Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

While The President Spoke ...

... some Oregonians counted the ballots for a measure raising State taxes as an alternative to proposed big cuts in spending.

Taxes lost:

Polls had shown voters closely divided over Measure 28, but with 61 percent of the votes tallied, the measure was failing 55 percent to 45 percent. Measure 28 called for raising income tax bills for most residents by 5 percent over three years.

The cuts would include 129 state troopers, assistance for thousands of low-income seniors and the disabled, community mental health treatment and $95 million in school funding.

This, together with Oregon's decisive rejection by about 80% of the votes cast last November of a "single payer" medical care law, should provide a little something for the Democrats to chew on as they mount their opposition to the President's proposed tax cuts and other proposals.

(0) comments (0) comments

The Sequel To Ghostbusters VII

There are still many questions that need to be answered concerning TIME's peculiar practices in the recent flap over its now-withdrawn report that the Bush White House had "revived a practice," discontinued by his father, of "paying homage" to Jefferson Davis by sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

The original TIME story stated: John Edward Hurley, head of the Confederate Memorial Association in Washington, says, "No one saw a wreath from 1990 until George W. Bush got elected," and other participants in the annual event support his account.

But Howard Kurtz writing in the Washington Post now reports: Time based its account on interviews with participants in the ceremony and former Clinton officials.

So which is it? Did TIME even talk to anyone outside the Clinton Administration? If Mr. Kurtz is correct, why did TIME not name its Clinton Administration source or even note that there was such a source for the story? Why were no representatives of either Bush administration interviewed? Why didn't any TIME editors or fact checkers (if there are any) ask questions?


Washington Post link thanks to Croooow Blog.

(0) comments

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The Feds

There are reports that the Federal Reserve Bank will hold rates steady when it meets today, largely because Congress is expected to enact a stimulus plan and the Fed does not want to be engaged in overkill. The coming war is also presumed to be bad for the economy in ways the Fed can do nothing about.

It's a curious argument. Any fiscal stimulus plan is an uncertain proposition as immediate short term economic stimulus simply because what is given to consumers as tax cuts is, in the aggregate, removed from the bond market. The "stimulus" comes from supposedly giving the immediate use of the money to people who will spend it (often presumed to be lower income consumers) and withdrawing its use from people who save. This kind of calculation is notoriously uncertain (see, for example, Japan over the last ten years) and, worse, slow.

It would be strange for the Fed to hold off on a rate cut until the war is over. Indeed, war tends to frighten people into conservative investments, and stimulating the economy short term through an increase in liquidity becomes even more important. Of course, longer term wars can increase inflationary pressures - but that is a long way off.

There is sluggishness in the economy, no risk of inflation and concern that the housing market, which has provided much of recent support, may turn sluggish. The Fed could therefore do a great deal of immediate good by cutting short term interest rates, especially by reducing one specific reason for the housing market to soften - a softening which could have serious near term effects. Absent fear of a "housing bubble," there is no good reason for the Fed not to cut rates right now.

My guess is that they know that. We'll know around 2:15 p.m. (1915 GMT).

UPDATE: The Fed left rates unchanged, which, in my view, was a fairly serious mistake.

(0) comments

Well, Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!

The New York Times today naively bloviates:

The mixed report on Iraqi weapons compliance presented yesterday by the United Nations' two chief weapons inspectors begins an intense week of diplomacy and decision-making on the next steps in the international campaign to disarm Saddam Hussein. Their findings argue strongly for giving the inspectors more time to pursue their efforts and satisfy international opinion that every reasonable step has been taken to solve this problem peacefully

(0) comments


Society, science and responsible people place a heavy, affirmative burden on those advocating a medical procedure to demonstrate that it is both safe and effective. And "effective" means consistently and objectively effective. It is perfectly fine for those with a certain deep religious faith to journey to Lourdes and admire the associated miracles, for example. A miracle is supposed to be something operating beyond the bounds of predicable scientific law, so it is no criticism of Lourdes to point out that it is not "scientific." The Man Without Qualities deems people who find their faith in Lourdes or other miraculous events neither weak of mind nor unintelligent. But a doctor, medical association or medical school that recognized a journey to Lourdes as a medical procedure would not easily find favor here - or in most of the medical or scientific community. The main question would be whether mere denunciation is enough, or whether an officially sanctioned tarring and feathering is appropriate.

The effects of this heavy, affirmative burden can be quite controversial. For example, chiropractory claims to be scientifically based medical procedure, and has been beating at the door of medical legitimacy for quite some - generally to be rebuffed. The Man Without Qualities lives in Los Angeles, perhaps the world capital of chiropractory, and knows many people who routinely submit themselves to its care. For the most part, I find their claims of benefits from these procedures to be more a testimony to their personal inability to locate the right brand of good masseur than to any efficacy of chiropractory. But my point here is not to condemn chiropractory. Instead, I note that chiropractory has been broadly refused acceptance as a medical procedure because its advocates have not been able to carry the required heavy, affirmative burden of demonstrating sufficient efficacy. No serious person tarries for more than a moment or two over the argument that the mere existence of a great many patients willing to testify that they were helped by chiropractory is substantial evidence of efficacy. Obviously, controlled, scientific studies are the only acceptable evidence. That is the rule.

What, then, is one to make of the curious persistence of psychoanalysis (as distinguished from other forms of psychotherapy) as an acceptable medical procedure? The body of materials documenting the lack of psychoanalytic efficacy is huge. Psychoanalysis is expensive and, worse, time consuming. The field itself harbors a truly disturbing focus on its founder, Freud, bearing a strong similarity to the focus of a religious cult on its main prophet. In this sense, psychoanalysis is at a distinct disadvantage to chiropractory.

Yet, the New York Times reports today on the survival of psychoanalysis as an apparently approved, if minority, medical procedure. Worse, the Times article all but endorses psychoanalysis as a medical procedure.

The article almost willfully avoids the basic question that is almost always thrown up at chiropractory: Where is the demonstrated ability of psychoanalysis to carry the heavy, affirmative burden on those advocating a medical procedure that it is both safe and effective?

Instead, we are given snapshots of patients willing to state they like psychoanalysis, a survey of how psychoanalysis has changed, and the ultimately preposterous conclusion that much of the tarnish that clings to psychoanalysis derives from an earlier time, when rigid neo-Freudian orthodoxy was the rule.

The Times is grossly in error. The "tarnish" that "clings" to psychoanalysis is the absence of repeated, broad, hard, clinical, scientific studies demonstrating that psychoanalysis is efficacious. Until that support is provided – and psychoanalysis has had almost a century of failure in this regard – psychoanalysis and chiropractory are medical and scientific equals.

(0) comments

Monday, January 27, 2003

It's A Three Dog Night At Davos

From Tom Maguire's account, it sounds like the Davos theme song should be Momma Told Me Not To Come.

But that's OK, because the United Staes is apparently going to take out Saddam Hussein anyway, at which point most people will be singing another song entirely.

(0) comments


Among much other sage advice provided by Peggy Noonan to the President on this State of the Union Eve:

It would be helpful here if the president would speak of things he has not revealed before. This would include some hard intelligence that has not been divulged to the public. He needs more than "bleeding Belgium" rhetoric: "Saddam gassed his own people." He needs uncommon unknown data.

Ms. Noonan could not be more correct as far as constructing a persuasive case against Iraq.

But one should keep in mind the rather daunting limitations to which the President is subject in releasing uncommon unknown data. There is the usual restriction imposed by the simple fact that releasing uncommon unknown data can easily and inadvertently release the identity of the people who provided or helped the United States to obtain that data. That limitation is particularly important here, since detailed, classified information - the subterranean location of an anthrax deposit, for example - cannot be explained by airily asserting some unspeakably clever CIA analyst deduced it from a satellite photograph. No. Much uncommon unknown data must be provided by well placed Iraq insiders: traitors. And once the Iraqis know that information is out, they will often have a very short list of suspects.

But there is an additional limitation here, a limitation with which the United States should not have to contend, but does: Hans Blix.

Simply put, with respect to most revelations of uncommon unknown data it is quite clear that Hans Blix will do whatever he can to give the Iraqi's cover. For example, [w]hile the Bush administration appears close to declaring that weapons inspections in Iraq have ended in failure, United Nations inspectors say their work is just getting started. Mr. Blix's nuclear inspection counterpart Mohamed El Baradei said his teams needed an additional "few months."

If the inspectors are just getting started, then anything the President reveals tomorrow is just something that the inspectors would have found if, in the words of Messrs. Blix and El Baradei's chief enabler, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, they had only been "given the time to do their work and all of us, the council and the assembly, must realize that time will be necessary, a reasonable amount of time, I'm not saying forever, but they do need time to get their work done and I suspect the council will allow that to be done."

In other words, today's statements of Messrs. Blix, El Baradei and Annan seem intended to prepare for their inevitable argument that any uncommon unknown data the President releases in tomorrow's State of the Union address is just more evidence that the inspectors need more time to do their work ... time will be necessary, a reasonable amount of time.

And now there's this: U.N. weapons inspection chief Hans Blix on Monday issued a toughly worded assessment of Iraq's performance over the past two months, saying Baghdad had not genuinely accepted the U.N. resolution demanding that it disarm. He said Baghdad was cooperating on access but needs to do more on substance.

At this point it should be possible for the President simply to release uncommon unknown data that Iraq has not revealed to the U.N. inspectors certain sites at which prohibited weapons programs have been recently conducted. But, as the above reports indicate, Messrs. Blix and Annan are doing everything they can to make a case that while Iraqi failure to actively provide the locations of violations may cost Iraq an "A" on its report card, and Iraq really should try harder to genuinely accepted the U.N. resolution demanding that it disarm, none of that amounts to a material breach that justifies war. After all, Baghdad was cooperating on access. In other words, if the inspectors say they want to visit a particular, general location, the Iraqi's eventually let them in. The Iraqis just won't tell the inspectors where to look.

And when the inspectors do find something, such as the under reported chemical weapons missiles, Mr. Blix is at pains to explain that it is no big deal.

With that attitude, what happens if the President reveals something specific, such as there is a box of anthrax in a lab located at the intersection of Maple and Main in downtown Baghdad? Well, the Iraqis immediately move the box, Messrs. Blix and Annan move to give them cover by suggesting that, for example, there is no reliable way to tell if the anthrax remnants found in the recently looted lab were old, left-overs from a prior program, the fruits of an unauthorized project or, yes, some preliminary work the Iraqis should not have been doing - but certainly not grounds for a war. Maybe there's some delay in obtaining access - but Messrs. Blix and Annan would explain that the delay was caused by the inspectors having to get the address from United States intelligence and the fact that the particular Iraqis who gave them access didn't know where that address was (there are two "Maple Streets" in Baghdad, you see). But the inspectors eventually got in - and in a reasonable time, just not immediately. Not "A+" compliance, mind you - Iraq really must try to do better to accept the UN resolution - but a "B" or "C" is not cause for war! After all, there's no proof here! The inspectors might also take careful note that a particular Iraqi biologist they wanted to talk to about the site instead died in a car wreck (or one of the sons of that biologist). But Messrs. Blix and Annan would also note that there is no reliable way to tell if he was murdered.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Yes, Ms. Noonan is right. And, yes, there are types of uncommon unknown data which might avoid all of the above limitations.

But not many.

UPDATE: United States intelligence services make the limitations express.

FURTHER UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal list some of the things which Messrs. Blix, El Baradei and Annan do not so far care to call "material breaches," and will probably argue are not "material breaches."

(0) comments

Sunday, January 26, 2003

The French Games Continue

Colin Powell is again sent forth to tell the French and Germans that their obstructionist gambit will not work.

... and again.
(0) comments

Double Taxation And Pension Fund Failure

One of the most pernicious aspects of "double taxation" of dividends is that it encourages companies to take on too much debt because interest payments are deductible where dividend payments are not.

Too much debt obviously leads to too many bankruptcies.

And now this:

The U.S. agency that insures pensions for about 44 million Americans has seen its $8 billion surplus wiped out in one year by growing pension fund failures, and has fallen into deficit, The New York Times reported on Saturday. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. will disclose a deficit of $1 to $2 billion in its 2002 annual report, expected to be released at the end of next week, the newspaper said.

Large-scale pension fund failures in the past few years, in particular from steel companies such as LTV Corp. and Bethlehem Steel Corp., have drained the agency's surplus, the Times said.

While the paper said the agency could make its current payments, things are only likely to get worse in the coming months, as more bankrupt companies are likely to have their pension obligations assumed by the PBGC.

But, of course, Senator Daschle and House Minority Leader Pelosi say that only the rich would benefit from abolishing taxes on dividends.

UPDATE: An astute reader reminds me that Paul Krugman argues:

Twenty years ago most workers were in "defined benefit" plans — that is, their employers promised them a fixed pension. Today most workers have "defined contribution" plans: they invest money for their retirement, and accept the risk that those investments might go bad. Retirement contributions are normally subsidized by the employer, and receive special tax treatment; but all this is to no avail if, as happened at Enron, the assets workers have bought lose most of their value.

It seems to be Professor Krugman's opinion that a threat to the nation's "defined benefits" plans can be no real crisis because most workers today don't have defined benefit plans. Does the Times know this?

But it is also Professor Krugman's opinion that workers should have defined benefit plans, which are undermined by excess corporate debt, which is encouraged by "double taxation," which he opposes abolishing.

Ah, yes, Herr Doktorprofessor Krugman shares the latest, refined extensions of his Weltanschauung from the highest reaches of Ostelfenbeinturm!

The people tremble to receive the noble wisdom lest their seer be abducted to Guantanamo Bay before he can flee to the safety of das Vaterland!

(0) comments

... that these dead shall not have died in vain ...

Maureen Dowd just can't seem to understand what has been going on in Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day, and it's further confusing her already confused misunderstanding of what's going on in Michigan.

Big Mo admits: In my last column, I cited a Time article reporting that the president had "quietly reinstated" a custom of sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial. Time has since corrected the story, saying he didn't revive the custom, but simply continued it.

Fair enough. But she just can't help herself, and again plunges into howling error when she writes:

Why keep a tradition of honoring the Confederacy while you're going to court to stop a tradition of helping black students at the University of Michigan?

The Arlington memorial to the Confederate Civil War dead is just that: a Memorial to certain Civil War dead. It is not a memorial to the Confederacy.

Sending those wreathes is not a tradition of honoring the Confederacy. It is a tradition of remembering and honoring that class of Civil War dead.

That tradition follows the great insights of Abraham Lincoln, who understood, in one of his most inspired strokes of graceful political genius, that after a civil war it is urgent that people set aside their vindictiveness, differences and hard feelings, no matter how justified - as much as possible. The dead Confederate soldiers should be honored despite their false cause because it is possible to honor these dead and not honor their cause. We can love and remember even those whose cause was wrong, and send wreathes to their graves, without honoring their cause. Thank God for that miracle, for it also makes our love and honor of our own parents right, even when they cleave to a false cause. We tolerate ignorance of such matters in our less insightful young. But people who do not eventually make peace with such aspects of human life become sad, permanent juveniles.

Not honoring the Confederate dead would also rub the noses of their people in their defeat and impose unnecessary obstacles on their again being part of the Union. Extending our grace to the Confederate dead helps to honor and preserve the very Union that defeated and negates their cause. Lincoln understood that. The Radical Republicans didn't understand, and advocated a vindictive Reconstruction largely consistent with Big Mo's harsh approach - but even the Radical Republicans didn't go so far off track as Big Mo, and they didn't have all the advantages she has had.

These Confederate dead didn't just die - they were killed by Union soldiers - many of whom also died for that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion: the preservation of the Union through extinguishment of the Confederacy and its principles. These Confederate soldiers fought and died in a war largely waged by the United States to defeat the principle that government may favor people because of their race. To reject that false principle is to assure that these Union dead shall not have died in vain.

Michigan's government may not favor people because of their race because that policy maintains false and defeated principles of the Confederacy.

Big Mo asks us to stop honoring the Confederate Civil War dead as ordinary soldiers we remember for the unity of the nation, and instead honor a disgraced portion of their false and divisive cause.

I decline. I hope everyone will.

MORE: Fritz Schranck has more on Big Mo's odd little column.

(0) comments

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Might Even The Germans Catch On?

The American media have made a good deal over certain aspects of the recent Franco-German opposition to United States Iraq policy. The liberal media have, of course, played up the "alienating allies" aspect of the story. And William Safire has suggested that French President Chirac acceded to German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's obstructionism in exchange for their joint dominance of Europe.

But the media were full of reports only days ago of how eager the Chancellor was to repair the breach he opened with the United States in the last German election. Why has the Chancellor reactivated his opposition - which was not much more than an election season ploy in the first place?

Well, it's an election season ploy this time, too - there are two important regional elections next month in Germany and the German "leader" is trying to use opposition to war against Iraq to boost his very weak support. In short, Herr Schröder has no choice. He is structurally paralyzed from actually addressing any of Germany's increasingly dire problems andhe lacks the imagination (political genius) to find any creative solution. To understand the limits on his political imagination, recall that the Chancellor can't think of any way to address media commentary on his hair, marriage and nude body except protracted litigation. Given his obvious political and personal limitations, he must resort to ill-conceived demagoguery. But, oddly enough, it isn't working this time.

The Financial Times reports:

[The Chancellor's] ploy, which worked so well in the German elections last September, has failed to impress a public growing impatient for structural changes to revive the economy. A new opinion poll showed backing for the chancellor's SPD had fallen to 25 per cent - the lowest figure in the 26 years the poll has been conducted. By contrast the survey for ZDF television showed support for the opposition Christian Democrats and its Bavarian sister party the CSU stood at 56 per cent, while the environmentalist Greens scored 10 per cent.

There's more.

Can it be that the German electorate, having already thoroughly explored the question of just how stupid they are entitled to be in electing their governments, are becoming even dimly aware of what they should have done and be doing?

Seems like a lot to hope for.

In any event, it's too late. The Chancellor's party is the biggest problem with the Greens an aggravating circumstance. If the Chancellor actually proposes something that addresses Germany's real needs, then his own party will revolt. He knows that - and that's why he won't propose anything meaningful. German voters returned control of the lower house of parliament to the Chancellor's party last year - so that control is not going to change anytime soon. And it's unlikely that this Chancellor will soon sprout any new sprigs of political imagination.

(0) comments

Friday, January 24, 2003


The recent flap raised by TIME's false report about Jefferson Davis has caused some people to assert or wonder if Confederate soldiers were "traitors." If so, it is odd that there is a monument to them in Arlington Cemetery.

The Constitution actually defines "treason" and gives Congress wide (but not unlimited) power to prescribe penalties for treason:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Congress has, from the beginning chosen death as one possible punishment - although the penalty can be less by statute. Since the federal treason statute has always allowed imposition of death for treason, if Confederate soldiers were actually, legally "traitors," then they were all potentially subject to execution after their surrenders, trials and convictions. In my view, the belief that the United States Constitution and federal statutes would permit - even in principle - the mass execution of millions of surrendered Confederate soldiers is unwarranted, to say the least.

Yes, an argument can be made - and, during and after the Civil War and again during the past few days, was made by some hotheads - that all Confederate soldiers were "traitors." Didn't Confederate soldiers engage in "levying War against [the United States], ... adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort?" So wasn't the sparing of these millions of lives just a discretionary act of mercy - or an attempt to heal the nation after the Civil War? A gesture that could have been foregone?

No. The Confederate soldiers were probably not "traitors" - at least not generally.

First, it is completely obvious and beyond dispute that not everyone levying War against [the United States], ... adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort commits treason. Adolph Hitler was many bad things, and he did all those particular bad things, but Hitler did not commit treason against the United States because he was not an American.

And that's a big problem with the argument that Confederate soldiers were traitors: Confederate soldiers arguably cannot be traitors to the United States, because they were not U.S. citizens in the sense necessary to satisfy "treason" laws; to be a traitor, you have to be a "citizen" of the nation you betray, and Confederate soldiers were citizens of the Confederate States of America.

But one might object that this counterargument is no argument at all, simply because it depends on "recognizing" the Confederate States of America - which was never a legitimate country in the first place.

The argument that Confederate soldiers were traitors arguably relies upon a modern understanding of citizenship that was not universally accepted in the early 19th century. Before the Civil War, both Northerners and Southerners did not see themselves primarily as citizens of the United States, but of their separate states. It is true that the United States now asserts a generally accepted general citizenship (that's one reason Lindh is probably a traitor) - but the right of States to secede and terminate their citizens' federal citizenship was hardly a bizarre or unreasonable assertion prior to the Civil War. Some New England states considered secession in the early 19th century. To hold an ordinary soldier to be a "traitor" on the strength of such considerations is just wrong in that it attributes to ordinary people vast knowledge about uncertain and unsettled matters of constitutional and international sovereignty and law. I have never seen a jot to suggest that Lincoln thought that these men were "traitors." Indeed, Lincoln's Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction notes only: "a rebellion now exists whereby the loyal State governments of several States have for a long time been subverted, and many persons have committed and are now guilty of treason against the United States." It's a stretch to argue that an ordinary Confederate soldier aided in the "subversion" of any state government. That construing Confederate soldiers to be "traitors" leads inevitably to the monstrous conclusion that these millions of men could have been executed following their surrender should be enough to convince any reasonable person that this is not the meaning of the Constitution.

The meaning of the "treason" clause has been open to doubt and change. Two of the rebels involved in the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion were convicted of treason, but were later pardoned by President George Washington. The events before and after the Whiskey Rebellion are said to have informally redefined the word treason, allowing for disagreement with the U.S. government without being considered treasonous. Even John Wilkes Booth's co-conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln were charged not with treason, but with criminal conspiracy to aid the rebellion and with murder.

While the matter appears not to be free from doubt - as many of the more squirrelly legal opinion letters begin - Confederate soldiers were not "traitors."

UPDATE: In my opinion Josh Chafezt has not brought the matter into focus. There is a big difference of status between Confederate leaders (especially high ranking officers and those in the legislatures of the Southern States who actually voted for secession) and ordinary Southerners and Confederate soldiers. Was a Confederate draftee a traitor as far as Mr. Chafezt is concerned? Did ordinary soldiers have some obligation to revolt or be accused of "treason?" How about any slaves who provided the Confederate army with supplies? Does the madness stop anywhere short of infancy? Or did the Union just have the option to execute most Southerners as "traitors?"

And the article to which Mr. Chafezt refers his readers doesn't even begin to answer the questions here. It would also be nice if an esoteric article such as this one included, for example, some analysis as to why the original constitution didn't just say that states couldn't secede. The Constitution is now generally understood to have had as one likely source the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy - whose Law of Great Peace provided for the matter expressly:

Treason or secession of a Nation
92. If a nation, part of a nation, or more than one nation within the Five Nations should in any way endeavor to destroy the Great Peace by neglect or violating its laws and resolve to dissolve the Confederacy, such a nation or such nations shall be deemed guilty of treason and called enemies of the Confederacy and the Great Peace.
It shall then be the duty of the Lords of the Confederacy who remain faithful to resolve to warn the offending people. They shall be warned once and if a second warning is necessary they shall be driven from the territory of the Confederacy by the War Chiefs and his men.

So why didn't the Constitution answer the question expressly one way or the other? The Iraquois understood that the answer to the question couldn't be left as implied by structure - and the Framers drew on the Iraquois structure. And what about the fact that the Colonies had just gone through a Revolution which depended for its own legitimacy on their unilateral right of secession from Britain? And what about the historical fuss raised by England's unilateral secession from the Catholic Church - incidentally ignited by Henry VIII's assertion of his right of unilateral secession from his marriage? The issue of secession wasn't exactly something we can presume the Framers just overlooked. The need for this article to muster all manner of esoteric considerations to bolster the Lincoln/Union view just shows how unsure the answer really is. Is the status and life of an ordinary Southerner or Confederate soldier as a possible "traitor" supposed to depend on such academic gymnastics? God help us all.

The Minute Man is collecting cites.
(0) comments


Professor DeLong does not have time to correct his prior spreading of error, but he does have time to complain that a Washington Post reporter tells his readers absolutely nothing of why Paul [Krugman and Professor DeLong] are annoyed with [CEA Chair R. Glenn Hubbard]. It's an outsiders-critical-of-administration-official story--which, in the context of Washington, is dog-bites-man: not news at all.

Professor DeLong hilariously understands that it is not news that he and Paul Krugman are critical of Mr. Hubbard about anything in particular. Apparently, Professor DeLong thinks that everybody should already know that he and Paul Krugman are always annoyed at everything Mr. Hubbard does all the time. Which I'm prepared to believe is correct since Professor DeLong says it is so.

More peculiar is Professor DeLong's suggestion that he and Paul Krugman actually having reasons for being annoyed (his word) is news. Surely it's not that Professor DeLong thinks that "dog-bites-man" is not news, but "dog-bites-man with teeth" is news?

No. Professor DeLong thinks the newsworthiness lies in the actual nature of the criticism he and Paul Krugman have of the Administration this time. One is tempted to point out the risible academic vanity of Professor DeLong's thought and move on, but there's likely more going on here.

The Washington Post is not out to "get" either of Professor DeLong or his oftentimes buddy Paul Krugman, and the paper is on the lookout for newsworthy aspects of a story like this. But by not describing the reasons for their criticisms in this case, "this Washington Post reporter" (as the Good Professor calls him) is likely sending them a message, if only inadvertently, along the lines of the following:

Yes, it is not much news that Professors DeLong and Krugman are annoyed at the Administration, because in Washington many people are always annoyed at the Administration for partisan political reasons. But naming the Professors in the article does help the reader to locate some nodes of that criticism, and is therefore somewhat useful for the reader. If Professors DeLong and Krugman were economists of a different class, such as Milton Friedman or Gary Becker, their actual reasons for their current criticism would likely be news. Although Professors DeLong and Krugman are nominal economists, their "reasons" are often - even usually - partisan hooting disguised as an economist's thoughtful concern. As Professor DeLong points out, that kind of "reason" in Washington is not news - and it is certainly not additional news once you've named the partisan. A reporter can't easily distinguish a serious economic argument from a partisan screed masquerading as a serious economic argument. So the reporter has to rely on the economist's reputation.

This is where things get very dicey for Professors DeLong and Krugman: the Washington Post is not out to get them, and recognizes that they are nodes of criticism of the Administration's economic policies, but the Post has also probably caught on to their reputations and their untrustworthy trafficking in academic legitimacy. That's probably why the paper doesn't look into their reasons.

Professors DeLong and Krugman should take the note. But neither of them will. They've become addicts.

Professor DeLong thinks this incident shows how: We need a better press corps.

But the one we have may be better than he thinks.

[Note to Professor DeLong: The reporter has a name, Jonathan Weisman. Not using his name even once in your post is pushing from your mind that you're attacking a human being here. It's an inconvenient parameter, I know, the way human beings tend to be. But you really should try.]
(1) comments

Ghostbusters VII: Jefferson Davis Haunts The White House

So often I find myself asking ... "Is this true? ... Or did I just read it in TIME?"

The TIME retraction of its ludicrous report of Jefferson Davis' ghost haunting the White House is at least admirably thorough. The magazine pretty much admits that it got every material fact completely wrong:

[T]he elder president Bush did not, as TIME reported, end the decades-old practice of the White House delivering a wreath to the Confederate Memorial; he changed the date on which the wreath is delivered from the day that some southern heritage groups commemorate Jefferson Davis's birthday to the federal Memorial Day holiday. Second, according to documents provided by the White House this week, the practice of delivering a wreath to the Confederate Memorial on Memorial Day continued under Bill Clinton as it does under George W. Bush.

But TIME does not address the big question: Why does TIME keep running these howling anti-Bush errors? What atmosphere of intellectual and journalistic corruption at TIME leads a reporter to write a completely false, high profile story that could have been checked out with a mere telephone call to Arlington Cemetery, should have included (but didn't) for-attribution interviews with knowledgeable representatives of both the George H.W. Bush and Clinton Administrations, and nevertheless passed both TIME's editorial and fact-checker reviews? Until these questions are thoroughly answered and remedial measures taken, it is clear that nobody should take TIME's reporting on national affairs seriously - especially stories that purport to embarrass the Administration. And nobody should think that such TIME stories have, in themselves, adequate credibility to serve as the basis of even a blog post, never mind a national column.

One might also ask what level of partisan frenzy must exist at other components of the liberal media blob - the New York Times, for example - that no effort was made to investigate this incorrect TIME story even though it was republished by Maureen Dowd.

TIME and some other parts of the liberal media establishment positively vied with each other to play Professor Venkman in this episode - an unfunny Ghostbusters VII pretending to be journalism.

And what is one to make of the inexplicably popular and often dishonest and sloppy Brad DeLong, who pompously accepted the TIME account without question while savaging Andrew Sullivan exactly for questioning it's consistency with the Republican agenda and beliefs (although falling for TIME's accuracy himself)? On his website the Good Professor intones "The peculiar thing, of course, is that it is Andrew Sullivan who spends his time hanging around Republican High Politicians, political operatives, and intellectuals. He ought to have much better insight into why they do the things they do than the rest of us." Yes, Professor, to you what Mr. Sullivan finds inexplicable is an "of course." But his website contains no caveat from him, even now, after days of much public doubt about the TIME story. The story is better than true - it advances Professor DeLong's agenda! I cannot locate the Sullivan piece, "AFTER THE LOTT DEBACLE," on his website - so perhaps it has been deleted. But neither do I find a correction of it, which is a major mistake on Mr. Sullivan's part - as was his originally accepting the TIME story at face value (a mistake Tom Maguire, for example, didn't make).

At least Josh Marshall has informed his readers that the story is fake - although Mr. Marshall had also merely embraced it. So has Atrios, although his naive question, "I'm not sure why some people have accused me of lacking credibility for daring to link to a Time story," is just sad, especially in light of TIME's treatment (by Michael Elliott) of Sandy Berger's discredited al Qaeda reprisal fairy tale . Atrios says he will continue to swallow whole pretty much anything TIME serves up as long as Michael Weisskopf didn't write it. As noted above, the questions here go way beyond Mr. Weisskopf - but at least Atrios has the integrity to tell his readers he will continue to play TIME's fool.

Is it a coincidence that both Atrios and Mr. Sullivan, who each played major roles in the prior Trent Lott mess, went rather badly off the rails on this one? Atrios, of course, is generally a major venue for the spread of all kinds of nutty left-wing fantasies - but his conjunction with Mr. Sullivan here is perhaps interesting.

UPDATE: Mr. Sullivan has now posted a correction - and also points out that he placed corrections earlier in the day in the Sun and Washington Times, and unlike Big Mo, he never asserted the truth of the TIME piece. He wondered out loud how it could be true. Mr. Sullivan's instincts on this matter were sound. He is a blogger and has the resources of a blogger - not a newspaper or a television network. He was clearly horrified by what he saw and just as clearly recognized how inconsistent the TIME piece was with Republican principles and practice.

LATE AFTERNOON UPDATE: Professor DeLong has, late in the afternoon on January 23, finally posted a correction: Looks like the original story wasn't true. I deserve it for relying on Andrew Sullivan for facts. Isn't that nice? None of that express admission of error and "Sorry to link to something that wasn't true" stuff that Mr. Sullivan wrote in his correction - even though he relied on TIME, too.

I particularly like the way the Good Professor constructs his "addendum" (His word - let us not say "correction." Professor DeLong never actually admits that he wrote anything that needs correction. A true Clinton Administration functionary! ) so that he can argue that it was a joke to blame Mr. Sullivan - even though he really is blaming Mr. Sullivan. But the Good Professor is a big boy - he relied on TIME, not Mr. Sullivan, and much more unquestioningly than did Mr. Sullivan.

Yes, indeed, Professor Krugman must be giving Professor DeLong style tips - they're now like two peas in a pod.

The "Addendum" post doesn't give its time.

(0) comments

Thursday, January 23, 2003

French Games

Innocents Abroad posts an interesting survey and analysis of the recent French obstructionism regarding Iraq.

I have noted previously that the French face a difficult commercial choice: side with the United States now and risk losing their relationships with the current Hussein government in Iraq, or continue to obstruct the United States, thereby risking loss of French commercial interests in Iraq after a United States led invasion.

At the moment, it appears that the French believe it is possible to block the United States incursion by continued international mischief. And the French continue to make mischief.

But if the French become convinced that their current mischieveous gambit won't work, their economic interests should then recall them to "virtue." At that point we will learn just how principled the French opposition to the United States position really is.

The United States knows all that. If France is cynically motivated by its commercial interests then the United States should adopt a strategy of constructing a credible argument that an incursion is inevitable unless Iraq complies with the United Nations mandate. And, sure enough, the Administration has sent forth Colin Powell - who is viewed by the Europeans as the most moderate senior member of the Administration - to tell the French that their gambit won't work. Using Mr. Powell to deliver this message increases its credibility because the French are deprived of the possibility that "more moderate" quarters of the Administration might prevail.

Sad, really, that the great French nation has come to this.
(0) comments

Misunderstanding Tax Incentives

Jeff Madrick writes in the New York Times that:

[T]he long-term benefits of the new tax package — in particular, the dividend tax cuts — are ... poorly thought out. Corporate income is taxed when it is earned. If it is paid in dividends, it is taxed again as income for investors. A cut in dividend taxes should spur corporate investment and long-term growth. But many who believe that such double taxation of dividends results in an inefficient use of capital and encourages too much debt, including this writer, do not believe that the current proposals are an optimal way to encourage growth.

One of the most intriguing questions is raised by an influential group of economists who cut across the political spectrum. This "new view," best represented in the United States by Alan J. Auerbach of the University of California at Berkeley, maintains that when companies invest out of retained earnings, they are in effect deferring the tax that would have been paid by investors had they paid out the money in dividends. It is as if investors simply had the money in a tax-sheltered 401(k) plan. So a reduction in dividend taxes has no stimulative effect on business investment for these companies.

How good is the theory? George R. Zodrow, an economist at Rice University, has long followed the empirical research and says that one of the most recent studies in the field, by Mr. Hassett and Mr. Auerbach, suggests that the elimination of dividend taxation would encourage only about half the nation's corporations to invest more.

If investors want to put their money in a 401(k), then not taxing dividends will allow them to choose a competent 401(k) money manager. There is nothing to be gained by allowing the officers of a company which is not an investment company to manage one's money beyond the business plan that served as the basis for one's investment. But Mr. Madrick - and also Professor Auerbach, if his thinking is adequately represented here - are much more off track in understanding the connection between "double taxation" and efficient growth than is indicated even by their confusion between the relative merits of an investment company and an operating company.

Contrary to Mr. Madrick's suggestion, "overleveraging" is not the only big problem aggrevated by "double taxation." This is not a secret. Milton Friedman, for example, put it this way: Eliminating double taxation of corporate earnings will end the present bias toward debt rather than equity in the financial structure of corporations as well as the present bias toward retaining earnings rather than distributing them as dividends. The combined result will be a more effective distribution of capital, and will promote a more effective market for corporate control. One of the most dubious and inefficient consequences of "double taxation" is that it encourages companies to retain earnings which could be better invested by other companies, if only they could get it.

Indeed, a later stage of the corporate life cycle is often a company's becoming a "cash cow" - a company with high cash revenues and only bad investment options. In the most extreme case, consider a company that sells most of its assets, retains the cash and has no good business plan. Mr. Madrick seems to think it would be a good thing that such a company nevertheless "invest" that money on the basis of tax considerations - rather than pass it up to its investors as dividends so that they could invest it in other companies that do have good business plans. But an efficient system would make corporations indifferent as to tax consequences in their decision to retain earnings or pass them as dividends.

That all means that an efficient market would normally have a large body of companies earning money which is passed up to investors and then given by them to other companies to invest. The problem is aggravated further by the current relative dormancy of the "market for corporate control" - a dormancy which further impedes the efficient flow of resources into the hands of those who could make better use of them - not just some use of them.

Encourage only about half the nation's corporations to invest more? That may be about right. Nothing Mr. Madrick presents in this article tells us that it isn't about right.

(0) comments

Does The Public Back The Bush Stimulus Plan?

The power of any government or government plan to "stimulate" the economy is very limited. One exception is often (but not always) a government-led reduction in short-term interest rates, which can have a big stimulative effect in some cases. Of course, government should do what it can, anyway, but government "plans" (fiscal and regulatory policy) going beyond immediate changes in the money supply are difficult to make work in the short term.

According to an NBC/WSJ poll just released, more than 70 percent of people polled say they expect the Bush stimulus plan will be "fairly", "very" or "somewhat" effective.

To the Man Without Qualities, that is huge public support for the plan - for the simple reason that it is almost impossible to rationally expect any government plan to be more than "somewhat" effective as a stimulus. Of course, one might be lucky - such as with the Kennedy tax cut.

What is striking here is that 35 percent of people polled actually said that they expect the stimulus plan will be "fairly" or "very" effective at helping the economy - an amazing confidence level given the actual ability of any government action at all to stimulate the economy.

But to the Associated Press all of this warrants the headline: Poll: Most Don't Back Bush Stimulus Plan.

And the Wall Street Journal reports these results as: The survey shows ... fully 61% doubt the administration's economic package will do much to stimulate economic growth.

Other aspects of the poll should serve as red flags for the Administration - especially the softening approval of the President's handling of the economy and the report that those polled by a 42%-37% margin prefer a set of proposals backed by Democrats to Mr. Bush's package.

But if the question is one of short term stimulus - and the poll seems to have focused on that question - there is no real mystery as to why the the president's centerpiece proposal to abolish taxes on stock dividends draws the weakest public support among a series of potential steps the government could take. Abolishing taxes on stock dividends is a long-term, structural repair job - not a clear short term stimulus. As Milton Friedman pointed out, if government spending doesn't go down, then money returned to taxpayers just comes back from the bond market.

(0) comments

UPDATE: Tragically Missed Allusions

TIME and Big Mo take what they hear from the Daughters of the Confederacy as gospel. But the Washington Times apparently still believes that one should actually check out what one is told and reports:

[T]he military office that handles affairs at Arlington said there has been no change in administration policy, that the first Bush administration continued to send wreaths throughout and that the practice was continued by President Clinton.

And CCN has confirmed the Clinton Administration practice:

CARLSON: Actually, CNN checked today with Arlington National Cemetery after "The Washington Times" did the same, and found out that Arlington National says, yes, we've received a wreath every year, including from President Clinton.

BEGALA: And "TIME" magazine checked with the Daughters of the Confederacy, who run it, who said, no, Bush Sr. stopped this in 1990 because he didn't like the feuding about it.

CARLSON: They happen to be wrong. In fact, there are receipts from it. The point is, I don't begrudge President Clinton to do this. President Clinton wasn't endorsing the confederacy. There are women, there are civilians in that tomb. And sending a wreath to it is not endorsing the discredited cause of the confederacy, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the confederacy.

More evidence that, once again, TIME is out of joint. O cursed spite!

Link thanks to Croooow Blog

(0) comments

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

What Goes Up Does Not Have To Come Down In The New York Times

Don Luskin bags a big one.

The Times seems to dance to an old ditty of Tom Lehrer:

"I just send them up, who cares where they come down. That's not my department said Werner von Braun."

Now the Times brings us Werner von Krugman!

(0) comments

Why We Know Iraq Is Lying

Condi lays it on the line:

For example, the [Iraqi] declaration fails to account for or explain Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad, its manufacture of specific fuel for ballistic missiles it claims not to have, and the gaps previously identified by the United Nations in Iraq's accounting for more than two tons of the raw materials needed to produce thousands of gallons of anthrax and other biological weapons.

Iraq's declaration even resorted to unabashed plagiarism, with lengthy passages of United Nations reports copied word-for-word (or edited to remove any criticism of Iraq) and presented as original text. Far from informing, the declaration is intended to cloud and confuse the true picture of Iraq's arsenal. It is a reflection of the regime's well-earned reputation for dishonesty and constitutes a material breach of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, which set up the current inspections program.

Unlike other nations that have voluntarily disarmed — and in defiance of Resolution 1441 — Iraq is not allowing inspectors "immediate, unimpeded, unrestricted access" to facilities and people involved in its weapons program. As a recent inspection at the home of an Iraqi nuclear scientist demonstrated, and other sources confirm, material and documents are still being moved around in farcical shell games. The regime has blocked free and unrestricted use of aerial reconnaissance.

The list of people involved with weapons of mass destruction programs, which the United Nations required Iraq to provide, ends with those who worked in 1991 ... .

[I]f a larger type of warhead that Iraq has made and used in the past were filled with VX ... and launched at a major city, it could kill up to one million people. Iraq has also failed to provide United Nations inspectors with documentation of its claim to have destroyed its VX stockpiles.

That's a lot. But my guess is that Condi knows a lot more than she's saying.
(0) comments

UPDATE: The Content of Our Melanin

The Sun reports that Senator Clinton said: "If we don’t take race as part of our character, then we are kidding ourselves.”

But Newsday seems to report that she said:

"But what is character? The sum total of who you are. The color of your skin and how you deal with it is part of your character."

Conflict and chaos via the Minute Man.

Can we go to the instant replay tape? Do they have those in Baptist churches? I don't remember seeing any in the one's I've been in. Maybe only the Super Bowl?

MORE: Both quotes seem to be accuracte. The MinuteMan reports:

The Sun places its quote at "Trinity Baptist Church in the Bronx"; Newsday describes "a gathering hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton, which would almost surely have been "in Harlem" at "a packed hall on Madison Avenue near 125th Street". And this Newsday story has her speaking at both sites. And, delightfully, the "gaffe" came first, with the more favorable quote following.

Kausfiles seems to have solved this little mystery.
(0) comments

The Fate Of The Earth 2

The Earth is "Biosphere 1" - and will go on.

But Columbia University may defund Biosphere 2, the 250 acre set of "domes" (they actually look more like greenhouses, but "dome" sounds so much more futuristic and exciting) built in the Arizona desert by billionaire Edward P. Bass to simulate Earth's ecology under glass. Who is doing this? Who made that decision?

Well, it seems as though Biosphere 2 may be defunded solely in the passive voice, apparently with no human holding a position at Columbia itself actually involved in the decision. The New York Times reports:

Two reviews in the fall, one by a university panel and one by independent reviewers, found that the research did not justify further investment, university officials said.

And we're also told that: Columbia University plans to curtail sharply its financial support for Biosphere 2 ...

But who at Columbia is responsible for this decision? What responsible Columbia official is telling the University not to renew funding? It doesn't seem to be Lee C. Bollinger or Jeffrey Sachs, since the Times only reports that:

[T]he university has gone through enormous changes since [1999], with new president, Lee C. Bollinger, and a new director for the Earth Institute, Jeffrey Sachs, an economist whose focus is less on basic biological research and more on meshing commerce with environmental conservation.

Surely if either President Bollinger or Professor Sachs had urged the University to terminate funding the Times would have reported that. So it can't be either of them - although it does seem odd that neither of them had any input worth reporting in this decision. And those two committees don't have funding power, they only make recommendations to Columbia officials.

Dear me. Can this uncertainty have something to do with the fact that after spending $200 million of his own money to build Biosphere 2 Mr. Bass is not exactly happy with it being defunded? Can it be that no University official wants to go on record as having ticked off a billionaire on a very high profile project - even though they've all always thought Biosphere 2 was a stupid idea which they've only tolerated to this point in the hopes that Mr. Bass would give a lot of money to the University if they catered to this huge ridiculous folly of his?

Can it be that the Times is going along with this sham by not even directly asking President Bollinger or Professor Sachs whether either of them recommeded that Biosphere 2 be defunded? And surely the Times would have mentioned - or at least asked about - any connection between Biosphere 2 being defunded and Columbia spending $8 million on a town house for Professor Sachs. So that can't be it.

(0) comments

O, My! Are Paul Krugman And Michael Kelly Partisan?

Why in God's name would anyone - especially the often-shrill TAPPED - have a problem with a columnist just being partisan or shrill? I'm sorry, but simple shrillness, as such, is not much of a crime for a columnist, especially shrillness in the mind of those who are not sympathetic to the columnist's views. Shrillness in a political columnist is often like the exaggerated fashions presented on Paris runways - the point is to make the statement clearly and entertainingly, if somewhat more emphatically than most people would be willing to wear. The prêt-à-porter politicians take it from there.

Of course, Paul Krugman is shrill - very shrill. But I always thought that the big problem with Paul Krugman's column is that he repeatedly serves up bad, wrong, pretentious economics in his columns - thereby implicitly trafficking in his academic legitimacy and Princeton's reputation. He pretends to be a popularizer - but he is often just a shill bearing serious errors and omissions to close the sale. In this sense he engages in false advertising. His "shrillness" is only a problem to the extent it constitutes exaggeration to the point of error - a point a typical Krugman column positively burns rubber to blow by. It's true that his bad, wrong, pretentious economics is normally put to the purpose of his partisan ends - but it’s not the partisan end that is the problem. The problem is the increasingly egregious and obvious error and the fact that he is willing to engage in such error. It is correct that Professor Krugman be subject to more criticism for error because he purports to root his arguments in putative economic science, either explicitly or implicitly - and science just has more right and wrong answers than does pure political commentary. At their limit these considerations lead to the distinction between fact and opinion.

A columnist presenting even a marginal opinion supported by general, non-technical claims to factual accuracy is a great deal more difficult to tag as "wrong" or "shrill" than somebody who attempts to invoke the mantle of science to craft some false version of a part of factual reality in which he supposedly has expertise. Consider two neighbors. One loudly explains that you should sell part of your property to him at a low cost. This neighbor is like Michael Kelly and he is highly opinionated and partisan. The second neighbor argues that he is an expert surveyor employed by the county (where he assures you he has lots of friends and connections) and that a proper analysis of the real property records proves that part of what you think is your property already belongs to him - he tells you you must get the heck off - but his arguments keep falling apart when you look at them closely. This neighbor is like Paul Krugman and he is dangerous and shrill.

Most economists have political views deeply affected by their understanding of economics. And many of those views are "partisan." Milton Friedman and Gary Becker are often - even usually - "partisan". Isn't advocating big, general tax cuts "partisan?" But they are almost never obviously wrong - nor do either of them willingly or fatuously engage in error or incomplete analysis in some misguided and counterproductive attempt to advance some larger partisan cause led by others. (And, of course, neither of them is ever "shrill" - but neither of them is primarily a political columnist, either.) But Paul Krugman does all of that - over and over and over. And he does it with a phony patina of academic economic legitimacy.

That's why he gets taken to task.

A lot more.

And more.

(0) comments

The Content of Our Melanin

Hillary Clinton dares to say on Martin Luther King Day itself: “If we don’t take race as part of our character, then we are kidding ourselves.”

Senator Clinton's words would fit with complete consistency into any number of incendiary, racist speeches by any given KKK Grand Wizard.

And one would certainly not be surprised to happen upon some sepia toned film clip of a 1950's segregationist blocking the door to a southern state university with the ringing cry:

“If we don’t take race as part of our character, then we are kidding ourselves. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.

Yes, indeed. Hillary is taking the Democratic Party to a whole new tomorrow.

Link thanks to Croooow Blog

(0) comments

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Tragically Missed Allusions

Maureen Dowd reports she once took one of the "top political strategists" of the "first President Bush" (as she calls him) to dinner, where

After a couple of martinis, he blurted out that the president was having a hard time with the idea that I was the White House reporter for The New York Times.

Dumbfounded, I asked why.

"We just picture you someplace else — at The Chicago Tribune maybe," he said.

Growing up in a Victorian mansion in Greenwich, the son of a Connecticut senator and Wall Street banker, the president had conjured up a certain image of what the Times White House reporter would be like. Someone less ethnic and working-class, with a byline like Chatsworth Farnsworth III.

But, alas, Big Mo has it all wrong. Irish Americans have been "passing" for too many decades to be considered seriously ethic. In fact, at just about the time she recounts in this passage there was one of those entertaining New York municipal corruption scandals going on - the kind in which the feds haul away the local politicians by the truckload. And I distinctly recall that there was nary an Irish name to go in the paddywagon blotter! Sad, really, when you think about it, that Irish Americans have to settle for Irish names appearing in reports of financial scandals nowadays - like Scott Sullivan, the disgraced CFO at Worldcom. How "ethnic" is Jack Welch in modern American argot? Please. Big Mo, the bad Mr. Sullivan, the good Mr. Welch and all the other Irish Americans got where they are without need of any program to "redress a historic racial injustice by giving some advantage based on race" like the one the University of Michigan maintains which is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court. And some kind soul at the Times really should point out to Ms. Dowd that Adolph Ochs, the son of poor Jewish immigrants, bought the bankrupt New York Times in 1896 - and that Big Mo's suggestion that they kept it staffed and stuffed with Anglo-Saxon Yalies until she arrived is hilarious.

No, maybe Big Mo's vestigally-ethnic, working-class loathing of the then-President was tragically causing her to miss the then-President's understated, droll, dry, aristocratic New England comparision of her to Professor Venkman, the character played by Bill Murray in the first Ghostbusters movie, as is evident from this scene from the movie:

You play the cello! It's my favorite

Really? Do you have a favorite piece?

I'd have to say Prokofiev's third concerto.

That's a violin concerto.

Yeah, but it's got a great cello break.

He grabs the cello and starts playing it like a stand-up base. Dana takes
the instrument out of his hands and gently puts it back in the case.

You really don't act like a scientist.

No? What do I act like?

Like a used car salesman.


Big Mo also notes that the two Georges Bush were once told by an interviewer that "families like the Bushes often send their kids to expensive private schools to ensure their leg up." Well, the Man Without Qualities and spouse send their kids to expensive private schools because the public school system in Los Angeles where we live is a big holding tank of students who mostly just get shouted at by their teachers and administrators - who don't deliver much in the way of education to said tankees in exchange for expensive middle class sinecures. But, for Big Mo, maybe that's OK. Maybe the teachers and administrators are ethnic.

Naturally, Big Mo thinks the proposed Bush tax cut is nasty, nasty, nasty - and a boon to his "class." It seems she does not mean this term to include the lower 50% of the nation's income earners who together pay less than 4% of all federal income taxes. But it's never clear what she does mean with her use of the term "class," although the whole column seems to be about "class." Indeed, she seems so ticked off about the President's Yale and Harvard connections that one could almost think that when she says that his loyalties are to his "class" she is referring to his college graduating class (or, maybe, business school). She never mentions that the programs at Harvard, Yale, Michigan and the like that dole out benefits on the basis of race are well-known to mostly end up benefitting middle-class students who have no identifiable "disadvantages." Maybe that's related to her apparent trouble understanding that the President is not opposed to helping people who have been disadvantaged - he is opposed to aiding people on the basis of their race.

Nor can Big Mo pass on using the Bush slur de jour, as she recounts:

And, as Time notes this week, he quietly reinstituted the practice — which lapsed under his father in 1990 — of sending a floral wreath on Memorial Day from the White House to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, where those nostalgic for the Old South celebrate Jefferson Davis. Why on earth would the president of the U.S. in the year 2003 take the trouble to do that?

Of course, Tom Maguire - oops, one of those Irish names again popping up on the wrong side of the class war lines - has already busted TIME on their "Bush honors Jefferson Davis" frolic. The frenzy within the liberal media blob to "get" Bush seems to have especially deranged TIME. First, Sandy Berger's discredited al Qaeda reprisal fairy tale - now this. Not that Big Mo cares about any of that. She's too busy positioning herself as an ethnic champion!

But Big Mo shouldn't feel too bad just because she doesn't know that she's not really "ethnic," reveals her insensitivity to why many parents have to send their kids to expensive private schools, fell for another TIME howler, misunderstands the structure of the proposed tax cut, misunderstands the difference between "race" and "disadvantage," and missed some understated Presidential allusion (this last one a tongue-in-cheek addition of my own, of course). No. She should save those bad feelings for the day she experiences a recapitulation of an entirely different Ghostbusters scene, which is probably only a matter of time:


No, we're moving you OFF CAMPUS. The Board
of Regents has decided to terminate your
grant. You are to vacate these premises

This is preposterous! I demand an

Fine. This University will no longer
continue any funding of any kind for your
group's activities.

But why? The students love us!

Dr. Venkman, we believe that the purpose of
science is to serve mankind. You, however,
seem to regard science as some kind of
"dodge" or "hustle." Your theories are the
worst kind of popular tripe, your methods
are sloppy and your conclusions are highly
questionable. You're a poor scientist, Dr.
Venkman, and you have no place in this
department or in this University.

I see.

Of course, the good Dean was talking about scientists, where we're apparently to believe that Big Mo is supposed to be some kind of journalist. It just goes to show that some things in real life are less plausible than anything in Ghostbusters.

(0) comments

Monday, January 20, 2003

again, about this we were right...?

Professor Lawence Lessig: [M]issing from the opinion in Eldred is an explanation why enumerated powers get limited in the context of federalism, but not elsewhere.

[from comments section:]

We believed (and again, about this we were right) that it was unlikely the Supreme Court would open every copyright statute up to the question — does this promote progress. So we appealed to “promote progress” as a way to interpret the scope of “limited times.” The “limited times” that the constitution permits are those that promote progress.

But Eldred specifically held that Congressional power to enact copyright laws is a limited power in that, among other things, the copyright system as a whole must rationally "promote the Progress of Science." Every single copyright act that Congress enacts is subject to this limitation, and the Supreme Court will open every copyright statute up to the question: "Taken together with the rest of the copyright system of which it forms a part, does this promote the progress of Science?"

That is, a review of Eldred shows that they were NOT right about "this."

The Eldred majority opinion reasoned:

Satisfied that the CTEA complies with the “limited Times” prescription, we turn now to whether it is a rational exercise of the legislative authority conferred by the Copyright Clause. On that point, we defer substantially to Congress.... The CTEA may also provide greater incentive for American and other authors to create and disseminate their work in the United States. See Perlmutter, Participation in the International Copyright System as a Means to Promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts, 36 Loyola (LA) L. Rev. 323, 330 (2002) ... at 332 (the United States could not “play a leadership role” in the give-and-take evolution of the international copyright system, indeed it would “lose all flexibility,” “if the only way to promote the progress of science were to provide incentives to create new works”). ... Congress ... rationally credited projections that longer terms would encourage copyright holders to invest in the restoration and public distribution of their works ... In sum, we find that the CTEA is a rational enactment ...

Eldred's "rationality" analysis above obviously follows its determination that the CTEA complies with the "limited Times" prescription. The rationality analysis is intended by the Court to show that the CTEA can rationally be construed as "promoting the progress of Science." And the Court makes very clear that the entire copyright system is subject to constitutional "rationality" review:

More forcibly, petitioners contend that the CTEA’s extension of existing copyrights does not “promote the Progress of Science” ... As petitioners point out, we have described the Copyright Clause as “both a grant of power and a limitation,” ... and have said that “[t]he primary objective of copyright” is “[t]o promote the Progress of Science,” ... The “constitutional command,” we have recognized, is that Congress, to the extent it enacts copyright laws at all, create a “system” that “promote[s] the Progress of Science.”

In sum, contrary to Professor Lessig's insistence:

(1) Eldred does not stand for "unlimited government" - but rather for the limited power both of the Congress (which, among other things, is limited to creating a copyright system which a rational person could find promotes the progress of Science and of the Court, which must defer to Congress if Congress has been rational in attempting to promote the Progress of Science and has conformed to the "limited Times" requirement (and other specific requirements of the Copyright Clause) in that copyright system.

(2) Eldred is a federalism case. Federalism works on several levels. One of them is dividing federal government power between the Congress and the Court. Eldred is fully consistent with federalism principles: Congress legislates and the Court evaluates whether the requirements of the Copyright Clause have been met - applying the deferential "rationality" standard to the question of whether the copyright system Promotes the progress of Science.

(3) The Court rejects the argument that "the only way to promote the progress of science [is] to provide incentives to create new works." Congress could, if it chose, completely eliminate this "incentive" aspect of the copyright system - as long as the replacement system rationally promotes the Progress of Science and conforms to the "limited Times" requirement and other specific requirements of the Copyright Clause.

(4) If one loses a case in Court, one should take one's licks and not go around arguing that "unlimited government" has been unleashed upon the land, or the "federalism is falling" or suggesting that the Court is stupid or intellectually dishonest - unless one of these things is true.

(0) comments

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Japan Or Turkey In Iraq?

Stanley Kurtz compares post-war Japan with modern Iraq, and concludes on the basis of many historical and structural differences between those two countries that it will be much harder to introduce democracy into Iraq now than it was to do so in Japan after World War II.

His argument has a lot of merit, but it would be worth his while for Mr. Kurtz also to consider the situation in the very Islamic Ottoman Empire just before it became the much-less-Islamic and much-more-democratic Turkey. Turkish democracy is certainly not now perfect and never has been, but it is just as certainly real democracy. If Turkish style democracy can flourish in Iraq, the world will be a much better place than it is now.

Iraq was for centuries part of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the factors Mr. Kurtz cites as hostile to democracy in Iraq applied with even more virulence in the Ottoman Empire. But democratic Turkey was born, anyway. And democratic Turkey was born from within - without the need for any imposition of democracy by foreign occupation, although even Istanbul was briefly occupied by Greek and Western forces after the First World War and Ottoman failure in that campaign and in many prior foreign wars did a lot to discredit the government.

Japan and Turkey have some interesting parallels. For example, the post-WWI social revolution in Turkey was imposed "from the top down" - and so were the Meiji Restoration reforms in Japan. Just as the historic factors against democracy in Iraq may not be as bad as Mr. Kurtz suggests, neither were the factors favoring democracy in Japan necessarily as favorable as he suggests. For example, Mr. Kurtz cites to some Japanese democratic traditions and structures that survived through the 1920's. But, three prime ministers were murdered between 1912 and 1926 and 3 out of 11 Japanese prime ministers were murdered from 1918 to 1932. Japan had no fixed system of laws until 1945. It did have maxims and concepts of justice - but it had no penal code, no system of statutory law and no judge-controlled system of common law and its constitution was highly uncertain in comparison to those of Western nations (even those with unwritten constitutions). The law was not sovereign because pre-WWII Japan was at least nominally a theocracy, but even the meaning of this theocracy was not certain. There were many radical societies that expressly advocated and practiced assassination, including the Ketsumedian, which was dedicated to the assassination of industrialists and financiers. Using a Thompson sub-machine gun and the like was an especially popular way of criticizing one's political opponents in 1920's Japan, especially after 1924 when the armed forces were "reformed" to bring in a lot more nutty officers. In 1932 a group of army and navy officers actually planned to kill Charlie Chaplin - who had dropped by for tea with the prime minister, who was also to be killed - expressly to spark a war with the United States. None of the foregoing was exactly indicative of a well functioning democracy or the deep entrenchment of democratic principles in pre-WWII Japan.

So I'm not so sure that the prospects for democracy in Iraq are as dire as Mr. Kurtz or his factors suggest.

MORE: From todays (Monday's) Wall Street Journal.

QUALITY REPLY: From Mr. Kurtz in the Corner.
(0) comments

Questioning The President's Patriotism

Jay Caruso and Henry Hanks want to know why the media and the Democrats are not all over Robert Byrd for his questioning of the President's patriotism.

I'd like to know that, too.
(0) comments

Milton Sez

To be exact, he says this about the proposed tax cuts:

Eliminating double taxation of corporate earnings will end the present bias toward debt rather than equity in the financial structure of corporations as well as the present bias toward retaining earnings rather than distributing them as dividends. The combined result will be a more effective distribution of capital, and will promote a more effective market for corporate control.

And he's exactly right, in my view.

Professor Friedman is agnostic on the short term stimulative effect of the tax cut. But, the long run stimulative effects (that is, growth and efficiency) are a very good bet. And the more long term growth there is, the more there is to fund long term commitments such as social security. In fact, more long term growth is the only realistic way to fund social security at anything like the rates now contemplated by law.

(0) comments

Saturday, January 18, 2003

O! Linda!

Read the terrific undressing of Linda Greenhouse by Kausfiles today.

Is there anyone out there who thinks - or is even willing to argue - that those new Times ethics rules do anything to dispell the horrible odor of rank partisanship from a Greenhouse column such as this one?

Maybe she's just all pent up, since those ethics rules do keep her from marching in today's D.C. anti-war/anti-Bush rally. Perhaps she's just ventilating her political frustration through her "reporting."

In other words, have the new ethics rules just made her obvious partisanship worse?

And one might also consider Ms. Greenhouse's repeating duet with the Professor Thomas Merrill, who Kausfiles correctly describes as the sole Supreme Court lawyer she actually names. The Professor has played straight man to Ms. Greenhouse previously - supplying all kinds of curious, fatuous comments about the Court while Ms. Greenhouse fails to disclose even which justice he clerked for. Aren't there other Court specialists that the Times can interview for attribution? Or is it just that Professor Merrill is the one that Ms. Greenhouse can count on to say what she wants - a kind of legal academic sock puppet? The whole, repeating context suggests some kind of, well, friendship or political or other special relationship between the two of them. Is that unethical - or at least does it present the possible appearance of the unethical?
(0) comments

UPDATE: The Big Kill

Both Balkin and Siva Vaidhyanathan have constructive preliminary thoughts as to how Eldred might be used to gnaw at some of the more problematic new extensions of copyright protection - especially taking aim at the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

As Vaidhyanathan says: Ginsburg's expression of faith in the power of the idea/expression dichotomy and fair use does not recognize that both these rights are under attack in Congress and lower courts right now. I think that's not quite right - since those attacks were not shown to be effected through the Bono Act under challenge in Eldred. But as I note in my prior post, proper cases can and should be found in which the idea/expression dichotomy has been at least arguably transgressed by expansion of copyright protection, and in which "fair use" is restricted. Balkin is right to focus on such expansions in his earlier post - although I do not agree that any serious First Amendment impact was shown to be created by the mere extension of the copyright term effected by the Bono Act itself, especially at the extreme level of generality at which the Bono Act opponents chose to argue and position the case (starting with the selection of plaintiffs - since it seems that the lawyers selected the plaintiffs in this case). The new economics of intellectual property should also be brought to bear, but carefully - certainly without inviting the courts to incorporate academic artifice or extraneous economic theories into the Constitution as was so unwisely attempted in Eldred.. The First Amendment - not the Copyright Clause - should be the focus of the challenge, as both Vaidhyanathan and Balkin also note.

I am not convinced that the DMCA is the right place to start. Balkin certainly goes too far by suggesting that Justice Ginsburg's opinion renders that Act "constitutionally suspect." At most Eldred's approach does not insulate the DMCA as much as it does the Bono Act - but that is far from rendering the DMCA "suspect." But the general approach seems sound.

(0) comments