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, June 03, 2006

A Memo to All Former Bush Appointees


To: Former Bush Appointees
From: Reality-Based Community
About: Message Discipline

You are free. You aren't under message discipline anymore. You can say what you think. You don't have to pretend that the invasion of Iraq was a component of a well-thought-out plan. You don't have to pretend that the things Bush does to boost the deficit are policies of economic genius.

Glenn Hubbard, for example, has broken free. The Wall Street Journal reports: - Former Bush Adviser Criticizes Drug Plan: R. Glenn Hubbard, former chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, says the Bush-backed expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs was "unwise."

"The Medicare expansion without substantial reform of the system was unwise fiscal policy," Mr. Hubbard, now dean of Columbia University's business school, said in an online exchange sponsored by The Wall Street Journal. "The current Social Security and Medicare systems are on an unsustainable path," Mr. Hubbard said in the exchange with Robert Reich, a Brandeis University professor who served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. "In both cases, sound fiscal reform should involve slower benefit growth for high-income households. In addition, fiscal reform for Medicare must be accompanied by reform of health-care markets."...

Mr. Hubbard was chairman of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers from February 2001 until March 2003, where he advised President Bush on economic, tax and budget policy, international finance and health care, among other issues.

He Says He's Getting Too Old for This...

Ted Barlow hangs his epee up above the fireplace, and retires to his country estate to sit before the fire, drink the vin ordinaire of Gascony, and tell tall tales about the days when he was one of the... sixteen internet musketeers of :

Henry Farrell: Despite his modesty, we're going to miss Ted hugely; if nothing else, as Kieran pointed out two years ago, Ted has been responsible for many of our most widely read posts. Among the posts I've particularly enjoyed or found thought-provoking over the years are...

Others may have other posts (including ones from before Ted joined CT) that they prefer--feel free to mention them...

All for one, and one for all!

Repeating Internet Mistakes...

Am I the only person whose trackbacks are now 95% total spam garbage? Is this another good idea going down the drain because of insufficient thought about how to avoid the tragedy of the attention commons?

Large-Scale Social Cooperation in the East African Plains Ape

If you are not reading David Brin, you should be:

Contrary Brin: ALTRUISTIC HORIZONS: Our tribal natures, the 'fear effect' and the end of ideologies.: ALTRUISTIC HORIZONS: For centuries social thinkers have nursed a quiet envy of physical scientists, yearning for the kind of predictive and transformational power offered by the universal laws of Galileo, Newton and Einstein. These reductionist rules enabled earnest workers to utterly change our relationship with the material world, from one of helplessness to great power and manipulative skill. If only similar patterns and laws could be worked out for human nature! Might we be able to construct an ideal society? One well-suited to decent living by all?...

[W]hile the models of Freud, Marx, and Machiavelli... have attracted legions of followers... I believe a much stronger case can be made for tribalism as a deeply motivating force in history. After all, should not any theoretical explanation of our nature apply across the long span of time when human nature actually formed? Also, if you can find a pattern or patterns that seem to have held across all continents and almost all pre-metal tribes, isn't there a much better chance that the trait really is... not an artifact of later cultural imposition...?

Isn't it strange that few social theorists... ever cite this long epoch, when humans were few, but when a vast majority of human generations suffered darwinnowing pressures, thriving or dying according to their fitness to meet challenges in a harsh world, unprotected by the houses and markets of the last 5,000 years?... So what might tribalism tell us about human nature, that was missed by Marx and Freud and Rand and all the others, with their post-literacy myopia?... Over and over, we see how devotion to a group, clan, or nation, has overwhelmed what might otherwise have seemed to be the individual's self-interest. Nor should this be surprising, since, for most of the last million years, human beings lived in clans. Any man or woman who lost the faith and confidence of his or her tribe was in great danger. Often effectively dead...


In fact, this process of horizon-widening is... intrinsic to liberalism in the older and truer meaning of the word.... For example, markets work best when competition is both encouraged and tamed... when it operates under rules of fair play that maximize creativity and minimize blood-on-the-floor. This can only happen when market participants must treat each other as competing teams, not deadly foes.... Both dogmatic extremes ignore history and are effectively quite mad! One side resists the widening of horizons while the other would force it with a patronizing, oversimplifying sledge hammer. Rather, this is about the true “liberal” notion of ever-increasing inclusion within the tent of human decency, while allowing a lot of give and negotiation and bickering and creative competition within the tent!

The crucial issue is this - can the long process of expanding human horizons be studied in order to determine crucial narrow points and bottlenecks that inhibit horizon broadening, among both individuals and cultures? If such bottlenecks can be found and diagnosed, might a judicious application of philanthropic funding help unblock the process, here and overseas, so that both tolerance and far-seeing investment practices take greater hold?...

He is also the author of my favorite apology. As I wrote before, it is:

Making Light: Displaced advice, and other sorts: the one from Startide Rising: "With my last volition, I will remove my head and place it in your trophy rack. May the next one I grow serve you better."

A Cautionary Tale About Being Clear About Pronoun Antecedents...

Be careful with your pronoun antecedents, boys and girls!

Greg Mankiw writes:

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Reich on Taxes, Again: As I have noted before, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has a way of expressing numbers that is so striking it makes me sit up and want to check the facts myself. Here is what he says at his blog now:

repeal [of the estate tax] would cost the U.S. Treasury $1 trillion in its first ten years. That's about equivalent to what's needed to save Social Security over the next 75 years.

Really? That is amazing.

Let's look a little harder at this and see if we can find some numbers that, at least approximately, back this up...

Now I hadn't noticed anything amazing when I read Bob Reich's weblog. So I went back to see why, and I thought as follows: In the late 1990s--before the Bush 2001 tax cut--estate tax collections were running at about 0.35% of GDP, with an expectation (by me at least) that under the then-current estate tax law that ratio would creep up to 0.4% of GDP because of the rising level of wealth inequality in America. If you go to Table 1-2 of the Congressional Budget Office's you will read that the CBO projects the 100-year Social Security deficit at a present value of 0.54% of the cumulative present value of GDP.

So Reich's statement that repealing the (pre-2001) estate tax will wind up costing us as much as the projected 75-year Social Security deficit did not seem amazing to me. The two money flows--estate tax collections under the pre-2001 law, and the Social Security deficit--do appear roughly equal in present value over the next three quarters of a century.

I, you see, had taken the antecedent of Reich's pronoun "that" to be "the cost of repeal of the estate tax."

But Mankiw takes the antecedent of Reich's pronoun "that" to be "the $1 trillion cost to the U.S. Treasury of the first ten years of estate tax repeal." So Mankiw goes on:

How much does repeal of the estate tax cost over its first 10 years? According to the Tax Policy Center, immediate repeal would cost about $300 billion over the first 10 years. That, however, appears to be an undiscounted number. The present value is probably around $250 billion. What does it cost to fill the social security shortfall over 75 years? This report from the Social Security Administration shows the present value of the 75-year shortfall for OASDI of about $5 trillion. Hmmm....Those two numbers don't seem "about equivalent" to me. In fact, the second one seems 20 times as big as the first.

Now I may have been unfair to Reich in the above calculations. Perhaps he means a different first ten years, rather than the ten years starting immediately. And maybe he prefers different Social Security projections than those I have cited. And maybe he prefers a different discounting convention (although I would insist that he treat the two numbers in a parallel fashion). I would not defend the factor of 20 to the death, or even to a brush burn. I can imagine whittling that number down to a factor of 10 or even 5. But can someone get these two numbers within the same ballpark? I doubt it.

Lastly, let me note that the comparison here is silly. Why compare a 75-year shortfall to a 10-year revenue loss? There is no reason to, other than for dramatic effect. But policy wonks are supposed to have less license in making up their drama than playwrights.

A Profoundly, Profoundly Stupid Lead by Floyd Norris (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? New York Times Edition)

Floyd Norris's lead this morning would put him in the running for Stupidest Man AliveTM--if the contest were still open:

Snow Did Well on the Economy, but His Boss Did Poorly in the Polls - New York Times: By FLOYD NORRIS: IF presiding over a growing economy with low inflation was the measure of a good Treasury secretary, then John W. Snow would be leaving his position with accolades all around, and Henry M. Paulson Jr., his chosen successor, would be said to have a tough act to follow. To assess the tenure of Treasury secretaries, the economy's performance under Mr. Snow was compared with the performance under each of the previous 10 secretaries, going back to William E. Simon, who served Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford from 1974 to 1977.

The measurement ranked each tenure on the basis of annual growth in real gross domestic product and payroll employment, as well as on the performance of the dollar, the stock market and the Consumer Price Index. Low inflation rates were considered good, while rises in everything else were viewed as indicative of success. The ratings were combined on a scale of one point for a first-place finish in a category, down to 11 points for a last-place position.

Measured that way, Mr. Snow's tenure ranks second, behind that of Robert E. Rubin, the secretary for much of President Bill Clinton's time in office, and a man to whom Mr. Snow has often been critically compared. Mr. Snow did well on economic growth, inflation and the stock market. He ranked in the middle on employment growth, and lagged only in the performance of the dollar...

The Treasury Secretary doesn't control the economy. To begin an article assuming that he does is profoundly stupid.

Norris then tries to claw his way back to reality:

The reality, of course, is that neither the Treasury secretary nor his boss, the president, really bear much responsibility for short-term changes in the economy. Mr. Snow entered office after the recovery from the 2001 recession was well under way — a recovery he never failed to credit to the tax cuts. Giving him credit for the recovery, and blaming his predecessor, Paul H. O'Neill, for the recession and stock market plunge, is not fair to either man...

But he never says what the Treasury Secretary does bear responsibility for. Never. Not a word. He never says what a successful and productive Treasury Secretary does. Never. Not a word.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Gee It's Hot in Here Edition)

John Quiggin writes:

John Quiggin: This Joel Achenbach piece on global warming sceptics... [is] a great instance of how the truth can be told while sticking to the much-criticised rules of journalistic objectivity.... Achenbach reports the scientific evidence on global warming then investigates the "parallel Earth" (his words) of the soi-disant "sceptics". As he says

It is a planet where global warming isn't happening--or, if it is happening, isn't happening because of human beings. Or, if it is happening because of human beings, isn't going to be a big problem. And, even if it is a big problem, we can't realistically do anything about it other than adapt.

Achenbach then proceeds to interview the sceptics, lets them speak for themselves, and lets the readers draw their own conclusion...

I used to think as John Quiggin does. Then I learned better. Now I think as the excellent and incisive John Emerson does:

John Emerson: It was an artfully written piece designed to get past the "balance" censor while still telling the well-informed what's really happening. Thus, everyone gets something. (This kind of writing was called "Aesopian" under the czars. Its better than pure misinformation, but it's far worse than actual honest journalism. It's pretty telling that czarist-era terminology works so well in analyzing contemporary US journalism).

Someone who just skims the first part of the piece will get an entirely different impression than someone who reads it carefully, and most newspaper readers are skimmers. I believe that Jonah Goldberg has already used this article to justify some of his ludicrous claims.

Part of the art of very bad, high-paid journalism is telling the truth in such a way that it won't be understood. The mealy-mouthed choice of the lead is extremely important: "As evidence mounts that humans are causing dangerous changes in Earth's climate, a handful of skeptics are providing some serious blowback". Not directly rebutting false claims in detail is another. Conforming the story to a storyline ("some say.... others say") is another. Just giving sympathetic treatment to a poor guy who lost his grants because his science was no good is misleading.... We've gotten to the frightening place, however, that it's more or less unthinkable that the Times or the Post (much less TV or cable) will write a straightforward unspun piece on global warming....

Many readers will get the wrong impression, and that's no accident. (The Times gets more careless readers than diligent readers, and even the careless readers of the Times are much sharper than the average citizen.) William Goodwin has apparently come to believe that direct, non-Aesopian writing is impossible and undesirable, and that it would be illicit editorializing to write a news story portraying loony disinformation specialists unmistakably as dishonest loons. And Goodwin is also, almost certainly, more thoughtful and better informed than the average citizen. We really are in bad shape.

Another way to look at this is to look for defensive writing in Aschenbach's piece. Where are the places that the author, hoping to ward off accusations of bias, softened what he wrote or changed the emphasis? The first line is obviously one of them, and that's usually the most important line. And the last line of the piece can be properly understood only by a careful, well-informed reader.

Am I saying that Aschenbach should have spelled out his conclusions in direct, unmistakable language? Yes! What problem would there be with that?...

William, neither the lead sentence nor the concluding sentence spelled out the conclusion. It would have been perfectly normal to have done so, in a healthy journalistic environment. Nothing on the first page tells you anything bad about Bill Gray or his ideas....

[You say] Aschenbach shouldn’t be worried about what less-than-careful readers are going to think of global warming after he’s done. Why not? Journalism isn’t Chekhov or Henry James. You don’t let the reader figure out from subtle hints that the narrator is unreliable. You show the reader directly that the narrator is unreliable, by juxtaposing the facts and the falsehoods. that’s what good journalism should be.

But what I’m really saying is that Aschenbach was thinking about the less-than-careful reader. He (or the Times editors) wrote a deliberately mushy article so that the right-wing political commisars wouldn’t get mad. The commissars don’t care what well-informed people think. Bush wins elections with the careless readers...

Can American journalism be saved? I'm beginning to think that the answer is "no." Joel Achenbach is one of the very best relatively young people the Washington Post has writing for it. Mike Allen was one of the Post's very best reporters--he has since jumped to Time. Yet Matthew Yglesias found Mike Allen saying that he, Allen, was not an idiot, that he knew perfectly well, but, as Yglesias put it:

Brad DeLong's Website: April 2005 Archives: [Mike] Allen... said that news writers are trying to present both sides' points-of-view, hence the 'he said, she said' quality to it, but that they're trying to present these points-of-view in such a way so that a discerning reader can tell who's right based on reading the story...

This is, when you think about it, an astonishing admission. Allen says that if you are a careful reader, that if you read past the fold to the end of the story, that if you are already sufficiently familiar with the issue to have the relevant background knowledge, then you can tell which of the "he saids" in the first four paragraphs on page 1 before the jump is a lie.

If not, not.

From this, I think two conclusions follow:

  • Unless you have time to read them carefully and completely, searching for Aesopian language, don't read Achenbach or Allen--or other reporters of their ilk. If you are a hasty reader, they're not trying to tell it to you straight. Don't waste your time. Read somebody else who is trying to tell it straight, like or
  • As time passes, reporters trained in the Achenbach/Allen "truthiness for the masses" mold will find themselves losing that audience that looks for information and retaining only that audience that looks for entertainment.

And one question:

As newspapers lose their classified ad business to the web, and as newsmagazines find themselves competing for the internet as well, who will pay for the Post or for Time? The Economist, yes; the Wall Street Journal, yes; the National Journal, yes. But the others?

A Non-High Pressure Labor Market

John Berry is now more optimistic about the state of the economy than he was a week ago:

Door Is Open for the Fed to Pause at 5 Percent: John M. Berry 2006-06-02 00:03 (New York): For Federal Reserve officials... a key piece of worrisome inflation-related data disappeared yesterday in a flurry of revisions to productivity and cost figures. This important change... leaves the door open for the Fed to keep its target for the overnight lending rate at the June 28-29 meeting at the current 5 percent.... According to the May [FOMC] minutes, officials noted that ``alternative measures of labor compensation provided divergent readings.'' After yesterday's revisions, there's no divergence. A jump in unit labor costs at a 3 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of last year at non-farm businesses turned into a decline at a 0.6 percent rate in the new figures from the Labor Department. Similarly, the first quarter's increase at a 2.5 percent rate was toned down to a 1.6 percent rate....

The changes left compensation only 2.8 percent higher than it was in March 2005 and unit labor costs up only 0.3 percent over the same 12 months -- hardly fuel for a sustained increase in inflation.... [W]hatever is happening on the inflation front, pressure on businesses to raise prices because of higher labor costs isn't part of it....

[O]fficials understandably are concerned about inflation, which is running at or perhaps just a bit above the top of the range with which they are comfortable, as several FOMC members said at there May meeting, according to the minutes. On the other hand, the officials also know that inflation typically peaks some months after economic growth slows. As the minutes said, ``It seemed most likely that, with modest further policy action, including a 25 basis point firming today, growth in activity would moderate gradually over coming quarters, pressures on resources would remain limited, and core inflation would stay close to levels experiences over the past year.''

So far there is no reason to think that conclusion is wrong.

Three percent productivity growth. Zero percent real wage growth. Not an economy near full employment feeling rising inflationary pressures from labor.

The Many Faces of Fascism...

One of the nice things about corresponding with Jeff Weintraub is that he always answers his mail.


And at great length.

He writes:

I just happened to be re-reading Mark Mazower's Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (1998)... and it reminded me of an exchange that you and I had back in December 2000. You asked the following ...

Subject: Fascism (or Nazism) as a System of Thought/Mode of Social Organization
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 2000 17:01:02 -0800
From: Bradford DeLong
To: Jeff Weintraub

Know of anything short (less than 300 pages) that I can give to my smart, more literary-minded graduate students to convince them that fascism--i.e., a system of thought and mode of social organization that holds that:

  • morality is ultimately tied to loyalty to one's nation, blood, and race, both in terms of its military and political strength and ultimately in terms of its demographic expansion.
  • `strong rejection of the classical "liberal" belief that individuals have rights that any legitimate state is bound to respect, coupled with the belief in the cretinism of parliamentary democracy
  • the assertion that individuals have duties to the state, seen as the decision-making organ of the collectivity, coupled with a belief that the state needs to be ruled by a leader.
  • a strong fear of Marxist communism, and an eagerness to use any weapons--suspension of parliamentary democracy, mass propaganda, rallies, street violence, and so forth--to combat it.

was a real, live, growing force in the interwar period? And that only its catastrophic defeat in 1945 has removed it from the stage of history?

I've been paging through John Lukacs. I've even thought of assigning Mein Kampf. But neither seems to do it...

Brad DeLong

I'm not sure whether or not I ever offered any helpful responses. This is the sort of subject on which it's easy to suggest a library of relevant works, but less easy to come up with a single work that fits the bill.

However, if this matter is still of interest to you, it so happens that something roughly along the lines of the (complex) message outlined above is one of the central organizing themes of Mazower's book, and he does a pretty good job of putting it across. It's partly embedded in chapters that also deal with other subjects. But if you haven't already read Dark Continent, you might want to consider the following package: Preface, pp. ix-xiii; Ch. 1-2; Ch. 4 (especially pp. 125-137, which includes a section on "Fascist Capitalism"); & Ch. 5.

Or, if you wanted to make it simple, you could just assign/recommend the Preface and Chs. 1-5 (roughly the first half of the book). There is also a good roundup of "Guide to Further Reading" on the subject at the end of the book.

For example, at the beginning of Ch. 5, Mazower discusses an analysis of the Nazi "New Order" in Europe written by an Italian diplomat, Luccioli, 1942. Taking off from Luccioli's report, Mazower comments (pp. 138-140) ...

The result was a penetrating critique of the foundations of the Nazi New Order in Europe; when it was brought to Mussolini's attention, the Duce's reaction was that "he had not read anything so significant and far-reaching for a long time." [....]

As Luccioli observed, many Europeans were ready by the end of the 1930s to leave behind the liberal, democratic order created after 1918 by Britain, France, and the United States for a more authoritarian future. What they did not bargain for was the reality of Nazi imperialism [....]

No experience was more crucial to the development of Europe in the twentieth century. As both Hitler and Stalin were well aware, the Second World War involved something far more profound than a series of military engagements and diplomatic negotiations; it was a struggle for the social and political future of the continent itself. And such was the shock of being subjected to a regime of unprecedented and unremitting violence that in the space of eight years a sea-change took place in Europeans' political and social attitudes. They rediscovered the virtues of democracy.

Of course, one would have to add a few more features to the picture summed up in these brief quotations. During much of the inter-war period, the prestige & influence of the fascist model (and the widespread disillusionment with liberalism & democracy) was a world-wide phenomenon, not at all confined to Europe. (E.g., Japan, Latin America, the Middle East, etc.) And what discredited fascism most decisively was its failure to deliver what it promised above all--military victory & national greatness. Instead, it went down to total, catastrophic, defeat. After that, the ideological appeals of fascism got marginalized (and even movements and ideologies with significant fascist elements re-packaged them under different labels). But all this comes out in Mazower's overall account, too.

More generally, if you haven't already read Dark Continent, I think you would find it of interest ... and a lot more intellectually sympathetic in its approach than, say, Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes.

More Proof that 24/7 News Organizations Are Bad Things

The fact that his employer is trying to cope with the coming internet tidal wave:

slacktivist: Tell them I said something: So the paper isn't just a paper anymore, but rather a "24/7 news organization." I could go on here about the future of the newspaper business and all of the opportunities and potentialities and pitfalls of newspapers online, but I won't because: A) that conversation sounds a bit too 2001 (not as in "A Space Odyssey" but as in five years ago); and because B) none of the people planning this transition to a "24/7 news organization" seem to be up to speed on those conversations from 2001, or 2002, or 2003....

No lie, a couple of weeks ago I heard someone talking about how to make the paper's Web site "sticky." Remember that? It's like somebody got a hold of AOL's business plan from 1999, the section titled "Google: A Fad That Will Fade." Anyway, the upshot of this is that the "temporary, for the next six months or so" overnight schedule I've been working for the last two years is even less likely to be temporary...

has driven Fred of Slacktivist mad--and not in a good way:

...which is, I guess, my point here: If there is a God, then God must be, by definition, bigger and more merciful than Townes Van Zandt.

Payroll Growth Stalls With 75,000 New Jobs -

Sigh. Bad employment news:

Payroll Growth Stalls With 75,000 New Jobs -

By JEANNINE AVERSA , 06.02.2006, 08:42 AM: Job growth faltered in May, with employers boosting payrolls by just 75,000. Yet the nation's unemployment rate dipped to 4.6 percent, the lowest since the summer of 2001. The latest snapshot, released by the Labor Department on Friday, offered a mixed picture of the jobs climate. Wage growth, meanwhile, slowed, a development that should ease concerns about inflation getting out of hand. The count of new jobs generated last month - 75,000 - was the smallest since October, when hiring practically stalled as companies were jolted by fallout from the Gulf Coast hurricanes. Job gains for March and April turned out to be weaker than previously reported...

I guess we aren't going to be getting any labor force upgrading in a high-pressure economy this business cycle.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Funding Pensions...

Greg Mankiw praises Bob Reich, who praises the Bush administration's efforts to get Congress to stop giving companies permission to underfund their pension accounts:

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Reich on POTUS and the PBGC: Pigs fly! Hell freezes over! Actually, not, but an even more remarkable event did occur: Robert Reich found something nice to say about George Bush. He begins as follows:

The President's approval ratings are so low I thought I'd find something to compliment him on.... here it is. Congress is debating what to do about corporate pension plans. The President wants a law that forces companies to fully fund their pension obligations to their employees. He's right.

Corporate pension plans don't have nearly enough money to pay what the companies have promised their workers... a shortfall of over $450 billion. And if companies can't pay up, you know who's left holding the bag?... [T]here's a government agency called the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation that's supposed to insure most of these promises. But the PBGC itself is already deep in the red, to the tune of almost $30 billion...

Matthew McIrvin on Achenbach on Global Warming Denial...

The highly-intelligent Matt McIrvin has a good and thoughtful take:

mmcirvin: Achenbach on global warming denial: I think this is the first time I've ever sparked a non-negligible political-blog controversy, over the merits of Joel Achenbach's Washington Post Sunday magazine article on global-warming skeptics.... I'm somewhat more sympathetic.... It's a Sunday magazine piece, not written according to the inverted-pyramid rule with conclusions up at the top. Achenbach's aim, as he explains, is to give the people he's profiling enough rope to hang themselves, and a fairly sophisticated reader will come away from reading the whole piece realizing that they've done so.

But... [h]e engages the people much more than he does the arguments, and that's a problem because their rhetoric is often pretty good. Somebody thinking, "OK, these guys are a little kooky and/or dishonest, but I never heard these points they bring up before. What about all those anomalies? What about the thickening ice, the Medieval Warm Period, the historical lag between temperature and CO2 levels? Might there actually be something in it?" still isn't going to get much of an answer from the Post Magazine piece.... [I]t's possible to do better without turning the whole thing into agitprop. For me, the gold standard for this kind of piece is John Farrell's outstanding 2000 Salon article "Did Einstein Cheat?" about the even more bizarre world of advocates against the theory of relativity. It doesn't just show you how kooky these people are, it also provides a fairly definite idea of just how they're wrong. By taking the ideas it's knocking more seriously than Achenbach did, it actually ends up being far more convincing.

And, of course, an unsophisticated reader who does not read Achenbach's whole piece with attention...

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another National Review Edition)

Judd Legum writes:

ThinkProgress: How The National Review Bastardizes James Hansen's Global Warming Research: Jason Steorts is on the defensive about his National Review cover story on global warming "Scare of the Century."... Steorts enlists James Hansen... the NASA climate scientist who was famously muzzled by the Bush administration.... Steorts quotes Hansen as saying "the IPCC scenarios are unduly pessimistic." Steorts never links to Hansen's actual writing.... Here's what James Hansen actually said:

There are reasons to believe that the IPCC scenarios are unduly pessimistic. First, they ignore changes in emissions, some already underway, due to concerns about global warming. Second, they assume that true air pollution will continue to get worse, with O3, CH4 and BC all greater in 2050 than in 2000. Third, they give short shrift to technology advances that can reduce emissions in the next 50 years....

Hansen's article is a call to action. He argues that we can reduce the impact of global warming if we limit carbon dioxide emissions, control air pollution and adopt new technologies. Here's how [Hansen's] article begins:

Global warming is real, and the melting ice is an apt portent of potentially disastrous consequences.... Study of these forcing agents shows that global warming can be slowed, and stopped, with practical actions that yield a cleaner, healthier atmosphere....

Steorts takes a couple of words from Hansen's call to action totally out of context to argue that action is unnecessary. This isn't a real argument, it's a shell game.

I can't understand why anybody who wants to have a reputation writes for National Review.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Think Tanks? (Yet Another Cato Edition)

Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute is unhappy:

Patrick Michaels: Well, Paul Krugman sure smeared me in his May 29 column (sub. req%u2019d.) where he accused me of "fraud pure and simple" in congressional testimony eight (!) years ago. Krugman's screed... another salvo in the current global warming charm offensive... Gore's screeching movie... multiple smearings of any climate scientist who dares to speak out against the current hysteria....

What Patrick Michaels doesn't say is that Paul Krugman is not alone: that the accusations' root is climate scientist James Hansen, who writes:

NASA GISS: The Global Warming Debate: Dr. Michaels... had used (or misused) a figure of mine in testimony to the United States Congress. The figure showed the first predictions made with a 3-D climate model and time-dependent climate forcings — it was a figure from a paper that we had published in the Journal of Geophysical Research in 1988 and it had been a principal basis for testimony that I gave to the United States Senate in 1988....

The figure... shows the simulated global mean temperature for three climate forcing scenarios. Scenario A has a fast growth rate for greenhouse gases. Scenarios B and C have a moderate growth rate for greenhouse gases until year 2000, after which greenhouse gases stop increasing in Scenario C. Scenarios B and C also included occasional large volcanic eruptions, while scenario A did not. The objective was to illustrate the broad range of possibilities in the ignorance of how forcings would actually develop. The extreme scenarios (A with fast growth and no volcanos, and C with terminated growth of greenhouse gases) were meant to bracket plausible rates of change. All of the maps of simulated climate change that I showed in my 1988 testimony were for the intermediate scenario B, because it seemed the most likely of the three scenarios.

But when Pat Michaels testified to congress in 1998 and showed our 1988 predictions (Fig. 1) he erased the curves for scenarios B and C, and showed the result only for scenario A. He then argued that, since the real world temperature had not increased as fast as this model calculation, the climate model was faulty and there was no basis for concern about climate change, specifically concluding that the Kyoto Protocol was "a useless appendage to an irrelevant treaty".

Although scientists have a right to express personal opinions related to policy issues, it seems to me that we can be of more use by focusing on the science and carrying that out with rigorous objectivity. That approach seems to be essential for the success, as well as the "fun", of scientific research.

Fig. 1 is a good case in point. We now know (Hansen et al. 1998a, 1998b) that the growth rate of greenhouse gases in the period 1988-1998 has been flat, very similar to scenarios B and C (which are nearly the same until year 2000). Thus we can compare real world temperature changes in the past decade (filled circles in Fig. 1) with model calculations for the B-C scenarios. Taking account of the fact that the real world volcano occurred in 1991, rather than 1995 as assumed in the model, it is apparent that the model did a good job of predicting global temperature change. But the period of comparison is too short and the climate change too small compared to natural variability for the comparison to provide a meaningful check on the model's sensitivity to climate forcings. With data from another decade we will be able to make a much clearer evaluation of the model...

It's not Krugman alone who is a shrill critic of Patrick Michaels's ability to speak with unforked tongue. It's James Hansen too. And the excellent and serious people at have their own view of Michaels:

Mann and Schmidt: Patrick Michaels and associates billed his own paper (McKitrick and Michaels, 2004) (co-authored by Ross McKitrick), this way:

After four years of one of the most rigorous peer reviews ever, Canadian Ross McKitrick and another of us (Michaels) published a paper searching for "economic" signals in the temperature record.... The research showed that somewhere around one-half of the warming in the U.N. surface record was explained by economic factors, which can be changes in land use, quality of instrumentation, or upkeep of records.

It strikes us as odd, to say the least, that, after one of the "most rigorous peer reviews ever", nobody involved (neither editor, nor reviewers, nor authors) seems to have caught the egregious basic error that the authors mistakenly used degrees rather than the required radians in calculating the cosine functions used to spatially weight their estimates. This mistake rendered every calculation in the paper incorrect, and the conclusions invalid -- to our knowledge, however, the paper has not yet been retracted. (McKitrick and Michaels have published an errata correcting the degrees/radians error in CR 27, 265-268 which now shows that latitude correlates much better with temperature trends than any economic statistic.) Remarkably, there were still other independent and equally fundamental errors in the paper that would have rendered it entirely invalid anyway. To the journals credit, they published a criticism of the paper by Benestad (2004) to this effect. It may come as no surprise that McKitrick and Michaels (2004) was published in Climate Research and was handled by none other than Chris de Frietas.

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars? (Karl Zinsmeister Department)

Karl Zinsmeister: yet more quality personnel at the American Enterprise Institute:

The Horse's Mouth: WILL THE FUN EVER STOP WITH KARL ZINSMEISTER? Now it looks as if Karl Zinsmeister, President Bush's newly-appointed chief domestic policy adviser, may get sued for altering quotes he gave to the Syracuse New Times before reposting the story on the web. Between you and me, I spoke today with a former employee of the magazine he edited, The American Enterprise, and this person made it very clear that Zinsmeister is a tick-tick-tick-ticking time bomb waiting to explode. More on this later, I hope.

I can't understand why any economist--why anyone who wants to have a reputation--works at AEI.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another National Review Edition)

Judd Legum writes: >[ThinkProgress]( How The National Review Bastardizes James Hansen's Global Warming Research: Jason Steorts is on the defensive about his National Review cover story on global warming "Scare of the Century."... Steorts enlists James Hansen... the NASA climate scientist who was famously muzzled by the Bush administration.... Steorts quotes Hansen as saying "the IPCC scenarios are unduly pessimistic." Steorts never links to Hansen's actual writing.... Here's what James Hansen actually said: >>There are reasons to believe that the IPCC scenarios are unduly pessimistic. First, they ignore changes in emissions, some already underway, due to concerns about global warming. Second, they assume that true air pollution will continue to get worse, with O3, CH4 and BC all greater in 2050 than in 2000. Third, they give short shrift to technology advances that can reduce emissions in the next 50 years.... >Hansen's article is a call to action. He argues that we can reduce the impact of global warming if we limit carbon dioxide emissions, control air pollution and adopt new technologies. Here's how [Hansen's] article begins: >>Global warming is real, and the melting ice is an apt portent of potentially disastrous consequences.... Study of these forcing agents shows that global warming can be slowed, and stopped, with practical actions that yield a cleaner, healthier atmosphere.... >Steorts takes a couple of words from Hansen's call to action totally out of context to argue that action is unnecessary. This isn't a real argument, it's a shell game. I can't understand why anybody who wants to have a reputation writes for _National Review_.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I

Pius V, April 27, 1570:

POPE PIUS V'S BULL AGAINST QUEEN ELIZABETH I OF ENGLAND: He that reigneth on high, to whom is given all power in heaven and earth, has committed one holy Catholic and apostolic Church, outside of which there is no salvation, to one alone upon earth, namely to Peter, the first of the apostles, and to Peter's successor, the Pope of Rome, to be by him governed in fullness of power....

[T]he number of the ungodly has so much grown in power that there is no place left in the world which they have not tried to corrupt with their most wicked doctrines; and among others, Elizabeth, the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime, has assisted in this, with whom as in a sanctuary the most pernicious of all have found refuge.... [S]he has followed and embraced the errors of the heretics. She has removed the royal Council, composed of the nobility of England, and has filled it with obscure men, being heretics; oppressed the followers of the Catholic faith; instituted false preachers and ministers of impiety; abolished the sacrifice of the mass, prayers, fasts, choice of meats, celibacy, and Catholic ceremonies; and has ordered that books of manifestly heretical content be propounded to the whole realm and that impious rites and institutions after the rule of Calvin, entertained and observed by herself, be also observed by her subjects....

We, seeing impieties and crimes multiplied... and recognising that her mind is so fixed and set... are compelled by necessity to take up against her the weapons of juctice.... [W]e do out of the fullness of our apostolic power declare the foresaid Elizabeth to be a heretic and favourer of heretics, and her adherents in the matters aforesaid to have incurred the sentence of excommunication and to be cut off from the unity of the body of Christ....

[We] deprive the same Elizabeth of her pretended title to the crown.... We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication....

Given at St. Peter's at Rome, on 27 Apr 1570 of the Incarnation; in the fifth year of our pontificate.

On the NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia...

Having made the mistake of having joked about Noam Chomsky and so provoked a Chomskyite troll eruption that was painful to clean out, I believe that I have to make my position clear:

Noam Chomsky is a liar.

For example, Noam Chomsky says:

On the NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia, Noam Chomsky interviewed by Danilo Mandic: Director of Communications [for Clinton Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott], John Norris.... [T]ake a look on John Norris's book and what he says is that the real purpose of the war had nothing to do with concern for Kosovar Albanians. It was because Serbia was not carrying out the required social and economic reforms, meaning it was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neoliberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated. That's from the highest level...

Here's the passage from John Norris (2005), Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo (New York: Praeger), that Chomsky is misciting, p. xxii ff.:

For Western powers, the Kosovo crrisis was fueled by frustration with Milsoevic and the legitimate fear that instability and conflict might spread further in the region, The evolving political aims of the Alliance and the changing nature of the transatlantic community also played a role. In that vein, it is useful to more broadly consider how NATO and Yugoslavia came to be locked in conflict....

NATO's large membership and consensus style may cause endless headaches for military planners, but it is also why joining NATO is appealing to nations across central and eastern Europe. Nations from Albania to Ukraine want in the western club. The gravitational pull of the community of western democracies highlights why Milosevic's Yugoslavia had become such an anachronism. As nations throughout the region sought to reform their economies, mitigate ethnic tensions, and broaden civil society, Belgrade seemed to delight in continually moving in the opposite direction. It is small wonder NATO and Yugoslavia ended up on a collision course. It was Yugoslavia's resistance ot the broader trends of political and economic reform--not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians--that best explains NATO's war. Milosevic had been a burr in the side of the transatlantic community for so long that the United States felt that he would only respond to military pressure Slobodan Milosevice's repeated transgressions ran directly counter to the vision of a Europe "whole and free," and challenged the very value of NATO's continued existence.

Many outsiders accuse western countries of selective intervention in Kosovo--fighting on a hair-trigger in the Balkans while avoiding the Sudans and Rwandas of the world. This was hardly the case. Only a decade of death, destruction, and Milosevic brinkmanship pushed NATO to act when the Rambouillet talks collapsed. Most of the leaders of NATO's major powers were proponents of "third way" politics and headed socially progressive, economically centrist governments. None of these men were particularly hawkish, and Milosevic did not allow them the political breathing room to look past his abuses.

Through predatory opportunism, Milosevic had repeatedly exploited the weakest instincts of European and North American powers alike. Time and again, he had preserved his political power because nations mightier than his own lacked the political resolve to bring him to heel. His record was ultimately one of ruin, particularly for the Serbs, as Yugoslavia dwindled into a smaller and smaller state verging on coallpse. It was precisely because Milosevic had become so adroit at outmaneuvering th ewest that NATO came to view the ever-escalating use of force as its only option. Nobody should be surprised that Milosevic eventually goaded the sleeping giant out of repose. NATO went to war in Kosovo because its political and diplomatic leaders had enough of Milosevic and saw his actions disrupting plans to bring a wider stable of nations into the transatlantic community. Kosovo would only offer western leaders more humiliation and frustration if they did not forcefully respond U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's view of Milosevic was probably best revealed when she said that, at a certain stage at Rambouillet, it was evident that Milosevic was "jerking us around." In early June of 1999, German Minister Joschka Fischer rather angrily responded to those who questioned NATO's motives. Fischer observed that he had originally resisted military action, but that his views had changed, "step by step, from mass murder to mass murder"...

John Norris simply does not say what Chomsky says Norris says. It's that simple.

Free Advice to Treasury Secretary Nominee Henry Paulson

Henry Paulson wants to get Robert Rubin's job, not Paul O'Neill's job or John Snow's job. Here's how to do it.

Fun with Graphs...

A few comparative international statistics, attractively presented: Google's Gapminder World 2006, beta.

Lobsters (Spoilers for "Where the Truth Lies")

Colin Firth was so good as Fitzwilliam Darcy in the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice that we have felt duty-bound to watch his movies--at least on DVD--since. It's not been good. A fine actor, but strange casting and often even stranger vehicles.

In the latest, "Where the Truth Lies", it's really not his fault. He does a truly excellent job with his role. But the film as a whole... one plot point was so implausible that I could not get past it and just watch the movie.

You see, I know lobsters. My great-uncle Phil used to take me to eat lobsters at the Marblehead Yacht Club. My great-uncle Jack had lobster pots offshore of his house in York. I know what lobsters are. They are scavengers.

A key plot point in "Where the Truth Lies" has the body of the murdered ingenue being shipped from Florida to New Jersey--in a crate full of live lobsters.

Lobsters are scavengers.

Her body would never have gotten to New Jersey. There would have been a lot of fat, happy lobsters in the crate.

I don't know what the moral is. Perhaps that screenplays that involve lobsters should only be written by people from New England? And not by Anglenos? Let the Angelenos write screenplays about abalone...

Daniel Gross Is Shrill...

Greg Mankiw has driven Daniel Gross shrill. Daniel writes, apropos of Greg Mankiw's oped:

Daniel Gross: May 28, 2006 - June 03, 2006 Archives: Greg Mankiw... posted on his blog the text of his op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, which bears some close reading. In the early part of this decade, Mankiw worked in the White House as it conspired with the Republican Congress to inflict serious damage on the nation's balance sheet--slashing taxes, generally on the wealthy, again and again; letting the AMT spread further to the middle class; and engaging in an orgy of government spending that included the creation of a massive new open-ended prescription druge entitlement.

So what does Mankiw offer to help clean up the mess? Regressive taxes.... Raise taxes on gas, on carbon, and on cigarettes and alcohol. "Maybe we should consider higher taxes on smoking, drinking, gambling and other activities about which people lack self-control."... But lets not just stick it to the poor, he writes. Lets stick it to the higher earners who live in Democratic-leaning coastal states. Mankiw advocates broadening the tax base by effectively raising federal taxes on people who live in high tax states and by scaling back the mortgage deduction.

Oh, and Mankiw has another idea. Old folks should work longer before they collect retirement benefits. "If we raise the age of eligibility for retirement benefits, people could still retire early, but they would do so on their own nickel, rather than the taxpayer's." Given the state of savings, the median size of 401(K) plans, and the ongoing pension cram-down, a nickel is precisely what many older workers will have to retire on.

In theory, raising the retirement age or the eligibility age for collecting Social Security isn't a bad idea. But that would mean something like a sea change in the way corporate America views it's older workers.... It would be nice if we could all grow old on the job, enjoy ironclad job security, and see our wages rise every year. But not all of us can be tenured professors at Harvard.

One thing, above all, has excited Daniel's ire. It is Mankiw's list of the causes of America's long-run fiscal imbalance:

The government budget is on an unsustainable path. Americans are living longer and having fewer children. Together with advances in medical technology that are driving up health-care costs, this demographic shift means that a budget crunch is coming when the baby-boom generation retires. The promises made to my generation for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are just not affordable, given the projected path of tax revenue...

There is no mention of the role played by the Bush tax cuts and the Bush Medicare Drug Benefit in causing these imbalances, is there? Mankiw doesn't say "George W. Bush promised a Medicare Drug Benefit but it is just not affordable, given the projected path of tax revenue..." He says "the promises made to my generation..." Passive voice. Evasion of responsibility.

Mankiw probably has a different view. He (probably) sees himself as undertaking a veiled critique of Bush administration fiscal policy, according to the following syllogism: (i) The long-run fiscal imbalance is a bad thing. (ii) We all know that George W. Bush's fiscal policies play a big role in creating the fiscal imbalance. (iii) Policies that create bad things are unwise. (iv) Therefore George W. Bush's fiscal policy is unwise.

Mankiw, I think, believes that his readers are smart enough to connect the dots, and understand that he thinks that passing the Medicare Drug Benefit without making any provision for funding it was a really bad idea, and that tax cuts without offsetting spending reductions do more economic harm than good.

From Corporate Governance Watch

Arthur Levitt is unhappy with the backdating of options grants to executives:

Corporate Governance Watch: Quotable Quote Backdating "represents the ultimate in greed," says Arthur Levitt, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. "It is stealing, in effect. It is ripping off shareholders in an unconscionable way."

The most puzzling thing about the CEO compensation scandals is that one would think that those who pay--the shareholders--would already have all the tools they need to control their agents. Why don't they?

Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Democratic Candidates?

Neither Democratic gubernatorial candidate--neither Westly nor Angelides--is doing us, or him, any favors:

Daily Kos: State of the Nation: CA-Gov: this sucks: by kos: Tue May 30, 2006 at 11:11:01 AM PDT: So what do you do when your two gubernatorial aspirants, Steve Westley and Phil Angelides, let their primary battle degenerate into a disgusting, slimy pit of bullshit attack ads and surrogate whisper smear campaigns?

I quit. I hate them both. Someday, California Democrats will have the option to choose from candidates who inspire, not the Gray Davises, Cruz Bustamantes, and the two candidates currently stinking up the Democratic side of the ticket.

The sad thing is that we need a strong turnout for this race to help Francine Busby win in CA-50. But the way this is going, if I want to vomit and throw out my absentee ballot, I can't imagine what it's doing to less tuned-in and political Californians, especially in that district.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Blame-the-Victim-Until-He-Apologizes Department

Tom Raftery thought he had a significant problem:

Tom Raftery: IT@Cork is a not-for-profit networking organisation for IT professionals. IT@Cork organises regular information and networking events which are free for its members. One of these events - the upcoming Web 2.0 half-day conference is the target of a cease and desist letter (below) from the legal team of O'Reilly publishers. Basically O'Reilly are claiming to have applied for a trademark for the term "Web 2.0" and therefore IT@Cork can't use the term for its conference. Apparantly use of the term "Web 2.0" is a "flagrant violation" of their trademark rights! Ironically I invited Tim O'Reilly to speak at this conference last February and his response (which I received on 15th of February) was

I would love to be able to do it, but my schedule is just too full for an additional international trip.

So Tim was aware of the event in February but decided to wait until 2 weeks before the conference to set the lawyers on us. As I mentioned, IT@Cork is a not-for-profit organisation and doesn't have the resources available to O'Reilly - what do people suggest we do?

[The cease-and-desist letter:]

By facsimile and overnight courier...

Re: Trademark Infringement...

I am counsel to CMP Media LLC (:CMP"). Working with O'Reilly Media, Inc.... Your use of the Web 2.0 mark without our authorization or consent directly violates our exclusive rights. Selecting this title can only be viewed as a deliberate attempt to trade off the good will of CMP and cause confusion in the market. Your mis-use, ironically, is exacerbated by your promotional statement "What is Web 2.0? Read what O'Reilly has to say here." That link is to an article by Tim O'Reilly, "What is Web 2.0", that expressly states, "The concept of Web 2.0 began with a conference brainstorming session between O'Reilly and MediaLive International (the predecessor-in-interest to CMP)." Moreover, such actions constitute unfair trade practices, unfair competition, and are a fragrant violation of CMP's trademark rights.

CMP hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from utilizing Web 2.0 as the title of your event and from making any further use of our mark, or any mark that is confusingly similar to it. CMP further demands that you provide us with written assurance within ten days that you have cased to use such conference title and that you will refrain from utilizing any CMP marks in the future.

Now Tim O'Reilly writes that Tom Raftery owes him--Tim O'Reilly--an apology:

O'Reilly Radar > Web 2.0 Service Mark Controversy (Tim responding this time): The flap about the Web 2.0 Conference trademark has shaken my faith in the collective intelligence of the blogosphere.... While I admit that the cease-and-desist letter to IT@Cork was a faux pas, the blogosphere response... have been appalling.... Tom Raftery of IT@Cork must have noted the discrepancy between the friendly email from me that he quoted from and CMP's letter. In fact, the next line of my email, which Tom neglected to quote, was "Best of luck with your event."...

Given that Tom and I had previously had a conversation where I wished him the best of luck with his conference... I would have thought that he would have wondered whether the right hand knew what the left hand was doing before launching and then encouraging the torrent of net vitriol.... He did call CMP to talk to the lawyer who wrote the letter.... While he acknowledges that the letter was from CMP, he used O'Reilly's name in the headline and repeatedly throughout the piece for maximum net impact. So while we owe Tom an apology for heavy-handed tactics, I think Tom owes us an apology for the way he responded.

Now, I want to address the deeper issue that's been raised, about whether it's appropriate for anyone to hold a trademark on the term Web 2.0.... MediaLive filed for the trademark on the Web 2.0 Conference back in November 2003, when they first entered into the partnership agreement with O'Reilly on this conference.... O'Reilly also values its trademarks.... In most cases, though, especially with non-commercial users, we've usually found it sufficient to send an email asking the non-commercial user to protect our trademark by acknowledging our ownership of it.... I was not aware, however, that CMP intended to send out cease and desist letters to anyone in the short term, let alone to a non-profit organization with whom I'd previously corresponded about the event they were putting on. (Gina Blaber, the head of our conference team, was aware of the letter, however, and approved it)....

Neither CMP nor O'Reilly sued anyone, as has widely been misreported. A C&D letter is not a lawsuit. It is not even a threat of a lawsuit. It is... routine.... I still remember the alarm I felt the first time I received a cease-and-desist letter.... [W]hile CMP's letter may appear harsh to those who've never seen one, it is actually relatively mild compared to many such legal letters I've seen over the years...

What part of the difference between "please put an asterisk saying that Web 2.0 is a service mark of CMP and ORA" and "[Your] actions constitute unfair trade practices, unfair competition, and are a fragrant violation of CMP's trademark rights. CMP hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from utilizing Web 2.0 as the title of your event..." does Tim O'Reilly not understand?

No. I don't think Tom Raftery owes Time O'Reilly any form of apology.

The Paulson Treasury Appointment

The FT reports: / US / White House reshuffle - Bush names Hank Paulson as new Treasury chief: By FT Reporters Published: May 30 2006 14:50 | Last updated: May 30 2006 17:09: President George W. Bush on Tuesday said he would appoint Hank Paulson, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, to take over from John Snow as US Treasury secretary, in an effort to revive flagging public confidence in the handling of the economy.... For months, speculation has been mounting that Mr Snow would be leaving the administration. Though a tireless campaigner for the president's economic agenda, Mr Snow has been seen as a marginal figure within the cabinet - more an advocate than a decision maker....

Mr Paulson is expected to be a stronger figure within the administration. He has been chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs since June 1998. He was paid a total of $38.8m last year, $30.1m of that in retricted stock. He has worked in government before, as a member of the White House domestic council from 1972 to 1973 and served as an assistant to the secretary of defence from 1970 to 1972....

"Paulson will make a fantastic treasury secretary but it is hard to see any economic policy of consequence being made in the remainder of the Bush term," said Mark Zandi, chief analyst at Moody's "The president is engulfed with the problems in Iraq and the attempts at reforming social security and the tax system have fallen flat. The only possible aspiration would be to make the first term tax cuts permanent and Paulson may have the weight to help achieve this but it is a tough battle."

"The administration may hope that he will make a more effective advocate of the administration's economic policy," he added. "But it is hard to see how any message will resonate when half the US population is suffering from low wage growth, rising fuel costs and higher debt levels."

The best line I have heard on the Paulson appointment comes from Robert Waldmann:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: A Reality-Based Economic Policy?: Looks like [the Bush White House is] so desperate for a treasury secretary who adds rather than removes credibility that they have resorting to scraping the top of the barrel.

Of course, Paulson won't get Rubin's Job without fighting for it...

Pigs Fly!

Daniel Gross notes Ben Stein smacking down supply siders:

Daniel Gross: May 28, 2006 - June 03, 2006 Archives: BUELLER? ANYONE? Ben Stein -- Ben Stein! -- smacks down supply-siders in the New York Times. Money graph:

On the right side of the aisle, there is breathtaking confusion about supply-side economics. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow has been touring the money programs on television, touting the effects of the Bush tax cuts on federal revenues, "explaining," as one might say, that this proves that supply-side theory really does work and you really can get something for nothing. He is partly right, in the same sense that you could borrow a bit more than $4 trillion to buy stocks and then tell people you are worth $4 trillion -- if you don't count the money you owed.

A Reality-Based Economic Policy?

Is this the beginning of the change for the Bush administration? Henry Paulson is not somebody who is going to passively watch economic policy made by political operatives in the White House. This could be very good news:

Bush taps Paulson for Treasury Secretary - Yahoo! News: WASHINGTON - Treasury Secretary

John Snow resigned Tuesday and President Bush nominated Goldman Sachs chief executive officer Henry M. Paulson Jr. as his replacement -- another chapter in the shake-up to revive Bush's troubled presidency.... Paulson, who also is chairman of Goldman Sachs, called the U.S. economy "truly a marvel, but we cannot take it for granted. We must take steps to maintain our competitive edge in the world."... Paulson has been both chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs since May 1999. It is considered one of the premier financial firms on Wall Street and has sent a number of its top executives to high positions in Washington....

The Senate must confirm Paulson for the post. The Senate Banking Committee is expected to act swiftly on Paulson's nomination, a spokesman for the panel said, and a top Democrat said he would support the nominee. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Finance Committee, gave Paulson his backing after talking to him Tuesday. "His experience, intelligence and deep understanding of national and global economic issues make him the best pick America could have hoped for," Schumer said....

Paulson was known on Wall Street for his dedicated support of environmental causes. Earlier this year, he made a gift of $100 million in Goldman stock to a family foundation dedicated to conservation and environmental education. Even after that gift, Paulson has a net worth estimated at more than $500 million. Paulson, who was known to favor bird-watching in New York's Central Park to playing golf, is chairman of the Nature Conservancy and the chairman emeritus of the Peregrine Fund. Last year Goldman Sachs donated 680,000 acres in Chile to the Wildlife Conservation Society...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Reading About the Tudors...

Was it in the Tower of London bookshop that I discovered the excellent Tudor-era historical fiction of Patricia frinney?

Even more remarkable: good as her novels are, Garrett Mattingly's The Armada is still even better:

Fotheringhay, February 18, 1587: Mr. Beale had not brought the warrant until Sunday evening but by Wednesday morning, before dawn outlined its high windows, the great hall at Fotheringhay was ready. Though the earl of Shrewsbury had returned only the day before, nobody wanted any more delay. Nobody knew what messenger might be riding on the London road. Nobody knew which of the others might not weaken if they waited another day.

The hall had been cleared of all its ordinary furniture. Half-way along its length a huge fire of logs blazing in the chimney battled against the creeping chill. Towards the upper end of the hall they had set up a small platform, like a miniature stage for traveling actors, jutting twelve feet into the hall, eight or nine feet wide, and less then three feet high...

Paul Krugman on James Hansen

Paul writes:

Swift Boating the Planet - New York Times: A brief segment in "An Inconvenient Truth" shows Senator Al Gore questioning James Hansen, a climatologist at NASA, during a 1989 hearing. But the movie doesn't give you much context, or tell you what happened to Dr. Hansen later.

And that's a story worth telling, for two reasons. It's a good illustration of the way interest groups can create the appearance of doubt even when the facts are clear and cloud the reputations of people who should be regarded as heroes. And it's a warning for Mr. Gore and others who hope to turn global warming into a real political issue: you're going to have to get tougher.... Dr. Hansen was one of the first climate scientists to say publicly that global warming was under way. In 1988, he made headlines with Senate testimony in which he declared that "the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now." When he testified again the following year, officials in the first Bush administration altered his prepared statement to downplay the threat. Mr. Gore's movie shows the moment when the administration's tampering was revealed.

In 1988, Dr. Hansen was well out in front of his scientific colleagues, but over the years that followed he was vindicated by a growing body of evidence. By rights, Dr. Hansen should have been universally acclaimed for both his prescience and his courage. But soon after Dr. Hansen's 1988 testimony, energy companies began a campaign to create doubt about global warming, in spite of the increasingly overwhelming evidence. And in the late 1990's, climate skeptics began a smear campaign against Dr. Hansen himself.

Leading the charge was Patrick Michaels, a professor at the University of Virginia who has received substantial financial support from the energy industry. In Senate testimony, and then in numerous presentations, Dr. Michaels claimed that the actual pace of global warming was falling far short of Dr. Hansen's predictions. As evidence, he presented a chart supposedly taken from a 1988 paper written by Dr. Hansen and others, which showed a curve of rising temperatures considerably steeper than the trend that has actually taken place.

In fact, the chart Dr. Michaels showed was a fraud -- that is, it wasn't what Dr. Hansen actually predicted. The original paper showed a range of possibilities, and the actual rise in temperature has fallen squarely in the middle of that range. So how did Dr. Michaels make it seem as if Dr. Hansen's prediction was wildly off? Why, he erased all the lower curves, leaving only the curve that the original paper described as being "on the high side of reality."

The experts at, the go-to site for climate science, suggest that the smears against Dr. Hansen "might be viewed by some as a positive sign, indicative of just how intellectually bankrupt the contrarian movement has become." But I think they're misreading the situation. In fact, the smears have been around for a long time, and Dr. Hansen has been trying to correct the record for years. Yet the claim that Dr. Hansen vastly overpredicted global warming has remained in circulation, and has become a staple of climate change skeptics, from Michael Crichton to Robert Novak...

A Correction...

John Dickerson is (rightfully) annoyed. I misread Eric Boehlert to say that John Dickerson had fawned over Bill Bradley in 2000 but now calls him "weak." That's not true: Boehlert said that Slate had fawned over Bill Bradley in 2000.

Dickerson writes to say:

I note that you claim I fawned over Bradley. I believe wrote but one piece about Bradley and Gore in 2000 and it was highly critical of Bradley's healthcare plan.

He's right. I apologize.

Here's what a cursory search produces of 1999-2000 writings with Dickerson's name on them mentioning Bradley. Note that it's hard to figure out what bylines or "reported bys" mean in the sense of agreement, endorsement, or authorship at Time:

The Problem With Bradley's Big Idea: By JOHN F. DICKERSON/WASHINGTON: Oct. 11, 1999: For some time Bill Bradley had been promising something big. While other campaigns parceled out policy papers, he vowed that his ideas would be truly profound. So last week Bradley launched his Zeppelin--a plan that could cost taxpayers $65 billion annually to provide health insurance for most of the 45 million Americans currently without it. "Big problems require big thinking," declared Bradley, dismissing Al Gore's health-care proposal as "timid."

Health care is the obvious issue to allow Bradley to make a splash. The number of uninsured Americans is the one social problem that has grown worse during the Clinton Administration. For a decade, the issue has offered both opportunity and peril to Democratic candidates. In 1991, it elected the Democratic underdog Harris Wofford to one of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seats. One year later, Bill Clinton ran with it to the presidency. But the failure of the complicated plan that he and Hillary proposed contributed heavily to the Democrats' loss of Congress in 1994. This year's Democratic presidential candidates have learned the lessons of that debacle, not demanding anything of employers and proposing, among other things, tax breaks rather than government controls as a way to shrink the ranks of the uninsured.

The plan that Gore unveiled in early September--more limited than Bradley's--focuses on the elderly and children and attempts to cover no more than a third of America's 45 million uninsured. Behind Gore's plan is the recognition that in the special-interest thicket that is health care, you can make progress only by working to get coverage for one or two constituencies at a time. By contrast, Bradley's goals are nearly as grand as Hillary's: to impose unenforceable "mandates" on parents to provide their children with insurance; to expand Medicare benefits; and to offer subsidies so low-income adults can buy coverage from private insurers or join FEHPB, the government plan that covers federal workers.

If Bradley's plan is a bold one, there's another B word it also brings to mind: blurry. To begin with, although the former Senator says he's still working on the fine print, most experts, including some who advised Bradley, agree that his $65 billion-a-year cost estimate is too low. Worse, he expects to use the projected budget surplus to pay for it all but has no fallback plan in the event that the surplus does not materialize. Bradley also overpromises. The subsidies he would provide to the poor in many cases won't be enough to cover actual premium costs if he plans to make good on offering a choice between private insurance plans and the government-employee plan. Unless he increases the amount, further inflating the cost of his program, Bradley may not be able to cover as many of those low-wage workers as he claims, those for whom having to pay even a few hundred dollars would keep them from buying coverage.

Bradley assumes that among those not eligible for a subsidy, millions will buy insurance because his plan would give them a tax deduction for the amount they pay in premiums. That may be doubtful. Even after Bradley's tax break, a family of four making $50,000 would still have to find $4,250 a year. On other questions, the Bradley team offers the most favorable interpretation--for instance, hoping that the federal health plan that now covers a relatively healthy middle-class work force will not see its costs go up with the arrival of poorer and potentially less healthy members.

For his part, Gore has said he too wants a change in health care, but he doesn't want this much change. What Bradley calls timid, Gore defines as responsible stewardship: insuring children with programs already in place while leaving money to shore up Medicare. So far, Gore has been as vague as Bradley on how much his proposals will cost, but he is correct to point out that Bradley's expensive plan, even if it could be paid for, doesn't seem to leave much money for fixing Medicare.

At the new Gore campaign headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., where the Vice President is moving his campaign, members of his team will be hard at work gathering a response to Bradley's first big policy salvo. Soon they are likely to have lots of colorful pie charts showing how the Vice President's policies will work out. Their efforts are a direct response to Bradley's momentum and money: the former Senator pulled even last week with the Vice President's once invincible fund-raising machine. The Vice President, under assault, has also called for debates. They will be an opportunity "to rekindle the spirit of democracy," he says. It seems as if Al Gore is trying a little big thinking of his own.

What Kind Of Democrats Are They?: By NANCY GIBBS: Nov. 1, 1999: Give Bill Bradley credit for this much: he has put a big idea on the table. Not the $65 billion plan to provide health insurance for just about everyone; not a social agenda extending full civil rights to gays; not even the plan he unveiled last week to devote $10 billion to address the "slow-motion national disaster" of child poverty. No, the big idea was the very idea of having a big idea.

In the twilight of Clintonism, amid the debris of divided government, the question Bradley boots up is this: Are we finally prosperous enough, generous enough, and above all trusting enough to ask the government to do anything that's big and important? And if not now, when?...

Bradley puts Gore in a box. Bradley dismisses Gore for his caution, and all but points to the centerfield fence as he steps up to the plate. "If we can muster the will and create the technology to put a man on the moon in a decade," he declared in his poverty speech last week, "then surely...w e can eliminate child poverty as we know it."... [T]his is a hopeless trap. Bradley may be making promises he can't keep, but Gore suffers if he pulls on a green eyeshade and starts sounding bloodless as he challenges Bradley's numbers and details....

[F]or the Gore camp, Bradley's policies have "a Rip Van Winkle quality," in the words of an adviser. "It's like he somehow missed the last decade of political thought." Gore should be able to get up and say that the most effective antipoverty program in American history is the economy we've now got. Crime is down, welfare rolls are down, the budget is balanced, and child poverty is actually at its lowest level in 20 years. Do you really want to change tactics now?

There's just one problem: Gore can't make this argument, at least as long as Bradley is running ahead in New York and New Hampshire. He can't attack Bradley for being too leftist without annoying the party faithful he needs more than ever.... Bradley has the advantage of an expandable universe; voters are curious about the guy; they want to know more. There are the restless liberals who are attracted to his high-fiber programs; there are the Clinton haters who just want a change; and then there are those who don't blame Gore for Clinton's sins but who have decided in advance that he has no chance against Bush. This may be the peculiar core of Bradley support: mainly educated, independent male voters who helped launch the New Democrats in the first place, who don't care about loyalty and labels at all, and who really want to win.

Which means that Democrats next year will have a real choice. They just have to ask themselves the hard questions: Is fiscal discipline, and the buoyant economy that feeds it, now so much a part of the democratic bloodstream that voters will always watch the bottom line? Or are they more interested in where we go next than in what it took to get here, and are willing to trust that the dreamer will find the money somewhere to pay for all he wants to do?

--Reported by John F. Dickerson/Washington and Karen Tumulty with Gore

For McCain, Flak Becomes Fuel: John F. Dickerson: Oct. 25, 1999: [McCain] has reason to smile. What doesn't play in Washington does in New Hampshire. Polls show that McCain's support in that state has jumped 10 points in the past month.... McCain is the only challenger who appears to have traction. He has also won endorsements from several state representatives and the beloved former Senator Warren Rudman....

The ascending McCain, whom New Hampshire-ites often compare with Democratic challenger Bill Bradley, can't yet match his party's front runner in the organization and money needed to go the distance.... Also like Bradley, McCain will have to do it without his party's apparatus.... But that "only helps him up here," says New Hampshire elder Rudman...

How Gore's Campaign Went Off the Rails: By KAREN TUMULTY AND MICHAEL DUFFY: Oct. 4, 1999: To many anxious Democrats, it seems the only people Gore is connecting with these days are TV gag writers.... As Daniel Patrick Moynihan endorsed Bradley last week, the New York Senator said publicly what many in the party have been whispering about Gore: "He can't be elected President."...

Gore operatives argue, rightly, that it is far better to face the Bradley Moment in late September than in late January. Sources tell TIME they are moving onto a war footing. Last week the campaign stepped up its plan for "engaging" Bradley, distributing talking points to Gore troops in New England. Gore officials say Bradley is already offering a variety of targets, including an embrace of gay rights that could backfire on that community, his vote for a school-voucher experiment and what they say is his mixed record on campaign-finance reform. More jabs are sure to come.

What they need now is a seawall, one that would prevent Bradley's support from washing beyond where it is strongest at the moment: a hard core of affluent liberal men from the Northeast, according to the TIME/CNN poll. The poll shows that Bradley is weakest among Democrats with a high school degree or less (26% to Gore's 58%), who make less than $35,000 annually (26% to 51%), are union members (27% to 63%) and who live in the South and West. "It's very elite," says a Gore adviser of Bradley's core group. "In the South, Midwest and everywhere else but California, that's not who the Democratic primary voter is."

Maybe not, but last week several Gore officials were worried enough to talk privately of perhaps losing New Hampshire--a stunning concession at this stage--and maybe even New York. All of which leaves them counting on the back pages of the primary-season calendar. That is a far different scenario than the quick blowout they expected earlier this year when they decided not to take on Bradley at all because several key players, including Gore, thought he might drop out....

So once more, Gore is starting over. Working the final draft of his health-care plan, Gore rejected eight of the 13 options laid before him and made a headline-grabbing promise in early September to ensure that every child in America has health insurance by the end of his first term. "This is the kind of change people want!" he told his aides. But in a campaign that has already seen several new starts, Gore seems to realize that this may be his last chance. "It's really a race," he told a friend last week. "Now we've got to go in and win."

--With reporting by John F. Dickerson/Washington

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Victory of Sorts!

After much pointing and clicking, I have convinced my copy of NetNewsWire 2.1 that I allocate more of my attention to my own weblog than to Wonkette.

Joshua Micah Marshall, your turn is next...

The Keening of the Shrill

Recently in Shrillblog:

  • Matthew McIrvin Is Shrill!: It's Joel Achenbach's fault. Joel Achenbach's true sin is his failure to lift a finger to evaluate any of the claims of global warming skeptics...
  • Greg Sargent Is Shrill!: The passive voice is always a giveaway. Who was it exactly who derided Gore in 2000? Why, The New York Times... the paper is still straining to revive an old Gore chesnut -- Gore is a pompous ass -- by noting his "cluck-clucking" at a time when Gore was talking about what is quite literally the most important issue facing humankind, i.e., the fate of the earth...
  • David Frum Is Shriller than Ever!: The Bush administration fitfully attempts to enforce the immigration laws, it looks for measures that meet four criteria: They must be 1) spectacular; 2) expensive; 3) unsustainable; and 4) ineffective. The proposal to deploy the National Guard to the border meets all four!...
  • Not Bush, But the Press Corps Has Driven Michael Berube Shrill: Margaret Carlson, giving Al Gore his due at last, and doing it the only way a paid-up member of the Media Elite can give a Democrat his due, with a backhanded compliment...
  • Daniel Drezner Is Shrill!: The White House seems to view the Treasury Secretary as a salesman's job, as opposed to a position where that requires any requisite policy knowledge, expertise, or anything of that nature...
  • The Washington Times Is Shrill: [T]he actual not-so-good news, beyond the microscopic increase in average real wages, is that America's secretary of the Treasury has no clue about the 12-month "headline" rate of inflation...
  • Tom Friedman Howls Beneath the Dead Uncaring Stars: Is there no job in this administration that is too important to be handed over to a political hack? No...
  • War Correspondent Joe Galloway Is Shrill: waiting for answers that never come, change that never comes, course corrections that never come. you wanted some specifics. there are some specifics...
  • Rush Limbaugh Is Shrill: are you and the President, the administration aware of the dissatisfaction on the whole issue of illegal immigration that exists not just within the Republican base, but within the country at large?...

And this week's Grand Heresiarch, Andrew "the Poor Man" Northrup:

  • The Poor Man Is Hypershrill!!: The fundamental point is not that Gregg Easterbrook is not an authority on climate science.... Nor is it that, due to personal dishonesty or lack of interest, he doesn’t seem capable of absorbing not-at-all subtle points from minimally-technical overview documents put together - at great effort - by committees of actual world-class authorities, aimed directly at people who - like Easterbrook - who are interested in environmental policy. Nor is it that Easterbrook has a lot of poorly-concealed resentment directed at scientists and science.... Most people aren’t authorities on climate science, or on much of anything, but that’s not some horrible moral failing. Most people don’t want to read all the way to chapter 9 of some assiduously dry science policy document; and, let’s face it, most people are full of weird ideas about shit they don’t know anything about. I know I am. The problem is that - for reasons I can’t begin to understand - Easterbrook is sitting in the chair that should be occupied by someone who knows what the hell they are talking about...

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

Matthew Yglesias thinks he has a dilemma:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall May 26, 2006 08:55 PM: As a relatively junior member of our fair nation's punditocracy, I face these little dilemmas in life. Jacob Weisberg is the editor of Slate. I see myself as the kind of guy who might write for Slate. Do I point out that he's being ridiculous here? I think that I do, but how's that going to work out for me in the long-run?... For the record... I have Rolling Stones songs and Beatles songs, which Weisberg appears to believe could not possibly represent anyone's authentic tastes.

If I were Matt, I wouldn't worry. Consider this:

Eric Boehlert reports on Slate:

The Blog | Eric Boehlert: Why Is The Press (Still) Unfair To Al Gore? | The Huffington Post: one Gore put-down in particular this week caught my eye.... Slate's John Dickerson reminisced about how Gore "struggled to beat a weak Bill Bradley in the 2000 Democratic primaries." Really?... did Gore really "struggle" putting away primary contender Bradley at the ballot box?... Gore won every primary contest against Bradley in 2000, and did it by an average of +47. Gore threw a shut-out in what was one of the most lopsided routs in recent primary history as Bradley, despite spending $40 million, was only competitive in a handful of New England states.

But now [Dickerson], [who] fawned over Bradley in real time, casually re-writes history to suggest Gore "struggled" against Bradley. That's pure fiction, as well as lazy and dishonest...

I like Bill Bradley. I thought Bill Bradley would have made a better president than Al Gore. I appeared in front of the camera with Bill Bradley and Barbara Boxer at one primary campaign event. And even I know that Al Gore rolled over Bill Bradley in the 2000 Democratic primaries.

In the long run, Weisberg needs Yglesias a lot more than Yglesias needs Weisberg.