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, August 12, 2006

Dean Baker on the *Washington Post*

Via Angry Bear:

Angry Bear: Dean Baker continues to beat up on the Washington Post coverage of fiscal policy matters:

Yet again the Post reports on the threat posed by "entitlement" spending, referring to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. To quickly repeat myself, this is dishonest. There are modest and manageable increases in projected Social Security spending due to the aging of the population. There are unmanageable projected increases in Medicare and Medicaid expenditures due to a projected explosion in health care costs. If the projected explosion in health care costs proves accurate, then it will devastate the economy, and cause serious budget problems. Honest people respond to these projections by examining ways to prevent the explosion in health care costs. Less honest people talk about the need to cut entitlement spending, including Social Security...

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post Edition)

Via Daniel Gross, who writes:

Daniel Gross: August 06, 2006 - August 12, 2006 Archives: CRAM DOWN NATION, VOL XX, PART 28: Michael Abramowitz reports in the Washington Post on the Bush administration's plans to cut entitlements. I have to say, it's very difficult to understand why someone like Henry Paulson would have such a passion for cutting highly successful social insurance programs...

In our last episode, we saw Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post finding himself physically incapable of writing that the occupation of Iraq has been a fiasco or incompetent or a mistake or ill-advised or even a disappointment--that he could only say that it had not gone as "smoothly" as "some" had "predicted."

Todaqy, we see Michael Abramowitz shilling for the Bush administration by failing to do his job--failing to place the numbers he tells his readers in context that would show how small, relative to the budget, Bush proposals are:

President Remains Eager to Cut Entitlement Spending: the administration has been working lately to curb the cost of the government's main health insurance programs. Bush's budget for the fiscal year that starts in October proposed slowing spending on entitlements by $65 billion in the next five years, including a $36 billion reduction in Medicare...

A simple "the federal government will spend $15 trillion over the next five years. The proposed cuts amount to four-thousandths of projected federal spending--$40 per American per year, in the context of a federal budget that spends $9,000 per person per year.

Michael Abramowitz doesn't report the context so that his readers can easily assess how significant Bush administration proposals are because (a) he is really stupid, or (b) he is in the tank and wants to do what he can to make the Bush administration look less awful?

We report, you decide.

The Medicare Drug Benefit is Working According to Plan

The Medicare drug Pharmaceutical company benefit is working according to plan. Few things these days annoy me more than claims that Bush's Medicare drug benefit was "what the Democrats wanted to do."

Via Mark Thoma:

Economist's View: The Medicare Drug Benefit is Working According to Plan: No surprise here. The Medicare prescription drug plan is providing large benefits to the group targeted by the legislation - health insurance companies. It's unsurprising because the insurance companies played a large role in writing the new rules. However the other intended beneficiaries, legislators hoping to win votes, may not fare as well. And many seniors, especially the poor who are most in need of help, have seen their drug costs go up:

Inside Job How Humana and other insurance companies rigged the Medicare prescription drug plan, by Barbara T. Dreyfuss, American Prospect: Last week saw the news that Humana, one of the country's largest health insurance companies, experienced much better second-quarter earnings than had been expected. The announcement amounted to confirmation that the Medicare drug benefit is working exactly as planned -- not for the people enrolled in it, but for the insurers who drafted it.

Humana's profits jumped 10 percent, much better than Wall Street had anticipated, helped by a surge in seniors enrolling in Humana's Medicare drug and HMO plans.... Humana has also doubled its Medicare HMO membership in the past year...

Simply put, the Medicare drug program has been good news for Humana. But for seniors who had hoped that the Medicare drug plan, which began in January, would relieve them of worries about drug costs, things are not so rosy. About one- fifth of seniors in the Medicare program, concentrated especially among the poor who had been on Medicaid, report that they now pay more for their medicines than they had before. Since insurers can decide which drugs they cover and which they won't, many seniors are finding that new medicines they need are not paid for by their plan. And millions of enrollees are now approaching the level of total drug expenses that will provoke a cutoff from any further Medicare help with costs -- the now-infamous "donut hole"...

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

It's as if the Washington Post wants to destroy every shred of credibility in reporting and analysis that it ever had.

Henry Farrell writes:

Crooked Timber: Credibility problems: Matt Yglesias announces the institution of Krauthammer Friday

Charles Krauthammer's columns are published on Fridays. Thus, I hereby proclaim a new recurring feature--the second Friday of every month, we'll revisit the man's January 18, 2006 column, "The Iran Charade, Part II" in which he confidently proclaimed--contrary to the judgment of every relevant intelligence agency--that "Iran is probably just months away" from a nuclear bomb.

But even better to my mind, was Krauthammer's confident judgement on Iraq WMDs back in April 2003.

Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. W've had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven't found any, we will have a credibility problem.



Tenth SS Panzer Division "Frundsberg"

Guenter Grass says that he was just following orders. Guenter Grass says: "For me... the Waffen-SS [in which I served] was nothing frightful but rather an elite unit that they sent where things were hot and which, as people said about it, had the heaviest losses."

While it is certainly true that most members of the Waffen-SS did not directly commit war crimes, it is also true that members of the Waffen-SS who were asked to do so appear to have done so enthusiastically.

You know, I got considerable flack for writing that there was something sinister and fascist-smelling about Guenter Grass's declaration that the elected representatives of the people in the Bundestag did not, even though they had been elected by the people to represent them, represent the people--but were instead servants of "the banks and multinational corporations." But there is something sinister and fascist-smelling about repeating today this classic fascist talking point about the cretinism of parliaments.

And there is something more than sinister and more than fascist-smelling about the ability of an ex-member of Heinrich Himmler's Waffen-SS to write 2,191 words about the Nazi Third Reich without using the word "Jew."

As Dr. Phil says: if you have nothing to hide, you hide nothing.

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Guenter Grass was in Waffen-SS: Nobel Prize-winning German writer Guenter Grass, author of the great anti-Nazi novel The Tin Drum, has admitted serving in the Waffen-SS. He told a German newspaper he had been recruited at the age of 17 into an SS tank division and served in Dresden. Previously it was only known he had served as a soldier and was wounded and taken prisoner by US forces.

Speaking before the publication of his war memoirs, he said his silence over the years had "weighed" upon him. "My silence over all these years is one of the reasons I wrote this book [Peeling Onions]," he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in an interview. "It had to come out, finally."

Grass, who was born in 1927, is widely admired as a novelist whose books frequently revisit the war years and is also known as an outspoken peace activist.

Few details of the author's service were given other than that he had served in the Waffen SS Frundsberg Panzer Division after failing to get a posting in the submarine service. The SS, which began as a private bodyguard for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, grew into a force nearly one million strong and both acted as an elite fighting force and ran death camps in which millions of people were murdered. The Waffen-SS was the combat section of the organization and extended to 38 divisions. It was declared part of a criminal organisation at the Nuremberg Nazi trials after the war.

"At the time" he had not felt ashamed to be a member, he said but he added: "Later this feeling of shame burdened me."

"For me... the Waffen-SS was nothing frightful but rather an elite unit that they sent where things were hot and which, as people said about it, had the heaviest losses," he said. "It happened as it did to many of my age. We were in the labour service and all at once, a year later, the call-up notice lay on the table. And only when I got to Dresden did I learn it was the Waffen-SS."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Detroit Bets on Rapidly-Falling Oil Prices

Daniel Gross writes:

Daniel Gross: August 06, 2006 - August 12, 2006 Archives: HOT WHEELS: Nick Bunkley writes in the New York Times about Ford and GM's contrarian business strategy.

As gasoline prices surge past $3 a gallon in most of the country and closer to $4 in some cities, sales figures show Americans are snapping up small cars that go easier on fuel and on their wallets. But none of the smallest cars are designed or developed by Detroit companies, which in the face of high gas prices are now highlighting another kind of automobile not usually thought of as energy efficient: the muscle car.

Ford Motor said Wednesday that it planned to build a 325-horsepower version of the Ford Shelby GT. It also plans a big luxury car, the Lincoln MKS, which will become the struggling brand's flagship sedan. The announcement came at an industry conference here sponsored by the Center for Automotive Research. On Thursday, General Motors is expected to confirm that it will resurrect one of its most famous muscle cars, the Chevrolet Camaro, which was a hit at the Detroit auto show in January....

Ford or Chrysler sell no subcompacts in the United States, even though they or their corporate parents sell them in other global markets. By contrast, Toyota, Honda and Nissan have all introduced small cars in the last few months, all of them sold overseas.

"It is a mistake and it's very disappointing," said John Casesa, managing partner of Casesa Strategic Advisers in New York. "I just think it shows that Detroit still has a business model predicated on low energy prices."

The Thoughtful and Reliable Edmund Andrews on the Federal Reserve and a "Soft Landing"

He writes:

Economy Often Defies Soft Landing - New York Times: In the cool and quiet marble corridors of the Federal Reserve, the strategy for taming inflation sounds painless, even soothing: a “soft landing” for the economy after several years of flying high. As the central bank contended on Tuesday, when it decided to pause in its two-year effort to raise interest rates, inflation is “elevated” right now but will begin to decline because economic growth is poised for a modest slowdown. Many economists, though, warn that the soft landing may seem anything but soft, and suggest that the Fed is either too rosy about the looming slowdown or naïve about the difficulty of reaching its goal for inflation.

In practice, the Fed has achieved only one true soft landing — in 1994-95, when, under the leadership of Alan Greenspan, it was able to slow the economy enough to cool spending and ease inflation pressure but not so much as to cause a big jump in unemployment. But even Mr. Greenspan, whose ability to fine-tune policy made him famous, presided over two formal recessions, in 1991 and in 2001. This time, many analysts say that the Fed and its new chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, face considerably tougher challenges. Crude oil, at more than $70 a barrel, is selling at prices that would have been unthinkable in 1995. Productivity growth, which was accelerating in 1995, is slowing these days. The dollar, which was climbing against other major currencies in 1995, is declining against most of them now.

Analysts and other experts say that if Mr. Bernanke is serious about his goals for controlling inflation, at least two million more workers may have to lose their jobs over the next two years. “The economic slowdown has to be much more substantial than anybody in the Federal Reserve or on Wall Street is expecting,” said Robert J. Gordon, a professor of economics at Northwestern University, who has analyzed the trade-off between inflation and unemployment for the last several decades. Mr. Bernanke and other Fed officials say they want to keep core inflation, the main measure of retail prices excluding energy and food, below 2 percent a year. But core inflation is already 2.9 percent and almost certain to climb as the cost of oil pushes up prices for items as diverse as air fares and plastics.

Mr. Gordon said the last few decades had shown a grim but consistent trade-off: to reduce inflation by one percentage point, the unemployment rate has to rise by about two percentage points for a full year. To reduce inflation to the upper limits of what Mr. Bernanke and other Fed officials consider acceptable, more than three million jobs would be lost, a bigger drop than in the recession of 2001. And that is Mr. Gordon’s relatively upbeat hypothesis, which assumes no other shocks to the economy — no additional increases in energy prices, no collapse in the dollar’s value, no collapse in housing. “I think the Fed is facing an absolutely classic case of stagflation,” Mr. Gordon said, “a situation in which they cannot win.”

He is not alone. Many other economists contend that inflation is more entrenched and will be more painful to reverse than the Fed thinks. Others predict that inflation will indeed subside, but only because the economy will weaken much more than the Fed is expecting. The chief forecaster at Decision Economics, Allen Sinai, said unemployment would have to rise to at least 5.5 percent, from 4.8 percent today, putting a million more people out of work, before inflation begins to decline.

The chairman of Roubini Global Economics Monitor, Nouriel Roubini, predicted that the economy would fall into a recession early in 2007 as a result of high energy prices, higher interest rates and a housing collapse. “Either the Fed does not believe its own inflation forecast, which I don’t think is the case,” Mr. Roubini said, “or the slowdown is going to be greater than what they have been saying. They can’t have it both ways.” To be sure, economists differ on how weak the economy already is or how severe inflation pressure is. And skepticism abounds on the chances of achieving a true soft landing.

The very idea of such a thing is only about a decade old. It was conceived by Mr. Greenspan, then the Fed chairman, as a way to attack inflation before it started, by shrewdly using the levers of monetary policy to slow the economy just enough to keep it from overheating. Mr. Greenspan’s greatest success was in the mid-1990’s, when the economy had been expanding for nearly four years. Though inflation was declining and was lower than it is today, the Fed doubled short-term interest rates, to 6 percent from 3 percent, in just over a year. At the time, the result seemed neither soft nor smooth. Several financial institutions, caught by surprise, found themselves in big trouble. The economy slowed for a while, and unemployment edged up. But by 1996, the economy was rapidly growing again and the nation enjoyed several years of booming stock markets, falling unemployment and relatively low inflation.

The success, along with Mr. Greenspan’s growing aura as a wizard of monetary nimbleness, prompted the Fed to step in and help soften the blows of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, the stock market collapse of 2000, the recession of 2001 and the surge of unemployment that followed. He failed in preventing the 2001 recession, but the Fed cut interest rates so deeply that this started a boom in housing prices and home refinancing that kept consumers spending even as incomes stagnated and unemployment moved higher.

Laurence H. Meyer, a former Fed governor and now a chief forecaster at Macroeconomic Advisers, said Mr. Bernanke needed to do more than simply duplicate Mr. Greenspan’s one soft landing. Mr. Greenspan was not trying to reduce inflation, but merely to keep it from going up. Mr. Bernanke, by contrast, is trying to reduce it substantially. “Soft landings are much more frequent in forecasts than in real life,” Mr. Meyer said. “With a computer, I can give you a soft landing if you give me 10 or 20 runs. But in real life, you only have one run.”

Uncertainties and disagreement among experts about the economy’s direction are now unusually high. A big uncertainty is whether the nation is near full employment. Many economists contend that the country is essentially at full employment, meaning that additional demand for workers will tend to push up wages. Because wages account for more than three-quarters of total production costs, Fed officials view them as inflationary if they rise significantly faster than productivity. Specialists like Mr. Gordon at Northwestern and Mr. Meyer maintain that the labor market is already very tight and predict that wages will soon start to push up inflation. But others disagree, arguing that wages over the last five years have lagged behind increases in productivity and have barely kept up with inflation. The bigger risk, according to that school of thought, is to make the situation worse by driving up unemployment.

“We have no clue about labor market tightness right now,” said J. Bradford De Long, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, who argues that workers still have little bargaining power. Depending on one’s perspective, Mr. De Long said, the Fed’s attempt at a soft landing is either a display of cool-headed technocracy or murky witchcraft. Right now, he said, “this is on the witchcraft side.”

The Tiger Clause

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized, unless, of course, there is a tiger in the house, in which case the police and Animal Control can do whatever they want.

Majikthise : Tigers hazardous to 4th Amendment rights: The police can enter your home without a warrant if there's a tiger in it.

KQED Forum

What I did this morning:

KQED | Forum: Home: Thu, Aug 10, 2006 -- 9:00 AM: The Fed and Interest Rates

Forum discusses the impact of the Federal Reserve's decision not to raise interest rates. Host: Michael Krasny. Guests: Brad DeLong, Phil Swagel, Matthew Bishop

Hoisted from Comments: Billmon Calls for Fire and Sword

Apropos of "Robert Waldmann Politely Says He Thinks I Have Got the Carrot/Stick Balance Wrong....", Billmon of the Whiskey Bar at announces that he isn't interested in using carrots and sticks on the Washington Post, he is interested in using fire and sword:

Tom Ricks: "I asked one officer, 'Why are you talking to me about these things?' And he looked down at his hands, and he said, 'Because I have the blood of American troops on my hands.'"

Ricks, and his newspaper, do too -- only they won't admit it.

"The Brad and Billmon approach has been to remind the reformed of their past misdeads. This does not creat useful incentives"

Speaking only for myself, I'm not out to create incentives. I'm out to expose these people for the fools and shills they really are. And the fact that Ricks has now written a book admitting his 2003 and early 2004 reporting was almost completely wrong definitely is hardly proof to the contrary. Sixty percent of the American people already KNOW the war is a fiasco, and you don't get brownie points for wanting to be on the side that's winning.

I don't want to reform Ricks and the Post. I want to discredit them, to the extent that a puny blogger can. If I could I would destroy them --fire the entire staff, break up the presses and sell them for scrap. It would be putting them to much better use.

Like the New York Times, the Post is now simply a house organ of the War Party (lady's auxiliary.) Why would I want to "incentivize" that?

Now, now, the Washington Post still has a few reporters who are good as individuals. The New York Times still has many reporters who are good as individuals. And Gail Collins--in an impressive ceremony at the Dog Days Fetid-Pond Summer Fete at Miskatonic University--was recently inducted into the Ancient and Hermetic Order of the Shrill.

There is always hope:

  1. We pray daily for the conversion to shrillness, fairness, and reality based-ness of Michael Barone, whose latest is to say that the Democrats are not Jews but are every bit as bad as the anti-semites used to say that Jews were: "the Connecticut primary reveals that the center of gravity in the Democratic Party has moved from the lunch-bucket working class... to the secular transnational professional class".
  2. We pray daily for the conversion to shrillness, fairness, and reality based-ness of Joe Lieberman, whose latest is to play the race card by saying that America's big problem is that Maxine Waters--begging as she does for crumbs for the people she represents, among the poorest and living in the most troubled neighborhoods in America--is too powerful: "I am committed to this campaign, to a different kind of politics, to bringing the Democratic Party back from Ned Lamont, Maxine Waters to the mainstream".
  3. We pray daily for the conversion to shrillness, fairness, and reality based-ness of Fred Hiatt, who endorses Joe Lieberman as "by far, the better choice for the people of Connecticut... the best outcome for the state, the country, and, yes, even the Democratic Party.". Why does Hiatt think this? You may well ask. Because... because... "we recognize the widespread anger over the conduct of the war and wish Mr. Lieberman had done a better job... of articulating his position"--no, that's not it. Because... we wish "he had run a more organized, more tightly disciplined campaign"--no, that's not it. Becasuse... because "Mr. Bush has governed too often in a partisan way [and so] many Democratic voters concluded that anyone who reached across the aisle in an effort to cooperate must be a sap"--no, that's not it. Because... "Mr. Lieberman's brand of centrism and bipartisanship is a needed salve for a divided country"--that must be it!

Was David Broder Always *This* Stupid?

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps.

Yes, Washington Post, each David Broder column you publish flushes your reputation further down the toilet.

Yesterday he wrote:

Voter Anger That Cuts Both Ways: when I went to Connecticut three weeks before the primary, it was evident that he was going to be overwhelmed by the passion to "send a message" through Lamont of frustration with the war in Iraq, the Bush presidency and Congress. Lieberman, as I wrote, represented a candidacy, while Lamont embodied a cause -- and it was clear that the cause would prevail...


Simply no.

Not true. A switch of two percent of the voting electorate would have given Joe Lieberman a victory. If Joe Lieberman had announced that he was going to live or die by the result of the Democratic primary, spent his $2 million in the bank on the primary, and gotten all the extra Democratic politicians who would have been happy to campaign with him under those conditions into the state--he would have won. If Lieberman had made up his mind whether Lamont was really a Republican from Greenwich or a tool of the far left that believes Osama bin Laden is not a threat, he would have won. If Lieberman had been willing to talk this spring about how Bush could handle the situation in the Middle East better--he would have won. If Lieberman had been willing to call for mass resignations from the Bush administration for failed implementation--he would have won.

Lieberman had to work very hard to lose this one. In claiming that "it was clear" that Lamont would prevail, David Broder is simply being a very rare species of idiot.

But that's not all!

Broder writes:

Lamont found his most prominent support on the far-left flank of the Democratic Party. His organization was a hand-me-down from the Howard Dean presidential campaign, bolstered by a blizzard of Internet blogs from outside his home state. His roster of visiting campaigners was uniformly of the same political slant -- notably Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Rep. Maxine Waters of California...

That's equally stupid. In contrast to this garbage, the shrill and reality-based Gail Collins and her posse put her finger on it as they write:

Revenge of the Irate Moderates - New York Times: Ned Lamont, a relative political novice, said he ran against Mr. Lieberman because he was offended by the senator's sunny descriptions of what was happening in Iraq and his denunciation of Democrats who criticized the administration's handling of the war. Many other people in Connecticut may have felt that sense of frustration, but no one else had the money and moxie....

Mr. Lieberman's supporters have tried to depict Mr. Lamont and his backers as wild-eyed radicals.... It's hard to imagine Connecticut, which likes to be called the Land of Steady Habits, as an encampment of left-wing isolationists, and it's hard to imagine Mr. Lamont, who worked happily with the Republicans in Greenwich politics, leading that kind of revolution.

The rebellion against Mr. Lieberman was actually an uprising by that rare phenomenon, irate moderates.... A war that began at the president's choosing has degenerated into a desperate, bloody mess that has turned much of the world against the United States. The administration's contempt for international agreements, Congressional prerogatives and the authority of the courts has undermined the rule of law abroad and at home.... [T]he political discussion in Washington has become a captive of the Bush agenda. Traditional beliefs like every person's right to a day in court, or the conviction that America should not start wars it does not know how to win, wind up being portrayed as extreme. The middle becomes a place where senators struggle to get the president to volunteer to obey the law when the mood strikes him. Attempting to regain the real center becomes... radical...

And, of course, Broder commits further acts of stupidity:

Lieberman could claim 18 years of Senate seniority... a reputation for personal integrity...

I do not believe that Michael Schiavo sees Lieberman as having any personal integrity whatsoever. Having seen Lieberman's response to being warned that the "delaying Social Security reform a year costs us $600 billion" Republican talking point he was using was false--Lieberman kept on using it--I don't see himn as having any personal integrity either. Nor did he show personal integrity when he blocked the attempts of the experts at the Financial Accounting Standards Board to reform the accounting treatment of options. Nor did he show personal integrity when he expressed his views on Abu Ghraib--that under Rumsfeld the U.S. army had been pulling random Iraqis off the street and torturing them for no particular reason: "We're in the middle of a war--you wouldn't want to have the secretary of defense change unless there's really good reason for it and I don't see any good reason at this time."

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

Greg Sargent is shrill and unbalanced:

The Horse's Mouth: MEDIA LETS TONY SNOW'S LIES ABOUT DEMS GO UNCHALLENGED. For the sake of argument, let's stipulate that one of the most basic tasks of journalists is to provide readers or viewers with the basic information they need to evaluate the truth or falsehood of what their public officials are saying. Can we agree on that?

OK, then. With that in mind, it needs to be said that today's coverage of White House press secretary Tony Snow's remarks amid the aftermath of Ned Lamont's victory constitutes an extraordinary across-the-board abdication of journalistic duty.

During yesterday's press briefing, Snow said this:

I know a lot of people have tried to make this a referendum on the President; I would flip it. I think instead it's a defining moment for the Democratic Party, whose national leaders now have made it clear that if you disagree with the extreme left in their party they're going to come after you.

This is not only a lie; it's an easily demonstrable lie. Most of the Democratic Party's key leadership figures backed Joe Lieberman, not Lamont. This is a matter of public record. It's a point which can be made in half a sentence. And it's a point that should have been in every single news account which carried Snow's remarks.

So was it? Nope. Far from it, in fact. Did the Los Angeles Times piece quoting Snow's lies carry this simple rebuttal? No, it didn't. Neither did Time magazine's big wrap-up of how the GOP is allegedly going to reap enormous gains from Lamont's victory. Nor did the Associated Press's account. The AP story was carried by CBS and likely by newspapers across the country. In short, anyone with the misfortune of getting his or her news from the above news orgs -- or from the perhaps scores of papers carrying the AP account -- was almost certainly deprived of the most basic info required to evaluate the White House's calculated remarks on the biggest story of the day.

As best as I can determine, the only reporter who took the elementary step of rebutting Snow's lies was Adam Nagourney of the New York Times. After quoting Snow, Nagourney wrote this:

In fact, the vast majority of Democratic Party leaders supported Mr. Lieberman in the primary, and did not endorse Mr. Lamont until after the results were in.

For God's sake, was that really so difficult? Don't the editors and reporters who failed to include that one sentence take any professional pride at all in their work anymore?

A Little Bit of Good Macroeconomic News on International Trade

Today's number:

The U.S. international trade in goods and services deficit in June 2006 declined 0.3% from the previous month, to $64.8 billion. Exports were $120.7 billion, up 2.0%, and imports were $185.5 billion, up 1.2% from May 2006.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Book of Ezekiel

Dan Froomkin is a good guy, but does not understand how insane the Bush administration really is. Hence he keeps getting surprised--here, for example: Joel C. Rosenberg, who writes apocalyptic fiction, tells me that he was invited to speak at a White House Bible study group last year about current events and biblical prophecy. Rosenberg says he got a call last year from a White House staffer: "He said 'A lot of people over here are reading your novels, and they're intrigued that these things keep on happening.... Your novels keep foreshadowing actual coming events.... And so we're curious, how are you doing it? What's the secret? Why don't you come over and walk us through the story behind these novels?' So I did. I can't tell you that the people that I spoke with agree with me, or believe that prophecy can really help you understand what will happen next in the Middle East, but I'm not surprised that they're intrigued."

See also Rosenberg: "Now I have to say, Pat, I believe that Ezekiel 38 and 39;&version=31 -- the prophecies that we're talking about -- I think this is about the end of radical Islam as we know it. God says He's going to supernaturally judge Iran, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, these other countries. We're talking about fire from heaven, a massive earthquake. It's going to be devastating and tragic. But I believe that afterwards there's going to be a great spiritual awakening. We're seeing more Muslims coming to Christ right now than at any other time in history. But I think that's just the beginning. We've got dark days ahead of us. But I believe there's a light at the end of that tunnel."

But this should not surprise anybody. It's been going on for years. For example: June 07, 2004: Clueless in Gaza

One of the big problems with being on the American right is that one has to spend a lot of time convincing one's political allies that no, Jesus Christ will not be really angry, sulk, and stay away longer if Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip. See Perlstein's article in the Village Voice.... What does it say about me that my first reaction on reading the Village Voice article and learning that Eliot Abrams had reassured the constituents that they did not need to worry because Gaza was not part of "historic Israel" was, "What a liar!"? I was (momentarily) genuinely irate that Abrams would pretend that the city in which Samson died was not part of "historic Israel"--not part of what the sixth-century priests said that The One Who Is had granted to Abraham and Moses in fee simple forever....

Here's Perlstein in the Village Voice:

The Jesus Landing Pad: Bush White House checked with rapture Christians before latest Israel move by Rick Perlstein May 18th, 2004 10:00 AM

It was an e-mail we weren't meant to see. Not for our eyes were the notes that showed White House staffers taking two-hour meetings with Christian fundamentalists, where they passed off bogus social science on gay marriage as if it were holy writ and issued fiery warnings that "the Presidents [sic] Administration and current Government is engaged in cultural, economical, and social struggle on every level"—-this to a group whose representative in Israel believed herself to have been attacked by witchcraft unleashed by proximity to a volume of Harry Potter. Most of all, apparently, we're not supposed to know the National Security Council's top Middle East aide consults with apocalyptic Christians eager to ensure American policy on Israel conforms with their sectarian doomsday scenarios.

But now we know.

"Everything that you're discussing is information you're not supposed to have," barked Pentecostal minister Robert G. Upton when asked about the off-the-record briefing his delegation received on March 25. Details of that meeting appear in a confidential memo signed by Upton and obtained by the Voice.

The e-mailed meeting summary reveals NSC Near East and North African Affairs director Elliott Abrams sitting down with the Apostolic Congress and massaging their theological concerns. Claiming to be "the Christian Voice in the Nation's Capital," the members vociferously oppose the idea of a Palestinian state. They fear an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza might enable just that, and they object on the grounds that all of Old Testament Israel belongs to the Jews. Until Israel is intact and Solomon's temple rebuilt, they believe, Christ won't come back to earth.

Abrams attempted to assuage their concerns by stating that "the Gaza Strip had no significant Biblical influence such as Joseph's tomb or Rachel's tomb and therefore is a piece of land that can be sacrificed for the cause of peace."... In an interview with the Voice, Upton denied having written the document, though it was sent out from an e-mail account of one of his staffers and bears the organization's seal.... Affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church, the Apostolic Congress is part of an important and disciplined political constituency courted by recent Republican administrations. As a subset of the broader Christian Zionist movement, it has a lengthy history of opposition to any proposal that will not result in what it calls a "one-state solution" in Israel.

When I sought to confirm Upton's account of the meeting with the White House, I was directed to National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones, whose initial response upon being read a list of the names of White House staffers present was a curt, "You know half the people you just mentioned are Jewish?"... When asked whose job it is in the administration to study the Bible to discern what parts of Israel were or weren't acceptable sacrifices for peace, Jones said that his previous statements had been off-the-record....

The Middle East was not the only issue discussed at the March 25 meeting. James Wilkinson, deputy national security advisor.... Tim Goeglein, deputy director of public liaison.... Matt Schlapp, White House political director and Karl Rove's chief lieutenant.... Kristen Silverberg, deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy.... Goeglein, who was asked, "What can we do to assist in this fight for these issues and our nations [sic] foundation and values?" and who reportedly responded, "Pray, pray, pray, pray."...

Apostolics believe that only 144,000 Jews who have not, prior to the Second Coming of Christ, acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah will be saved in the end times. Though even for those who do not believe in this literal interpretation of the Bible—-or for anyone who lives in Israel, or who cares about Israel, or whose security might be affected by a widespread conflagration in the Middle East, which is everyone—-the scriptural prophecies of the Christian Zionists should be the least of their worries. Instead, we should be worried about self-fulfilling prophecies...

Once again (as so often happens in these days), only Fafblog! can treat this at the level at which it deserves:

Fafblog! the whole worlds only source for Fafblog: Juan Cole has pointed out an article in the Village Voice about apocalyptic Christian groups meeting with the White House to make sure that its Israel policy is compatible with Jesus coming back to end the world. Which is an interestin' thing to think about. How many refugee camps does Jesus want bulldozed in Gaza? Will Jesus give up Gaza for more settlements in the West Bank? And what if we are completely missin' the mark here an' Jesus touches down in the Sinai peninsula forgettin' all about the Camp David Accords? Will Jesus get mixed up an' make the Muslim end of the world happen instead? That would be horrible, no one would be happy then!

Avner Greif on Institutions

Phil Hoffman writes:

Avner Greif, Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xix + 503 pp. $35 (paperback), ISBN: 0-521-67134-5.

Institutions have captured the attention of many economic historians, and of many other social scientists as well, ever since Douglass North argued that they were the key to understanding long run growth. The widespread interest in institutions ought ultimately to boost the fortunes of economic historians, since they can rightfully maintain that they have something of a comparative advantage in the area. Who, after all, knows better how institutions work, how they change, and what real impact they have?

Economic historians will therefore welcome the appearance of Avner Greif's new book, for among its many virtues, it offers a new and far more profound way of thinking about institutions. Greif, of Stanford University, begins by setting aside the concept of institution that dominates much of economics and political science -- namely, that institutions are politically determined rules which constrain behavior, such as laws or articles of a constitution. While this definition may suffice in some circumstances, it is really ill suited for analyzing why institutions change or why their effects seem to endure so long. Worse yet, it fails to explain why rules are followed in the first place. Saying that people follow rules because they fear the penalties for violating them is unsatisfactory, Greif points out, for what enforces the penalties and makes sure that the police and the courts punish the violators? Historians ought to know this better than anyone else, for we have all studied periods of history when order breaks down and enforcement of laws goes out the window.

Greif's answer is to conceive of an institution as more than just a rule, because there has to be something behind the rule if it is in fact observed. For Greif, an institution is thus a system of rules, beliefs, norms, and organizations that together generate regular social behavior. Consider, for example, the rule from the criminal law that outlaws theft. Part of the reason the law is observed is that it is enforced by organizations such as the police and the courts. But beliefs and norms are at work too. A person will only heed the law if he has internalized a norm that frowns upon theft or if he believes that police are likely to catch him if he tries to steal and that nothing he can do (such as trying to bribe judges or the police) will change the outcome in his favor. In many places, the organizations, beliefs, and norms work, and the rules against theft work. The result is a regularity of behavior -- low crime rates. But in other places, that is not the case. In Chicago in the 1950s, for instance, certain jewelry thieves could go about their business with relative impunity, provided they paid off the police or had their lawyers bribe judges; the rule against burglarizing jewelry stores or holding up gem salesmen was not always observed. The thieves believed that bribing judges and the police would pay off, and at least in some cases it did. But their impunity did not extend to the nearby suburbs, where the police were apparently harder to corrupt.[1]

My account of Greif's definition may seem a bit abstract, but Greif makes it come alive by using it to explore a number of illuminating examples drawn from the history of the Commercial Revolution in the Middle Ages. The examples (the Maghribi traders, medieval merchant guilds, the rise and fall of Genoa, the medieval origins of impersonal exchange, and its ties to the common practice of holding whole communities responsible for individual debts) not only yield a much deeper understanding of how institutions operate but they also shed light on fundamental questions of economic history-- in particular, why the West and the Muslim World diverged in the late Middle Ages. To make sense of these examples, Greif uses two tools -- game theory and careful historical analysis. Neither tool, he argues persuasively, is sufficient by itself, and those who would try to probe institutions with game theory alone are therefore making a terrible mistake. To understand institutions -- and in particular, to grasp how they change -- requires a historian's painstaking attention to the context, and for that reason alone economic historians ought to rejoice in his book, for it amounts to a powerful defense of economic history within the discipline of economics.

That is not the only reason Greif's book should appeal to economic historians, for he also manages to explain why institutions have such long lasting effects and when it is they themselves will change. And he does all this while drawing upon fields ranging from sociology to political science, which should win the book readers throughout all of the social sciences.

Will they all agree with everything Greif says? Perhaps not, but they will have to take him seriously, because his book represents the cutting edge when it comes to the study of institutions. Some readers may perhaps want more quantitative evidence, but they will have to admit that Greif's analytic histories are quite persuasive, and they will have to acknowledge too that appropriate econometric testing of the sort of game theoretical models Greif uses is still in its infancy. Other readers may worry that the historical evidence is perhaps consistent with different game theoretical equilibria and thus with different treatments of Greif's examples. They can certainly make their case, but in the end their accounts are likely to end up complementing Greif's analysis, rather than being a substitute for it.

And that is perhaps another virtue of this path breaking book: by creating new tools for studying institutions, it is likely to inspire research for years to come. By all rights it deserves to do so, in economics, in sociology, in political science, in law, and (to the extent that historians in history departments pay attention to the social sciences) in history too. Economic historians obviously have special reason to prize the book, since it takes up some of the biggest issues in the field and makes a vigorous case for economic history within the larger discipline of economics. But other social scientists will highly value it too, and it will be no surprise if it ends up becoming -- and rightfully so -- a classic.

Discontinuities in Human History

Charlie Stross is annoyed that he has to spend time twiddling his thumbs in airports with a laptop with a dead battery:

Charlie's Diary: Travelling I'm catching a taxi to the airport at 5am tomorrow, and will subsequently take approximately 28 hours of travel to reach my destination. (Blogging will, therefore, be sparse until I recover from the jet lag).

Just a thought: the cost of an air fare to the antipodes today, in 2006, is on the order of one month's salary for a full-time skilled worker in the developed world. The journey takes 24-48 hours depending on stop-overs, and is somewhat uncomfortable.

This compares quite accurately to the price of a stage coach journey across the home counties of England in 1806.

We're not living in a global village, exactly, but the world has nevertheless shrunk unimaginably in scale in just two centuries, so that we become blasé about it — so that we get annoyed because Boeing 747s and Airbus 340s seem slow. What does this tell us about our expectations, beside the obvious?

Well, right now I'm annoyed that I cannot find an English translation of the early thirteenth century "Life of William Marshal," and that I will have to leave my eyrie eighty feet above the earth in this concrete-and-glass tower with its perfect view of the Golden Gate and walk a hundred yards to the library.

Twenty thousand years ago one of my ancestors was worrying about (a) being hunted down by the nastier thugs to the south with better spears, (b) the fact that this northern land to which the band had fled was cold, and (c) that the bones of his children with darker skin did not seem to be growing straight.

I think this tells us that the Singularity already happened--although I'm agnostic as to whether it really happened in 4000 BC with Gilgamesh of Uruk, 1000 BC with Ish-Ball of Tyre, 1460 with Johann Gutenberg of Mainz, or 1995 with Tim Berners-Lee of CERN...

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (New York Times Edition)

Outsourced to Media Matters, which watches Adam Nagourney of the New York Times fail the Turing test:

Media Matters - NYT 's Nagourney contradicted his own reporting to suggest Dems in disarray: In an August 9 article about Ned Lamont's victory over incumbent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in the Connecticut primary, New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney suggested that the Democratic Party is "still struggling to arrive at a unified position" about Iraq. But just eight days earlier, Nagourney began an article with a reference to the Democrats' "unified statement" in favor of a phased redeployment of troops from Iraq. From Nagourney's August 9 article in The New York Times:

[E]ven before the results were known, the accepted wisdom in political circles was that a victory by Mr. Lamont would signal there is little room in the Democratic Party for Iraq war supporters, an unwelcome event for a party still struggling to arrive at a unified position about the war, and elevate the influence of bloggers.

From Nagourney's August 1 Times article:

Leading Congressional Democrats, after months of division over Iraq, have called on President Bush to begin a phased redeployment of troops by the end of this year, a unified statement signaling they have concluded that the war could hurt Republicans in the midterm elections. The letter called on American forces in Iraq to make a transition to a ''more limited mission'' dealing with counterterrorism and training and logistical support of Iraq security forces.


[T]he fact that most of the Democratic leadership had unified around a position -- and presented it so forcefully -- strongly suggests that the politics surrounding the war are changing.

Which is it? Is the party "struggling to arrive at a unified position"? Or is there "little room ... for Iraq war supporters"? Or are both statements simply mindless recitation of flawed anti-Democrat storylines?

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, NBC, CBS, and Fox News Edition)

Outsourced to Charles Kaiser of NYO:

NYO - Wise Guys: Rumsfeld Lies, Press Takes a Nap: Once upon a time, it was considered news when a senior official in Washington blatantly lied to a Senate Committee. No more. If the Bush administration has proven anything, it is that the Big Lie is just as effective today as it was 60 years ago.

One of the most egregious examples of this occurred a few days ago when Senator Hillary Clinton challenged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over his constant optimism about Iraq. “I know you feel strongly about it,” she said, “but there’s a track record here. This is not 2002, 2003, 2004, ’5, when you appeared before this committee and made many comments and presented many assurances that have, frankly, proven to be unfulfilled.”

“Senator,” Mr. Rumsfeld replied, “I don’t think that’s true. I’ve never painted a rosy picture. I’ve been very measured in my words. And you’d have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I’ve been excessively optimistic.” Oh, so homey, so Rumsfeld-esque—and so utterly absurd. And yet this is how America’s leading news organizations covered this exchange:

The Washington Post and The New York Times didn’t quote this part of their exchange at all. The Los Angeles Times said Mr. Rumsfeld “issued a point-by-point defense and insisted that he had not been overly positive about Iraq.” The Associated Press and NBC Nightly News ended their stories with Mr. Rumsfeld’s denial and offered no rebuttal of it. The CBS Evening News noted that Mr. Rumsfeld “disputed” Clinton’s contention that he had painted an overly rosy picture. Chris Wallace reported on Fox News that “Rumsfeld gave as good as he got.”

Now it took me five minutes and three Google searches to produce a slew of evidence that the Defense Secretary was telling a whopper. Last December, The Washington Post reported that “Defense Secretary Rumsfeld today urged Americans to be more optimistic about the situation in Iraq, saying that people on the ground there have more optimistic views than what is being portrayed in the U.S. media.” Tim Russert quoted Senator Chuck Hagel on Meet the Press last year as saying “things aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse,” to which Mr. Rumsfeld responded, “That’s just flat wrong. We are not losing in Iraq.” And so on.

It may be too much to ask these harried reporters to perform three Google searches on deadline. But Senator Clinton had actually anticipated that. After Mr. Rumsfeld spoke, she inserted into the record her own list to prove her point: seven quotes from Mr. Rumsfeld in front of Congressional committees—-including “My impression is that the war was highly successful,” and “I do believe we’re on the right track”—-and another six from press interviews. These included such memorable lines the following: “I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” And, of course, this one, in response to a question from Jim Lehrer in 2003 asking how American troops would be received in Iraq: “There is no question but that they would be welcomed.”

But none of the leading newspapers or networks offered a single one of these examples in their stories about the day’s hearing—or even mentioned the fact that Senator Clinton had submitted such a list.

Most of them also failed to challenge any of Mr. Rumsfeld’s other lies during the same appearance, including his claim that the number of troops on the ground “reflected the best judgment of the military commanders on the ground [and] their superiors.” (Actually, the Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, told Congress before the war that “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” would be required for an occupation of Iraq” and was rewarded for his prescience with early retirement.)

On the Web, of course, it was a different story, with a number of prominent blogs reproducing Mrs. Clinton’s rebuttal in its entirety.

I am a diehard defender of the mainstream media. But it’s getting harder all the time to remain that way...

Jacob Weisberg Is the New Andrew Sullivan (This Is So Not a Compliment Department)

Remember Andrew Sullivan back in his salad days, busily prostituting himself to George W. Bush as a member in good standing of the circular firing squad of flying attack monkeys?

Bush will not do a Clinton. This will not be a surgical strike. It will not be a gesture.... [T]he neglect of the military under Bill Clinton... must now not merely be ended but reversed.... Bush has already assembled the ideal team for such a task: Powell for the diplomatic dance, Rumsfeld for the deep reforms he will now have the opportunity to enact, Cheney as his most trusted aide in what has become a war cabinet. The middle part of the country - the great red zone that voted for Bush - is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead - and may well mount a fifth column...

Well, today the new Jacob Weisberg turns out to be nothing but the old Andrew Sullivan:

Why Lamont's victory spells Democratic disaster. By Jacob Weisberg: Lieberman's opponents are not entirely wrong about the war. The invasion of Iraq was, in ways that have since become hard to dispute, a terrible mistake. There were no weapons of mass destruction to be dismantled, we had no plan for occupying the country, and our troops remain there only to prevent the civil war we unleashed from turning into a bigger and more horrific civil war. Just about everyone now agrees that the sooner we find a way to withdraw, the better for us and for the Iraqis. The problem for the Democrats is that the anti-Lieberman insurgents go far beyond simply opposing Bush's faulty rationale for the war, his dishonest argumentation for it, and his incompetent execution of it. Many of them appear not to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously. They see Iraq purely as a symptom of a cynical and politicized right-wing response to Sept. 11, as opposed to a tragic misstep in a bigger conflict. Substantively, this view indicates a fundamental misapprehension of the problem of terrorism. Politically, it points the way to perpetual Democratic defeat...

Not only do I not know of many, I do not know of a single anti-Lieberman insurgent of note within the Democratic Party who does not take the global battle against terror and mass-murder by religious fanatics deadly seriously. I know of no anti-Lieberman insurgent of note within the Democratic Party who appears not to take the global battle against terror and mass-murder by religious fanatics deadly seriously.

Jacob Weisberg names no names and gives no examples because he has none. All he has is neo-McCarthyite slime.

Rox Populi: A Very Brief Look Inside the Mind of Marty Peretz

Rox Populi: A Very Brief Look Inside the Mind of Marty Peretz: A Very Brief Look Inside the Mind of Marty Peretz

You know, that alternative universe where the Klingons are the good guys, Roberts and Alito should be confirmed without question, Michael Schiavo is a murderer and everything else is Bill Clinton's fault?

I was for Joe Lieberman. I wrote an article about the race between him and Ned Lamont in Monday's Wall Street Journal. It was not neutral. But, though it got plenty of attention in the blogs and on television, it did not, alas, help Joe very much. Worse can be said of Bill Clinton's stumping in Connecticut for Joe (and Hillary's endorsement, too.) When Clinton came into the state, Lieberman and Lamont were running dead even in the polls, more or less. Clinton's appearance began Lieberman's decline. Within two or three days, Lieberman was down by ten points. (In the last few days of the campaign, Lieberman recovered considerably ... but not enough.) I know there's some nostalgia in the Democratic Party for Clinton and for Hillary, too. But for many, in the party and out, the Clintons are a nightmare. A nightmare, as James Joyce said, from which we are trying to awake. The common wisdom is that Al Gore would have won in 2000 had he embraced Clinton more or had he allowed Clinton to embrace him. Well, look at what happened to Joe.

MarsEdit: Easy weblog editing Lieberman Lost the Old-fashioned Way -- Page 1

Joshua Micah Marshall thinks this November election will be a very big deal: Lieberman Lost the Old-fashioned Way -- Page 1: Many pundits ... are either being disingenuous or are caught in a time warp. Democrats are actually fairly united on the Iraq War in their opposition.... And though many senators are not as full-throated in their opposition as the base... you don't see... challenges... against other senators who aren't ready to bring the troops home....

Lieberman... seemed almost militantly indifferent to the disaster [in] Iraq... his passion about the war seemed reserved exclusively for those who questioned it rather than those who... botched the enterprise. His continual embrace of President Bush... was an insult to Democrats... Bush has governed as one of the most destructive Presidents in modern American history. It's almost as though Lieberman has gone out of his way to provoke and offend Democrats on every point possible.... Is it any wonder the guy got whacked in a party primary?...

[T]he Lieberman train wreck is also part of the unfolding story of the 2006 election cycle... gulf... between Washington and the country.... Lieberman... let himself live in the bubble of D.C. conventional wisdom.... [H]e was part of the delusion and denial that has sustained our enterprise in Iraq for the last three years.... A-List D.C. pundits were writing columns portraying Lieberman's possible defeat as some sort of cataclysmic event... as though voters choosing new representation were on a par with abolishing the constitution or condoning political violence. But those breathless plaints only showed how disconnected they are... the President's approval rating seldom gets out of the 30s. Congress is unpopular. Incumbents are unpopular. Voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by a margin of about 15%. When a once-popular, three-term senator gets bounced in a primary battle with a political unknown, it's a very big deal. Those numbers all add up to a political upheaval this November. The folks in D.C. see the numbers. But they haven't gotten their heads around what they mean. Joe was out of touch. And Washington D.C. is too.

They didn't see the Joe train wreck coming and they're not ready for what's coming next either.

Daniel Gross on Joe Lieberman

Daniel Gross watches Joe Lieberman:

Daniel Gross: August 06, 2006 - August 12, 2006 Archives: PISSED-OFF YUPPIE WATCH: Well, Joe Lieberman lost yesterday. And it wasn't legions of blog-reading leftists that did him in. (There aren't many leftists in Connecticut.) No, it was legions of angry, well-off, highly educated professionals -- yuppies -- who did him in. Check out the vote total by town, conveniently supplied by the Hartford Courant.

Lieberman did quite well in blue-collar, working-class redoubts like Bridgeport, East Hartford, Norwich, and Waterbury.

But Lamont racked up big margins in the tony towns of the shore (Madison, Clinton), in Litchfield County (Kent, Litchfield), and especially in Fairfield County. In Greenwich and New Canaan, Wilton and Weston, Darien and Westport, Lamont won by nearly 60-40 margins. By their hundreds and thousands, my neighbors left their million-dollar-plus homes, got in their hybrid SUVs and Volvo station wagons, and registered their displeasure. In Bushenfreude central -- Westport -- 57.6 percent of the town's registered Democrats turned out for the primary, a huge figure, and they went for Lamont by a big margin. And the vast majority of them have still never heard of DailyKos. In fact, the higher the town's median income, it seems, the bigger majority Lamont received.

This morning on the "Today" show, Lieberman closed out his interview with Anne Curry by saying something to the effect that he was going to continue to run, in part, because he wanted to save the Democrats from becoming the party of "Ned Lamont and Maxine Waters." Hmmm. He may be trying to get on the ballot as an independent, but he's already running like a Republican.

Robert Waldmann Politely Says He Thinks I Have Got the Carrot/Stick Balance Wrong...

Well, I wouldn't say "peace" with Tom Ricks. To my view, the excellence and the... strong nature of Ricks's conclusions in Fiasco make the tone of Washington Post Iraq coverage in 2002, 2003, and 2004 that much more reprehensible. One would, I think, have gotten a much better idea of what was going on back then by ditching Ricks and the Post and relying on Knight-Ridder and the Manchester Guardian.

Apropos of which, here's a snippet from Tom Ricks today:

"I have the blood of American troops on my hands.": Reporter and Fiasco author Tom Ricks:

I asked one officer, "Why are you talking to me about these things?"

And he looked down at his hands, and he said, "Because I have the blood of American troops on my hands."

And I said, "What do you mean?"

And he said, "Because when I said to Rumsfeld we need that division, and Rumsfeld said no, I gave up. I compromised." And he said, "U.S. troops died because of that." And he said, "That's why I'm talking to you."... And he was practically crying as he spoke to me about this...

that should be reads alongside this exchange between Ricks and Kurtz:

KURTZ: [Y]ou write, quote, in the run-up to the war, quote, "The media didn't delve deeply enough into the issues surrounding war, especially the threat of Iraq and the cost of occupying and remaking the country. We're seeing those costs right now." Why didn't the media delve more deeply? Was there a certain level of intimidation?

RICKS: I don't think it was so much as intimidation... Congress didn't hold hearings in which credible information was presented that said, no, the administration's case is wrong.

KURTZ: Since when do reporters have to wait for Congress to hold hearings?

RICKS: ...Congress... the engine of government. And if Congress is asleep... at some point your editors say, why do you keep writing about doubts about this war, when it's going to happen?

KURTZ: Do you include yourself in this indictment? Did you run into that kind of skepticism from your "Washington Post" editors?

RICKS: Absolutely. There was a sense that, look, this thing is going to happen. You've written a lot of stories about the doubts about the war. Give us more stories about the war plan, because it is going to happen, whether or not all these generals oppose it....

However, Fiasco is quite good.

All this is prelude to the fact that I think Robert Waldmann has interesting things to say:

Robert's Stochastic thoughts: Brad DeLong makes peace with Tom Ricks first by telling people to listen to him on the radio and now in this interesting post. I thought I had something useful to say about it, but I don't so I won't pollute Brad's comment thread with my comment which I dump here.

I remember reading Ricks's explanation years ago, written by Michael Ignatieff (sp? google won't show it to me), about how reporters didn't report the truth on Iraq because of their "professionalism" which requires them to present views that range from the mainstream of the Democratic party to the [mainstream of the Republican party] loony right.

Evidently Kucinic and and the love-one-another caucus aren't mainstream enough to count (Drew agrees and so do I).... This is, as has been noted by many people, absolutely awful. If the press is obliged to accept the conventional wisdom (of politicians: most ordinary people weren't on board yet) then they are worthless.

Ricks... says his editors said there was no need to inform a debate about whether Iraq should be invaded, because [invasion] was going to happen anyway.... The slogan appears to be "don't speak truth to power"... what Drumheller claims he was told when he expressed doubts about Curveball. This definitely has nothing to do with finding and reporting the truth... the Post's editors do not see their job as informing their readers but rather as influencing politicians. Only powerful people count. If they agree, the matter is decided. The public doesn't matter.

[T[he dread Kurtz line about "objective"... Auros puts it exactly right

Kurtz has -- like most media figures -- confused "objective" and "impartial". If one has a liking for -- a partiality towards -- actual, factual truth, then it is difficult to remain impartial in the face of lies and stupidity....

It is not enough to refrain from drawing conclusions without proof, it is necessary to draw no conclusions even if there is proof.... [Ricks[ interprets [Kurtz's] question as one about being frozen out by the Defense Department, or maybe he interprets as an accusation that he is not supporting the troops. Now... answering the question that Kurtz should have asked might be a diplomatic way to avoid accepting Kurtz's premise, but... there is a third meaning of "objective"[:] "one should be objective" = "one should reach no conclusions even with proof beyond reasonable doubt" = "one should maintain access"....

[These meanings] have become confused leaving reporters vulnerable to the Rovian technique of giving access only to people who would write "opinions about shape of earth differ."... [A] failure of the invisible hand (which guides the marketplace of ideas as well as the marketplace)... the selfish aim to be a top reporter is useful... [if] the way to be a top reporter is to report interesting and important news. However, some reporters (and newspapers) are prominent because they get the top leaks.... The effort to get the leaks serves the selfish aim of the reporter who wants to be important but it adds nothing to the information available to readers. Reporters who put a pro-administration spin on the leaks they get are serving their own interests at the expense of the public interest.

Now it should be possible to change this, because a lot of what reporters are after is bragging rights. The condemnation of source-buffing reporting on the web might alleviate the problem.

On the other hand, the proper use of carrots and sticks is to whack those who misbehave and give carrots when they reform. The Brad and Billmon approach has been to remind the reformed of their past misdeads. This does not creat useful incentives, so I am very glad that Brad has made peace with Ricks.

Meanwhile, the Ranks of the Order of the Shrill Grow Ever Larger

Thomas P.M. Barnett is perhaps the most subtle, interesting, and intelligent strategic thinker coming at the problem of American grand strategy from the right.

Most "thinkers" on the right advocate a grand strategy for America that is either:

  1. intended to make us feel moral by throwing our weight around, whether or not it actually does any good.
  2. intended to make us feel good by throwing our weight around, whether or not it is actually moral.
  3. bats--- insane--fit for some fantasy world to which there is a portal in the subbasement of the AEI, but not for this world.
  4. dedicated to the proposition that we can do enormous amounts all around the world without spending much money on defense or development.
  5. dedicated to the proposition that we don't need to worry about what the furriners do at all.
  6. or based on the assumption that the best grand strategy for America is the one that most coquettes with the annexationist fantasies of Likud.

Thomas Barnett, by contrast, holds tight to and thinks in a rational way about the Big Question: What should America be doing now to raise the odds that the world of 2100 will be one in which our descendants can live happily?

Thomas Barnett is a sane, reasonable, non-shrill guy--or was. But now he too has been driven mad. He too has joined the Ancient and Hermetic Order of the Shrill--those once sane, reasonable, and well-anchored in reality who have been driven into shrill unholy madness by the mendacity, malevolence, incompetence, and total disconnection from reality of George W. Bush, his administration, their acolytes, and their apologists.

Signs of the Times in Iraq

From Spontaneous Arising:

Spontaneous Arising: Democracy and the Return of the Hijab: Riverbend (aka, "Baghdad Blogger") goes back in time:

For me, June marked the first month I don't dare leave the house without a hijab... it's no longer possible to drive around Baghdad without one. It's just not a good idea. (Take note that when I say "drive" I actually mean "sit in the back seat of the car"--I haven't driven for the longest time.) Going around bare-headed in a car or in the street also puts the family members with you in danger. You risk hearing something you don't want to hear and then the father or the brother or cousin or uncle can't just sit by and let it happen...

This in a Middle Eastern country (Iraq) that once prided itself on the relative freedom of women, who could have a profession, drive a car and walk around without hiding their faces. The neocon steamroller approach to "giving birth" to the New Middle East is truly a thing to behold. Unfortunately for humanity, the steamroller is running on automatic, and it has a full tank of diesel.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.


Ah. We all sensed a great disturbance in the Joementum.

Let everyone thinking about supporting Joe Lieberman think hard about who Joe Lieberman has turned himself into.

Remember this?

New Haven Independent: The Bear Is Back: Lieberman's new ad... same DC consultant hit man, Carter Askew.... It portrays Lamont as a whining, hop-about baby who doesn't want to run against Lieberman because he previously gave Lieberman a campaign contribution. "But I agree with the Republicans 80 percent of the time!" cartoon Lamont protests in a shrill toddler's voice....

Lieberman... [claims that Lamont] he sides with right-wing Republicans on the issues most important to Connecticut Democrats these days.... [T]the Lieberman team has pursued a strategy of relentlessly labeling Lamont the Republican. Why? Because 12 years ago, as a Greenwich selectman, he and other Democrats voted alongside Republicans on some non-ideological town issues. The Lieberman has further portrayed Lamont as anti-schoolchildren and anti-health care. The basis for that: He voted for a final budget that cut a requested health department budget increase from 12 to 6 percent. He voted against a $35 million school renovation project that included an asbestos clean-up because he wanted an independent audit. And he joined a unanimous vote to require top-level school administrators to pay the same increase in health care expenses as unionized town employees.

Lieberman himself called for an end to such old-record-twisting character-assassination ads in his book In Praise of Public Life. He wrote that in 2000, when he didn't have a serious challenger to his Senate seat....

About Lieberman's ads, the Manchester Journal-Inquirer... recently editorialized: "The whole point of being Joe Lieberman used to be decency, dignity, and thoughtfulness. Lieberman's attack ads look like the appeals of just another sleazy, desperate pol, grasping madly to hold on to office."

And, of course, this morning:

Eschaton: LAUER: Senator, is there any phone call you could receive? Is there anyone in the Democratic Party who could call you today and ask you to drop out that you would listen to?

LIEBERMAN: Respectfully, no. I am committed to this campaign, to a different kind of politics, to bringing the Democratic Party back from Ned Lamont, Maxine Waters to the mainstream...

So Lieberman's problem with Ned Lamont is that Lamont votes both with the richest people in the world--the Republicans of Greenwich--and with Maxine Waters, African-American House of Representatives member from one of the poorest parts of Los Angeles.

That's a neat trick.

I guess Joe Lieberman's not courting the African-American voters of Connecticut anymore.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Department of "Huh?"

The Swamp loses itself in a swamp:

The Swamp - Chicago Tribune - Blogs.: Lieberman could be losing Posted by Jon Lender, Elizabeth Hamilton and David Owens at 9:20 pm CDT, and updated at 9:45 pm: Sen. Joe Lieberman is sweating tonight: With nearly 72 percent of the state's precincts reporting just before 9 pm CDT, the Connecticut Democrat was trailing challenger Ned Lamont by 51.6 to 48.4 percent. The vote tally was 100,425 for Lamont and 94,148 for Lieberman. But the more votes were counted tonight, the narrower the margin grew: With 83 percent of all precincts reporting, it was Lamont 120,616, Lieberman 111,887.

Since when is 8,729 "narrower" than 6,277?

May we ask for some arithmetic here?

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Lieberman Campaign Middlemen...

Wonkette writes:

Lieberman Campaign's Website Woes Own Damn Fault - Wonkette: Why the hell is Joe Lieberman's campaign site hosted by these people [] (site down -- probably not because of dirty deeds, by the way) under the cheapest plan available? And why do Lieberman's FEC filings say he's paying $1500 to a different company for web hosting? No, we seriously want to know. These aren't rhetorical questions.

We have to assume that Lieberman paid the guys named above (click to enlarge slightly) to find hosting, and "2 Dog Media" went with the cheapest option available, using the rest of their paycheck to buy Ecstasy or whatever Internet people ingest. With Friends of Joe Lieberman like this, etc.

UPDATE: Funny picture added for people who don't care about FEC filings.

UPDATE2: Ha ha ha:

2Dog Media has had many experiences with bad hosting companies. From sites not being available to e-mails getting lost, we know the hardships of finding a good hosting company. You lose money, clients, and credibility during those times. That's why we do the worrying for you and make sure your website is constantly accessible with our hosting product. Get hosting, a domain name, and e-mail for one low price.

Paul Salopek: A Tank of Gas, a World of Trouble

Hoisted from Comments: Conflicts of Interest in American Finance

Chistofay writes

Decent fund managers. That sounds like a list that can be counted on one hand, does anyone take up that dare?

While I'm a capitalist and a pro-capitalist at that, I might be too cynical to attempt making a list. I would not include the home-town heavy Fidelity as I've read too much on how Fidelity might have traded its fiduciary/independent responsibility to lunch at the table with Fortune 500 upper management to be declared decent. Fidelity does not vote "fiduciary" but "management-support". It gets the big 401 K (K-strikeout for the mid class) management contracts by wink-wink nudge-nudge won't vote againist management quid pro quo.

One of the many projects so far on the back burner that I don't know when or if I will ever get to it is to try to roughly quantify these major conflicts-of-interest in American finance:

  • You give us your company's investment banking business, and we'll put you personally on the list of those offered underpriced shares in IPOs.
  • You give us your 401(k) business, and we'll vote the shares of those who have invested in our mutual funds for the incumbent management.
  • You give me a cushy directorship, and I'll vote for whatever compensation you want as CEO

There are others. But how big a deal are all of them, taken together?

Public Sector Defined Benefit Pensions

Dean Baker tells us to add this to the pile:

Beat the Press: The Problems of Public Pensions: Mary Williams Walsh has a nice piece on the unbooked libailities of public sector pension funds in today's NYT. Supporters of defined benefit pensions and public sector provision of public services are not helping the cause when they ignore bad accounting.

The Federal Reserve Waits and Sees...

The Federal Reserve pauses, and keeps interest rates the same:

Release Date: August 8, 2006

For immediate release

The Federal Open Market Committee decided today to keep its target for the federal funds rate at 5-1/4 percent.

Economic growth has moderated from its quite strong pace earlier this year, partly reflecting a gradual cooling of the housing market and the lagged effects of increases in interest rates and energy prices.

Readings on core inflation have been elevated in recent months, and the high levels of resource utilization and of the prices of energy and other commodities have the potential to sustain inflation pressures. However, inflation pressures seem likely to moderate over time, reflecting contained inflation expectations and the cumulative effects of monetary policy actions and other factors restraining aggregate demand.

Nonetheless, the Committee judges that some inflation risks remain. The extent and timing of any additional firming that may be needed to address these risks will depend on the evolution of the outlook for both inflation and economic growth, as implied by incoming information.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; Timothy F. Geithner, Vice Chairman; Susan S. Bies; Jack Guynn; Donald L. Kohn; Randall S. Kroszner; Sandra Pianalto; Kevin M. Warsh; and Janet L. Yellen. Voting against was Jeffrey M. Lacker, who preferred an increase of 25 basis points in the federal funds rate target at this meeting.

Monday, August 07, 2006

*Sigh* It's Donald Luskin Time. It's Donald Luskin Time.

Every once in a while it is my painful duty to surf over to and document that Donald Luskin, who regularly trashes Paul Krugman in the "Paul Krugman Watch" column for National Review is... not an unarmed man in a battle of wits, it's worse than that... say merely that if he had a contest with Wile E. Coyote, Wile E. Coyote would emerge the clear winner.

So with enough Dutch courage in me to view the train wreck, I surf on over and find that today, August 7 2006, Donald Luskin is claiming that Paul Krugman "officially says [that a recession] is here." But Luskin's wrong. What Paul writes is:

Intimations of Recession - New York Times: The latest job numbers show falling employment in home construction, and retail employment has fallen over the past year, suggesting that consumer spending is running out of steam... neither business investment nor exports seem to be growing fast enough to make up for the housing slump. Now maybe we will still manage that soft landing despite a rapidly rising number of unsold houses; or maybe there is a boom in business investment and/or exports just over the horizon. But based on what we know now, there is an economic slowdown coming. This slowdown might not be sharp enough to be formally declared a recession. But weak growth feels like a recession to most people...

And I find Donald Luskin also claiming that Paul Krugman has declared that the U.S. economy is in recession "over and over during the past three booming years." He even provides links to three Paul Krugman columns:

The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid: So I guess Krugman wasn't "serious" before, those times when he declared a recession over and over during the last three booming years (for instance here and here and here).

Of course Donald Luskin is wrong, again. In the first case Luskin points to, Krugman doesn't declare that the economy was then--summer 2004--in a recession. Instead, Paul says:

The Unofficial Paul Krugman Web Page: Summer 2004: When does optimism -- the Bush campaign's favorite word these days -- become an inability to face facts? On Friday, President Bush insisted that a seriously disappointing jobs report, which fell far short of the pre-announcement hype, was good news: "We're witnessing steady growth, steady growth. And that's important. We don't need boom-or-bust-type growth."

But Mr. Bush has already presided over a bust. For the first time since 1932, employment is lower in the summer of a presidential election year than it was on the previous Inauguration Day. Americans badly need a boom to make up the lost ground. And we're not getting it.

When March's numbers came in much better than expected, I cautioned readers not to make too much of one good month. Similarly, we shouldn't make too much of June's disappointment. The question is whether, taking a longer perspective, the economy is performing well. And the answer is no.

If you want a single number that tells the story, it's the percentage of adults who have jobs. When Mr. Bush took office, that number stood at 64.4. By last August it had fallen to 62.2 percent. In June, the number was 62.3. That is, during Mr. Bush's first 30 months, the job situation deteriorated drastically. Last summer it stabilized, and since then it may have improved slightly. But jobs are still very scarce, with little relief in sight.

Bush campaign ads boast that 1.5 million jobs were added in the last 10 months, as if that were a remarkable achievement. It isn't. During the Clinton years, the economy added 236,000 jobs in an average month. Those 1.5 million jobs were barely enough to keep up with a growing working-age population...

In the second example, Paul Krugman doesn't declare that the economy was then--spring 2005--in a recession. Instead, Paul says:

The Unofficial Paul Krugman Web Page: Spring 2005: In the 1970's soaring prices of oil and other commodities led to stagflation - a combination of high inflation and high unemployment, which left no good policy options. If the Fed cut interest rates to create jobs, it risked causing an inflationary spiral; if it raised interest rates to bring inflation down, it would further increase unemployment.

Can it happen again?

Last week fears of a return to stagflation sent stock prices to a five-month low. What few seem to have noticed, however, is that a mild form of stagflation - rising inflation in an economy still well short of full employment - has already arrived.

True, measured unemployment isn't bad by historical standards, and inflation is in the low single digits. But inflation is creeping up, and it's doing so despite a labor market that is in worse shape than the official unemployment rate suggests.

Let's start with the jobs picture. The official unemployment rate is 5.2 percent - roughly equal to the average for the Clinton years.

But unemployment statistics only count those who are actively looking for jobs. Every other indicator shows a situation much less favorable to workers than that of the 1990's. A lower fraction of the adult population is employed; the average duration of unemployment - a rough indicator of how long it takes laid-off workers to find new jobs - is much higher than it was in the 1990's. Above all, the weak job market leaves workers with no bargaining power, so they aren't getting ahead: wage increases have been minimal, and haven't kept up with inflation.

Underlying these disappointing numbers is sluggish job creation. Private-sector employment is still lower than it was before the 2001 recession. Things could be, and have been, worse. But those whose standard of living depends on wages, not capital gains - in other words, the vast majority of Americans - aren't feeling particularly prosperous. By two to one, people tell pollsters that the economy is "only fair" or "poor," not "good" or "excellent." Why, then, has the Fed been raising interest rates? Because it is worried about inflation, which has risen to the top end of the 2 to 3 percent range the Fed prefers.

What's driving inflation? Not wages: labor costs have been falling, because wages are growing less than productivity. Oil prices are a big part of the story, but not all of it. Other commodity prices are also rising; health care costs are once again on the march. And a combination of capacity shortages, rising Asian demand and a weakening dollar has given industries like cement and steel new "pricing power."

It all adds up to a mild case of stagflation: inflation is leading the Fed to tap on the brakes, even though this doesn't look or feel like a full-employment economy.

We shouldn't overstate the case: we're not back to the economic misery of the 1970's. But the fact that we're already experiencing mild stagflation means that there will be no good options if something else goes wrong...

And in the third example, Paul Krugman does not declare that the economy was then--spring 2003--in recession. Instead, Paul says:

The Unofficial Paul Krugman Web Page: Spring 2003: Over the last two weeks, nobody has been paying much attention to economic news; even the ups and downs of the Dow have reflected reports from the battlefield, not the boardroom. But the economic news is quite worrying. Indeed, the latest readings suggest that our recovery, such as it is, may be stalling.

Actually, the recovery can't officially stall since it hasn't officially begun: the committee that rules on such matters still hasn't declared the recession that began in March 2001 over. There are good reasons for the committee's hesitation: while G.D.P. started growing in late 2001, the job situation -- which is what matters to most people -- has more or less steadily worsened. In particular, fewer people are working now than were employed a year ago. Since the working-age population continues to rise, jobs have become steadily harder to find.

Still, the latest data suggest that the rate at which things are getting worse is accelerating. In February, payroll employment fell by 308,000 %u2014 the worst reading since November 2001. Some analysts suggested that number was a fluke, distorted by bad weather, but yesterday there were two more worrying indicators: new claims for unemployment insurance jumped, and a survey of service sector companies suggests that the economy as a whole is contracting. Now what? Ever since hopes of a rapid recovery faded last summer, the economy has seemed balanced on a knife-edge. Pessimists like Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley warn that the U.S. is near its "stall speed": growth so slow that consumers, nervous about a weak job market, cut back on spending and send the economy into a tailspin. Yet optimists keep expecting businesses, anxious to update their technology, to resume large-scale investment and create a robust recovery. Both outcomes are still possible, but it seems increasingly likely that consumers will lose their nerve before businesses regain theirs...

I could pile on: I could point out that although Paul Krugman wrote in April 2003 that the economy might (not was: might) be in or fall back into recession, Donald Luskin has written since that he has a "better theory... using a different date for the end of the recession... April 2003." I could ask why the other regular writers for National Review haven't begged the editors to drop Luskin to stop the damage to their reputations (some claim that they have done so).

But what's the point? The only useful thing to do is to lay down a marker stating how ridiculous he is, and move on.

Intimations of Recession

Paul Krugman takes the recession-worrier side of the argument:

Intimations of Recession - New York Times: By PAUL KRUGMAN: The key point is that the forces that caused a recession five years ago never went away. Business spending hasn't really recovered from the slump it went into after the technology bubble burst: nonresidential investment as a share of G.D.P., though up a bit from its low point, is still far below its levels in the late 1990s.... [T]he economy grew fairly fast over the last three years, mainly thanks to a gigantic housing boom... unprecedented spending on home construction... allowed consumers to convert rising home values into cash through mortgage refinancing, so that consumer spending could run far ahead of families' incomes....

Even optimists generally concede that the housing boom must eventually end, and that consumers will eventually have to start saving again. But the conventional wisdom was... that... business investment and exports would stand up as housing stood down. The latest numbers suggest, however, that this theory isn't working.... Signs of a deflating housing bubble began appearing a year ago... the latest G.D.P. data show real residential investment falling at an accelerating pace. The latest job numbers show falling employment in home construction, and retail employment has fallen over the past year, suggesting that consumer spending is running out of steam....

Meanwhile, neither business investment nor exports seem to be growing fast enough to make up for the housing slump.

Now maybe we'll still manage that soft landing despite a rapidly rising number of unsold houses.... But based on what we know now, there's an economic slowdown coming.... And what will policy makers do about a slump, if it happens? A snarky but accurate description of monetary policy over the past five years is that the Federal Reserve successfully replaced the technology bubble with a housing bubble. But where will the Fed find another bubble?

And with the budget still deep in deficit and the costs of the Iraq war still spiraling upward, it's hard to see Congress agreeing on any significant fiscal stimulus package.... One last thing: the real wages of most workers fell during the "Bush boom" of the last three years. If that boom, such as it was, is already over, workers have every right to ask, "Is that it?"

Hoisted from Comments: Tom Ricks Explains Why He Did Not Write the Stories He Thought He Should Be Writing

Drew writes, at

This drove me nuts back on '02.

I worked for a Congressman at the time who, along with quite a group of similar minded folk, would give regular coordinated floor speeches at appropriate times in the build up to war asking the hard questions (this wasn't the "why can't we all get along Kucinich caucus" -- these were the hard-headed opponents to the war who were working closely with Gen. Clark and other national security thinkers).

After the speeches, we would then send personalized emails and cold call national tv and newspaper reporters alerting them of the types of questions that were being raised and then subsequently following up by asking why they weren't reporting about about the strategy, intelligence etc. questions we were asking. Obviously, we were all ignored.

Literally, I remember calling a guy who had had reported on national network news the night before that "no one in Congress" had raised certain issues related to some aspect before the war. He admitted that members of Congress like Rangel, Inslee, Doggett and others were regularly asking these very questions -- the ones that supposedly weren't being asked -- and that they had done so the night before his report.

He did not offer to correct his inaccurate reporting and did nothing further to represent what was going on in the House.

I think that what Ricks means is not that nobody in Congress was asking questions and making points, but that nobody in Congress whom Ricks's editors regarded as A-list players was asking questions and making points. Who do Ricks's editors regard as A-list players? At times I think the list contains two: Joe Lieberman and Chuck Hagel.