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, July 29, 2006

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

Adam Nagourney of the New York Times doesn't just bury the lead. He erases the lead with white-out. The funniest thing I've seen all week:

After Sluggish Start, Lieberman Heeded Warnings of Trouble - New York Times: [The New York Times, in an editorial published on Sunday, endorsed Mr. Lamont over Mr. Lieberman, arguing that the senator had offered the nation a "warped version of bipartisanship" in his dealings with President Bush on national security.]

That's all Nagourney says about the most important piece of news in his story. All. Not an additional word.

That's the news. That's not what Nagourney talks about.

What does Nagourney talk about? He claims that Lieberman has a "sharp new message":

The price of Mr. Lieberman's slow start was on display on Friday, 11 days before the Aug. 8 primary. Mr. Lieberman, reshuffling his schedule after Democrats warned him that he was still not campaigning with enough urgency, set off on a 10-day bus tour across the state, with a sharp new message.

What is the "sharp new message"? Does Nagourney tell us? No, he does not.

Nagourney tells us of the return of a bunch of old advisors--not that Nagourney reports that they actually do anything:

A half dozen advisers from Mr. Lieberman's past campaigns turned up at his headquarters to provide support, responding to e-mail messages and other entreaties, including some from Mr. Lieberman's wife, Hadassah.

Nagourney tells us of Senator Dodd's efforts to "help." (It's been a long time since I've seen a nastier dagger-in-the-ribs than Dodd's observation that Lieberman finds it "painful" to have to say, first, "I'm a Democrat.)

Christopher J. Dodd, the other Connecticut Democratic senator, stepped in roughly six weeks ago with his own political advisers to bolster a Lieberman campaign staff that associates said Mr. Dodd viewed as too inexperienced for a campaign that had become so difficult. Mr. Dodd recounted telling Mr. Lieberman that he needed to embrace his Democratic roots -- explicitly and repeatedly. Friends described Mr. Lieberman as indignant at the challenge from liberals to his Democratic credentials. "I said, as painful as it is, the first words out of your mouth and the last words out of your mouth every time you speak have to be 'I'm a Democrat,'" Mr. Dodd recounted on Thursday. "You can say whatever you want after that."

Of course, "I'm a Democrat" is not the first thing Lieberman thinks, is it?

Mr. Lieberman is facing the prospect of a summer that may define his career as nothing else has, since he was elected to the State Senate in 1970. He has said he will run as an independent if he loses to Mr. Lamont, an announcement that one associate said only further hurt his standing with Democratic voters and elected officials who already were questioning his loyalty. Should Mr. Lieberman lose the primary, all indications are that most Democratic leaders will abandon him in the general election race against Mr. Lamont and the Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger.

And Nagourney let's Lieberman lie himself blue in the face:

Mr. Lieberman, in an interview aboard his campaign bus on Friday, said he had long expected to face this kind of challenge, given his support for the Iraq war. He said the timing of his response had been appropriate because voters were just beginning to focus on the race. "I want to assure you that I'm not surprised that I am in a fight for the Democratic nomination," he said. "I always expected that I would have a primary challenge based on Iraq. I was hoping that God would send me a poor challenger. I am being tested with a rich challenger." He added: "Look, I could have told you this would be very close at the end. I know now it is very close."...

But "sharp new message"? Nagourney says not a word about what Lieberman's "sharp new message" is.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Macroblog: An Unteachable Moment

Macroblog says that the Bush tax cuts are good for growth because even though they have so far been financed by borrowing, they will be financed--at some point in the future--by spending cuts:

macroblog: A Teachable Moment: Says DeLong:

What proportion of students will be able to follow the syllogism?

  • Tax relief is good for growth only if the tax reductions are financed by spending restraint.
  • The Bush tax reductions have been financed not by spending restraint but by borrowing.


  • The Bush tax reductions have been bad for growth.

I hope the answer is none, because one of the premises is irrelevant. The question is not have the tax cuts been financed by spending cuts, but rather will they be financed by spending cuts. Brad's expectation may be reasonable given the politics of the situation, but you obviously cannot draw conclusions by assuming a condition that has yet to be determined...

It's possible that there are huge spending cuts relative to GDP in our future. It's not terribly likely.

If I were Macroblog, I would say, instead, that the Bush tax cuts are good for growth because in response to the tax-cut magic the Growth Fairy will appear, wave her wand, and instantaneously boost labor productivity by 5%. That seems more likely than Macroblog's scenario.

There is a serious issue here: When one does policy evaluation of the proposals of an administration, does one evaluate the effects of the policies that the administration has proposed? Or does one evaluate the effects of the policies that the administration has proposed plus policies that the administration has not proposed, shows no inclination to propose, but that one wishes it would propose?

It seems to me that the answer is clear: Let the Bush administration propose a policy mechanism--like the Budget Enforcement Act, say--to cut discretionary and entitlement spending, title by title, as shares of GDP starting in 2010, and I'll be happy to evaluate it. But only tamed economists give politicians credit for policies the politicians won't propose. It muddies the waters and degrades the quality of debate to do so.

Not One of the Twenty-Five Million People You Would Think Might Be President Someday

Josh Micah Marshall does not exaggerate:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: BREAKING: President Bush Really Big Doofus: Yes, I grant you, this may have been reported in other outlets before. But we're here listening to the Bush-Blair press conference. And a few minutes ago a reporter (I think David Gregory, but will check on that) asked the president in so many words: You said Iraq was going to bring about new Middle East but now the Middle East is a complete disaster. Certainly, this would be a challenging question on more levels than one. But the president's answer, quite a lengthy one actually, showed in a really frightening detail how President Bush seems to be basically brain dead on this issue. We'll try to get a copy of it up on line. You really have to hear it to believe it...

And here it is. Our President speaks:

Remarks by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair of the United Kingdom in Press Availability : Q Thank you. Mr. President, both of you, I'd like to ask you about the big picture that you're discussing. Mr. President, three years ago, you argued that an invasion of Iraq would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. And yet today, there is an Iraqi Prime Minister who has been sharply critical of Israel. Arab governments, despite your arguments, who have criticized Hezbollah, have now changed their tune. Now they're sharply critical of Israel. And despite from both of you, warnings to Syria and Iran to back off support from Hezbollah, effectively, Mr. President, your words are being ignored. So what has happened to America's clout in this region that you've committed yourself to transform?

PRESIDENT BUSH: David, it's an interesting period because instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.

For a while, American foreign policy was just, let's hope everything is calm, kind of managed calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested in its -- on September the 11th. And so we've taken a foreign policy that says, on the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short-run by being aggressive and chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice -- and make no mistake, they're still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for -- in the long-term, to defeat this ideology, and they're bound by an ideology. You defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom.

And, look, I fully understand some people don't believe it's possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred. I understand that. I just happen to believe it is possible, and I believe it will happen. And so what you're seeing is a clash of governing styles, for example. The notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them, and so they respond. They've always been violent.

I hear this amazing kind of editorial thought that says, all of a sudden Hezbollah has become violent because we're promoting democracy. They have been violent for a long period of time. Or Hamas. One reason why the Palestinians still suffer is because there are militants who refuse to accept a Palestinian state based upon democratic principles.

And so what the world is seeing is a desire by this country and our allies to defeat the ideology of hate with an ideology that has worked and that brings hope. And one of the challenges, of course, is to convince people that Muslims would like to be free, that there's other people other than people in Britain and America that would like to be free in the world.

There's this kind of almost -- kind of weird kind of elitism, that says, well, maybe certain people in certain parts of the world shouldn't be free; maybe it's best just to let them sit in these tyrannical societies. And our foreign policy rejects that concept. We don't accept it.

And so we're working. And this is -- as I said the other day, when these attacks took place, I said this should be a moment of clarity for people to see the stakes in the 21st century. I mean, there's an unprovoked attack on a democracy. Why? I happen to believe, because progress is being made toward democracies. And I believe that -- I also believe that Iran would like to exert additional influence in the region. A theocracy would like to spread its influence using surrogates.

And so I'm as determined as ever to continue fostering a foreign policy based upon liberty. And I think it's going to work, unless we lose our nerve and quit. And this government isn't going to quit.

Q I asked you about the loss of American influence in the region.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, David, we went to the G8 and worked with our allies and got a remarkable statement on what took place. We're working to get a United Nations resolution on Iran. We're working to have a Palestinian state. But the reason why -- you asked the question -- is because terrorists are trying to stop that progress. And we'll ultimately prevail, because they have -- their ideology is so dark and so dismal that when people really think about it, it will be rejected. They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people, don't come and bother us because we will kill you.

And my attitude is, is that now is the time to be firm. And we've got a great weapon on our side, and that is freedom, and liberty. And it's got -- those two concepts have got the capacity to defeat ideologies of hate.

Tony Blair is almost as bad--although, admittedly, less incoherent:

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I don't think, actually, it's anything to do with a loss of American influence at all. I think -- we've got to go back and ask what changed policy, because policy has changed in the past few years.

And what changed policy was September the 11th. That changed policy, but actually, before September the 11th this global movement with a global ideology was already in being. September the 11th was the culmination of what they wanted to do. But, actually -- and this is probably where the policymakers, such as myself, were truly in error -- is that even before September the 11th, this was happening in all sorts of different ways in different countries.

I mean, in Algeria, for example, tens and tens of thousands of people lost their lives. This movement has grown, it is there, it will latch on to any cause that it possibly can and give it a dimension of terrorism and hatred. You can see this. You can see it in Kashmir, for example. You can see it in Chechnya. You can see it in Palestine.

Now, what is its purpose? Its purpose is to promote its ideology based upon the perversion of Islam, and to use any methods at all, but particularly terrorism, to do that, because they know that the value of terrorism to them is -- as I was saying a moment or two ago, it's not simply the act of terror, it's the chain reaction that terror brings with it. Terrorism brings the reprisal; the reprisal brings the additional hatred; the additional hatred breeds the additional terrorism, and so on. But in a small way, we lived through that in Northern Ireland over many, many decades.

Now, what happened after September the 11th -- and this explains, I think, the President's policy, but also the reason why I have taken the view, and still take the view that Britain and America should remain strong allies, shoulder-to-shoulder in fighting this battle, is that we are never going to succeed unless we understand they are going to fight hard. The reason why they are doing what they're doing in Iraq at the moment -- and, yes, it's really tough as a result of it -- is because they know that if, right in the center of the Middle East, in an Arab, Muslim country, you've got a non-sectarian democracy, in other words people weren't governed either by religious fanatics or secular dictators, you've got a genuine democracy of the people, how does their ideology flourish in such circumstances?

So they have imported the terrorism into that country, preyed on whatever reactionary elements there are to boost it. And that's why we have the issue there; that's why the Taliban are trying to come back in Afghanistan. That is why, the moment it looked as if you could get progress in Israel and Palestine, it had to be stopped. That's the moment when, as they saw there was a problem in Gaza, so they realized, well, there's a possibility now we can set Lebanon against Israel.

Now, it's a global movement, it's a global ideology. And if there's any mistake that's ever made in these circumstances, it's if people are surprised that it's tough to fight, because you're up against an ideology that's prepared to use any means at all, including killing any number of wholly innocent people.

And I don't dispute part of the implication of your question at all, in the sense that you look at what is happening in the Middle East and what is happening in Iraq and Lebanon and Palestine, and, of course, there's a sense of shock and frustration and anger at what is happening, and grief at the loss of innocent lives. But it is not a reason for walking away. It's a reason for staying the course, and staying it no matter how tough it is, because the alternative is actually letting this ideology grip a larger and larger number of people.

And it is going to be difficult. Look, we've got a problem even in our own Muslim communities in Europe, who will half-buy into some of the propaganda that's pushed at it -- the purpose of America is to suppress Islam, Britain has joined with America in the suppression of Islam. And one of the things we've got to stop doing is stop apologizing for our own positions. Muslims in America, as far as I'm aware of, are free to worship; Muslims in Britain are free to worship. We are plural societies.

It's nonsense, the propaganda is nonsense. And we're not going to defeat this ideology until we in the West go out with sufficient confidence in our own position and say, this is wrong. It's not just wrong in its methods, it's wrong in its ideas, it's wrong in its ideology, it's wrong in every single wretched reactionary thing about it. And it will be a long struggle, I'm afraid. But there's no alternative but to stay the course with it. And we will.

The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert is a national treasure:

YouTube - Colbert making fun of morning news for deriding his program

Colbert's clips from "Today" and "Good Morning America" are priceless. Colbert says:

I asked Congressman Lyn Westmoreland who proposed requiring the display of the ten commandments in the House and Senate chambers if he could name the ten commandments. What I should have asked him [according to "Today" and "Good Morning America" was this:

  • Is tanning addictive?
  • How long did it take you to grow that [beard]?
  • Do you really need to wait a half hour after you eat to go swimming?

Why Nobody Should Trust Glenn Reynolds

Outsourced to Fontana Labs:

Unfogged: This Instapundit post certainly gets off to a good start: "JOHN PODHORETZ WONDERS if Israel is too nice to win." Shazam! But the real source of my irritation comes in the next line: "This reminds me of Josh Marshall's 2003 worry that we weren't killing enough Iraqis and that this would come back to haunt us. I think they're both probably wrong. I certainly hope so."

Reynolds has said this about Josh Marshall before; I think he enjoys it because it's his chance to tweak Josh by making him sound like Misha. (Reynolds likes these 'strange bedfellows' sorts of zingers; see also his use of "civil rights" while talking about gun ownership and his idea that liberals should support annexing foreign oil fields because they like wealth redistribution.... When you follow the links and read Josh's column, it turns out, predictably, that Reynolds' gloss is inaccurate.... Reynolds' representation of Josh's position seems seriously dishonest to me. "He's worried that we're not killing enough Iraqis" suggests, on a straightforward reading, that he endorses killing more of them. No: he's making a point about the conditions for successful reconstruction.

It's very frustrating to read this sort of thing, even more so from someone who's so keen on the blogosphere.

On a lighter note, do check out the Podhoretz piece, which is remarkable because it contains not a single declarative sentence.

Nominal Compensation, Real Compensation, and Inflation

Not a tight labor market. Jared Bernstein writes:

Compensation Up, But So Is Inflation: Jared Bernstein

Today’s Employment Cost Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a pickup in the growth of compensation, to 0.9% in the second quarter of the year, compared to 0.6% in the first quarter. However, consumer inflation was 1.3% in the second quarter, meaning compensation fell in real terms.

Though the tighter job market has recently generated slightly faster growth in workers’ pay, inflation has accelerated also. As the figure shows, real compensation (wages plus benefits) has declined, on a yearly basis, for the past four quarters.

Furthermore, today’s GDP report shows much slower growth in the second quarter (2.5% versus 5.6% in the previous quarter), suggesting that Fed rate hikes, higher energy costs, and the cooling housing market are taking hold in the overall economy. As this slower growth translates into weaker job growth, compensation too may slow in coming quarters. Thus, even considering average compensation—a measure which includes wages and benefits of all workers, even the very highest earners—most workers continue to fall behind, even as the economy expands.

Jared Bernstein

Economic Policy Institute
1333 H St, NW
Suite 300, East Tower
Washington, DC 20005

w: 202-331-5547
fax: 202-775-0819

Look for my book, All Together Now: Common Sense for a Fair Economy, and visit

Disappointing Real GDP Number for the Second Quarter

The GDP growth release:

Real gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annual rate of 2.5% in the second quarter of 2006, according to today's advance estimate. This follows a 5.6% growth rate in the first quarter.

I had hoped it would be higher.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Favorite Weblogs

A friend of Greg Mankiw's asks him for advice:

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Favorite Blogs: A econ professor friend of mine emails me some comments on this blog, as well as a request to its readers:

I now think of the blog, including the comments, as the equivalent of a bunch of people with common interests sitting down in a coffee shop and discussing topical economic issues, with the discussion topics chosen by you. I see this as very valuable. Many of us live in places where it's hard to find a group of people with whom to regularly and frequently have such discussions. Yours is the first blog I've read regularly. But of the trillion or so other blogs out there, there must be a few good ones that serve this function as well. I'm wondering which are the better ones....Would you entertain the idea of posting a new item at your blog asking your regular readers for recommendations on what other blogs they regularly read, and why they like them?...

My current top 20 weblogs by attention, according to NetNewsWire:

  1. Political Animal:
  2. Talking Points Memo:
  3. Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal:
  4. Economist's View:
  5. Crooked Timber:
  6. Marginal Revolution:
  7. MaxSpeak, You Listen!:
  8. TPMCafe - Matthew Yglesias:
  9. Greg Mankiw's Blog:
  10. Boing Boing Blog:
  11. The Washington Note:
  12. Infectious Greed:
  14. NYT > Business:
  15. Daniel Gross:
  16. TPMCafe - The Coffee House:
  17. Brad Setser's Web Log:
  18. Daniel W. Drezner:
  19. Washington Wire:
  20. Making Light:

No, no matter how hard I try, I can't get myself to pay more attention to my own weblog than to Political Animal or Talking Points Memo

Obsidian Wings: Asymmetric Warfare and *Jus in Bello*

Sebastian Holsclaw successfully takes on Chris Bertram, and clarifies thought in an excellent post on jus in bello:

Obsidian Wings: Asymmetric Warfare : By Sebastian: Discussions about rules of warfare tend to mix and muddle the reasoning behind such rules. A classic example of this is can be found here at Crooked Timber:

Of course the reason people don’t line up to be shot at, wearing proper uniforms, distinguishing themselves from the civilian population, and so on, is that it would be suicidal so to do. And here lies a real difficulty for conventional just war theory. If recourse to war is sometimes just—and just war theory says it is—but it may only be justly fought within the jus in bello restrictions, then it looks as if an important means to pursue justice is open to the strong alone and not to the weak. Faced with a professional army equipped with powerful weaponry, people who want to fight back have no chance unless they melt into the civilian population and adopt unconventional tactics. If those tactics are morally impermissible because of the risks they impose on non-combatants, then it looks as if armed resistance to severe injustice perpetrated by the well-equipped and powerful is also prohibited. And that looks crazy.

The Ethics of War (eds Sorabji and Rodin). Rodin proposes to address the problem by strengthening the jus in bello constraints on the strong. In particular he suggests that they be restrained from attacking “grey area” targets (targets that have potentially military uses by serve important civilian functions, such as TV stations, and power plants), that before an attack is authorised they be required to establish with a far higher degree of certainty than at present that a proposed target is indeed legitimate, and, third, that they be made to take “exceptionally rigourous” steps to ensure that civilians are not exposed to collateral harm and also to ensure that the environment in which those civilian live is not damaged and degraded.

Needless to say this is a problem that is simply ignored by the many blogs that drone on incessantly about jus in bello violations by the weak (and, in the face of those violations, parrot the synthetic moral outrage of the spokespeople for strong states). On the other side, though, it hardly seems to be satisfactory to say that non-conventional forces should be subject to weakened jus in bello restrictions, since the restrictions are there to protect those who have immunity from attack and whose immunity is not removed or diminished by the fact that one side or the other are militarily disadvantaged. So I was interested to read a recent paper by David Rodin, “The Ethics of Asymmetric War” in

The first error is in thinking that the rules of war are interested in the underlying justice claims of the combatants.... [T]he Hague Conventions and Geneva Conventions are very pragmatic.... If two sides are willing to go to war, it should be obvious that there is a serious disagreement between them about the underlying justice claims.... The rules of warfare... are not about getting to the most just resolution. The fact that a more just but weaker force will often lose... is a different... problem [from the one the Hague and Geneva Conventions address].... Since the Hague Conventions, the rules of warfare have tended to have two organizing principles: First that war should be conducted between combatants... second... war methods should be proportional to their aims... "non-combatant immunity" and "proportionality". I will use these terms because they are the proper terms of art, but I want to take special note of the fact that they are specialized terms.... "[P]roportionality"... [i]n the laws of warfare context it should not conjure the idea of a tit-for-tat response... but rather whether or not the means is justly related to the ends.... "[N]on-combatant immunity"... does not mean that non-combatants can never be injured in war. It means that they are not to be targeted in war.

These principles lead to a number of secondary issues.... In order to facilitate non-combatant immunity... the Hague Conventions, Geneva Conventions, and other codifications of the laws of war outline a large number of things that are supposed to separate combatants from non-combatants... identification schemes... organizational schemes (so that there is someone to negotiate an end to hostilities), and spatial rules.... All of these rules are designed to minimize civilian casualties by allowing the combatants to focus on fighting only one another.

Modern asymmetric warfare is about turning the rules of non-combatant immunity and proportionality on their heads... target[ing] civilians and civilian objects... attacks... linked to no military objective... no distinguishing uniform... place their military targets in or next to civilians and civilian objects... gravely endangers civilians on both sides. This strategy serves a number of purposes. It protects their own fighters by making them difficult to target. It allows propaganda victories whenever they kill civilians on the other side. It allows propaganda victories whenever civilians near them are killed. Killing civilians (on both sides of the conflict) is not a side effect of trying to hide from the enemy. It is the most important positive strategy of asymmetric warfare. As a result of these practices, civilians are placed in much more danger than they would otherwise face.

Rodin's proposal (and I believe from his post that Bertram endorses it) would have a number of negative effects... it would dramatically extend the length of wars. Fighting guerrillas is already very tough... would make negotiated settlements or surrenders very unlikely. The wars can (and do) continue across many generations. This isn't good for civilians.... [I]t would reinforce the already existing impulse to mix military and civilian targets. If you give extra-special protection to mixed targets, you are directly incentivizing the co-location of military and civilian targets...

I, too, found Chris Bertram's argument to be bizarrely off-center, particularly the argument that jus in bello "looks crazy":

Faced with a professional army equipped with powerful weaponry, people who want to fight back have no chance unless they melt into the civilian population and adopt unconventional tactics. If those tactics are morally impermissible because of the risks they impose on non-combatants, then it looks as if armed resistance to severe injustice perpetrated by the well-equipped and powerful is also prohibited. And that looks crazy.

Recall that "melting into the civilian population" and "adopting unconventional tactics" help "armed resistance to... the well-equipped and powerful" only if the well-equipped and powerful are themselves followers of jus in bello. If you eliminate jus in bello, then the well-equipped and powerful use the well-tried strategy of solitudinem faciunt et pacem appellant. To eliminate jus in bello is bad for the guerrillas, and is very bad for the people caught in the crossfire they purport to be fighting "for." Can we say that U.S. aid and support to those violating jus in bello in their fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s wound up doing the people of Afghanistan a lick of good? Wouldn't it have been better to cool down the situation, let the Afghan Communist Party build roads and schools and powerplants, and to have waited for Gorbachev?

Hoisted from Comments: On Mike Allen, Tom Ricks, Journamalism, Rumsfeld, TipFids, and Other Topics

Hoisted from Comments: Ginger Yellow:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Mike Allen: Degenerating from Journamalism to Propaganda: "This post, like a number of others recently, is too hard on the journalist. Unlike, say, the UK, we don't have an adversarial or partisan tradition of press coverage in the U.S. The journalist has to report what both sides say."

He doesn't have to. He just does. It is, as you say, a tradition and traditions cease to apply when they are not observed. But it's not the fact that he reports what both sides say that is the problem. It's that having done so he (and most of his American journalistic colleagues) refuses to then take what both sides say, compare them with other evidence and come to a conclusion. It's not about being adversarial, it's about being brave enough to make explicit judgements. All journalists make value judgements when they decide who to talk to, who to quote, whose side to put at the top. All we're asking is that instead of hoping that clever/informed readers will see through the kabuki to the facts, and leaving the less sophisticated readers to flounder about in disinformation, journalists should in fact make those value judgements plain and call a spade a spade. For instance if you've spoken to "some specialists", and you agree with them, then either quote them or speak in your own (paper's) voice. It adds no value whatsoever to just cite anonymous people whose authority is completely unknown.

I don't think this article is particularly egregious, the use of "some" aside. But it's very symptomatic of the US journalistic malaise. Nearly every article in the WaPo or the NYT these days is equally impenetrable for the casual reader: dropping the interesting or important information to the bottom where nobody will read it, leaving utter nonsense unchallenged except by a partisan source, and failing to provide the necessary context. It doesn't have to be this way. The FT doesn't write like that, and nobody accuses them of raging partisanship. The news pages of the WSJ are perfectly forthright, yet they are respected as much by lefties as by righties. But from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, US establishment papers seem petrified of taking a stand for truth. This is not healthy.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | July 27, 2006 at 11:44 AM

Jay Rosen of *NYU* writes:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Dana Milbank vs. Helen Thomas: From Brad's Where Are the Heirs of Walter Lippman? Brad: Those "patterns" begin to find some explanation when you realize that categories like "hard news" rather than "analytical piece" are simultaneously serving as a reality-reporting system, and a risk-reduction method. Hard news is supposed to be lowest risk, not necessarily harder information. It's lower risk to just say what happened ("Rove said...") without saying what's true. An "analysis" piece means you can speculate about motives and what might happen from here. Slightly higher risk, but not necessarily more "analytical."

Or let's take the classic in press watcher frustration... He said this happened, she said that happened. It tries to inform you in a half-hearted way, but it secures protection from being wrong in a full-throated way. "I'm just telling you what they said." It's not truthtelling but innocence-establishing behavior-- see? no agenda.

Here's the catch: officially, journalists only engage in truthtelling. That they would the choose the more innocent account over the more truthful one contradicts the professional self-image. So it doesn't happen, even though it does. When what journalists are doing makes no sense at all to you on the reality-reporting scale, switch yourself over to the risk-reduction (or "refuge") scale and measure it there.

Why don't journalists work together and coordinate their assaults to get a better answer from the President? Might make sense on the reality-reporting front, but fry the circuits on risk reduction. They'd open themselves to "cabal" charges, or so they think.

Why didn't Leonard Downie join with Bill Keller and Dean Baquet in their joint op-ed explaining the need to report on classified programs sometimes? (He was asked.) He didn't want to risk the impression that news organizations act together to "get" something.

For we are dealing not only with the risk of being wrong, but of coming under effective attack in the culture war's politicized theatre of news. Outside actors can influence the news by raising the perception of risk.

Posted by: Jay Rosen | July 18, 2006 at 03:26 PM

John Emerson:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Mike Allen: Degenerating from Journamalism to Propaganda: Blister, the idea that reporters, especially during this administration, write favorable stories in exchange for access is pretty well accepted by people who watch the scene. If you're clueless, it's not DeLong's responsibility to reinvent the wheel right in front of you. (In the context of your mooncalf understanding of journalism, your condescending last line is laughable.)

Reading between the lines is a responsibility of all readers of journalism, and the worse the journalism, the more important that responsibility is. How close is the American press to the Pravda standard by now? (Under the Czarist regime a whole new "Aesopian" genre of journalistic writing was developed to slip ideas past the censors, and under the Soviet regime this method was adapted to the new, even worse conditions.)

The interesting thing here, as in other similiar statements by journalists, is that American journalists are now writing so that sophisticated readers will understand the truth, whereas careless readers will miss the point and remain ignorant. This is pretty much the Aesopian method. It allows the elite to feel superior and sneer at the mass, but it doesn't bother Karl Rove at all, because he relies on mass votes.

One negative consequences of this style of journalism is that the well-informed citizens tend to end up powerlessly in opposition, while the ill-informed people give the government blind support right up until the point when everything collapses.

The censorship we are talking about is not government censorship. For whatever reason, the high management of the Post, the Times, Time, and most of the broadcast media have chosen to publsih weak journalism that doesn't harm Bush much. (My guess is that they are motivated mostly by tax incentives, their investments outside journalism, advertiser pressure, and fear of rightwing zombie media critics.)

Why do BOTH the right and the left complain? Because the right knows that if it quits complaining, everyone whill understand that they won. And it still could get worse. A major faction of the right doesn't want a free press at all, but an uncritical, patriotic, team-player press fully cooperating with the unitary executive.

Posted by: John Emerson | July 27, 2006 at 07:33 AM

And an anonymous lurker who works in a remarkably senior position , in email:


Did you see Tom Ricks's response, in his Washington Post chat, to the gnawing criticism of the weblogs? It was quite a defense of "he said, she said" journalism:

Tom Ricks: FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq: Tom Ricks: This is an interesting question because it brings home to me how polarized the country is by this war. It especially bothers me that there seems to be little room for "loyal dissent." People who try to make honest criticisms are attacked instantly. I am seeing this on the left as well as the right, by the way. I sometimes think that the left would only be happy if we started labelling all their enemies liars. I noticed that one leftish blogger criticized me for quoting generals who said in 2003 that we were winning the war. I don't think he understands that part of my job is to quote people accurately--even if I don't agree with what they are saying. Next!

I think Ricks is quite alarmed, or he would be more coherent. Back when he was writing softball profiles of Paul Wolfowitz for the front page of the Washington Post December 23, 2003 Style section, it never crossed his mind that in two and a half years there would be angry people in bathrobes with computers accessing his clippings file and calling for him to explain himself. It would never have crossed his mind in a million years that anybody would ever see a highly complimentary profile of a Deputy Defense Secretary on the front of a soft-news section as a violation of journalistic ethics, or of duty to readers.

Read through the first chapters of Fiasco again. You will find Ricks complaining that the media fell down in the run-up to the war, that the media was incapable of finding speakers putting forth an alternative point of view to the Bush administration, that it was Congress's fault for not having prominent Doves willing to make strong quotable statements. "The Silence of the Lambs" is the way he puts it.

Yet the opposition to Bush's war plans contained Scowcroft, Baker, Zinni, Schwarzkopf, the leaders and high officials of all our major allies (including Britain), and a lot of very smart people at State, at CIA, and at the Pentagon. (As soon as the war started, publications like the National Journal had no trouble finding sources to say that Rumsfeld's interference with force planning and logistics had the potential to cause great trouble. Inside-baseball sentences like "A lot of people around here can get very emotional talking about the lack of a TipFid for this operation" carry a very powerful message for those who think about logistics. And it was because of Rumsfeld's misunderstanding of modern war that the camoaign required V Corps to resort to such stopgaps as pulling the 101 Air Assault Division back from the spearhead to use as LOC troops.)

In large part the media fell down because elite reporters like Ricks decided to go along with Cheney, Rumsfeld, and company, even though they believed they were highly ideological and disconnected from reality--good inside the Pentagon and in the AEI conference rooms, but noplace else. They didn't want to elevate the critics, because they thought that would have meant "taking sides," and taking sides against the USA.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon...

Olmert's government inflicts an enormous strategic defeat upon Israel, an the chances that Tel Aviv becomes a radioactive abattoir sometime in the next two generations grows.

Billmon reports:

A high-ranking IAF officer caused a storm on Monday in an off-record briefing during which he told reporters that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz had ordered the military to destroy 10 buildings in Beirut in retaliation to every Katyusha rocket strike on Haifa...

Yep. Israel is taking "all efforts" to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon.

Some other observations:

Gideon Levy:

Stop now, immediately - Haaretz - Israel News : By Gideon Levy: This war must be stopped now and immediately. From the start it was unnecessary, even if its excuse was justified, and now is the time to end it. Every day raises its price for no reason, taking a toll in blood that gives Israel nothing tangible in return. This is a good time to stop the war because both sides can claim they won: Israel harmed Hezbollah and Hezbollah harmed Israel. History shows that no situation is better for reaching an arrangement. Remember the lessons of the Yom Kippur War. Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds and with foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hezbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon. It has gotten most of what it could have out of this war. The aerial "target bank" has mostly been covered. The air force could continue to sow destruction in the residential neighborhoods and empty offices and could also continue dropping dozens of tons of bombs on real or imagined bunkers and kill innocent Lebanese, but nothing good will come of it. Those who want to restore Israel's deterrent capabilities have succeeded. Hezbollah and the rest of its enemies know that Israel reacts with enormous force to any provocation. South Lebanon is cleaner now of a Hezbollah presence. In any case, the organization is likely to return there, just as it is likely to rearm. An international agreement could be achieved now, and it won't be possible to achieve a better deal at a reasonable price in the future...

Steve Clemons channels Charles Freeman:

The Washington Note: Chas Freeman writes:

The assumption in Israel and here is that Iran and Syria put Hezbollah up to its provocative gesture of solidarity with the beleaguered Palestians in Gaza. The assumption in the Arab world is that the U.S. put Israel up to what it is doing in Gaza and Lebanon. Both assertions remain politically convenient assertions that are almost certainly wrong. There is no evidence for either.

The relationship between Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran is analogous to that between Israel and the United States. Syria is the quartermaster and Iran the external financier and munitions supplier to Hezbollah; we play all three roles in support of Israel.

There is no reason to believe that Hezbollah, which is an authentic expression of Lebanese Sh'ia nationalism birthed by the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in 1982, is any less unilateralist or prone to consult its patrons before it does things it sees as in its interest than Israel, which is an authentic expression of Jewish nationalism birthed by European racism, is in relation to us.

Remember the assertions that Vietnamese expansionism was controlled and directed by the Chinese? similar stuff. Chinese backing for the Viet Minh and the Hanoi regime did not equate to Chinese control or direction of North Vietnam, its armed forces, or its agents in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Consider the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war.

The irony now is that the most likely candidate to back Hezbollah in the long term is no longer Iran but the Arab Shiite tyranny of the majority we have installed in Baghdad. But that will not mean that the successors of Nouri Al-Maliki control Sheikh Nasrullah. Sometimes clients direct the policies of their patrons, not the other way around. This is a point exemplified by the dynamic of Israeli-American relations but far from unique to them.

Kevin Drum:

The Washington Monthly: WHO IS ISRAEL FIGHTING?.... Tony Blair continues to support Israel's right to respond to Hezbollah's rocket attacks, but "Downing Street sources" say that Blair also agrees with Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells' "scathing denunciation of Israel's military tactics":

Speaking to a BBC reporter before travelling on for talks in Israel, where he will also visit the missile-hit areas of Haifa and meet his Israeli opposite number, Howells said: 'The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people: these have not been surgical strikes. If they are chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation.'

The French Defense Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, said much the same thing today:

"One cannot ask the Lebanese national army to disarm the militias and at the same time bomb the main Lebanese barracks." Alliot-Marie also raised doubts about the strategic sense of bombing factories that produce powdered milk for infants.

"And unfortunately, more and more, we are seeing a number of bombardments that are hitting civilians, even convoys of people who were simply seeking to reach Beirut to find shelter have been hit by bombs."

Israel's military strategy continues to baffle me. As Gideon Levy puts it, Israel "claims it has declared war on Hezbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon." It remains unclear whether this was part of the plan all along or merely the all-too-predictable result of lofty political promises leading to improvised escalation, but it's quickly beginning not to matter. A war against Hezbollah is justifiable, whether wise or not, but a war against Lebanon isn't. Israel will gain nothing from continuing it.

Chris Nelson via Josh Micah Marshall:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: July 23, 2006 - July 29, 2006 Archives: Chris Nelson's top line summary from this evening's edition of The Nelson Report ...

The war in Lebanon is already a public relations disaster for Israel, and a very real human disaster, with no end in sight, for thousands of Lebanese. Clearly Israel, under military attack, is not officially concerned with the PR, but you could already see in the very competitive Israeli press, late last week, warnings that the IDF was not being careful, that military plans had already gotten out of hand, and that a diplomatic debacle might be in the making.

Over the weekend, it became clear that Lebanon is also at risk of becoming another serious policy failure for the US. The announcement by Secretary of State Condi Rice that she was going to the region, but would not seek direct meetings with Syria... has sparked much international criticism.... [T]he Lebanon situation has exposed, once again, that US policy, under Bush, is largely whatever the Israeli government says it wants. So the long term effect of this on US-Arab relations generally, and the US ability to be constructively involved in any serious peace process, is once again under debate.... [A]s long-time Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross likes to say (our paraphrase) "having a process may not get you a solution, but having a process does give you a chance to contain the damage." A week ago, much of the international community seemed willing to agree with the US, that Israel had the right to go after Hezbollah, or, at least, the right to go after Hezbollah sufficiently to push back the missile attack capability and threat. But by mid-week, the Europeans were calling for "cease fire" regardless. Today, even the Bush Administration is making noises about a cease fire... and citing the centrality of dealing with Syria... but not yet. How much damage is being done, and will be done, to the US ability to be constructively involved in the Middle East is emerging, now, as the big question.

A critic within State privately worries, "Condi could get points for the US just by trying to talk directly with Syria. But apparently her view is if she can't get a quick deal that makes her look good, she won't even try."

And Billmon observes:

Whiskey Bar: War by Tantrum: [T]his is a very bad sign for the Israelis. It has the smell of panic about it. It's like the 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi -- an exercise that served no rational purpose other than to vent Richard Nixon's rage at his own inability to bend the North Vietnamese government to his will.... But in Beirut, now.... It's as if the Israelis were deliberately trying to do something so horrible it would force our idiot president to demand an immediate cease fire in place: Please stop us, because we can't stop ourselves.

More likely, Halutz has simply lost his head. His faith in air power is being revealed as a false religion. The rockets are still falling on Haifa and all across the north. The promissary notes he wrote to the Israeli cabinet are being called in, and he can't pay them. Israeli is being forced closer and closer to a place it desperately does not want to go -- a full-scale ground invasion against tough, well-prepared and well-fortified defenses, with a guerrilla army ready to fight delaying actions every step of the way to the Litani River, or beyond.

Halutz should be relieved of duty.... But people who know a lot more about Israeli politics than I do are pretty sure they won't be -- both because of the PR blowback and because neither the Prime Minister nor his Defense Minister have the military leadership credentials to fire two ranking commanders in the middle of a war....

The questions currently on the table... whether the IDF has lost some of the operational excellence.... Hezbollah... which may not be quite as ruthless as Stalin's Marshals or as fanatical as Hitler's Waffen SS, but does appear to be highly motivated, well led, and willing to die fighting....

Certainly, having the IDF Chief of Staff call for terrorist reprisal bombings -- which almost certainly would have absolutely no effect on Hizbollah's will to fight -- doesn't do anything to change that impression...

Update 10:30 AM ET: From Ha'aretz:

Bush and the public assumed that the army knew what it was doing, and that Israel, with its superiority in manpower, weaponry and technology, would be able to put an end to Hezbollah as a menace to Israel. Little by little, however, a worrying picture has begun to emerge: Instead of an army that is small but smart, we are catching glimpses of an army that is big, rich and dumb...

Worth Reading, 20060726

Worth reading, July 27, 2006:

Talking Points - The Rise of the Super-Rich by Teresa Tritch - New York Times: [I]n the United States today, there’s a new twist to the familiar plot. Income inequality used to be about rich versus poor, but now it’s increasingly a matter of the ultra rich and everyone else. The curious effect of the new divide is an economy that appears to be charging ahead, until you realize that the most of the people in it are being left in the dust. President Bush has yet to acknowledge the true state of affairs, though it’s at the root of his failure to convince Americans that the good times are rolling...

Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald: What makes someone a "chicken hawk"?: Jeff Jacoby launched an impassioned attack in The Boston Globe on Sunday against what he calls "the chicken hawk slur."... Jacoby completely distorted what it actually means.... [T]he "chicken hawk" criticism is not typically made against someone who merely (a) advocates a war but (b) will not fight in that war.... Something more than mere support for a war without fighting in it is required to earn the "chicken hawk" label. Chicken-hawkism is the belief that advocating a war from afar is a sign of personal courage and strength, and that opposing a war from afar is a sign of personal cowardice and weakness...

Clear Enough | TPMCafe: Clear Enough. By Matthew Yglesias: Kevin Drum writes a bit about the considerable evidence that environmental factors play a large role in reducing the IQs of poor children and says "it's still unclear what to do about this. Intensive educational interventions are the most obvious possibility, but results on this front haven't been very promising."I think it actually is rather clear what to do. Evidence suggests that across a broad range of criteria having poor parents is bad for children in ways that are very difficult to mitigate through child-targeted interventions. The best way to cope with this would be to take steps to enhance the material living standards of poor adults. That would be a nice favor to the adults and would significantly reduce the challenges facing their children. Unfortunately, while the electorate has a reasonable willingness to try and do things to help out poor kids (because it's "not their fault" that their parents are poor) there's a lot of reluctance to providing serious assistance to poor adults who are deemed to "deserve" their fate. This is a significant political challenge, but I think the policy issue is reasonably clear -- the best way to help poor children is to help poor people generally...

Andrew Sullivan lies about Al Gore: Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish: "I finally saw the Gore movie yesterday. It's thoroughly persuasive about the reality of global warming and the contribution of carbon dioxide emissions to it. I'd recommend it strongly to anyone. Its blindspots were, however, obvious. No mention is made anywhere of the fact that Al Gore was a very powerful vice-president for eight years in a critical period for this issue. His fulminations against others' indifference would have been a little more credible if he'd at least addressed and explained his own failure to do anything when he was able to.... I think a serious gas tax and a tough increase in mandatory fuel economy standards in the U.S. are essential to prompting the technological breakthroughs that alone can ameliorate this. And yet Gore balked. Just like he did when he was in power..." Shame on you, Andrew Sullivan. Shame. Al Gore worked like a dog to try to get an energy tax through the Congress in 1993--and got remarkably far given the united opposition he faced from the Republican Party and the American Petroleum Institute. Al Gore then switched gears, and spent the rest of the Clinton administration trying (a) to get a push for new, cleaner technologies in gear, and (2) to mobilize world civil society to commit to fight global warming via the Kyoto negotiations. I think his switched-gears strategy was mistaken--I am a card. But it was his best judgment, he did work very hard at it, and in his willingness to place his political career on the line in order to mobilize the country and the world for action against a truly serious, serious problem...

[The cry of the chickenhawk[( Cliff May, another National Review blogger and prominent right-wing pundit, objected. May insisted that Lopez, by blogging for the National Review was “fighting a war” and this war was “equally consequential” with the wars that are fought by the U.S. military. An excerpt: 'There is a war of arms. And there is a war of ideas. They are not just inter-related, they are interdependent. They are equally consequential.... Let’s take just one example: In the 1930s, Churchill fought a war of ideas. He tried to warn the world about Hitler; tried to warn Europe and America that Hitler’s hatred and ambition had to be checked. But most people did not listen. Churchill’s ideas did not prevail. They called Churchill a “war monger.”... So yes, Kathryn, you are fighting a war. And your e-mailer is ignorant about how wars are fought, about how wars are won and lost, and about the way the world actually works."... [B]logging on the National Review (or ThinkProgress, for that matter) is not the equivalent of Churchill warning the world about Hitler. And blogging is not “equally consequential” to the wars fought by members of the United States military, who put their lives at risk every day....

A Tiny Revolution: We're Making Real Progress!: Here's the famous story of George Packer's from March 2, 2003: "Bush is a man who has never shown much curiosity about the world. When he met with [Kanan] Makiya and two other Iraqis in January, I was told by someone not present, the exiles spent a good portion of the time explaining to the president that there are two kinds of Arabs in Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites." Now, here's a Newsweek story about the recent G-8 Summit: "[Bush, Blair and Chirac] quickly agree on how to proceed against Hizbullah, while keeping the pressure on Syria and Iran. "Chirac was very strong in recognizing that Hizbullah and Syria and Iran are part of the Shia arc in the Middle East," Bush says later." You see, he's learning! True, according to the CIA Factbook, Syria is 74% Sunni, 16% Alawite, Druze, and other Muslim sects, and 10% Christian. So Bush doesn't know who or where different kinds of Muslims are. But still, after a brief 5 years of our "war on terror," he has learned they exist! This is exactly the kind of effort that should be praised in three year-olds and the president of the United States. Yes: Russia is big and China is big. That's very, very good. Tomorrow, we will move onto tying your shoes...

Stop now, immediately - Haaretz - Israel News : Stop now, immediatelyBy Gideon LevyThis war must be stopped now and immediately. From the start it was unnecessary, even if its excuse was justified, and now is the time to end it. Every day raises its price for no reason, taking a toll in blood that gives Israel nothing tangible in return. This is a good time to stop the war because both sides can claim they won: Israel harmed Hezbollah and Hezbollah harmed Israel. History shows that no situation is better for reaching an arrangement. Remember the lessons of the Yom Kippur War. Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds and with foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hezbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon. It has gotten most of what it could have out of this war. The aerial "target bank" has mostly been covered. The air force could continue to sow destruction in the residential neighborhoods and empty offices and could also continue dropping dozens of tons of bombs on real or imagined bunkers and kill innocent Lebanese, but nothing good will come of it. Those who want to restore Israel's deterrent capabilities have succeeded. Hezbollah and the rest of its enemies know that Israel reacts with enormous force to any provocation. South Lebanon is cleaner now of a Hezbollah presence. In any case, the organization is likely to return there, just as it is likely to rearm. An international agreement could be achieved now, and it won't be possible to achieve a better deal at a reasonable price in the future...

Bob Sutton: Strong Opinions, Weakly Held: I’ve been pretty obsessed about the difference between smart people and wise people for years. I tried to write a book called “The Attitude of Wisdom” a couple times. And the virtues of wise people – those who have the courage to act on their knowledge, but the humility to doubt what they know – is one of the main themes in Hard Facts. We show how leaders including Xerox’s Ann Mulcahy, Intel’s Any Grove, Harrah’s Gary Loveman, and IDEO’s David Kelley turn this attitude into organizational action. Perhaps the best description I’ve ever seen of how wise people act comes from the amazing folks at Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future. A couple years ago, I was talking the Institute’s Bob Johansen about wisdom, and he explained that – to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward – they advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” They've been giving this advice for years, and I understand that it was first developed by Instituite Director Paul Saffo. Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions. This is what psychologists sometimes call the problem of “confirmation bias.”...

Blood & Treasure: sinister Sefton: his legacy: This sounds like a typical application of airpower theory. Squadron A is told to drop leaflets on homes urging civilians to flee by any means tat heir disposal. Squadron B is told to attack anything on the roads that just might conceivably be capable of concealing troops or weapons. The contradiction in terms is carefully never discussed, and the apologists get to work...

A Sound Marketplace For Recorded Music: A Sound Marketplace For Recorded MusicBy Steven PearlsteinWednesday, July 19, 2006; D01: Here in Washington, there is nothing more amusing than watching business interests work themselves up into a righteous frenzy over a threat to their monopoly profits from a new technology or some upstart with a different business model. Invariably, the monopolists (or their first cousins, the oligopolists) try to present themselves as champions of the consumer, or defenders of a level playing field, as if they hadn't become ridiculously rich by sticking it to consumers and enjoying years in which the playing field was tilted to their advantage. A recent example is the political and legal attack mounted by the music-recording industry against the upstarts of satellite radio. You'd think an industry that has managed to turn out so much mediocre music for so many years, done so much to lower moral standards and lost so much business to illegal file-sharing would have something better to do than attack some of the few distributors that are actually expanding the market and charging for music. But the prospect that the industry might not extract every last penny out of the new satellite radio services and their customers is simply unacceptable to the Recording Industry Association of America...

Eric Umansky: Look Out: July 22, 2006 Look Out Tom Ricks, the Wash Post's ace military correspondent, has a book coming that details "the American adventure in Iraq." The title: FIASCO. Among the revelations cited in a press release for the book: * U.S. policies and tactics helped create the insurgency. * Abuse of Iraqi prisoners was far more widespread than just a few "bad apples" at the Abu Ghraib prison, and was, in fact suggested by senior military officers. * U.S. military leaders failed their troops by sending them to Iraq unprepared for the task at hand. * One of the most abusive units was the 4th Infantry Division. The general who led this division, Raymond Odierno, is scheduled to become the no. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq later this year. * The U.S. military was frequently at odds with U.S. civilian officials, resulting in internal friction that undermined the American mission. * The U.S. military didn't launch a counterinsurgency campaign until August 2004-some 17 months after the fall of Baghdad and a full year after the insurgency began. The generals and officials involved in abuse might be damned good at their jobs. That's why they're always getting promoted. Anyway, the book is out Tuesday...

High-ranking officer: Halutz ordered retaliation policy: By YAAKOV KATZ: A high-ranking IAF officer caused a storm on Monday in an off-record briefing during which he told reporters that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz had ordered the military to destroy 10 buildings in Beirut in retaliation to every Katyusha rocket strike on Haifa. The officer said that the equation was created by Halutz and that every rocket strike on Haifa would be answered by IAF missile strikes on 10 12-story buildings in the Beirut neighborhood of Dahiya, a Hizbullah stronghold. Since the beginning of Operation Change of Direction, launched on July 12 following the abduction of two soldiers during a Hizbullah cross-border attack, over 80 buildings in the neighborhood have been destroyed. After the officer's remarks were published on The Jerusalem Post website as well as other Israeli news sites, the IDF Spokesperson's Office released a statement insinuating that reporters had misquoted the senior officer and claimed that the publications were false and that Halutz had never issued such a directive. The IDF Spokesperson's Office later retracted its accusation that reporters had misquoted the officer and issued a second statement claiming that the high-ranking officer had made a mistake and was wrong in claiming that Halutz had issued such a directive...

China's Foreign Exchange Reserves Reach a Billion Dollars

Brad Setser muses on the international financial situation:

RGE - A trillion dollars does tend to concentrate the mind: Brad Setser: Statistical agencies usually are not the authoritative source of information on a country’s reserve portfolio. Nor do they usually comment on exchange rate policy or the investment decisions of a country’s firms. But then again China may be different.

There is no doubt that China would love to see its companies invest more abroad, slowing its reserve growth. And China clearly has figured out that buying an asset that is likely to decline in value has a cost, even if the carry is positive. That said I am more confident that the RMB will rise in value v. both the euro and the dollar over time than I am that the euro will rise (further) in value v. the dollar....

A trillion dollars is just a number. But it is a big number. And a big milestone. By my count China already has over a trillion dollars in reserves and reserve-like assets. But I am counting the funds the PBoC shifted to the state banks. In a couple of months, though, China will formally announce that its reserves now top a trillion dollars. So it isn’t exactly a surprise that Chinese policy makers would be spending a bit of time thinking about how to use those funds.

The key fact for the global economy is not that China holds a trillion dollars in reserves. It is that those reserves are growing at a pace of around $20b a month/ $250b a year. This reserve increase has continued even as interest rate differentials have moved steadily in the dollar’s favor. China constantly struggles not just to invest its existing reserves productively, but to find new places to park its ever growing reserves.

Right now, there is no reason to think that China won’t have $1,500b in reserves in about two years time. Not unless Chinese policy makers show an ability to act far more decisively than they have so far....

Lex argues – echoing lots of academics – that China’s dollar reserves finance a net flow of FDI back into China.... I disagree, at least in part. China’s growing dollar reserves don’t finance US investment in China. They finance US imports of Chinese (and other) goods.... Chinese inflows support US domestic consumption, not US investment abroad.

The picture of central bank inflows financing FDI works – but for Europe. Europe attracted a ton of reserve inflows in 2005. Maybe $200b in total, and at least $50b from China. That financed a good chunk of Europe’s FDI....

Europe is now to the world what the US was during the heyday of the original Bretton Woods system: growing euro reserves finance Europe’s growing investment abroad. The US, by contrast, needs those reserve inflows to finance a big current deficit. There is a difference.

Cleaning Out the Attic: Warren Buffett on Squanderville vs. Thriftville

Cleaning Out the Attic: Warren Buffett on Squanderville vs. Thriftville:

Squanderville versus Thriftville (Warren Buffet) : I'm about to deliver a warning regarding the U.S. trade deficit and also suggest a remedy for the problem. But first I need to mention two reasons you might want to be skeptical about what I say. To begin, my forecasting record with respect to macroeconomics is far from inspiring. For example, over the past two decades I was excessively fearful of inflation. More to the point at hand, I started way back in 1987 to publicly worry about our mounting trade deficits -- and, as you know, we've not only survived but also thrived. So on the trade front, score at least one "wolf" for me. Nevertheless, I am crying wolf again and this time backing it with Berkshire Hathaway's money. Through the spring of 2002, I had lived nearly 72 years without purchasing a foreign currency. Since then Berkshire has made significant investments in -- and today holds -- several currencies. I won't give you particulars; in fact, it is largely irrelevant which currencies they are. What does matter is the underlying point: To hold other currencies is to believe that the dollar will decline.

Both as an American and as an investor, I actually hope these commitments prove to be a mistake. Any profits Berkshire might make from currency trading would pale against the losses the company and our shareholders, in other aspects of their lives, would incur from a plunging dollar. But as head of Berkshire Hathaway, I am in charge of investing its money in ways that make sense. And my reason for finally putting my money where my mouth has been so long is that our trade deficit has greatly worsened, to the point that our country's "net worth," so to speak, is now being transferred abroad at an alarming rate.

A perpetuation of this transfer will lead to major trouble. To understand why, take a wildly fanciful trip with me to two isolated, side-by-side islands of equal size, Squanderville and Thriftville. Land is the only capital asset on these islands, and their communities are primitive, needing only food and producing only food. Working eight hours a day, in fact, each inhabitant can produce enough food to sustain himself or herself. And for a long time that's how things go along. On each island everybody works the prescribed eight hours a day, which means that each society is self-sufficient.

Eventually, though, the industrious citizens of Thriftville decide to do some serious saving and investing, and they start to work 16 hours a day. In this mode they continue to live off the food they produce in eight hours of work but begin exporting an equal amount to their one and only trading outlet, Squanderville. The citizens of Squanderville are ecstatic about this turn of events, since they can now live their lives free from toil but eat as well as ever. Oh, yes, there's a quid pro quo -- but to the Squanders, it seems harmless: All that the Thrifts want in exchange for their food is Squanderbonds (which are denominated, naturally, in Squanderbucks). Over time Thriftville accumulates an enormous amount of these bonds, which at their core represent claim checks on the future output of Squanderville. A few pundits in Squanderville smell trouble coming. They foresee that for the Squanders both to eat and to pay off -- or simply service -- the debt they're piling up will eventually require them to work more than eight hours a day. But the residents of Squanderville are in no mood to listen to such doomsaying.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Thriftville begin to get nervous. Just how good, they ask, are the IOUs of a shiftless island? So the Thrifts change strategy: Though they continue to hold some bonds, they sell most of them to Squanderville residents for Squanderbucks and use the proceeds to buy Squanderville land. And eventually the Thrifts own all of Squanderville. At that point, the Squanders are forced to deal with an ugly equation: They must now not only return to working eight hours a day in order to eat -- they have nothing left to trade -- but must also work additional hours to service their debt and pay Thriftville rent on the land so imprudently sold. In effect, Squanderville has been colonized by purchase rather than conquest.

It can be argued, of course, that the present value of the future production that Squanderville must forever ship to Thriftville only equates to the production Thriftville initially gave up and that therefore both have received a fair deal. But since one generation of Squanders gets the free ride and future generations pay in perpetuity for it, there are -- in economist talk -- some pretty dramatic "intergenerational inequities."...

So what does all this island hopping have to do with the U.S.? Simply put, after World War II and up until the early 1970s we operated in the industrious Thriftville style, regularly selling more abroad than we purchased. We concurrently invested our surplus abroad, with the result that our net investment -- that is, our holdings of foreign assets less foreign holdings of U.S. assets -- increased (under methodology, since revised, that the government was then using) from $37 billion in 1950 to $68 billion in 1970. In those days, to sum up, our country's "net worth," viewed in totality, consisted of all the wealth within our borders plus a modest portion of the wealth in the rest of the world....

In effect, our country has been behaving like an extraordinarily rich family that possesses an immense farm. In order to consume 4 percent more than we produce -- that's the trade deficit -- we have, day by day, been both selling pieces of the farm and increasing the mortgage on what we still own. To put the $2.5 trillion of net foreign ownership in perspective, contrast it with the $12 trillion value of publicly owned U.S. stocks or the equal amount of U.S. residential real estate or what I would estimate as a grand total of $50 trillion in national wealth. Those comparisons show that what's already been transferred abroad is meaningful -- in the area, for example, of 5 percent of our national wealth.

More important, however, is that foreign ownership of our assets will grow at about $500 billion per year at the present trade-deficit level, which means that the deficit will be adding about one percentage point annually to foreigners' net ownership of our national wealth. As that ownership grows, so will the annual net investment income flowing out of this country. That will leave us paying ever-increasing dividends and interest to the world rather than being a net receiver of them, as in the past. We have entered the world of negative compounding -- goodbye pleasure, hello pain.

We were taught in Economics 101 that countries could not for long sustain large, ever-growing trade deficits. At a point, so it was claimed, the spree of the consumption-happy nation would be braked by currency-rate adjustments and by the unwillingness of creditor countries to accept an endless flow of IOUs from the big spenders. And that's the way it has indeed worked for the rest of the world, as we can see by the abrupt shutoffs of credit that many profligate nations have suffered in recent decades.

The U.S., however, enjoys special status. In effect, we can behave today as we wish because our past financial behavior was so exemplary -- and because we are so rich. Neither our capacity nor our intention to pay is questioned, and we continue to have a mountain of desirable assets to trade for consumables. In other words, our national credit card allows us to charge truly breathtaking amounts. But that card's credit line is not limitless...

Nouriel Roubini Forecasts Recession

RGE - Google News Barometer on Recession and Stagflation Risks...and A Few Simple Questions to Chairman Bernanke...: It is hard to predict with certainty whether the U.S. and global economy will suffer of serious stagflation or even a recession (my bearish views are fleshed out in my recent blogs here and here). I have been arguing that those risks are large and rising; and I have recently argued that the probability of a US recession in 2007 is, in my view, as high as 50%. In brief, the Three Bears of high oil prices, rising inflation leading to higher policy rates, and a slumping housing markets will derail the Goldilocks (of high growth and low inflation) and trigger a sharp U.S. slowdown in 2006, that may turn into a recession in 2007.

One potential barometer of such recession concerns - with all the appropriate caveats - is how many news articles are citing terms such as stagflation, U.S. recession, or recession in general.... [I]t is not just obscure publications that are worrying about stagflation and recession. Recent detailed discussions of such risks were recently front page on the WSJ and on Bloomberg. And the number of private sector folks, experts and academics talking about such risks is rising. The authoritative Mike Mussa, former Chief Economist at the IMF, now puts the odds of a US recession at 25-30% while the Fed's own internal yield curve model now predicts that the probability of a U.S. recession in 2007 is almost 40%. As the proverb says, talk is cheap (if so sweet) but in this case the evidence that many folks and leading media publications are increasingly and systematically talking about recession and stagflation to the tune of 1000s of recent articles and commentaries should be at least a signal, to policy makers and market folks, that these risks may be rising (and the talk is no sweet).

Fed Chairman Bernanke is downplaying the risks of a recessions but many out there are starting to worry about it a lot. The Fed may also want to learn from its previous serious forecasting mistakes. In 2000, it took six months for the U.S. to go from overheating into outright recession: in Q2 of 2000 the economy was growing at an annualized rate of over 5% and it slowed down to close to 0% by Q4 and entered into an outright recession by Q1 of 2001. As late as September 2000, Fed discussions - see their Minutes - were showing the FOMC being mostly clueless about the upcoming recession and still worrying more about the alleged rising inflation (with their view of the balance of risks stressing rising inflation rather than slowing growth). It then took a suprising and lousy Chrismas season of sales and a crashing Nasdaq at the beginning of the new year session on January 2nd 2001 to get the Fed into reality check, panic mode and start reducing the Fed Funds rate at an exceptional inter-FOMC meeting point.

And in 2000, the triggers for the recession were suprisingly similar to 2006: then a tech sector investment bust (now a real estate sector bust); then a Fed tigthening of 175bps (between June 1999 and June 2000), now a 425bps (soon 450bps) tigthening; then a modest oil shock (with oil rising from low teens to high teens in 2000 on the basis of Mid-East tensions and the beginning of the second intifada), now oil rising from $ 20 to 40 to 60 to 75 (and soon enough to 80) on the wave of much more serious Mid-East tensions (Israel conflict with Palestinians and Lebanon, growing security mess in Iraq, rising risks of a confrontation with Iran on the nuclear proliferation issue); then, there were worries - mostly unfounded in reality - on the risks of rising inflation, while now there are much more serious real worries (in spite of Bernanke's latest flip-flop on the issue, to cite Steve Roach today) on a truly rising inflation rate (see also WSJ's Greg Ip on Bernanke keep on saying one thing and doing another for the last few months; so much for Fed transparency and consistency of its communication strategy).

So, why does Bernanke believe that a "U.S. recession is not likely?" Why are things better now than in 2000 when all indicators show similar vulnerabilities but only more severe and scary ones now than in 2000?...

The History of the Shrill

Now that Peggy Noonan has joined the Ancient, Hermetic, and Occult Order of the Shrill--those who have been driven into shrill unholy madness by the mendacity, incompetence, malevolence, and disconnection from reality of George W. Bush and his administration:

OpinionJournal - Peggy Noonan: Republicans hearken back to Reagan... they agreed with what he did... they believe he was a very fine man.

This is not now how they feel about Mr. Bush....

William F. Buckley this week said words that... had the power to make one sit up and take notice.... Mr. Buckley's judgments... raise the question of what Bush's political philosophy is--I mean what he thinks it is.... He doesn't believe in smaller government. Or maybe he "believes" in small government but believes us to be in an era in which it is, with the current threat, unrealistic and unachievable? He believes in lower taxes. What else? I continually wonder, and have wondered for two years, what his philosophy is--what drives his actions.

Does he know? Is it a philosophy or a series of impulses held together by a particular personality? Can he say?... People... feel safer with a sense that their leaders have aims that are intellectually coherent. It would be good for the president to demonstrate that his leadership is not just a situational hodgepodge, seemingly driven and yet essentially an inbox presidency, with a quirky tilt to the box...

Now that there is nobody at all not paid-for who thinks George W. Bush has any business sitting in the Oval Office, it is time to answer some of the questions the yung'uns have about the origins of the Order of the Shrill, which I date to an exchange between me, Tyler Cowen, and Andrew Northrup:

Tyler Cowen: I've had enough. Here is our latest foreign policy initiative: "New US curbs on travel to communist-ruled Cuba went into effect on Wednesday..." Here is the full, sad story. Here are more details about the human costs of the policy. Here is some material on America's failed use of sanctions against Cuba. What do you have to do to join The Ranks of the Shrill? Does someone have to send you an E-Invite? Posted by Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen Seeks to Join the Ranks of the Shrill: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal: By the power vested in me by Paul R. Krugman, and through the invocation of the ideas of Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Lord Acton, John Stuart Mill, and all the other friends of liberty, I hereby enlist and welcome Brother Tyler Cowen to The Ranks of the Shrill.

The Poor Man: The Coalition of the Shrilling: Brad DeLong intones the forbidden verses which consecrates an aspirant into the Occult and Hermetic Order of the Shrill:

By the power vested in me by Paul R. Krugman, and through the invocation of the ideas of Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Lord Acton, John Stuart Mill, and all the other friends of liberty, I hereby enlist and welcome Brother Tyler Cowen to The Ranks of the Shrill.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Krugman R'lyeh wagn'nagl fhtagn! Aaaaiiiiii!!!!

Posted by The Editors at July 2, 2004 09:18 AM


That is not shrill which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even shrillness may die. Posted by: Hal at July 2, 2004 09:57 AM

Why does Yog-Sothoth, the goat with a thousand young, hate America? Posted by: Tweety Fish at July 2, 2004 10:13 AM

Yog-Sothoth hates America too, but every student of the dark lore knows that Shub-Niggurath is the black goat of the woods with a thousand young. Now, if you'll excuse me I must go and re-heat my breakfast burrito. Posted by: Comic Book Guy at July 2, 2004 10:48 AM...

More seriously (or is it less seriously?), those were (and these are) strange days.

I guess it started, I think, with that extremely strange and not-very-analytical Svengali of the Bush Social Security reform plan, Peter Ferrara, who wrote back in 2001 about "the fierce, shrill, and unreasoned denunciations of allowing workers the freedom to choose a personal-account option for Social Security may impress the gullible... and denounced:

..the highly irascible Paul Krugman...

That was, I think, the start of a very peculiar meme: a piling-on of critics of Bush--especially of Paul Krugman--whose sole criticism was that he was "shrill." The critique was neither that he was a bad economist, nor that his accusations that the Bush administration was lying about a whole bunch of stuff were incorrect (indeed, one of Paul's most vicious critics, Andrew Sullivan, gloried in the fact that Bush was lying about his tax cut. See So if you wanted to attack Krugman, but could not attack him because his analytics were right, and could not attack him because his accusations of Bush administration dishonesty were correct, what can you do? Well, a bunch of right-wingers led, IIRC, by Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan found a way.

Here's Kaus:

"Comparative Advantage" by Nicholas Confessore: "[Krugman] is obviously a very smart guy, basically liberal, with complicated views, who once recognized when his own side was wrong. And at some point he switched and became someone who only sees what's wrong with the other side, in fairly crude terms," says Mickey Kaus. "The Bush tax cut is based on lies. But it's not enough to criticize a policy to say that it's based on lies. You have to say whether it's good or bad for the country."

(Never mind, of course, that Paul always spent a lot of time, space, wordcount, energy, and breath criticizing the substance of Bush's idiot policies. Yes, they were bad for the country--and Paul said why.)

And here's Sullivan: - Daily Dish: I have long found Paul Krugman an insufferably pompous, shrill, Bush-bashing pseudo-populist...

The accusation--the only line of critique--is that Paul "only sees what's wrong with the other side, in fairly crude terms," or--in shorthand--is "shrill."

God alone knows why they thought this line of attack would do anything other than shred their own reputations. God knows why others took up this line of attack. But take off it did, both as a narrowly-focused attempt to degrade the reputation of Paul Krugman, and as a broader attempt to marginalize all who pointed out that the policies of the Bush administration were (a) stupid, and (b) justified by lies, and it took off both among the yahoos of the right and also among the denizens of the center-left.

Why did it take off? I think the reasons were well laid out by Nick Confessore:

"Comparative Advantage" by Nicholas Confessore: On balance, Krugman's record stands up pretty well. On the topics he writes about most often and most angrily--tax cuts, Social Security, and the budget--his record is nearly perfect. "The reason he's gotten under the White House's skin so much," says Robert Shapiro, a former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, "is that he's right. None of it is rocket science."

So if dismantling the facade of lies around, say, Bush's tax cut is so easy to do--and makes you the most talked-about newspaper writer in the country--why don't any other reporters or columnists do it themselves? Because doing so would violate some of the informal, but strict, rules under which Washington journalists operate. Reporters usually don't call a spade a spade, unless the lie is small or something personal. When it comes to big policy disagreements, most reporters prefer a he-said, she-said approach--and any policy with a white paper or press release behind it is presumed to be plausible and sincere, no matter how farfetched or deceptive it may be.

Similarly, among pundits of the broad center-left, it's considered gauche to criticize the right too persistently, no matter the merits of one's argument. The only worse sin is to defend a politician too persistently; then you become not a bore, but a disgrace to the profession and its independence--even if you're correct...

This seemed to hit the nail on the head: it was (and is) considered impolite to take what the Bush administration said about the rationales for its policies seriously. Consider the Washington Post's Richard Cohen, sneering on September 16, 2004 at those who took Bush's impact on the country seriously:

I was only briefly enamored of George W. Bush... who went to war in Iraq for stated reasons that turned out to be baseless and for unstated reasons that have yet to be publicly acknowledged... neoconservative foreign policy agenda in which violence plays too prominent and casual a role.... chilled by assertions of near-royal power... choice of judges, his energy policy, his unilateralism or the manner in which he has intruded religion into politics.... I nevertheless cannot bring myself to hate Bush.... In fact, Bush haters go so far they wind up adding a dash of red to my blue...[1]

In this context, given that criticisms of George W. Bush and the malevolence, mendacity, incompetence and disconnection from reality of him and his administration are--no matter how sound their analytics or how true their factual claims--going to be dismissed by many as impolite and "shrill," why not have some fun with and embrace the term?

And so the idea was off and running...

Faisal grabbed the website, after emailing "must. resist. temptation. to set up. group weblog" and being answered "Why is this temptation to be resisted? :-)." Andrew introduced the conceptual link to H.P. Lovecraft. (Wikipedia has the appropriate background reading:

And the ranks of the shrill are now... impressive indeed. Even the truly cowardly are now shrill. Only the bought-and-paid-for have not joined the ranks of the highly critical who have been driven into shrill unholy madness by the mendacity, malevolence, incompetence, and disconnection from reality of George W. Bush and his administration.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Krugman R'lyeh wagn'nagl fhtagn!

[1] And, of course, it was only a month later that Cohen became what he had sneered at:

I do not write the headlines for my columns. Someone else does. But if I were to write the headline for this one, it would be "Impeach George Bush."... Not since the Spanish-American War has the United States gone off to war so casually, so half-cocked and so ineptly.... Yet from Bush comes not a bleep of regret, not to mention apology. It is all "steady as she goes" -- although we have lost our bearings and we no longer know our destination. (Don't tell me it's a democratic Middle East.) If the man were commanding a ship, he would be relieved of command. If he were the CEO of some big company, the board would offer him a golden parachute -- and force him to jump...

Israel Inflicts an Enormous Strategic Defeat Upon Itself

"Justice" Minister Haim Ramon inflicts an enormous defeat upon Israel:

Legitimate targets II: Posted by Henry. The New York Times today.

"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world," Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Israeli radio, "to continue this operation, this war, until Hezbollah won't be located in Lebanon and until it is disarmed." Mr. Ramon also raised the possibility of an expanded air assault, saying "all those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah."

And, of course, we have Jonathan Chait thanking God that Israel is fighting according to the just war tradition, and is trying to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage as it responds to Hezbollah's crimes:

The Plank: Hezbollah began the crisis with an act of war that included a cross-border incursion and a kidnapping. Israel retaliated by attacking the parts of Lebanon's infrastructure that could be used to spirit the kidnapped soldiers out of the country, and followed it up by trying to destroy Hezbollah's artillery. In so doing they made every effort to minimize civilian casualties, including dropping leaflets warning residents to leave the targetted areas. Hezbollah has been lobbing rockets in the general direction of Israeli cities with no intent other than to kill civilians.

And Richard Cohen thanks God that Israel has thrown the just war tradition into the toilet, and is taking "disproportionate" action in response to Hezbollah's crimes:

. . . No, It's Survival: Israel may or may not be the land of milk and honey, but it certainly seems to be the land of disproportionate military response -- and a good thing, too.... Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that proportionality is madness.... The only way to ensure that babies don't die in their cribs and old people in the streets is to make the Lebanese or the Palestinians understand that if they, no matter how reluctantly, host those rockets, they will pay a very, very steep price....

Israel is, as I have often said, unfortunately located, gentrifying a pretty bad neighborhood. But the world is full of dislocated peoples.... [W]ho today cries for the Greeks of Anatolia or the Germans of Bohemia? These calls for proportionality rankle. They fall on my ears not as genteel expressions of fairness, some ditsy Marquess of Queensberry idea of war, but as ugly sentiments pregnant with antipathy toward the only democratic state in the Middle East...