Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

George W. Bush Objects to the Singing of the "Star Spangled Banner" in Yiddish

George W. Bush denounces, among others, the Yiddish poet Dr. Abraham Asen for daring to translate the "Star Spangled Banner" into Yiddish: World / USPrint article | Email articleMain page content: In case there was any doubt, President George W. Bush made one thing perfectly clear on Friday: he thinks the US national anthem should be sung in English. The presidential declaration may seem an odd one.... "The national anthem ought to be sung in English," Mr Bush told reporters gathered in the Rose Garden to hear the president discuss the US economy. "And I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English, and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."

Jack Balkin tells us of:

Balkinization: ...this 1943 translation of the Star Spangled Banner into Yiddish by Dr. Abraham Asen, described as "the foremost Yiddish adapter of English poetry," and proudly presented in commemoration of the one hundred anniversary of the death of Francis Scott Key:

O'zog, kenstu sehn, wen bagin licht dervacht,
Vos mir hoben bagrist in farnachtigen glihen?
Die shtreifen un shtern, durch shreklicher nacht,
Oif festung zich hoiben galant un zich tsein?
Yeder blitz fun rocket, yeder knal fun kanon,
Hot bawizen durch nacht: az mir halten die Fohn!
O, zog, tzi der "Star Spangled Banner" flatert in roim,
Ueber land fun die freie, fun brave die heim!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Max Boot Edition) Busy, Busy, Busy

Busy, Busy, Busy is a national treasure:

Busy, Busy, Busy: As is often the case, Max Boot's depiction deviates a bit from reality. He writes:

No one working for the mainstream media today would refer, as Ernie Pyle did during World War II, to "our soldiers," "our offensive," "our predicament." Today it's "American soldiers," "the military offensive" and (most damning of all) "the president's predicament" - as if this were Bush's war, not ours.

But the facts beg to differ. Take, for example, the purported pundit's best evidence, his most damning phrase. Take it to Google and find:

Total internet references to "the president's predicament": About 260.
References to "the president's predicament" not mentioning "Clinton", "Monica" or "Lewinsky": About 124...
Meanwhile, hits on "our predicament" together with "Iraq" total: About 24,000....

Obsessive subjugation of factuality to narrative is, of course, something of a trademark for Mr. Boot. The abiding mystery is why the Los Angeles Times persists in inflicting him on innocent readers.

Where Can I Go to Wash My Mind?

Ranchero software has added a "sort by attention you pay to them" command to its NetNewsWire RSS feed reader:

Ranchero Software: NetNewsWire 2.1b16 Change Notes: Sorting Subscriptions by Attention.... NetNewsWire now tracks more information about what you do and can tell which feeds are more important to you. (This will get better over time, since it has only just started to track info.)

Actions that make a feed rank higher: opening item links, flagging items, posting to weblog, and posting to

Let's see what it thinks I find most worthy of attention on the internet.... First place: Kevin Drum's Political Animal. Second place: Josh Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo. Third place: Wonkette.

Clearly I need to wash my mind. Full scrub.

The Present's so Bright...

Another near-five percent output growth quarter, accompanied by a growth of labor input that I measure as about 1.6 percent at an annual rate. That means productivity growth at more than three percent per year.

So why aren't real wages rising faster? Why does labor demand growth appear so weak?

Saver Myopia

Andrew Samwick sees a sunny day with dark clouds on the horizon:

Vox Baby: The End of Personal Saving?: Today's GDP report gives some very good news in the top line number--a real growth rate of 4.8 percent in the first quarter of 2006. As this is the advance report, we'll expect revisions to the number at the end of May with the preliminary report and at the end of June with the final report. But an annual growth rate of 4.8 percent is a very nice place to start.

The GDP report also contains information on personal income and saving, and this continues to be more and more puzzling:

Personal saving -- disposable personal income less personal outlays -- was a negative $50.5 billion in the first quarter, compared with a negative $15.8 billion in the fourth. The personal saving rate -- saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- decreased from a negative 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter to a negative 0.5 percent in the first. Saving from current income may be near zero or negative when outlays are financed by borrowing (including borrowing financed through credit cards or home equity loans), by selling investments or other assets, or by using savings from previous periods.

In a free society with a market economy, we have choices about whether to save or consume our resources today, and I don't presume to tell people which choice to make. But it's a very simple truth that we cannot consume the same resources both today and tomorrow, and so it is with an eye toward the ability to consume in the future that economists generally believe that the savings rate should be high rather than low.

I wonder how it can be that with the Baby Boom generation in the high-income and presumably high-saving part of its economic life cycle, we can possibly have negative saving rates for the population as a whole, if we are making decisions with any attention to the amount of consumption we will be able to do in the future.

If households are myopic and are saving too little, the government should offset this and save for them--i.e., we should raise taxes to fund big budget surpluses.

Morning Coffee Videocast: The Great Illusion

In which I drink my morning coffee, hog bandwidth, and violate the truce between economists and political scientists by talking about the saddest book on my bookshelf:

For April 28: The Great Illusion

Thursday, April 27, 2006

An Yglesias for All Seasons

A Man for All Seasons (1966): Thomas More: May I see that chain Richard?

Richard Rich: Certainly.

Thomas More: It is a fine chain.

Richard Rich: It has pleased His Majesty to make me Justiciar for Wales.

Thomas More: Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?

Matthew Yglesias appears to be happy that the Democrats are diminishing their maneuvering room to ever get the country to adopt a sensible energy and environmental policy:

TAPPED: WHO YOU CALLIN' STUPID? Methinks a lot of folks out there are too quick to underestimate the intelligence of highly trained professional politicians. The basic dilemma facing Democrats at the moment regarding gasoline goes as follows:

High gas prices are very unpopular with the public. This presents an opportunity for the opposition party to score gains against a genuinely pernicious incumbent party by presenting itself as prepared to "do something" about the situation. But, simultaneously, the correct liberal point of view is that high gasoline prices are actually a good thing for environmental and foreign policy reasons. Ergo, Democrats propose "legislation that would put a moratorium on the Federal gasoline tax for at least 60-days to provide consumers immediate relief at the pump," but would also "chop oil company tax benefits and burden refineries with unwarranted reporting requirements, making it unable to win enough support in Congress to have even a remote chance of passing."

This accomplishes the political goal of making the Republicans unpopular -- siding with their corporate masters to defeat a plan to lower the price of gasoline -- while also accomplishing the policy goal of not making gasoline prices lower. That, to me, deserves the label "smart."...

John Whitehead... and Brad DeLong... labeling the initiative an example of "stupidity." But it's not silly, it's not stupid, and it's a very efficient way of combining the Democratic Party's two primary goals under circumstances where they seem to be deeply in tension. If you want to call it "dishonest political theater" or "posturing," then that's your right. But it's very smart posturing. The substantive drawbacks of the proposal are no downside at all because it clearly can't pass...

It's hard to reverse rhetorical field. Once you're on record as saying that the problem with gasoline prices is that they're too high, it's hard to get to where you ultimately want to be.

Morning Coffee Videocast: Neoliberal Advice and International Capital Mobility

The Financial Times Has a View of Bush Energy Policy

The Financial Times editorial page tells us what it thinks of George W. Bush and his energy policy: / Comment & analysis / Editorial comment - Bush runs on empty: Pity the leader of a nation that regards cheap petrol as a basic human right. That is President George W. Bush's position as pump prices start to approach a high of $3 a gallon ahead of next month's driving season - and next autumn's mid-term elections - while his approval ratings are closing fast on a low of about 30 per cent.

Do not pity him for too long, though, because Mr Bush has really squandered the chance to do something about what he has correctly characterised as America's "addiction" to oil.

After the attacks of September 11 2001, the president had a unique opportunity to create a bipartisan and public consensus behind increased energy efficiency and reduced energy dependency, especially on oil imported from politically unreliable parts of the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. He did not take it. Instead, the administration took four years to produce an energy bill that, in spite of some electricity network improvements, in no way addresses the fact that per capita energy use in the US is far higher than in any of its competitors - in transport, for example, three times that of Japan.

This level of energy intensity has little to do with high rates of economic growth and a great deal to do with driving habits. More fuel-efficient engines do not translate into more miles per gallon if cars keep getting heavier and faster, and the culture and the economic incentives ensure that the Hummer trumps the Hybrid.

This week the president announced a package of measures to the Renewable Fuels Association. He plans to "leave a little more oil in the market" by suspending deposits in the strategic petroleum reserve; issue a series of waivers on clean fuel standards; and order a probe into possible price manipulation by big oil. The markets rightly read this as inconsequential populism and the oil price remains stubbornly high.

More to the point, and unlike previous price spikes from the Arab oil embargo to the three Gulf wars, it is not just current prices that are high. The markets are forecasting prices above $70 a barrel five years ahead. The era of cheap oil may be over.

High global economic growth, especially in Asia, is powering demand for a tight supply of oil, made tighter by insufficient refining capacity. Most of all, there are probably no big new oil fields to be discovered, while nearly all the big old oil fields are in regions (not just the Middle East) offering an infinite variety of political risk. As but one example, a more considered, less bellicose US attitude towards Iran would do more to steady the oil market than all Mr Bush's measures put together.

In the end, however, America's addiction can be beaten only by hard policy decisions: rigorous fuel-efficiency standards, a tax regime that prices petrol realistically, as well as a framework of incentives for investment in alternative technologies. Meanwhile, the best agent of change is expensive oil.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Stupidest Woman Alive...

Florence King of, yes, National Review makes her play for the Stupidest Woman Alive. Ezra Klein read it by accident, and now needs professional help:

Ezra Klein: Hoo Boy: This is the sort of high quality political commentary you can only find in The National Review:

Rest assured that I am not going to write about insurance per se. That requires a natural ear for droning that I lack; a numbers cruncher's visceral need to drizzle % signs all over the page; and, of course, the technical knowledge to criticize HillaryCare and BushCare. I can't do that. As Samuel Johnson said of the plot of Cymbeline, "It is impossible to criticize unresisting imbecility."

I leave "deductibles" and "co-payments" and all the rest of it to the panicky-eyed patients milling around the doctor's checkout desk while his shattered nurse waits on hold to find out who pays for the first three hemorrhoids.

I love the pride folks take in their ignorance, particularly when they're puffing out their chest because they can't evaluate the policy they've chosen to write about. It's like a disclaimer: "Everything I'm about to say is ill-considered and uninformed. Don't listen."

But more than not listening, I shouldn't have read. What follows is honestly -- and I rarely use this word, but I simply can't think of another -- moronic. It's one part cultural analysis of the concept of insurance, one part bizarre moral hazard argument. It argues that insurance created the hypochondriac. It argues that the fundamental reason folks rush to the doctor -- I shit you not -- is they hate to "waste" their insurance. That's right, I go and spend hours in waiting rooms because I got an insurance card burning a hole in my pocket, baby.

I just don't know what to say.

I know what Ezra should say. Here's what he should say: "Congratulations, Ms. King. You are now the front runner in the Stupidest Woman Alive contest. Oh, and anybody listening who has written for National Review wants to be taken for anything other than a moronic hack? Run, as far and as fast as you can, away from the operation. And change your name too."

Party of Stupidity Watch II

The Republicans. Tim Haab is on the case:

Environmental Economics: Read this Quick: Gas Rebate Proposal: GOP senator are proposing a $100 tax credit to "offset the pain of higher pump prices for gasoline." I have to post this quickly because there is an economic lesson to be learned, but this thing is likely to be voted down before I can finish typing.

So what's the lesson? Consumers respond to prices at the margin--that is behavior changes when the price of the last unit of a good purhased changes. Imagine the local street hot-dog vendor us trying to get you to buy more hot dogs. Which is more likely to increase hot dog sales--the vendor giving you $5 or the vendor dropping his price by 10%? Now, I've already argued that the evil gas producers can't lower their prices on a whim, but the government could if they wanted to--by reducing the per gallon gas tax. Now that would be just plain silly--right?

My point is, this gas tax rebate proposal will have absolutely no effect on gas prices or gas consumption behavior. It will simply give everyone a $100 bonus to do with as they see fit.

If the goal of the Senate is to reduce the burden on those spending the most on gas, a lump-sum rebate won't do it. IF the goal is to just give everyone $100 and see what happens, this looks like the perfect proposal. And as John has repeatedly and convincingly argued...IF the goal is to reduce dependence on gas powered vehicles, then we need an increase in the gas tax.

This thing is dead in the water because the tax rebate proposal contains an amendment allowing drilling in ANWR.

Party of Stupidity Watch I

Party of Stupidity watch. The Democrats. John Whitehead is on the case:

Environmental Economics: Dems propose a holiday: Right, it would be silly plus stupid (i.e., "inefficient" to an economist). But, who cares in an election year:

Following President Bush's four-point plan outlined today, Democrats proposed legislation that would put a moratorium on the Federal gasoline tax for at least 60-days to provide consumers immediate relief at the pump. But the proposed legislation would also chop oil company tax benefits and burden refineries with unwarranted reporting requirements, making it unable to win enough support in Congress to have even a remote chance of passing...

Remember: the Democratic position--and the correct position as far as the public interest is concerned--is that gasoline prices are not too high but too low. Global warming, road congestion, and a desire to curb the damage that can be done by the mess in the Middle East all mean that we should be providing incentives for Americans to wean themselves to a less oil-guzzling lifestyle.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Economist Edition)

The cossacks work for the Czar, goddamit!

We watch as the Economist continues its flame-out. Today it plays fast-and-loose with reality by trying to make Donald Rumsfeld the scapegoat for everything that has gone wrong in Iraq--for Cheney's and Bush's decisions as well as his own: September 11th transformed a has-been into a national hero. Mr Rumsfeld immediately captivated the country by running into the burning Pentagon to rescue the wounded. And he kept it captivated with a series of press conferences that projected a mixture of defiance and determination. This was American manliness at its best. The staid Wall Street Journal called him a "hunk"...

The word "hunk" appears not in the--admittedly somewhat staid--news section of the Journal, but in the bizarre over-the-top wingnut-dominated editorial section, and it appeared in a column by Claudia Rosett that ran not in the main edition of the Journal distributed in New York and Washington but only in the European edition. "Lexington" knows full well that the editorial section of the WSJ is not "staid."

Then came the Iraq war and the disgrace of Abu Ghraib; and this paper, among many critics, called for Mr Rumsfeld to go.... [T]he current furore can't be brushed aside.... The secretary of defence has become a liability that Mr Bush's troubled administration can no longer afford: a distraction at home and a barrier to success in Iraq. There is now widespread agreement on what he got wrong. His biggest mistake--the fons et origo of all the others--was to try to fight the war with too few troops. His second-biggest was to make no proper provision for restoring order afterwards. But there is no shortage of other mistakes. Mr Rumsfeld misread the intelligence in the build-up to the war, and much of it was simply wrong in any case. He failed to plan for the occupation. He ignored the growing insurgency. He disbanded the Iraqi army, scattering 300,000 armed and unemployed men into the population.

But Rumsfeld did not decide to fight the war with too few troops. Cheney and Bush were his bosses, and decided with Rumsfeld to fight the war with too few troops. Rumsfeld did not misread the intelligence. Bush and Cheney decided to misread the intelligence.

The more interesting question is why he messed up so comprehensively. The most obvious reason, of course, is arrogance. Mr Rumsfeld suffered from exactly the same problem as another whizz-kid CEO turned secretary of defence, Robert McNamara: iron self-confidence. He junked the army's carefully laid plans for invasion (General Zinni's plan called for at least 380,000 troops, for example, far more than Mr Rumsfeld sent). He dismissed warnings from General Shinseki that it would take hundreds of thousands of troops to win the peace. He ignored pleas for more troops on the ground. And he surrounded himself with similarly one-dimensional strategists such as General Franks and yes-men like General Myers.

Another reason is bureaucratic turf wars. Henry Kissinger once described Mr Rumsfeld as the best practitioner of the art of bureaucratic infighting that he had ever seen, which is no mean compliment; and he certainly did a brilliant job of elbowing Colin Powell and the State Department aside, putting control of post-war reconstruction in military hands for the first time since the second world war. But he had no idea what to do with his new-found power. Without the State Department's experience of post-war reconstruction, gathered in Bosnia and Afghanistan, Mr Rumsfeld veered all over the place...

Again: Bush and Cheney and Rice decided to place post-war Iraq in the hands of the Pentagon rather than Foggy Bottom. They agreed with Rumsfeld's assessment of the situation.

The cossacks work for the Czar. The Economist plays journalistic three-card-monte in the hope that it can get its readers will forget that fact.

Certainly George W. Bush doesn't forget that. As Tim Russert said, a source “close to the President” told him that Bush “won’t fire Rumsfeld because it would be the equivalent of firing himself.”

Covering the Economy: Gasoline Prices

Democrats are (because of the environmentalist wing of the party) generally in favor of higher gasoline taxes and higher gasoline prices--except when gasoline prices are high). Republicans are in favor of letting oil markets "work"--except when gasoline prices are high.

Here's a sampling of stories:

Here's AP:

AP Josef Hebert | Plans Produced to Attack High Gas Prices : WASHINGTON — High gasoline costs and the political fallout they may create are producing a flurry of proposals from both Republicans and Democrats aimed at soothing motorists' anger. But nobody is predicting prices will ease anytime soon. Democrats are blaming Republicans, especially President Bush, while Republicans argue that congressional Democrats have stood in the way of more domestic oil production.

Bush directed his environmental agency Tuesday to stand ready to ease clean air rules if they interfere in gasoline supplies this summer. Industry analysts said that likely would have only a marginal influence on prices. The president also announced that the government would not take 10 million barrels of oil out of the market for the U.S. emergency reserve as had been planned. Bush maintained that "every little bit helps," even though industry analysts said that was so little oil it would have no impact on prices.

The president expressed frustration at his inability to force down prices. "What people are seeing at their gasoline pumps reflects the global economy in which we live," he acknowledged in a speech aimed at countering critics who have accused him of being soft on oil companies and ignoring high prices at the pump.

Bush vowed to pursue any collusion or price gouging and directed the Justice Department to help states pursue allegations that "gas prices have been unfairly manipulated." But the White House opposes additional federal laws to address price gouging or strengthen antitrust laws as they pertain to oil companies, as some members of Congress have proposed. "There are very good laws on the books," said Al Hubbard, the president's chief economics adviser. "What's important is that those laws are enforced aggressively."...

Here's Gary Richards from the Mercury News: | 04/26/2006 | Soaring gasoline prices forecast: By Gary Richards Mercury News: California's average gasoline price jumped two cents Tuesday to $3.14 a gallon, and some analysts said drivers could be paying $3.35 or more by Memorial Day, May 29. The gloomy forecast came on the same day President Bush announced measures he said could curb rising prices -- freeing up oil reserves and temporarily waiving regional clean-air requirements.

Those moves may have calmed the energy market -- crude oil and gas futures fell slightly Tuesday. But most experts say they will provide little significant relief over the next few weeks. ``We wish we could tell you there's light at the end of the tunnel, but it's probably an oncoming train,'' said Sean Comey, spokesman for AAA of Northern California.

Bush called for a nationwide probe into possible price manipulation. He directed the Energy Department to delay oil shipments this summer to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the government's fuel stockpile. The change would free up about 12 million barrels of oil over the summer, a small percentage considering the nation consumes 20 million barrels a day. ``It's more symbol than substance,'' said David Sandalow, an energy expert at the Brookings Institution.

Skeptics, including Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., questioned Bush's call to investigate price gouging, saying the Federal Trade Commission is already probing the issue because of legislation Democrats pushed through Congress. The agency's findings are expected late in May.

And here's Chris Cilizza from the Washington Post:

The Fix -- Chris Cillizza's Politics Blog on Parsing the Polls: The Politics of Gas Prices: You can't swing a cat in Washington, D.C., this week without hitting a politician talking about the rapid increase in gas prices and what should be done about it. President George W. Bush on Tuesday sought to address the problem, calling for an investigation into possible price gouging the increased in alternative fuels like ethanol. The president ruled out setting a fixed price for gas.

The rising cost of gas -- now around $3 a gallon across the country -- has Republican strategists concerned (and Democrats elated) about its impact on the national political environment this fall. Already on the defensive over Iraq and the handling of Hurricane Katrina, congressional Republicans are seeking to project a proactive response to gas prices -- although most members admit that there is no quick or easy solution. (Expect GOP leaders to do a series of events on Thursday as Exxon Mobil announces its profits.) Democrats, for their part, have tried to tie gas prices to Republicans' alleged "giveaways" to oil companies over the past few years.

Who will win this rhetorical fight? And is the public paying attention? Let's parse the polls to find some answers.

Two things immediately become apparent when examining recent polling on gas prices: Americans see the rising costs as a major burden and are generally unhappy about what the Bush administration has done to address the problem.... 70 percent of those tested said the "recent price increases in gasoline" have caused "financial hardship" for their families.... 23 percent of respondents said gasoline prices have caused "a severe hardship that affects your ability to maintain your standard of living," while 26 percent identified it a "moderate hardship that affects you somewhat but does not jeopardize your current standard of living." Just more than one-quarter of voters (28 percent) said the gas price increase has caused them no hardship.... [C]onsiderable anxiety exists in the general public about gas -- its price and availability. It is a prototypical pocketbook issue -- one that every American (Democrat, Republican and independent) can identify with and one that people want the government to address.... [T]he public is dissatisfied with the Bush administration's approach to solving the problem. In the Post-ABC survey, just 23 percent approved of the job the White House was doing on the "situation with gasoline prices," while 74 percent disapproved....

Putting aside the fact that more than one-third of the sample put the blame on President Bush, the finding that a near-majority of voters cite U.S. oil companies as the root of the problem should concern Republican strategists.... [V]oters are much more open to believe that Republicans are helping out their friends in Big Oil -- especially when the president and vice president have each served as high-ranking officials in oil or energy services companies.

Expect Democrats to hammer home those connections in the weeks and months ahead of the fall election, and they're likely to lay out a broad vision of their own on energy policy. These numbers seem to suggest a considerable opening for Democrats on the issue (much more so than corruption in Congress), but it remains to be seen if any alternative they offer will resonate with disgruntled voters. A plan should emerge before this summer, according to an informed party strategist...

Covering the Economy: Louis Uchitelle

Louis Uchitelle

Brad's review of his new book, The Disposable American

Covering the Economy: Julie Rovner

Julie Rovner:

NPR : Julie Rovner: Julie Rovner is a health policy correspondent for National Public Radio, specializing in the politics of health care. She is also a contributing editor for National Journal's CongressDaily. In 2005, she was awarded the Everett McKinley Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress for her coverage of the passage of the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill and its aftermath...

One of her best:

NPR : Bush Skips White House Conference on Aging: Bush Skips White House Conference on Aging: All Things Considered, December 13, 2005· The once-a-decade White House Conference on Aging is meeting in Washington this week, with the future of Medicare high on its agenda. Medicare was on President Bush's agenda Tuesday, too. But he skipped the White House conference -- making him the first president not to speak to delegates in the event's half-century history.

While the conference on aging delegates was meeting in a hotel uptown, the White House motorcade set out in the opposite direction, to Greenspring Village, a high-end gated retirement community in suburban Virginia.

Once there, President Bush met with residents and staff to tout the new Medicare drug benefit he helped shepherd into law. "It's a good deal for our seniors, and so one of the reasons we have come today is to encourage people to see what is available in the new law."...

Some nuggets about NPR:

  • Julie Rovner is on air for perhaps eight minutes a week
  • 22 million afternoon listeners
  • 14 million morning listeners
  • Capitol Hill doesn't understand the reach of radio
  • Differences--big differences--between Republican and Democratic attitudes, along the lines of what Bruce Barlett said: "if I had come across Gene Sperling, one of Clinton's closest economic adviser... he would have come straight at me with a laundry list of facts and arguments for why I was wrong to be critical. I would have been invited to the White House mess to carry on the conversation, and I would have left with an armful of studies and statistics explaining the virtues of whatever Clinton program I was attacking. By contrast, the Bush administration never provides its supporters with any ammunition... beyond the endless repetition of the day's talking points..."

Monday, April 24, 2006

Busy Giddy Minds with Foreign Quarrels...

Why oh why are we ruled by these mendacious morons?

The Search for an Enemy | TPMCafe: I've actually heard that Francis Fukuyama has said this before, but that information didn't come to me in reportable form. During a appearance with Robert Wright, Fukuyama says of Bill Kristol and his circle at The Weekly Standard that during the 1990s "There was actually a deliberate search for an enemy because they felt that the Republican Party didn't do as well" when foreign policy wasn't on the issue agenda. The obvious candidates were either China or something relating to Islamic fundamentalism and, as Fukuyama notes, what they came up with was China. Then 9/11 changed things around, at least for a few years. I think this is very telling, and reveals a great deal about the mentality that's been guiding America's foreign policy during the Bush years...

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

The American Street watches Tony Snow beg and plead, "No sauce for the gander, please!":

Tony Is No Snow White: Poor Tony Snow. He just can't shut up about how people started saying bad things about him once it was suggested that he was in the running to replace Scott McClellan as the White House Press Secretary:

Helpful correspondents have told me where to go, what to use to fill various orifices, which pack animal I most closely resemble and my next-world destination. Sages from afar have ascertained that I'm a... BushBot, a puppet, a force of evil in the modern world, a White House mouthpiece-toady-stenographer merely seeking a change of station (and major cut in pay) and a toothy, well-coifed [sic] mediocrity....

We're already getting weary of the insult industry and the accompanying insinuation that one must view people with contrary views not only as political opponents, but as invading microbes, suitable for swift and complete destruction.

Tony [Snow] evidently has forgotten that he once said:

I mean, I love old fashioned eye-gouging, hair pulling, sucker-punching, full-contact politics.

And that he called Harry Reid "inane" and a "moonbat." The same Tony Snow who "Big Creep." Hillary Clinton, according to Tony, is a "race baiter." Tony's words for Ted Turner: "bigot" and "fool." Being called a "toothy, well-coiffed mediocrity" seems pretty tame in comparison. Apparently Tony tires of the "insult industry" only when he's on the receiving end.

This attitude that we-are-journalists-and-have-special-rules is remarkably common. One of the strangest moments I've had in the past year was trying to be polite listening to Time's Michael Duffy--he of the let's-mislead-our-readers-brigade--explaining to me that while everything I said to him was on the record until I went off, everything he said to me was off the record until he went on. Why? Because he was a journalist.

Heckuva Job with Iraq, Rummy!

Gerald Ford talks about how great a guy Donald Rumsfeld was in the 1970s:

David Corn: Who wants to get into a cat-fight with former President Gerald Ford? But it does seem something of an act of desperation on the part of the pro-Rumsfeld camp that the 92-year-old Ford, who was the first president to hire Donald Rumsfeld as a defense secretary, issued a statement supporting Rummy. My hunch is that Ford wouldn't have done so without first consulting Rumsfeld, who also served as Ford's chief of staff at the White House. Below is the complete statement--and I have a reason for posting the whole thing, so read on:

I have been extremely troubled by the efforts of a group of retired generals to force the resignation of our Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. President Bush is right to keep him in his post. It is the President's decision -- and his alone.

Allowing retired generals to dictate our country's policies and its leadership would be a dangerous precedent that would severely undermine our country's long tradition of civilian control of the military. It would discourage civilian leaders at the Department from having frank and candid exchanges with military officers. And, today, at a time of war, such an effort sends exactly the wrong message both to our troops deployed abroad and to our enemies who are watching for any signs of weakness or self-doubt.

When I carried out my duties as Commander in Chief, I relied on a man who I appointed first as White House Chief of Staff and later asked to serve the country as Secretary of Defense. In those times, I needed someone with creativity, vision, and courage. And I found those qualities -- and much more -- in Don Rumsfeld.

President Bush came to office with an ambitious agenda to reform and modernize America's military. He knew that Don, who had been in the job before, was extremely well suited to take on this challenge and contend with a bureaucracy that has a built-in resistance to change. The President knew that successfully carrying out these missions, against stiff resistance, takes someone with a certain amount of steel.

When America's security remains under threat and terrorists plot to attack us at home, our country is fortunate that we have a Secretary and a Commander-in-chief in President Bush with the character and steadiness to hold firm to the right course.

Millions of Americans are proud and grateful for what they are undertaking. Betty and I count ourselves among them.

Pop quiz: how many times did Ford mention Iraq in that statement? Not once. If a Rumsfeld advocate cannot say, "he's done a heckuva job with Iraq," then there's no reason to view their praise of Rumsfeld as a true vote of confidence. Of course, anyone who did say such a thing about Rumsfeld and Iraq would not be credible. Sort of a Catch 22 for Rummy's side.

Fortune on Exploitation in Congo

Sixteen tons and what do you get? Tin in Congo:

Hot Commodity, Cold Comfort - March 6, 2006 : Pascal Kasereka emerges from a forest carrying his weight in rocks slung over his back. "We are lucky to have these rocks in the earth," says the 16-year-old, who has spent two days walking from a tin mine in Walikale in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to sell his load. "I hear the Americans like them."

Soldiers with Kalashnikovs herd Kasereka and a dozen others to a corner of a clearing near the town of Mayuwano as middlemen weigh their sacks of ore and pay them 30 cents a kilogram--about $15 for the rocks on Kasereka's back--a price guaranteed by the guns pointed at him. The teenagers fall to the ground in exhaustion, while a few feet away those same sacks are sold for five times the price. They will ultimately fetch $350 on world markets, after they are flown out of Mayuwano on rusty Russian Antonovs and smuggled to Rwanda and other destinations.

Cassiterite, the ore that contains tin, is a hot commodity now that environmental regulations have forced the global electronics industry to use tin instead of lead in circuitboards and other components. The price of tin has nearly doubled since 2002, to about $7,600 a metric ton. But few end users seem aware of the hazardous conditions and low wages miners like Kasereka endure.

"The tunnels in Walikale are not safe," whispers Kasereka, who climbs into mines wearing flimsy rubber boots and a flashlight tied to his head. "There is no space to breathe. They collapse every few days, and miners die. Their graves are in the forests." But, Kasereka says, his family would starve without the money he brings home.

Far from Walikale, Bruce Moloznik, a vice president at Cookson Electronics Assembly Materials, the New Jersey manufacturer of more than a fifth of the world's solder, which is used in circuitboards, expresses surprise to learn where much of the world's tin comes from. "Africa has never been mentioned as a source of our tin," he says, adding that his company "is not interested in supporting anything illegal."

The reason Moloznik and others don't know they are buying tin sourced in Congo, according to Global Witness, a Washington, D.C., research and advocacy group, is that most of it disappears into world metal markets and is labeled as coming from Malaysia, Belgium, or South Africa. According to a report published last year by the group, the mines around Walikale alone produced about 3% of global production, most of which was smuggled into Rwanda. That country, the report said, exported five times the amount of tin it produced yet recorded no legal imports. Most of Rwanda's exports were sent to Malaysia, other African countries, and Britain, according to export documents obtained by Global Witness, but none of those countries reported any significant imports of Rwandan tin ore.

All of which means that for the rest of the world, Congolese tin simply does not exist.

Congo contains some of the world's richest deposits of gold, diamond, copper, and other minerals, but its wealth has long been a curse for its war-torn villages, washed over by waves of greedy gunmen who looted the mines and exploited miners during a decade of conflict that killed nearly four million people. "This is dirty business involving high-ranking officials, politicians, and the interests of member states," says a UN official who investigates illegal resource exploitation in Congo and who asked not to be named. "We won't have action until it is no longer politically correct to ignore the situation."

Congo's Minister for Mines, Ingele Ifoto, deplored the bleeding of his country's wealth but claimed only pressure from abroad could catalyze change in his lawless country. "As long as there is a global demand, the smugglers will find a way to supply it," Ifoto says. "Our borders are too vast to be guarded by us."

Multinational corporations like Cookson say they oppose illegally sourced minerals, and some, including Samsung (Research), say they impose strict conditions on suppliers and contractors. But for now, miners like Pascal Kasereka continue to sweat and risk their lives in their mineral-cursed forest to keep the electronics industry humming...

Corporate Control

Gretchen Morgenson on corporate control at Pfizer:

Investors vs. Pfizer: Guess Who Has the Guns? - New York Times: IF outsized executive pay has indeed become a source of outrage to American shareholders, then the contest this week between Pfizer Inc.'s investors and its board could prove the most compelling of the year. The battle lines have been drawn between Pfizer's owners and managers, who will assemble on Thursday at the annual shareholder meeting in Lincoln, Neb., at the Cornhusker Marriott hotel.

On one side stands Hank McKinnell, Pfizer's chief executive and chairman, recipient of $65 million in pay since he took the top job at the company in January 2001 and beneficiary of an $83 million pension when he retires. On the other are Pfizer shareholders, angry over the 46 percent decline in market value since Mr. McKinnell took the reins. Some shareholders are threatening to withhold votes for several Pfizer directors over Mr. McKinnell's pay. Pfizer, meanwhile, is fighting back in the proxy contest, working overtime to convince shareholders that its directors deserve support. Adding drama to this battle is the effect that withheld votes may have on Pfizer directors. Such acts of shareholder defiance are strictly symbolic; at most companies directors can win a seat if they receive one "yes" vote in an election. Last year, though, Pfizer changed its guidelines so that any director who received more "withhold" votes than "for" votes will have to resign. If the board rejects the resignation offer, it will publicly state why. Like many other companies, Pfizer has a mighty arsenal, backed by shrewd alliances and relationships with institutional shareholders. The Pfizer battle, governance experts say, illustrates an imbalance of power between company owners and managers that is prevalent today.

"The management has these unlimited resources to fight back, and the shareholders are pretty much powerless," said John C. Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group. "The thing has gotten so out of hand that words almost fail me. The shareholders should not tolerate it." Institutional shareholders, who vote the stock on behalf of their individual investors, are supposed to act in the best interests of those who own the stock, and the institutions questioned said they were careful to avoid conflicts in proxy votes. But shaking up the status quo may not always be in their own interest....

Frederick E. Rowe Jr., chairman of Greenbrier Partners, a money management firm in Dallas, and head of the Texas Pension Review Board, is the point man for the grass-roots organization aiming at Pfizer. "It's not 80/20 or 90/10," Mr. Rowe said. "One hundred percent of the people we've talked to on the phone and on the Web are outraged at what has happened in executive compensation in general and at Pfizer in particular. I know Pfizer has long-term relationships with institutional holders and they have lots of business to pass around, but I am hopeful that the institutions will vote the way 100 percent of the true owners of Pfizer would want them to vote."... Gary Lutin, an investment banker at Lutin & Company in New York and an adviser in corporate control contests, said: "The Pfizer case shows that even prominent, good corporate citizens need to be monitored. All the best governance theories won't make any difference if investors don't bother to watch the people who are supposed to be guarding their property."

Brad Setser Is Not a Happy Camper

Brad Setser writes:

RGE - John Taylor's rhetoric on the IMF drives me nuts: Taylor seems to really think his under his watch, the "Bush Administration ended the bailout habits of the IMF" As Taylor notes in the Journal, the Taylor-led US Treasury did say no to Argentina in late 2001. But Taylor said no in December of 2001 only after saying yes to a horribly ill-conceived augmentation (increase in IMF lending) in the summer of 2001.

The IMF has stated that it intends to stick to its access limits. Of course, it also has a policy that allows it to go over its access limits whenever it and its major shareholders decide they want to. And every time a big emerging economy gets into trouble, they want to. The IMF hasn't given out any big loans recently, tis true. But that is because no one has gotten into trouble, not because the IMF and its big shareholders have stuck to the stated lending limits under pressure.... As for Taylor's real record, I think the facts speak for themselves. He approved a large augmentation for Argentina, and large loans for Turkey, Uruguay and Brazil....

Taylor could take credit for the IMF's successes in Brazil, Uruguay and Turkey. All three countries avoided default, regained access to markets, returned to growth and repaid the IMF. I would submit the current emerging market boom wouldn't have happened had Brazil defaulted in 2002 or early 2003. And without the IMF lifeline, that is exactly what would have happened. Taylor can even take credit for lending out the IMF's money to countries that subsequently repaid the Fund. But Taylor can not credibly take credit for scaling back IMF lending.

Yet Taylor consistently refuses to claim credit for the successes he did have, and insists on trying to get credit for something he didn't do - scale back IMF lending!...

Department of "Huh?"

Greg Mankiw today:

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Hubbard on the Fiscal Future: Economist Glenn Hubbard (who preceded me as CEA chair and is now back at Columbia) has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal. He reminds us that unless we see significant entitlement reform, taxes are heading higher:

Imagine the nightmare of a tax burden 50% higher -- not so farfetched as it sounds.... The Congressional Budget Office regularly quantifies these shadows of the Ghost of Tax Day Future. Their forecasts are not sanguine. A generation from now, absent any changes, increases in Social Security and Medicare spending alone are projected to consume 10 more percentage points of national GDP than they do today.

There is nothing very new here, but it is good to have Glenn saying it anyway. As George Orwell once said, "We have now sunk to a depth where the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men"...

Greg Mankiw's and Glenn Hubbard's ex-Boss today: - Bush Urges Congress To Extend Tax Cuts: Associated Press April 15, 2006 12:45 p.m.: "Monday is Tax Day, and that means many of you are busy finishing up your tax returns," Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address. "The good news is that this year Americans will once again keep more of their hard-earned dollars because of the tax cuts we passed in 2001 and 2003."...

Mr. Bush said his administration has helped families by lowering tax rates and doubling the child credit, reducing the marriage penalty and cutting taxes on small businesses. "Tax relief has done exactly what it was designed to do: It has created jobs and growth for the American people," he said. "Yet some here in Washington are now proposing that we raise taxes, either by repealing the tax cuts or letting them expire."...

The tax cuts that reduced the top rate for capital gains and dividends to 15% are a centerpiece of Mr. Bush's tax policy. They are set to expire at the end of 2008. The bill being discussed would keep them in place through 2010. If they expire, the top tax rate for capital gains would increase to 20% and dividends would be taxed at marginal tax rates as high as 39.6%. "An important debate is taking place in Washington over whether to keep these tax cuts in place or to raise your taxes," he said. "For the sake of American workers and their families, and for our entrepreneurs, I believe Congress needs to make the tax relief permanent."

Perhaps the first duty of a CEA chair should be to state the obvious--that tax cuts that create permanent deficits are a bad idea--to the president in such a way that it sinks in?

Heh. Indeed

Lawyers, Guns, and Money attains the Fafblog zone:

Lawyers, Guns and Money: The Meeting: Rich Lowry's advice for the President: "Sit-down with conservative bloggers. They are some of his most loyal supporters--include them in the media out-reach." Imagine that.... just imagine that...

Scene: Oval Office. President Bush is meeting with John Hinderaker, Kathryn Lopez, Jonah Goldberg, Charles Johnson, John Derbyshire, Glenn Reynolds, and Roger L. Simon.

President Bush: Thank you all for coming. I just want you to know that Laura and I value your ideas and support.

Reynolds: Heh. Indeed.

Lopez: Mr. President, you are, like, a god to me.

Bush: Thank you...

Hinderaker: Mr. President, I believe that your speeches will be studied by historians for centuries to come. For now, the only advice that I can offer is to suggest that you should denounce Mahatma Gandhi.

Bush: Denounce Gandhi?

Hinderaker: Yes, sir, denounce Gandhi. And his rabble. Can't let the peaceniks get a foothold.

Reynolds: Heh. Indeed.

Simon: Mr. President, a lot of people are saying your administration has made mistakes in Iraq, but you shouldn't pay them any attention. I'd say that the Iraq War is at least as well conceived and executed as, say, Pajamas Media.

Bush: Well, thank you.

Goldberg: Mr. President, South Park is really big these days. I think that you should consider appearing on South Park. I'm sure that Parker and Stone would treat you with the dignity you deserve. The kids really like South Park these days.J

ohnson: Mr. President, have you considered giving a speech threatening to incinerate the entire islamic world? Some of my commenters think that would be a really good idea.

Reynolds: Heh. Indeed. Bush: Well, I'm not sure...


Reynolds: Heh. Indeed.

I Am Sorry, But the Stupidest Man Alive Contest Is Closed!

John Tamny of National Review nevertheless submits his application--a fangs-bared leap-attack directed against Larry Lindsey:

John Tamny on the Yuan and Lawrence Lindsey on NRO Financial: To begin, just as Chinese authorities fix the yuan's value, so too do U.S. authorities fix the dollar's value. As the Journal's George Melloan noted in a recent editorial, "no currency actually 'floats.'" As opposed to commodities set by market forces, currencies today are merely paper concepts controlled by central banks through the creation of and extinguishment of that paper.

That the above is true calls into question Lindsey's assertion that the "Chinese clearly undervalue their exchange rate."

The above is not true. If it were true, it would not "call into question" Lindsey's assertion. This year it looks like China will spend $250 billion trying to keep the value of the renminibi low: that's the reason for Lindsey's assertion.

But sorry, John. It's too late.

Busy Giddy Minds with Foreign Quarrels...

Why oh why are we ruled by these mendacious morons?

The Search for an Enemy | TPMCafe: I've actually heard that Francis Fukuyama has said this before, but that information didn't come to me in reportable form. During a appearance with Robert Wright, Fukuyama says of Bill Kristol and his circle at The Weekly Standard that during the 1990s "There was actually a deliberate search for an enemy because they felt that the Republican Party didn't do as well" when foreign policy wasn't on the issue agenda. The obvious candidates were either China or something relating to Islamic fundamentalism and, as Fukuyama notes, what they came up with was China. Then 9/11 changed things around, at least for a few years. I think this is very telling, and reveals a great deal about the mentality that's been guiding America's foreign policy during the Bush years...

If Evolution Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Evolve

Culture War Mashup: Posted by Kieran Healy: Bumper sticker seen in traffic: "If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve."

Sunday, April 23, 2006

David Frum Is a Shrill Unbalanced Critic of George W. Bush

It's not that David wants to be a member of the Order of the Shrill. But sometimes it just slips out. Like:

David Frum: If you were looking for a diligent manager of the office of the presidency, a close student of public policy, a careful balancer of risks and benefits -- George W. Bush would never be your man. But is this news?... [He] is... impatient, quick to anger; sometimes glib, even dogmatic, often uncurious, and as a result ill-informed...

Or today, when Frum announces that Bush has no positive domestic legacy. None. Zero: George W. Bush ran for president in 2000 as a principled and outspoken free-trader.... But in 2001, he imposed steel tariffs.... Since then, the administration has deviated more and more... huge new subsidies to farmers, exploiting BSE to bar Canadian beef from US markets... defying WTO panel rulings, etc.... [T]he Bush administration can claim only two substantial free-market economic achievements: the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003... [but] overspending calls into question the[ir] sustainability... [with no] budget discipline... those tax cuts will be undone at some point in the near future. [Rob] Portman: the Bush administration's hopes for a positive domestic legacy depend on you!

The Problem of Audience...

Kevin Drum finds a very good piece by Cathy Seipp in the Los Angeles Times, as she writes about her two-front war against her lung cancer and against her insurance company, WellPoint-Blue Cross:

The Washington Monthly: BATTLING THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY.... Cathy Seipp, who contracted cancer several years ago, tells us that if we're in the market for a health insurance policy, we should pay close attention to the policy's out-of-pocket cap. Hers jumped recently from $5,000 to $7,500 in a single year.... Battling cancer is bad enough. Why should cancer patients have to battle private insurance companies as well?

It is well worth reading. Here's what Cathy Seipp writes for the Los Angeles Times:

Battling Cancer -- and Blue Cross - Los Angeles Times: Unlike THE TYPICAL Blue Cross "valued member," as the annual letter on rate and benefit changes always calls us, I wasn't upset to learn that my monthly premium would increase by $50, to $395 a month, for me and my daughter. That's because I'm not really a Blue Cross valued member. I'm a Blue Cross problem member -- the kind who actually uses the valued benefits. So I don't really care about premiums; I was just relieved that my yearly out-of-pocket cap, which jumped from $5,000 to $7,500 in 2004, didn't go up yet another 50%.

Without me, Blue Cross' parent company, WellPoint, which reported a $2.5-billion profit last year, could have seen a profit of $2.5 billion plus about $50,000. I was diagnosed with advanced, inoperable lung cancer in 2002 and so now typically reach my $2,500 individual deductible by January and my out-of-pocket cap by February.... Lucky you, if you don't know what your out-of-pocket cap is. And if you're like every single healthy person I've queried, you probably don't. But you should know, because the out-of-pocket cap is the most important part of your policy, meant to stave off financial disaster in case of catastrophic medical expenses....

Policy wonks keep arguing about market competition and consumer choice. But healthcare for the sick isn't a market because choice disappears. You can't shop around for generic drugs when you have cancer. Whatever chemical treatment the doctor suggests, it almost certainly will be a brand name costing several thousand dollars a month. My out-of-pocket cap is $7,500, which means that after I reach $7,500 in co-payments, Blue Cross pays 100% of my medical expenses for the rest of that year -- except for the $30-per-brand-name prescription I have to pay the pharmacy after I reach my $500 annual deductible for drug coverage. According to the policy, it's supposed to be a $30 co-payment for a month's supply, but a new anti-nausea drug I was taking for weekly chemo costs $285 for just three pills, so Blue Cross made me go to the drugstore and fork over $30 every seven days.

Another thing working in insurance companies' favor is that cancer patients rarely have the energy to argue about such nickel-and-diming. I recently managed to spend a morning forcing my way through multiple disconnects and transfers on the Blue Cross 800 number, but I was eventually told that the company would probably reimburse me for the extra $90 a month I was paying for that weekly anti-nausea drug if I filled out the right forms. My far bigger worry is that out-of-pocket cap, which is essentially what insurance is for. To drastically raise it seems the definition of bad faith.

Or so I thought — until I began getting letters from Blue Cross in February announcing that it was retroactively disallowing the anti-cancer drug Avastin treatments it had been paying for since October, at $5,000 a pop every other week. It seems Blue Cross decided this new and expensive targeted therapy is experimental. (It looks as if Blue Cross is not asking to be repaid for my relatively unexperimental chemo, which had been costing about $2,500 every single week, but who knows?)...

Cathy Seipp's major weekly outlet is her "From the Left Coast" Column for National Review. I think her National Review readers really need to hear her views on how market-based health insurance is working--need to hear her much more than the average Los Angeles Times reader needs to hear her on this topic. Yet so far this year, here's what she's written on for National Review: Patterico's critiques of the LA Times, Richard Feynman, right-wing columnists on the take, high school math, ex-Moynihan aide Lawrence O'Donnell, laundry, how Westside kids are regarded as freaks if they don't have their own cars at 16, HBO's polygamy series, bilingual education, how UCSD has a healthy College Republican chapter, "Pepper Dennis" vs. "Gidget," gay marriage, earthquakes, and Patterico vs. Hiltzik.

If she would write for National Review what she writes for the Los Angeles Times, maybe some of National Review's readers would start thinking that blanket Republican opposition--opposition sight unseen--to proposals for health care reform is kind of stupid.

One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

With 46 blue states right now, red/blue loses must of its punch. But Glaeser and Ward have some very interesting things to say:

Mark Thoma reports:

Economist's View: Myths and Realities of American Political Geography: Edward Glaeser and Bryce Ward on myths and realities regarding changing political geography over time in the U.S. and the validity of the "red state/blue state" paradigm: "Myths and Realities of American Political Geography," by Edward L. Glaeser and Bryce A. Ward, NBER WP No. 11857, December 2005:

But despite the myths surrounding the red state/blue state paradigm.... America is a country with remarkable geographic diversity in its habits and beliefs. People in different states have wildly different views.... The distribution of states along all dimensions is continuous, not bimodal.... Moreover, America's ideological diversity is not particularly new.... The extent and permanence of cultural divisions across space is one of America's most remarkable features... twenty-three percent of respondents in Oregon, Washington and California thought that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks. Forty-seven percent of respondents in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas had that view.... 56 percent of Mississippi residents think that AIDS is God's punishment for immoral sexual behavior. Only 16 percent of Rhode Island residents share that view....

We find little support these cultural differences represent long-standing differences in religiosity or the legacy of slavery.... Blue State culture reflects primarily the legacy of different ethnicities working together at high densities: the most important historical explanatory variables are the share of the labor force in manufacturing in 1920 and the share of the population that was foreign born in 1920 strongly predict liberal beliefs and voting for John Kerry. ...

The second important truth captured by the red state/blue state framework is that political parties and politicians have had an increasing tendency to divide on cultural and religious issues rather than on economic differences. Again, in historical perspective, cultural politics is not unusual. In the late 19th century, "Rum, Romanism and rebellion" were the core issues that determined the Republican Party. The true aberration was the midtwentieth century era of economic politics...

William Saletan: Unclear on the Concept of "Reality" (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

Ezra Klein notices that Slate's William Saletan has no ability to distinguish between things that really happen and fictional things that happen on TV. I agree with Ezra: this shows that Saletan is more than a few centimeters short of a full meterstick:

Ezra Klein: Misunderstanding Big Love: Misunderstanding Big Love: This is a very weird column by Will Saletan on Big Love:

It's hard to sustain a polygamous household. It's not for everybody. Most of us are too jealous. But some people aren't, the show suggests. And for them, maybe we should tolerate or legalize plural marriage.

So, let's look at how this on-air experiment is going. Talented writers and actors are trying to make plausible the idea that American women raised in an age of sexual egalitarianism are bighearted enough to share a husband.

Saletan then goes on to list instances in the show that prove pleasant polygamous relationships inevitably crumble amidst jealousy, hierarchy, and wifely overreach. But read that line again: instances from the show. Saletan's arguing that a team of committed, capable screenwriters wanted to normalize polygamy and argue for its viability, but accidentally came up with a program proving just the opposite. In which case, there are three explanations:

  1. The writers are talented, but polygamy is so inherently unworkable that even a fantasy-land conception somehow mutates into a tangled web of interpersonal conflict and sexual unworkability;
  2. The writers are not talented, and simply failed in their quest;
  3. The writers are not trying to burnish polygamy's credentials, never sought to show it as workable, and Saletan is simply assuming intentions that aren't there, which explains why the narratives concocted by the writing staff all argue against polygamy's desirability.

Which seems likeliest to you?

Economics of Publishing

The marginal cost of printing an extra copy of a book is really cheap:

alg: P&Ls and how books make (or don't) money: part the first: the mass market original complete failure: The [paper, printing, and binding cost]... also includes the cost of printing the cover, so it changes depending on the cover's special effects. Spot gloss, embossing, debossing, foil, print over foil -- it's all special effects and it costs extra. A cover that is printed with an entirely glossy finish does not cost extra. A cover printed with an entirely matte finish does not cost extra. Embossing and foiling type on a cover can cost up to 25 cents extra per copy. For a 320 page book with no effects on the cover, PP&B for 35,000 books costs $19,295. Not included in the PPB is the manufacturing cost -- fixed cost to keep the lights on in the factory, pay the workers, move the machines. This is covered under "typesetting and design" though...

55 cents a book...

More than 90% of the cost of the book is made up of (a) the fixed cost of producing the first copy, and (b) the complicated distributional and informational process that gets it into the hands of somebody who wants it.