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Saturday, May 10, 2003

Cavernoso Tenebroso

Good Steyn, on Gray Eminences.
...And what do all these unsavoury characters have in common? Circumcision? Gefilte fish? No; as the Globe noted, "Frum, Steyn, Krauthammer, and Ignatieff all hail from Canada".

A cabal of sinister Canadians? Oh, sure, go ahead, scoff. But, if Tony Blair is under the control of a cabal of sinister Jews, what you really need to ask yourself is what cabal is the cabal of sinister Jews under the control of?...

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P. Krugman
#97: Contra Luskin

We are disappointed in Donald Luskin. He's become obsessed with the idea that he caught Krugman in a "lie." (Link) As a result, he is focusing almost entirely on that issue and ignoring other of Krugman's foibles. Moreover, strictly on the grounds of the macro economic theory being contended, Krugman right and Luskin is dead wrong.

You may recall that the controversy involved Krugman's method of computing the "cost" of the Bush tax cut package. He divided the total proposed tax cut over 10 years by the value of jobs created over 1 year and came up with some ridiculous number like $500,000 per job based on a $40,000 per year salary. Of course, Krugman being Krugman, he overdoes this analysis to the point of absurdity but, nevertheless, on the narrow point under discussion he is essentially right.

Here's the way to look at it: There is a fundamental difference between a fiscal stimulus package and a fiscal growth package. Mixing them is a favorite Washington pastime, but clear thinking requires separating them.

A fiscal stimulus is designed to get the economy out of a slump and back to full employment equilibrium. It's a "one-shot" deal. Once the economy is back to equilibrium there is no need to keep giving a fiscal stimulus every year to keep it there. That is basically Krugman's point. Moreover, if you do keep giving fiscal stimuli in future years to a full employment economy you will get inflation, not more jobs, i.e., that's what full employment means!

A fiscal growth package is a different animal altogether. It takes a full employment economy as its point of departure and has nothing to do with creating more jobs in the short run. It is aimed at making existing jobs more and more productive, i.e., literally growing the economy by encouraging faster increases in output per input. This mostly involves removing the obstacles to growth (taxes, trade barriers, and government regulations, etc.) so that innovation and technological advance can proceed. In many cases it comes down to simply getting the government out of the way.

Unfortunately, a growth package is a tough sell politically for at least three reasons. For one, it is a long-term proposition and the mechanism by which it works is difficult to describe and defend with any precision. Second, it is open to the class warfare rhetoric at which demagogues such as Krugman are masters. Third and most ironic, in the short run, productivity growth can actually cost jobs, or at least delay rehiring. One of the complaints about recent gains is that employers don't need as many employees to do the same amount of work as before.

As a result of these difficulties the best way to sell a growth package is to dress it up as an economic stimulus and promote it during a period of economic under-performance, such as now. One only has to hear President Bush say jobs, jobs, jobs with one breath and tax-free dividends with the next to see how the game is being played. As a matter of fact, the tax package is a mixture of stimulus and growth, but it is mostly growth, as it should be. We don't need a stimulus. But the politics of getting the package passed is messy and getting messier, ugly and getting uglier.

Now Krugman is perfectly at home in this kind of rough and ready political mud and excrement. You might say he's "happy as a pig in shit." He can sling it with the best of them and we suspect he is just getting warmed up. But we had hoped Luskin would add some clarification to the discussion rather than simply more mud. We don't think a discussion along the lines we have outlined above is beyond the public's comprehension. And it might even back Krugman into a real corner, where he belongs.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Charlene has a new T-shirt ...

from The Federalist Society, a lawyers group she belongs to. Inscribed neatly upon it:
The courts must declare the sense of the law; and if they should be disposed to exercise WILL instead of JUDGEMENT, the consequences would be the substitution of their pleasure for that of the legislative body.
— The Federalist No. 78

P. Krugman

Into the Sunset (05/09/03) by Paul Krugman is mostly a rehash of his previous rantings about "tax cuts for the rich." There are only two bits of hyperbole worth commenting on.

"Congress is voting on more tax cuts. This time we're already running a record budget deficit, and the long-run prospect is bleak."
The only measure by which the budget deficit is a record is in absolute dollars. Viewed rationally, as a percent of GDP, it is around 2.3% and not particularly high for this stage of the business cycle. It would qualify us for joining the Euro for Christ's sake.

Second, the outlook for the U.S. economy is not bleak at all. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is using a 3% real growth rate on which to base its 10-year projections. Only a few years ago a rate this high would have seemed too good to be true. But based on continued strong growth in labor productivity, which held up remarkably well even during the recession, the economy is capable of even higher growth. A more likely figure is in the range of 3.5% to 4% once the economy gets rolling later this year. So instead of surpluses returning in year 2008 (based on CBO projections in March using 3%), they should return in year 2005. Then we will be talking about even further tax cuts.

That is, unless spending continues unchecked. If we have a beef with the Bush administration it is that spending is growing way too fast. This is probably just the wake of recession-fighting and 9/11, but someone needs to throw the brake soon. Of course, you'll never hear calls for spending restraint by Krugman and the Democrats. That's because they don't give a whit about deficits really. They just want more money to spend. Taxing the private sector to finance growth of the public sector is what they are all about.

But the game is just about up. Krugman's worst nightmare–a strong performing economy with the additional revenue taken off the table by tax cuts before the Democrats can get their hands on it–is about to begin. It's enough to make a tax-and-spend liberal want to cry. We have our tissues ready.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. You can find a collection of Paul Krugman's writings and columns here]

Thursday, May 08, 2003


In our nearby (Navy) town of Alameda, there's a fight going on over whether a Navy jet, an A-4 Skyhawk, will stay as the symbol of a local High School.
...The debate over its fate has moved from a small community dispute to a story being dissected in cyberspace and rehashed on national news.

A group of 16 parents, teachers and community leaders who launched a campaign to permanently remove the combat jet from the campus lawn did so without asking current Encinal students or alumnus their opinions. They say it's a war machine and inappropriate for a school environment.

Now, they have hit staunch opposition from students and parents as well as graduates from every decade, living as far away as Hawaii and Australia...
Sure as you're born, the very same people who are trying to remove that jet have also been busy trying to keep Saddam Hussein in power. The subtext here is totalitarian states. Secret-police, dungeons, informers, concentration camps, and, as one writer nicely put it, "...boiler suits and a long march to nowhere." The "peace and justice" crowd are for 'em. Always and again. "Come to the collective farm, comrades!"

That A-4 is a symbol of America's attempt to keep a small asian country from being conquered by a brutal and bellicose totalitarian regime, which the "peace" gang doted on. (Being warlike is OK as long as you aren't American) It should be preserved with pride. I suggest the Alameda Peace Network should maybe put up its own symbol somewhere else. Perhaps a plastic shredder...

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.--Jefferson. It's sad and grim but, so far, true. There's nothing inappropriate in letting students know it.

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Something for us webloggers to think about...

From a post by Peter Cuthbertson:
...If a political column is a good movie, where background has to be established and work done before the plot developments are to begin, then a blog is more like a soap opera, continuous in its storylines and relying on the past experience of the viewer (or the ability of the newcomer to pick it up rather quickly).

Now all these givens and starting assumptions can really create problems for readers who simply do not accept the starting premises of the average post. I think of Andrew Sullivan's blog in particular as an example of this. For him, it seems it is almost a given that the reader shares his view on everything. In my case, this is largely true. But when he starts his attacks on writers I respect and gives his ultra-liberal views on issues like same-sex weddings, it is a real slap in the face... ...But reading his columns I get a totally different picture. His arguments make sense to me and I can respect the logic of most of them even as I disagree with them. ..

Now an awful lot of blogs are just like this. Most of the supporting arguments are left out. They are perhaps made in previous posts, or simply assumed. This is understandable. After all, it would be tedious for the reader and the writer in equal measure if a blog devoted to the war on terror spent every post explaining why the war is justified. But sometimes, the scales tip too far in the other direction, and what you get instead are arguments being judged to be unnecessary to spell out, and so replaced by attacks on those who disagree. This not only reduces the quality of posts, but it opens up the doorway to other bloggers who can barely construct an argument in the first place to start up on their own. If political argument is the staple of the political newspaper or magazine column and personal invective a non-essential bonus, then the exact reverse may be true of blogs. Of the few flaws almost inherent to blogging, this is likely the greatest. But that it is still a minority vice speaks volumes for the medium.

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From Betsy's Page

Betsy Newmark writes:
...I never understood why it was considered somehow deceptive to have several arguments why a certain policy would be best and to use whichever argument seems most persuasive at the time. Most policies do have more than reason why we should or should not follow them. Wouldn't it be rather stupid only to use one argument and ignore the other reasons. And if one reason is more likely to persuade the undecided, why shouldn't a politician use whichever arrow in his quiver is most pointed for a targeted audience.
She also notes yet another story on how the Great Museum Looting wasn't so great. I won't even go into how I'm still pissed at all the ankle-biting Blind Pygmy Mole-Marmots who ... No, no, I won't say it...

BUT WAIT. Best of all, this story, Years of Pain, And the Words To Describe It !
...Samarrai, once a prominent Baath Party official, was jailed by Hussein in 1979. During nearly five years behind bars, he thought obsessively about what was happening to him and his country under Hussein's rule. During a period of isolation and virtual house arrest that followed his release, he began putting his obsessions on paper. For 20 years, he scribbled furiously. Novels, short stories, poems, parables, historical accounts. Thousands of pages, written in longhand, then typed, then hidden...
Just read the story. Stop worrying about what's been lost, and think of all that's being found!

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Infusion of roasted and ground coffee beans daily keeps the doctor away ...

My favorite blog-post found while drinking today's cups of coffee #'s 1 and 2; Suman Palit on night fishing:
...Night-fishing can be a very post-modern hallucinatory experience. You could fish until the wee hours of the morning, and at the end, you will have invented new words for dark. Like the dark that is underwater, silty, suffused with the dull glow of plankton. You discover night sky dark, punctuated with brilliant spots of light. Some even twinkle; while between them is the bluish dark of emptiness. There is forest dark, which knows how to touch your skin, and prick at your prehistoric memory. There is edgewater dark, where the trees meet the lakes edge in a perpetual state of Cold War.

Then there is the sometimes darkness in your soul, which you will now find easier to leave behind; at the pier to join its other cousins of the night. And that's the very best thing you can take away from it all.
My second-favorite: N Solent on M. Gary Trudeau :
...Last Sunday's cartoon is embarrassing. The characters look outside the cartoon strip and harangue the reader, for one thing, in the manner of Henry the Home Safety Hedgehog using the last frame to say "and as I found out, kids: it's dangerous to play with matches!" But that isn't the worst thing about it. The absolute Yeuch-factor-Triple-A moment occurs...
Trudeau—Now there's someone whose mental map hasn't changed since the 1970's. A Coelacanth of our time.

And there's this by Orrin Judd:
The planet Mercury will pass between Earth and the sun on Wednesday in a rare astronomic event that occurs only a dozen times in a century.
To a conservative, something that happens a dozen times a century occurs with annoying frequency.

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From The Power of Freedom by Natan Sharansky

...We knew [he and other prisoners in the Soviet camps] that missiles, planes and tanks were in the end no match for the inner strength of people willing to resist tyranny. We also understood the undeniable logic in one of our fellow dissident's prediction that the arms of a state that always had to point a gun at its own subjects would eventually tire. To us, the collapse of the Soviet Union was as inevitable as freedom's march was inexorable.

SUCH THINKING was extremely rare outside the Gulag. Western policymakers had largely forgotten the power of freedom. To them, sentiments about the triumph of liberty may have been inspiring, but they were hardly practical. Like a Pessah tale that was nice to read but which no "serious" person would believe, most paid homage to the values of a free society but dismissed as hopelessly naive the notion of an imploding evil empire.

Instead, these skeptics preferred a more "realistic" approach. Detente, and its various policy offshoots, was the product of such realism, and opposition to it, whether it came from the likes of a senator Jackson or a president Reagan, was considered reckless, if not dangerous.
But history would show that the so-called "realists" were completely divorced from reality. Their failure to appreciate the awesome power of freedom blinded them to the inevitable collapse of the Soviet superpower. They were the ones exposed as hopelessly out of touch, and the so-called dreamers proved astute pragmatists.

More than a decade later, after hundreds of millions have been liberated, many have again forgotten the power of freedom to change the world. Promoting democracy among the Arabs, as a few have boldly called for, is again cast as naive adventurism. The Arabs, we are told, have never lived under democracy. Their culture and religion, we are assured, are inimical to the idea of liberty.

The realists dangle the "pragmatic" alternatives before us: Cut a deal with "friendly" dictators. They will fight terror. They will preserve order. They will make peace.

For the past 10 years, Israelis have witnessed the horrific consequences of this type of realism...

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Things like this just tickle me ...

Poland pledged Tuesday to provide peacekeeping forces for Iraq's postwar reconstruction and urged Germany and other European nations to help as well...

...Wlodzimierz said the Polish people were good friends of the United States and the Iraqi people. Apparently referring to his country's post-communist period, the foreign minister said Poland had gained useful experience in transforming its economy and wanted to share that experience with Iraqis.
There must be huge numbers of experts for whom this story just doesn't compute. Their mental maps show Germany = strong, important, dependable, capitalist. And Poland = weak, backwards, Socialist basket-case...

Will they be able to start shifting gears? Or are they stuck? Probably stuck. It amazes me how mentally-congealed many people are. Maybe I am too and just don't know it. Or perhaps my idées fixe are just by chance now coming into congruance with reality, like a stopped-clock just happening to be at the right time. Anyway, this story makes me say "well of course. It's obvious." I actually had the idea, months ago, that we should recruit East Europeans to help in Iraq. Not only because they really value freedom, and have experience dismantling planned economies, but also for the psychological boost it would give them. I should have blogged it, so I could show myself as a prophet...

The astronomer Edwin Hubble once said something like: "the only progress in this field happens at the funerals of astronomers." So it is in many realms. The older generation of our geo-political experts is still defending the Fulda Gap, but younger people are coming up, and are willing to try new things. Chief among them being George Bush the Younger, who is doing bold new things in a way his father couldn't. Lots of grey-haired experts will be toddling off to the Scowcroft Home, and younger guys will see nothing odd in looking to places like Bulgaria or India or Poland for energy and enthusiasm and Capitalist vigor...
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P. Krugman
#95: The low fork in the road

Paul Krugman always makes a good barometer for assessing the state of political psyches among liberal Democrats. Judging from Man on Horseback (05/06/03) there is panic on the Left. Their principal concern is that President Bush will use his sky high approval numbers based on the war to push through a conservative domestic agenda.

As we see it, these fears are well grounded. That is exactly what Bush will try to do. And the Democrats have only two options. One is to concede defense and national security issues to Bush and campaign strictly on domestic issues in 2004. The other is to go straight at Bush on the war and reconstruction and hope something either goes wrong (or looks wrong) that will resonate with the voters. Both approaches are doomed if the economy shows the slightest pickup between now and November 2004. But the second approach is closest to the pacifist soul of the Democratic Party and clearly the one preferred by Krugman. It gives full reign to his talents for distortion, slander, innuendo and character assassination. All are on display in today's column and we can expect more in the weeks and months to come.

To embellish an old saying by Yogi Berra, whenever Krugman comes to a fork in the road, he always takes the low one.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. You can find a collection of Paul Krugman's writings and columns here]
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pin-cushion man meets cat-woman

This is a strange and funny little Quicktime film about a pin-cushion man who is selling surrealism door-to-door. Not the paintings, you understand, but the thing itself...(from Autonomous Films)

Monday, May 05, 2003

"We love you"

From Oliver North's War Diary:
...Just a few hours after the fierce fight along the Tigris, I was riding out of the city with an infantry battalion commander, headed north toward Tikrit. Seated beside me was the sergeant major of the Marine unit -- a tough, grizzled veteran of two wars and a good number of gunfights in between.

The armed convoy paused at an intersection, and suddenly the street was full of cheering Iraqis, waving signs "America No. 1," Good for Bush" and "Marines equal Liberty." No reporter could have missed the fact that the people were cheering -- not jeering. They were throwing flowers -- not stones or grenades. Suddenly, a little girl was at the sergeant major's side. She reached up, handing him a hand-drawn American flag and said, in perfect English, "We love you."

As I watched, this hard old sergeant major brushed away a tear and explained -- "a little dust in the eyes." Later, after we had exited the city, he turned to me and volunteered, "This is proof," he said holding up the child's rendering of the stars and stripes, "that we're doing the right thing here in Iraq." The old warrior was on the mark -- and every one of his colleagues serving in Iraq knows it. So do most of the Iraqi people -- finally freed from a brutal dictatorship. But it's probably too much to hope that the American media elite would come to the same conclusion...

Sunday, May 04, 2003

School days ...

students and teacher return to school in Abu Grahib, Iraq, 4/26/03

A shy Iraqi girl tries to hide from the camera. Sahar, an Iraqi school teacher, talks to members of the U.S. Army's 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, during the reopening of a school in Abu Grahib, Iraq on April 26, 2003.
U.S. Air Force photos by Staff Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby

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Are we surprised?

Laurence Simon , who is in the news business, throws a bucket of ice-water on the NYT plagiarism story (via Dean Esmay):
Does it have anything to do with the fact that he's black?

Well, let's see what he had stacked against him:
  • He didn't have his journalism degree
  • He freelanced at Boston Globe and Washington Post, but apparently got passed over for permanent employment.
  • His mistakes weren't on minor stories, but some major news.
  • He went from summer intern in 1998 to staff in 1999.

My answer to your question is HELL YES.

Look, just like major news networks, if the New York Times were truly interested in quality and integrity of its staff, they could easily afford to treat the other papers in its publishing group as a farm system. You let a few interns get a taste of the Big Time at the flagship paper, acting like bat-boys or playing in the training camp now and then, just to whet their appetite for success. Then you assign the rookies down to AA and AAA, letting those publishers knock them around for a few years, breaking off rough edges and determining the style and quality of their reporting...

...From a corporate perspective, quality minority reporters are a desired rarity. They exist, but because of the demand for minority reporters at any price, the corporate types are willing to pay the price of quality in order to meet a certain demand for quantity. And instead of properly reporting, editing, and publishing news of concern to minorities to demonstrate their commitment to the truth and the community, which would take some level of effort and professionalism, the media finds it much simpler just to hire members of that minority to demonstrate their equal opportunity "color blind" hiring practices to pander to those minorities. After all, it's easier to haul out a slew of minority staffers to impress the NAACP and LULAC instead of going through the effort of defending your editorial policies and arguing with those "community activists." ...
The problem with Affirmative Action is that, like every plan or 'action' that uses the power of government to help things, it was immediately hijacked by people who just want more government, and to whom the people being 'helped' are mere cannon-fodder...