## More Sheets of the Birdcage Liner that Is the *Washington Post*

The Bartender at the Whiskey Bar provides more servings of the Orwellian prose of the Washington Post's Tom Ricks:

Whiskey Bar: Gullible's Travels: Gullible's Travels: Here's Tom Ricks writing about the 4th Infantry Division in July 2006:

In the late summer of 2003, as senior U.S. commanders tried to counter the growing insurgency with indiscriminate cordon-and-sweep operations, the 4th Infantry was known for aggressive tactics that may have appeared to pacify the northern Sunni Triangle in the short term but that, according to numerous Army internal reports and interviews with military commanders, alienated large parts of the population.The unit . . . was known for "grabbing whole villages, because combat soldiers [were] unable to figure out who was of value and who was not," according to a subsequent investigation of the 4th Infantry Division's detainee operations by the Army inspector general's office. Its indiscriminate detention of Iraqis filled Abu Ghraib prison, swamped the U.S. interrogation system and overwhelmed the U.S. soldiers guarding the prison. Washington Post 'It Looked Weird and Felt Wrong' July 24, 2006

And here's Tom Ricks writing about the 4th Infantry Division in July 2003:

"The people are now coming to us with information," Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, told Abizaid in a briefing this week at Odierno's headquarters in Tikrit, Hussein's home town. "Every time we do an operation, more people come in."The 4th Infantry, operating in a region dominated by Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority, which was a major base of Hussein's support, conducted an average of 18 raids a day in recent weeks, he added.The number and breadth of those follow-up raids also encouraged Iraqis who had been fearful of Baathist retaliation to speak up, officials here said. Washington Post Low-ranking Baathists leading U.S. to top fugitives July 23, 2003

Special bonus quote. Tom Ricks writing about the 4th Infantry Division in January 2004:

"The enemy doesn't have much left," a battalion commander in Tikrit said this week in assessing the current situation. "They are desperate and flailing."Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon by a video connection from Tikrit on Thursday, Army Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, echoed those views . . . He said that insurgents had been "brought to their knees" and reduced to a "fractured, sporadic threat." Washington Post A Measure of Success in Iraq January 23, 2004

Keep up the good work, Tom.

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

## Cleaning Out the Attic: Michael Berube on the Production of New Wingnuts

Michael Berube is a national treasure:

Michael Berube: On the production of fresh wingnuts: [H]ow is it that when former liberals pledge allegiance to George Bush (because, you know, everything changed on 9/11), they not only jettison many of their former beliefs, but they take on every single last one of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Wingnut Faith?

I can understand, to some teeny tiny extent, the way many of these former liberals reacted to the far left’s knee-jerk response to 9/11. I thought the far left’s knee-jerk response to 9/11 was a knee-jerk response myself, and though it was well informed about American imperialism, it didn’t do very much to explain (a) the rise of militant Islamism, the origins of which had very little to do with American anything, or (b) the fact that none of the more immediate victims of American imperialism (from, say, Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, East Timor, Palestine, or the Cherokee Nation) were involved in the attacks of that day. But my differences with the far left on that score did not lead me to abandon the American left that fought for the minimum wage, the eight-hour day, the weekend, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Clean Air and Water Acts, unemployment insurance, reproductive rights, gay rights, and universal, single-payer health care. By contrast, when the Charles Johnsons, James Lilekses, Tammy Bruces, and Roger Simons of the blogosphere parted ways with liberalism, they not only pledged allegiance to Bush; they also adopted all manner of traditional wingnut obsessions that predate 9/11 by decades.

It’s really quite eerie when you think about it... these people don’t just go on about the War on Terror and the firmness of Dear Leader; they also go on about Jane Fonda (!) and Dan Rather (!!) and the New York Times and the whole MSM and the United Nations (!!!) and Jimmy Carter and the Clenis® (!!!!!) and Teddy Kennedy and the French. It’s just bizarre.... It’s like, “Everything changed for me on September 11. I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick.” Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear any of them go off one day about our giveaway of the Panama Canal or the insidious plot to fluoridate our drinking water. It’s as if the moment they threw in their lot with Bush, they were e-mailed a Wingnut Software Package that allowed them to download every major wingnut meme propagated over the past thirty years...

## Department of "Huh?"

Ummmm... Bryan Burrough is insane: he thinks the right way to review Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine is to give a big wet kiss to Bob Woodward:

"The One Percent Doctrine," by Ron Suskind - The New York Times Book Review - New York Times: This is a book of moments and glimpses and impressions, of scattered scenes and Hollywood Minute characterizations, all stitched together in hopes they will form a whole. Had Woodward tackled this material, one suspects, the dark cavern of intelligence work would be bathed in cathode rays that penetrated its every crevice...

But Woodward has tackled this material: in Plan of Attack and Bush at War. And what Woodward produced is--it is now clear--tripe. Huge chunks of the story Woodward tells are wrong. And huge chunks of the story are not told by Woodward.

In Suskind’s hands the murk is pierced by random shafts of light, interesting where they fall but disappointing where they don’t. Time and again his ambition outstrips his source base. Every hot button of the last five years is pressed... but what we get are narrative bits and pieces... scenes built around Tenet or an aide, rather than anything approaching a rigorous, detailed exploration of the issue, much less a rigorous, detailed retelling of what actually happened.

That it works as well as it does is testimony to the author’s narrative skills. Suskind was a top-notch newspaperman, one of the best natural writers The Wall Street Journal (where I also once worked) ever produced, and he commands an authorial voice many journalists can only dream of. Give him an hour with a cooperative source, and he’ll give you six pages of beautiful scene-setting, scissor-sharp dialogue and a nugget or two of insight; his discussion of Bush’s view of the Iraq war as a global “game changer” is eye-opening....

The Bush and Cheney we glimpse here look and sound real enough. Suskind emphasizes how Bush makes just about everything personal, measuring the credibility of a briefing by his measure of the briefer. His Bush is thoroughly engaged, boundlessly confident and attentive to the detail of intelligence operations, if not always to intelligence policy and organization. Cheney comes off as Cheney — smart, steady and gruff, the grown-up who decides what the president sees and, in some cases, how he sees it. The “one percent doctrine” is his, a mandate that any threat that bears even a 1 percent chance of being real must be treated as real....

To his credit, Suskind’s portrayals, as sketchy as they can be, seem evenhanded. Avoiding the trap that sometimes ensnares Woodward, he neither deifies his principal source, Tenet, nor caricatures the easy targets who didn’t cooperate, resisting the urge to portray Bush as vacuous or Cheney as Darth Vaderish. He has gotten a smattering of headlines for an anecdote or two where important intelligence intended for Bush’s desk never makes it past Cheney’s. At least it appears that way. We can’t really be sure, since Suskind’s sources are Tenet and company, not Bush and Cheney. And in the end, that’s probably fine. For an administration as tightly controlled as this one, the mere suggestion of a genuine insight is welcome. The same could be said for the entire book. Even if Suskind is flank steak to Woodward’s sirloin, “The One Percent Doctrine” is still an easy and worthwhile summer read...

Suskind has written a very good book. Burrough, by contrast, has simply written a very strange and incomplete review.

## Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Idiots?

Condi Rice makes her play for the title of worst Secretary of State ever:

The Washington Note: Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times has this comment from the Brzezinski dinner in his latest on Condi Rice's diplomatic effort:

Rice said that Hezbollah, because of its attacks on Israel, had disqualified itself from any future role in the Lebanese government. However, they would have to find a way to give Shiite Muslims, Lebanon's largest group, a voice in government.

Rice is not planning to meet leaders of Syria or Hezbollah on this trip. The Syrians, who have strong influence over Hezbollah, have been contacted by many European and Arab countries and do not need a direct dialogue with the Americans, she said.

Others disagree strongly. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Carter, said last week at a dinner sponsored by the New America Foundation that if Rice doesn't meet with leaders the administration does not approve of, her trip would amount to "sitting in front of a mirror, talking to herself."

"That's not diplomacy," Brzezinski said.

Rice also might face difficulties talking to U.S. allies in the region. Three major Arab countries -- Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia -- are important participants in the new effort to make peace.

## Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars?

Josh Bolten used to have a reputation. Not any more:

Think Progress: Bolten Defends Rove's False Claims on Stem Cells: Rove recently told the Denver Post that "recent studies" show researchers "have far more promise from adult stem cells than from embryonic stem cells." The Chicago Tribune contacted top stem cell experts who all said Rove's claim was inaccurate... the White House "could not provide the name of a stem cell researcher who shares Rove's views on the superior promise of adult stem cells." Today on Meet the Press, Tim Russert gave White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten an opportunity to repudiate Rove's claims. Bolten refused, saying Rove "knows a lot of stuff." Bolten added, "there are alternatives ways to get to the promise of that embryonic stem cells have." This view is not shared by stem cell researchers....

Transcript:

RUSSERT: Is there any evidence that you are aware of or that the President is aware of that says adult stem cells show far more promise than embryonic.

BOLTEN: Adult stem cells have already demonstrated in the amelioration of disease.

RUSSERT: So you agree with Mr. Rove.

BOLTEN: Like I said, I'm not a scientist.

RUSSERT: I don't think Karl Rove is either.

BOLTEN: Well, he knows a lot of stuff. The point here is that there are alternatives ways to get to the promise of that embryonic stem cells have. The president with his announcement this week on stem cell policy also announced we are going to put extra effort within our scientific community, at NIH, into pursuing stem cell research that does not involve the destruction of human embryos.

## Worse than a Crime, a Mistake

From Talking Points Memo:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: July 23, 2006 - July 29, 2006 Archives: TPM Reader MK checks in:

What I find inexplicable is the Israeli bombing of Beirut. I can understand, from their point of view, wanting to create a buffer zone on their border; I cannot understand bombing and chasing out of Lebanon the only counter force to Hezbollah within Lebanon. Thanks to Israeli bombardment everyone with a passport and money is leaving; those that remain are the Shiite base of Hezbollah.

I have heard ANC speakers say why they never did terrorists acts. They said they were out to divide the enemy not unite them. Not so long ago the very people Israel is forcing out of Lebanon were in the streets demonstrating against the Syrian occupation. Now Israel is thanking them with bombs.

## A Question About Joe Lieberman

Mark Schmitt writes:

The Decembrist: Lieberdem Speaks: I probably shouldn't be so obsessed with the Lieberman-Lamont race, but I can't help it. This seems to be the week when the Republican right (Kondracke, Chris Caldwell) has decided to make Joe Lieberman's cause their own. Which is fine, but their opinion about who should be the Democratic nominee in a state they don't live in is about as relevant as my opinion about who should be the next president of France. (Anyone interested in my strongly-held opinion on the latter question, the answer is here.) But at the same time, the actual Democrats supporting Lieberman seemed to have figured out what contributors to TPMCafe and others have been saying for months: Lieberman got himself into this situation, and every day he makes it worse....

Matt Smith, seems a little more grounded. Here’s Smith on Friday:

...Joe Lieberman is hardly out of the mainstream of the Democratic party - one need only look at his voting record to see this - and Lieberman’s long history of fighting for progressive causes cannot seriously be questioned. Iraq is admittedly a big thorn in Lieberman’s side, but less than a quarter of all voters and just 33% of Democrats said Iraq was the top issue for them in this election. Lieberman clearly can improve if his campaign just reminds voters of how strong he is on the traditional progressive issues of education, the environment, civil rights, choice, worker’s rights, and virtually every other progressive cause that you can think of. Those same Quinnipiac polls still show that a majority of Democrats think he deserves to be re-elected, and the loyalty of his supporters runs deep...

What progressive causes has Lieberman fought for in the past five years? Remind me, please.

## Tim Burke Asks a Question...

He wonders what is the difference between Alan Dershowitz and Ward Churchill on the status of civilians. I agree: I don't see a difference either:

Easily Distracted: I don't have a lot to add to what's being said in many venues. The disproportionate character of Israel's response strikes me as being both unwise and unjust, and the same for unqualified American support for those actions. The unwise part seems more pertinent: the actors in this situation (including Hizbollah and Hamas) have a deeply flawed understanding of cause-and-effect, of the likely outcomes of what they're doing. But then, what else is new in the Middle East?

I am a stickler for consistency, so I also really do struggle to understand how we can fiercely act in response to terrorism, defined as deliberate attacks on civilian populations, and then find ways to justify or excuse military action which either has enormous effects on noncombatants or which even appears to deliberately target them.

Crooked Timber draws attention to a particularly egregious case of such excuse, Alan Dershowitz's argument that civilians in Lebanon aren'9t civilians if they stay in their own homes and communities.... [A]s one commentor at Crooked Timber observes, it would seem to be roughly the same logic as Ward Churchill's justly infamous argument about "little Eichmanns." Not seeing a lot of cries for Dershowitz's resignation just yet, but I've been out of touch....

There's no question that Israel has some difficult, maybe impossible quandries to struggle with in trying to legitimately defend itself. But to try and categorically justify what's happening on the logic that some civilians are less civilians, that they're all legitimate targets: how is that different from terrorism?

It isn't.

## Rebranding Clintonite Foreign Policy

Kevin Drum writes:

The Washington Monthly: PROGRESSIVE REALISM....Last week I skimmed through Robert Wright's New York Times op-ed about a new school of foreign policy he calls "progressive realism." I wasn't able to make much sense out of it, however, so yesterday I read through it more carefully. I still find the writing a bit muddled and opaque, but I think I understand the outline of what he's saying. Here's my nickel summary:

The world is interconnected enough that "national interest" includes a lot of things it didn't used to include. Keeping countries from becoming failed states and terrorist havens, for example, is clearly in our national interest.

This sounds a lot like neoconservative idealism, but two things make it "progressive":

A strong belief that promoting economic liberty is the best way of promoting political liberty. This means support for globalization and free trade. Human rights activists and labor unions will object to this, but they can be brought on board by agreeing to give international bodies the authority to regulate not just trade, but also things such as labor and environmental issues.

A renewed devotion to international institutions such as arms control regimes and the United Nations. As Wright puts it, "the national interest can be served by constraints on America's behavior when they constrain other nations as well." However, the extent to which we should bind ouselves to these institutions is left a bit fuzzy.

Unfortunately, the rest of the essay is oddly disconnected from these main points, especially since it never really addresses head on the problem of non-state terrorist groups. It's also less persuasive than it would be if Wright had presented some examples of past events in which progressive realism has been a success.

In any case, I think Wright has mainly jumped on the bandwagon of trying to figure out new ways of presenting and labeling good old fashioned liberal foreign policy. Peter Beinart did much the same in The Good Fight. The main difference is that Beinart took his cues from Reinhold Niebuhr while Wright takes his from Hans Morgenthau with a hat tip to Norman Angell.

But that's OK. If rebranding helps to sell common sense, then we should rebrand away. We're still looking for our Boswell, though.

## Death in Southern Lebanon

News from Tyre:

Families Torn Apart and Travelers Uprooted, With No End in Sight - New York Times: By HASSAN M. FATTAH: TYRE, LEBANON: In the End, Numbers Become Names Again. For a few minutes on Friday, they became people again: Zahra Abdullah, formerly victim No. 7; her son Hadi, victim No. 10; and her daughter Myrna, No. 9. For days they were among the nameless, corpses with numbers.... In a daylong event that was not quite a funeral, not quite interment, but a brief goodbye for a few grieving families that could attend, hospital workers and volunteers worked furiously to assemble the coffins, remove bodies from the truck, spray them with formaldehyde and bury them in the mass grave a few blocks away. In all, they buried 82 people, including more than 24 children who died in the past week.... No. 37 became Sally Wahbi, a 7-year-old who died in an attack on the Civil Defense Building in Tyre on Sunday. No. 35, Alia Alaedeen, who suffered serious head injuries as she was escaping the town of Sarifa on Wednesday and died Thursday. And No. 73 became Mariam Abdullah, who along with Zahra, Hadi and Myrna was among the 23 people killed in an Israeli attack on a pickup truck escaping the town of Marwaheen last Saturday.... The scene continued for several hours as bodies in plastic bags, some of them soaked in blood, were photographed and placed into coffins, which were then nailed shut and lined up. The numbers on the wall corresponding to those on the coffins only went up to 74, but the men continued to place bodies into coffins....

Halfway through, there was a bang as a plane dropped leaflets over the crowd warning them to move at once. "Due to the terrorist acts against the state of Israel that came from your villages and your homes, the Israeli Army has been forced to respond immediately against these acts even within your villages, for your own security,"the note read in Arabic. "You are ordered to leave your villages and head immediately north of the Litani River"...

## Fred Halliday Visits Hezbollah in Lebanon

Fred Halliday writes:

A Lebanese fragment: two days with Hizbollah Fred Halliday - openDemocracy: Towards the end of the day, my guides took me a hill overlooking the Israeli frontier, and the town of Metulla. There, I sensed that another perspective, and another future, was equally contained within these seemingly peaceful hills.

From one roadside vantage-point, they had pointed to the still unresolved Shebaa area to the southeast. As we looked over to this Israeli town, with people clearly visible walking in the streets, the chief guide turned to me with an unambiguous message: "It took us twenty-two years to drive them out of here [Lebanon]", and it may take us up to forty years to drive them out of there [occupied Palestine]".

I long ago decided, in dealing with revolutionaries and with their enemies, in the middle east and elsewhere, to question their motives and sense of reality, but to take seriously what they stated to be their true intentions. Those words, spoken on the hill overlooking Metulla in 2004, were sincerely meant, and carried within them a long history of fighting, sacrifice and killing. In light of recent events, it would be prudent to assume that much more is to come.

It's quite likely that historians of the future will view this past week as a major strategic defeat for Israel. It's not just that sending hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians running for their lives (and killing not a few of them) as the IDF hunts 1,000 or so Hezbollah terrorists is a disproportionate response. It's that it undermines Israel's long-rune external support, and does so much more quickly than Olmert and company realize.

Not just a violation of the laws of war: a mistake.

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

Some time ago, I was asked why I no longer presume that Washington Post reporters "trying, hard, to do their jobs and, perhaps on deadline, [fall] short of the ideal."

Here is part of the answer: because of reporters like Tom Ricks. Via Billmon, who compares Tom Ricks of the Washington Post today:

Whiskey Bar: Department of the Bleedin' Obvious: [T]here is also strong evidence, based on a review of thousands of military documents and hundreds of interviews with military personnel, that the U.S. approach to pacifying Iraq in the months after the collapse of Hussein helped spur the insurgency and made it bigger and stronger than it might have been...

With Tom Ricks of the Washington Post in July 2003:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A54345-2003Jul27?language=printer: As Iraqi fighters launched guerrilla strikes, the U.S. Army adopted a more nimble approach against unseen adversaries and found new ways to gather intelligence about them, according to dozens of soldiers and officers interviewed over the last week.... At the same time, the frequency of attacks has declined in the area northwest of Baghdad dominated by Iraq's Sunni minority, long a base of support for Hussein.... That decrease is leading senior commanders here to debate whether the war is nearly over...

And in September of 2003:

Senior U.S. commanders here are so confident about their recent successes that they have begun debating whether victory is in sight. "I think we're at the hump" now, a senior Central Command official said. "I think we could be over the hump fairly quickly" -- possibly within a couple of months, he added...

Billmon observes:

I could go on and on, but really, what's the point? Only that Ricks is as responsible as anyone for leading the American people (and the military itself) to believe the war was being won -- quickly and decisively...

If there is a hint of apology for his earlier work in Ricks's book, nobody has mentioned it to me. Everybody working for the Post needs to think very hard about what kind of organization they are working for, and whether they are going to try to fix it or bail out.

The Minister of Civil War (Harpers.org) Bayan Jabr, Paul Bremer, and the rise of the Iraqi death squads. By Ken Silverstein: In May 2005, Shiite militia groups in Iraq began depositing corpses into the streets and garbage dumps of Baghdad. The victims, overwhelmingly Sunni, were typically found blindfolded and handcuffed, their corpses showing signs of torture--broken skulls, burn marks, gouged-out eyeballs, electric drill holes; by that October, the death toll attributed to such groups had grown to more than 500. In November, American troops discovered more than 160 beaten, whipped, and starved prisoners--again, mostly Sunni--at a secret detention center run by the country's Interior Ministry. Since then, Shiite militias have become so integrated into the Iraqi government's security apparatus and their work so organized, systematic, and targeted that they are commonly referred to in Iraq (and in the American media) by their proper name: death squads. The death squads, which have expanded their area of operations from the capital across much of the country, are now believed to be responsible for more civilian deaths than the Sunni and foreign insurgents who are the United States' ostensible enemies there. By any reasonable measure, Iraq is in a state of civil war, and some of its most ruthless and lawless combatants are members of the government's own security units. The rise of the death squads corresponds almost precisely to the April 2005 appointment of Bayan Jabr as interior minister in Iraq's transitional government. The Interior Ministry, which is something like a combined FBI and Department of Homeland Security, controls billions of dollars and more than 100,000 men in police and paramilitary units. Jabr was a former high-ranking member of the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade, the military arm of the fundamentalist Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) that is now the dominant political force in the country. After taking over the Interior Ministry, he quickly purged it of Sunnis, and members of the Badr Brigade were widely incorporated into the ministry's police and paramilitary units...

Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush's Foreign Policy: Michael Abramowitz: GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, appear to be lining up closely with the president on foreign policy. It has not helped the neoconservative case, perhaps, that the occupation of Iraq has not gone as smoothly as some had predicted...

Worth reading--but not in a good way: Martin Peretz: The Plank: THE EXERCISE OF COMMON SENSE: I have just read the five Lebanon Travel Warnings issued by the Department of State from November 18, 2004 through today, July 19.... [They] don't make Lebanon seem at all inviting, and the insistent travelers--come to think of it--also have only themselves to blame.... [E]ach of the warnings tells you that U.S. air carriers are not permitted to use Beirut International Airport.... The warnings also caution you about suicide bombs, terrorist activities, land mines, unexploded ordnance, and a general atmosphere of violence, predictable and unpredictable. The reader is especially warned against visiting the southern neighborhoods of Beirut, southern Lebanon (especially Sidon), Tripoli, the Bekaa Valley, etc. Why families would take their kids for long summer vacations into this environment is beyond me. But many have, and a lot of them have been whining on television.... No sense of individual responsibility either for having put themselves in harm's way despite State's effort to keep them at home... or maybe go to Venice instead...

Discourse.net: A Resource is a Resource -- Of Course, Of Course: Yesterday, the SEC bought the first criminal charges against a Gregory Reyes, the CEO of Brocade Communications, the company's CFO, and Brocade's VP for human resources for options backdating. This is the first criminal action brought with regard to the growing option backdating scandal. The SEC also indicated that at least 80 companies are under investigation.... [T]his seems like a good time to review what the problems are here...

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

Legitimate targets Posted by Henry: Via Kevin Drum, this quite disgusting claim from Alan Dershowitz. "Hezbollah and Hamas militants, on the other hand, are difficult to distinguish from those 'civilians' who recruit, finance, harbor and facilitate their terrorism. Nor can women and children always be counted as civilians, as some organizations do. Terrorists increasingly use women and teenagers to play important roles in their attacks. The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit." Irish and British readers may find this line of reasoning familiar. It was advanced by the IRA at the height of its murder campaign. According to the IRA, civilian bystanders, including women and children, who were killed when bombs blew up police officers or soldiers should have known better than to be associating with the security forces or socializing in places that they were known to frequent. These bystanders were complicit in their own deaths. It was an utterly contemptible argument then. It's just as contemptible today...

Economist's View: They Know What They're Doing: They Know What They're Doing: Robert Reich says there are three things you should know: "China Growth, by Robert Reich: I've been watching the statistics coming out of China about its economic growth. Here are three things you should know. 1. The people managing China's economy (I'm not talking about the politicians but about the financial and economic wizards who are actually making decisions about money supply, capital markets, and the like) are extremely good. They match the best economic minds anywhere in the world. In other words, they know what they're doing. 2. The latest data show China is now growing at a rate faster than 11 percent. That's extraordinary. It's faster than China has been growing for the last five years -- and that was faster than anyone had predicted. China's rate of economic growth is the biggest economic news in the world. 3. That growth is putting huge demands on world energy supplies, and raw materials. Oil prices will continue to rise, as will all other commodities. This is the most important economic fact in the world right now. It is also among the most important political facts in the world"...

The Minister of Civil War (Harpers.org): Bayan Jabr, Paul Bremer, and the rise of the Iraqi death squads. Originally from Harper's Magazine, August 2006. By Ken Silverstein: In May 2005, Shiite militia groups in Iraq began depositing corpses into the streets and garbage dumps of Baghdad. The victims, overwhelmingly Sunni, were typically found blindfolded and handcuffed, their corpses showing signs of torture--broken skulls, burn marks, gouged-out eyeballs, electric drill holes; by that October, the death toll attributed to such groups had grown to more than 500. In November, American troops discovered more than 160 beaten, whipped, and starved prisoners--again, mostly Sunni--at a secret detention center run by the country's Interior Ministry. Since then, Shiite militias have become so integrated into the Iraqi government's security apparatus and their work so organized, systematic, and targeted that they are commonly referred to in Iraq (and in the American media) by their proper name: death squads. The death squads, which have expanded their area of operations from the capital across much of the country, are now believed to be responsible for more civilian deaths than the Sunni and foreign insurgents who are the United States' ostensible enemies there. By any reasonable measure, Iraq is in a state of civil war, and some of its most ruthless and lawless combatants are members of the government's own security units...

Daniel Gross: July 16, 2006 - July 22, 2006 Archives: NO SCANDAL HERE. Today, Brad DeLong once again (rightly) spanks Felix Gillette of Columbia Journalism Review's business news blog, the Audit, for his inane June 21 post pooh-poohing the options backdating scandal. But, Brad, it's worse than that. On July 6, Gillette magisterially returned to the subject, critiquing and criticizing an article by the great Adam Lashinsky of Fortune. Considering the judgment shown in his postings on the matter, Gillette has an awful lot of nerve criticizing the news judgment of the reporters and editors (especially those at the Wall Street Journal) who have blown this story open. See, with every passing day, evidence mounts that, yes, Mr. Gillette, this is a real scandal. Check out Stephanie Saul's article in yesterday's New York Times, which reports that some 30 percent of companies engaged in backdating, and that the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco has set up a task force to investigate backdating. And check out the latest rumblings from the SEC, or the news from Broadcom that it will have to restate earnings by $750 million due to problems with accounting for its options. And for some truly righteous bile directed at abusers of options backdaters, see Barry Ritholtz. Gillette notes at the close of his piece that "the bigger this scandal gets, the smaller it seems." I'd rephrase that: the bigger this scandal gets, the smaller The Audit seems... Discourse.net: A Resource is a Resource -- Of Course, Of Course: Yesterday, the SEC bought the first criminal charges against a Gregory Reyes, the CEO of Brocade Communications, the company's CFO, and Brocade's VP for human resources for options backdating. This is the first criminal action brought with regard to the growing option backdating scandal. The SEC also indicated that at least 80 companies are under investigation.... [T]his seems like a good time to review what the problems are here... RGE - Adding to echo chamber started by the New Economist, with a bit on China thrown in: Brad Setser | Jul 21, 2006: I second the New Economist’s description of Tim Duy as the John Berry of the blogoshere. I thought Tim retired from Fed Watching when he moved to Oregon, but the internet gave him a second life... Eric Umansky: The Coming Ground War: Open intel center Statfor's analysis seems reasonable: "Hezbollah's strategy appears to be threefold. First, force Israel into costly attacks against prepared fortifications. Second, draw Israeli troops as deeply into Lebanon as possible, forcing them to fight on extended supply lines. Third, move into an Iraqi-style insurgency from which Israel -- out of fear of a resumption of rocket attacks -- cannot withdraw, but which the Israelis also cannot endure because of extended long-term casualties. This appears to have been a carefully planned strategy, built around a threat to Israeli cities that Israel can't afford. The war has begun at Hezbollah's time and choosing.... Destruction of Hezbollah's infrastructure does not mean annihilation of the force. If Israel withdraws, Hezbollah or a successor organization will regroup. If Israel remains, it can wind up in the position the United States is in Iraq. This is exactly what Hezbollah wants. So, Israel can buy time, or Israel can occupy and pay the cost. One or the other." This fills me with dread... Carpetbagger Report: I'll delve into Newsweek's 4,000-word cover story on my favorite subject -- "Bush in the Bubble" -- in more detail later, but I wanted to do a separate post on one telling anecdote from the article. What Bush actually hears and takes in, however, is not clear. And whether his advisers are quite as frank as they claim to be with the president is also questionable. Take Social Security, for example. One House Republican, who asked not to be identified for fear of offending the White House, recalls a summertime meeting with congressmen in the Roosevelt Room at which Bush enthusiastically talked up his Social Security reform plan. But the plan was already dead -- as everyone except the president had acknowledged. Bush seemed to have no idea. "I got the sense that his staff was not telling him the bad news," says the lawmaker. "This was not a case of him thinking positive. He just didn't have any idea of the political realities there. It was like he wasn't briefed at all"... New Economist: Great expectations: How FDR ended the Depression : Can this be the final nail in the monetarist coffin? Gauti Eggertsson, an economist at the New York Fed, argues in new Staff Report 234, Great Expectations and the End of the Depression, that the US economic recovery under FDR was not about monetary factors, but public expectations... On the production of fresh wingnuts: In “The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism Among the Theorists,” which veteran readers of this blog will know is one of my very favorite essays, Stuart Hall tries to account for how Thatcherism achieved the kind of hegemony it enjoyed in the UK of the early 1980s. While he takes his distance from Louis Althusser’s structuralist-Marxist determinism (my own distance from Althusser can be gauged here), Hall nevertheless insists that it’s not the case that people simply change their minds like they change their clothes, and that therefore, if we are to understand how former liberals came to affiliate with the New Right, we have to understand the “discourses” and “subject positions” made available to them by the New Right... Lebanon--The Rut Becomes A Grave | TPMCafe: By Larry Johnson: Israel's latest offensive to root out and destroy Hezbollah probably will fail and in the process will ignite a new round of international terrorist attacks that will put the United State squarely in the crosshairs. It is as if we are watching a plane crash in slow motion. We see the plane hurtling towards the earth, our mouths agape in a silent scream. We know it will explode on impact and can do nothing but watch... The *Washington Note reads James Galbraith* The Washington Note: China: Looks Like Capitalism to the Naked Eye, But It's Not: Economist James Galbraith, Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair at UT Austin, has written a brilliant review of two books -- the first The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs and the second The Global Class War by Jeff Faux -- in the latest American Prospect.... I found this bit on China particularly intriguing, revealing more about Galbraith I think than either Faux or Sachs: "China has adopted markets without capitalism; it has not had broadly open, speculative markets for capital assets and land. The result is that you usually have to make something in order to get rich. So companies produce and produce, flood the markets with goods, accept low profit margins, improve quality, and hope to strike gold by exporting to the West. If they have losses, as they often do, these may be covered by borrowing from China's rotten, state-owned banks, protected by capital control. Workers thrive on the glutted market for goods. Meanwhile, the richer local governments finance themselves with land rent and spend the proceeds on infrastructure at an incredible pace." The system looks like capitalism to the naked eye. But it is not capitalism; it's an outgrowth of what was there before. What was communism has become, one might almost say, Galbraithian -- private affluence, with much less public squalor than one finds elsewhere in the Third World... Eschaton: Foul-Mouthed Bloggers: Tom Friedman has a potty mouth: "George Bush and Condi Rice need to realize that Syria on its own is not going to press Hezbollah -- in Mr. Bush's immortal words -- to just "stop doing this shit." The Bush team needs to convene a coalition of The World of Order. If it won't, it should let others more capable do the job. We could start with the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton, whose talents could be used for more than just tsunami relief... alicublog: Rent. I saw this thing when it came out on Broadway, and it annoyed the crap out of me: the squatters were idealized beyond recognition, and made shitty art besides, which fatally trivialized their beef with The Man and made them look like the kids from Fame but in an alternate, distressed wardrobe, and with less reliably pleasing tunes (and numbing recitative passages like "What are you DO-ing with this YUP-pie SCUM?"). That left AIDS as the only real antagonist, and I was repulsed by the dramatic shortcut: you mean I paid all this money for a musical version of Spirochette? But what annoyed me most was that I wound up being moved by the thing. It was a mess, but some embers of real feeling burned in it... Bob Sutton: Strong Opinions, Weakly Held: I’ve been pretty obsessed about the difference between smart people and wise people for years. I tried to write a book called “The Attitude of Wisdom” a couple times. And the virtues of wise people – those who have the courage to act on their knowledge, but the humility to doubt what they know – is one of the main themes in Hard Facts. We show how leaders including Xerox’s Ann Mulcahy, Intel’s Any Grove, Harrah’s Gary Loveman, and IDEO’s David Kelley turn this attitude into organizational action. Perhaps the best description I’ve ever seen of how wise people act comes from the amazing folks at Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future. A couple years ago, I was talking the Institute’s Bob Johansen about wisdom, and he explained that – to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward – they advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” They've been giving this advice for years, and I understand that it was first developed by Instituite Director Paul Saffo. Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions. This is what psychologists sometimes call the problem of “confirmation bias.” Sunday Discussion Group: Matt Stoller noted the other day that Bill Clinton, like most of the Dem establishment, has agreed to campaign on Joe Lieberman's behalf. (It's also worth remembering, however, that the former president has also said he'd support the winner of the Dem primary, whether it's Lieberman or not). But Stoller added an interesting observation: "Clinton is a loveable character in Democratic politics, like Barack Obama. He's perceived as a winner, as a good President, and as a strong Democrat who set a good tone for the party and the country. The Democratic party in DC largely grew around his personality and politics, and since no other leadership center has really arisen, Clintonian candidate-centric politics still looms large. I'm not surprised or even disappointed that Bill Clinton is out for Lieberman. He was an exceptional politician, but he's also part of the past." It got me thinking: as far as the Democratic Party and its activists are concerned, what is the Clinton legacy? In the interests of full disclosure, I'm not exactly neutral on the question. I am now, and have always been, a Clinton supporter. I campaigned for him; I interned in his White House; and I remain an admirer. But the Discussion Group isn't necessarily about what I think. At the risk of oversimplifying things a bit, there are two Democratic camps when it comes to how (or whether) the party should venerate the former president. One side says Clinton was not a genuine champion of progressive causes; his "triangulating" ended up hurting the party; he was impeached; and Dems were weaker when he left office than when he started. This side believes it's probably best to leave his presidency in the past. The other side says Clinton was a popular and successful president; his policies produced peace and prosperity; and his unique political skills, which helped him win 10 now-red states in '96, should be emulated as often as possible. Besides, they say, Clinton is probably the most popular person on earth right now, and he looks even better in hindsight thanks to his successor's embarrassing failures. So, how should Democrats consider Clinton now? Should Dems canonize Clinton the way Republicans honor Reagan?... Firedoglake: Tim Russert was on a high simmer this morning on Meet the Press. No biscuit for him today — but he scored anyway. (And, frankly, I was left wondering if Russert has been reading Jane?) Pressing Joshua Bolten, WH Chief of Staff, on the hypocritical inconsistencies in President Bush’s veto of the stem cell bill, and the comments by Tony Snow that the President thinks that the destruction of human embryos for research purposes is murder — Russert hit the nail on the head by asking why, then, the President doesn’t outlaw in vitro clinics and all stem cell research if he truly believes that it is murder. After Bolten began stammering his way through a non-answer dodge and weave tap-dance-a-thon, I realized something: their soft underbelly is showing on so many fronts, the message machine is no longer working with rapid-fire precision. Bolten tip toed through any number of questions this morning on the conflict between Israel and Lebanon, the mess in Iraq, our lack of any diplomatic or foreign policy initiatives that come close to working... and then the questions on stem cell research, where Bolten tried very hard to say nothing that would offend anyone, and succeeded in offending people who think science ought to be respected and the entire evangelical base by exposing the Bush failure to walk his smarmy, hypocritical talk about respecting life while allowing more than 400,000 blastocysts to be destroyed via in vitro clinics. No one likes to learn that they’ve been played for a fool — here’s hoping that the hypocritical differences between the public statements supporting "life" and the real actions which do no such thing other than at a surface level to do Presidential political CYA for public relations purposes hit home with the evangelical crowd. The message: we’ll do only as much as we have to do to make the fundamentalists happy, but we really don’t walk our talk. (Remember how Michael Scanlon talked about the evangelical political machine via Ralph Reed? Oh yeah, hypocrisy, thy name is Republican.)... U.S. and Lebanon / From complaining to talking - Haaretz - Israel News : By Shmuel Rosner: WASHINGTON - "There is no green light" from America for the Israeli operation, David Welch managed to hiss, while answering the cellphone urging him to cut short his meetings with the press and get back to the office. Here's an official who is not to be envied: On Monday he returned from a long Mideast trip, including a stop in Israel, and today he is departing for another one. Israel, Rome, and Israel again. "He's exhausted," says an Israeli colleague who knows him well. Is it any wonder that the Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East is angry at Hezbollah? The folly of their action got the whole area jumping - Welch included. He gestures dismissively when asked if "the occupation" is responsible for the outbreak of violence. "I don't see how the occupation is connected to this," he states. After all - there is no Israeli occupation in Lebanon. Plain and simple. "And it's not me saying that, it's the UN." Formally there may not be a green light, but it is hard to interpret the American approach otherwise. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected without batting an eye the initiatives for an immediate cease-fire. If there's a crisis - then let it go all the way. Let it do some good. The U.S., from the get-go, spotted the potential inherent in the outbreak, and decided to grab the bull by the horns and has not backed down... Prairie Weather: Britain pulls away from Bush: Britain pulls away from Bush: "Britain dramatically broke ranks with George Bush last night over the Lebanon crisis, publicly criticising Israel's military tactics and urging America to 'understand' the price being paid by ordinary Lebanese civilians. The remarks, made in Beirut by the Foreign Office minister, Kim Howells, were the first public criticism by this country of Israel's military campaign, and placed it at odds with Washington's strong support. The Observer can also reveal that Tony Blair voiced deep concern about the escalating violence during a private telephone conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, last week." The problem with our British allies is that they continue, annoyingly, to take note of the "destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people." Don't they realize how much more important ideology is than people? More on Tony Blair, and the "humiliating Yo Summit" and the new image of George W. Bush. "When Tony Blair offers himself as a Middle East peace envoy, he is casually rebuffed by the American President between bites on a bread roll"... The Observer | Comment | It wasn't the 'Yo' that was humiliating, it was the 'No': Tony Blair wanted Britain to look big in the world. But being a satellite of George Bush is making him and us look small: Andrew Rawnsley: You will have your own view - there's so much to choose from - on which part of the open-mic conversation between George W Bush and Tony Blair at the Yo Summit was the most toe-curling. One of my favourite excruciating moments is when Bush thanks Blair for sending him a Burberry sweater as a birthday gift. The American President sends up the British Prime Minister by mocking: 'I know you picked it out yourself.' There's no question which exchange is most enjoyable for those with contempt for the Prime Minister. It is the moment that makes Mr Blair look like the poodle of popular caricature. Worse, he comes over as a poodle who can't even beg his master to toss him a dog biscuit. It is the same bit of the encounter that has caused the most wincing among the Prime Minister's friends. When Tony Blair offers himself as a Middle East peace envoy, he is casually rebuffed by the American President between bites on a bread roll. Told by Bush that 'Condi is going', the normally fluent Blair is reduced to inarticulate jabbering. 'Well, it's only if, I mean, you know, if she's got a... or if she needs the ground prepared as it were... Because obviously if she goes out, she's got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk.' Yeah, just talk. It was awful for Tony Blair to be caught asking for permission to go to the Middle East. It was dire to hear George Bush saying he wouldn't let the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom go out - not even on a pointless trip. It looks even more humiliating when the French Foreign Minister is going... N Bodies | Cosmic Variance: Sean at 10:13 am, July 23rd, 2006: This will be familiar to anyone who reads John Baez’s This Week’s Finds in Mathematical Physics, but I can’t help but show these lovely exact solutions to the gravitational N-body problem. This one is beautiful in its simplicity: twenty-one point masses moving around in a figure-8... U.S. and Lebanon / From complaining to talking - Haaretz - Israel News : By Shmuel Rosner: WASHINGTON - "There is no green light" from America for the Israeli operation, David Welch managed to hiss, while answering the cellphone urging him to cut short his meetings with the press and get back to the office. Here's an official who is not to be envied: On Monday he returned from a long Mideast trip, including a stop in Israel, and today he is departing for another one. Israel, Rome, and Israel again. "He's exhausted," says an Israeli colleague who knows him well. Is it any wonder that the Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East is angry at Hezbollah? The folly of their action got the whole area jumping - Welch included. He gestures dismissively when asked if "the occupation" is responsible for the outbreak of violence. "I don't see how the occupation is connected to this," he states. After all - there is no Israeli occupation in Lebanon. Plain and simple. "And it's not me saying that, it's the UN." Formally there may not be a green light, but it is hard to interpret the American approach otherwise. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected without batting an eye the initiatives for an immediate cease-fire. If there's a crisis - then let it go all the way. Let it do some good. The U.S., from the get-go, spotted the potential inherent in the outbreak, and decided to grab the bull by the horns and has not backed down. Not when faced by the French, nor UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. As of the weekend, the U.S. seems to have succeeded. The world grasped that without American, it will not be able to stop the Israeli operation, and changed course - from complaining to talking. Last Thursday, Jewish community activists in Washington swept into the offices of officials and legislators to enlist support for Israel. The task did not require much effort at persuasion. That same morning the House of Representatives passed by a resolution backing Israel by a huge majority. Even the Congressmen of Lebanese descent - three out of four - voted in favor. The Jews were briefed on the crisis by the deputy National Security Adviser, Elliott Abrams, who is coming to Israel with Rice and Welch. Kathy Manning, treasurer of United Jewish Communities, heard him describe Hezbollah as an organization that had become "a monster that needs to be dealt with." That, in general, is the prevailing atmosphere in the administration, and also the tone of speech... Buckley: Bush Not A True Conservative, In Exclusive Interview, Buckley Criticizes President For Interventionist Policies - CBS News: Buckley views the three-and-a-half-year Iraq War as a failure. "If you had a European prime minister who experienced what we've experienced it would be expected that he would retire or resign," Buckley says. Only on CBSNews.com: Watch more of Thalia Assuras's interview with William F. BuckleyAsked if the Bush administration has been distracted by Iraq, Buckley says "I think it has been engulfed by Iraq, by which I mean no other subject interests anybody other than Iraq. ... The continued tumult in Iraq has overwhelmed what perspectives one might otherwise have entertained with respect to, well, other parts of the Middle East with respect to Iran in particular." Despite evidence that Iran is supplying weapons and expertise to Hezbollah in the conflict with Israel, Buckley rejects neo-conservatives who favor a more interventionist foreign policy than he does, including a pre-emptive air strike against Iran -- and its nuclear facilities. "If we find there is a warhead there that is poised, the range of it is tested, then we have no alternative. But pending that, we have to ask ourselves, 'What would the Iranian population do?'" Buckley does support the administration's approach to the North Korea's nuclear weapons threat, believing that working with Russia, China, Japan and South Korea is the best way to get Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. But that's about where the agreement ends. "Has Mr. Bush found himself in any different circumstances than any of the other presidents you've known in terms of these crises?" Assuras asks. "I think Mr. Bush faces a singular problem best defined, I think, as the absence of effective conservative ideology -- with the result that he ended up being very extravagant in domestic spending, extremely tolerant of excesses by Congress, and in respect of foreign policy, incapable of bringing together such forces as apparently were necessary to conclude the Iraq challenge," Buckley says. Asked what President Bush's foreign policy legacy will be to his successor, Buckley says "There will be no legacy for Mr. Bush. I don't believe his successor would re-enunciate the words he used in his second inaugural address because they were too ambitious.... So therefore I think his legacy is indecipherable"... Econo-Girl: Waterboarding is Torture, and Torture is Wrong: Econo-Girl's purpose in writing this blog is to start a dialog on the Geneva Convention, since it now applies to the Department of Defense again. Guess it's not quaint anymore, eh? Over the next few weeks, Econo-Girl would like to post articles about the Geneva Convention, like its origin and major provisions. Legal analysis is not the magic some would have you believe. If the grunts and paper pushers are knowledgeable, the anti-torture infrastructure will be strengthened. The above post is a recreation of a post that got me fired from the CIA. It is not exact, but covers the main points as best I remember them. I had a blog called Covert Communications on a kind of classified Internet. I wrote a version of the above post and classified it so that only Americans with clearances could read it. You couldn't even get to the blog if you had less than a Top Secret and above clearance anyway. Another purpose of the blog post was to start a dialog on interogation techniques with the people who are asked to do the interogating. It was to be a public education campaign, of sorts. I was going to do the research on my own time and type in the results when I got to work. I never spent more than 15 minutes writing any of my posts. What can I say? Waterboarding is torture, and torture is wrong... CBR: If a president gives a chancellor a back-rub in a forest: The AP ran an item yesterday about the now-infamous massage Bush gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G8 Summit earlier this week. The AP didn't actually do a story about the incident; it did a story about blogs laughing at the incident.... In other words, the president's frat-boy tactics aren't necessarily enough to prompt a story in the Associated Press, but dissemination of the video of those tactics is. Indeed, the AP story about online interest in the incident got me thinking: hasn't the media downplayed the massage story a bit?.... The Washington Post didn't mention the incident at all in its news coverage, but the story did get three paragraphs in a column on page A17 on Wednesday.... The New York Times also didn't mention the story in its news coverage either, though Maureen Dowd devoted a couple of sentences to the "impromptu shoulder rub" in her column this week. The LA Times devoted three sentences to the incident in a broader news story about the summit. According Lexis-Nexis and Google News, major papers such as USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, and Philadelphia Inquirer didn't mention the massage at all. The exception to this trend was the Scripps-Howard chain, which ran a full-length news story.... But even that story highlighted the fact that "the incident didn't get a lot of play on major TV media." Why is that? It was an unusual "diplomatic" event; there's clearly considerable public interest; and there's even video and still shots for the media to obsess over. Why blow it off?... Six Questions on the Bush Administration and the Middle East Crisis for Wayne White (Harpers.org): Six Questions on the Bush Administration and the Middle East Crisis for Wayne White: Wayne White, now an Adjunct Scholar with Washington's Middle East Institute, was Deputy Director of the State Department's Office of Middle East and South Asia Analysis until March 2005. By Ken Silverstein. 1. Condoleezza Rice is leaving for the Middle East. Is her trip likely to lead to any favorable diplomatic outcome? I don't think so. At least not anytime soon. Despite her meetings in New York at the UN, back in Washington, and her upcoming trip to the region, I believe her activities have been tailored to give the impression of action while not designed to make any real progress toward the urgent ceasefire that should be everyone's highest priority. To cite just one disappointment, the apparent failure to engage senior Syrian officials directly is a serious omission since Syria may be the only Arab government in a position to pressure Hezbollah in any meaningful way. 2. Why has the Bush Administration reacted so passively to the current situation? Is it likely that the administration gave Israel a "green light" for what we have been seeing on the ground? Judging from what I saw during my time in government, one should not jump to the conclusion that Israel either asked for or was given a proverbial "green light" in advance to initiate this robust campaign in Lebanon. More likely, the Israelis took action on their own, counting on Washington's support after the fact, which is precisely what they have gotten. Indeed, the administration has been somewhat passive because it appears to want the Israelis to have all the time they believe they need to complete what is probably viewed as a mission of interest to both governments: an effort to destroy Hezbollah, once and for all... ## Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another Washington Post Edition) Howard Kurtz writes, defensively, about his downward-spiraling newspaper, The Washington Post: Thunder on the Left: [T]he issue of GOP responsibility was not exactly ignored. Maybe the piece could have been sharper. My only point is that it's our job to give readers the facts, not take sides in partisan warfare... I take this to be an admission by Kurtz that the Post underplayed the extent to which the current bitterly-partisan political climate is something desire and triggered by the Republican leadership, and that admission is welcome. But if Kurtz thinks that the Post is doing "it's... job to give readers the facts," perhaps he should take a close look at his own newspaper. The funniest thing I've been able to find in it--and the thing that is least consistent with the idea that the Post is taking the task of informing its readers as job #1--is Michael Abramowitz's sentence: Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush's Foreign Policy: It has not helped the neoconservative case, perhaps, that the occupation of Iraq has not gone as smoothly as some had predicted... That sentence sent the Whiskey Bar--and many others--into howls of laughter as they rolled on the floor. In Abromowitz's sentence are unmistakable echoes of Emperor Hirohito's surrender broadcast at the end of World War II: Whiskey Bar: The Hirohito Effect: "Despite the best that has been done by everyone... the war situation has developed not necessarily to our advantage." Abramowitz's sentence reads as the sentence of somebody who is pathetically, incompetently, weak: somebody who doesn't dare do more than hint at the truth--that the occupation of Iraq has been a huge, horrible disappointment because of the incompetence, disconnection from reality, malevolence, and mendacity of the Bush administration--because he might be yelled at by somebody from White House media affairs. Somebody who regards avoiding being yelled at by the White House media staff as much more important than informing his readers. Abramowitz will not say that the occupation of Iraq has been a disaster. The most he will say is that the occupation has not gone "smoothly." No, Abramowitz will not even say that: all he'll say it that it has not gone as "smoothly" as "some had predicted." No, Abramowitz will not even say that: he has to add a "perhaps." That "perhaps" is the true kicker that carries Abramowitz way over the top and well beyond the land of self-parody. "Perhaps" the occupation of Iraq has not gone as "smoothly" as "some had predicted." But, you may say, surely the echoes of Hirohito are deliberate? Surely Abramowitz intended this as a joke? Surely he is having fun by snarkily poking at Republicans who cannot call a spade a spade? Surely what Abramowitz means by this sentence is that everybody knows the occupation of Iraq has been a total disaster--but that the Republicans who are his subject cannot admit this, even to themselves? Surely nobody writing for the Post today can be as craven and evasive as Hirohito was at the end of World War II? So I called around. Current Post employees are divided: Six think that the humor was totally unintentional--that Abramowitz had no clue how ridiculous he was when he wrote: "It has not helped the neoconservative case, perhaps, that the occupation of Iraq has not gone as smoothly as some had predicted." Two think that the echoes of Hirohito's surrender broadcast are deliberate, and that Abramowitz is being snarky. So I wrote Michael Abramowitz and asked him what his intentions were. So far no reply. ## More on the Options Backdating Fraud Discourse.net on the options backdating fraud: Discourse.net: A Resource is a Resource -- Of Course, Of Course: Yesterday, the SEC bought the first criminal charges against a Gregory Reyes, the CEO of Brocade Communications, the company's CFO, and Brocade's VP for human resources for options backdating. This is the first criminal action brought with regard to the growing option backdating scandal. The SEC also indicated that at least 80 companies are under investigation.... [T]his seems like a good time to review what the problems are here.... [T]he lying.: The shareholders' authorization was to grant options at the stock price on the award day, not on an earlier day. Thus, management had to lie ("backdate") for these options to seem valid.... [E]ven under the old rules for accounting for stock options, the discount was accounted for as an expense (prorated from the grant day to the exercise day). Backdating hid this expense, making these companies seem more valuable.... [I]n Brocade's case... proper accounting under the old rule turned the improper, originally-reported$68 million profit into a $951 million loss [for 2002]. (In some cases, the fraud also kept the companies from claiming huge, legitimate tax deductions, while hiding the employees' tax liability.) And then there is the theft: First, the employees were buying stock at unauthorized discounts. Second... [t]he options could not have incent[iviz]ed the employee to work harder from the backdated day to the real grant day, as the employee did not own the option in this period, yet the employee got to enjoy any stock value run-up in value during this period... ## We Miss Fafblog: Condi Rice Complains to Customer Service! Not even Fafblog can deal with the Bush administration at the appropriate level. However, it is trying. Here Fafnir interviews Condi Rice: RICE: First of all, we don't send prisoners off to be tortured, Fafnir. We just transport prisoners to countries where torture happens to be legal and where they happen to end up getting tortured. FB: Well that explains everything then! It's all just a wacky misunderstanding, like that episode a Three's Company where Jack sends Janet off to Uzbekistan to get boiled alive by the secret police. RICE: I'd also like to point out that whenever we send a prisoner to a country that routinely tortures prisoners, that country promises us NOT to torture them. FB: And then they get tortured anyway! RICE: Yes, they do! It's very strange. FB: Over and over again, every time! That's gotta be so frustrating. RICE: Oh it is, it is. FB: So the first time you kidnap a prisoner an send him to Saudi Arabia you're like "don't torture this guy" an they're all "we totally won't" an then they go an torture him an you're all "ooh Saudi Arabia I told you not to torture him!" an they're all "oh we're sorry, we promise next time" an then you go "well you better" an you send em the next guy an they torture him too an you go "oh man Saudi Arabia you did it AGAIN!" RICE: The president believes in the value of patience, Fafnir. He's not going to let a few dozen innocent torture victims come between him and his favorite third-world dictators. FB: See after the first coupla hundred times that happened I woulda registered a complaint with customer service... ## Republicans: Looking Like We Face Reality Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) says: "We can't look like we won't face reality." I think that sums up the orientation of today's Republican Party. I propose at as a slogan: We're George W. Bush's Republicans: Our Task: To Look Like We Face Reality" ## Waiting for the Pause... Greg Ip waits for the "pause"... and waits and waits and waits... Greg Ip: Fed Reality Check: Fed pause coming and this time, we mean it -- right? Did Bernanke hint at a pause in rate increases in his Congressional testimony this week? The markets certainly think so, but a reality check might be in order. We checked our coverage of the last seven months and concluded that since the Fed started hinting of a pause, it's raised rates four times. Here are The Wall Street Journal's headlines in that period: • Dec. 14: Neutral Point May Be Near As Statement Leaves Room for a Pause in the Increases • Jan. 4: Fed Suggests It's Close to Ending Run of Rate Rises • Feb. 1: Fed Lifts Rate by Quarter Point, Casts Doubt on More Increases • April 19: Fed Hints Next Rate Increase Could Be the Last for a While • April 28: Bernanke Hints at a Pause in Rate Increases • May 11: Central Bank Cites Worries Of Inflation Amid Growth, But Hints of a Possible Pause • July 20: Dow Surges as Markets Take Fed Chief%u2019s Remarks as Hint Rate Increases Are Near End To be sure, those were just hints -- the Fed never said when, or whether, it would pause, and some of those hints clearly applied to a period beyond the next meeting. That said, the fact there has been no break in the tightening cycle in spite of all the hints to the contrary serves as a useful ... I think that the economy is soft enough and that there is enough contractionary pressure still in the pipeline that hasn't affected the economy yet. So I'm surprised that there hasn't been a pause yet. I suspect that the Fed is scared of the "soft on inflation" headlines that a pause would generate, and so finds itself simply putting one foot in front of the other. ## Bush Uses NAACP Speech To Promote Estate Tax Repeal George W. Bush lives down to expectations: Bush Uses NAACP Speech To Promote Estate Tax Repeal, Doesn’t Utter The Word ‘Poverty’: President Bush addressed the NAACP today for the first time in his presidency. Speaking on behalf of his friend, multi-millionaire conservative BET founder Bob Johnson, Bush used the opportunity to promote the repeal of the estate tax on the ultra-rich: One of my friends is Bob Johnson, founder of BET. He’s an interesting man. He believes strongly in ownership. He has been a successful owner. He believes strongly, for example, that the death tax will prevent future African-American entrepreneurs from being able to pass their assets from one generation to the next. He and I also understand that the investor class shouldn’t be just confined to the old definition of the investor class. President Bush’s “death tax” pitch demonstrates his stunning disconnect from the African-American community. According to an American Progress analysis, just 59 African-Americans will pay the estate tax this year, and that number will drop to 33 in 2009. Meanwhile, as of 2004, 24.7 percent of African-Americans lived under the poverty line (up from 22.7 in 2001) — that’s more than 9 million people. The number of times Bush mentioned “poverty” in his speech: 0. ## Reporters: Informing Readers vs. Minimizing Risk Hoisted from comments: Jay Rosen: Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Dana Milbank vs. Helen Thomas: From Brad's Where Are the Heirs of Walter Lippman?: "Note that my examples are budget examples. I'm one of the budget people. But I have peers in other issue areas. They see the same deficiencies. Whether they are bombs-and-bullets people, striped-pants-diplomacy people, welfare-and-social-policy people, science-and-technology-policy people--they all see the same patterns." http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2006/07/where_are_the_h.html Brad: Those "patterns" begin to find some explanation when you realize that categories like "hard news" rather than "analytical piece" are simultaneously serving as a reality-reporting system, and a risk-reduction method. Hard news is supposed to be lowest risk, not necessarily harder information. It's lower risk to just say what happened ("Rove said...") without saying what's true. An "analysis" piece means you can speculate about motives and what might happen from here. Slightly higher risk, but not necessarily more "analytical." Or let's take the classic in press watcher frustration... He said this happened, she said that happened. It tries to inform you in a half-hearted way, but it secures protection from being wrong in a full-throated way. "I'm just telling you what they said." It's not truthtelling but innocence-establishing behavior-- see? no agenda. Here's the catch: officially, journalists only engage in truthtelling. That they would the choose the more innocent account over the more truthful one contradicts the professional self-image. So it doesn't happen, even though it does. When what journalists are doing makes no sense at all to you on the reality-reporting scale, switch yourself over to the risk-reduction (or "refuge") scale and measure it there. Why don't journalists work together and coordinate their assaults to get a better answer from the President? Might make sense on the reality-reporting front, but fry the circuits on risk reduction. They'd open themselves to "cabal" charges, or so they think. Why didn't Leonard Downie join with Bill Keller and Dean Baquet in their joint op-ed explaining the need to report on classified programs sometimes? (He was asked.) He didn't want to risk the impression that news organizations act together to "get" something. For we are dealing not only with the risk of being wrong, but of coming under effective attack in the culture war's politicized theatre of news. Outside actors can influence the news by raising the perception of risk. Posted by: ay Rosen |July 18, 2006 at 03:26 PM ## Cleaning Out the Attic: The Future Is Here John Hawks writes: Splicing nerves with nanomatrix: This is too cool: Scientists partially restored the vision in blinded hamsters by plugging gaps in their injured brains with a synthetic substance that allowed brain cells to reconnect with one another, a new study reports. If it can be applied to humans, the microscopic material could one day help restore sensory and motor function to patients suffering from strokes and injuries of the brain or spinal cord. It could also help mend cuts made in the brain during surgery. In principle, it seems like reconnecting severed nerves ought to be easy -- all you have to do is splice a long wire. In practice, it's been nearly impossible. The nerve bundles are mostly composed of axons, the long branches of individual nerve cells that conduct impulses. So to fix a severed nerve, you can't just connect the opposite sides of the break, you have to coax new axons to grow across it. So these folks have found a matrix that allows the neurons to grow through it, much as they do in the developing brain. Within 24 hours, all of the animals treated with SAPNS showed signs of healing; with time, the gaps in their brain tissues closed up completely. In the adult group, vision was functionally restored within six weeks. In one animal, the severed nerve tract was restored to more than 80 percent that of a normal animal. In other studies, the researchers found that nerves needed to be only about 40 percent healed for animals to have functional vision. This is the simplest task of neural repair, fixing a wire. Fixing brains -- or building them -- will take a bit more, since we don't understand the complex connections that allow things to happen. But this is good, very good. ## Department of "Huh?" Huh? Greg Mankiw writes: Greg Mankiw's Blog: Measuring Wages: Measuring Wages: Economist David Altig opines about measures of labor earnings: If I had my way, appeals to the BLS average hourly earnings series would be banished from commentary about wages and the fortunes of the workers -- unless the the commentator explains why that measure is a truer measure of labor compensation than those that include in-kind payments to employees (that is, benefits). Good point. I am always surprised when I see economists compare wages and productivity using wage measures that exclude fringe benefits. Theory says that productivity should determine total compensation, not cash earnings. As a presumed target, I have to ask "why?" I thought that everybody knew that wages and salaries were only one component--albeit the largest component--of total compensation. But I also thought that everybody knew that (except at the very top end) differences between growth rates of wages and salaries and growth rates of real compensation were relatively small. We have pretty good data on short-run and medium-run movements in average hourly wages and median usual weekly earnings. We have pretty bad data on benefits. We know that average total compensation growss about 0.4% per year faster than average wages and salaries, and that the gap is smaller--0.2%?--at the median. Yes, it would be very nice, it would be better to have median weekly real compensation. But we don't. So why not use what we have got? ## Ze'ev Shiffrin on How Observing the Laws of War Is Good Strategic Practice Jus in bello: A strategic mistake - Haaretz - Israel News : By Ze'ev SchiffIn: Things are getting complicated. The best evidence of this is the decision to drive hundreds of Shi'ites from villages in southern Lebanon merely because Hezbollah hid missiles in them. This would be a strategic mistake. If implemented, it would mark the first time that Israel could justifiably be accused of a disproportionate military response. Israel does not need to take this kind of measure as a defensive move against a terrorist organization. The Israel Defense Forces announced at the start of the campaign that this is not a war against the Lebanese people. But if the mass flight of residents continues, the campaign will be seen as a punishment of the Lebanese, and that is a recipe for hatred.... The military difficulty involved in preventing the launching of short-range missiles gave rise to the idea of encouraging large numbers of civilians to flee northward, toward Beirut, to serve as a source of pressure. The problem was that in many places, the roads were impassable, because the Israel Air Force had bombed a large number of bridges to keep Hezbollah from transporting missiles and reinforcements. Hezbollah, for its part, is trying to prevent a massive flight to the north, using roadblocks and other measures. The IDF has used this technique before, in Operation Accountability in 1993 and in Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996. Both campaigns began in the wake of Katyusha attacks against Israeli communities. The large numbers of refugees from villages in the south put a great deal of pressure on the Lebanese government, which immediately appealed to Syria and Iran to tell Hezbollah to hold its fire. Both times, this tactic led to cease-fires, but they did not last long, because the Hezbollah leadership does not really care about the suffering masses and may even believe that such suffering helps their organization by increasing hatred of Israel. More proof of the increasingly complicated situation in Lebanon can be found in the growing number of calls from various quarters, including right-wing politicians and former senior military officials, for launching a large-scale ground campaign. The senior ranks of the IDF oppose this idea. Even though it is clear that the Air Force alone cannot solve the problem of missiles being fired at Israel, there is no real support for a broad, lengthy ground operation in Lebanon... ## Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Morons? At least twice a day, I find myself thinking about the Bushies, "They can't be this stupid and this shortsighted." Yes they can: Balkinization: Hobbes on the Euphrates: Scott Horton: Back in April, I found myself in Baghdad across the table from one of the nation's most prominent judges. A man with a reputation for integrity and independence, he had resigned from the bench rather than implement a cruel set of directives issued by Saddam Hussein. He suffered and was forced into a marginal existence thereafter. The Coalition forces, noting the respect his name commanded, tapped him for a particularly sensitive role, which he has held ever since. Since judges are killed at the rate of one-per-week in Iraq, however, I am going to refrain from using his name. In a wide ranging discussion, he came very quickly to talk about the occupation and its shortcomings. We despised Saddam Hussein, and his overthrow raised such wonderful possibilities for Iraq. But how could a country like the United States behave so stupidly as it did in those first crucial months? Saddam was a nightmare. But our country had a strong state with secular traditions. That needed to be preserved at all costs. Instead the Americans smashed that state. What did they expect Iraqis would do? It sent people scurrying back to the basic building blocks of our society, which are the clans and tribes. People turned to them for basic self-protection, not because of any political conviction. And this has led directly to the social disintegration we have today. The choices that the coalition took had consequences. You destroyed the state and you failed to put order in its place. You created chaos, in other words. And now we have to try to live with the consequences of the coalition's decisions. These comments dovetailed with a "lessons learned" analysis I understand was done within the Department of Defense. As a part of the review, a "lack of cultural awareness" of Iraqi society was repeatedly cited. A DOD anthropologist notes that many of the most serious mistakes made in the early phase of the occupation relate to a misunderstanding of the consequences of the fall of the state. Just as my interlocutor noted, the people turned immediately to family ties for protection. Surely political scientists already know this. The first chapters of Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan reflect exactly the points that the Iraqi judge was making. With the collapse of the state and with no new order to replace it, Iraq fell into the war "of all against all." Hobbes wrote, During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.... To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues. (ch. 13). Put differently, the occupation heralded by the capture of Baghdad lacked the essential characteristic of an occupation - namely a new order. Hence, in Hobbesian terms, it was that form of war which encompasses the natural state of man.In the August issue of Harper's, Ken Silverstein probes more deeply into this process of social disintegration. He takes as his vehicle the rise of one particularly powerful, but shadowy figure in the current Iraqi Government: Bayan Jabr, the current minister of finance. Silverstein dubs him the "Minister of Civil War." This article is fascinating and it offers an unusual glimpse deep inside the transformative process in Iraq that coincided with the "rule" of the Coalition Provisional Authority. This was a period which combined immense attention to public relations with Western media with an excruciatingly poor grip on the cancer that was developing in Iraq. The article is a must-read. ## Hoisted from Comments: Dean Baker on Sources of Today's Great Fortunes Dean Baker on the sources of today's great fortunes: luck, talent, workaholism--but most of all intellectual property protection. He says: Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Luck vs. Talent vs. Workaholism: Luck, talent, industriousness? Hey, how about good old-fashioned protectionism? How much moey would Bill Gates have if the government didn't arrest people who made and distributed copies of Windows without his permission. We can call it "copyright," but this word isn't holy water that can turn a monopoly into a competitive market. Copyright is a government granted monopoly that has allowed some people to get very rich. If economics focused on where the money is, we would have alot more people trying to devise more efficient mechanisms to foster innovation and creative work, and fewer people worrying about modest tariffs on imported shirts. ## Cleaning Out the Attic: Evaluating Mutual Funds Evaluating Mutual Funds: A Fund vs. Its Former Self - New York Times : The idea is to compare each fund's returns with how it would have performed had it simply held, without trading, the stocks it listed in its most recent public disclosure. The study was done by three finance professors: Marcin Kacperczyk of the University of British Columbia and Clemens Sialm and Lu Zheng of the University of Michigan. They focused on what they called the "return gap": the difference between a fund's actual returns and what it would have earned had it stuck with its most recently listed holdings. The S.E.C. requires that funds make such disclosures twice a year; the professors report that nearly half of all funds do so at least quarterly. The study found that, on average, funds with consistently positive return gaps were much better bets for future performance than those that were consistently negative, regardless of the frequency of portfolio disclosures. They analyzed more than 2,500 domestic equity mutual funds over a 20-year period - 1984 through 2003. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract-id=676103 The professors say they believe that their approach works well because it evaluates fund performance more precisely than the customary practice of comparing it with a market benchmark.... The professors' approach sidesteps these problems because it doesn't compare funds with generic benchmarks. Each fund is compared only with itself - or what its performance would have been had it not made changes in its portfolio.... Mark Hulbert is editor of The Hulbert Financial Digest, a service of MarketWatch. ## Memo to Self: Time for Another Nanotech Check-in The last Nanotech check-in: The Future, Now Available in Stores - New York Times: By BARNABY J. FEDER: One way to grasp all the fuss about nanotechnology -- the billions of dollars invested; the talk of potential breakthrough products in energy, computing and health care; the fears of novel hazards unleashed on an unsuspecting populace -- is to plunge into the underlying science. Another way is to forgo the intellectual heavy lifting and look at what products are available. What is nanotech, anyway? The answer: skis, face creams, paint, toothpaste and consumer electronics, according to a list compiled by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.... [T]he 212 items have little to do with the society-changing breakthroughs nanotechnology champions anticipate.... Andrew Maynard, chief science adviser to the project, said that what constitutes nanotechnology is still an open question, beyond the basic concept that whatever it is must be very small (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter). "When we got people together last summer to study public attitudes toward nanotechnology, we found they were most interested in-- they come into contact with," he said. Actual nanoscale devices %u2014 molecular machines, perhaps -- are still largely in the dream stage. So instead there is the evolutionary progress of stain-resistant Brooks Brothers ties and Eddie Bauer khakis. And there are the modest environmental and safety benefits of windows and windshields that, thanks to embedded nanoscale structures, are resistant to streaking and dirt. "Nanotechnology is here and now," Mr. Maynard said. "But there is nothing fundamentally different yet." ## More Lessons from ENRON George Mundstock writes: Discourse.net: Enron's Special Purpose Entities: EMy pet gripe in the whole accounting simplification debate is how business and the accounting industry cite Enron as evidence that we need less detailed rules. They argue that detailed rules provide a roadmap for technical compliance that violates the spirit... [while] simple rules could not be gamed. In fact, Enron demonstrates the need for detailed rules. Enron is best known for its use of Special Purpose Entities (SPEs) to manipulate accounting results. Enron would own most of a subsidiary corporation or partnership, but outsiders would have voting control, so that the entity would not be treated as part of Enron on its (consolidated) financial statements. Practice at the time was that outside investors put up at least 3% of the equity capital. In fact, in many of the Fastow/Enron deals, outsiders did not, and would not, put up 3% because the deals were so screwy. Clear rules worked. (Substantive accounting rules cannnot stop fraud.) End of story. But, argues business, the 3% was so tempting that it encouraged the deals. Rather, if the rules left the separateness decision to the accountant's judgment, she would have stopped these deals. Wrong! Details below. The 3% rule came from a 1990 pronouncement of an ongoing task force on emerging accounting issues that was formed by the Financial Accounting Standards Board. This pronouncement dealt with SPEs formed to do sale/leaseback transactions. (The SPE would lease debt-laden property to its economic parent in order to get the debt off the parent's financial statements. Tax benefit transfers to the outside 3% usually also were involved.) The exact language of the pronouncement was: The initial substantive residual equity investment should be comparable to that expected for a substantive business involved in similar... transactions with similar risks and rewards. The SEC staff understands from discussions with Working Group members that those members believe that 3 percent [now 10 percent] is the minimum acceptable investment. The SEC staff believes a greater investment may be necessary depending on the facts and circumstances, including the credit risk associated {with the SPE's activities]... Enron's SPEs did incredibly risky hedging, not safe sale/leasebacks, and yet nobody even thought about requiring more than 3% outside equity. In other words, the rule applied in Enron had a non-detailed facts and circumstances test in addition to the 3% rocky shoal, and the non-detailed rule failed completely! Enron's SPEs did no hedging at all. They were ways of having the company bet that its stock price would continue to rise. ## Two Notes on the State of the Budget Two notes on the budget from Stan Collender. Note 1: BUDGET BATTLES: More Needs To Be Said About The Midsession Review. By Stan Collender: [T]he new fiscal 2008 deficit estimate --$188 billion -- would be a huge 45-percent drop from the previous year and so should be considered suspect. It is based in part on the assumption that domestic appropriations will stay flat at about $398 billion. Because$398 billion would be less than what was appropriated for 2006, the base is almost certainly too low. An additional $10 billion to$15 billion over what is being assumed should be anticipated. The 2008 deficit is also likely to be higher because expenses related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will be greater than assumed.

In addition, revenues may be far less than projected. It's hard to tell for sure, but it does not appear the administration has assumed that the alternative minimum tax will be fixed in 2008, either permanently or with the same type of one-year "patch" that has been used the past few years. There is virtually no doubt the AMT will be fixed; the tax increase on those who consider themselves middle-class would be far too large a political problem. Therefore, revenues would be between $40 billion and$50 billion less than is forecast.

As much as I would like to see it happen, I have real doubts about the administration's forecast that the economy will grow by between 5 percent and 6 percent every year through 2008....

Note 2:

BUDGET BATTLES: More Needs To Be Said About The Midsession Review. By Stan Collender: [T]he politics of the budget debate were likely changed significantly by the midsession review. It's hard to see, for example, how the lower deficit numbers for 2006 and 2008 and the "problem solved" attitude displayed by the White House will encourage Congress to look more cautiously at spending. Even with a deficit hovering around $300 billion a year and a debt that is at an all-time high, many on Capitol Hill may now think they have a few more dollars to spend this year. It also may make it more difficult for the White House to stand in their way. Last week's midsession budget rally at the White House will also make it harder for the leadership to get the Senate to adopt the budget process changes it has been pushing, because at least a handful of senators will be able to say they are not needed. ## Mirror of Wildernesses John "Have You Managed Death Squads? I've Managed Death Squads" Negroponte and Zalmay "Happy Birthday, Mr. President! Happy Birthday!" Khalilzad are the only two people I can name whose reputations have--so far--not been damaged by their service in the George W. Bush administration. Here we have John Negroponte doing... something... perhaps trying to keep Bush out of the Iraq-policy loop for fear that if he gets in the loop something bad will happen... and the CIA doing... something else... I cannot tell what. [Negroponte Blocks CIA Analysis of Iraq "Civil War" (Harpers.org)](http://harpers.org/sb-sources-negroponte-nei-cia-1153433546.html: The situation has gotten even darker since my initial story--a United Nations report cited in Wednesday's New York Times found that an average of more than 100 Iraqi civilians were killed each day in June--and I've learned from two sources that some senior figures at the CIA, along with a number of Iraq analysts, have been pushing to produce a new NIE. They've been stonewalled, however, by John Negroponte, the administration's Director of National Intelligence, who knows that any honest take on the situation would produce an NIE even more pessimistic than the 2004 version. That could create problems on the Hill and, if it is leaked as the last one was, with the public as well. "What do you call the situation in Iraq right now?" asked one person familiar with the situation. "The analysts know that it's a civil war, but there's a feeling at the top that [using that term] will complicate matters." Negroponte, said another source regarding the potential impact of a pessimistic assessment, "doesn't want the president to have to deal with that." The sources said that forces at the CIA have been lobbying for the new NIE for about six months. Not only is one overdue, but there's also a fear that if the Democrats win control of at least one chamber of Congress this November, the agency is going to get hammered for not having produced an NIE for so long. When the topic of a new NIE was first raised, the Directorate of National Intelligence agreed to consider the matter, but advocates heard nothing back. They raised the topic again several months ago and were told that Negroponte was still mulling over the matter. Since then, there's been no indication that the DNI intends to authorize a new NIE. "He's not going to allow [analysts] to call the situation warts and all," said one source. "There's real angst about it inside." ## Jus in Bello? Jus in bello?: Informed Comment: AP says that on Thursday ' Israel warned hundreds of thousands of people to flee southern Lebanon "immediately . . ." ' The Orwellian world into which Olmert and his band of manic bombers have plunged ordinary Lebanese is illustrated by Liz Sly's report for the Trib: Thousands of Lebanese were trying to flee the south after Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets warning people to leave, stirring fears that an Israeli ground invasion was imminent. But hundreds of thousands more remain stranded in villages and towns across the south, unable to leave their homes because of the intensity of the sustained Israeli bombing campaign.... So let's get this straight. The Israelis warn the small town Shiites of the south to flee their own homes and go hundreds of miles away (and live on what? in what?). But then they intensely bombing them, making it impossible for them to flee. The Lebanese have awoken to find themselves cockroaches. I repeat, this is nothing less than an ethnic cleansing of the Shiites of southern Lebanon... what Saddam Hussein did to the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq, and the Israelis are doing it for exactly the same sorts of reasons that Saddam did. The death toll was much, much, much higher in Saddam Hussein's ethnic cleansing of the marsh Arabs. ## You Are Naive, Grasshopper You are naive, Grasshopper. Brendan Nyhan writes: Brendan Nyhan: Reality triumphs in Iraq debate: The Washington Post notes a sad victory for the reality-based community (via Josh Marshall): Republican lawmakers acknowledge that it is no longer tenable to say the news media are ignoring the good news in Iraq and painting an unfair picture of the war. In the first half of this year, 4,338 Iraqi civilians died violent deaths, according to a new report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq. Last month alone, 3,149 civilians were killed -- an average of more than 100 a day. "It's like after Katrina, when the secretary of homeland security was saying all those people weren't really stranded when we were all watching it on TV," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.). "I still hear about that. We can't look like we won't face reality." Despite my concern about the effectiveness of manipulative PR, facts should still prevail in the long run. You were not listening to Representative McHenry, Grasshopper. He did not say, "We must face reality." He said, "We can't look like we won't face reality." You are naive, Grasshopper. You need further training before you face the cruel world. ## The King of Zembla Gets It Right The King of Zembla hits the nail on the head: King of Zembla: How do you tell a pro-lifer? When the lab catches fire, he leaves the live baby and saves the five blastocysts. Mr. Bush did just that yesterday, exercising the first veto of his benighted presidency to deny medical researchers the use of embryonic stem cells that will now wind up in the dumpster instead: Bush and his allies say that frozen embryos are tantamount to humans, and therefore are no more appropriate for medical research than are death row inmates. "If this bill were to become law," Bush said yesterday, "American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos." Others reject that analysis, saying it would make killers of every couple that produces an unused embryo, and every employee and official who allows fertility clinics to produce and store such embryos. "If that's murder, how come the president allows that to continue?" asked Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). "Where is his outrage?" Harkin called the veto "a shameful display of cruelty, hypocrisy and ignorance." Silly Tom Harkin. Trying to use logic on George W. Bush and company. They are impervious to logic. ## Optimal Tax Policy An old New York Times column by Hal Varian: Hal Varian: In the debate over tax policy, the power of luck shouldn't be overlooked: Those who argue for a more progressive income tax emphasize equity: a tax dollar paid by a rich person causes less pain than a tax dollar paid by a poor person. Those who argue for a less progressive system emphasize efficiency: the most productive people should face lower tax rates to give them strong incentives to work harder and produce more.... This formulation of the optimal income tax problem was first examined by the economist James Mirrlees of Cambridge University, who received a Nobel in economic science for his analysis. In the simplest version of the Mirrlees model... those at the very top of the income scale should face low marginal rates.... Of course, the fact that it pays to reduce the marginal tax rate for billionaires doesn't say much about what tax rates should be like for mere millionaires.... But the intuitive argument presented above is pretty compelling: if income depends only on ability, those at the very top of the income-ability distribution should face low marginal tax rates. But perhaps this model is too simple.... So let's consider a different model: one in which differences in income are a result only of luck.... In this case, the optimal income tax may well involve taxing billionaires at very high marginal rates. True, aspiring billionaires won't work quite as hard.... But the chances of becoming a billionaire are pretty low anyway, so taxing billionaires at a high rate won't really discourage much effort by those hoping to become one.... This is about as far as theory can take us, but it highlights the critical question: How much income results from ability and how much from luck?... Christopher Jencks, and his collaborators pointed out many years ago that income inequality among brothers, who share similar genetic and environmental characteristics, is almost as great as for the population as a whole.... If luck plays a substantial role... it makes sense to have a progressive income tax, creating a form of social insurance in which the lucky subsidize the unlucky. Perhaps the folk singer Phil Ochs had the best answer for why the upper half of the income distribution should pay so much more in taxes than the lower half: ''And there but for fortune, may go you or I.'' ## On Vox: By That Logic... "The eagle is the egg because the eagle comes out of the egg." By that logic, Senator Brownback is a vagina. » Read more on Vox ## On Vox: By That Logic... "The eagle is the egg because the eagle comes out of the egg." By that logic, Senator Brownback is a vagina. » Read more on Vox ## What Does the Israeli Government Think It's Doing? Pat Lang Is Puzzled by the IDF: And joining us now to talk a little bit about Israel's military strategy is retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang. He was headed a key Pentagon intelligence service and was the top DIA officer dealing with the Middle East for seven years. Pat, thanks very much for coming in. Can this Israeli military strategy of trying to deliver a knockout punch to Hezbollah work? COL. PAT LANG, U.S. ARMY (RET.): It doesn't make any sense to me. As you know, I've worked in all of these countries and with the IDF a lot, and studied it forever. And this just doesn't make any sense to me what they're doing, because as this Israeli air force major said, it's impossible to go around in a kind of hunt for all of these rocket launchers everywhere. Hezbollah is a numerous, well organized, disciplined guerrilla army. They have reserves in depth of people among the Shia people of Lebanon. They've been organizing this ground for five or six years. There are all kinds of tank traps and ambush positions. All kinds of things like this. It's a murderous place to go fight. And the idea that you can root people like that out who are Islamic zealots and cause them to quit and run away with air power and artillery and some small- scale operations, it's just -- it's just not on. BLITZER: So what do you see the Israeli military strategy -- I mean, I assume they appreciate the same factors that you appreciate. LANG: I don't understand it. I can't understand it. The only way you can stop Hezbollah from shooting into north Lebanon is to move... BLITZER: Into north Israel. LANG: Into north Israel is to move their gun line back to the north far enough so that, in fact, they can't reach you. The only way to do that, in my opinion, is with ground troops. Now, I know the IDF does not want to occupy part of Lebanon again, but they've somehow gotten themselves in a position in which there may be no other choice. And from what I understand, they're mobilizing large numbers of people and they're probably thinking it over. The other part of their strategy... BLITZER: Because they tried that invasion for, what, 18 years, and it turned out to not such a great experience. LANG: It was a terrible experience. The Lebanese lined up to fight them all over the place. It was a continual dribble of casualties all the time which finally politically caused Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon. And the other part of this, which is to -- to cause the Lebanese government to be something that it is not, a unified government that has an army that's a real army, instead of symbol of national unity who will act against Hezbollah, that's just not on. The Lebanese don't have that in them to do it. BLITZER: The brigadier general, Alon Friedman, of the IDF, the Israeli defense forces, was quoted yesterday as saying, "Israeli strikes have destroyed about 50 percent of Hezbollah's arsenal. It will take us time to destroy what is left." Does that sound credible, that half of the rockets, half of the arsenal over the past nine days has been destroyed? LANG: Well, there's no way for me to know and there's no way for them to know either, in any way. I mean, you know, I've fought this kind of war against guerillas in various places before, and you never really know until you get to talk to the people who were defeated afterwards to find out how many people you actually bagged. The only way you know how much you have worn them down by attrition is when the fire that comes into northern Israel starts to fall off and you run into less resistance when you go in on the ground. BLITZER: I don't think he meant that they killed half of Hezbollah. I think what he said -- he meant they destroyed half of their rockets, let's say. LANG: I don't think there's any way to know that. As I said, the only way you can know if those deep bunkers of rockets all over southern Lebanon have been emptied is if the fire into northern Israel starts to diminish. That's the only way you'll know. BLITZER: All right. So put on your advice cap. You used to give advice to defense secretaries and top U.S. officials. If you were advising the Israeli government right now, the Israeli military, they've got rockets coming in from south Lebanon, they've got Hezbollah crossing the border, killing and kidnapping Israeli soldiers, this is a U.N. recognized border, what would you do if you were the Israeli military? COL. PAT LANG, FORMER PENTAGON MIDEAST INTEL. CHIEF: I would have advised them to take specific punitive action on the people who hurt them with the death of these soldiers and to negotiate an outcome with that. BLITZER: What does that mean exactly, spell it out? LANG: Well they've done this before. They've worked with the Germans and other people for the return of captured soldiers, things of that kind. BLITZER: To do a prisoner swap? LANG: That kind of thing. BLITZER: But doesn't that encourage further terrorism down the road? LANG: Well in this, as in many situations in war and politics, in fact you often have to choose between two bad alternatives. Now having done what they have done now, they are now in a position in which in four, five, six days, a week, two weeks, whatever it is, they're going to decide that they have no choice but to put a large force into southern Lebanon. And that's going to hurt them badly for a long time. In a lot of these things, once you start down the road, having made a bad decision, you're just stuck. BLITZER: Pat Lang, U.S. Army colonel, retired. Thanks very much for coming in. LANG: Good to see you, Wolf. BLITZER: Thank you Pat. ## Worth Reading 20060621 Worth reading, June 21, 2006: Hal Varian: In the debate over tax policy, the power of luck shouldn't be overlooked: Those who argue for a more progressive income tax emphasize equity: a tax dollar paid by a rich person causes less pain than a tax dollar paid by a poor person. Those who argue for a less progressive system emphasize efficiency: the most productive people should face lower tax rates to give them strong incentives to work harder and produce more.... This formulation of the optimal income tax problem was first examined by the economist James Mirrlees of Cambridge University, who received a Nobel in economic science for his analysis. In the simplest version of the Mirrlees model... those at the very top of the income scale should face low marginal rates... Economist.com | Articles by Subject | Cotton: If weather were the only problem facing cotton farmers, things might not be so bad. They are used to nature's whims: Kress lies in the heart of the 1930s Dust Bowl, and even today dirt storms (and sometimes tornadoes) roll through in the spring. Fortunately cotton requires much less water than, say, maize.... Free trade is even more of a threat. The cotton industry exists in America only because of subsidies, and it stands to lose much if the World Trade Organisation's Doha negotiating round succeeds. Cutting trade-distorting farm subsidies is a top priority in the trade round.... The absurdity of America's cotton subsidies is well known. Uncle Sam spends over$4 billion a year propping up cotton farmers, with the bulk of the money going to those whose operations are much larger than Mr Evans's. Cotton receives far more government cash per acre than other crops%u2014in 2001, four or five times that of maize or wheat, according to a recent paper by the National Centre for Policy Analysis, a conservative think-tank. The losers are not just American taxpayers but some of the world's poorest farmers, as America's subsidised production pushes down world prices. Cotton prices have halved since the mid-1990s as America's subsidies have doubled...

King of Zembla: How do you tell a pro-lifer? When the lab catches fire, he leaves the live baby and saves the five blastocysts. Mr. Bush did just that yesterday, exercising the first veto of his benighted presidency to deny medical researchers the use of embryonic stem cells that will now wind up in the dumpster instead: 'Bush and his allies say that frozen embryos are tantamount to humans, and therefore are no more appropriate for medical research than are death row inmates. "If this bill were to become law," Bush said yesterday, "American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos." Others reject that analysis, saying it would make killers of every couple that produces an unused embryo, and every employee and official who allows fertility clinics to produce and store such embryos. "If that's murder, how come the president allows that to continue?" asked Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). "Where is his outrage?" Harkin called the veto "a shameful display of cruelty, hypocrisy and ignorance."'

They don't call Tom Friedman "Airmiles" for nothing: Order vs. Disorder - New York Times: Too often, assaults like Hezbollah's, which have global implications, have been met with only "a local response," said Gidi Grinstein, who heads Reut, an Israeli defense think tank. "But the only way that these networks can be defeated is if their global assault is met by a global response." Unfortunately, partly because of China, Russia and Europe's traditional resentment and jealousy of the U.S. and partly because of the foolish Bush approach that said unilateral American power was more important than action legitimated by a global consensus, the global forces of order today are not at all united. It is time that The World of Order got its act together. This is not Israel's fight alone -- and if you really want to see a "disproportional" Israeli response, just keep leaving Israel to fight this war alone. Then you will see some real craziness. George Bush and Condi Rice need to realize that Syria on its own is not going to press Hezbollah -- in Mr. Bush's immortal words -- to just "stop doing this shit." The Bush team needs to convene a coalition of The World of Order. If it won't, it should let others more capable do the job. We could start with the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton, whose talents could be used for more than just tsunami relief...

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

## Robert Samuelson: Bush a Flatulent Cow Engaged in a Public Disinformation Campaign

Mark Thoma finds Robert Samuelson of Newsweek and theWashington Post far gone into total insanity: calling George W. Bush and the Republican Congressional leadership flatulent cows engaged in a campaign of public disinformation--that's a striking image:

Economist's View: Yet Another Robert Samuelson Edition...: No Shame, No Sense and a $296 Billion Bill, by Robert J. Samuelson, Commentary, Washington Post: [U]tterly shameless... President Bush... federal budget... flatulence in cows... the Republicans' orgy of self-approval amounts to a campaign of public disinformation.... [T]he budget should be balanced -- or run a surplus -- when the economy is close to "full employment," as it is now.... Bush doesn't praise... interest payment on the growing federal debt... rise from$184 billion in 2005 to $302 billion in 2011. Some conservatives rationalize their indifference to deficits as "starving the beast"... theory doesn't fit the facts... Yep. He has been driven into shrill unholy madness by the mendacity, malevolence, incompetence, and disconnection from reality of George W. Bush and his administration. Too bad we couldn't have had any of this rhetoric from Robert Samuelson six years ago, back when Bush was lowballing the cost of his tax cut by assuming that most of it would be snarfed back by the Alternative Minimum Tax when adding all the numbers up and highballing the "benefits" to the rich by assuming the AMT would be repealed when calculating any individual's tax cut. That was a bigger campaign of public disinformation. And I'm sure Samuelson was hearing the same things I was in 2000 from people who'd been to Crawford and come back shaking their heads at what they found there. And it's too bad that Robert Samuelson has turned himself into the Noam Chomsky of the budget with his insistance on "moral equivalence" in fiscal policy: that in every column of his he has to make stuff up so that he can claim that "Democrats aren't much better [than Republicans]." You have to very carefully parse Samuelson's words: when Samuelson writes that "budget surpluses from 1998 to 2001... resulted mainly from the end of the Cold War (which lowered defense spending) and the economic boom" he is not denying that Clinton did a huge amount of heavy lifting to improve the fiscal situation--he is only asserting that Clinton's policy changes brought the budget back from the Reagan deficits not into surplus but only into rough balance. (I have dealt with this before.) Still, flatulent cows engaged in a public disinformation campaign--that's good. ## On Vox: Greed and Corporate Failure Stewart Hamilton and Alicia Micklethwait (2006), Greed and Corporate Failure: Lessons from Recent Disasters (London: Palgrave: 1403986363), has the best short thumbnail discussion of Enron (and of other things) I have yet found: » Read more on Vox ## A Request for Help... Perhaps the weirdest of all Washington intellectuals-on-the-make is Marshall Wittman, now of the DLC and the "independent minded progressive" Bull Moose weblog at http://bullmooseblogger.blogspot.com/. Today we see Roger Ailes's mind explodes as he contemplates Marshall Whitman of the 2000s: Bull Moose: The Moose and the Donkey are pleased to join hands--or more precisely, hooves--and express gratification that Ralph Reed is not going to become Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Nor will Brother Reed, whose eyes were on much higher aspirations, hear the strains of "Hail to the Chief."... Once among the highest and the mightiest in Republican councils, Reed could not win a low-turnout Republican primary in his adopted home state; indeed, state senator Casey Cagle wound up routing him by double digits.... The Moose does not fault brother Ralph for having been a leader in the religious right. There are many good and decent folks in the religious conservative movement. What the Moose faults Ralph for is his hypocrisy and crass cynicism as he reportedly exploited the good will of religious folks. Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff truly deserve each other... And Marshall Wittman of the 1990s: Quote Cuisine: In 1988, Marshall Wittmann founded "Jews for George" and sure enough George H.W. Bush was elected president. In 1989, Wittmann was rewarded with a job as deputy assistant secretary of Health and Human Services. The ex-Trotskyite neocon['s]... job was to serve as liaison between HHS and social conservatives who were lobbying the department to tighten restrictions on abortion.... But Bush lost in 1992.... [H]e thought, " Hmmm, a Jew goes to the Christian Coalition, that might be interesting." He was savvy enough to figure that the Christian Coalition might want to hire a Jew just to show it wasn't bigoted. He wrote to Ralph Reed, the group's executive director, and asked for a job. Reed took him to lunch at Bullfeathers and hired him.... [T]he job was fascinating and it put Wittmann in the middle of the Republican revolution that seized control of Congress in 1995. He also got to attend a lot of Christian church services."I kinda liked the speaking in tongues," he says. "I've always wanted to do that in a meeting some day"... But that's not all. In his time, Marshall Whitman has been a Clean-for-Gene 1968 Democratic liberal, a Young Sparticist, a Yarborough Texas Populist-Democrat, a worker for the Radical Zionist Alliance and then the UFW, an employee of the National Treasury Employees Union, an employee of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, an anti-affirmative action Cultural Republican, a Jew for George [H. W. Bush], a Republican HHS staffer in charge of liaison with the crazies, a Christian Coalition apparatchik, Heritage Foundation liaison for Congress, a Hudson Institute staffer, a John McCain flack, and now an independent-minded progressive working for the Democratic Leadership Council. It is the zaniest careening ride of ideological chameleonship I have ever seen--far outstripping that of the original "Vicar of Bray." So I want to ask one and all for help in composing, to the tune of the "Vicar of Bray," the: #### Marshall Wittman Political Drinking Song When good Ralph Yarborough was in Senate, And Texas populism was in flower; I worked for him like a loyal tenant , And so hoped to gain some power. And this is true, I am no fool, I'll always have the juice, Sir. That whatsoever Party may rule, I'm the progressive Bull Moose, Sir! When Linda Chavez made her move, To try to win in Maryland. To her anti-PC message I grooved, And there I took my stand. And this is true, I am no fool, I'll always have the juice, Sir. That whatsoever Party may rule, I will still be the Bull Moose, Sir! When Clinton with Bush played the hob, And kicked me out of HHS, I found I badly needed a job, And Christian Coalition feathered my nest. And this is true, I am no fool, I'll always have the juice, Sir. That whatsoever Party may rule, I'm the progressive Bull Moose, Sir! When John McCain made straight talk And needed a press spokes-man, I talked the talk and walked the walk, And always was the yes-man. And this is true, I am no fool, I'll always have the juice, Sir. That whatsoever Party may rule, I will still be the Bull Moose, Sir! And now I'm at the DLC, A Democrat--giving it my best, Working to empower Nancy Pelosi, Until I figure out where to jump next. And this is true, I am no fool, I'll always have the juice, Sir. That whatsoever Party may rule, I'm the progressive Bull Moose, Sir! Still needed are verses for: Eugene McCarthy The Young Spartacists The Radical Zionist Alliance The United Farm Workers The National Treasury Employees Union The National Association of Retired Federal Employees Jews for George [H.W.] Bush Republican DAS in Health and Human Services (with the job of keeping anti-abortion crusaders on the reservation) Heritage Foundation liaison with Congress Hudson Institute Continue reading "A Request for Help..." » ## Not a Good Labor Market Real wages are still falling: USUAL WEEKLY EARNINGS OF WAGE AND SALARY WORKERS: SECOND QUARTER 2006: Median weekly earnings of the nation's 105.9 million full-time wage and salary workers were$659 in the second quarter of 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. This was 2.5 percent higher than a year earlier, compared with a gain of 4.0 percent in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) over the same period.

Data on usual earnings are collected as part of the Current Population Survey, a nationwide sample survey of households in which respondents are asked, among other things, how much each wage and salary worker usually earns...

## A Condemnation of Israeli Tactics

Michael Walzer condemns Israeli tactics in Gaza and Lebanon:

Why Israel is entitled to act: There cannot be any direct attacks on civilian targets (even if the enemy doesn't believe in the existence of civilians), and this principle is a major constraint also on attacks on the economic infrastructure. Writing about the first Iraq war, in 1991, I argued that the U.S. decision to attack "communication and transportation systems, electric power grids, government buildings of every sort, water pumping stations and purification plants" was wrong. "Selected infrastructural targets are easy enough to justify: bridges over which supplies are carried to the army in the field provide an obvious example. But power and water ... are very much like food: they are necessary to the survival and everyday activity of soldiers, but they are equally necessary to everyone else. An attack here is an attack on civilian society. ... [I]t is the military effects, if any, that are 'collateral.'" That was and is a general argument; it clearly applies to the Israeli attacks on power stations in Gaza and Lebanon.

The argument, in this case, is prudential as well as moral. Reducing the quality of life in Gaza, where it is already low, is intended to put pressure on whoever is politically responsible for the inhabitants of Gaza--and then these responsible people, it is hoped, will take action against the shadowy forces attacking Israel. The same logic has been applied in Lebanon, where the forces are not so shadowy. But no one is responsible in either of these cases, or, better, those people who might take responsibility long ago chose not to. The leaders of the sovereign state of Lebanon insist that they have no control over the southern part of their country--and, more amazingly, no obligation to take control. Still, Palestinian civilians are not likely to hold anyone responsible for their fate except the Israelis, and, while the Lebanese will be more discriminating, Israel will still bear the larger burden of blame. Hamas and Hezbollah feed on the suffering their own activity brings about, and an Israeli response that increases the suffering only intensifies the feeding....

Since Hamas and Hezbollah describe the captures as legitimate military operations--acts of war--they can hardly claim that further acts of war, in response, are illegitimate. The further acts have to be proportional, but Israel's goal is to prevent future raids, as well as to rescue the soldiers, so proportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do. The most important Israeli goal in both the north and the south is to prevent rocket attacks on its civilian population, and, here, its response clearly meets the requirements of necessity.... The crucial argument is about the Palestinian use of civilians as shields.... Israeli soldiers... are expected to do everything they can to prevent civilian deaths, and... to fight against an enemy that hides behind civilians....

[T]he Palestinian use of civilian shields, though it is a cruel and immoral way of fighting, is also an effective way of fighting. It works, because it is both morally right and politically intelligent for the Israelis to minimize--and to be seen trying to minimize--civilian casualties...

## Luck vs. Talent vs. Workaholism

...the lucky or talented or workaholic today can, thanks to revolutions in computer and communications technology, leverage their symbolic-analyst skills over a much larger base of routine manufacturing, marketing, and distribution workers than they could have a generation ago. In this model, we have become much more of a "winner take all" economy than we used to be. Much more income is distributed in the form of winner-take-all tournaments than used to be the case. My first reaction is that this is possible, but unproven. My second reaction depends on whether victory in the winner-take-all tournaments is due to luck, talent, or industriousness.

Marginal Revolution: Talent and Reward: I would add this, it's going to be very difficult to tell. In a winner take all economy where talents are leveraged over a much larger base, small differences in talent are worth much more. A 1% improvement in a firm with revenues of 1 million is worth a lot less than a 1% improvement in a firm with revenues of 1 billion. Even more, if 1% greater talent is what separates Amazon from SuperBookDeals then the rewards to the founder of the former will be higher than that of the latter by much more than 1%...

To which I riposte that there is some evidence that luck plays a huge role:

Leonard Mlodinow: With each passing year the unpredictability of film revenue is supported by more and more academic research. That's not to say that a jittery homemade horror video could just as easily become a hit as, say, "Exorcist: The Beginning," which cost an estimated $80 million, according to Box Office Mojo, the source for all estimated budget and revenue figures in this story. Well, actually, that is what happened with "The Blair Witch Project" (1999), which cost the filmmakers a mere$60,000 but brought in $140 million%u2014-more than three times the business of "Exorcist." (Revenue numbers reflect only domestic receipts.)... When Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone bought Paramount Pictures in 1993, he inherited Sherry Lansing as studio chief.... [U]nder Lansing, Paramount won best picture awards for "Forrest Gump," "Braveheart" and "Titanic" and posted its two highest-grossing years ever. So successful was Lansing that she became, simply, "Sherry"--as if she were the only Sherry in town. But Lansing's reputation soon plunged.... [Why? T]he short answer... 11.4%, 10.6%, 11.3%, 7.4%, 7.1%, 6.7%.... [T]hose six numbers represent the market share of Paramount's Motion Picture Group for the final six years of Lansing's tenure between 1999 and 2004.... How could a sure-fire genius lead a company to seven great years, then fail practically overnight?... Lansing had been praised for making Paramount one of Hollywood's best-run studios, with an ability to turn out$100 million hits from conventional stories. But when her fortune changed, the revisionists took over. Her penchant for making successful remakes and sequels became a drawback.... Even if the theories of Lansing's shortcomings were plausible, consider how abruptly her demise occurred. Did she become risk-averse and out-of-touch overnight?... Postdiction is less impressive than prediction. But as the final chapter of Lansing's career shows, postdiction is how Hollywood does business.

Academic research provides an alternate theory of Lansing's rise and fall: It was just plain luck.... [I]n Lansing's case there's already evidence that she was fired because of the industry's flawed reasoning rather than her own flawed decision-making.... Paramount's 2005 films (and even half of 2006's) already were in the pipeline when Lansing left the company.... With films such as "War of the Worlds" and "The Longest Yard," Paramount had its best summer since 1994 and saw its market share rebound to nearly 10%.... [H]ad Viacom had more patience, the headline might have read, "Banner year puts Paramount and Lansing's career back on track"...

## Kudos to Walter Pincus

Cowardly newsrooms--but kudos to Walter Pincus:

## Scott Rosenberg Is Really Shrill

Morally bankrupt Bush:

Boing Boing: Bush's threat to veto stem cell funding is morally bankrupt: Scott Rosenberg of Salon has an excellent blog entry explaining why Bush's threat to veto federal funding of stem cell research is shamefully ridiculous.

Here is why Bush's position is a joke: Thousands and thousands of embryos are destroyed every year in fertility clinics. They are created in petri dishes as part of fertility treatments like IVF; then they are discarded. If Bush and his administration truly believe that destroying an embryo is a kind of murder, they shouldn't be wasting their time arguing about research funding: They should immediately shut down every fertility clinic in the country, arrest the doctors and staff who operate them, and charge all the wannabe parents who have been wantonly slaughtering legions of the unborn. But of course they'll never do such a thing. (Nor, to be absolutely clear, do I think they should.) Bush could not care less about this issue except as far as it helps burnish his pro-life credentials among his "base."

## Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars?

Liars:

ThinkProgress: Defending Bush's Veto, Rove Grossly Distorts Stem Cell Science: Today, Bush is expected to veto a bill that would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.... Last week, Karl Rove... told the Denver Post that "recent studies" show researchers "have far more promise from adult stem cells than from embryonic stem cells." The Chicago Tribune contacted a dozen top stem cell experts about Rove's claim. They all said it was inaccurate. So who wrote the "studies" that Rove was referring to? White House spokesman Ken Lisaius on Tuesday could not provide the name of a stem cell researcher who shares Rove's views on the superior promise of adult stem cells...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

## Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (I Give the Washington Post Twenty Years Department)

Daniel Gross is unhappy that the Washington Post employs Michael Abramowitz and Charles Babbington as journalists:

Daniel Gross: July 16, 2006 - July 22, 2006 Archives: GREAT MOMENTS IN CREDULITY: From an article by Michael Abramowitz and Chuck Babington in yesterday's Washington Post.

"By working closely with Congress -- and by threatening vetoes when they were called for -- discretionary spending has been kept in check and there hasn't been a need to veto a spending bill," said Scott Milburn, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.

But some fiscal conservatives complained that the absence of presidential vetoes reflects a lack of interest by Bush in challenging Congress to reduce costs in large spending bills that are outside the regular budget process -- such as highway, energy and agriculture bills that were full of expensive projects. As long as Bush was receiving support for his big agenda items such as tax cuts and the Iraq war, he went along with the bills, they said.

He just decided not to spend the political capital in fighting Congress on spending, and Congress basically agreed to go along with his biggest priorities," said Pat Toomey, president of the Club for Growth. "That's gotten us to the point where spending has gotten out of control."

It's amazing to me that two reporters could print that quote from Milburn, even with the two paragraphs that follow. Why? To say that discretionary spending has been kept in check in the Bush years is, lets see, how should I put this, an appalling lie! Just check out this chart from Cato.

As I have said before, informing its readers about the state of the world is just not something that a young Washington Post reporter these days is taught to care about. And it shows.

But Scott Milburn is happy. Much good may Scott Milburn's happiness with Abramowitz's and Babbington's work do them, because it's the only thing they've got going for them now, isn't it?

## Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Morons?

Bushes lieutenants:

Think Progress: Energy Secretary in Baghdad: "Far More Stable" Than In 2003: Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman was in Baghdad yesterday.... The New York Times reports, Bodman %u201Chad a rosy view of progress here since his last visit in 2003: "The situation seems far more stable than when I was here two or three years ago," he said in an interview in the fortified Green Zone. "The security seems better, people are more relaxed. There is an optimism, at least among the people I talked to."...

And here's someone not on the direct Bush payroll:

“The condition there is worse than I expected,” according to Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN), who just returned from a visit to Iraq. “Baghdad is worse today than it was three years ago,” he said. Gutknecht was critical of some of the “spin” from Bush administration officials. “We learned it’s not safe to go anywhere outside of the Green Zone any part of the day.” He added, “What I think we need to do more is withdraw more Americans.”...

## A Slightly, Slightly Unfavorable CPI Report

The Wall Street Journal writes:

WSJ.com - Consumer Prices Climb 0.2% Despite Drop in Energy Costs: JENNIFER CORBETT DOOREN and JEFF BATER: June consumer prices increased by 0.2%, after climbing 0.4% in May, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Core consumer prices, which exclude food and energy items, grew 0.3% in June for the fourth consecutive month at that pace. The core increase was just above Wall Street expectations while the overall consumer prices were in line with expectations. The median estimate of 22 economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC had projected a 0.2% gain in the main number and a 0.2% rise in the core....

Markets reacted immediately to the numbers. Stock futures gave up early gains, on the expectation the Fed will be more likely to raise interest rates again in August. The federal-funds futures contract at the Chicago Board of Trade, where traders bet on future Fed policy, priced in a 90% chance of a quarter-point August increase, compared with 68% before the consumer-price release.... The Labor Department's consumer price report showed prices are 4.3% higher than a year ago with core prices rising by 2.6% during the same time frame. During the past three months overall consumer prices have risen 5.1% and have been up by 3.6% when food and energy prices are excluded...