Washington.

Patents are supposed to require some kind of "nonobvious" innovation, and it's hard for me to see how most business process patents meet this test. A "system for selling items at a fixed price"? Give me a break. And displaying several prices at once so you can see who has the lowest price? Frankly, it's hard to imagine an innovation that's more obvious.

Amazon is the most famous abuser of this kind of patent, of course. Their "one click" payment system, which amounted to nothing more than collecting all your personal data and allowing you to buy a book with one click, was declared patentable several years ago. This is a clever innovation?

I would very much like to see Congress get involved in this somehow. I don't know enough about the subject to suggest what they should do, but dotcommers — disappointed that online pet food and home grocery delivery weren't stunningly innovative business models after all — should not be allowed to turn around and get government protection to cash in on every obvious permutation of displaying data on a screen and clicking a mouse button. It's time for them to go back to working for a living.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:53 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (31)

ATM FEES....Another case of judicial activism?

The U.S. Supreme Court handed the banking industry a final victory Tuesday in its 3 1/2-year battle with the cities of Santa Monica and San Francisco over automated teller machine fees.

The court refused to hear an appeal of lower court rulings that overturned laws the two cities passed in 1999 to bar banks from charging for the use of their ATMs by customers of other institutions.

Nah, it was the right decision. But still, you have to admire the populist cred of cities like Santa Monica that are willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to try to get banks to lower ATM fees.

So two cheers for them, even if it was a dumb idea.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:38 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (15)

May 27, 2003

CALIFORNIA DREAMING....I'm not quite sure why I did this, but I've been curious for a while about state spending patterns in California, what with that $35 billion deficit staring us in the face, so I went out and got the numbers today to find out what really happened.

The chart at the right shows spending as a percentage of GSP (the state version of GDP), and as you can see the average for the past 20 years has been 9.67% (yellow line). Basically, we went past that mark in 1998, but things didn't really get out of whack until 2000, when the budget shot way past its historical average. As it turns out, if we had stayed at 9.67% our budget would be $14 billion less than it is. Since our deficit for next year is about $27 billion, that means that roughly half the problem is due to overspending (compared to historical averages) and about half is due to the bad economy. (Oh, yeah, and greedy power companies.)

As near as I can tell, this is an almost precise rerun of what happened in 1991. That year, after a decade of good times, the budget exploded just in time for the 1991-92 recession, causing our last budget crisis. The only difference is that the budget explosion seemingly all happened in a single year last time, while this time we spread it out over three years. What's more, we had a Republican governor back then, and a Democratic one this time, so this particular failing — assuming that a good economy will last forever — appears to a bipartisan affair.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (24)

EXECUTIVE PAY....OK, you want some good news? Just a teensy little bit of good news? Here you go, courtesy of the Economist:

When the public mood changes, the realisation can take time to sink in. Behaviour that was once acceptable can overnight come to be seen as outrageous. The board of GlaxoSmithKline, a big pharmaceutical company, found itself this week at the sharp end of such a mood change: its shareholders voted to reject the company's remuneration committee report, which would have endorsed a two-year notice period for Jean-Pierre Garnier, its chief executive; paid him $35m if he lost his job; and treated him and his wife as three years older than they actually are for the purpose of boosting their pensions.

It's about damn time. As a former highly paid executive myself, I speak from experience when I say that the compensation of corporate executives is a scandal almost beyond comprehension.

Let's put this in perspective. After I wrote this post a couple of days ago about our winner-take-all economy, David Adesnik of OxBlog responded by saying (in part) the following (scroll to "The Unknown Economist"):

I tend to accept that growth in market economies reflects the willingness of those with capital to invest it in projects that carry with them a certain degree of risk.

If this were really true, my criticisms of Reagan-era economics would be more muted. But it's not. When we talk about the "top 5%," we're mostly talking not about Bill Gates, but about run-of-the-mill corporate executives, who have seen their compensation skyrocket over the past 20 years.

This has happened despite the fact that, based on fairly normal criteria such as revenue and earnings growth, return on equity, etc., they don't run their companies any better than their predecessors in the 50s, 60s, or 70s. And the worst part, as the Economist mentions, is that their pay packages are almost completely risk free. Rewarding entrepreneurs for their risk is something that makes sense because they also drive a lot of economic growth, but rewarding the CEO of Disney the same way makes no sense at all.

If corporate executives want enormous pay packages, they should be willing to accept some genuine risk: low or nonexistent pay if they underperform compared to other comparable companies. If they don't want to accept this risk, they should simply be paid like any other salaried worker. But they shouldn't be allowed to do both.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:49 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (35)

TAX CUTS....While we're on the subject of artificially increasing deficits for the sole purpose of throttling social spending, Andrew Sullivan responds to a reader who makes this point very clearly:

Give the guy points for candor. But the result of this repetitive, partisan strategy is surely an increasing level of government debt, which doesn't only restrict future spending, but restricts future tax cuts. I hate to bring up the national interest here, as opposed to cheap partisan advantage.

Yes, Andy, we all hate to bring up the national interest when it comes to stuff like this. I'm glad to see that you're not afraid to.

(Of course, Sullivan joins the chorus of those who say that they like tax cuts, honest they do, but what they really want is to cut spending. Fine. Let's hear what you want to cut. And remember, for bonus points you have to include some programs that you yourself benefit from.)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:38 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (67)

SUPPLY SIDE ECONOMICS....One of the things that sent me over the edge on Sunday was an op-ed in the LA Times by Bruce Bartlett about the wonders of supply side economics. Here's what he said:

Even before he absorbed the substance of what came to be called supply-side economics, [Irving] Kristol quickly grasped its political potential: "I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities," he wrote. "To refocus Republican conservative thought on the economics of growth rather than simply on the economics of stability seemed to me very promising."

This is now at the center of Republican ideology: tax cuts promote growth, a rising tide lifts all boats, and when the rich benefit, we all benefit.

The problem is that this is simply untrue. Here are the per capita GDP growth rates (adjusted for inflation) for the last four decades in the U.S.:

  • 1960s: 35%

  • 1970s: 24%

  • 1980s: 22%

  • 1990s: 19%

Growth rates in the U.S. have been declining slowly but steadily for many years, and there is no evidence that tax rates affect that growth at all. It's true that different tax regimes can affect the economy by introducing or removing various distortions, but the actual amount of taxation has no apparent effect on growth at all. Historical comparisons in the U.S. demonstrate this, and international comparisons demonstrate it as well. The foundations of economic growth are still a substantial mystery.

But what really annoys me is that it's clear that conservatives don't really believe this anyway. As Bartlett notes, Kristol liked the idea of tax cuts even though he "was not certain of its economic merits." And Bartlett himself gives the reason: tax cuts drive up the deficit and therefore throttle spending on social programs:

Neoconservatives thought that attacking massively popular spending programs was both counterproductive and politically hopeless. Congress would never vote to cut such programs directly, and would not even restrain their growth unless under enormous political pressure.

So: social programs are popular and democratically elected legislatures will support them. Therefore, the only way to stop them is to invent untrue but plausible fairy tales about tax cuts that have the real goal of producing massive deficits that will force cuts in these programs.

And this is still the plan. Programs like Social Security and Medicare are growing not because liberals are forever expanding them, they're growing because of simple demographic and technological pressures. This means that the only way to keep them from growing is to cut benefits.

But they will never admit that, will they? Republican ideology is now focused on creating artificial fiscal crises that will "force" program cuts, without ever stepping up to the plate and owning up to the program cuts they want to make. Why? Because it's electoral suicide.

So I'll ask my conservative readers again: you say you want smaller government. Fine. Tell us what programs you want to cut. And if you're serious, you'd better include some swinging cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, because that's where the big money is.

Let's hear it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:11 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (93)

HOUSING BUBBLE?....There's a bunch of reasons to be jumpy about the economy. Paul Krugman thinks we may be headed for a liquidity trap. Income inequality is rising to historically dangerous levels. The stock market is still overvalued. Productivity is continuing to grow so fast that rising unemployment is inevitable unless GDP growth starts to break 3% again. The entire world economy is flat at the same time, something that hasn't happened since 1929. Europe is handcuffed by their Growth and Stability Pact and a central bank that seems oddly unconcerned by increasing evidence of recession. And in the U.S., George Bush is obviously more interested in ideological tax cut games than he is in actually trying to address the problems of the economy.

Believe it or not, though, the thing that bothers me more than any of this is the housing market:

Defying predictions of a slowdown, nationwide home sales and prices surged in April as record low mortgage rates fueled a home buying boom and provided a much needed boost to a sagging economy.

....NAR President Cathy Whatle noted that mortgage rates have continued to fall since April to the lowest levels reported in more than 30 years.

Falling mortgage rates have indeed helped keep the housing market frothy, but they don't have much farther to fall. Eventually, unless the economy picks up pretty smartly this year, the bubble is going to burst. And in an economy that's fragile and already suffering from all the problems I mentioned above, another bubble burst is the last thing we need.

I sure hope I'm wrong about this.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:59 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (29)

OCCUPATION....Is this good news?

Under a torrent of criticism from his right-wing party, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon uttered words Monday that few fellow Israelis ever expected to hear from the battle-hardened political hawk: The nation must end its occupation of Palestinian lands.

"It is not possible to continue holding 3 1/2 million people under occupation," Sharon told an assembly of enraged lawmakers from his Likud Party. "You may not like the word, but what's happening is occupation. This is a terrible thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy."

As usual, most of the reaction revolves around the question of whether he really means it. Is Sharon bucking for a place in history, or just saying something to appease George Bush?

I sure don't know. But at the very least I guess you can say that this isn't bad news, and in the Middle East that's about as close to good news as we usually get.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (9)

HISTORICAL FAVORITES....Back in December I asked, "If you could choose to be anybody during any historical period, who would you be?" I was talking about a general profession, not a specific person, and my choice was a quantum physicist in Europe around 1920.

Today, Invisible Adjunct asks, "If you could travel back to any time and place of your choosing, where would you go and with whom would you like to have dinner?" That's a rather different question, isn't it? Being a quantum physicist in 1920, I think, would be tremendously exciting as a profession, but I'm not sure that having dinner with Werner Heisenberg would be all that illuminating.

Unfortunately, Invisible Adjunct doesn't tell us her choice! Come on, IA, let's hear it!

And my choice? I dunno. I'm a big Isaac Newton fan, but all indications are that he was a piss poor dinner companion, even using the term loosely. Thomas Jefferson? Better. Shakespeare? Couldn't really go wrong there, and Elizabethan England would sure be a fun era. I guess I'd have to think about this some more, but I suppose when it was all said and done I'd probably choose the oldest chestnut of them all: a few days with Jesus back around 30 AD or so to find out what he really said.

How about you?

POSTSCRIPT: IA also says this: "If I were a professional historian, I suppose I would blush with shame to acknowledge any interest in such a trifle...." Why? Are historians really such a dull bunch that they never play such games? How dismal.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:33 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (37)

AMERICAN BLOGOSPHERE IDOL....N.Z. Bear, proprietor of The Truth Laid Bear and creator of the famed Blogosphere Ecosystem, has come up with a pretty worthwhile idea:

One of the criticisms (of the many) that has been leveled at the Ecosystem over time is that it tends to draw attention to exactly those bloggers who don't need it -- the ones who are already at the "top of the heap".

In the spirit of counterbalancing that tendency, I'm happy to announce a new feature of the Ecosystem. I call it Microbes on Parade: The New Weblog Showcase.

Basically, this is an opportunity for new weblogs to get displayed on Bear's site, with a winner announced each week based on how many other blogs to link to them.

It looks like the initial rush of entries is pretty big, so savvy bloggers might want to wait a week or two before entering. But whether you enter or not, head on over and read through the entries and cast a vote. It's your civic duty!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:25 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (2)

May 26, 2003

MEMORIAL DAY....Thanks to my genealogy hobby, I'm now pretty familiar with the military history of the Drum family. That seems like an appropriate topic for Memorial Day, doesn't it?

The top picture is the gravestone of Henry Drum Jr., a member of the third generation of Drums born in the United States. Henry Jr. moved to Ohio in 1806 and served in the First Regiment (Denny's) of the Ohio Militia during the War of 1812. A history of of Pickaway County says he was "one of the forty-days men," but I've never been able to find a reference that explains what this means. Henry is buried in the Tarlton Cemetery in Tarlton, Ohio, next to his wife, Susannah.

The middle picture shows the grave of Henry Jr.'s grandson (and my great-grandfather), Eli Drum, who moved with his family to Cerro Gordo, Illinois, in 1856, and joined the Union Army along with his brother in 1862. He served in the 107th Illinois Infantry Regiment until the end of the war, fighting in both the Siege of Knoxville and the fall of Atlanta, then returned to Cerro Gordo and eventually took up a career as a newspaper editor. He is buried in the Cerro Gordo Cemetery next to his wife, Mary.

The bottom picture is the gravestone of James Dacy, my Canadian-born great-great-grandfather who entered the United States in 1852 and joined the Union army in 1861. He was a member of the 2nd Illinois Cavalry until 1864. Family legend has it that he met his future wife when he passed through Marshall, Missouri, and made the following remark to her: "You're too old to be walking around barefoot." Thus was a great romance born. A few years after his discharge James moved to Marshall, married the barefoot young lady, and then moved the entire family to Los Angeles in 1884, where he spent the rest of his life trying to wheedle a pension out of the United States government. He is buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles with his wife, Agnes.

In addition, my maternal grandfather and my father both served in the navy, but due to the vagaries of age missed World War I and World War II respectively by just a few months.

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May 25, 2003

GREASING THE SKIDS....Via Tom Spencer, here's a UPI report saying that we bribed an Iraqi general to leave Baghdad undefended:

Citing a senior Iraqi source, [Le Journal du Dimanche] reported that Soufiane al Tikriti, head of the Special Republican Guard in Baghdad, ordered his troops not to defend the capital against attack by U.S. and British forces, and particularly to hold fire against coalition helicopters circling over the city.

In exchange, Le Journal claimed, Tikriti was paid several hundred thousand dollars and, along with 20 family members, was ferried in a U.S. aircraft out of the country on April 8.

If this is true, it's probably the best several hundred thousand dollars George Bush has ever spent.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:49 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (19)

FEELING BETTER....SORT OF....I GUESS....I just got home a few minutes ago and wandered over to the computer, figuring I would remove the post below. You know, Prozac kicking in, that kind of thing.

But since it seems to have touched off a bizarre hailstorm of comments and links — I guess I forgot it was Sunday, when there's not much to blog about — I suppose I should leave it up. So up it stays.

POSTSCRIPT: On the other hand, my day was certainly not enhanced when the berry pie I bought for dinner turned out to be a peach pie when we cut into it. I love berry pie. I hate peach pie. What a drag. How do you mix up a berry pie with a peach pie, anyway?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:28 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (32)

DEPRESSED....After reading the paper this morning I'm so depressed that I just want to crawl into a hole and go to sleep forever. I'm afraid that there are days when I just can't stand to watch any longer as the Republican party continues its ceaseless, step-by-step quest to destroy a great country and a decent society, and today is one of those days.

In case you want to risk a case of terminal depression too, just head over to the LA Times website and read about workers comp going bust, "disarray" in Iraq, a lifelong Republican wondering why Republicans insist on gutting programs to help children, another lifelong Republican explaining why this is actually a good thing, the remarkable success of the CIA in arming Muslim fanatics so they can kill our citizens, and....I guess that's enough, actually. What's the point of continuing?

No more blogging today. No more news, no more TV, no more Republicans telling me that the only way for my country to prosper is to give ever more to the rich and ever less to the poor, to starve any government program that dares to help education, healthcare, the needy, or the elderly, and to base our role in the world solely on a mirage of military dominance so breathtakingly misguided that it would make Julius Ceasar himself choke on his porridge. What is it that drives otherwise sane people to believe that these are the things that will make America great in the 21st century?

Maybe I'll be back tomorrow. Maybe not. In either case, have a nice Memorial Day.

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May 24, 2003

SLEEP....Man, I could sure use a good night's sleep. Maybe tonight will finally be the night.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:41 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (3)

REVENUE MANAGEMENT....A Taxing Blog informs us that our shiny new tax bill has a special provision that allows corporations to defer part of their September 2003 tax payments until October. This, of course, places that revenue in the 2004 fiscal year.

Unbelievable. Is there anything left that these guys won't do?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (9)

TERRORISM....Matt Yglesias pretty much sums up my view of foreign policy these days:

Obviously, the threat of terrorism is a serious problem. I believe that today, I believed it eighteen months ago, and I believed it before 9/11. Indeed, the fact that the Democratic Party was oriented toward problems like terrorism and counterproliferation while the GOP was stuck bitching about "soldiers doing social work" and dreaming of missile defense was, I thought, one of many reasons to be a Democrat rather than a Republican.

....But still, outside of the need to fight a war in Afghanistan, combatting terrorism is basically a lot of slow, patient, boring work. Keeping up various law enforcement and diplomatic efforts. Doing peacekeeping in anarchic portions of the world. Working with the Russian government on nuclear security issues. Tightening security around likely targets at home and abroad. Building a better public health infrastructure.

....In fact, when you consider that all the necessary programs are going to cost money, you might start to wonder whether it isn't the Bush administration that's not serious about these national security concerns....

Yes, you might start to wonder indeed.

I'm truly bewildered by the blinkered view of the right when it comes to terrorism. It's patently obvious that we won't win the war on terrorism via conventional war, but rather through persistent, patient cooperation with our allies combined with a foreign policy that truly refuses to countenance repressive dictatorships even if they happen to be convenient to us.

But if there's anything that George Bush is obviously bad at, it's persistent, patient cooperation with our allies. What's more, despite all the talk about transforming the military, his only goal seems to be to transform it to fight better wars against conventional nation states and to build missile defense systems that don't work in order to protect us against ICBM wielding enemies who don't exist. Terrorists? Peacekeeping? Nation building? Port security? You'd hardly know they were even issues.

Invading Iraq may be an eventual blessing for the Iraqi people, but it hasn't made us any safer against terrorism. When is the Bush administration going to get serious about actual terrorists, instead of the bogeymen they've been scaring the American public with for the past year?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:24 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (30)

SPACE IS OURS!....Via Priorities & Frivolities comes this EE Times article about the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency in charge of our spy satellites. With the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty out of the way, it looks like total dominance of space is the next step:

The nation's largest intelligence agency by budget and in control of all U.S. spy satellites, NRO is talking openly with the U.S. Air Force Space Command about actively denying the use of space for intelligence purposes to any other nation at any time—not just adversaries, but even longtime allies, according to NRO director Peter Teets.

....Beginning next year, NRO will be in charge of the new Offensive Counter-Space program, which will come up with plans to specifically deny the use of near-Earth space to other nations, said Teets.

The program will include two components: the Counter Communication System, designed to disrupt other nations' communication networks from space; and the Counter Surveillance Reconnaissance System, formed to prevent other countries from using advanced intelligence-gathering technology in air or space.

I wish I had some idea what this meant. Does it mean that we just want to have lots and lots of satellites, more than anyone else? Or does it mean that we want to develop ways of shooting other people's satellites out of space?

Whatever. I'm sure if our allies don't like it, it must be a good thing.

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MEDIA DEREGULATION....Jonathan Dworkin of Aspasia writes about the media consolidation proposals currently being considered by the FCC:

I'm not usually a big fan of The Nation, but this article outlines nicely the enormous coalition now organizing to oppose FCC chair Michael Powell's bid to make the media world safe for monopoly. As I've written repeatedly of late (here and here particularly), this is an issue that transcends party affiliation and has serious consequences for our democracy. If anti-monopoly policies are disgarded the potential for manipulation of the public is almost Orwellian in scale. It's not as if this is the frozen orange juice industry. We're talking about television and newspaper here.

He also emails to wonder why I haven't blogged about this, and I have to admit that I don't have an answer. Maybe it just seems kind of hopeless, the kind of thing that seems to be opposed by literally everyone except for the large corporations involved, but that's nonetheless inevitable since modern Republicans really don't care about anything except for the good opinion of large corporations. I'm sure they will be well rewarded for encouraging media monopolies with campaign contributions aplenty.

My, that sounds bitter, doesn't it? Yes it does. Indeed it does.

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VOTING MACHINES....New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt is sponsoring legislation that would require that all voting machines produce a paper record that could be used in case of a recount. It sounds like a good bill. Suspicions of chicanery aside, I've worked in the software industry way too long not to know that software glitches happen all the time. There needs to be a paper trail in case of software error.

I still think that mark sense ballots are probably the best idea, but it looks like the electronic ballot express has too much momentum to stop. Requiring a paper record is a good second best.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:23 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (13)

SOAKING THE RICH....As everyone knows, America's GDP has grown steadily and strongly ever since World War II, with only short and minor exceptions during occasional recessions. So riddle me this: as the economy grows, who should receive the fruits of that growth? Suppose over the next decade our GDP grows from $10 trillion to $13 trillion. Who should get that extra $3 trillion?

The short answer is: everybody. Workers ought to get 30% richer, bosses ought to get 30% richer, and the poor ought to get 30% less poor. There's really no special reason that any one group should get a lion's share of the increase, is there?

So why hasn't that been the case over the past 20 years? Let's take a look at reality:

  1. In 1981, the top 5% of wage earners in the United States pocketed $488 billion.

  2. Between 1981 and 2001, GDP increased 222%.

  3. Therefore, you would expect that the rich would indeed have gotten a lot richer: 222% richer to be exact.

  4. But if that were the case, the top 5% would earn $1,571 billion today.

  5. The real number is $2,258 billion.

  6. That's a difference of $687 billion.

  7. That means that the bottom 95% — in other words, households making less than $150,000 per year — have gotten $687 billion less than they would have if we had all shared equitably in the economic prosperity of the past two decades

  8. Translation: if increasing prosperity had been equitably distributed, those households — 100 million of them — would have incomes today nearly $7,000 higher than they do.

$7,000!

It's one thing to say that the rich have most of the money — after all, that's the whole point of being rich. But it's quite another to say that as our country grows ever more prosperous, the rich should actually grow richer at a faster rate than anyone else.

But that's the way the Republicans have convinced us the system should work, and they have systematically set about to implement policies that would make this happen. Instead of the 15% of national income they were satisfied with in 1981, today they get 22%. And at the same time, they insist that tax rates need to come down because we're "soaking the rich."

It's just astounding. They get richer and richer, tax rates get lower and lower, and still they feel persecuted. 100 million households in America are earning $7,000 per year less than they should, because the rich have swallowed it up. And we're supposed to feel sorry for them.

Who made up this story, anyway? And when is 95% of American going to wake up, realize they have been mightily ripped off over the past 20 years, and fight back?

NOTE: Just in case you want to do the arithmetic yourself, GDP figures are here and census figures showing the earnings of the top 5% are here (page 19).

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:59 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (9) | Comments (81)

EUROVISION....A few years ago I was in Europe and decided to channel surf in my hotel room. I ended up watching something called the Eurovision song contest: each country enters a song, and a jury of some kind votes for the winner.

So this is the latest in European television, I thought. How dismal.

Kieran Healy wises me up. Far from being a recent chapter in the fall of Western civilization, Eurovision has been going on for a long, long time indeed. Today Kieran provides us with the whole story.

UPDATE: I am disturbed to find out that Eurovision was born on October 19th, my birthday. In fact, it is exactly three years older than I am.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:27 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)

THE ROADMAP....Arial Sharon has accepted the Middle East "roadmap." Grudgingly. George Bush explains why:

Sharon "accepted it because I assured him that the United States is committed to Israel's security, and that since we're committed to Israel's security, as we move forward we will address any concerns that might arise regarding Israel's security," Bush said during a news conference at his Texas ranch.

God knows I have precious little sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers and the intifada, but it's stuff like this that gives me precious little sympathy for Ariel Sharon too.

He accepted only because George Bush personally assured him that we are "committed" to Israel's security? Did he have any doubts? The United States has been the firmest ally any country could hope to have for the past half century, and George Bush has probably been the firmest ally of them all. Why on earth does he need to reassure Sharon of this fact?

If the president of France had expressed similar doubts, conservatives would be howling about the disrespect he was showing toward both our president and our faithfulness as an ally. So why do we put up with this kind of crap from the prime minister of Israel?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:07 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (12)

LEFTY ACADEMICS....RIGHTY CEOs....Are American universities becoming too corporatized? Will academic leftiness, with its untiring criticism of all things capitalist, bring about the very corporatization it disdains? Invisible Adjunct wonders if there might be something to this:

As a lefty-liberal-progressive type, I am increasingly uncomfortable with a certain lefty-liberal-progressive critique of corporatization which links a concern with the problems of the academic labor system with the necessity of, in Burke's phrase, "the production of opposition to late capitalism." As if the commitment to resolve some of the problems that beset the university necessarily commits one to an oppositional stance toward the broader culture and society of which the university is a part....The way I see it: either the university is supported by a broader civil society to which the university lends some sort of support (not uncritical or unthinking, of course, but some sort of support), or civil society will cease to support the university.

I think this is the flip side of what I've been talking about all week, and yet another example of the bipolar, take-no-prisoners approach to ideology we have today.

If universities become no more than bastions of anti-capitalist fervor, in which everything related to traditional culture and traditional moneymaking is unthinkingly reviled, then yes, civil society will eventually cease to support them.

Likewise, though, if the rich and powerful in America become cut off from the vast world of the poor and middle class, endlessly amassing ever more riches while ceaselessly endeavoring to dispose of any duty to support the less fortunate, then civil society will also cease to support them.

To a large extent, the job of a university is to be subversive and provocative, while the job of capitalism is to harness human greed in order to build businesses that employ people and create wealth. But while this means there's a natural, perhaps vital, tension between the two, there's a limit to how far this should go, for both practical and moral reasons. We have reached those limits, and it would be wise for both sides to begin pulling back.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (9)

INTEREST RATES....Paul Krugman writes today about the prospect that the United States could fall into a liquidity trap, and makes this claim:

But what if the economy is in such a deep malaise that pushing interest rates all the way to zero isn't enough to get the economy back to full employment? Then you're in a liquidity trap: additional cash pumped into the economy — added liquidity — sits idle, because there's no point in lending money out if you don't receive any reward. And monetary policy loses its effectiveness.

This is standard stuff, of course: interest rates can't go below zero. Thus, if interest rates are very close to zero, the Fed no longer has the ability to stimulate the economy by cutting them further.

Now, I know this is a really dumb question (and yes, contrary to popular wisdom, there is such a thing as a dumb question), but why is this so? Why can't the Fed have negative interest rates? Walk up to the discount window, borrow a million dollars, and next month when it comes due you only have to pay back $900,000. Banks would then have an incentive to loan out this money at a negative rate too. As long as their rate was less negative than the Feds, they'd make money on the deal.

Needless to say, there have to be limits on how much a borrower is allowed to borrow under this system, and maybe that's the fatal flaw. But are there others?

And once we have this taken care of, our next trick is to create interest rates that are multiples of the square root of -1....

UPDATE: In comments, Brad DeLong says we would have to put microchips in our money to make this work. Sign me up!

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May 23, 2003

URL UPDATE....The Volokh Conspiracy has moved to:

http://volokh.com

Adjust your bookmarks.

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SADDAM HUSSEIN: EVIL TYRANT OR MISUNDERSTOOD PATRIOT?....This morning I got an email asking me to link to a Newsday story about whether or not UN sanctions were really responsible for the deaths of thousands of babies in Iraq, as Saddam Hussein repeatedly claimed during the 90s. It didn't sound all that interesting to me, but after a second email I decided to go ahead and do it. First, here's the story:

Throughout the 13 years of UN sanctions on Iraq that were ended yesterday, Iraqi doctors told the world that the sanctions were the sole cause for the rocketing mortality rate among Iraqi children.

....Now free to speak, the doctors at two Baghdad hospitals, including Ibn Al-Baladi, tell a very different story. Along with parents of dead children, they said in interviews this week that Hussein turned the children's deaths into propaganda, notably by forcing hospitals to save babies' corpses to have them publicly paraded.

....Under the sanctions regime, "We had the ability to get all the drugs we needed," said Ibn Al-Baladi's chief resident, Dr. Hussein Shihab. "Instead of that, Saddam Hussein spent all the money on his military force and put all the fault on the USA. Yes, of course the sanctions hurt - but not too much, because we are a rich country and we have the ability to get everything we can by money. But instead, he spent it on his palaces."

My initial reaction, and the reason I wasn't very interested, was that this seemed like non-news. Saddam is a butcher and a thug? Yep. And as long as you're up, can you get me another beer?

But my correspondent wouldn't let me get away with that:

It would be helpful to the credibility of left-liberal bloggers in general for their more popular citizens to acknowledge this....Let's face it, a fair number of left-liberal bloggers, BEFORE the war, did doubt how evil Saddam was, and did question the need for us to get rid of him....Let's all acknowledge the obvious: reports like these make clear just how evil Saddam was, and that it was appropriate for the US/UK to do the heavy lifting to remove him.

Now, I don't doubt for a minute that there were some people, bloggers among them, who thought Saddam's bad reputation was just a product of Amerikan Propaganda. After all, there are also people who think we faked the moon landing.

But aside from the lunatic fringe, were there really any lefty bloggers who claimed that Saddam wasn't a bad guy? I sure don't remember reading anything like that from anyone, and I read most of the popular lefty blogs.

So how about it? Saddam Hussein was a cruel, monomaniacal, brutal, thuggish bastard and both Iraq and the world are better off without him. Whether that was a good enough reason to wage war on him is a different question entirely, since the world is full to bursting with other equally odious dictators. There were also questions about whether he presented a genuine threat to the United States, questions that remain unanswered in the light of the missing WMD. And, finally, there were — and are — questions about whether our administration of Iraq will improve things for the Iraqi people.

But sticking up for Saddam himself? I don't remember anyone doing that. How about it, folks?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (78)

SMALL GOVERNMENT....Yesterday I suggested that most federal programs weren't growing quite like the weeds conservatives make them out to be. Absolute dollar spending is going up, of course, thanks to inflation and an increasing population, but most social welfare programs have actually been cut back recently in terms of the benefits paid out.

But most conservatives think that's not enough. They want government cut back even further — or so they say, anyway. So here's a quick summary of the 2002 federal budget:

Program

Outlay

National Defense

$362 billion

Interest

$170 billion

Social Security

$462 billion

Medicare

$234 billion

Social Welfare

$367 billion

Other

$495 billion

Total

$2,090 billion

(An Excel spreadsheet is here if you're interested in seeing the nitty gritty details of where all your hard earned dough goes.)

Now, conservatives don't seem to want to cut defense spending, and interest payments are of course inviolate. What's more, the "Other" category consists of lots and lots of little programs like prisons, courts, embassies, disaster relief, and so forth. There certainly might be things you'd like to cut there — crop subsidies are a favorite target — but let's face it: it's hard to get any traction here. Most of the programs are fairly routine, most of them are fairly popular, and you'd have to cut a helluva lot of them to make much of a dent. You can probably find some savings here, but the political reality is that you can't find very much.

No, if you're serious about wanting to cut back on federal spending, you need to address three areas: Social Security, Medicare, and welfare programs. So here's my question: what do you want to cut back? A dollar figure would be nice, but what I really want to know is what program benefits you want to cut.

Means testing for Social Security? Higher retirement ages? Reduced nursing home coverage? Elimination of free clinics in inner cities? Elimination of entire programs? And no cheating: don't pretend that you can magically save oodles of money by simply cutting back on "waste." That's a great applause line on the rubber chicken circuit, but it won't wash here. I want real program cuts.

If you want to lower taxes, fine. But you have to reduce spending too, and conservatives have been allowed for far too long to complain endlessly about big government without having to step up to the plate and tell us exactly what they want to cut back. So have at it. Then we can all take a look at your proposals and decide if they're worth it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:36 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (42)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....There's nothing quite like watching skilled craftsmen at work. They know what needs to be done, they go about it with no wasted motion, and the end result always seems like it's been somehow kissed by a magical and merciful God.

So it is with sleeping cats. Sleeping is what they were put on Earth to do, and they do it well. Nay, not just well, but with a purity of purpose we mere humans can merely dream of.

On the left, Jasmine is curled up in between the pillows on our bed, which is where she sleeps every night. (It's where she starts sleeping, anyway. Where she ends up by morning is another question entirely.) On the right, Inkblot, the master of sleep himself, is conked out on his favorite afghan, his preferred sleeping spot of the moment. He'll have a new one in a couple of weeks.

Bonus cats: good news for those of you for whom cat blogging once a week is not enough: the Meow Mix cat food company is launching "Meow TV" on May 30th. This is not the 24/7 cat TV you might be hoping for, but it will have to do until something better comes along. And Ben Longman, who doesn't actually own a cat himself for sad but necessary reasons, wants to get into the cat blogging act anyway. Here's the result.

And dogs? Looks like they're mostly just handy for homeland security....

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VOTING....Martha Paskoff writes in The American Prospect today about the astounding success of American Idol. Why, she asks, are young viewers willing to vote in huge numbers for their favorite singers, but unwilling to vote in regular elections?

Because a single vote doesn't make a difference? Nah, Florida put the lie to that, and besides, the voting on Idol was very close. Because of negative campaigning? Nah, the nastier Simon Cowell got, the better the show did. Because it's too hard to vote? Hmmm, to vote on American Idol you only had to pick up your phone. Maybe that's it.

Nah, that's not it either. Maybe it's this:

Finally, American Idol self-consciously marketed itself to young Americans, and political candidates need to begin doing the same. This doesn't mean presidential aspirants have to speak on glitzy stages, put blond highlights in their hair or employ navel-baring campaign workers. But it does mean they need to address issues that are important to young Americans, such as reducing student debt, making home ownership more accessible and promoting tax policies that will benefit those just entering the workforce.

That's closer to the truth, but still not quite there. I think a lot of young people don't vote because they simply don't believe that it matters who wins the election. Neither candidate is likely to produce the results they talk about, so why bother?

Voting on American Idol, on the other hand, produces a very clear result: the person you think is a better singer wins. And they have a single available in the music stores within a week.

A candidate who want to increase support among young voters, then, has to do two things. First, talk about things they care about. Second, and more important, convince them that they can actually deliver. That part is much harder, I think.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:24 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

COMPENSATION....Time magazine reports on shrinking salaries:

Even among the top 10% of earners 25 and older, average earnings adjusted for inflation dropped 1.4% in the first quarter of 2003 from the same period last year, according to the Labor Department. At the other end of the spectrum, wages for young college grads fell 1.5% in 2002, reports the Economic Policy Institute.

One job title defying the trend is CEO: pay for chief executives rose 15% in 2002, according to Equilar, a firm that studies CEO compensation. That amounts to about 200 times the pay of the average worker, up from 56 times in 1989.

Why yes, I do think these CEOs ought to be paying higher taxes. Thanks for asking.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:30 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (14)

POLITICIANS....Do politicians ever learn? Answer: no.

Tom DeLay, apparently barely in control of his rage these days, decided to get the feds involved in tracking down those Texas state legislators who fled the state last week. That's bad, but let's face it: it's not really that bad. When asked about it, he could have just shrugged, fessed up, promised a full investigation or something, and it all would have blown over.

But no. Instead, he seems to have gone into full blown coverup mode. The Texas cops have already shredded their records under ridiculous pretenses, and Tom Ridge is now refusing to hand over his records. So instead of risking a bit of late night talk show derision, he's now awakening the slumbering giants of the press corps, some of whom will shortly begin to see Pulitzers dancing in front of their heads and head off to harry the Majority Leader, yea until the ink runs dry in the presses and the pixels on our screens die from overuse.

Josh Marshall has the latest, of course. Since I don't like DeLay I guess I think this is all just fine, but even so it's slightly painful watching yet another of these train wrecks unfold.

Of course, it's still not too late to confess. If DeLay has even a shred of political intelligence peeking through the fog of arrogance and fury currently controlling him, that's what he'll do. Pronto.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:38 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (31)

May 22, 2003

GENETIC SCREENING....Healthcare plans are in the news, and a couple of times lately I've made offhand statements about how national healthcare is "inevitable." But it occurs to me that the last time I explained why I believe this was about six months ago, well before I had comments on this site.

So here it is again. There's nothing original here, and my argument has nothing to with political ideology. It's entirely technical.

The problem is the increasing effectiveness of genetic screening. There's still room for dispute about how accurate this kind of testing will ever get, but let's stipulate for the moment that in the next 10 or 20 years genetic screening becomes pretty accurate for a fairly wide range of diseases.

When that happens, private insurance is no longer possible. Here's why:

  • If screening is done on a widespread basis but the results are kept confidential, people with high risks will all go out and buy more insurance. Result: this is a classic case of asymmetrical information, and the insurance companies go bankrupt.

  • Conversely, if the results are shared with the insurance company, they will decline to insure anyone with a high risk for an expensive disease. Result: very large numbers of people will be completely excluded from receiving healthcare for serious (often fatal) illnesses.

In both cases, the system fails. Either the insurance companies go broke, or else the ranks of the uninsured swell to enormous numbers. Even large group plans would start to feel some pain as people began making employment decisions based on the results of genetic screening tests.

This is why single payer national healthcare strikes me as inevitable. Only by insuring everyone and spreading the risk across the entire country do you make individual riskiness unimportant.

So the only real question left is a technical one: how good will genetic screening get? There are certainly limits to its accuracy, and it will never yield anything more than probabilistic estimates, but probability is what insurance is all about. Move the odds a bit, and the whole system falls apart.

The unfortunate thing is that this problem will creep up slowly as these tests get incrementally better over time. As this happens, and political pressures build, we will apply small patchworks to the existing healthcare system, and we will do this over and over until we have a rickety edifice that is literally the worst of all possible worlds. On the other hand, if we put away the ideology and understood the changes that technology is going to bring, we could work now to build a system that makes sense for the future. In the long run, we'd save a ton of money and a ton of anguish.

But there's not much chance of that because everyone sees this as a partisan issue, not a technological one. That's a shame.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:28 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (34)

CLASSIFIED....Bob Graham has repeatedly criticized the Bush administration's handling of 9/11 and charges that they are engaging in a coverup because of their continuing refusal to declassify portions of the House-Senate committee report on the attacks.

This got me to thinking about the classification process. Why is it that only the executive branch is allowed to declassify documents?

I'm not thinking of the vast bulk of routine classified documents, which for practical reasons ought to stay under the control of various executive departments. But it's fairly common for there to be a dispute over some high profile documents like the ones Graham is talking about, and I wonder why Congress allows the executive to keep exclusive control of this.

Is there any reason, for example, to trust, say, the Secretary of State's opinion more than that of the chairman of the House intelligence committee? Why doesn't Congress give itself the power to declassify documents itself if it wants to?

Or why not set up some kind of external committee to resolve high profile cases? Perhaps a group of high-ranking ex-government types: presidents, vice presidents, intelligence directors, etc. People who have dealt with the highest level of intelligence in the past, who understand the dangers of declassification, and whose patriotism is unquestioned.

Instead, Congress defers entirely to the executive. Doesn't this seem a bit odd?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:18 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (22)

NEPOTISM....William McGowan writes today in NRO about the horrible problem of nepotism in the media. It's funny, though, he has such a hard time finding examples of this that in order to fill out a full column he has to resort to naming reporters whose parents are merely famous (Cuomo, Vanderbilt, Kennedy), as opposed to those whose parents were actually famous journalists (Koppel, Toobin, and....um, that's it, actually).

But how could he have possibly missed NRO's very own poster child for legacy hires, Jonah Goldberg himself? That seems an odd omission, no?

Anyway, now that NRO has come down firmly against the horrors of legacy hiring in the liberal media, I shall wait breathlessly for a similar denunciation of this in all other fields as well. Like, say, investment banking, Fortune 500 management, and Ivy League admissions. That ought to be a good show, shouldn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:03 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (40)

GAY RIGHTS....The headline on this AP story says "Gay Remarks Don't Hurt Santorum," but that's not true. Yes, his approval rating stayed steady at 55%, but here's the real poll result:

However, Santorum's remarks may have turned some undecided voters against him. His disapproval rating rose from 20 percent in April to 33 percent in May while the proportion of undecided voters fell by a similar amount, from 24 percent to 12 percent.

Gay rights is a great wedge issue for Democrats in a presidential election because it leaves Bush with two choices:

  • Support gay rights and lose the social conservatives.

  • Oppose it and lose the independents.

I think Bush would be forced to do the second, and take a look at what happened to Santorum when he did this: he lost 12 points of support from undecideds. That's huge. It may or may not hurt Santorum, but in a close national election the difference between victory and defeat can be as little as a 2-3% swing in the independent vote. This issue has the potential to deliver that.

The key is to prevent Bush from getting away with his usual wishy washy statements on this subject and force him to take a stand on a specific issue. How about it, Dr. Dean?

UPDATE: Of course, you never know: Bush might decide to support gay rights if he's forced to make a choice. Here's what Family Research Council president Ken Connor has to say about that in NRO today:

Let me be clear: FRC never threatened anybody. We did, however, warn the White House that the GOP drift on marriage and such aspects of the gay agenda such as domestic partner benefits, hate crimes, and such, could cause some social-conservative voters to stay home.

Keep it coming, boys, keep it coming. You're cute when you get mad.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:17 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (23)

THE DRUG WARS....As TomPaine.com and Salon have pointed out, Congress is currently working on a bill to extend the life of the Office of National Drug Control Policy — the "drug czar's office." But there's a little more to it than that. As Salon points out:

The overall legislation, which would keep the White House drug policy office in business for another five years, would also allow the office to run ads opposing medical marijuana initiatives.

TomPaine.com says this is a bipartisan issue:

The issue unites liberals and conservatives. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) finds the legislation worrisome. "The media campaign should be used for its intended purpose in reducing demand for illegal drugs among youth," he said. "It should not be used to influence elections on ballot initiatives or candidates for public office, or to influence the consideration of legislation.

Tim Lynch, director of the Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, agrees. "That ONDCP is trying to deprive voters and taxpayers of knowledge of what they're doing is bizarre and disturbing," he said. "Now the federal government will put its finger on the scale of a political question. And they're trying to hide that because if the public becomes aware, it'll cause a real backlash."

The federal government shouldn't be involved in campaigning for or against state ballot initiatives. There should be bipartisan agreement on this, even from hardcore anti-drug partisans, but we'll see. Waxman says he's going to introduce an amendment to address this problem, but it's Republicans who control the relevant committees.

Will they do the right thing?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:48 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (33)

IMPRISONING THE INNOCENT....Jonathan Turley has a good op-ed in the LA Times today about people serving long prison sentences for crimes they didn't commit:

Steven Toney was one such recent case. When Toney was arrested in Missouri in 1983 for a bad check, he was confident he could prove his innocence and have the charge dropped. Indeed, it was dropped. However, while Toney was being held, he was asked to stand in a lineup in a rape case. The victim picked him out despite the lack of any evidence connecting him to the crime. Toney was offered a deal but he refused. He insisted he was innocent and decided to fight the charge. He was convicted.

Although prosecutors fought his efforts to have a privately funded DNA test, Toney was finally exonerated after almost 14 years in prison. He is now 55, with much of his life taken away from him and no resources to build a future on what is left. Missouri offers no compensation to wrongly convicted people.

Turley is right that this is a gross miscarriage of justice. An innocent person who has years of his life stolen because of sloppy or overzealous prosecution deserves substantial compensation.

Turley is also right that much of this problem can be traced back to prosecutors whose only goal is a high conviction rate. Unfortunately, he's probably wrong to think that compensating the innocent will deter these prosecutors, since most of them are long gone by the time their victims' innocence is established.

Compensation is a worthwhile goal, and a good way to use free market incentives to produce better behavior by the state. But it's not enough. Prosecutors need to be held to higher standards both by judges and by the public they are supposed to serve, with discipline readily available in cases of misconduct. Until that happens, prosecutors will continue to care more about a gleaming conviction rate than they do about whether they're really trying the right person.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (11)

TAX CUT FEVER....Matt Yglesias, commenting on the new and reduced tax plan, says this today:

The NY Times, meanwhile, says this is a "substantial political victory" for the administration, which is an odd way of phrasing "total surrender to Senator Voinovich." Remember when a $350 billion tax cut was only an "itty bitty" cut, insufficiently "robust" for the president?

Well, which is it? Political victory or wretched surrender?

The funny thing is, given the way George Bush operates I really can't tell. His MO seems to be a sort of standard issue Casbah haggling style: start off asking for double or triple what you really think you can get, pound the table like a maniac fighting for it, and then let yourself get whittled down to what you really wanted in the first place.

In fact, my recollection is that back in January the punditry was guessing that Bush would propose a tax cut in the $300-400 billion range, and when the real plan clocked in at $670 billion it was met with barely concealed awe. I believe that "bold" was the preferred word of the day.

So: did he really want $670 billion and the current plan is a real kick in the balls? Or did he actually want $350 billion all along, and he's just pretending to be disappointed?

Kevin's amateur analysis: he really wanted the lower figure. The higher one was (a) just an initial bargaining point, and (b) a shrewd way of protecting himself against economic uncertainty. If the economy does well, the tax cut gets the credit. If the economy tanks, he tells everyone that things would be better if only the Democratic congress had listened to him.

Rather clever of him, isn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:08 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (21)

PAYING FOR A DECENT SOCIETY....My post yesterday about how little the rich pay toward social welfare programs got several replies along the lines of this: "So how high is high enough? You liberals have never met a government program you didn't want to keep expanding forever."

Now, that would be a fair question if tax rates and welfare programs were forever being expanded. But they aren't. In fact, the exact opposite is true, so the real question is, "How low is low enough?" Let's go to the tape:

  • Tax rates on the rich haven't been going up, they've been going down — while rates on the middle class have gone up to compensate. We've been steadily cutting tax rates on the rich in every administration since Eisenhower's, and we're still doing it. So how low is low enough?

  • Federal spending hasn't increased either. It was about 21% of GDP in 1970 and about 18% of GDP in 2000. So how low is low enough?

  • Welfare? Bill Clinton promised welfare reform and delivered on that promise in 1996. Republicans, of course, weren't satisfied. Despite the fact that the boom times of the 90s never really provided a test of the reforms, they want to keep cutting. So how low is low enough?

  • How about Social Security? Well, we're steadily increasing the tax burden on the middle class by raising the payroll tax, and at the same time steadily cutting back on Social Security itself by increasing the minimum retirement age. But that's not enough. Republicans want to stealthily gut the program by "privatizing" it. So how low is low enough?

That leaves one thing: healthcare. And while it's true that most Democrats favor some kind of national healthcare program, covering the uninsured is hardly the only reason they support this. As conservatives themselves point out tirelessly, the poor in America do have access to healthcare, but because of the crazy quilt nature of our public/private/emergency room system, the cost of this care is far higher than it should be. In fact, the best argument for a national health plan — aside from its eventual inevitability for technical reasons — is that it would probably lower the amount we spend on healthcare, not increase it. A national healthcare plan is a bid for more efficiency, not for more government giveaways.

So given the fact that over the past 30 years we've been steadily cutting taxes on the rich, cutting federal spending, cutting welfare programs, and cutting Social Security, let's ask the question again: How low is low enough? How much cutting of these programs will satisfy you?

Or will you not rest until they are gone completely?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:12 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (7) | Comments (120)

May 21, 2003

ATLAS SHRUGGED....Unlike most non-libertarians, I thought Atlas Shrugged was a perfectly entertaining book and about as well written as any other popular novel. Sure, the whole business with all the smart people hiding out in — I forget, was it Colorado? — and happily building their own little strife-free utopia was pretty silly, but I've read plenty of novels with sillier premises than that.

Anyway, the latest news is that the book is going to be made into a movie set in the near future, and Arthur Silber quotes Ian Hamet agreeing that this is probably a good idea:

Were I to foolishly approach this, I would set it in an indefinite past, and aim for a timeless quality. I don't see how they can keep the Railroad central to the story 15 years in the future.

I was kind of wondering about this too. Setting the movie in a 1940s past when railroads ruled the earth probably wouldn't appeal to that all important 18-25 demographic, would it? Arthur goes on to suggest various ways of updating this by substituting other industries.

But, um, isn't there a bigger problem with the book's "timeless quality"? I mean, the whole point of the novel is that socialism is taking over America, with the government steadily becoming more and more Soviet and full central planning and our own set of 5-year plans lurking right around the corner — in fact, we're just a few years behind the "People's State of England." Now, even in 1957 this was a stretch, but in 2003 it's not going to inspire anything more than guffaws. The Soviet Union is gone, the Berlin Wall is no more, capitalism reigns supreme around the world, and small government Republicans have dominated the political debate in America since 1980.

So forget the technology. Hell, the Comet might even give the film a nifty retro feel. But the screenwriter, ignoring The End of History and the undisputed victory of capitalism in the 21st century, maintains breathlessly that "socialism has crept into everything." I'm sure this kind of line draws mucho applause at Objectivist meetings, but doesn't a major motion picture need to appeal to people who are rooted somewhere on planet Earth as well?

POSTSCRIPT: What if all the smart, entrepreneurial people really did leave the rest of us behind and started up their own little city state? Would it turn out more like Ayn Rand's Galt's Gulch or Robert Heinlein's Coventry? Discuss.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:59 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (53)

TIA UPDATE....The all-seeing, all-knowing Total Information Awareness program has been renamed. It's now the Terrorism Information Awareness program.

I feel better already.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:25 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (10)

LOCAL NEWS....Tonight on our local Fox News broadcast:

How safe are gorgeous women from dangerous predators? John Beard reports.

More hard hitting journalism from Fox.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:00 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (22)

FOREIGN AID REDUX....As I was writing the post just below, I came across this Q&A from the Council on Foreign Relations:

Do Americans understand how much of the U.S. budget goes to foreign aid?
No. A 2001 poll sponsored by the University of Maryland showed that most Americans think the United States spends about 24 percent of its annual budget on foreign aid—more than 24 times the actual figure.

Do Americans support increasing foreign aid?
Yes. According to [a University of Maryland poll], the typical American would like to spend $1 on foreign aid for every $3 spent on defense; the real ratio in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2003 is $1 on aid for every $19 spent on defense.

24%! The average American thinks we spend a quarter of the federal budget on foreign aid!

The ignorance of Americans about the real world never ceases to amaze me. Ask them what percent of the population is black and they guess it's about a third. Ask them how much they pay in income taxes, and they figure about 50%. Ask them how big the foreign aid budget is and they're off by a factor of 24.

Is it any wonder our political decisions are so screwed up?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:37 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (23)

FOREIGN AID....Here's the latest from George Bush:

Touting U.S. generosity in fighting AIDS and poverty, President Bush said Wednesday he would challenge European allies to make a "similar commitment" on those fronts when he travels to the continent next week.

Bush, speaking to graduating cadets during a commencement exercise at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, said he would ask European nations, along with Japan and Canada, to "match their good intentions with real resources."

Goodness, yes, it sure would be nice if those high minded Europeans would put their money where their mouth is, the way we do.

In fact, my handy World in Figures from the Economist reports that we spend, um....hold on a second here....about, um....

That's funny, the United States doesn't seem to appear on their list of the largest international aid donors. Denmark tops the list, followed by the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, France, and the UK. In fact, 17 of the 24 countries on the list are from Europe. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are there too. But not the United States.

As it turns out, our aid budget is about $11 billion per year — and closer to $8 billion if you exclude Israel. If we matched the generosity of even the hated French, #9 on the list, our budget would be $32 billion.

So what kind of "similar commitment" is Bush talking about? Try to guess before you click More....

Ha ha, fooled you all:

The president accused Europe of hindering efforts to tackle famine in Africa because of its objections to the use of genetically modified crops.

"They have blocked all new bio-crops because of unfounded, unscientific fears," Bush said.

In other words, Bush couldn't care less about aid to poor countries. He was just using this speech as a prop in our ongoing GM food war with the Europeans and as a way to curry favor with American agricultural interests.

Are we surprised?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:23 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (35)

PARIS AIR SHOW....The biannual Paris Air Show is the latest victim of our campaign to punish the French:

With French-American relations still cool over France's opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, major U.S. aerospace firms have dramatically scaled back or canceled their participation in the world's oldest and biggest industry gathering.

...."Almost every company is cutting back because the Department of Defense won't be there" in large numbers, said Joel Johnson, vice president for international affairs for the Aerospace Industries Assn. "The bottom line is that this will be a reduced show."

....Moreover, there will be no U.S. generals with huge entourages prowling the grounds of Le Bourget Field, touting U.S. weapons. And not a single congressional delegation is scheduled to attend, in part because some in Congress still are smarting over French criticism of the Iraq war and disparaging remarks made by France's president about President Bush's decision to invade.

Fine, fine, we're showing the frogs who's boss. I'm down with that.

But can I ask a serious question? What's the point of this air show? If it's really an important event and that's why we usually send loads of people to it, then aren't we doing ourselves a disservice by cutting back our attendance? Are we risking some aspect of national security just to give the French a black eye?

On the other hand, if it's not really a very important event, then why have we been sending all these people in years past? Has it just been a big boondoggle?

What's the story here?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:52 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (19)

ISRAEL AND THE EU....Via Gallowglass comes this report from the Middle East:

[Israeli] Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told a visiting European Union delegation on Tuesday that Israel was considering applying for membership of the bloc.

...."In principle, the minister thinks a possibility exists for Israel to join the EU since Israel and Europe share similar economies and democratic values," he said.

Henry has some thoughts on this, which is more than I can say for myself. Every day I wonder if the world can get any stranger, and every day it does.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:10 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

THE IT GIRLS....Jane Margolis writes in the LA Times today about the lack of women in the IT industry:

Women in equal numbers surf the Web and enjoy instant messaging, but only about 20% of computer science majors are female. Only 17% of high school students taking the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam are female.

....It matters greatly that the inventors, designers and creators of computer technology are mostly males. At the most basic and individual level, girls and women who do not become engaged in the technology are missing the educational and substantial economic opportunities that are falling into the laps of computer-savvy young men.

This reminded me of a post on BurningBird a couple of weeks ago about the difficulties women in IT have with groups dominated by men:

I began to notice a distinctive behavior pattern with this group. There was a very strong dominant male presence, which I know left me feeling pushed out of most of the conversations. When the group fell silent for a few days, and then started up again, another member, a male member, was given credit for rejuvenating the group; and here is me, taking quiet pride in thinking I was the one that had sparked it back to life.

What was worse is that most of the comments I made were ignored. I began to feel invisible. The same old feeling of inadequacy. We had some crankiness among the male members a bit early on, but it smoothed out, and the group went back on track. Again, I hoped I helped on this and I suppose this is a nurturing female type of thing, but I didn't want to be the nurturing female in this one act play.

This is a pretty well known problem, of course, but what made it even more discouraging when I read this was that she was talking about an online group. Even there, where the interpersonal dynamics of male-dominated meetings are muted, she still felt like she was ignored.

I imagine this is at least part of the reason for the relative lack of women in IT: they feel enormously pressured by the obsessive, almost semi-autistic nature of some of their prospective IT colleagues. In most of the IT groups that I've been involved with, you have to be willing to engage in rhetorical near-war in order to be heard, and you have to put up with challenges to your ideas that are so aggressive, so intense, and so basically anti-social that it's almost impossible not to take them as personal affronts. "Forget it, there's no way that will work," followed by an instantaneous change of subject, is a pretty common kind of remark, usually not made with any real malice, but also made with no understanding that it sounds pretty damn intimidating. Unless you're awfully thick skinned, this is an environment that can drain you very quickly.

It's a hard problem from both ends. I've been aware of this problem for a long time, and I try very hard to tone down meetings I'm running where I feel like the guys are hogging the discussion. But even at that, it's a constant struggle on my part not to interrupt constantly. Whether that's because I'm a man or just because I'm Kevin Drum and that's the way I am, I don't know. But I can certainly attest that it's very hard work indeed to tone down both your own behavior and that of the groups you're in charge of, and it leaves no one feeling satisfied. In the end, I doubt that my efforts succeeded other than very marginally.

No answers here, of course, just observations. But hopefully just recognizing the problem will help us to make progress on it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:26 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (51)

TOE SUCKING....It's only May, and of course I don't want to declare any winners yet, but this morning's LA Times certainly contains a leading contender for favorite headline of the year:

Man Guilty in Toe Sucking

OK, OK, I guess it's a serious story. Some youth recreation leader — no, not Dick Morris — was found guilty of sucking on the toes of a dozen young boys, and the Times story makes it pretty clear that he's a troubled young man suffering from a compulsion he doesn't really understand. Still, serious though it may be, it turns out he's now facing up to 300 years in prison, which seems a mite excessive since no one is suggesting the kids suffered any harm.

Back now to our regularly scheduled serious political commentary.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:48 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (5)

9%....I got an email last night from a reader in response to this post about the rich fighting so hard these days to reduce the taxes they pay to support the government. It said, in part:

Will paying taxes actually improve the part of America that helped make these guys rich? Do taxes pay back the part of the country to whom the rich are indebted?

Think about it. How are these rich and talented people indebted to welfare recipients and income redistribution beneficiaries? What did these beneficiaries do for the rich and talented to merit being "paid back"?

My initial reaction was discouragement. This was a smart guy, but he just took it for granted that we should only expect rich and talented people to support government programs that directly benefit them — or might have benefited them in the past. And programs to support the needy, the sick, and the elderly? Why should successful people be expected to pay taxes for that?

It is such a small view of America. We live in the greatest country that the mind of man has yet built, but too many people measure that greatness by little more than their ability to amass a fortune and the fervency of their support for our troops. Why not measure it as well by the fervency of your support for civil liberties, your support for universal education, and your support for decent treatment of the needy, the sick, and the elderly? Isn't that just as much a part of what makes a country great? And doesn't that part make its own contribution to an American culture that has inspired greatness in so many of its people and allowed so many of them to become millionaires in the first place?

Of course it does. Just look at the kid who got a shot only because some public school teacher set him straight when he was 10 and got him off the street. Or the teenager who went to a state university — or perhaps to Harvard — because of a federal loan guarantee. Or the woman who was only able to start up her own company because she wasn't forced to take a job at a warehouse in order to pay for her grandmother's illness — because Medicare paid for it. There are millions of stories like these all across America.

I shook my head, wondering what causes the blinkered vision that doesn't see this and knowing that nothing I could say could really combat it, and then, being the analytical person that I am, I started to think about the question in terms of numbers. And I wondered: rich conservatives complain all the time about welfare programs and income redistribution and all their assorted socialist brethren, but how much do those programs actually cost them? How much does someone who makes a million dollars a year pay for those things?

Well, on the generous assumption that that million dollars is pure salary, our millionaire probably pays about $300,000 in federal taxes. Out of that, he pays about $5,000 to Social Security, $15,000 to Medicare, and roughly $70,000 toward the social welfare programs that make up approximately a quarter of the rest of the federal budget.

That's a total of $90,000 out of that million bucks. The rest of his taxes — $210,000 — pays for national defense, interest on the national debt, building highways and prisons, funding the courts, and so forth. In other words, the vast majority of it goes for all the stuff that no one really complains about.

So that's it. Even if you take the complaint at face value, the stuff they're complaining about — because it doesn't benefit them personally — only amounts to about 9% of our millionaire's salary.

9%. That's what they're fighting so desperately about, and that's what the war over the dividend tax cut is all about: reducing that 9% of their salary that goes not to programs that benefit them directly, but instead to helping the needy, the sick, and the elderly.

9%.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 01:32 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (5) | Comments (215)

May 20, 2003

JAYSON BLAIR SPEAKS....Well, even if nothing else is clear, it sure looks like Jayson Blair is a very, um, animated person, as well as a very troubled one. Was race an issue at the Times? He sure thinks so — but in more ways than one:

"Anyone who tells you that my race didn’t play a role in my career at The New York Times is lying to you," Mr. Blair said. "Both racial preferences and racism played a role. And I would argue that they didn’t balance each other out. Racism had much more of an impact."

Mr. Blair had many opinions about racism at The New York Times. For one thing, he said, "there are senior managers at The New York Times who want African-American reporters to succeed, and there are hundreds of white junior managers who resent that and don’t."

And he also said: "There are a lot of people who are not racist. But there are a lot who are. I have anecdotes upon anecdotes upon anecdotes that I’m not going to share. A book full of anecdotes."

...."I don’t understand why I am the bumbling affirmative-action hire when Stephen Glass is this brilliant whiz kid, when from my perspective—and I know I shouldn’t be saying this—I fooled some of the most brilliant people in journalism," he said. "He [Glass] is so brilliant, and yet somehow I’m an affirmative-action hire. They’re all so smart, but I was sitting right under their nose fooling them."

Mr. Blair continued: "If they’re all so brilliant and I’m such an affirmative-action hire, how come they didn’t catch me?"

And did Howell Raines protect him because he was black? Blair seems to think not:

"Bullshit!" Mr. Blair said, raising his voice. "Protected my ass. I spent days in the smoking room. Days of my life in the smoking room, complaining about how I wasn’t protected. Protected by whom? Was it Gerald, who was constantly trying to block me at every turn? Was it Howell, who didn’t know me? Was it Lelyveld, who didn’t care? Was it Bill Keller [the former managing editor], who didn’t give a shit? Which one was it? Was it Soma [Soma Golden Behr, an assistant managing editor], who only cares about pretty Jewish girls at The New York Times? Which one was protecting me? Mike Oreskes? Who? Al Siegal, who doesn’t speak to people?"

OK then. At any rate, this New York Observer interview should have plenty of grist for people on all sides of the great Jayson Blair debate. Read the whole thing.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:01 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (10)

24 FINALE....Hey, how about that season finale of 24?

Kinda disappointing, actually. They just left too many loose ends for the last episode, I think, and couldn't tie them all down in a single hour.

Still, gotta give them credit. Ten minutes after David Palmer told his cabinet that he wasn't going to hold a grudge over their ousting him from the presidency because "it's not a mistake you're likely to make again," he keels over, obviously forcing his VP (in next season's first episode, natch) to do exactly that. Very droll indeed.

(And how about some help from the law profs here? Near the end of the episode the VP "repeals" his decision and puts David Palmer back in charge. Granted, they've played sort of fast and loose with the 25th Amendment already, but there's nothing in the amendment that allows him to do that, is there? The president is required to send a declaration to Congress that he's fit to serve. So what's up? Jeff?)

Anyway, the final episode of 24 is now history, Survivor is over, and The Bachelor has made his choice, which means there's nothing left except the bleak prospect of a long, dreary, TV-less summer. What shall we do to amuse ourselves?

There's always blogging, I suppose.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:31 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (17)

PAYING BACK....In the Warren Buffet op-ed I mentioned below, he also says this about the fact that both he and his receptionist pay about the same tax rate even though he's a zillion times richer than her:

She's not complaining: Both of us know we were lucky to be born in America. But I was luckier in that I came wired at birth with a talent for capital allocation -- a valuable ability to have had in this country during the past half-century. Credit America for most of this value, not me. If the receptionist and I had both been born in, say, Bangladesh, the story would have been far different. There, the market value of our respective talents would not have varied greatly.

This is such an important point, because wealthy conservatives are forever crying that it's our money, dammit, and we earned it via hard work. Why should we have to pay a higher tax rate than anyone else?

Yes, rich people are often rich because of their innate talents and hard work. But as Buffett points out, they are also rich because the culture they live in helped them along. If Bill Gates had grown up in Pakistan, he might be worth a few million dollars, but growing up in Seattle he ended up worth $50 billion. So of that $50 billion, how much is due to his innate talent and hard work and how much is due to the fact that he grew up in America?

The answer is obvious. America was responsible for a big chunk of Bill Gates' fortune, which is why it makes sense that he should be asked to pay more to keep the country going. But instead the ultra-rich fight tooth and nail these days to pay as little as they possibly can. Why are they so begrudging about paying back a country that has given them so much?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:12 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (29)

LIBERAL CRANKS....The modern conservative movement has been funded in large part by people like Richard Mellon Scaife and Joseph Coors, rich conservative cranks who have been spreading their money around since Goldwater's defeat in 1964. A couple of months ago I asked Eric Alterman, "Why aren’t there any rich liberal cranks like Scaife willing to fund liberal think tanks?" Here's what he said:

The genius of what Scaife and Coors and those people did is, they just threw manure onto a field and decided to see what grew. What Scaife did is, he just gave everybody money, he said, fine, let’s see what grows, whereas liberals are much more focused on programmatic money....They want control, they want reports; they don’t fund basic research, they don’t fund operating expenses.

Now, here is gazillionaire investor Warren Buffett in the Washington Post yesterday:

The taxes I pay to the federal government, including the payroll tax that is paid for me by my employer, Berkshire Hathaway, are roughly the same proportion of my income -- about 30 percent -- as that paid by the receptionist in our office.

....Now the Senate says that dividends should be tax-free to recipients. Suppose this measure goes through and the directors of Berkshire Hathaway (which does not now pay a dividend) therefore decide to pay $1 billion in dividends next year. Owning 31 percent of Berkshire, I would receive $310 million in additional income, owe not another dime in federal tax, and see my tax rate plunge to 3 percent.

And our receptionist? She'd still be paying about 30 percent, which means she would be contributing about 10 times the proportion of her income that I would to such government pursuits as fighting terrorism, waging wars and supporting the elderly. Let me repeat the point: Her overall federal tax rate would be 10 times what my rate would be.

Hey, he sounds pissed! And his riches make Scaife look like a small time piker. So what do you say, Warren, how about taking up a late career as a rich liberal crank? We could use you.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:12 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (34)

GUNS AND CINDER BLOCKS....Like Matt Yglesias, I don't usually bother to blog about gun issues. I don't know much about guns, I don't have very strong opinions about them, and it's so hard to find honest information about gun issues that it's just not worth the trouble.

On the other hand, it does look as if CNN played fast and loose with a report on guns the other day. First off, there's an argument about what kinds of guns are affected by the assault weapons ban and whether they're really any different from other, legal guns. That's just the usual he-said-she-said gun stuff and I don't care much about it. But then there's this:

In the first of the two segments that aired Thursday, a Broward County detective fired the AK-47 in semiautomatic mode, and the camera showed bullets hitting a cinder-block target. The detective then fired a legal semiautomatic weapon, and CNN showed a cinder-block target with no apparent damage. On Friday, CNN admitted that the detective had not been firing at the cinder block.

Now, this story is from the Washington Times and the author is Robert Stacy McCain, so it's probably best to keep an open mind until CNN responds. On the other hand, it's been nearly a week and CNN doesn't seem to have cleared things up yet. They probably ought to get cracking.

UPDATE: It turns out CNN ran a corrected report yesterday. In comments, Unlearned Hand points to AR15.com, which helped CNN tape the followup report. These guys seem to be convinced that the original report was faulty due to carelessness, not dishonesty, and appear to be happy with the sincerity of CNN's followup. Since they're the ones with the biggest beef, I'll defer to their opinion. The CNN report may have been sloppy, but apparently it wasn't mendacious.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (16)

TELEMARKETING....Remember that a few months ago Congress passed a bill that established a national do-not-call list? Put your name on this list and shazam — no more telemarketers! Happy days!

Well, not quite:

The federal law doesn't cover banks, airlines or phone companies or calls made within a state.

Banks and phone companies! Can you imagine how that little bit of lobbying went down?

Hell, half the calls I get are from banks, airlines, and phone companies, so what good does this law do? And that's not to mention that it also exempts surveys, charities, and political canvassing.

Oh, and the maximum fine for violating the law is $11,000.

Crikey.

POSTSCRIPT: And since yesterday I responded to a libertarian, today I'll ask the libertarians a question: what's your take on this law? Is it unwarranted government intrusion into a voluntary (?) commercial transaction between consumers and telemarketers? Or are the telemarketers infringing on our property rights by tying up our phone lines against our wishes?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:47 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (16)

JESSICA LYNCH RE-REVISITED....Did the U.S. military stage the rescue of Jessica Lynch? The BBC says, essentially, yes, and the warbloggers say, essentially, that the BBC just hates America. But the entire dispute seems to be over this single paragraph (as quoted in the Guardian):

"It was like a Hollywood film. They cried, 'Go, go, go', with guns and blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show - an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors." All the time with the camera rolling. The Americans took no chances, restraining doctors and a patient who was handcuffed to a bed frame.

I didn't even notice this the first time I read it, but the Iraqi doctor quoted here says the American forces fired blanks, and Instapundit and others say that's ridiculous. No special ops team would go into a potentially dangerous situation with their guns loaded with blanks.

Absent any further evidence I'm inclined to agree with that, and in any case an Iraqi doctor is unlikely to be an authority on whether a gun is shooting blanks or not. But that's really a side issue. The question is, did the army know beforehand that there were no hostile forces at the hospital where Lynch was kept? As it turns out, of course, there weren't, so who were the soldiers firing at? Was there any resistance at all? Since the army has already shredded their credibility by lying about Lynch's "gunshot wounds," these are reasonable questions to ask.

What's more, all of this could be completely put to rest if the army simply released the raw tape of the entire rescue, not just the highly edited 5-minute version that was given to the press. But they won't.

It's unlikely to the point of absurdity that releasing the raw tape would divulge any important secrets of operational security, so the only plausible reason for witholding it is that it would embarrass them. Bottom line: the army can put this issue to rest any time they want, so they should stop complaining about the BBC's coverage until they do. What are they afraid of?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:26 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (60)

HANS BLIX....Ted Barlow reminds me of something I've been meaning to ask: when are the war supporters going to apologize to Hans Blix? They spent months attacking him furiously for not finding WMD, accusing him of rank incompetence at best and being an anti-American Saddam supporter at worst.

But now it turns out that there wasn't any WMD to find. Blix and his team obviously did a pretty competent job, they criticized Saddam's lack of cooperation, and they presented the facts as they found them. And if it was a mistake to start up inspections, that mistake was George Bush's, not Hans Blix's. He was just doing his job, and in retrospect it looks like he did it pretty well.

Any disagreement about that?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:49 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (37)

FREE SPENDING REPUBLICANS....Twenty years ago I would have described myself as socially liberal and fiscally moderate to conservative. It was too bad, I thought at the time, that there was no political party that really represented me.

Today, of course, that's no longer true. For some time I've been making the case to my friends that Democrats are no more free-spending than Republicans — they just want to spend money on different things — and as the years have gone by it seems like I can go even further: Republicans actually tend to spend more than Democrats. It's just that they'd rather spend it on farm subsidies than prescription drugs.

Anyway, Daily KOS links to a story today in USA Today indicating that my intuition about this is true: Republicans really do spend more than Democrats. He's got all the details.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:34 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (55)

May 19, 2003

DID KHRUSHCHEV BLINK?....If JFK had lived, would he have pulled out of Vietnam? Fred Kaplan has an interesting article in Slate today arguing persuasively that he would have.

The article makes a point that I've always thought was an interesting one. As we now know, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended when Kennedy made a deal with Khrushchev: they pulled their missiles out of Cuba in exchange for us pulling ours out of Turkey. As Kaplan points out, Kennedy made this deal over the opposition of virtually every one of his advisors.

In other words, the hawks were wrong. Kennedy was as tough a cold warrior as anyone, but we didn't win because he stared down Khrushchev and made him blink, we won because he was smart enough to take a good deal when he saw it. Was he rewarding bad behavior? Did he encourage the Soviets to try something similar again? No. The Cuban Missile Crisis certainly wasn't the end of Soviet adventurism, but Khrushchev was kicked out of office shortly after that and the Soviets never again threatened us directly.

The real lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis isn't that standing firm at all costs is the only way to conduct international relations. Sure, you need to be steady and resolute, but the real lesson is that you face the world the way it is, you don't overreact to every provocation, and you make the best deals you can. This is a lesson that the neocons in the Bush administration ought to take to heart.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:47 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (51)

AIDS....Remember that $15 billion that Bush promised in his State of the Union address to fight global AIDS? Well, Jeanne d'Arc has been looking into it and says there's a lot less there than meets the eye.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:10 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)

DAS KAPITAL....Was Karl Marx the original Victorian day trader? David Adesnik says yes.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:43 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (0)

IS IT INCOMPETENCE?....OR WORSE?....Dan Drezner, who is considerably more sympathetic to the Bush administration than I am, has this to say today:

This administration has a peculiar pathology. It focuses like a laser beam on a key priority for several months, ignoring any criticism from outsiders. It then achieves its priority, earning plaudits for gutsiness and discipline. Immediately afterwards, however, drift sets in, unexpected complications arise, events beyond the Bush team's control create new obstacles to policy implementation, and things appear to fall apart.

The policy drift has occurred four times in this administration -- after the passage of the 2001 tax cut, after the fall of the Taliban, after the 2002 mid-year election, and, alas, after the victory in Iraq.

This is why the question of motivation in politicians is so important. Do these things happen because the Bush administration is just not very competent? Or do they happen because they never really believed in their policies in the first place?

Frankly, I can forgive a lack of competence. If Bush is truly dedicated to doing the right thing in Iraq, but it's just taking longer than he expected to get things right — well, in that case it's only a matter of time until he finds the right formula. The world being what it is, I can live with that.

But it sure doesn't seem that way. I tried awfully hard to give Bush the benefit of the doubt before the war — not easy given my personal contempt for his policies — but I finally concluded that he wasn't truly serious about rebuilding Iraq after the war. Competence may indeed be an issue, but unlike Dan, I don't think it's the whole story.

And it's a peculiar story, too. It's one thing for me to find fault with Bush when he does things I just flatly disagree with, but it's quite another in a case like this where I actually agree with his stated policy. Not only do I think we should commit substantial resources to Iraq, and not only has Bush claimed that he wants to do this too, but it's also in our best interests to do this since a stable, successful Iraq would be an enormous benefit to America in the Middle East. So why not pull out all the stops? Instead of a highly promoted speaking tour to push his tax plan, why not a highly promoted speaking tour to convince the American public that they should be ready and willing to support a long, difficult, and costly postwar reconstruction plan?

Unfortunately, the only answer I can come up with is that Bush isn't really very serious about it. He thinks that committing lots of money and lots of troops over a long period is an electoral loser, so he's not willing to fight for it.

What other plausible explanation is there? I know I have some readers who support Bush, so what do you say? What do you think explains all this?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:31 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (53)

FEELINGS....Roy Edroso is feeling....not too bad today:

Hey, how ya doin'? Okay? Me? Oh, can't complain. Earlier, I was briefly made angry by this guy, who has figured out on his digital slide rule that conservatives are better writers than liberals (he also says, if I'm reading him right, that conservatives are more fun, more intelligent, and more polite; have better breath, whiter teeth, and stronger erections; and their shit don't smell). Elsewhere, usual suspect Jonah Goldberg wrote, "I believe that in the far-flung future we will live in houses full of woods (real or synthetic) and greens and eat increasingly luxurious meals." Yeah, I thought, if by "we" he means himself and his fellow tenured conservatives; the rest of us will probably only see trees if our concentration camps happen to be located on National Park land.

But I was too busy to keep up my anger over things like this. I am struggling to keep many balls in the air (some of them weighing thirty pounds and studded with razor blades), and that prevents me from paying too much mind to the hoots and gibberings coming from the fever swamps. In fact, these days my best moments come when I am perfectly poised between anger at an unjust fate and anger at morons with modems. At such moments I briefly forget who to be mad at, and am content.

Note: I am not endorsing this plainly unfair and over-the-top attack on conservatives. Well, not really, anyway. Unless, um, I wake up in a bad mood or something.

But I did think it was an entertaining rant and thought I would share it with you all.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (12)

HATFILL UPDATE....The FBI suspects Steven Hatfill of being involved in last year's anthrax mailings, so they've been following him around ever since. On Saturday night Hatfill got tired of it and went over to take a picture of the driver of an FBI car that he says was tailgating him and driving aggressively:

Hatfill told officers he walked up to the automobile with the camera to take the picture when the driver drove off and ran over Hatfill's right foot. The report states that Hatfill refused medical treatment at the scene and that after investigation, Hatfill was issued a citation for "walking to create a hazard" and fined $5.

Man, Washington is a tough town, isn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:15 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (7)

JUST ASKING....Pandagon today:

Last Thursday I was at a store in Delaware, buying "spirits", shall we say. I had two bottles in my hand - one Skyy, one Grey Goose. A clerk comes up to me, as I'm picking between fairly expensive vodkas, and asks me if I'd like to know where the malt liquor is.

Say, um, Jesse, you wouldn't happen to be one of those non-white folks I hear so much about, would you?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:01 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

GAY PARTNERS....For some reason Eugene Volokh has recently gotten interested in the question of whether gay men have a lot more sexual partners than straight men. This isn't something that I've ever looked into (or cared much about), but I have to admit that Eugene has found a couple of pretty egregious statistical abuses in this area:

Eugene was presumably able to look up the original sources for these statistics because he has easy (and free) access to both a research library and online versions of scholarly journals. Most of us don't.

There's not much we can do about it either. So just let this be yet another lesson showing that you can't believe everything you read.

Not that blog readers ever would anyway....

UPDATE: After reading through the comments, I'm feeling guilty for not posting the numbers that Eugene suggested were the most accurate he could find. I can't vouch for these myself, but here they are:

Partners in
Last Year

Partners in
Last 5 Years

Partners
Since Age 18

Straight Men

1.7 ± .3

4.8 ± .6

16.9 ± 3

Gay and Bisexual Men

2.9 ± .8

16.7 ± 7

26.6 ± 11.5

Straight Women

1.3 ± .1

2.2 ± .2

5.2 ± .6

Lesbian and Bisexual Women

5.7 ± 7

10.1 ± 9

19.9 ± 10.5

The variances on some of these figures are so high that it's hard to know how seriously to take them (5.7 ± 7 seems to indicate a negative number as the lower bound for one of them), but at any rate they are almost certainly a lot more realistic than the ones above.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (49)

INTERVENTION....Libertarian blogger Arthur Silber — who's a cat lover, so we'll forgive him — wants to know why conservatives believe in intervention abroad but not at home. Conversely, why do liberals believe in government intervention at home but shy away from it abroad?

Well, speaking just for myself, the answer is pretty obvious: I believe in interventions that have a reasonable chance of working. Even if the cause is just, military force is a blunt instrument, and there are very few instances where it's the most effective approach.

Domestic economic policy, on the other hand, is quite different. Conservatives like to pretend that government intervention in the economy is routinely disastrous, but that's simply not backed up by the record. Our society is indeed an enormous and complex patchwork of government regulations of various kind, and while some of them are maddening and others ineffective, in the main they've worked quite well. Regulated capitalism is the most effective economic machine we've yet discovered, and it works far better than either centrally planned economies or libertarian style unregulated economies. I think there are quite a number of African countries where you can find an unregulated libertarian paradise if you're inclined to test this theory out.

(And just for the hell of it, here's a short list of major government interventions that have worked spectacularly well: the Federal Reserve, universal public education, securities regulation, the Wagner Act, Social Security, unemployment insurance, the interstate highway system, the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, state university systems, the FDA, NAFTA, and GATT. Are they perfect? No, not by a long way. Are there others that have failed? Sure, but we actually do a pretty good job of reforming or killing the bad ones. In the main, the major government acts of the 20th century have been both enormously popular and enormously effective.)

At the same time, let me also point out that conservatives are hardly the non-interventionists Arthur paints them as. They are generally favorable to the interests of big business, true, but that's a far different thing. Conservatives tend to be very friendly indeed to economic intervention as long as it helps their corporate pals, and also very friendly to government intervention in social affairs.

Of course, I'm not aware of a libertarian anywhere who's actually opposed to all government intervention, only to specific types of intervention. So, like the fabled woman who would sleep with a man for a million dollars but not for fifty, it's not really a matter of principle at all, is it? We're just dickering over price.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:09 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (55)

MARKETING ANSWER....Answer to yesterday's marketing question: revenue went down. A lot of people bought the unlimited license just because they didn't want the hassle of worrying about how many pages they were going to print, not because they actually thought they were going to print more than 200,000 pages per month. For many large customers, this was worth paying an extra $5,000.

The million-page-per-month license didn't provide this advantage, so nobody bought it. They just bought a 200,000-page license instead. In the previous year, the company had sold several hundred unlimited licenses, but this year, after the change, they sold less than a hundred of the million-page licenses, while sales of 200K licenses went up. The revenue loss was substantial.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:58 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)

GOLF PROS RUNNING SCARED?....I'm amazed at the amount of attention that Annika Sorenstam is getting for entering a men's golf tournament. That is, I'm not surprised at the media attention it's getting — after all, "battle of the sexes" is always an audience favorite — but at the reaction from the players:

"It's going to take a tremendous amount of discipline," said Graham, who also said she wouldn't be surprised to learn of player withdrawals this week, with the whispered reason being "I don't want to get beat by a woman."

Are these guys seriously upset at the possibility of getting "beat by a girl"? It's kind of hard to believe.

In other women's sports news, Martina Navratilova, age 46, won her third doubles title of the year, this one at the Italian Open, a major tournament. That's just amazing.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:52 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (14)

TERM PAPERS....The LA Times has a long article today about the disappearance of the term paper from high school English classes:

A report by the National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges, a panel of academics gathered by the College Board, found that 75% of high school seniors never receive writing assignments in history or social studies

....Dawn Damron, co-chairwoman of the English department at Chino High, said that students in almost all grades have to do some research, but that it is up to each teacher to decide the length and frequency of writing assignments. Most teachers concentrate on making sure students can "coherently write a five-paragraph essay," because that is the type of writing that students must complete on timed standardized tests, she said.

....As a new teacher three years ago at Granger High School in West Valley City, Utah, Michelle Harper didn't foresee the stress of classes of 30 to 35 students. In her first year on the job, she assigned her English students a 10-page research paper.

"Wow, it took me a long time to correct. Every waking moment I had a paper in my hand, so that if I got a second I could read it," she said. "The next time around I decided that I shouldn't have to give up everything ... for research papers. We tried it a little smaller: five pages."

Now, they have been whittled down even more: "I don't assign more than a typewritten page anymore."

I don't really have much to say about this except to wonder about this business of the average teacher having to grade 150 papers (five classes, 30 kids per class). Aren't term papers of the 10-page variety limited to college prep classes? Surely it's possible to limit any single teacher to no more than one or two honors classes, and if they assign two term papers a year that's a pretty reasonable grading load. I had a very good (and traditional) English teacher in high school, but even she didn't assign more than two papers in a year.

This is really a shame too, and not just because high school kids don't learn to write. Speaking from a business perspective, my problem was never really with people who couldn't write, it was with people who couldn't figure out what they wanted to say. After all, if the content is there, fixing the grammar and sentence structure is fairly easy, but if someone is just flailing with the content, there's not much you can do.

The value of term papers, I suspect, is less the writing practice than it is the research and outlining practice. If you can do the research, and make sense out of it, you're 90% there. A fine prose style is icing on the cake.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:40 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (9)

TOO POLITE....Normally, I heartily approve of the Canadian tendency to be more polite than Americans. But this is taking it too far.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:23 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (5)

May 18, 2003

FEMINISTS!....The Handmaid's Tale is the story of a theocratic future society in which women are strictly controlled and used primarily for breeding purposes. A few days ago James Lileks pondered the possibilities of getting a novel published with the opposite theme, but dismissed it. "Doubtful even Regnery would touch it," he said.

Well, maybe not today, but how about in 1971? Henry Farrell has the goods.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:05 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (40)

STRAIGHT FROM BAGHDAD....Ampersand has a summary of the latest from Salam Pax. He's not impressed.

No wonder the war partisans don't like him anymore....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:31 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (6)

THE MISSING WMD....THEORY XVII....Über-hawk Kenneth Adelman offers up yet another possible explanation for the missing WMD:

"It's just very strange," said Kenneth Adelman, a member of a Pentagon advisory board who had predicted weapons would be found a month ago. "There will certainly not be the quantity and proximity that we thought of before." Adelman says Hussein may even have launched "a massive disinformation campaign to make the world think he was violating international norms, and he may not have been."

The weird thing is that I might even buy this theory if I had a couple of drinks in me. The idea that Saddam no longer had WMD but couldn't stand the thought of fessing up to this — well, it kinda fits his personality, doesn't it? He just had to be the biggest, meanest kid on the block. And who knows? Being the out of touch guy that he is (was?), maybe he never believed that we'd actually invade.

It is truly an Alice in Wonderland world we live in, isn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:55 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (55)

SPEED LIMIT....Hmmm, apparently Britain has a new record holder for breaking the speed limit:

Britain's fastest speeding motorist, a banned driver who was caught on a police camera driving at 156.7mph on a dual carriageway was jailed for five months yesterday.

....His vehicle, a £45,000, 3.2 litre BMW M3, was noticed first by road traffic officers with Grampian Police who called their counterparts in Tayside Police. McAllister was stopped on the outskirts of Dundee.

McAllister had already been banned from driving, and in addition to his 5-month jail sentence he was also banned for another four years. But then there's this:

The previous record for a car driver caught by speed cameras in Britain was 155mph, recorded by George MacLean, a Porsche driver from Inverness, in 1990.

The fastest speed measured on a British road was recorded three years ago by Daniel Nicks, who reached 175mph on a 900cc Honda Fireblade motor-cycle on a road in Hertfordshire and was jailed for six weeks.

Sheesh, a Porsche driver couldn't outgun a BMW M3? What's the world coming to?

And I wonder if it's really such a good idea for the Telegraph to publish these speeding records anyway? It just gives people something to shoot for.

(Although it does sort of make me wonder what the speeding record is in California....)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:42 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (8)

CONGRATULATIONS....Two of my favorites bloggers have birthdays today: Mark Kleiman is 52 and Matt Yglesias is 22. Matt also reports that he will be graduating magna cum laude, so special congratulations to him.

And in other May 18th news....it's also my anniversary today: Marian and I have been married for 12 years. Don't we look cute in our wedding picture? I think we're planning to get each other a new refrigerator as an anniversary present. Gotta help out the ol' economy by purchasing some new (and more energy efficient!) durable goods.

The two flower girls in the picture are now juniors in high school, of course, and I weighed 30 pounds less back then too. My how time flies....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:32 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (16)

AN INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD DEAN....Liberal Oasis has an email interview with Howard Dean up today. Check it out.

I think it's nice that Dean gave an interview to a blogger, and it looks like it really was him answering the questions. I've always thought that email interviews with politicians were problematic because (a) it's too easy to just regurgitate campaign talking points in email, and (b) it's too easy to assign the interview to a staffer. Who would know?

Like I said, however, this sounds like it's really Dean, which makes this answer to a question about his opposition to the Iraq war immensely frustrating:

Frankly, I've never understood why [Bush] was concentrating on Iraq, which had been successfully contained for twelve years, while every day a country like North Korea develops its nuclear capability.

OK, then, Dr. Dean, what do you think we should be doing about North Korea?

But there was no followup. Argggh.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:33 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (26)

BOOKS....Every once in a while I read a really spectacular book. Not just a good book, but something that really knocks me flat. So far in my life there have been five of these books. Here they are, along with the year I read them:

This isn't a list of every book I've ever liked, of course (that list is here, if you're interested, although it hasn't been updated for a few years), but these are the ones that have really stood out. Some observations:

  • I seem to have a weakness for really long books. Crime and Punishment is probably the only one on the list that clocks in under half a million words.

  • Despite the fact that 80% of my fiction reading is science fiction, there's not a single sf title on the list (although there is one epic fantasy). I don't know why.

  • About half my reading is nonfiction, but there's only one nonfiction book on the list.

And here's the most important point of all: I seem to run into these books about once every five years, which means that I'm due. The next knock-me-for-a-loop book ought to be heading my way any time now. I can't wait!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:08 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (7) | Comments (71)

MARKETER FOR A DAY....How would you like to try your hand at some high-tech marketing? Here's a case study in pricing to contemplate.

Company X sells a software product designed for specialized, high speed formatting and printing, and it's licensed based on the number of pages you are allowed to print per month on a single printer. The exact pricing isn't critical, but here it is anyway:

Pages Per Month

Price

500

$795

25,000

$3,000

75,000

$5,000

200,000

$9,000

Unlimited

$14,000

Normally you buy one license of the software for each printer you have, but with the latest version of the software there's a problem: the product allows you print virtually. That is, you can "print" to a hard disk, not a printer, and the file that's created can then be printed later using ordinary (and cheaper) software. Thus, instead of buying one license for each printer, it's possible that someone might buy just one unlimited license of Company X's software, format and print everything virtually, and then use other software to perform the actual hardcopy printing.

What to do? Company X's answer was to eliminate the unlimited license and replace it with a 1 million page per month license at the same price. Customers with large volumes can still buy a large license, but they can't use a single license to format and print an infinite volume.

Question: what will be the result of this change in licensing policy? Will it increase overall revenue, decrease it, or have no significant effect?

Go ahead and leave your guesses in comments. The interesting thing is that this experiment is being run right now by a real company, which means I can tell you how it turned out. Answer tomorrow.

UPDATE: Answer is here.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:02 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (11)

CONSERVATIVES....Ah, conservatives. If they didn't exist, we'd have to invent them.

Political theorist Patrick Ruffini posits today that conservative bloggers — aside from being "beautiful prose stylists" — are more cosmopolitan and flexible than us libs:

....advocacy-wise, lefty bloggers make the most of their limited traffic by being very party line on Bush and most domestic issues. The "righties" aren't. About the only things they've been consistent on is France and Saddam, and both issues are declining in importance.

This kind of stuff is always a bit silly, I suppose, but when you include Little Green Footballs and Steven Den Beste as examples of cosmopolitan flexibility, haven't you gone beyond silly and entered some kind of parallel universe?

Now, we can argue about whether or not Atrios is a beautiful prose stylist, but the idea that the famously fractious left is some kind of disciplined monolith — well, we can only dream about such things, can't we? So if you want some entertainment, click on the link to Patrick's post above, read the hilarious, almost self-parodic procession of comments, and then leave one of your own. You'll feel better after you do.

But be nice, OK? We might be monolithic, but we should always be polite too.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:38 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

May 17, 2003

FACTS AND FIGURES....The Economist just sent me the 2003 pocket edition of World in Figures, presumably because I renewed my subscription last month. I just love this kind of stuff. Here are some highlights:

  • Lebanon has the highest car ownership: 732 per thousand people. The United States is 12th, at 481 cars per thousand people. We've got some serious catching up to do, folks.

  • Japan has the highest median age in the world: 41.2. In 2020 Switzerland will be on top, with a median age of 48.9. Wow — 48.9.

  • The highest quality of life in any major city is allegedly to be found in Zurich, which I find hard to believe unless clean and dull are your main criteria. Of the top 14 cities, only one is in North America: Vancouver.

  • The lowest teenage birthrate in the world is in North Korea. I wonder how they collected that data?

  • Even after a decade of recession in Japan and a decade of boom times in America, Japan's per capita GDP is still higher than ours: $38,160 vs. $34,940.

  • On the other hand, in terms of per capita purchasing power, the United States is way ahead of everyone except Luxembourg.

  • What's the deal with Luxembourg, anyway? Why are they so rich?

  • The United States is only the 8th largest consumer of tea, but we are by far the largest consumers of both coffee and cocoa. I feel a surge of pride in our cocoa consuming abilities.

  • In the "innovation index," we come in second to Canada. Canadians are more creative than us!

  • The country least likely to pay bribes is Australia. Who knew the Aussies were so honest?

  • The lowest marriage rate in the world is in Ireland: 2.1 per thousand. Why aren't the Irish getting married? (The only other western European country that even makes the list is Belgium.)

  • The highest divorce rate is in the United States.

  • Finland is the least corrupt country in the world. Good for them. The United States is tied for 16th with Israel.

  • Saudi Arabia has the biggest households: 7.6 people per dwelling. Sweden is lowest at 2.0. (The United States clocks in at 2.5.)

  • The lowest cost of living in the world is in Iran. Make it your retirement home! The lowest cost of living in an English-speaking country is in New Zealand, which also has lots of sheep and many beautiful fjords. That might be a better bet, actually.

  • Canada has more VCRs per household than us. So does Denmark. Hmmm....

  • The United States has 97 million internet hosts. Japan is second with 7 million, and Canada is third with 3 million. We seem to have a sizable lead.

  • We lead in every Nobel Prize category except Literature. France has 14 NobLit prizes compared to our 12.

UPDATE: Regarding Canadian creativity, reader Stan Jones points out that the retractable beer-carton handle was invented by a Canadian. Enough said.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:25 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (41)

INTELLIGENCE....Just a quick followup about Andrew Sullivan's comment yesterday that "our intelligence caused Bush and Blair to commit extraordinary errors in front of the entire world."

It's ironic, isn't it? The CIA spent most of the 80s issuing dire warning about Soviet strength, warnings that we now know were completely wrong. By the time Reagan came to office, the Soviet Union was already teetering on the economic edge, and the CIA was completely off base about both their economic and military strength.

This embarrassed them, and so by the 90s they had rightfully decided to be more cautious in their assessments. Then came 9/11, and the Pentagon, having decided that the CIA was now just a bunch of analysis-paralysis weenies, set up the Office of Special Plans to take a more aggressive look at intelligence data.

Well, now it looks like the OSP was wrong about Saddam's WMD, but who's getting the flack? The CIA.

These guys just can't win, can they?

(And while we're on the subject, am I the only lefty who finds it a bit disconcerting that I sort of feel sorry for the CIA these days...?)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:36 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

SYMBOLS....Mac Diva talks today about the Georgia state flag, the fall of Roy Barnes, and the meaning of symbols.

Mac says of the current flag proposal, "My inclination is to accept the new design." I agree. Yes, it contains some Confederate symbolism — more than it should, as I mentioned a few weeks ago — but it's pretty obvious that there isn't much emotional energy associated with it, the way there is with the battle flag motif. In fact, the heated opposition of the neo-Confederates to the design is probably a pretty good sign all by itself that it's basically OK.

Let's hope Georgians do the right thing next year and put this to rest once and for all.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:06 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (8)

SOFTWARE....Remember that Bill Gates used to say something like "If cars had advanced the way computers have, they'd cost about $10 and get a thousand miles to the gallon"?

Of course, the response was, "And if they ran Windows, they'd be in the shop once a week."

Well, it turns out that reality is a lot like that joke. Monkey Media Report tells us the story.

UPDATE: OK, a bit of Googling confirms that Bill Gates never said this. Apparently, it's just another urban legend.

But a good one.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (4)

MARKETING....You remember all those great marketing screwup stories, right? "Nova" means "doesn't go" in Spanish, the original translation of "Coca Cola" in Chinese meant "bite the wax tadpole," and so forth. (UPDATE: actually, Basharov points out in comments that these are just urban legends. But you get the idea.)

Well, it looks like the Bush administration, masters of marketing that they are, have a problem of their own. Tim Dunlop has the details.

UPDATE: In comments, a reader points us to this New York Post story:

When the U.S. Organization for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid (ORHA) made its first TV broadcast to the Iraqi people Wednesday night, the new channel used as its logo the eight-pointed star seen on many buildings here. If ORHA's head of communication, Margaret Tutwieler, or her staff had consulted with any Iraqis before adopting this logo, they'd have known that the eight-pointed star is the symbol of....the Ba'ath Party.

Um, didn't they even suspect that a symbol found "on many buildings here" might be somehow connected to Saddam Hussein?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:53 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (14)

THOMAS FRIEDMAN....Pandagon quotes this passage from a Matt Taibbi column in the New York Press about Thomas Friedman:

The hallmark of the Friedman method is a single metaphor, stretched to column length, that makes no objective sense at all and is layered with other metaphors that make still less sense. The result is a giant, gnarled mass of incoherent imagery. When you read Friedman, you are likely to encounter such creatures as the Wildebeest of Progress and the Nurse Shark of Reaction, which in paragraph one are galloping or swimming as expected, but by the conclusion of his argument are testing the waters of public opinion with human feet and toes, or flying (with fins and hooves at the controls) a policy glider without brakes that is powered by the steady wind of George Bush’s vision.

This reminds me that I was planning to write a piece about Friedman a while back but never got around to it. My question at the time was, basically, why does practically everyone in the blogosphere, left and right, mock Friedman? He gets an awful lot of grief, but since I don't read him much I didn't really understand why. After all, the guy has a handful of Pulitzers and years and years of on-the-ground experience in the Middle East.

So I asked two bloggers. The first told me it was mainly disappointment: Friedman used to be a good liberal guy, but since 9/11 he's gone nuts. The other thought that Friedman offered "nothing but simple platitudes which don't have much to do with reality."

So I went off and read The Lexus and the Olive Tree to see what Friedman was about, and it turned out they were both correct. And Matt Taibbi too. Lexus is just swimming with metaphors in the place of substance, and what's worse, they're lousy metaphors. Friedman has a tin ear for phrases like "DOScapital" and "Amazon.com vs. Amazon.country," and the book itself is just a simplistic mess that told me nothing I didn't already know.

Hell, I even mostly agree with Friedman — globalization is good, free trade is good, etc. — but trudging through his endlessly strained metaphors and constant name dropping was a real chore. His take on technology was piss poor too, just the ususal pre-crash glorification of all things internet. His columns mostly seem like cotton candy, of the "I saw a fruit stand on my way to work this morning and it reminded me of...." variety, followed by his theory of the day. That might be OK for a blogger, but not for a New York Times columnist on international affairs.

What's really a shame about this is that Friedman does have lots of experience in the Middle East, he speaks Arabic, and he has some good ideas. The final third of Lexus, for example, about the backlash against globalization, was pretty good.

But culling the nuggets from the dross is just too much work.

UPDATE: In comments, Zizka points to this parody of Friedman from The American Prospect. It's hilarious, although I'm not sure how funny it will be if you haven't already read Lexus.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:23 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

POLITICS AND WAR....I'm feeling better after a good night's sleep, thank you very much, but not any better about our president's apparent desire to hightail it out of Iraq as soon as possible. As my readers know, I was mildly in favor of the war, then mildly against, and my turnaround dated from the day that W gave that speech to the American Enterprise Institute pledging his commitment to democracy in Iraq.

That's funny, isn't it? David Adesnik of Oxblog mentioned once that this speech helped to give him confidence that Bush was really committed to doing the right thing, but it had exactly the opposite effect on me. Not only did it take him six months to give the speech, and not only did he do it only under pressure to show that he cared, but when he did give it, it turned out to be nothing more than platitudes. It sounded fake to me, just political cover rather than a statement of deeply held beliefs.

Compare that to Bill Clinton. He was a master of political jiu-jitsu too — he played Newt Gingrich like a violin — but he was also a policy wonk. He listened to Robert Rubin and ran a fiscally responsible government. He said he was in favor of universal healthcare and welfare reform, and he worked hard to deliver on that, even if he did fail on healthcare. He said he was in favor of free trade, and he fought for passage of both NAFTA and GATT. He did the right thing in Kosovo, and then stuck around to try and make it work — with limited success. And he tried hard to strike a deal between Israel and the Palestinians — this time with no success at all.

My point? He didn't succeed at everything he put his hand to — nobody does — but he was truly doing things he thought were good for the country, many of them opposed by large segments of his own party. Of course he played politics at the same time, and played it brilliantly, but it wasn't the sum total of his administration.

But with Bush it seems like politics is everything. There's nothing he actually cares about fighting for unless it's for partisan advantage. Even wars are timed for the best possible partisan effect. Where is the man's soul?

Like I said last night, it's not surprising that I don't like him. I never have. But if the whole Iraq war turns out to be just a political show, and there's no WMD and no democracy and no peace and no commitment, will war partisans stick with him? Is the fact of the invasion itself enough, or will they eventually turn on him if he fails to show a serious commitment to a long-term Middle East policy?

David Adesnik says "May I remind the SecDef that hell hath no fury like an idealist scorned?" Ralph Peters says "It's astonishing, really, that, after fighting such a dynamic, forceful war, we've fallen into moral and practical indolence so readily," and Phil Carter nods in agreement. And Glenn Reynolds says "Is this stuff getting enough attention at the top? And if not, why not?"

These are all people who supported the war. Are they going to hold President Bush to account?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:44 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (31)

May 16, 2003

THOSE MIGHTY, MIGHTY DUCKS....The Lakers may have lost, but at least the Ducks are still kicking ass.

Go Ducks!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:37 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (10)

"AS LONG AS IT TAKES"....By now, we all know that the war in Iraq wasn't really about Saddam's WMD — where did we get that silly idea, anyway? — it was actually about liberating Iraq and bringing democracy to the Iraqi people. How long will we be there? "As long as it takes."

Well, via Matt Yglesias and Oxblog, The New Republic reports on the postwar reality:

At long last, the military brass, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his civilian advisers at the Pentagon, and even the State Department agree about U.S. policy toward Iraq. They all support an administration plan that calls for a fairly rapid drawdown of American forces there: Whereas the United States currently has 130,000 troops in Iraq, by the fall it intends to have just 30,000.

By fall! And this just a few days after Paul Bremer suggests shooting looters on sight because disorder is so bad, Hezbollah is reported to have set up a branch in Baghdad, and the entire country seems to be teetering on the edge of civil war.

Conservatives wonder why we liberals always seem to let our disgust with George Bush overshadow discussions of actual policy. This is why: because you can't trust a word he says. He's not trying to solve problems in a big and complex country, he's just playing political games.

WMD? Saddam and al-Qaeda? Nah, there's not much to it, but it's a story the American public will buy. Go with it.

Liberation of Iraq? Another good story. But let's not get too serious about it.

Bad economy? Sounds like a great opportunity to push some conservative tax cut hobbyhorses, and let's not worry that even conservative economists — not to mention Alan Greenspan — think the whole plan is a crock.

Massive state deficits? Let 'em rot. If they get desperate enough, maybe we'll have a chance to force school vouchers on them.

North Korea? Um, let's not talk about that.

Is there anything — anything at all — that George Bush actually takes seriously? Or is everything in the world nothing more than an excuse to play partisan games?

Of course liberals don't like Bush, but now he's betraying everything that conservatives and war partisans believed in too. How long are they going to continue believing in him?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (5) | Comments (44)

BASKETBALL TRIVIA....The Lakers lost last night, and despite the unseemly gloating of some who might otherwise be thought of as friends, I'm over it. For now.

But I do have a basketball question. Hoops afficionados are forever going on about how the Lakers benefit from biased officiating, usually complaining about (a) rampant 3-second violations and (b) uncalled fouls. Fouls are a judgment call, of course, but it strikes me that postgame reviews could show fairly clearly whether or not Shaq is really getting a break in the lane. So what's the story there?

But here's my main question: assuming for the moment that the complaints are true, and not just the envious whining of less fortunate basketball fans, why are the refs biased? Are they supposedly taking orders from the commissioner's office, which thinks the Lakers are good for business? Is it because the officials are just starstruck by the Laker players? Or what? I understand the conspiracy theory here, but I don't quite understand what the motivation is supposed to be. Why do the refs go so easy on Shaq & Co.?

UPDATE: Chad Orzel, who at 6'6" thinks he ought to get more time in the lane, has some more thoughts about basketball, specifically the taxonomy of pickup hoops.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:37 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (30)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....No theme for today, just some pure I'm-doing-it-because-they're-so-cute! cat blogging. On the left, Inkblot is in one of his favorite spots, hanging over the upper hallway where he can keep an eye on the entire living room below. He is master of all he surveys!

On the right, Jasmine is also in a favorite spot, rolling around on the patio and begging for attention. You will be unsurprised to learn that she usually gets it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:26 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (8)

WMD IN IRAQ....I blogged yesterday about the increasingly imaginative excuses from the war supporters for our inability to find WMD in Iraq — specifically this one from Jim Lacey — and here's what Andrew Sullivan has to say about it:

Ingenious, methinks. But the bottom line here is that our intelligence caused Bush and Blair to commit extraordinary errors in front of the entire world. Where is the accountability for that?

Does this sound like Sullivan has pretty much accepted the fact that we're not going to find WMD? If so, doesn't he think he ought to say just a wee bit more than this about it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:12 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (57)

METROPOLITAN CONSERVATIVES....One more thought on the subject of gay rights. John Derbyshire wrote an interesting and much blogged piece last week in which he said this:

Look at me. I have not the slightest doubt that I am a conservative by thought, feeling and instinct, yet on a lot of the issues that define American conservatism, I barely move the needle from the zero mark on the dial. I have guns but only fire them down at the range once a month, for the satisfaction of it, and to develop confidence in handling them. I have never hunted with guns. I am only feebly religious — feebly Episcopalian, in fact, which is feebleness squared! Homosexuality? I don't like it, and have got myself in a lot of trouble for saying so rather bluntly, but I wouldn't criminalize it. Abortion? Pretty much the same. Creationism? Sorry, I think it's pseudoscience. I'm fine with evolution.

Derbyshire himself may not be voting for a Democrat anytime soon, but I'll bet there's a fair number of his "metropolitan conservatives" who are personally socially liberal and who mostly try to ignore the fact that they are sharing a party with some real bigots.

Let's not let them ignore it any longer.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:04 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (26)

MORE ON GAYS....Is gay rights a good topic for Democrats? Turn it around: is it a bad topic for Republicans? You bet.

Here are three articles on the subject. First, the conservative Washington Times reports that the Christian right is furious not just at the possibility of the Republican party reaching out to gays, but at its mere failure to defend Rick Santorum loudly enough:

"We urged party leaders not to put President Bush's re-election at risk in 2004 by shrinking from the cultural wars now," said Gary Bauer, a Reagan White House domestic policy adviser, who attended last week's meeting with Mr. Racicot.

Social conservatives at the meeting also criticized the "tepid response" by the RNC to attacks on Sen. Rick Santorum after the Pennsylvania Republican was interviewed about a Supreme Court case involving a Texas sodomy law. Mr. Racicot "insisted that they had been stout in their defense of [Mr. Santorum], yet they did not issue any statement defending Santorum," Mr. Weyrich said.

Second, here is the Economist, a neutral observer, on the same topic:

There are still three good reasons to think that the barking from the right may not be entirely toothless. To begin with, social conservatives are not as pragmatic as the deal-doing business conservatives are. They are absolutists, who are willing to go to the stake for certain issues.

Second, social conservatives are now buried deeper inside the Republican establishment than ever before....Anyone who doubts the clout of these Christian conservatives within the party should study the fate of last year's bankruptcy-reform legislation, which the business wing of the party wanted. Social conservatives destroyed the bill because it included a provision designed to crack down on anti-abortion protesters.

A third reason for Mr Bush to worry about social conservatives is that they do have an alternative to voting Republican: they can stay at home. Karl Rove points out that some 4m Christian conservatives who voted in 1994 failed to vote in 2000.

And finally, here is Andrew Sullivan:

There is no question which way the middle of this country is moving. None whatsoever. Santorum, Delay, Robertson, Bauer, Connor, and the rest, represent an increasingly isolated, bitter and angry constituency that is fast losing the argument. The question for the GOP is whether it wants to reach out to a growing and increasingly accepted community, or whether it wants to tie its fate to a group that is out of step with basic standards of American tolerance, equality and compassion.

This is a great wedge issue, folks, and it doesn't have to be about gay marriage. How about federal protection for being fired due to sexual orientation? That has overwhelming support among the electorate but would be almost impossible for Bush to support. How about Social Security survivor benefits for gay partners? That's supported by two-thirds of the electorate, which means virtually all independents and moderates. How about loudly defending Thomas McLaughlin and daring President Bush to do the same? (Oh, and here's the lastest on that.)

Karl Rove wants anything but this to become an issue, and that by itself should be reason enough for Democrats to press it hard. So far, Bush has been able to avoid saying anything about gays that makes him look like a bigot, so our goal should be to make him do just that by forcing him to take a direct stand on a simple, substantive issue. If we can, he either loses about 5-10% of the moderate electorate who are appalled by his opposition, or he loses 5-10% of the far right who are appalled by his support.

What more can you ask for?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:52 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (16)

RED LIGHT CAMERAS REVISITED....Since I posted a few days ago about red light cameras, here's a followup: a local crank activist has won a battle showing that a camera was working improperly at an intersection on Whittier Blvd., forcing Los Angeles County to refund $500,000 in traffic tickets.

You can fight city hall!

A couple of miscellaneous comments from the story:

  • The camera was set to take pictures three seconds after the light turned yellow, but it turned out the light actually stayed yellow for 3.5 seconds. Oops. But why was the timing based on the yellow light anyway? Shouldn't it be set to go off, say, half a second after the light turns red?

  • My favorite comment: "Get rid of the darn things and have human beings issue tickets," said Los Angeles attorney Michael S. Klein. "You may not even know you got a ticket until it comes in the mail weeks later. At that point, there's no way to turn to witnesses and ask them if you really did run the red light."

    Um, yeah. Does he honestly think that people who are pulled over by human cops can actually find witnesses who saw what happened, knew what the problem was, and are still hanging around, ready and willing to testify? It's dumb arguments like this that squander whatever credibility the anti-cam forces might have in the first place.

  • Need to fight a red light ticket? Here's your clearinghouse for information about how to do it.

  • And here's a massive 5-part series in the Weekly Standard from a guy who really doesn't like red light cameras. The biggest substantive complaint seems to be that yellow lights should be longer, and this would cut down on most red light running. I don't know both sides of the story on this, but it certainly sounds plausible. So why not extend the yellow light and have red light cams?

Whew. That's enough. No more about red light cameras.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (16)

PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST....Israeli novelist David Grossman has an op-ed in the LA Times today about the chances for peace in the Middle East. The big question, he says, is whether Ariel Sharon wants peace, and he suggests the answer is probably no. Here's my favorite paragraph:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rebuffed the American request that he freeze construction in Israel's settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, explaining that this construction is essential to providing for the "natural increase" of the settlements' population. Appealing to his guest's Republican heart, Sharon asked: "Do you want the settlers to have abortions?"

It's ironic, of course, that he made this appeal to the pro-choice Colin Powell, but it does seem to indicate that he has no intention of budging on acceptance of the U.S. roadmap.

Generally speaking, when a party to a conflict insists that the other side concede something before negotiations even begin, it shows that they aren't serious. It's defies human nature to think that your opponents will be willing to give something up for nothing, and it's the most commonly used dodge by people who want to say they are willing to negotiate, but also want to make sure that negotiations never actually happen.

And so, as usual, we come back to the main point: will George Bush be willing to put some serious pressure on Sharon? It's plainly obvious that the Palestinians won't give up the right of return except as part of a negotiated settlement, and it's equally obvious that they don't have the ability to completely eliminate terrorism. Insisting on these things is simply a roundabout way of refusing to talk at all.

The next move is up to Bush. With Iraq out of the way, it's time to find out if he's now willing to stand up to the neocon hawks and take some genuine risks in the search for peace. I hope he surprises me.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (24)

A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS....On Tuesday I wrote a post about all those cool backdrops that George Bush has for his speeches and wondered aloud about where they all come from. Today the New York Times tells us:

The White House takes great pride in the backdrops, which are created by [Scott] Sforza, and has gone so far as to help design them for universities where Mr. Bush travels to make commencement addresses. Last year, the White House helped design a large banner for Ohio State as part of the background for Mr. Bush; last week, the White House collaborated with the University of South Carolina to make Sforzian backdrops for a presidential commencement speech in the school's new Carolina Center.

"They really are good," said Russ McKinney, the school's director of public affairs, as he listened to the president.

Television camera crews, meanwhile, say they have rarely had such consistently attractive pictures to send back to editing rooms.

"They seem to approach an event site like it's a TV set," said Chris Carlson, an ABC cameraman who covers the White House. "They dress it up really nicely. It looks like a million bucks."

"Sforzian backdrops." I like that. The high point of Sforza's career so far, of course, was the carrier landing on the Abraham Lincoln:

Media strategists noted afterward that Mr. Sforza and his aides had choreographed every aspect of the event, even down to the members of the Lincoln crew arrayed in coordinated shirt colors over Mr. Bush's right shoulder and the "Mission Accomplished" banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call "magic hour light," which cast a golden glow on Mr. Bush.

Yep, it was a golden glow, all right.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:48 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

THE NAYS OF TEXAS....To me, the whole Texas-Democrats-fleeing-the-state thing seems mostly like one of those hilarious Texas Lege absurdities that Molly Ivins is so good at skewering, but maybe there's more to it. Redistricting in the middle of a decade really is a serious upping of the ante in the political wars, Tom DeLay and his minions do seem to have overreached considerably, and maybe they really did conspire to get the Homeland Security Department involved in the manhunt.

In any case, Josh Marshall is all over this, so if you want the latest goods just go here and start scrolling down.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:02 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

May 15, 2003

STILL SEARCHING FOR THE WMD....As the search for WMD in Iraq starts to look more and more fruitless, I guess it makes sense that war supporters should start floating their explanations for the missing weapons to a limited audience — you know, just in case they need them later. Think of it as a sort of market test to figure out which ones work the best. There are already two standard issue excuses, of course: (a) it was really a war of liberation, and (b) all the WMD got spirited away to Syria before the war started.

But now the stories are starting to get more baroque. Jim Lacey suggests today in NRO that in fact there wasn't any WMD, but Saddam himself was a dupe of his own underlings:

What was in it for Saddam's minions, including his sons, if they were to scrape up the billions of dollars needed to start and maintain a WMD program? All such a program did, from their perspective, is drain off funds they needed for other projects, and draw the unwanted attention of bombers and cruise missiles. In their corrupt minds, a new "love palace" would always be a priority over a WMD site that was likely to be turned into dust as soon as it was discovered. If they shortchanged Saddam on a palace or his Babylon reconstruction there was a strong chance he might notice. However, it would be easy enough to hide that he did not have a WMD program.

Saddam was unlikely to be able to tell the difference between nuclear-grade graphite and pencil lead. What are the chances that the uneducated dictator could tell a centrifuge from a cow-milking machine? By claiming that the program was disbursed at hundreds of different sites, it would ensure that Saddam was never able to visit more then a handful and therefore would not be able to uncover the fraud.

Think of this as the Heisenberg Defense, after German physicist Werner Heisenberg, who claimed after World War II that he tricked Hitler into thinking his team was working on an atomic bomb while in reality they were deliberately spinning their wheels. Unfortunately for the viability of this defense, most people didn't believe Heisenberg.

If this keeps up, we're going to have to run a contest: what's the most bizarre excuse that war partisans can come up with for the missing WMD? My money is on Steven Den Beste to come up with the best one.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:42 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (72)

ECLIPSE....Here's what tonight's lunar eclipse looked like from my backyard. Pretty exciting, eh?

Of course, the whole problem with lunar eclipses is that since the moon waxes and wanes anyway, they don't really look all that spectacular, do they? Still, it does make me wish I had a longer lens for my trusty digital camera.

In any case, if it's full bore "Full Moon Fever" coverage that you lust after, Space.com has you covered.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:16 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (6)

MONOPSONY....You know that a monopoly is when you only have one company in a market, right? The U.S. Postal Service, for example, has a monopoly in first class mail.

Well, a "monopsony" is when you have only one buyer in a market. The Danish national health system, for example, is the only buyer of pharmaceuticals in Denmark.

I don't quite know why Atrios thinks you should know this, but now you do.

FUN FACT: The word is a combination of "mono," meaning "single," and "opsonia," which means "a purchase of fish."

UPDATE: Changed "Canada" to "Denmark." Damn nitpicky commenters....

UPDATE 2: Henry Farrell has more, much more, on the etymology of "opsonia."

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:36 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (15)

THE DLC AND HOWARD DEAN....I think I'm about to reveal some serious political ignorance here, but what the hell. Here goes.

I've been reading all day about the DLC's attack on Howard Dean. Over at Daily KOS, RonK called the DLC memo "an unwarranted, unfounded, overwrought, sorry-assed attack" on Dean, and Atrios said "They've pulled a full rectal-cranial inversion." That sounded mighty juicy, so I went over to read the DLC memo itself.

The memo's purpose, it says, is to shatter "the five most dangerous myths about the Democratic nominating process." Given the DLC's centrist mission, it's no surprise that their main message is that the future of the party depends on appealing to moderates, not liberal activists.

So far, no surprise. But what about Dean? The memo mentions him twice:

  • "Unlike Gov. Howard Dean, we never forget to give the late Sen. Paul Wellstone credit for coining the phrase, 'Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.'"

  • "What activists like Dean call the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is an aberration: the McGovern-Mondale wing, defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home."

Both of those sentences are part of myth #1, and Dean is never mentioned after that. What's more, Dean isn't the only candidate mentioned. Toward the end of the memo, the authors take a shot at Dick Gephardt: "While Gephardt is right to base his candidacy on 'big ideas,' his health plan only underscores the folly of appealing to Democratic activists instead of the Democratic rank-and-file."

The DLC memo is clearly a very strident denunciation of "liberal activists," and they do use Dean as an example of this, but was it really full bore attack on him? Frankly, when you combine the DLC's belief that national security is vitally important with Dean's vocal opposition to the Iraq war, the only surprise to me is that their criticism of him was fairly oblique.

But here's the thing: I'm pretty ignorant of insider politics in the Democratic party, so maybe something that looked like a shot across the bow to me was really a tactical nuclear strike designed to leave Dean gasping for breath. Since I don't know the usual rules of the road for this kind of thing, I can't say.

So what about it, folks? Which was this, shot across the bow or nuclear strike? Help educate me.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:32 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (27)

JESSICA LYNCH UPDATE....The Guardian has a long article today about the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch. Basically, it says that she wasn't shot, she got good care in the Iraqi hospital, and there were no Iraqi soldiers there on the day of the rescue — and the Americans knew it. But even so:

"It was like a Hollywood film. They cried, 'Go, go, go', with guns and blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show - an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors." All the time with the camera rolling. The Americans took no chances, restraining doctors and a patient who was handcuffed to a bed frame.

The BBC has asked the Pentagon to release the complete tape of the rescue, not just the edited version handed out at the time, but the Pentagon has refused. That's hardly suprising, but what is surprising is that even the British military liason, Simon Wren, was furious about the poor job that the Pentagon did with the media:

Towards the end of the conflict, Wren wrote a confidential five-page letter to Alastair Campbell complaining that the American briefers weren't up to the job. He described the Lynch presentation as embarrassing.

Wren yesterday described the Lynch incident as "hugely overblown" and symptomatic of a bigger problem. "The Americans never got out there and explained what was going on in the war," he said. "All they needed to be was open and honest. They were too vague, too scared of engaging with the media." He said US journalists "did not put them under pressure".

Wren, who had been seconded to the Ministry of Defence, said he tried on several occasions to persuade Wilkinson and Brooks to change tack. In London, Campbell did the same with the White House, to no avail. "The American media didn't put them under pressure so they were allowed to get away with it," Wren said. "They didn't feel they needed to change."

....The Pentagon has none of the British misgivings about its media operation. It is convinced that what worked with Jessica Lynch and with other episodes of this war will work even better in the future.

No doubt.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:03 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (51)

MICRO JOURNALISM UPDATE....Despite my skepticism, I'm happy to report that David Appell has raised $370 from "those interested in reading more about sugar, diet, and politics." You know, David, if it had been chocolate, diet, and politics, I might have contributed too.

David has the details here, and promises to finish the story and publish it in late May.

And hey, maybe there really is a business model in the making here. How about some kind of journalism eBay for this kind of stuff? You know, journalists could post story ideas and get bids from potential readers (or editors who just wanted to buy the story outright). If the bids get high enough, the reporter would then go off and work on the story. Alternatively, readers could suggest stories and see if there are any reporters willing to follow them up. Reporters could end up with eBay-style satisfaction rankings based on how highly the bidders think of the delivered product.

Just thinking out loud here....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:50 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (12)

THE MATRIX....Since The Matrix Reloaded has just been released and is in the news, can I ask a question about the first film? Basically, I thought it was pretty good — I didn't quite get the cultish adoration I heard from some of my friends, but it was a perfectly decent piece of entertainment.

But would it have killed the screenwriters to spend about five more minutes to come up with some better excuse for keeping all those humans around than using them as batteries?

Batteries?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (44)

TAX CUTS....Hmmm, Jacob Levy and Megan McArdle are arguing about whether the Senate's current tax cut plan is the worst tax cut ever, or maybe slightly better than that.

You know, when Andrew Sullivan doesn't like your tax plan, and Jacob and Megan are reduced to arguing about whether it's the absolute worst ever or just in the top five — well, you're really losing your base on this issue. Some smart Democratic candidate ought to be able to take advantage of this....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (8)

ECLIPSE...Don't forget the lunar eclipse tonight! It's from about 7 pm to 10 pm on the west coast.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (3)

SHAME....Via Matt Yglesias, I have unfortunately been directed to this....collection of words from Weekly Standard assistant managing editor David Skinner.

Skinner's article almost perfectly encapsulates my problem with conservative attitudes toward race, something that has very little to do with legal or constitutional issues. In fact, let's just stipulate for now that conservative opposition to affirmative action, for example, is entirely principled, that they genuinely think school vouchers are the best way to help minorities, etc. Instead, let's look at what they choose to use their bully pulpit for.

Here's what happened: Skinner read an article in the Washington Post about an obscure and uninteresting correction that was made to a grammar question on the PSAT. But — it turns out that the question was related to novelist Toni Morrison. The correction itself had nothing to do with Morrison, mind you — it was just a weird point of archaic grammar — but the subject of the sentence was indeed Toni Morrison.

And this just chaps Skinner's ass. So he spends his morning churning out 500 words about the sentence in question. Dammit, Toni Morrison is a lousy novelist. She's certainly not a genius. And it's an outrage that the offending sentence was even included in the PSAT.

So here's my question: why did he spend his morning this way? Why is it that seeing that sentence immediately sent him into a rage, and instead of writing a column about tort reform or national security or Democratic healthcare plans he wrote one instead about his opinion that Toni Morrison is overrated?

Emphasis is everything. Regardless of legal issues over race and racism, why spend your time on something like this? Why not write instead about the whites-only prom in Georgia? You don't have to suggest a legal remedy, just use your platform to express your disgust, kick off a letter writing campaign, or organize a demonstration.

But he doesn't, and conservatives rarely do. There's nothing stopping them, of course, they just don't bother. If they mention the Georgia prom at all, it's only to say "It's horrible, of course, but...." and then launch into a diatribe about freedom of association. Why not, instead, say "Freedom of association means there's no legal remedy here, but...." and then launch into a diatribe about how this kind of stuff is a stain on America and needs to be ended?

William Bennett was a big proponent of using shame to accomplish the goal of getting people to act morally. So if conservatives genuinely think it's wrong to use legal avenues to accomplish racial goals, why don't the ones with national platforms use shame instead? What's stopping them?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:44 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (95)

HIGHER EDUCATION....Invisible Adjunct reports today on a group of students at Coppin State College who, having failed to meet the requirements for a master's degree, filed suit and will now be allowed to graduate anyway.

Ah, America. Now, is this a morality tale about (a) the need for tort reform, (b) declining standards in education, (c) our expanding culture of entitlement, or (d) something or other about today's young people?

It does remind me, however, of a professor friend of mine who basically has gotten to the point where he virtually never gives a grade of less than C in his classes. "It's just not worth the hassle," he says with a sigh.

UPDATE: I should have posted this sooner, but here's a salient passage from the Chronicle story:

There are two routes by which students can complete a master's degree in the criminal-justice department at Coppin State. The first includes writing a seminar paper and passing a comprehensive exam. The second option includes writing and presenting an oral defense of a graduate thesis.

According to Mr. Monk, all 10 students who sat for the comprehensive exam on March 15 failed, and the seminar papers those students submitted were far below acceptable quality.

Only one student wrote a thesis, so this means that 10 out of 11 students took the exam and all 10 failed. There is something suspicious about this, and I'm curious to see if we hear more about this.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:06 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

GALLOWAY UPDATE....A few weeks ago a Telegraph reporter named David Blair, while rummaging around the foreign ministry building in Baghdad, found documents claiming that Iraq had paid $10 million in bribes to lefty MP George Galloway.

On Sunday, the Mail apparently — "apparently" because it's not online so I can't check myself — reported that the documents were forgeries. Here's the secondhand report from the Mirror:

But the documents, offered by former Republican Guard General Salah Abdel Rasool, contain obvious mistakes.

A scrawl claimed to be Mr Galloway's signature on "receipts" has no similarity to his real one.

The operation, revealed by the Mail on Sunday, also threw up glaring misspellings of Iraqi officers' names and mistakes in the title of Saddam's son Qusay, also said to have signed the document.

Mr Galloway, suspended from the Labour party last week over the affair, said: "I do not know who is behind this but I have my suspicions.

Not only is all this from the British press, but this is a tabloid reporting on what another tabloid said a few days ago. So who knows? For its part, the Telegraph has ignored the allegations.

But I think we can take away at least two things from this. First, there is something very odd going on. And second, what's the deal with reporters named Blair these days?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:25 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (24)

May 14, 2003

YES, MULTIPLICATION TURNS OUT TO BE THE RIGHT ANSWER....Ho ho ho. NRO has stealthily fixed Stephen Moore's "Math for Idiots" column from yesterday (see here if you missed my original post about it). No explanation is offered. Of course, since the only explanations are that Moore is either (a) innumerate or (b) a lying sack, I guess that's not surprising.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:48 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (6)

IT'S LIVE....AND, YES, IT'S BS....A reader sends along this inadvertant piece of political commentary from CNN. Yuck yuck.

But as long as it's there, I'd like to say that I'm getting pretty tired of those marketing-driven backgrounds that Karl Rove plasters behind Bush's mug at every opportunity. Isn't it about time for the news networks to start digitally removing these things? After all, their sole purpose is to get them on the evening news and burn the association into viewers' minds: Bush mean Jobs! Bush means Growth!

I don't really know who started this. Did Clinton do it? Bush Sr.? Whatever. But the networks have no obligation to provide pseudo-subliminal advertising for political figures, and they shouldn't. If they can digitally insert a yellow line on a football field or turn a tennis court into an advertisement for AOL, they sure ought to be able to remove these backgrounds pretty easily too. Write and tell 'em so.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:39 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (43)

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN....Continuing on the subject of science journalism, David had a short post the other day praising Scientific American. I'm just curious: what does everyone think of this magazine? I used to read it pretty religiously, but a few years ago it started to decline and finally I stopped buying it. To me, they're stuck in some kind of limbo: not as technical as they used to be, but not as fluffy as Discover. Both kinds of magazine are fine, but being in the middle seems like a loser.

(I should add that they've always published semi-political pieces — nuclear proliferation, welfare reform, etc. — but under John Rennie they began publishing pieces so egregiously tendentious that even my liberal biases couldn't take it any longer. I mean, a science magazine should at least pretend to some level of objectivity, shouldn't it?)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:30 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (28)

JOURNALISM ON THE WEB....And speaking of science journalism.....

Science writer (and blogger) David Appell has been researching a story over the past few days, but instead of pitching it to the usual dead tree crowd he wants to find out if there's a blog-based market for it:

If I can raise $200 in contributions from my readers, I'll report the story here first. This is a fraction of what I'd usually get for this type of work, but I want to try it for the idea of it all.

If you want to read this story first, you can contribute by clicking on the PayPal button below. I'm suggesting a donation of $5--about what you'd pay for a magazine off the rack. If only 40 of you contribute, I'll write the article for you. If less than 40 contribute, I'll refund your money.

You can click the link to see if the story sounds interesting enough to cough up five bucks for it.

Will this work? Maybe — as a novelty. Is there a future in it? I kinda doubt it. After all, what's the incentive? Why pay $5 when I can just wait for other people to do it and then read the story when it comes out for free? (The free rider problem, of course, is practically a metaphor for the entire web, hardly something unique to this particular proposition.)

Plus the pricing is off. $5 may indeed be the newsstand price of a magazine, but for $5 you get a whole magazine. Why pay that much for one article?

During the entire second half of the 90s, when software development was my profession, I stayed pretty skeptical about the web because most of the internet business models I looked at failed to make any sense. I mean, communism probably sounded great in the 19th century version of a PowerPoint presentation too, but the business model kinda sucked, didn't it?

I guess I'm still on the same bandwagon here. The internet is a great thing, it's changing (and will continue to change) our society, and there's money to be made there. But something big has to happen before web media becomes a moneymaker on a wide scale. The problem is that people aren't going to pay for web journalism unless it's really good, and really good journalism is produced by really good journalists. But unless human nature changes radically in the near future and people start voluntarily paying for stuff they don't have to, web journalism isn't going to pay very well and all the really good journalists will continue to get hoovered up by all the regular old media outlets.

Am I wrong about this? Maybe. I guess your view probably depends on your reaction to Andrew Sullivan's pledge week a few months ago. Was it "Damn! $80,000!" or was it "Jeez, even Andrew Sullivan could only scrounge together $80,000"?

(By the way, since I ragged on his idea I should add that David has an excellent blog called Quark Soup that you ought to visit if science oriented blogging interests you. Check it out when you get a chance.)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:12 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (11)

A MILLION CHIMPS WITH A MILLION TYPEWRITERS....WOULD DO BETTER THAN US....Important research from the University of Michigan:

Despite a decade of highly publicized advances in genetics, U.S. adults know no more about genetic testing than they did in 1990, according to a University of Michigan study.

In other news, lots of people still believe in astrology, UFOs, and supply side economics.

Ha ha. Seriously, though, UM's PR department screwed the pooch on this: not only do we not know any more than we used to, we actually know less. On a five question test, the average score dropped from 2.7 correct answers to 1.9, and this decrease was statistically significant.

In fact, we can go even further than that. What the survey shows is not just that knowledge of genetic testing has gone down, and not just that we don't know very much about it, but that Americans actually know less than nothing about the subject.

Here's the deal: the survey had five true/false questions. If you gave the test to a bunch of chimpanzees who answered the questions randomly, they would get half of them right. The humans, however, got 38% of the questions right. In other words, we did worse than if we actually knew nothing at all.

As it happens, the survey questions were about fairly obscure subjects, so I'm not surprised that the scores weren't too hot. But worse than knowing nothing at all? What does that say about modern education, the role of the media, and the state of western civilization in general?

And did they give this test to New York Times reporters to see if they did any better?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (18)

AL-QAEDA....The Riyadh bombings are a disturbing reminder that al-Qaeda is still all too active, but at the same time I have to say that this incident is an example of both bad news and good.

The bad news is pretty obvious: 34 people are dead, seven of them Americans, and the attacks were highly coordinated. Al-Qaeda is back.

But there's good news too: this is not 9/11. Rather, it's a conventional terrorist attack, and we have lots of experience dealing with this kind of thing. We can't stop it overnight, but as long as it doesn't escalate into nuclear or bio attacks, we can stop it eventually, as we've done with other terrorist organizations over the past 50 years.

Unfortunately, "as long as it doesn't escalate" brings us back to bad news: as the LA Times headline says this morning, "Strikes in Saudi Arabia underscore how little is now known about the group and its members."

Current and former U.S. counter-terrorism officials, Saudi authorities and outside experts said a second consensus was also emerging. The bombings — and the lack of information about the extent of the plot — underscore how difficult it is to determine who now makes up Al Qaeda, they said.

The story goes on to say that we know very little about al-Qaeda, its members, its organization, or what it's doing. The odds that they can get their hands on nuclear or serious biological is still slim, but it's real, and it's disturbing that we don't really have any idea just how real it might be. I sure hope all that missing Iraqi nuclear material hasn't found its way into hands even more dangerous than Saddam Hussein's.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:50 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (18)

May 13, 2003

RACISM: NOT REALLY A BIG DEAL THESE DAYS?....Commenting on the Jayson Blair situation today, Tom Bevan says this about race and racism:

Most people acknowledge that race remains an issue in America and that incidents of racism still exist, but a large plurality of the country today also recognizes the enormous progress that has been made over the last few decades and continues to grow increasingly disinterested in the color of a person's skin....

Despite these realities, Mr. Herbert and the rest of diversity crowd on the left cling to the idea that "race is a big problem in this country."

He's right: we lefties do continue to cling to the idea that race is a big problem in this country. And the fact that he doesn't is the source of the yawning chasm between left and right on what we should do about it.

Affirmative action brings with it a host of problems. Hell, everything about race in America brings with it a whole host of problems. But when guys like Bevan — who's hardly the most doctrinaire conservative around — think we've made so much progress that racism is basically not that big a deal any more, what hope is there of ever finding any middle ground on the issue?

Disagreements about affirmative action programs I can understand. But a refusal to admit that race is even a serious problem any more I can't. What kind of sheltered existence produces such naivete?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:07 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (101)

JOURNALISM 101....Two interesting posts from Matt Welch today. First, he tells us that several visiting journalists were sent back home from LAX because they didn't have "journalist visas." Huh? We're so afraid of reporters here that we require them to have special visas?

And he's got a suggestion for the New York Times: have reporters send copies of their stories to everyone quoted in the story. This doesn't make sense in all cases (for example, national news stories where your sources are all going to see it anyway), but it does seem like a pretty good idea on at least a spot check basis, especially for local news stories.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:01 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (5)

WESTERN CIVILIZATION TAKES YET ANOTHER HIT....Ricky West tells us about Ghetto Brawls, the latest in reality TV.

Unfortunately, this is not a joke. It's for real.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:35 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)

ADDITION, MULTIPLICATION, WHATEVER....We can't be too nice to National Review, can we? So to make up for our last post let's take a look at Stephen Moore's latest scribblings about the dividend tax:

The company must pay a 35 percent tax on the profits that it earns and then if that after-tax money is paid to the shareholders in a dividend, they get smacked with a tax as high as 38 percent. That’s a 73 percent tax on dividends.

My goodness, 73%. That is high.

That is, it would be high if Moore's arithmetic were reliable. But it's not. His example actually amounts to a 60% tax rate.

Well, who cares, that's pretty high too, isn't it? Sure it is, although in reality virtually no one actually pays taxes at that rate. But can you really trust any economic analysis by a guy who mistakenly adds percentages instead of multiplying them? Brad DeLong's 9-year-old probably could have gotten this one right.

Nor is this is merely a game of "gotcha" with someone who just punched the wrong button on his calculator. Rather, it shows either a genuine lack of number sense or else a deliberate attempt to deceive. In either case, it's pretty obvious that he can't be trusted with more complex issues either.

UPDATE: It's been fixed. No explanation given.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:39 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (35)

YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO SODOMY....Frequent commenter Sebastian Holsclaw, who does his best to keep us liberals honest (and has read every issue of National Review cover to cover for the past 12 years!) emails today to point to Deroy Murdock's article in NRO picking apart Stanley Kurtz's pathetic attempt last month to argue that anti-sodomy laws are a necessary bulwark against rampant heterosexual adultery. As Murdock rightly says:

While Kurtz himself opposes sodomy laws, those who support these restrictions tend to overlook the fact that they can throw adults in jail for having consensual sex. Approval or disapproval of homosexual, adulterous, or incestuous behavior among those over 18 is not the issue. Americans should remain free to applaud such acts or, conversely, denounce them as mortal sins. The public-policy question at hand is whether American adults should or should not be handcuffed and thrown behind bars for copulating with people of the same sex, outside their own marriages or within their bloodlines.

Well, yeah. No one is suggesting legislation that bans disapproval of sodomy, after all, we just think the cops ought to stay out of our bedrooms. It's nice to see that at least some of the folks at NRO understand the distinction.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:21 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (11)

TERROR STOCKS RATED STRONG BUY....Tim Dunlop reports on al-Qaeda's health in these postwar times:

I mentioned the other day being at a dinner with a Congressional chief-of-staff. One thing he said was this: our intelligence tells us that recruiting for terror organisations has gone up by 300% since the Iraq war. To which I replied, gee, that's one stat I haven't the Administration mention lately. To which he replied, placing his finger on his chin, um, maybe that was confidential.

Thanks a lot, Tim. You're a real barrel of laughs.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 01:52 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (9)

AWOL?....Ben Longman came across a 1942 poster that is, as he says, "curiously ironic." If you're in the mood for a cheap shot, head on over.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (1)


NEW MONEY!....Well, I don't know if it counts as good news, but at least this is interesting news: our new $20 bill, delayed by Gulf War II, has finally been announced. The circle around Andy's portrait is gone, and the background is now a multicolored green, peach, and light blue. So is it still a greenback?

The new bills will go into circulation in October. The Treasury Department says it plans to redesign our paper currency every 7 to 10 years to keep ahead of counterfeiters.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:02 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (22)

REDISTRICTING, REPUBLICAN STYLE....In case you're wondering why all those Texas Democrats are fleeing the state and chowing down on pot roast at a Denny's in Oklahoma, a picture is worth a thousand words:

In a ploy audacious even by the standards of Texas politics, one of the GOP's new congressional districts would be composed of two Republican-leaning areas, one north of Austin and one in the Rio Grande Valley — 300 miles away. The two areas would be connected by a mile-wide ribbon of land and have been dubbed a "community of interest."

Yep, the map to the right shows the beautiful new proposed 15th congressional district, a 300-mile wonder that starts up in Austin, meanders east of San Antonio, heads down toward Mexico, and then squeezes itself into a mile-wide strip before opening up a bit to pick up a few critical border towns.

There's nothing much the Dems can do to stop this redistricting fiasco, so in true Texas style they've brought business to a halt by simply fleeing the state: no quorum, no vote, and as long as they aren't in Texas they're out of reach of the Texas Rangers, who have been dispatched to arrest them and bring them back.

Governor Rick Perry, never one to leave bad enough alone, has even been dimwitted enough to ask other states if the Rangers can cross their borders to arrest the truant legislators. Sure, Rick. New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid had the best response: "I have put out an all-points bulletin for law enforcement to be on the lookout for politicians in favor of health care for the needy and against tax cuts for the wealthy."

Yeah, she's a Democrat.

UPDATE: Internet Ronin begs to point out that my very own California Democrats have also been known to be a wee bit partisan in their redistricting efforts. Too true, too true....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:49 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (7) | Comments (38)

COLOR BLIND?....Geitner Simmons reports that Minnesota, home of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, is well on its way to transformation from a blue state to a red state.

Great, just what we need. Does anyone have some good news this morning?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:53 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (13)

May 12, 2003

VENALITY AT THE TIMES....Apparently Arthur Sulzberger thinks that it's basically OK that the New York Times makes no effort to "uncover venality." Mindles Dreck, on the other hand, suggests they should practice what they preach.

I have to say that although the Times deserves credit for running a long and detailed front page mea culpa about the Blair affair, the reaction of top Times executives has been uniformly disappointing: they basically seem to think that Blair's scam was unavoidable and there's really nothing they could have done about it. What are they smoking over there?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:01 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (11)

BOMBING IN SAUDI ARABIA....We announce that we're going to pull our troops out of Saudi Arabia and a few days later al-Qaeda decides to bomb several western compounds in Riyadh. These guys just don't learn.

Of course, I guess that's the whole point of being a fanatic, isn't it?

It's too early to really know what's going on with this, but Josh Marshall has a few miscellaneous thoughts.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:46 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

THE TNR PRIMARY....There are times when I think Atrios is a mite too harsh on liberals who criticize some aspect or another of liberalism, but I have to agree with his assessment of the New Republic's snarky new TNR Primary blog:

Great, just what we need - non-stop nitpicking of the candidates by "even the liberal" TNR. Look, I'm not against constructive criticism but this kind of carping isn't exactly helpful. Besides, I thought that was even the liberal EVERYONE ELSE IN THE MEDIA's role.

So, the Dems will get stepped on from the left over at the Nation, smacked into submission from the center by The American Prospect, and bludgeoned from the right by the New Republican - and that's the liberal media for god's sake.

TNR's schtick is that they assign a grade to each post, and by my count not a single candidate at the moment has a GPA higher than a C+. If the snide carping that characterizes most of their posts is really what they think of the Democratic field, maybe they should just keep quiet and let National Review have the field to themselves. How much worse could it be?

UPDATE: Plus, I can't even figure out what some of the posts are about. Take this one, for example, about some throwaway line of Howard Dean's. Dean's statement is "an attempt to win points with know-nothing Francophobes"? Huh?

Oh, and just for the record, they're wrong to say that "uninformed xenophobia is hardly the stuff that proves presidential mettle." On the contrary, it seems to be a real winner for some of them....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:26 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (26)

NEPOTISM....My biggest problem with the critics of affirmative action is their unspoken assumption that America is just one vast meritocracy with the single exception of those insidious race preference programs that liberals keep yammering about.

A moment's thought ought to convince you that this isn't the case. Stipulating for the moment that affirmative action programs can indeed have the effect of promoting moderately less qualified blacks over some whites, it's also true that our society already has enormous preferences built in for white folks — and conservatives rarely even acknowledge this, let alone accept it as a problem.

When you read a story about a decline in circulation at the New York Times, for example, does Mickey Kaus immediately speculate that it's because Arthur Sulzberger was appointed publisher instead of other more qualified non-Sulzbergers? If he reports that Ford Motor Company is perilously close to bankruptcy, is his first thought that this is a result of promoting Bill Ford to CEO instead of a better qualified non-Ford? If conservatives truly believe in a meritocracy, why aren't they busy denouncing this kind of thing, using their bully pulpit to shame rich whites into stopping this practice? Why indeed?

There are persistent preferences in all walks of life that have nothing to do with native talent. Nepotism, for example — which disproportionately favors whites — has surely caused a thousand times more scandals and failures than every affirmative action program in history combined. The only difference between nepotism and affirmative action is that affirmative action is (a) far less widespread than nepotism and (b) is a corrective to deliberate government actions in the past, which provides a compelling reason for the government to promote it today.

I'd be happy to sit down with critics of affirmative action and discuss alternative ways of fighting racism that were perhaps less divisive and longer lasting, but they mostly seem uninterested in this. The typical response seems be either "yes, racism still exists in remote outposts of America, but it's not really a serious problem," or else a laundry list of conservative nostrums that they'd be promoting anyway. "Tax cuts will help blacks, so liberals ought to support them!"

Bah. If you want to help, acknowledge that the problem is real and then discuss real things that can be done to help fight it. Trickle down economics and vouchers for religious schools just doesn't cut it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:01 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (91)

DIVERSITY AT THE TIMES....Here's a question for you: was the infamous "diversity program" that Jayson Blair was part of really an attempt by the New York Times to hire more black reporters? And did they promote Blair too fast and overlook too many mistakes because he was black?

That's the conventional wisdom among — well, among people who don't like affirmative action in the first place — but there's really something odd about it. After all, the Times is the preeminent paper in the country and can hire practically anyone it wants. If the Times just wanted more black reporters, its reputation and pay scales make it easy to cherry pick the very best of them any time it wants.

The diversity program certainly provided the Times with a pool of young black interns, but did they really hire Blair and promote him just because he was black? Why would they need to?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:36 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (23)

YES, OREOS ARE BAD FOR YOU....Sigh. A San Francisco attorney named Stephen Joseph has filed suit to ban the sale of Oreos to California children. Why? Because they contain trans fat, which is bad for you:

Legally, Joseph is relying on a provision in California law that says companies aren't liable for a commonly used but unhealthy product if it is well-known in the community that the product is unsafe.

"But this product, trans fat, is not commonly known to be unsafe," he said. "That's why trans fat is a far stronger case than tobacco or McDonald's because people know those are dangerous."

I guess maybe this is an example of the "dumb but good" people I was asking about yesterday.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:08 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (17)

OUR TIMID PRESIDENT....Tapped is right to needle Joe Klein for his silly statement that George Bush is "a man of real convictions who has not been afraid to take unpopular positions." If there's one thing that seems clear about Bush, it is, as Klein says later, that he is a "political animal."

Bush is aggressive, he gives no quarter, and, in fact, pursues only popular programs. Tax cuts? Check. War with Iraq? Check. Bashing the UN? Check. As Tapped notes, on the only genuinely tricky decision he's had to make, therapeutic cloning, he took a wishy washy stance guaranteed not to offend anyone too badly. The same thing seems to be happening right now in the Middle East too, where Bush has so far been unwilling to take a bold stance that carries with it any serious risk of failure.

I suspect Bush is vulnerable here. There are issues on which the popular position is not obvious, or on which the popular position conflicts strongly with the wishes of his conservative base. Admittedly, with national security as a backdrop it won't be easy to force him to take clear stands on these issues, but it's not impossible either. A good candidate should be able to figure out how to do it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:06 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (19)

SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS....South Knox Bubba reports today that the Knox County Sheriff's Department is installing a surveillance camera using face recognition software called FaceIt "to keep an eye out for fugitives."

There's good news and bad news here. The good news is that FaceIt doesn't work very well. The bad news is that it's getting better all the time.

Maybe David Brin is right, and this kind of thing is inevitable, but I'm sure not willing to give up yet. So I'll remind everyone again that surveillance cameras (and face recognition software) aren't ipso facto bad — they do help catch bad guys, after all — but they can be very bad indeed depending on how they're used. The important questions are:

  • Who has access to the pictures?

  • How long are they kept?

  • How are they indexed?

There's no question that cameras can have a legitimate use in deterring crime and catching crooks, and the civil liberties dangers can be minimized if the data is kept for, say, only 30 days and is available to outsiders only via court order. The real danger comes when cameras keep track of our movements continuously, the data is indexed so that it can be easily retrieved by querying a person's name, the pictures are kept forever, and pictures from multiple cameras are all stored in a single central database where they are easily accessible to anyone who wants it.

These are all things that can be controlled via legislation, and they should be. In terms of genuine danger to civil liberties, it's the extension of the Patriot Act that I'm worried about, not so much the cameras themselves.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:45 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (10)

INCENTIVES....The Baseball Crank is annoyed: he can't find any honest liberal bloggers. Actually, he can't find any honest liberal people outside his own personal circle of acquaintances. So he's proposing the first in a series of tests:

In an effort to focus on the things I see as litmus tests for honest commentary, I'll be starting a periodic series on The Conservative Truths....

Today, we start with Conservative Truth #1: Incentives matter. Government initiatives that give rewards or punishment as a result of individual or corporate behavior will change people's incentives and therefore, applied to a large population, will change behavior.

Hey, I'll buy that! I guess I pass.

In fact, the tax code is his particular example, and since liberals are forever being accused of noodling with the tax code in order to promote desirable social change, I'd say we're the world experts in this field. I wonder where he got the opposite idea?

Of course, you gotta be careful here, because incentives often work in perverse ways. Will a dividend tax cut motivate people to invest more in the stock market? Maybe, but it's more likely that it will simply provide a quick bump to stock prices instead. And motivate managers to pay out more in dividends, which is not necessarily a good thing. And tilt the playing field between dividends and capital gains in unpredictable ways.

Or maybe none of those things. Who knows? Tricky stuff, those incentives.

OK then, back to baseball. How are the Dodgers going to do this year?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:09 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (38)

SURVIVOR TIDBITS....Last night, at the very end of the season finale of Survivor, Jeff Probst turned to Heidi, the cute, blonde, gym teacher and said (approximately) this:

What's surprising [insert tone of disbelief] is that I was going through my notes for the show, and your IQ score was the highest in the group! But that really didn't come through....

Do the Survivor producers really give all the contestants an IQ test? Why?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:44 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (10)

PROBLEMS AT THE TIMES....Jim Miller, the latest in a distinguished group to wonder why Microsoft can't afford permalinks for Mickey Kaus, excerpts this paragraph from Kausfiles today:

The NYT story itself makes out a prima facie case of editorial negligence against Raines. a) He allowed a reporter with a highly shaky record be assigned to a major national story (the sniper case); b) He didn't tell the relevant editor (in this case national editor Jim Roberts) about the reporter's shaky record-- because, Raines says, he didn't want to "stigmatize" the reporter for having sought "help"! c) He didn't ask questions when this shaky reporter suddenly came up with a big scoop that none of the dozens of other reporters on the case had come up with.

I don't really have a problem with this. The Blair incident is far more an indictment of Raines' management of the Times than it is of the fact that Raines got suckered by a black reporter.

What's more, it seems like this is the perfect approach for people like Kaus and Andrew Sullivan, who hate Howell Raines to begin with. Just think: (a) it's probably the right angle — always a plus, (b) it promises to deliver loads of snarky comments from pissed-off Times staffers over the next few weeks, and (c) it's a perfect club to bash Raines with. What more could they ask for?

UPDATE: By the way, it strikes me that there's another affirmative action angle to this story: in 1992 the Times promoted a young, untried deputy publisher into its demanding top position as part of its affirmative action program for people named Sulzberger. It's funny, though, that kind of affirmative action never seems to get much attention....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:33 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (9)

RELIGIOUS MYTHS....Education critic Diane Ravitch doesn't like current history textbooks: they aren't crtitical enough of Mao's China and the Ayatollah's Iran and they imply — gasp! — that other cultures are as good as ours.

OK, fine. That's standard conservative kvetching and there's probably something to it, but Ravitch's op-ed in the LA Times this morning also contains this odd sentence:

The histories' treatment of religion is scandalous. The origin stories of each religion are recounted as if they were documented history rather than religious myths.

Myths? We have to fight like banshees just to make sure our biology texts mention evolution, and Ravitch wants our history books to explicitly state that Genesis is a myth?

Or is it just other religions that should be treated as myths? She doesn't say, adding only this cryptic statement: "Many publishers have multicultural advisory boards to ensure that the textbooks contain only positive facts about religious or ethnic groups."

I dunno, I have a feeling it's not the moral relativism crowd that most strongly objects to religious histories being called myths. I'd name some names here, but my multicultural advisory board recommends against it....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:43 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

May 11, 2003

EVIL OR STUPID?....In comments to this post, Tacitus says:

I prefer evil over stupid, if you have to choose.

That's an interesting choice, isn't it? I assume the choices are mutually exclusive, which means we're not choosing between people who are stupid and evil — pretty obviously a bad combination — or people who are smart and good — a self-evidently desirable combination.

Now, in the first category of dumb but good, I'm not really sure who would qualify. Whoever they are, they don't seem to have done enough damage to stand out in my mind.

The smart-but-evil category, on the other hand, is ridiculously easy to populate. Stalin was reasonably bright, I think, and while Hitler is questionable, his henchmen were mostly fairly smart guys. Mao might have been out of touch at times, but the stuff I've read about him indicates that he had a perfectly good mind. Taken together, this category seems like it's produced the current frontrunners for immediate inclusion in the 20th Century "Bad Guy Hall of Fame."

I dunno, though. Am I underestimating the dumb-but-good category? Is it a matter of there being so many more dumb people than evil ones, as opposed to the amount of damage each one can do? Who should be in this category, anyway? And what kind of societal woe can we lay at their feet?

Comments are open.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:30 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (41)

PAPERBACK BOOKS....What's the problem with paperback book bindings these days? A highly placed publishing source emails to say this:

The main reason mass-market paperbacks are bound so poorly is that there are a tiny (and diminishing) number of companies that print and bind mass-market paperbacks, and a great deal of demand for their services. In this sellers' market, publishers count themselves lucky just to get time on the presses. I believe (this is in reference to your commenter) that, for their mass-market titles, Baen uses the same manufacturers that Tor does for theirs, and that the quality they get for a particular run is somewhat dependent on luck. Older houses like Bantam and Ballantine can sometimes get better work, because their deals are more longstanding and their volume is higher, but they wind up with some badly-bound books as well.

Understand that I'm talking entirely about mass-market, rack-size paperbacks, not "trade paperbacks" or other books.

There you have it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:18 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (11)

PROBLEMS AT THE TIMES....I'd like to make my point from the post below ultra clear. Here's a list of possible factors that contributed to the Jayson Blair scandal:

  1. Due to the Times' diversity program, Blair was pushed into a highly demanding position sooner than he should have been.

  2. The Times' personnel department didn't bother to check with the University of Maryland to see if he had actually graduated.

  3. Not enough attention was paid to the concerns of Blair's immediate supervisor.

  4. The Times has a culture where "sloppy but energetic" is considered promising.

  5. Supervisors at the Times never bother looking at their reporters' expense accounts, which would have given Blair's game away immediately.

Now do your best to put away both your liberal and conservative prejudices, and ask yourself a simple question: what changes are most likely to prevent a dedicated and clever fraud like Blair from scamming the Times in the future?

Lots of newspapers hire young reporters — many of them black — and promote them quickly. In the end, some of these prodigies don't make the grade, but virtually none of them turn out to be liars and plagiarizers. So reason #1 doesn't look like a winner. Hiring fewer young reporters probably wouldn't fix the Times' problem.

On the other hand, reasons #2 - #5 all look like great candidates for further consideration. Routine things like checking school records and expense reports are proven methods for catching cheats, and cultural changes that emphasize honesty and accuracy are proven winners too.

So out of those five reasons — and there may be others I've missed — why would you choose to insist that only the one that's least likely to have permitted this problem to escape notice is also the only one that lots of attention should be paid to?

I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:02 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (21)

FLOODING THE ZONE....When Fidel Castro cracked down on dissidents last month, Mickey Kaus properly insisted that the blame be placed on Castro himself, not on "provocation" by our top diplomat in Cuba, James Cason:

Cason did 'provocative' things like meeting with dissidents in their homes, and holding press conferences. How does that make Castro any less repressive?

That's good moral clarity, Mickey! We should place the fault squarely on Castro, where it belongs, not on poor decisions made by others even if they were driven by an ideological agenda.

Well, OK, but here's Mickey on Friday talking about the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times:

Why isn't the basic Jayson Blair story obvious from the NYT's lengthy account--namely, an underperforming and unready reporter was promoted in January, 2001, over the objections of one of the editors who knew him best, because of his skin color.

But, um, Mickey, shouldn't the "basic" story be not that Blair was unready — just a victim of the system — but that he was a liar and a con man who is responsible for his own actions? Why did Cason get a pass but not Howell Raines?

This is ridiculous. Maybe Blair was a beneficiary of affirmative action, and if you could point to a steady stream of affirmative action hires who had done what Blair did, then maybe it would be a legitimate issue. But you can't.

As Kaus himself says, "Plenty of other factors were involved, but without 'diversity' it wouldn't have happened." Why, then, aside from a simple hatred of affirmative action itself, does he insist that diversity is the "obvious" primary reason in this isolated case?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:30 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (9)

SPORTS....Is it really possible that the Angels and Mighty Ducks could win championships this year and the Lakers could lose? What the hell kind of world are we living in?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:22 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (14)

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF IRAQ....The LA Times reports today on the problems we're having in postwar Iraq:

U.S. officials concede that many of the key assumptions that drove planning for the postwar administration were wrong.

....When U.S. officials mapped their effort to get the country going again, they prepared for a significant flow of refugees, a humanitarian crisis, thousands of prisoners of war and for a longer honeymoon period -- a time in which Iraqi people would be heady with a sense of relief at the departure of Saddam Hussein.

Hardly a single Iraqi fled the country, however, and far fewer were internally displaced than projected. The prisoners of war have mostly been released. What came as the biggest surprise was the violent and long-running looting of government offices -- looting that persists on the streets of a capital that seems perpetually on the cusp of chaos.

....Agency officials said that despite weeks of planning, they were unprepared for the number of obstacles. "There was a constant reevaluation," Bodine said.

Weeks of planning?

Look, I know this is a tough job, and there are plenty of unavoidable problems inherent in the reconstruction of Iraq. But shouldn't postwar planning have been going on for months, not weeks?

The naive assumptions of the administration hawks become more obvious every day. There were supposed to be swimming pools of anthrax around even though the CIA said there wasn't. The Iraqis were supposed to greet us as liberators. The UN and world opinion were supposed to turn around as the evidence of Iraqi perfidy mounted.

None of that happened, and out of all this I have a suspicion that the biggest miscalculation was the UN: Bush and Blair probably thought all along that eventually the Security Council would support us, and postwar planning would therefore be largely supported by a small army of UN planners, humanitarian groups, and peacekeepers. As it became clearer that wasn't going to happen, they scrambled to put together a plan on their own, and wishful thinking replaced more hardheaded judgments.

Paul Bremer has his work cut out for him. I wish him the best of luck.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:00 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (24)

TAKING ONE FOR THE TEAM....I'm reading David Brin's Kiln People right now, and unless I've misunderstood something here's what just happened: our hero, discovering that a bomb has been implanted in his body, burrows himself into the anus of a nearby dinosaur in the hopes that exploding there won't do as much damage.

This is actually an expendable duplicate of our hero, so there's no long term harm to the plot, but still. Eeew.

On an unrelated note, despite the fact that Tor is the publisher of the book, the binding has not yet come apart. I credit Patrick, who obviously must have had a word with the boys in the production department. Thanks, Patrick!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:56 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)

May 10, 2003

WMDs: THE HUNT IS OVER....Unless the Washington Post site has been hacked, this is stunning news. The army teams looking for WMD in Iraq have apparently given up:

Leaders of Task Force 75's diverse staff -- biologists, chemists, arms treaty enforcers, nuclear operators, computer and document experts, and special forces troops -- arrived with high hopes of early success. They said they expected to find what Secretary of State Colin L. Powell described at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 -- hundreds of tons of biological and chemical agents, missiles and rockets to deliver the agents, and evidence of an ongoing program to build a nuclear bomb.

Scores of fruitless missions broke that confidence, many task force members said in interviews.

....The hunt will continue under a new Iraq Survey Group, which the Bush administration has said is a larger team. But the organizers are drawing down their weapons staffs for lack of work, and adding expertise for other missions.

...."Smoking gun" is now a term of dark irony here. Maj. Kenneth Deal, executive officer of one site survey team, called out the words in mock triumph when he found a page of Arabic text at a former Baath Party recreation center last week.

....In a climate-control room, chemical weapons filters and carbon dioxide scrubbers protected the air and an overpressure blast valve stood ready to vent the lethal shock waves of an explosion. And a decontamination shower stood under an alarm panel designed to flash the message "Gas-Gaz."

"Is it evidence of weapons of mass destruction?" asked Deal. "No. It's probably evidence of paranoia."

It's getting late and I don't have time to comment on this extensively, but if this report is accurate it's simply mind blowing. You really should read the entire thing.

More on this later, I'm sure. Much more.

UPDATE: I guess now we know why Rumsfeld told reporters the other day that the search teams probably wouldn't find any WMD. He said it because he already knew it was true and was in the process of drawing down the MET teams. I really can't wait to see how the Wurlitzer spins this tomorrow.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (56)

THE EMPIRE GOOGLES BACK....Via Dan Gelfand, who provides some commentary of his own, Andrew Orlowski of The Register reports that Google is planning to remove blogs from their main search engine and give them a special search engine all their own. It will probably be something similar to Google Groups, their search engine for Usenet forums (formerly Deja News).

I guess this is good news and bad news:

  • It's good news because it gives us an easy way to search the blogosphere. This is something that I sometimes want to do when I know I've seen something in a blog but can't remember where.

  • It's bad news because it means that ordinary Google users will no longer get referrals to blogs.

Overall, it strikes me as more good than bad. I don't really care much if people come here via Google, especially since I suspect most of them don't find what they're looking for. There's not much point in getting accidental traffic, after all, and I can certainly sympathize with people who are trying to find some primary sources but end up with page after page of blogs instead because our incestuous linking gives us artificially high Google ranks.

Oh, and here's an interesting factoid: The Register estimates that blogs make up .03% of the web. I haven't figured out yet if that's good or bad.

UPDATE: In comments, Bryant of Population: One points us to Evhead, where Evan Williams says, "as far as I know, Orlowski is full of crap." Just because Google is going to create a blog search engine doesn't mean they're going to remove blogs from the main site.

So, anyway, maybe it was a false alarm. We'll see.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (9)

CHEAP PLOYS....You know what? Sometimes cheap ploys work. Click here and you'll see (a) one half of Justene Adamec's twins, (b) one half of her cats, and (c) none of her chickens.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:27 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (1)

UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE....Ampersand says that if the Democrats play it safe, they're just going to lose anyway. So we should damn the torpedoes and propose a bold single-payer health plan instead.

Sure, we might lose anyway, but at least we'll have put the plan on the table and can come back to fight another day.

I don't know that I agree, but Amp's post certainly gets to the heart of the matter: is there any chance of beating George Bush with a safe, non-risky strategy? It's a question worth asking.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:43 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

BLACK AND WHITE AND RED ALL OVER....The New York Times ran a long story today about Jayson Blair, the black reporter who was fired last week for making up stories and plagiarizing other people's work. Gerald Boyd, the Times' black managing editor, "bristled when asked if Blair, who is black, figured in a bid by The Times to diversify its mostly white staff." And media critic Howard Kurtz said of Blair, an African-American who was originally hired as part of a minority internship program, "Look, this was a promising young black reporter. I wonder if a middle-aged hack would have gotten away with 50 mistakes and still be at that job."

Oh, have I mentioned that Blair is black?

In just the last few weeks, in addition to the Blair meltdown, the LA Times has fired a photographer for digitally enhancing a photograph, two reporters at the Salt Lake City Tribune have been fired for selling made-up rumors to the National Enquirer, and disgraced liar Stephen Glass released his autobiographical novel about his exploits at the New Republic.

Quick, what color were the skins of these reporters?

What's that, you don't know? But hasn't every story about them mentioned it? And run a picture of them? No? That's odd.

So why does Mickey Kaus treat us to this spectacular non sequitur?

Plenty of white journalists have done what Jayson Blair, the NYT reporter who recently resigned, is alleged to have done....Does the Blair case, then, have anything to do with affirmative action? I think so.

And why does Glenn Reynolds say that his "earlier skepticism regarding the role of affirmative action in the Blair matter was misplaced"? And why does Accuracy in Media devote an entire column to the notion that the Times' desire to diversify its newsroom led directly to this incident?

This is ridiculous. Blair was an accomplished liar and suckup, and the Times screwed up badly in not noticing earlier that something fishy was going on. (They didn't even notice that none of his expense accounts included plane tickets or hotel bills? Sheesh.) But when Glass did the same thing at the New Republic nobody ran stories suggesting that we ought to be more careful about hiring white guys in the future.

Why is it that when one — one! — black con artist scams the Times he's a black con artist, but when white con artists scam the New Republic, the LA Times, and the Salt Lake City Tribune, they're just — con artists? Funny how that works.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:09 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (7) | Comments (53)

MORE MATH!....A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post suggesting that we quit teaching algebra and geometry to most (but not all!) high school students. Needless to say, I have nothing against algebra, and even won a free lunch from an engineer buddy of mine a few years ago by betting him that I could derive the quadratic equation and he couldn't. (I remembered the trick; he just flailed around. Childish, perhaps, but satisfying nonetheless for a marketing guy.)

Still, a free lunch only gets you just so far, and this subject has been in the back of my mind ever since. So today I'd like to toss out a few ideas about what we should replace all that algebra with. That is, what kinds of mathematical techniques should we teach junior high and high school students?

  • A better sense of magnitude and estimation. I am frequently perplexed by coworkers who can add and subtract perfectly well but have no idea of magnitudes. They would, for example, manipulate a bunch of numbers and decide that the market size for some product was 500 million units. They had no clue that they were obviously off by a factor of a thousand or more. If you use a calculator to add up a list of two digit numbers, you should have some sense that something is wrong if the answer is 33 — or 33,000.

  • Simple probability and statistics. Nothing fancy, just an understanding of mean and median, how to read a chart, gotchas to look out for, and so forth. If it's done right, this stuff can actually be pretty fun even for mathophobes.

  • "Spreadsheet math." I'm not even sure what I mean by this, but spreadsheets are used and abused by millions these days, and a lot of the abuse comes from people who don't really understand the limitations of what you can do with a column of figures.

Any other ideas? I'm not trying to disparage the idea of learning for its own sake, but at the same time education does have a utilitarian purpose as well. In the case of math, and taking into account the realities of how much you can force feed to high school students, what should we emphasize? What kinds of things are genuinely most likely to remain with them throughout their lives?


Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:38 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (22)

BUSH'S TAX CUT JIHAD....Bruce Bartlett talks about taxes in the Weekly Standard today:

Someone once defined a fanatic as someone who redoubles his efforts after losing sight of his objective. Based on this definition, the Bush administration is in danger of becoming fanatical on tax policy.

[Much discussion of tax legislation details follows....]

This suggests that the White House should swallow its pride and push as forcefully as possible for a tax bill that will do as much for growth as possible over the next 18 months, even if it bears little resemblance to the president's original plan.

Ah, but there's the rub. Does the president really care about growth?

Well, of course he does. Presidents all care about growth, and what's more, with an election coming up next year, any president would be nuts not to care very deeply indeed about growth. So why, then, since their political future might very well depend on it, is the Bush/Rove team so hellbent on passing a tax plan that virtually no credible economist thinks will have much of a short term stimulative effect? (Lots of economists believe that eliminating the dividend tax is a good long term measure, they just don't think it's likely to have much effect by 2004.)

I dunno. Maybe they've drunk their own Kool-Aid and actually believe that their plan will get the economy moving by next summer? Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

It's an odd thing, though, sort of like the Bush administration's seeming indifference to wide open nuclear sites in Iraq — or Russia, for that matter. There are plenty of things I disagree with Bush about, but stuff like this makes no sense even if you take things on his terms. Just as he obviously has a big stake in a growing economy next year, he also obviously cares about terrorists getting their hands on nuclear waste. So why not do more about it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:54 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (8)

RUNNING RED LIGHTS....Today in the LA Times, Michael Klein takes aim at the important issue of traffic cameras that are mounted at intersections in order to ticket people who run red lights. These cameras, he thinks, have many, many grave problems:

  • The ticket might get lost by the post office! Two words, Michael: registered mail.

  • Maybe the owner of the car wasn't actually driving it! Maybe. And if you can convince the judge of that, you're off the hook.

  • If you get a ticket days after a violation happens, you've already forgotten the circumstances! That might wash for some other kinds of violations, but running a red light? Offhand I can't think of a single extenuating circumstance. (But maybe my commenters can help Michael out! Just try to avoid scenarios involving UFOs, OK?)

  • It's an invasion of privacy! Hmmm, outdoors, pointed specifically at a single place, and used for a specific purpose? I don't think so. There is a danger here, but complaints about traffic cameras trivialize a more important problem: not the cameras themselves, but how long the pictures are kept, how they are indexed, and who they are available to.

I believe that some amount of looseness in law enforcement is vital to a free society. It would be genuinely chilling if every minor violation of the law were caught and prosecuted with 100% efficiency.

But why do I get the feeling that most people who complain about traffic cameras are actually just people who routinely push their luck at intersections and are afraid of getting caught? Is it because their principled arguments always strike me as completely lame?

Yeah, that's it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (19)

HARD PARTYING IN THE FJORDS....Via Tacitus, I learn that the American tradition of Spring Break is for pussies. For real hard partying, you have to go to Norway.

Norway? Yeah, and these are high school students:

Some of the new tasks up for this year's knot-earning ritual are having sex with at least 17 partners, picking up a tender teen, getting a vagrant drunk and vomiting on the person next to you.

....While seven out of ten russ agree that the three-week party is a non-stop booze-fest, the traditional emphasis on earning recognition for swift and heavy drinking is gradually being replaced by an emphasis on sex.

Ethnologist Anne-Sofie Hjemdahl also sees this as a mirror of today's society. "It is connected to the greater sexualization of society. Running naked down Karl Johan (Oslo's central, royal boulevard) would have been much more provocative 30 years ago. The taboos that the russ challenge are always changing," Hjemdahl said.

And speaking of taboos:

In recent years most schools have a birth control counselor in the organization of their 'russ' board and many hold a special information day where sensible celebration is discussed and free contraceptives handed out.

....Research reveals that three out of four Norwegians make mistakes when rolling on a condom, and that they use them less than their Nordic neighbors - averaging 1.7 condoms per citizen per year.

I wonder how American kids compare on international tests of condom rolling?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:57 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (8)

May 09, 2003

SEEING RED....I don't get it. What does everyone have against judges wearing red robes?

(Especially considering that this and this are the current outfits....)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:22 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (3)

IS SULLIVAN GOING TO EXPLODE SOON?....While I was wandering around over at Andy's site, I also came across this post about Bill Bennett:

But when, of course, was the last time Bill Bennett defended anyone's privacy? Hasn't he spent a career arguing that privacy should be foregone for the public good? Doesn't he believe that all private activities are dependent for their morality and legality on their effects on society as a whole?

Obviously, then, Sullivan gets it. Liberals aren't going after Bennett because he gambles, they're going after him because he's spent a lifetime giving preachy reactionary lectures about other people's vices, while somehow always avoiding his own.

So why then is he carrying water for the home team, arguing that Bennett's privacy should be respected? Bennett should be allowed to loudly condemn hypocrisy in all its myriad forms, but the rest of us should be such sterling folk that we don't call him on it when we discover he's guilty of it himself? I suppose that's admirable in a Christian sort of way, but it's not really a very practical approach to modern politics, is it?

All sniping aside, Sullivan must be a very peculiar guy. He thinks Bush's economic program stinks, he knows that the social conservatives that populate the Republican party basically hate him, and yet he somehow managed to put all that aside in his fervor to invade Iraq. Surely his head is going to explode sometime soon?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:15 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

WHITES ONLY?....Andrew Sullivan just spent an entire week pillorying Rick Santorum for arguing that society has a right to discriminate against gays — and rightfully so. Why, then, does he say he would defend the right of students to hold a whites-only prom? These students aren't just arguing, they're doing. And it's not against gays, a group that there is still widespread societal disagreement about, but against blacks, a group that nobody any longer doubts should be free of discrimination.

It's not enough to be "sickened and depressed" by things like this. At some point you simply have to decide that racism is a more serious problem than a fairly minor restriction on freedom of association — especially in any setting that's even remotely related to a public school. Does Sullivan seriously not understand that?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:27 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (39)

GEORGE AND THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER....Noemie Emery complains about weak Democratic support for the Iraq war and praises George Bush in the Weekly Standard today:

What hurt most Democrats--more than the votes they cast--was their reasoning: to preserve, in Clintonesque terms, their own viability, before trying to change the subject back to domestic issues. Which of course did not work. While Bush put his job and his neck on the line, Democrats were derriere-shielding.

That's rich. I don't think that bashing the French, the UN, and Saddam Hussein, and then fighting a war that about two-thirds of the country approved of exactly counts as putting his job on the line. If there's one thing Bush has never done, it's take an electoral risk.

Oddly, though, now that I have that minor bit of crankiness of the way, I actually want to agree with the main point of Emery's article:

With so much good news going against them, the sight of Bush on the Abraham Lincoln was destined to drive the Democrats up walls. A politician connecting himself to a success he created? How unheard of! How lowdown! How crass! So the party wheeled out its most charming and plausible spokesmen.

Robert Byrd took to the floor of the Senate to call it the most disgraceful thing he had seen since he gave up his KKK membership. Maxine Waters seemed obsessed with the fit of the president's flight suit. Henry Waxman wants the GAO to investigate the whole event.

....Some people think the Democrats are afraid that the Lincoln footage will show up next year in campaign spots and are trying this tack to preempt it. I'm not so sure about that, but if the Republicans run ads featuring Waxman and Waters, they could stay in power for the rest of their lives.

I hate to say it, but I think that's right. Sure, the whole thing was a PR gig, but so what? Clinton would have done the same thing. Hell, any president would have done the same thing. Most people think the war was a great success, and Bush's speech on the carrier made them feel proud of themselves and their country. Complaining about it just makes us look like whiners.

Time to move on.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:40 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (31)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Today is rabbit day. On the left, Jasmine curls up in the garden while a stone rabbit keeps an eye out for predators. On the right, Inkblot attempts an "alpha cat" look to make sure his rabbit knows who's boss. As usual, he can't quite bring it off.

Bonus pet blogging: EminentBrain says, "I always knew that cats were no good." Why? Apparently they're bad for sea otters. And for you dog lovers out there, LeanLeft has an entertaining sign from our neighbors to the north. (The picture doesn't show up in the archived link, so just go to the main site and scroll down to May 6.)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:30 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)

GAY RIGHTS....Since I've been flogging gay rights as a campaign issue for a while, Steve Timberlake of Linkmeister passes on — natch — a link to today's edition of The Note, which covers the issue from a political perspective:

But there is a big caveat: many, many Republican Party activists are viscerally uncomfortable with homosexuality.

Many feel in their hearts that it's sinful. Many believe that the media and the Washington Establishment (Republicans and Democrats) are consciously pro-gay, vocally promote the "gay agenda," and sanction a way of life they think leads to early deaths, broken families, and biblical sin.

....So long as the GOP relies on them, the dissonance between Washington Republicans and many Outside the Beltway Republicans on gay issues will be real, and many Republican politicians will be confronted with uncomfortable trade-offs.

Support of gay rights carries political risks for both parties, but I think there's only one relevant question: which party will it hurt more? I think it's pretty obvious that Republicans have more to lose here, and events of the past couple of months have made that even more obvious. Democrats, though cautious, are comfortable with the issue, while Republicans from George Bush down desperately want to avoid it. Shouldn't that tell us something?

POSTSCRIPT: And while I'm on the subject of The Note, can someone tell me why they insist on being the Steven Den Beste of political analysis? Everybody tells me I should read The Note daily, but hell, there's only so many hours in a day and they never use a hundred words when a thousand will do instead. Today's edition, as usual, clocks in at over 7,000 words. Don't they have an editor over there?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:58 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (17)

TAX CUTS....Henry's chart just below is entertaining, but I'd like to make a serious point about it. (Actually, Henry's chart is a serious point. I just want to make another one, OK?)

Conservatives are forever whining about lucky duckies and bread and circuses: in their world, the hoi polloi in America are so undertaxed that they can vote themselves just about anything, knowing that it won't cost them a dime. The rich will pick up the tab.

This is hogwash on several levels — the middle class pays taxes at about the same rate as millionaires — but it's mostly hogwash because everyone knows that what's important in American politics isn't votes, but money. And it's the rich who have the money.

What do you do when one party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the rich? It's been obvious for some time that the Republican party has completely run out of ideas on economic policy and now has only one left: lower taxes on the rich. So it's no longer a matter of the rich voting for a party that, in general, serves their interests. Instead, it's become a simple, mercenary transaction, and campaign contributions to Republicans have become little more than pre-paid commissions on the tax breaks they are willing to pass.

Take a look at the bullet points in the post just below: The Fortune 100 companies contributed $52 million to Republicans in the 2002 election cycle and in return their executives will get tax breaks worth $130 million per year — and that's just for the top three execs in each company. It's a straightforward bargain, and a pretty good one.

After two decades of increasingly strident Wall Street Journal editorials, the rich seem to have largely lost any sense of civic responsibility. There's no economic argument for lower tax rates at the moment, simply a feeling on the part of the rich that it's their money, dammit, and they don't feel like supporting the government with it any longer. Deficits forever? Fine. Just give my my tax break.

Bill Bennett was right: they should be ashamed of themselves. Unfortunately, civic virtue is one virtue he seems to have missed.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:32 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (20)

FUN WITH DIVIDENDS....Via Charles Kuffner and Gorilla-a-Gogo, here's a fun chart taken from Henry Waxman's study of the effect of a dividend tax cut on ordinary Americans. It's an excellent presentation of a complex economic argument, no?

Other fun facts from Waxman's study:

  • In 2002, Fortune 100 companies paid $309 million in dividends to their top three shareholder officers.

  • Over ten years, these 300 execs would save $1.3 billion in dividend taxes.

  • In the 2002 election cycles, these same 100 companies made $81 million in campaign contributions and 64% went to Republican candidates. Pretty good bargain!

So, what are you planning to do with your 29 bucks?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:12 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (32)

May 08, 2003

KEVINS....So what's up in the world of blogging Kevins? Here's what:

  • This Kevin is asking himself the ultimate question: why do I blog?

  • This Kevin has some advice on making PowerPoint slides for church.

  • This Kevin thinks Richard Cohen is full of shit.

  • This Kevin says Pepsi's products are better than Coke's — and has the numbers to back it up.

  • This Kevin thinks the iTunes Music Store is pretty good.

  • This Kevin thinks people who have been admitted to Yale should quit complaining.

  • This Kevin was asked by his employer to quit blogging and get back to work.

  • This Kevin has a picture of his brand new niece.

  • This Kevin held out for three years but finally got attacked by a virus.

  • This Kevin asserts that Python is both dynamically typed and strongly typed.

  • This Kevin thinks Bush is going to make the Bush haters look like idiots again.

  • This Kevin thinks the Daily Cal is right not to apologize.

  • This Kevin writes in squiggles, so who knows? Something to do with computers, though.

  • This Kevin thinks a Hart-Graham ticket would be pretty good. Oops.

  • This Kevin is the go-to guy for copyright, trademark, and internet legal issues.

  • This Kevin says Minority Report is here — almost.

  • This Kevin thinks X-Men 2 rocked.

  • This Kevin says that Marshall McLuhan "clearly understood the ecology of genre as part of the ecology of media."

We Kevins are an eclectic bunch of bloggers, no?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:39 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (15)

THE DIRT ON BILL....Rugby player turned physics professor Chad Orzel delivers some brand new dirt on Bill Bennett, assuring us that "it's not a topic he likes to talk about..."

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:35 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (1)

FROM THE "NO KIDDING?" DEPARTMENT....Some Irish schools have started a program to combat truancy by sending a text message via cell phone to parents of absent children. But there's a problem:

However, [the principal of Portmarnock Community School] noted there had been some resistance from students to supplying their parents' mobile numbers.

Imagine that.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:34 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (0)

NORAH VINCENT....Over in The Corner today Jonah Goldberg writes:

Norah Vincent of the LA Times (Reg Req'd) is another liberal who asserts that....

Whoa, hold on now. Norah Vincent is a liberal?

I've only read a few of her pieces, and I found them so vacuous and annoying that I long ago decided not to read anything futher of hers — unless I got suckered into it like I did just now. Her pieces seemed, aside from just dumb, to be more conservative than liberal, but perhaps my view was colored by my annoyance.

So, serious question: is Norah Vincent really considered a liberal? I'm just curious.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:25 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (17)

FIGHTING THE RIGHT....Mark Kleiman suggests today that favoring the use of military force shouldn't be (and historically hasn't been) considered solely a right-wing view:

If freeing the Haitians from the tyranny of the Tontons Macoutes, or the East Timorese from the tyranny of the Indonesian army, were progressive things to do, why isn't freeing the black Sudanese from the tyranny (amounting in some cases to actual slaveholding) of the Arab Sudanese an equally progressive goal? The overthrow of the Shah seemed like a good idea at the time, to those of us on the left who didn't know enough to guess what would replace him. Why shouldn't the overthrow of the Iranian theocrats and of the Saudi royal family be desired, on the left -- precisely on the left -- with equal fervency?

I think there's a lot to be said for this, and I'd like to see the Democratic candidates do a better job of articulating what they think the proper use of American military force is. Mark doesn't delve into this, but I think the primary question is a simple one: when should American force be used? The apparent Republican answer of "whenever we feel nervous" isn't sufficient, but an instinctive reluctance not to use force at all isn't sufficient either.

So: there are lots of nasty regimes. At what point does one become nasty enough that we ought to do something about it? Detailed white papers are not necessary, but something beyond platitudes is.

Mark also suggests that Democrats should combine a willingness to use military force with an argument that threats to the United States today come primarily from

movements and regimes that are both right-wing and illiberal. That ought to be a political gift to the Democrats. The phrase "Taliban wing of the Republican party," which had a brief vogue as a description of Pat Robertson and his buddies, was grossly unfair, but it reflected quite genuine commonalities between American and Islamic fundamentalists who were lovers of hierarchy and traditional values and opponents of social democracy and of more equal social, political, and economic roles for women. (I recall Jesse Helms expressing admiration for the Saudi law prescribing stoning for adulterous wives.)

I'm not so sure this has a chance of gaining political traction, but it's an intriguing thought nonetheless.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:53 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (13)

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF PLAGIARISM....Professor Kieran Healy of the University of Arizona doesn't like plagiarism:

Few things annoy faculty more than plagiarism, particularly when it’s poorly executed. (That doesn’t mean well-executed copying is better, just that it’s a different sort of insult.) Because people who plagiarize are usually also poor students, they tend not to realise that it’s obvious when a paragraph of bumbling prose suddenly rises from its own ashes to become lucid and flowing, or even just moderately coherent.

This is true. I worked at a company last year in which one of our guys in Taiwan was assigned to research a particular market opportunity for us. He spent a few weeks on it and delivered a 3-4 page report when he was done. It took me about ten seconds to know that he hadn't written it, and another 30 seconds or so to pick out a phrase or two, type them into Google, and figure out which magazine article he had copied.

The problem was that he just didn't realize that professional prose from magazine writers is colorful, bouncy, uses telling details, quotes sources, and just generally sounds way different from even good writing done by normal people. As Steven Taylor put it in Kieran's comments, "I love how students seem not to understand that if they are writing in pidgin English one minute, and then lapse into Harvard-sounding prose the next, that I'm going to notice."

Other amusing plagiarism stories from comments to this post:

  • I had a student who "borrowed" a friend's paper, but she couldn't figure out how to get her friend's name out of the header at the top of every page, so she tore off the right-hand corner of every page. It almost worked, but while I was in a conference with her and another student, the other student kept subtly (and then not-so-subtly) pointing to the torn corners.

  • My all-time favourite: a paper on Luther lifted directly from the Catholic Encyclopedia. The student never quite got the point that the article damned Luther by faint praise.

  • My wife was once handed a paper with the links in it still underlined. I thought that was hysterical; she was pissed; the student couldn't figure out how he'd been caught.

  • Been there. I've also received a paper with the URL printed at the top of each page.

  • I've received identical submissions from multiple students, with only the font differing between them (to be fair, in this case we allowed students to work together on a specific assignment - but requested they submit their own write-up). It was depressing to have to explain - to very bright graduate students - that making cosmetic changes doesn't qualify as "doing your own work."

  • A student turned a paper into my father that was a copied email. Apparently, the student's brother had taken the class a few years earlier and had sent his brother the paper. Problem was, instead of copying just the paper, he copied the entire email, including the messages at the top of the email. Those messages (paraphrase):

    Can you send me your Congress paper? This class blows.

    Reply: Yeah that class blows. Here's the paper.

    Great way to start your paper.

OK, I'd better stop now, since I'm basically plagiarizing Kieran's entire comments section in order to make my own blog funnier and more entertaining. But it's fair use, I tell you!

However, Invisible Adjunct talks about the "plagiarism horror stories contest that someone should sponsor." I nominate IA to do just that. After all, just because you're anonymous doesn't mean you can't sponsor a contest....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:09 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (10)

YOU SAY DAY-TA, I SAY DAA-TA....Enough about healthcare, let's take on a real issue: is the word "data" plural or singular? Ditto for "media."

Right-thinking people already know that the answer to this is "singluar," but one of my readers takes exception to this. "It's hard to imagine any reasons that I would find remotely plausible," he says, "but it might be interesting to see you take a shot at it."

Well, my first shot at this came when I wrote my original blog back in 1997 — which, by the way, probably makes me one of the oldest bloggers around, even if my hiatus from 1998-2002 was a little longer than is usually acceptable — and it went like this:

David wanted to know today if I thought it was OK to use the word mediums (as in, "TV and radio are two mediums worth advertising on"). My opinion: the word media was long ago transformed into a singular noun in common usage, so it is no longer very useful as a plural of medium. Therefore, mediums is acceptable usage when you are talking about two or more specific cases, whereas media commonly refers to the whole enchilada (as in "media conspiracy"). Just another case of language evolving.

This is the standard descriptivist argument: language evolves, and rules should evolve to take account of common usage. "Media" and "data" are now singular simply because most people use them that way.

But there's more: I think "data" is legitimately singular anyway because it belongs in the class of collective nouns, words like "hair" that obviously refer to a collection of individual things but that nonetheless take the singular. It's like the old joke: "I'm going to get my hair cut today." "Oh yeah, which one?"

But just as the singular "hair" is usually taken to refer to a full head of individual hairs, I think that "data" is most often used to refer to a mass of information that, like hair, is an identifiable single thing in its own right, with its own properties and its own attributes. "The data is inconclusive" indicates an opinion about the entire set of data, not of any individual datum.

So that's it. Is everyone convinced?

POSTSCRIPT: Those of you who don't buy this will be even more outraged by an obvious corollary, which I touched on above: if you are truly referring to several specific pieces of data, it's all right to use the word "datums." Ouch! Maybe "pieces of data" is better after all.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:52 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (35)

GOOD TO HAVE YOU BACK....Well, perhaps my life has been shallow and meaningless so far, but a few minutes ago Ted Barlow emailed to tell me that my piece yesterday about human rights groups has dragged him out of his blog-less slumber and he is now posting once again.

My work here is done. Go read Ted.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (1)

MORE ON HEALTHCARE....South Knox Bubba has a long post summarizing the views of the various Democratic candidates on healthcare. Go read it.

As for me, in my ongoing partisan attempt to find the turd in the punchbowl, here is the paragraph that actually grabbed my attention:

I worked for a [guy] who told us one time in a senior management meeting that we had to get rid of all our sick employees and family members. Got somebody with diabetes? Fire them. Somebody's kid got leukemia? Fire him. Wife got cancer? Divorce her. He actually said these things. He was serious. He followed through. He got sued numerous times but laughed and told them to get in line.

Note: semi-gratituitous partisan slander replaced in order to keep our eyes on the ball here. Go to SKB's site to find out who the "guy" was.

This is the kind of thing that just ought to make your jaw drop and your blood boil. Dammit, corporations shouldn't have to buy healthcare for their employees, they shouldn't have to manage it, and they sure as hell shouldn't have to worry about making a decision between possible bankruptcy and trashing their employees' health plan.

This is just disgusting.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:16 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (6)

HEALTHCARE COSTS....Reader Bill Nazzaro sends along a link to this study in the journal Health Affairs compairing worldwide healthcare spending. Here are few interesting excerpts:

  • The United States spends about 13% of GDP on healthcare (page 91).

  • As countries get richer, they spend a greater percentage of their income on healthcare, a result that makes sense (page 92). If the United States followed the patterns of other countries, it would spend 10-11% of GDP on healthcare.

  • Public spending on healthcare in the United States amounted to 5.8% of GDP (page 93). I didn't realize the number was so high. An obvious conclusion from these facts is that if our total healthcare spending decreased to 11% and our public financing increased to 75% of that total (both figures in line with world averages for a country of our wealth), it would require additional government expenditures of only about 2.5% of GDP (i.e., 5.8% --> 8.3%). This doesn't make the case that we should do it, of course, but it certainly suggests that a national healthcare system could have a much lower impact on total government expenditures than I would have guessed.

  • Why are our costs so high? The picture is mixed. U.S. spending on pharmaceuticals is higher than average, but not wildly so. Salaries for doctors and nurses are higher, which accounts for some of it. A greater use of expensive technology is part of the answer. And greater administrative costs due to our weird tangle of buyers and sellers accounts for some of it.

  • The authors also suggest that despite paying a lot more for healthcare, the total amount of healthcare resources received by Americans (physician visits, hospital stays, etc.) is less than average for rich countries.

Food for thought, no? My own guess is that the free market has broken down on both sides of the Atlantic, ours in favor of providers and Europe's in favor of consumers. So more than likely, we pay doctors too much and they pay too little compared to the results of a pure free market solution. The end result is that we have rich doctors and — on average — mediocre healthcare. Maybe not such a great bargain.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:10 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (32)

May 07, 2003

KRUGMAN ON LIQUIDITY TRAPS....Hey, not only is economist Paul Krugman a great liberal columnist for the New York Times, but apparently he's a cool guy too. He reads blogs, mentions Demosthenes in his latest post on his personal website, indicates that he's read Ender's Game, and knows about Godwin's Law. He's one of us!

And speaking of economics, here's a scary thought: despite all the talk about how the U.S. economy is the best in the world thanks to our dedication to small government, the free market, good morals, etc. etc., it's well to remember that in the 70s Germany was widely thought to be the economic model for the future, in the 80s it was Japan, and in the 90s it was us. Maybe it will continue to be us for a while longer, but a decade at the top doesn't prove it. George Bush's horrible fiscal policy has the potential to cause considerable long term harm, and increasing income inequality could become our Achilles' heel.

Krugman makes a similar point in this post, where he notes that Japan got caught in a liquidity trap in the 90s, despite broad opinion that liquidity traps were no longer a problem in modern economies, and it might happen to us too. He's also got a somewhat more detailed explanation of liquidity traps and deflation here, explaining exactly what the problem is that he's afraid we're facing.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:07 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (24)

24 AND 25....As long as we're on the subject of movies and TV, Jeff Cooper wants everyone to know that 24's treatment of the 25th Amendment — an excellent contender for most obscure constitutional amendment ever — was not especially accurate from a purely legal point of view.

Well, yeah, and as Jeff himself notes, it's sort of the least of our worries when it comes to plausibility in the 24 world. However, in the writers' defense, I would like to point out that David Palmer made the same complaint in the show, and the VP was careful to respond by saying that Palmer's problem was erratic behavior, implying a sort of nervous breakdown rather than a simple policy difference. Thus, they sorta kinda meet the intent of the 25th Amendment, which was to have an orderly transition of power in case the president was disabled for medical reasons. Besides, they had to pick something that allows the president to regain power within the next, um, 70 or 80 minutes, right?

On other 24-related matters, unlike Jeff, I'm willing to buy into the fact that Jack recovered from a brutal, near-death torture session in about, oh, 30 seconds, but I am having trouble with the whole bomber scenario. I mean, they keep talking about how critical it is to surprise our enemies with these bombers, yada yada, but what the hell are they going to do when they get to their targets? I assume they aren't carrying nukes — ICBMs would be the preferred delivery system in that case — so all we have are a few bombers with a few payloads of ordinary bombs. So what? They're going to bomb a few miscellaneous buildings and turn around. What's that supposed to accomplish?

As Jeff notes, many of these problems arise from the conceit of the show, namely that it's happening in real time, and that's the part that really gets me. I guess it's a good gimmick, but in fact the story could be told almost identically if it took place over three weeks instead of 24 hours. It's not clear at all that the 24-hour straitjacket actually does any good.

And next season? Jack Bauer, who is actually Catholic, has been elected Pope by acclamation and springs into action when a rogue Opus Dei splinter group takes Kim captive and refuses to release her until Jack agrees to deed the Vatican over to them — a move that will destabilize the Italian banking system and lead to worldwide chaos. Unfortunately, they haven't counted on the power of Jack's cell phone....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:36 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (12)

X-MEN QUESTION....So, I just watched the first X-Men movie and — um....what's that? Backwards, you say? Well, yeah, I foolishly ignored everyone's advice and went out to see X-Men 2 on Monday even though I hadn't been able to rent Part 1, but then Marian got a copy yesterday from a friend at work so I watched it tonight.

Too bad, too. The first half hour of Part 2 probably would have made a lot more sense if I'd seen Part 1 first. Especially since, like Jacob Levy, I was a DC kid and don't know the Marvel titles very well, least of all X-Men, which I've never read at all. On the other hand, if you have any questions about Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, or, above all, the ever-entertaining Legion of Super Heroes, just let me know....

Ahem.

Anyway, I have a question: is this whole Mutant Registration Act thing just a movie plot device, or is it also an ongoing theme in the comic book? Just curious.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:10 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (29)

"WAR IS NOT A CAMPAIGN EVENT"....James Moore, author of Bush's Brain, aims a withering blast at Karl Rove today in the LA Times:

[Rove] looked around and saw that the economy was anemic and people were complaining about the president's inability to find Osama bin Laden. In another corner, the neoconservatives in the Cabinet were itching to launch ships and planes to the Mideast and take control of Iraq. Rove converged the dynamics of the times. He convinced the president to connect Hussein to Bin Laden, even if the CIA could not.

This misdirection worked. A Pew survey taken during the war showed 61% of Americans believe that Hussein and Bin Laden were confederates in the 9/11 attacks.

And now, Rove needs the conflict to continue so his client — the president — can retain wartime stature during next year's election.

....Rove has influenced dealings with Iraq and North Korea, according to Bush administration sources. For instance, when the U.S. was notified, through formal diplomatic channels, that North Korea had nuclear technology, Congress was in the midst of discussing the Iraqi war resolution. Rove counseled the president to keep that information from Congress for 12 days, until the debate was finished, so it would not affect the vote. He was also reported to be present at a war strategy meeting concerning whether to attack Syria after Iraq. Rove said the timing was not right. Yet. Having the political advisor involved in that decision is wrong.

War, after all, is not a campaign event.

Ouch.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:40 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (21)

LATEST POLL ON ATTITUDES TOWARD GAYS....Here's a Harris poll about attitudes toward sodomy laws, gay relationships, etc. It was done before the latest flap over Rick Santorum's comments.

The bottom line is that large majorities oppose sodomy laws, oppose regulation of private sexual conduct, believe the Supreme Court should overturn state sodomy laws, and oppose virtually all discrimination against gays and gay couples. The basic opposition to regulation of private sexual conduct is over 80%, and remains very large across all regions, age groups, genders, races, political affiliations, educational levels, and income levels. Everyone's opposed.

In a way, the news is actually even better than this, because the poll indicates that 13% of Americans are still such stone prudes that they think the government ought to regulate private heterosexual relationships. These folks are obviously hopeless, and aside from them there are only an additional 5% in favor of regulating homosexual relationships. That's pretty good progress on this issue, and indicates that people like Santorum are addressing a rapidly dwindling audience.

NOTE: this is an online poll, so its results should be treated even more carefully than most polls. However, Harris has a pretty decent reputation for conducting online polls reasonably accurately, so the numbers are definitely worth looking at.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:21 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (24)

MARKETING....Maddy Adamec has discovered the secret of marketing: everybody says their product is great. But they would say that, wouldn't they? So how can you believe any of it?

Sheesh, she's only eleven and she's already onto us. Time to think up a new scam.

Oh, and cats on leashes? Cats are simply much too smart for this kind of nonsense, Maddy. It just wastes valuable time that could be used for sleeping.

In other news, I'm happy to report that I'm now on the twins' blogroll, one of only two non-relatives. But neither one has linked to one of my posts yet....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:42 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (5)

TOM DASCHLE: SAINT OR SATAN?....Josh Marshall has a column in The Hill about the latest Tom Daschle bashing campaign, and it's worth reading on its own merits. But it also reminds me that I've never quite figured out what I think of Daschle.

It started a couple of years ago when I was listening to Rush Limbaugh and heard him refer to Daschle as "El Diablo." Huh? "He's Satan," Rush said, "and I mean that seriously."

At that point I was wondering if maybe there was some other Tom Daschle he was talking about. The one I knew was a low-key career politician who knew how the Senate worked, represented his party pretty effectively, but also cooperated with the other side of the aisle when he needed to and basically kept things chugging along fairly amicably. This guy is Satan?

As Josh points out, Rush wasn't the only one on this bandwagon, and Daschle has been the target of considerable Republican vitriol ever since. But here's the funny thing: a lot of liberals (in the blogosphere anyway) don't seem to think much of Daschle either. Too low key. Too accomodating. Lost the Senate last November.

But I wonder. The fact that he gave President Bush credit for his war leadership, for example, might just be smart politics. And he did manage to get Jim Jeffords to leave the GOP and caucus with the Democrats. And he's leading a couple of filibusters right now, which is pretty toughminded stuff.

And most of all, the Republicans seem to hate him. Surely that's a pretty good indication that behind the bland exterior he's doing a pretty good job for us?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:50 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (15)

HUMAN RIGHTS....Instapundit has a post up right now — I think it's about the 500th in a series — asking why "they" complain about Guantanamo but not about the much worse conditions of Saddam's prisons. I assume "they" refers to human rights organizations in particular and perhaps liberals in general, but either way this trope has gone way past tiresome.

To start with, human rights groups do complain about wretched conditions in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and dozens of other hellholes around the world. What's more, they even try to do something about it. They don't have the resources of the 101st Airborne at their disposal, but they do what they can, and they do it all the time, not just when it's politically convenient.

Second, as conservatives know perfectly well, everyone complains about conditions in their own country more than they do about conditions in other countries. Partly this is because — well, because it's their own country. And in democracies like America, interest groups have a reasonable belief that pressure on the government has some effect, whereas they know perfectly well that isn't true in a dictatorship like Iraq.

Simply saying that human rights groups "don't launch major PR offensives" about things like prison conditions in Iraq doesn't make it true. In fact, it isn't true: they do launch PR campaigns about this kind of stuff, and not just in Iraq, but everywhere. And you know what? They get ignored — or worse, labeled terminally naive — by the same foreign policy hawks who are criticizing them now. These guys would prefer that human rights be ignored in countries that are temporarily friendly to our interests and condemned only whenever it suits our needs. And Gitmo? They just shake their heads. Why would any group actually try to pressure its own country into acting more humanely? It's almost beyond belief, no?

But the United States should be held to higher standards than countries like Iraq. The day that stops being the case is the day that America stops mattering as a country.

POSTSCRIPT: At this moment, the Amnesty International website is highlighting the following causes: making sure that evidence of Iraqi atrocities is preserved so that perpetrators can be brought to justice, their opposition to the death penalty, human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, imprisoned children in the Philippines, mass detentions in Cuba, and a stoning case in Nigeria. Is there anything wrong with this particular list of issues?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:40 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (71)

MULTILATERALISM....In the current crisis in North Korea the United States insists that negotiations should involve other countries in the region. Why? Because otherwise they have no stake in the eventual outcome and no incentive to make it work.

In Afghanistan a multinational force is involved in nation building under the general direction of the UN. Why? Because it's an expensive operation and it makes sense to spread the cost and manpower among as many countries as possible.

In the case of Israel/Palestine, the United States has insisted on a roadmap process supported by the "Quartet": the United States, the EU, Russia, and the UN. Why? Because the United States isn't trusted by all parties and a multinational plan therefore has a better chance of being accepted.

The United States has often criticized Europe for its low levels of defense spending. Why? Because they are free riders. They get away with low spending levels only because they know that in the end they can always count on the United States military to protect them.

These are all good reasons for multinational collaboration in foreign policy. They are also reasons put forward by conservatives and by a conservative administration. So why is that Iraq, uniquely in the world, seems to be the one place where none of this matters?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:27 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (45)

THE GENIUS OF THE FREE MARKET....After a century of effort, you would think that the breakfast cereal industry might have bestirred itself to invent a box that could be easily opened even by bleary-eyed, thumb-fingered dolts. But no.

Just another appalling failure of the free market to provide the things that consumers really need....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:17 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (21)

May 06, 2003

ADVICE....Here's a piece of advice for all you bloggers out there: if you're going to write piece about how "liberals are more [blank] than conservatives" (or vice versa), don't let Kieran Healy see it. He gets really annoyed.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:37 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (6)

THOSE CRAZY KIDS....A Vermont policeman, on duty but "on break," persuaded a night custodian to let him into a locked classroom so that he could take pictures of student projects he considered offensive. "I'm just taking a stand," he said. Mac Diva has the details.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:03 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (41)

FAIRY TALE CEOs....The Times of London reports on Warren Buffett's disgust with executive compensation in America:

He called on investors to rise up and revolt over colossal executive pay packages, saying in the past 20 years there had been “an enormous disparity in the rates of compensation between people at the top and people at the bottom, and a disconnect between people at the top and the shareowners who give them the money”.

This is something that often gets lost in philosophical discussions of income inequality: it's not just a matter of tax rates and "winner take all" economies, it's also a matter of pay packages for corporate CEOs that have become criminally outrageous.

Fortune 500 CEOs are paid upwards of 10x what they were in the 50s and 60s, pay that could only be justified if they were 10x better than those old fogies. But they aren't. Corporate performance on a wide variety of measures is no better today than it was then, and "star" CEOs rarely justify their lucrative, risk-free pay packages.

So how should CEOs be paid? Aside from "a lot less," I'm tentatively convinced that stock options should be done away with completely, replaced by qualified stock grants instead. These are simple, easy to value, and reward long term performance instead of short-term spikes.

And how should executive bonuses (both cash and stock grants) be calculated? They should depend on performance, and this should always be calculated in comparison to a basket of similar firms. If revenues go down 5%, but your whole industry is down 10%, you've actually done pretty well and should be rewarded. Conversely, if revenues are up 5% but the rest of the industry is up 10%, you've probably done poorly and should be compensated accordingly.

The "entrepeneurial" Fortune 500 CEO is a myth of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and should be relegated to the same corner we reserve for all such fairy tales when we grow up. In reality, CEOs hate risk, they hate genuine performance assessments, and they hate being forced to live up to genuine benchmarks.

They should start being forced to work for a living.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:11 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (18)

BYE-BYE, DOC SEARLS....Via Brad DeLong comes a link to Doc Searls' blog that reminds me of why I find him so annoying. He's reporting on the fact that Overture, an internet advertising company, is reporting pretty good revenues, which is fine, but then he says this:

Bye-bye to ad agencies. Bye-bye to creative, media and account folks. Bye-bye to operational frictions and value-subtracting costs and annoyances of all kinds. Give it time, and you'll be saying bye-bye to traditional media too.

Hey, I think the web is great, I love the web to death, I used to manage web software, and I happily pay 40 bucks a month for my cable modem. But that doesn't mean I think the rest of the world is about to go away.

Why does Searls feel the need to do this? It's one thing to overhype Overture's success (revenues may have been up, but earnings were down considerably), it's quite another to insist that it's a sign of the impending end of traditional media.

Does anyone still believe this nonsense?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:31 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)

FUN WITH STATISTICS....I was rummaging through some old files last night and came across something I wrote several years ago about the top ten mistakes that infest day-to-day reporting of numerical and statistical information. Since I now have a blog I can share these with the world, so here they are:

  1. What’s the real income? Money comparisons over time should always be reported in real inflation-adjusted terms or else they're worthless. In nearly all cases, they should be reported in per capita terms as well.

  2. What’s the survey error? Statistical sampling error in opinion polls is trivial compared to the error from other sources. Things such as question wording, question order, interviewer bias, and non-response rates, not to mention Bayesian reasons for suspecting that even the standard mathematical confidence interval is misleading, give most polls an accuracy of probably no more than ±15%. Example: a couple of years ago a poll asked respondents if they had voted in the last election. 72% said yes, even though the reality was that voter turnout in that election had been only 51%. Most polls and studies are careful to document the statistical sampling error, but who cares about a 3% sampling error when there might be 21 points of error from other causes?

  3. Does A really cause B or might there be another explanation? If A and B are correlated, A might indeed cause B, but it’s also possible that it's just a coincidence or — even more likely — that some third source is causing both A and B. This problem is especially rampant in social science studies where virtually everything is related to everything else and even well designed multivariate analysis is extremely difficult.

  4. Is it the first study? Even putting aside other errors, 95% confidence means there’s a 5% chance that the result is wrong. We only believe that smoking causes cancer because there have been hundreds of confirming studies. Always be cautious about accepting the first study on any subject.

  5. Maybe it really was just a freak chance. “That can’t be a coincidence” is usually the result of not understanding how many rare things are nonetheless likely to happen once or twice in a population of 300 million. In a large country, there will always be some cities, or some groups, or some people, that are way above average for, say, cancer. The flip side of this is that something that seems dangerous might not really be. 100 kidnappings a year might seem like a lot, but in reality those are odds of one in three million. That's less likely than the odds of two people randomly picking out the same word from an encyclopedia.

  6. Compared to what? A 5% rise might be good or might be bad depending on whether everything else is growing at 0% or 10%. Which is it?

  7. Is there contradictory data? Two types of publication bias are involved here: researchers often don’t publish null results, and newspapers don’t bother reporting them when they are published.

  8. Statistically speaking, why did the headline number go up (or down)? Did everyone’s income go up 5%, or was it just that Bill Gates’ income went up 1000%? Distribution is as important as central tendencies. Check for mean vs. median. The value of statistics is to summarize a large mass of data, but it’s important not to summarize too much.

  9. Was the sample large and unbiased? For example, the original gay gene study used only about 40 people, and that was simply all the data they had. What’s worse, even if you do have a large sample it’s still difficult to ensure that it’s unbiased. Chapter 29 of Dana Milbank’s book Smashmouth is a pretty good down-and-dirty introduction to the delicate and tricky decisions that election pollsters have to make under deadline pressure to try and get accurate results.

  10. Does all the data point a little too cleanly to a single cause? Life is messy. A single report can often produce masses of data and should probably be viewed with suspicion if it claims that every bit of its data can be explained by a single cause — especially if it's a cause that the researcher is already known to favor.

Of course, I wrote this before the John Lott fiasco, so perhaps I should add #11: is the person reporting the numbers a dishonest hack?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:02 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (24)

SHOOTOUT AT THE CIA CORRAL....There's been an argument ever since 9/11 about whether the CIA is up to the job of properly analyzing intelligence from rogue regimes and terrorist groups. Do they have an institutional bias against believing anything unless there's ironclad proof, or are they properly cautious in the face of mountains of conflicting evidence?

Shortly after 9/11, believing the former, the Pentagon created the Office of Special Plans, a small group of intelligence analysts who were chartered with taking an independent look at evidence they felt was too often given short shrift by the CIA. In the New Yorker this week, Seymour Hersh tells the story of this group, but unfortunately, I think, fails to uncover anything really new. For example, here's an ex-CIA analyst:

The former intelligence official went on, “One of the reasons I left was my sense that they were using the intelligence from the C.I.A. and other agencies only when it fit their agenda. They didn’t like the intelligence they were getting, and so they brought in people to write the stuff. They were so crazed and so far out and so difficult to reason with—to the point of being bizarre. Dogmatic, as if they were on a mission from God.” He added, “If it doesn’t fit their theory, they don’t want to accept it.”

On the other hand, here's the Pentagon view:

A Pentagon adviser who has worked with Special Plans dismissed any criticism of the operation as little more than bureaucratic whining. “Shulsky and Luti won the policy debate,” the adviser said. “They beat ’em—they cleaned up against State and the C.I.A. There’s no mystery why they won—because they were more effective in making their argument. Luti is smarter than the opposition. Wolfowitz is smarter. They out-argued them. It was a fair fight. They persuaded the President of the need to make a new security policy. Those who lose are so good at trying to undercut those who won.” He added, “I’d love to be the historian who writes the story of how this small group of eight or nine people made the case and won.”

So who's right? Hersh provides some evidence that the Office of Special Plans deliberately slanted evidence and thereby won the ear of a president who was looking for an excuse for action, but in the end he doesn't really make a conclusive case about the quality of their analysis. That will have to wait for the final verdict on whether they were right about Saddam's WMD programs. Check back in a few months.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:15 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

A LOOK BACK....Local boy Chris Marcil surveys the Iraq war for the New York Times from the perspective of, um, several days later:

I'll always remember where I must have been when I heard the news on the radio — the announcement that President Bush would, later, announce that the war in Iraq was just short of the technical legal definition of victory. I must have been near Jonathan's office — I was at work, and Jonathan's assistant listens to NPR for some reason. "This changes everything," I think I said. "Stupid pledge drive," replied Jonathan's assistant.

It's truly been an unforgettable six weeks, hasn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:52 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (1)

IRAQ AND WMD....Chris Bertram asks: did Tony Blair lie when he told the House of Commons that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? The same question, of course, could be asked of George Bush, who very clearly made WMD the central part of his argument for regime change, both to domestic audiences and to the UN.

The answer, of course, is that it's too soon to tell. WMD, or evidence of substantial manfuacturing capability, may still turn up. But even so, the evidence so far is disturbing.

Before the war, we had the problem of the Iraqi exiles who said the WMD programs were all defunct, the forged Niger document, the plagiarized "dossier," and the aluminum tubes. Why frame a guilty man? At best, these incidents indicate an appalling failure of our intelligence operations; at worst, they indicate a deliberate attempt to deceive.

During the war, another disturbing fact cropped up: Saddam folded like a cheap tent and never used any of his WMD against us. Why? There has been speculation about why he might possess WMD but not use it, but it's been less than convincing.

After the war, the problems have grown further. No WMD has been found. No factories have been found. High ranking Iraqi officials have been captured, but they've revealed nothing. Perhaps more time is needed, but then there's this: the actions of the military have not been consistent with a genuine fear that Saddam's regime possessed WMD.

To wit: the Pentagon had only two MET teams ready to search Iraq when the war ended. They ignored known nuclear sites for a month. They have refused the help of UN inspectors, who would have provided much needed manpower, expertise, and international confidence in any findings.

Is this important? Of course it is. It's obviously important if the President of the United States lied or even seriously exaggerated about a threat in order to gain support for a foreign war, but it's important beyond that as well. Although seeing the end of Saddam Hussein is an unqualified good, this by itself is not enough. Any serious foreign policy must accept that there are many other actors on the world stage who are just as odious as Saddam Hussein, and we can't police them all. There must also be some credible threat to national — or world — security to justify a war of this kind, and WMD in the hands of an unstable dictator is exactly that kind of threat. It was critical as justification for this war.

Only a fool would declare at this early date that Iraq didn't possess either WMD or WMD programs. But the fact patterns emerging so far do not inspire confidence. For the sake of America's credibility with the world, I hope that changes soon.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:57 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

BUDGET CHIEF: I'D RATHER BE GOVERNOR....OF INDIANA....CNN reported two hours ago that White House budget director Mitch Daniels has resigned.

Two hours ago! But econo-bloggers Brad DeLong, Max Sawicky, and Megan McArdle all remain silent. What am I supposed to make of this development until they tell me what to think?

UPDATE: Brad DeLong obliges.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:56 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (11)

HEALTHCARE....I should have linked to this yesterday, but I didn't, so I'll do it now: here is Max Sawicky's take on the various healthcare plans touted by the Democratic presidential field.

I don't really have any comments of my own except to highlight this paragraph:

Our health care system gets worse every year in terms of cost, rights, and coverage, but it's akin to the frog in a pot of water over a stove burner. The extent of change in a given interval of time is not perceptible. Eventually costs will get ridiculous and radical change will be impossible to escape.

The healthcare debate, as with everything else these days, is usually argued in polarized ideological terms — Baby killers! Socialized medicine! — but in the end I don't think this is really an ideological issue. One way or another, I suspect that the private healthcare system in America will eventually find itself unable to cope with the strain, and some kind of centralized system will become inevitable.

The free market is indeed endlessly creative, but we don't really have a free market in healthcare today anyway, and the incentives of our current system are perverse. At some point there is going to have to be dramatic change, and it's hard not to think that we'd be better off doing it sooner than later. Sadly, like Max's frog, we probably won't.

POSTSCRIPT: I've always been curious about one aspect of this debate: where is the business community in all this? Currently, businesses have to pay for healthcare for their employees and they also have to manage the entire process themselves, something they all hate. It's pure deadweight administrative loss to them. So why is it that they haven't pushed their own party to support public healthcare more strongly in order to get it off their own plates?

And a legal question: suppose the government supplied universal healthcare to everyone. What would happen to the current contracts between management and labor unions to provide healthcare to unionized workers? They can't just be unilaterally abrogated, but at the same time they wouldn't make much sense anymore, would they? What's the answer to this?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:32 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (53)

GLAD TIDINGS ON THE ECONOMY....I missed this a couple of days ago, but Lean Left has this report on the economy:

I just heard a CNN anchor quoting an economist who thinks that, because of technological advances, globalization, and the very slow fashion in which excess inventory form the 90's bubble is being worked off, the majority of the jobs that have been lost under Bush may never come back.

This is actually great news. You can be certain that economic booms are about to end when the conventional wisdom starts trotting out arguments about how the business cycle is finally dead and this time the good times will roll forever. Likewise, recessions are usually over when analysts finally get so gloomy that they start telling us that the economy will probably never really recover.

You can always count on economic analysts to overreact, whether it's good news or bad news. They just never learn.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:12 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (6)

EUREKA!....I grew up in California, so I'm pretty used to the standard issue attacks on the Golden State: too laid back, too many crackpots, too liberal, too hedonistic, etc. etc. People have been saying that about us pretty much forever, and you know what? We keep doing pretty well, thankyouverymuch, and keep sending buckets of tax dollars back to the salt-of-the-earth Middle Americans who complain about us so much.

So when Lexington, the Economist's American columnist, wrote yet another tired screed about how out of touch California is — 9/11 proves it for sure this time! — I shrugged it off. But not C.T. Carey, my compatriot from Sacramento:

What a flaming asshole. Lexington's remarks are an excellent example of the sort of daft, ill-considered and deficit-braincell horse-exhaust that The Economist permits with increasing frequency in its pages. “California has been out of the loop ever since the Clintons moved out of the White House”? If anything, the reverse is true. The rest of the nation has once again reverted to the mindless mindset of cold-war-style imperialism, now that George Bush and his gang of corporate sheep-dawgs are in charge of the most fearsome arsenal of weaponry ever known to humanity.

Oil? Important, yes, but not as important as the stupidly naive neo-conservative philosophy underpinning America's recent aggressions. Lexington's arrogance is breathtakingly sophomoric and insulting.

Thank God he's not a member of Mr Bush's cabinet; they have enough myopic, right-wing idiots as it is.

Take that, Lexington! You trifle with California at your peril.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:48 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (13)

NORTH KOREA'S BOMB....Dan Drezner is unhappy about the latest development in the North Korea crisis. The Bush administration has basically said that there's not much they can do about North Korea's nuclear program any more, so we'll just have to try and keep them from exporting any nukes via an embargo, a transparently ridiculous and unworkable plan.

As Dan says, we have three options: do nothing, help Japan get nukes as a counterweight to North Korea, or strike a deal:

The first option relies on very wishful thinking.

The second option would have wide-ranging and unpredictable regional implications.

The third option rewards a totalitarian state that is in many ways worse than Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Everybody agrees that all three options are lousy ones, but surely the third is the least worst? After all, the primary argument against it is moral hazard: if we pay off the North Koreans for dismantling their nuclear program, it just sends a message to other rogue states that they can extort money from us too. Bad precedent, no?

Well, no. How many rogue states are there in the world that would actually set up a hugely expensive nuclear weapons program solely to extort money out of the United States? The idea is nuts. As a purely economic bargain, it makes no sense at all.

On the other hand, building nuclear weapons as a way of deterring an attack by the United States makes all sorts of sense, and the Bush administration's current do-nothing plan is ideally suited to encourage exactly that. Rightly or wrongly, from the point of view of, say, Iran or Pakistan, the only difference between Iraq and North Korea is that Saddam didn't have a bomb and Kim Jong-il does. The lesson is pretty plain.

It would be difficult — maybe impossible — to bargain with North Korea for a truly verifiable end to their weapons program. But it makes no sense at all not to even try. Any clear assessment of the risks shows that the downside is fairly small while the upside is potentially huge. Why not make the effort?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:27 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (5)

May 05, 2003

INSOLUBLE PROBLEMS....Conservatives all seem to hate the Middle East "roadmap" that President Bush is pushing on both Israel and the Palestinians, but it has never been clear to me what their alternative is. Today, Arnold Beichman, writing in NRO, seems to suggest that there isn't one. After writing at length about the undeniable fact that Palestinians generally hate Israel, he finishes with this:

Arab intransigence is the insoluble important question and it will not change. After all, the Palestinians' annual "Palestine Prize for Culture" was recently presented to Abu Daoud for his recent memoir in which he detailed how he masterminded the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

George Santayana once said: "All problems are divided into two classes, soluble questions, which are trivial and important questions which are insoluble."

Yep, that's the end. Not "here's a better plan" or "we need to work on Arab intransigence and here's how," but "it will not change." Period. The problem is insoluble.

So what's the answer supposed to be? A gigantic wall around Israel? Extermination of all Palestinians? Endless war? What?

What can possibly be the point for a conservative magazine to simply declare the problem insoluble and then walk away?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:05 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (55)

CARTOON VOICES....One of the previews I saw right before X-Men 2 was for some upcoming Disney cartoon, and they made a big deal out of the fact that a few of the voices were being done by big name stars (Brad Pitt was one). I don't really understand this.

Big stars must cost a lot more than voice specialists (or even little stars, for that matter), but what does the movie get in return? The kids surely don't care, nor does it seem likely that parents decide to take their kids to movies based on who's doing the voicing of the characters. So what's the point?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:35 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

X-MEN....I just saw X-Men 2, and it was pretty good if you're partial to that kind of thing (i.e., action packed comic book dramatizations). I have to say, though, that if I were running a school for super-powered mutant children, I'd have slightly better security than Dr. Xavier seems to have. You know, at least a burglar alarm or something, although an impenetrable force shield of some kind would be an even better bet.

While I'm on the subject — and yes, I realize that criticizing the plot devices of comic books is fairly pointless — I'd like to make one other observation. One of the standard tropes of superhero comics is that the villains are also super powered in some way because — well, it doesn't really need any explanation, does it? Superman is reputed to be invulnerable to atomic blasts, so it's not likely that even the fictional super-military that populates Tom Clancy novels would have much luck against him, is it?

So why then does this movie work on the premise that a few special ops guys helicoptered out to the mutant school might actually do some damage? Hmmm?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:25 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (17)

MUSIC REQUEST....This is the longest of longshots, but for several years I've been looking for a recording of Johann Hasse's Concerto for Mandolin in G Major, but I've had no luck finding it. I don't suppose anyone out there has heard of this piece and knows of anyone who has recorded it recently?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (5)

URL UPDATE....The Farrell siblings — Henry and Maria — have moved to a new address:

http://www.henryfarrell.net/blog/

They also have a new name for their blog: Gallowglass, which is explained here.

Oops, actually it isn't, since permalinks don't seem to be working yet — probably a real annoyance for the Farrells since working archives are one of the main reasons for moving off blogger.

Adjust your bookmarks anyway. I'm sure the archives will be working soon.

UPDATE: Archives now working!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:38 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (0)

AFGHANISTAN....A few days ago Dan Drezner and I were wondering how strong our commitment to Afgahnistan really was, and today we seem to be getting the beginnings of an answer:

The departing commander of U.S.-led military forces in Afghanistan says those troops' success fighting terrorist holdouts, combined with improved recruiting by the new Afghan army, means that Americans stationed here could start going home as early as summer 2004.

....The general said Friday that 9,000 Afghan soldiers should be trained and on duty by the summer of next year, which would permit a gradual reduction of allied forces. The latter currently number 11,500, of whom 8,500 are U.S. soldiers, Marines and airmen.

....The general said he is optimistic that a United Nations-backed and Japanese-financed plan to disarm thousands of Afghan militiamen will be successful — as long as an ongoing effort to reform and reconstitute the leadership of the Afghan Ministry of Defense is successful.

I realize that we can't be expected to keep a huge occupation force in Afghanistan forever, but we have less than 10,000 troops there right now, we're planning to pull out within a year, and our financial commitment isn't very impressive either. It doesn't bode well.

And am I the only one who finds it peculiar that we're "optimistic" about the UN doing a sterling job in Afghanistan, but convinced that they would bring nothing but infighting and corruption to nation building in Iraq? What exactly is the difference here?

President Bush keeps saying that we'll be in Iraq "for as long as it takes," but our increasingly weak commitment to Afghanistan makes that increasingly hard to believe. We should be watching closely to see if Bush's famed resoluteness extends beyond dramatic gestures to the hard, messy work of actually seeing things through to the end.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:27 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (11)

NORTH KOREA....Matt Yglesias sums up the latest moves in the North Korea game, and his post got me thinking about something. I keep hearing that one of our fears is that North Korea will build nuclear bombs and sell them to terrorists in order to raise badly needed hard currency. Now I happen to think that North Korea building nuclear bombs for any reason is a very bad thing indeed, but would they really sell them to terrorists? How much would a terrorist pay for a nuclear bomb?

I mean, al-Qaeda is the richest terrorist group around, right? But even they couldn't afford to pay more than — at a stretch — a few tens of millions of dollars. And in the great scheme of things, that's chump change. Better relations with China, South Korea, Japan, and the United States would be worth at least a hundred times that much.

Yes, yes, I know that Kim Jong-il is a peculiar person and all that, but he can't have taken leave of his senses so completely as to think that selling nuclear bombs actually makes sense as a trading strategy, can he?

Building nuclear bombs may be a good way of getting people to pay attention to you, but it's a lousy way of addressing your current accounts deficit. So my question is: are we worried about this because it's a real possibility, or are we worred about it simply because every foreign policy problem these days has to be related to the war on terrorism?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:05 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (16)

BILL BENNETT....THE CHEAP SHOTS JUST KEEP ON COMING....Charles Kuffner reminds us this morning that gambling isn't the only vice Bill Bennett is famous for. Tut tut.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (1)

SUING YOUR WAY TO A LOWER ERA....I'm generally skeptical of panicky invocations of doom caused by skyrocketing awards in civil lawsuits. Most of the time, big awards get front page treatment, but the fact that there's actually some merit to the case gets buried in the back pages, and when the award get reduced 99% a year later it barely even gets a blurb.

Still, there is something disconcerting about our apparent tendency to sue over anything these days, even if most of the frivolous suits do get thrown out. The LA Times, for example, has a story this morning about Marc Martinez, who sued his son's high school baseball coach:

Martinez alleged in his first suit that Emme harmed his son J.D.'s future as a college pitcher by making him pitch too many innings, damaging his arm. Martinez pulled his son off the team in his senior year and later filed another suit, saying the coach made false statements in a newspaper article, ruining his son's chance for a college scholarship and, perhaps, a career in the big leagues.

....So far, most of the "disappointment cases" appear to be frivolous, said sociologist Richard Lapchick, who directs the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. But if juries begin handing up judgments, he said, it could leave coaches feeling handcuffed, afraid to talk freely with recruiters, second-guessing themselves on how they handle young athletes.

Overbearing parents are hardly a new phenomenon in teenage sports — I still remember the (literally) hair-raising stories* my high school tennis coach told me 30 years ago about how his father treated him. But there's not much question that it's gotten worse, frequently leading to fights with both coaches and other parents, and now, apparently, to lawsuits.

Time to chill out folks. And remember: if your kid isn't already a superstar in high school, the odds of a pro career are slim and none. Better to focus on their grades instead.

*Literally hair raising? Yes. After he lost a match one time, his father held him down and shaved his head as punishment.

UPDATE: In comments, ChrisL points out that good grades aren't guaranteed to keep you away from lawsuits either....

UPDATE 2: Charles Kuffner, who is currently coaching a winless Little League team and is therefore a prime candidate to have his ass sued off, has some more thoughts on this.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:45 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (10)

May 04, 2003

URL UPDATE....John Quiggin has moved to:

http://mentalspace.ranters.net/quiggin/

Adjust your bookmarks.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (0)

LIBERAL HEROES....I just read Todd Gitlin's latest column in the Washington Post, pointed there by Atrios and Avedon Carol, who disapprove, and Gary Farber, who thinks it's "spot-on."

And....I dunno. Gitlin shakes his head at the "intense wounded rage" of the right, something that he agrees is inexplicable considering that — basically — they've won: not only did they win the war with Iraq, but they control "the White House, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court and, increasingly, the lower federal courts."

But he also shakes his head at the "helplessness" of the left, suggesting that simply opposing conservatives isn't enough. Liberals need to have solid, proactive policies, especially in the field of foreign affairs, not just furious reactions to George Bush.

Now, I basically agree with Avedon that

The Democratic left, at least, has perfectly good policies - they just aren't as dramatic-sounding as Invading a Country! and Winning a War! and Enormous Tax Cuts! and what-have-you.

But if liberal policies really are more nuanced than conservative ones, that's all the more reason that they need to be articulated more forcefully and more plainly, no?

So....I still dunno. I don't think I'm quite ready to reject Gitlin's critique just because I don't like it. I guess I need to think about it some more. But he did say one thing that struck a chord:

For its part, much of the left now is drawn toward melodramatic good-guy, bad-guy polarization -- or rather, would be so drawn if it could settle on who, if anyone, might occupy the positive pole.

Conservatives have their heroes, but do we have ours? I have to admit that when I survey the (broadly defined) political field, I find very few people I truly admire. Who are the liberal heroes of the beginning of the 21st century?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:04 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (46)

LEFTY BLOGGER DISEASE....For the past couple of years the LA Times has had an editorial page columnist named John Balzar, and I like him a lot. He's an ex-Marine with moderate liberal instincts and a practical, humanist frame of mind, and he writes interesting columns that don't just echo what everyone else is saying. Unfortunately, he also seems to have succumbed to lefty blogger disease:

Our civic arguments are frequently unforgiving and growing more so. On matters of state and culture, art and music, in matters of our public lives, we speak to each other in the language of stridency.

The correspondence sent my way in these months by thousands of readers is representatively volcanic: If only people knew better! If only you knew better! If only everybody was as wise as someone else!

Today's column was his last, and although he doesn't say why he's leaving the column writing biz, it sounds like he just got tired of the format (gotta have an opinion twice a week) and the stridency (criticize George Bush even mildly and watch the Times server crash under the email load).

It's true that I read more lefty blogs than conservative ones, but I don't think that explains the frequency of liberals who quit blogging or go on hiatus, complaining that the shrill tone of the blogosphere is just too much and they need to get away from it. Conservatives rarely seem to have that problem. I don't know if they actively thrive on the vitriol, but at least they seem to have a higher tolerance for it.

I realize there's no answer to this question, but I still wonder: what are conservatives so damn mad about? When even Andrew Sullivan — Andrew Sullivan! — gets besieged with "vituperative" email for a criticism of George Bush that registered about 0.1 on the Richter scale, shouldn't the right side of the spectrum consider taking a step back and checking to see if the vast socialist conspiracy is really quite as bad as they think it is?

As for lefties, we need to develop thicker skins.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:39 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (54)

SPORTS TRIVIA....Chad Orzel muses on an important question: is there any sporting event that has a greater ratio of build-up time to actual event time than the Kentucky Derby? He suggests that the run-up is a couple of weeks, while the race itself takes two minutes, an astonishing 10,000:1 ratio.

Chad considers and dismisses things like the Olympic 100-meter dash, which is embedded in a larger tournament, and is only able to come up with the occasional one-round knockout in professional boxing as a true competitor to the Derby.

Any other ideas?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:21 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

THE RIEMANN HYPOTHESIS....I finished my book on the Riemann Hypothesis, and unfortunately I didn't think much of it. It turns out that I've already read another book by the same author, and I didn't like that book too much either, so maybe I just don't like his books.

But it goes beyond that, I think, and the problem is one that infects an awful lot of popular books about math: most of them discuss things that require at least some familiarity with topics beyond basic arithmetic. In this case, for example, you really need to know what a complex number is.

So the author has two choices: (a) write the book for an audience that already knows what complex numbers are, which reduces your potential readership to a Very Small Number, or (b) explain complex numbers.

Most authors, including this one, choose option (b). This is annoying to me because I then have to wade through dozens of pages I don't need to read, something that has to be done with care since these pages invariably also contain details here and there that are important to other parts of the story.

What's more, I have my doubts that this works anyway. First of all, I wonder just how many non-mathophiles are going to read a book like this in the first place, and of the ones who do, I wonder how many actually end up understanding the kinds of tortured analogies that are usually used to explain difficult concepts. In this case the author analogizes complex numbers to streets and cross streets in New York, and then tries to convince us that the cross streets are somehow related to the square root of -1.

Fair enough, and I don't know that I could do any better, but does it actually help? Does anyone who didn't understand the concept in the first place understand it better after reading an explanation like this?

I honestly don't know, but I can't help but think that these efforts are doomed. The book has plenty of scary looking equations, and I'm pretty sure that simply saying "don't be scared!" doesn't do much to broaden your audience. It might be better to simply assume that anyone interested in a topic like this is already familiar with high school algebra, accept the fact that this will reduce your audience a bit, and be done with it.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, a lot of this has to do with the skill of the author. For example, a very good book about math that I read a few years ago was The Mystery of the Aleph, by Amir Aczel, a short book about Georg Cantor and transfinite set theory. Aczel did a great job of explaining the math in an understandable way, weaving it seamlessly with interesting historical background and a biography of Cantor himself. My recollection is also that Aczel simply assumed, for example, that his readers knew what an exponent was and didn't waste time trying to teach basic algebra. It made for a much better book.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:02 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (14)

THE MUSIC INDUSTRY VS. THE WORLD....PART LXXVII....The music industry, frustrated beyond the bounds of rationality by internet music downloading, is apparently considering viruses as a way of fighting back:

A more malicious program, dubbed "freeze," locks up a computer system for a certain duration — minutes or possibly even hours — risking the loss of data that was unsaved if the computer is restarted. It also displays a warning about downloading pirated music. Another program under development, called "silence," scans a computer's hard drive for pirated music files and attempts to delete them. One of the executives briefed on the silence program said that it did not work properly and was being reworked because it was deleting legitimate music files, too.

Other approaches that are being tested include launching an attack on personal Internet connections, often called "interdiction," to prevent a person from using a network while attempting to download pirated music or offer it to others.

I've written before that I genuinely sympathize with the industry's plight, and it's unreasonable to expect them to just twiddle their thumbs while their entire business implodes. But even so, this is like lobbing a nuke at the Bay Area because you don't like Nancy Pelosi. What the hell are they thinking?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:18 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (34)

DEMOCRATIC DEBATE....Max Sawicky has some good comments on the Democratic presidential debate last night. His biases are clear, but his observations are sharp.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:39 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (5)

GILLIGAN'S ISLAND....The most perfect televison theme song in history was the theme to Gilligan's Island. The composer of the theme, George Wyle, died on Friday.

May he rest in peace.

Gilligan's Island Theme Song

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port,
Aboard this tiny ship.

The mate was a mighty sailin' man,
The skipper brave and sure,
Five passengers set sail that day
For a three hour tour.
A three hour tour.

The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed.
If not for the courage of the fearless crew,
The Minnow would be lost.
The Minnow would be lost.

The ship set ground on the shore of this
Uncharted desert isle
With Gilligan, the skipper too,
The millionaire and his wife,
The movie star, the professor and Mary Ann,
Here on Gilligan's Isle!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:22 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (16)

SOCIAL SECURITY....Just for the hell of it, I want to briefly address one of my favorite topics: the imminent demise of Social Security.

I used to buy into this: demographic pressures were inexorable, there would be fewer people supporting more retirees, the whole system was unsustainable, etc. etc. So I looked into it.

After more research than I care to admit to, it suddenly struck me that only one thing really mattered: how big is Social Security? I had been vaguely under the impression that it was a huge program, but in fact it turns out that Social Security amounts to about 4% of GDP today.

4%.

And the pessimistic consensus is that over the next 50 years or so this will gradually increase to about 7%. That means that federal taxes, which today amount to about 20% of GDP, will need to increase to about 23% of GDP.

So what's all the fuss about? Somehow, among all the talk about lockboxes and trust funds and treasury bonds and deficits, we've managed to create a tremendous amount of unnecessary confusion that hides the simple fact that Social Security is just not that big a program in the greater scheme of things. Raising taxes by three percentage points over the next few decades is hardly political dynamite, and the popularity of Social Security makes it an absolute certainty that this will be done in due course. Social Security will be fully funded for the rest of the century, and all those Gen Xers who are convinced that it won't be there for them are almost certainly wrong.

Anyway, I just wanted to get that off my chest. The next time somebody starts nattering on endlessly about the government buying its own IOUs or something similar, just tune it all out and remember this simple fact: even by the end of the century Social Security will amount to only about 7% of GDP. It's just not that big a deal.

Medicare, on the other hand, is a different problem entirely....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:53 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (27)

TRANSFORMING THE MIDDLE EAST....Only Nixon can go to China, and maybe only Bush can forge peace in the Middle East. His success in Iraq and his demonstrated friendship with Israel is apparently keeping the Israeli lobby quiet even though they don't like the Bush "roadmap" much:

The pro-Israel lobby finds itself hanging back these days, reluctant to confront Israel's benefactor as he emerges victorious from the war in Iraq.

"There's very little desire to take him on right now, at the period of his greatest strength," said Marshall Breger, a professor at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law who was President Reagan's liaison with the American Jewish community. "The organized community just doesn't want to go at him head on."

After all, President Bush has delivered Israel from its greatest military threat. His administration has proposed a massive new financial aid package and committed itself to doing even more in the years ahead to make Israel's tough neighborhood a little safer.

It's a cliche to say that postwar Iraq is more important than the war itself, but recent developments show how true this really is, especially in the first few months after the war. Right now, President Bush is in the strongest position he will ever be in, and if he's really serious about remaking the Middle East he's going to need to take some chances and show that unswerving resolve he's so famous for among his fans.

Bush's friendship toward Israel is unquestioned, so right now he can afford to show some goodwill toward the Palestinians to gain their trust. He's just finished conquering Iraq, so if there's ever a time that he can convince Syria that it's in their best interest to give up their dreams of pan-Arab nationalism, this is it. Our military bases in Saudi Arabia are being removed, so he can now afford to increase pressure on the House of Saud to rein in their religious fundamentalists.

Momentum and optimism being the fragile things that they are, my guess is that he's got no more than a few months to use this newfound clout before it starts to evaporate. By the end of the year we should know for certain whether he was really serious about transforming the Middle East.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:12 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (8)

DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ....There's a nice story in the LA Times this morning about Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, who took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul shortly after an uprising that resulted in U.S. forces killing 12 civilians:

Petraeus then turned a city on the verge of a bloodbath into one preparing for an election on Monday, the first postwar vote of its kind in a major Iraqi city. He did it by convincing local leaders who have never known democracy that it's better to be on the inside talking, and compromising, than outside shouting and throwing rocks.

The plan calls for a convention of 217 delegates, representing various ethnic, religious, tribal and political groups, to choose a 23-member city council to govern Mosul until Iraq has its first free elections, Petraeus said.

As with all news out of Iraq, both good and bad, it's too early to draw any conclusions from a single incident. Still, Mosul is a huge city, riven with factions, and got off to a bad start under U.S. control. It's encouraging to see that with the right touch, good progress can apparently be made.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:53 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (2)

May 03, 2003

DEMOCRATIC DEBATE RECAP....Wyeth Wire was at the Democratic debate tonight and has a full report. Overall, it doesn't sound like there was an awful lot of substance, but at least you can check out each candidate's one-liners.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:02 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (4)

POLITICAL DISCOURSE....Jeff Cooper has some good posts up right now. For starters, he has some thoughts about the current level of political discourse: if Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan of all people can get ripped by their readers for being insufficiently obsequious toward George Bush's jet-assisted speech on the Abraham Lincoln yesterday, what does that say? "We're all in serious trouble," that's what.

Next he wonders how the Republican party managed to switch from support for a balanced budget amendment in the Contract With America in 1994 to support for deficits as far as the eye can see today. Bad news, Jeff: it's even worse than that. Here's the Republican party platform from 2000:

Over a five year period, as surpluses continue to grow, we will return half a trillion dollars to the taxpayers who really own it, without touching the Social Security surplus. That’s what we mean by our Lock-Box: The Social Security surplus is off-limits, off budget, and will not be touched. We will not stop there, for we are also determined to protect Medicare and to pay down the national debt. Reducing that debt is both a sound policy goal and a moral imperative. Our families and most states are required to balance their budgets; it is reasonable to assume the federal government should do the same. Therefore, we reaffirm our support for a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget.

Hell, they ought to have whiplash making a U-turn that fast.

Finally, Jeff wants to sell his Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. I didn't even know such a thing existed, but apparently it's one of the all time marketing turkeys of the computer age. Let him know if you'd like to be its proud new owner.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:52 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (4)

GAMBLERS ANONYMOUS....In my continuing seach for dumb but entertaining ways to abuse arithmetic (and waste neurons in the process), I'm going to try to answer a question that Justene Adamec asked in comments below: is it really possible that Bill Bennett lost $8 million playing slots over the course of ten years? Let's try to find out:

  • He plays the $500 slots, apparently for 3-4 hours at a crack.

  • Let's say that a serious gambler can feed the machine ten times a minute. That amounts to about 2,000 pulls, or $1 million.

  • The article says he visits casinos for "two or three days at a time," so figure he can bet $3 million per visit.

  • If he does this once a month, that's $36 million per year.

  • Over ten years, this amounts to $360 million in total bets.

  • If the machines pay off at 98%, he would have lost about 2% of $360 million, or $7.2 million.

I don't know if my guesses are right, especially the part about feeding a slot machine ten times a minute (Vegas junkies are invited to comment on this), but it shows that at least the order of magnitude is plausible.

Of course, the article also says that he's lost as much as $500,000 in a single visit. The same arithmetic I used above indicates that this would require about 40 hours of gambling, and I'm not sure what this means. Does he play multiple machines at once? Do some casinos have slots even bigger than $500? Does he play for longer periods than the article says?

More investigation is needed! Somebody get cracking out there!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:53 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (12)

HEZBOLLAH....A couple of weeks ago I wrote a throwaway line about the "odious Hezbollah terrorist group" and received several emails telling me I was mistaken: Hezbollah, they said, unlike Hamas or Islamic Jihad, was not really a terrorist group. It targeted military sites, not civilians, and has been fairly quiet for the past decade anyway.

I didn't think too much more about it, but Adam Kushner wrote me an email yesterday saying that he had written an article about Hezbollah for the Columbia Political Review. "I'm shocked by my own conclusions," he said, and while his article does not entirely exonerate Hezbollah, it does make a pretty good case that over the past dozen years Hezbollah has evolved into a pragmatic organization that performs a valuable social role in Lebanon. Its military arm is still active at a low level, but even the Israelis apparently agree that it's a guerilla group, not a terrorist organization, and stays active only due to pressure from Syria in any case.

And speaking of Lebanon, Jacob Levy points to an article in The American Conservative arguing that the American occupation of Iraq has eerie parallels to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. I had the same thought myself a while back, but, like Jacob, I'm not sure the parallels are actually that close. Still, it's a worthwhile precedent to consider and the article is worth reading.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:55 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (5)

JOHN LOTT SUMMARY....Mark Kleiman has a lengthy and very good summary of the whole John Lott fiasco. This is not just ordinary blogging, either, he made phone calls and everything to try to really figure out what was going on!

Mark's conclusions strike me as being exactly right, both in substance and in tone. Good stuff.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:27 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (3)

HUMAN CREATIVITY....I'm currently reading a book about a mathematical problem called the Riemann Hypothesis and came across a paragraph so breathtakingly wrong that I just have to share it:

In the math department....the mathematicians are doing one of three things — staring out of the window, writing furiously with a pencil, or scribbling with chalk on a blackboard. This is what they are paid to do, and they appear to be doing it very well. This is, I suppose, what also goes on in a literature or history department at any university. But there is one difference — on the whole, historians, literary critics, and even writers are recycling material; adding their own spin, certainly, but essentially recycling facts, words, emotions, and descriptions that usually exist in some form already. Mathematicians, however, are innovators....

Mathematics is symbol manipulation. The basic symbols are numbers and variables and operators, which, although few in number, can be combined and manipulated to create stunning and unanticipated vistas of abstract thought.

Literature is also symbol manipulation. The basic symbols are words, and they too can be manipulated in wildly complex ways that produce stunning and often unanticipated vistas of human knowledge and emotion.

Manipulating the abstract symbols of mathematics is a different — and generally less accessible — kind of genius than the manipulation of words on a page, but can there really be any question that great writers and historians are creating new works every bit as much as great mathematicians?

It perplexes me that smart people so often say things like this. Geniuses like Shakespeare and Newton and Jefferson are just different faces on the vast, multi-sided dice of human achievement, not stairsteps in a heirarchy. Only a very small mind could think otherwise.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:27 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (41)

SHORTER ATRIOS....Lots of good stuff over at Eschaton this morning:

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:35 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

SIN, SIN, SIN!....So it turns out that virtue czar Bill Bennett is a bit overfond of gambling. The comeuppance is pretty amusing, and since I think Bennett is one of the most annoying little prigs around I guess I'm all in favor of piling on over this.

As Atrios points out, there's nothing wrong with gambling per se, and Bennett has never condemned gambling, so he's not a hypocrite. But why not? Why did he write book after book condemning other private conduct such as homosexuality, drug use, porn, etc., but never included gambling in that list of sins? It is certainly a coincidence that he blamed the decline of western civilization on an entire catalog of garden variety sins except for the one he happened to practice himself, no?

Actually, though, my favorite part of the article was this:

Bennett claims he's beaten the odds: "Over 10 years, I'd say I've come out pretty close to even."

"You can roll up and down a lot in one day, as we have on many occasions," Bennett explains. "You may cycle several hundred thousand dollars in an evening and net out only a few thousand."

But the guy only plays slot machines. It's literally impossible to believe that he's gambled millions of dollars over the span of a decade on slot machines and come out ahead. One might as well believe that in a gigantic thermodynamic coincidence all the air in a room suddenly drifted off into a corner and that's why there's a dead body on the floor.

So not only is he a gambler, he's obviously a liar too. His sins are mounting....

UPDATE: It just occurred to me to go check and see what the Cornerites have to say about this. Jonah Goldberg's not sure; before he writes anything he wants to know if any other conservatives think this is a big deal. Way to stick to your guns, Jonah! Better check with the Wurlitzer before you make up your mind.

Jonathan Adler, on the other hand, needs no hand holding: gambling is perfectly legal, so there's nothing wrong with it. Even if, um, you do make a living telling everyone else that they should rein in their animal urges. Note to Jonathan: cheating on your wife is legal too. For now, anyway.

Kathryn Jean Lopez opines that "Bennett's never sold himself as the model of virtue," he's only written lots of books about the virtues of being virtuous. She continues: "You know, there are conservatives who drink, too. And some are divorced." Funny how conservatives only seem to object to other people's vices, isn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:10 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (22)

THE DOMESTIC WAR ON TERROR....Instapundit reports today about a guy who lost his job at a gun store because of a police memo:

The case started when a Gwinnett detective issued a classified "intelligence release" warning police of Wynn's new job, that he has "insinuat[ed] the use of violence against law enforcement officers" and often carries guns in his car. The report said the job would allow Wynn "to collect intelligence" on police, getting officers' home addresses when they complete federal paperwork when buying guns.

Jimmy Wynn, the guy in question, was the commanding officer of the Militia of Georgia and apparently a tinfoil hat brand of wingnut, but there were no charges outstanding against him and working in the gun store was perfectly legal. But when a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent called the gun store owner and told him about the memo, the store owner immediately fired Wynn (although he claims he was planning to fire Wynn anyway for poor job performance).

There are always going to be close calls in this kind of thing, and no one thinks that police just have to sit on their hands waiting for explosive situations to catch fire. But this kind of generalized suspicion and vague fear is exactly what J. Edgar Hoover exploited in the 60s to shut down civil right groups — he just knew they were up to no good — and if it was bad then it's bad now.

"Keeping an eye" on someone is part of law enforcement. Getting them fired from their jobs because they annoy you isn't.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (5)

May 02, 2003

HOWARD DEAN....An LA Times story this morning suggests that there are a few people who aren't all that enamored with Howard Dean's straight-talking style:

He has mischaracterized some of his opponents' positions and fuzzed up his own. He has offered misleading statements, even as he challenges the integrity of others running. ("They need a backbone transplant," he told a union audience Wednesday in New York City.) Before the race even heats up, Dean has been forced to apologize to at least one rival for misspeaking, and he angered several others who privately seethe over his potshots. All of that could make Dean a prime target when the presidential candidates stage their first televised debate of the campaign Saturday night in South Carolina.

I'm a little surprised that bickering among the candidates has broken out this early. Shouldn't they be attacking George Bush and holding back the intraparty potshots as a sort of tactical nuke to be used only in an emergency?

Also: did Dean have this straight talking reputation as governor, or is it a recent invention? Are there any Vermont readers out there who can fill us in?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:24 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (19)

FRENCH DRIVERS....Here's a peculiar paragraph from a book I'm currently reading. The author is talking to a guy who has moved to France and needs to pass the driving test:

I was surprised to discover that he was nervous about this exam, and even more surprised when he told me about some of the questions that were giving him trouble. There was a question on speed limits, which showed a sign with "80" on it, and asked which of three speeds you are permitted to travel at after passing the sign: 60, 80, or 100 k.p.h. During his lessons, in which he was set test questions, he kept making the mistake of answering "80" when should have answered "60" and "80" (because clearly if you are permitted to travel at 80 k.p.h. you are also permitted to travel at 60).

So it's a trick question, of the kind beloved by 10-year-olds the world over. But why do the French have trick questions on their driving exam? Shouldn't a driving test just be a straightforward test of whether you know the rules of the road, not a series of "gotchas"?

Of course, the consensus of non-French opinion is that the French are lousy drivers. Maybe this is why.

(Oh, and this little story is also a metaphor for French fecklessness, appeasement, intellectual elitism, and anti-Americanism too. Just in case you didn't think I knew that.)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:25 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (19)

BRITISH ELECTIONS....Great Britain held local elections yesterday and the Conservatives gained 540 council seats (out of about 8,000). Hooray for the Tories!

If you want to know more, you have two good choices:

  • The BBC provides an excellent, bullet-pointed rundown of all the important points of the election.

  • Daniel Davies provides an entertaining and cranky explanation of what really happened — and why nobody should care anyway.

Take your pick.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 01:28 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (10)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Today is garden day. On the left, Inkblot is ready for his closeup next to a lovely red camellia in our neighbor's yard. On the right, Jasmine is soaking up the Southern California sunshine while keeping the catnip plant in close protective custody.

Our bonus cats for the day come from Ben Longman, who passes along this website of Japanese Cat-Nappies. In case you're wondering, no, I don't know what this is all about, I probably don't approve, and yes, it's sort of creepy. Perfect for a Friday afternoon.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:22 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (6)

MORE ON TERROR....Oddly enough, one of the issues that I think gets too little attention in the war on terror is WMDs. And I'm not talking here about chemical weapons, which serious arms experts don't consider any more dangerous than conventional explosives, but about bio weapons and, especially, nukes.

As bad as conventional terrorist bombings are, they aren't the real problem on a global scale. The real problem is (a) the future possibility of serious biological weapons, and (b) the very present possibility of a terrorist group getting its hands on a nuclear weapon.

So how are we doing on the nuke front? Let's see:

  • The most serious danger probably comes from suitcase nukes smuggled into the country via container ships, but after signing a port security bill last year with great fanfare President Bush has consistently failed to fully fund it. Instead, missile defense, which is of no value against terrorist attacks, receives billions of dollars a year in funding.

  • Russia and Eastern Europe have loads of highly enriched uranium that needs to be secured and decommissioned, but Bush has declined to push for more flexible rules that could free up funding for some of the most dangerous sites. Luckily, Ted Turner is doing it for us.

  • Pakistan has nukes, their scientists are known to have met with Osama bin Laden, they supported the Taliban, and they have sold nuclear technology to North Korea. Result: post-9/11 they promised to be good and are now supposedly a strong ally.

  • North Korea has nukes and George Bush has known about them for years. Response so far: nada.

As happy as I am that Saddam Hussein has gotten his just desserts, shouldn't playtime be over now? Invading Iraq has done very little either to combat terrorism or to make the United States more secure, and while port security and HEU decommissioning may not be as flashy as foreign wars and missile defense systems, they are probably more important in the long run.

Time to get back to work, Mr. President.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (13)

ARE WE WINNING THE WAR ON TERROR?....After I wrote my post yesterday about the State Department's latest report on global terrorism, I got to thinking. How are we doing in the war on terrorism?

We all know about the Bush administration's mania for results, not process, and this shows up, for example, in their dedication to national testing standards for schools. After all, we can't judge educational progress unless we can measure educational progress, and that means tests, tests, tests.

The State Department's report provides plenty of anecdotal evidence — shoe bombers arrested, new cabinet departments created — but no metrics for gauging how we're doing against al-Qaeda. But what should they be?

  • Number of terrorist attacks/number of people killed. This seems like a decent overall metric, but as we saw yesterday it can be misleading. What we care about are large scale al-Qaeda style attacks, not pipeline bombings in Colombia.

  • Terrorism in America. That's pretty problematic too, since the number of terrorist attacks in the United States has always been tiny.

  • Terrorist attacks foiled. Better, but awfully hard to measure. What counts as "foiled"? In any case, there have been precious few of these reported, and you gotta figure that everything that could even remotely count as a foiled terrorist attack has been loudly trumpeted.

  • Al-Qaeda specific measures. Not sure what these would be, and it's probably impossible to get the data anyway, what with them being such a secretive organization and all.

  • Wars won. We're doing pretty well on that one.

The bottom line is that none of us really knows how we're doing. As LeanLeft notes, this is partly due to lack of information: the Bush administration is fighting tooth and nail to obstruct the release of the 9/11 report. Why? Because it might be politically embarrassing.

This, of course, is the basic dilemma for the Bushies: they need to look like they're winning the war on terrorism, but at the same time fear of terrorism is critical to both their foreign policy agenda and their reelection campaign. It's a real tightrope they're walking.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:11 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (15)

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE....David Kusnet writes in The American Prospect today about the, ahem, prospects for tomorrow's Democratic presidential debate.

Whuzzat? Tomorrow's presidential what?

Yep, the New Hampshire primary is still nine months away and the general election is 18 months away, but tomorrow the Dems are getting together in South Carolina for a presidential debate. I know I should have realized this back when Drudge was ridiculously trying make an issue out of the debate venue, but somehow I didn't notice the date they were talking about. Sheesh.

Anyway, Kusnet gives you the pre-show betting line if you want to follow the action. The debate is scheduled for 9 PM and may or may not be carried by your local ABC affiliate depending on your local news director's dedication to national events. C-SPAN will also be carrying it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:25 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)

FREE!....Tomorrow is free comic book day! So if that kind of thing appeals to you, head over to your local comic book shop and have one on the house.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:11 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (5)

GOD HELP HIM....Chris Mooney recently interviewed Michael Newdow, the guy who's suing to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, and Newdow told him that if the case gets to the Supreme Court he's going to argue it himself:

When I suggested to Newdow that he might be mercilessly attacked and ridiculed by Justice Antonin Scalia if he argues his own case, Newdow replied, "I'm ready for him. He'll get attacked and ridiculed by me." Pride goeth before the fall.

Like Chris, I agree that Newdow is nuts to think of doing this, but still, going toe to toe with Anton Scalia is kind of a neat fantasy, isn't it? It's hard not to cheer for the guy.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:48 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (10)

May 01, 2003

LIKE DOMINOES, BUT BETTER....Via TBOGG, check out the latest Honda ad (requires Flash 6). Apparently the whole thing is 100% real, no computer graphics at all. Pretty cool.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (3)

ALAN GREENSPAN DECODED....What does Alan Greenspan think? Brad DeLong decodes his polite — but Delphic — utterances for us and hopes that the press corps takes notice.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:59 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (0)

CLASS SIZE....Bill Sjostrom points to an LA Times op-ed suggesting that California should end its experiment that mandates class sizes of no more than 20 students in grades K-3. Bill summarizes the argument like this:

1) There is little evidence that class size makes much difference to how well students do;
2) There is substantial evidence that the quality of teachers makes a very big difference;
3) Smaller classes require more, lower paid, teachers, and therefore more bad and mediocre teachers.

The class size mandate in California is an especially onerous straitjacket because it allows absolutely no flexibility. If you have have, say, 41 second graders, you have to split them into three classes or else you lose a bunch of state funding.

A few years ago one of the schools in Irvine had a situation like this and solved it by playing musical chairs: three times a day the kids were moved around in such a way that no class ever had more than 20 students. The funny thing is that the kids probably didn't mind, but the parents went ballistic. Unfortunately, the school had little choice.

(As an aside, my mother tells me that American parents — well, Orange County parents, anyway — go crackers at the idea of primary kids moving from class to class the way high school students do, convinced that it will do irreparable harm to their childen's stability and self esteem. Danish kids, on the other hand, do this routinely starting around first grade, and appear to grow up into sterling citizens.)

I'm inclined to believe that small class sizes don't produce significant benefits, although the evidence is mixed. Small school size, on the other hand, does seem to make a difference. Unfortunately, this is even more expensive than small classes, so there's little chance of ever returning to the era of small schools. Pity.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:58 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (29)

TERRORIST ATTACKS....Dan Drezner also points today to this Chicago Tribune story about the State Department's latest report on global terrorism:

U.S. report cites 44% drop in global terror
International terrorist attacks dropped significantly in 2002, and Bush administration officials are increasingly confident that the deadliest Al Qaeda plotters are now on the defensive, a top U.S. counterterrorism expert said Wednesday.

The report has plenty of good news and suggests that multilateral cooperation has made a big dent in al-Qaeda operations. That's something to be happy about. (And, amusingly, France comes in for high praise for its counterterrorism efforts.)

But before the spin machine burns that 44% number too far into your brain, take a look at this chart from the report. As Unfogged points out, terrorist incidents declined from 355 to 199, a drop of 156. However, virtually all of that drop came in Latin America, specifically from a drop in the number of pipeline bombings in Colombia.

Conversely, the two key al-Qaeda strongholds of Asia and the Middle East tell a very different story. Terrorist attacks in the Middle East stayed the same as the previous year, while attacks in Asia were up. What's more, despite 9/11 and our subsequent feelings of national insecurity, North America has had by far the fewest terrorist incidents of any region for the past six years. Americans seem to have a hard time understanding this, but one of the reasons it's so important to for us to work with other countries in the war on terrorism is because they have so much more experience with it. We don't.

I'd like to think that the State Department is right and al-Qaeda is on the run, but this report looks a little too much like a glossy Fortune 500 annual report that explains all the wonderful things management is doing while trying to distract you from the actual earnings for the year. George Bush said in his State of the Union address that he was interested in results, not in process, but unfortunately this report doesn't really seem to show any.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:18 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (5) | Comments (7)

THE WAR IS OVER....SORT OF....The war with Iraq started on Wednesday, March 19, and today, exactly six weeks later, George Bush will announce that the fighting is officially over. Not bad!

Of course, precision on this matter is an elusive thing since it turns out that in this postmodern world "fighting is over" is not the same thing as "victory":

Bush will avoid using the word "victory," aides said.

...."If we say the war is over, it makes it more difficult to pursue [former members of Saddam's regime]," said Anthony Clark Arend, professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University. He has written a book on international law and the use of force.

The Geneva Conventions also call for the release and repatriation "without delay" of prisoners of war at the close of hostilities.

Via Dan Drezner, it looks like the war in Afghanistan is over too, although here again "victory" is an elusive concept. As Dan notes, the situation in Afghanistan is pretty far from peaceful and the country itself is pretty far from stabilized:

If the end of major combat operations means that the U.S. is about to make a major push towards building some semblance of an infrastructure for Afghanistan, that's great. If it's a signal that America's work is done in that part of the world, that's disastrous.

Yep. Maybe it's just me, but I sure don't get a real sense of commitment from Bush toward either of these countries, which is incomprehensible since the whole point of these wars has been to build stable, more tolerant countries that are less likely to breed terrorists.

At least that's what I thought the point was. I wonder if President Bush agrees?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 01:00 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

WIRETAPS....Orin Kerr over at the Volokh Conspiracy tells us today that John Ashcroft — as mandated by law — has reported to Congress about how many FISA wiretap and physical search applications were made in 2002. The number is up 25% from 2001.

What's more interesting, though, is that 1,228 applications were made, and FISA approved....1,228.

What kind of court approves every single wiretap request made? Shouldn't they have turned down at least one of them just so they could pretend there was some oversight here?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:29 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (8)

HOW TALL IS SHE?....Leave it to Josh Marshall to finally write something about Laci Peterson that's worth reading.

Oh, and you might want to read this post first. Kinda sets the whole story up.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:53 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (6)

DEAL MAKING, REPUBLICAN STYLE....Monocle points us to the latest advances in senatorial courtesy from Orrin Hatch:

"Some [of your questions] I totally disagree with," Hatch of Utah said. "Some I think are dumbass questions, between you and me. I am not kidding you. I mean, as much as I love and respect you, I just think that's true."

A stunned [Charles] Schumer asked if he heard the chairman correctly, to which Hatch said yes. Again, Schumer asked Hatch if he would like to "revise and extend his remark," congressional speak for change his mind.

A former trial attorney, Hatch replied: "No, I am going to keep it exactly the way it is. I mean, I hate to say it. I mean, I feel badly saying it between you and me. But I do know dumbass questions when I see dumbass questions."

This was reported by Fox News, and further down the story there's actually a more interesting (though less entertaining) bit of news:

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Wednesday suggested a rule change that would prevent filibusters in exchange for preventing another technique of putting "holds" on nominees.

That's a great idea, Kay! If Democrats agree to give up the filibuster, then Republicans will also agree to remove the only other method Democrats have for objecting to a candidate. It's smooth sailing for conservative judges after that!

OK, I've got another one: if Hutchison agrees to deed her house over to me, then in return I'll agree to take her car off her hands. I'm totally down with that.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:35 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (14)

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS....Our story so far: President Bush says his tax cuts will produce 1.4 million new jobs. Paul Krugman responded in his column saying, gee, 1.4 million jobs at a cost of $726 billion in tax cuts is $500,000 per job. Seems a bit steep, no? Maybe a more direct jobs program, such as aid to free-falling state governments so they don't have to lay off thousands of workers, would be a better deal.

Next came Donald Luskin in National Review Online, complaining that Krugman is lying lying. See, it's a 10-year tax cut, and that 1.4 million jobs is only through 2004. Looking out, we should assume, oh, 500,000 new jobs per year beyond that, for a total of 5.4 million new jobs over ten years. That's only $134,000 per new job!

With me so far? Dwight Meredith was dubious about this, and Krugman himself replied on his own website (on Thursday, then again on Monday, and finally on Tuesday), making the point that a fiscal stimulus doesn't last forever. Before long, the new jobs go away and the economy returns to its baseline performance. So the costs are for ten years, but the benefits only last for one or two.

Yammer, yammmer, yammer. Damn economists. But wait: it gets better.

Today Max Sawicky goes to the numbers and prints a handy little chart straight from the CEA report used by Bush, Krugman, and Luskin. The numbers are straightforward: 1.4 million jobs in 2003-2004, then -700,000 jobs in 2005-2007, for a net total of 700,000 new jobs. Hmmm, looks like Krugman's only mistake was being too nice. It's actually more like $1 million per job.

But here's the final cherry: Luskin claimed that the CEA report only went through 2004, so he just sort of estimated job growth for the out years. But that's not true: the CEA report makes estimates through 2007. What happened?

In comments at Max's site, Dwight says one of his readers, Bruce Moomaw, emailed Luskin about this, and Luskin replied that he hadn't actually read the CEA report. He just pulled the 5.4 million number out of the air.

Luskin wrote a thousand words making little more than wild ass guesses — guesses that are clearly contradicted if he had bothered to read the report itself. Remember that the next time you read anything written by him.

(Or if you have a more cynical turn of mind, just take Megan McArdle's advice from today: they're all a bunch of policy whores and finding the Diogenes of economics takes diligence and patience. Something that, um, most of us don't have. Hmmm, what was that again...?)

UPDATE: Dwight points out in comments that it was Bruce Moomaw who emailed Luskin, not him. This has been corrected in the text.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:59 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)
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