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Monday, August 29, 2005

Rightwing Comic Relief:
Not Just in the WH Press Room

I just saw this link to a boston.com article from a post at TP:
A new comic series bearing the unwieldy title ''Liberality for All" is coming out in October from ACC Studios, a recently formed one-man publishing venture in Kentucky. Advertised as ''an Orwellian nightmare of ultra-liberalism," the series features radio pundits Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy, and Oliver North as biomechanically tricked-out members of a conservative underground resistance called F.O.I.L. (the Freedom of Information League).
This isn't too surprising given the fantasy world all three of those protagonists inhabit. But here's my favorite part:
Writer and creator Mike Mackey, an affable comic book aficionado, says it's the conservative movement's first comic book series (unless you count the three 1987 issues of the exquisitely low-camp ''Reagan's Raiders")
Funny, I thought the Bush White House's press releases were the conservative movement's ongoiong comic book series.....

A Wall, Not A Slumgullion

I found today's NYT article by Anne Kornblut about John Roberts's apparent obsession with grammar and style disappointing: most of the examples she cites are actually basic issues (parallel construction, precision, etc) in writing.

But then I read the NYT Editorial entitled Free Judy Miller, whose first sentence is
The New York Times reporter Judith Miller has now been in jail longer for refusing to testify than any reporter working for a newspaper in America.
Evidently basic writing skills elude the Times's editorial writers: Judy Miller is a reporter (so the NYT tells us, anyway). She works for a newspaper in America (the NYT). Therefore she cannot have been "in jail longer...than any reporter working for a newspaper in America," any more than 1 can be greater than 1.

I guess that division between the news and editorial desks really is a wall and not just a thin stew

Thursday, August 25, 2005

W says he loves the ladies - We know better

August 26 marks the 85th anniversary of the 19th amendment's adoption, giving women the right to vote. Appropriately, W will be honoring the `` Susan B. Anthony Amendment'' by issuing a proclamation tomorrow on ``Women's Equality Day 2005.''

Inappropriately, this proclamation doesn't make any mention of the threats to women's rights today -- namely the threats that W himself helped unleash in his ill-advised adventure in the desert. We found no WMD. Next lie to pop: we're midwifing liberty in Iraq.

And all this at a real expense in treasure and blood. As of Aug. 24 at 10 a.m. EDT, 1,867 American military personnel have died in Iraq. Another 14,120 have been wounded -- 6,770 gravely enough to require removal from the field . The war's price tag, by reasonable estimates, is topping $200 billion and counting.

Cornhuskerblogger first raised the notion that Iraqi women may soon have it worse than they did under Saddam Hussein more than a month ago -- ahead of the mainstream media. He didn't need Women's Equality Day as cover. Bush has this cover, but chooses not to say anything at all.

No, CHB isn't running for president. But you Americans could do worse. Much much much worse.

It Takes A Liar

From an article in today's Philly Inquirer:
Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's office acknowledged yesterday that it cannot locate public statements of the senator questioning the Iraq war, despite the senator's claim last week that he has publicly expressed his concerns.

But Santorum said that doesn't mean he hasn't made the comments.

In an interview last week, he said he had publicly and privately raised questions about efforts to contain the insurgency and to limit Baathist involvement in the new Iraqi government. He made his remarks in response to a charge by his leading Democratic challenger, Robert P. Casey Jr., that Santorum has failed to "ask the tough questions" about Iraq.

Robert L. Traynham, Santorum's spokesman, said a search of Nexis, a news database, and the office's press clippings had not turned up any account of those comments. He noted, however, that the office's records are incomplete because the office is unable to record everything the senator says.
I guess it takes a liar...and one whose staff take PA voters for fools.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

That's Despicable

A while back my conservative friend Peter asked me in the comments section why I always refer to the despicable Robert Novak with the leading apposition. Mark Thoma had a very nice reply, also in the comments section, detailing all the despicable things about Novak.

Well, here's one more:
Robert Novak, whose "confidential" sources helped him light the match that set off the Plamegate wildfire, is now on the Internet blithely hawking "confidential" sessions with Washington's power elite. He's only asking $595 a person. The invitation says: "This meeting is 100% off the record." The e-mail letter goes on to explain that the secrecy is necessary so that the speakers can speak candidly and tell the truth. The truth, in the nation's capital—that's certainly worth $595.

Actually, the truth-dedicated Novak has been running these one-day conferences for decades. Sources believe it's an effort to supplement the paltry income from his syndicated column, his political talk shows on television, and other entrepreneurial sidelines. You've all heard of cottage industries. Novak's conglomerate is more of the gated-community variety. You've probably guessed: He's very much in favor of reducing taxes on the rich.
Needless to say, the absurdity continues. You might as well read the whole article---it's not very long. But it is despicable.

Faint Praise: Edition 1

We here at CCM have some semi-regular threads. For example, "Gullible's Travails" considers the willingness of some MSM writers to buy the political equivalent of bridges located in Brooklyn; "Tierney of Lies" will be considering the misadventures of NYT columnist John Tierney; "Autocratic for the People" will discuss Congress's habit of treating the District like a social lab (especially for the antidemocratic retrograde ideas of Republicans from nowhere near here who regularly rail against the city they run with impunity).

Today we provide our first edition of "Faint Praise", in which we duly note laudable behavior by the Republican Congress and/or the Bush Administration. Each time we post some Faint Praise, we here at CCM will pause -- if perhaps only implicitly -- to note damningly the commentary on our times that such lauding makes appropriate. That is, if reasonable people ran our government, we would simply expect them to do these things; the notability of these rare moments of pride derives from the sheer mean-spirited, mendacious, misguidedness of our highest officials.

Enough: let's get to it.

Today we offer Faint Praise to the Bush Administration/DHHS for actions reported in today's WaPo:
The Bush administration yesterday suspended a federal grant to the Silver Ring Thing abstinence program, saying it appears to use tax money for religious activities....

Teenage graduates of the program sign a covenant "before God Almighty" to remain virgins and earn a silver ring inscribed with a Bible passage reminding them to "keep clear of sexual sin." Many of its events are held at churches.

In filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the organization describes its mission as "evangelistic ministry" with an emphasis on "evangelistic crusade planning."
Why offer only Faint Praise instead of praise?

Because this adminstration's abstinence-only obsession has come not because of any research to recommend its efficacy, but rather because of the demands of its anti-research base on the religious right.

Because this administration has made funding religious groups an end in and of itself.

And most importantly, because the ACLU basically forced the Administration's hand:
The action comes three months after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against HHS, accusing the administration of using tax dollars to promote Christianity. In documents filed in federal court in Boston, the ACLU alleged that the activities, brochures and Web site of Silver Ring Thing were "permeated with religion" and use "taxpayer dollars to promote religious content, instruction and indoctrination."

Useless Media

Everyone -- regardless of your politics -- should go read this ThinkProgress post. TP has been trying to convince the MSM to cover the genocide in Darfur, with disturbingly little success so far (all those Tom Cruise/Jacko/Runaway Whoever things take up a lot of network airtime).

So TP decided to buy commercial airtime to air this ad.....and has been repeatedly rejected.

Please: Send a message to NBC, CBS and ABC demanding that the stations air the ad....

Monday, August 22, 2005

Falling Down

Take a look at this table of results from the latest ARG poll on W:

Aug200536%58% 6%
July 200542% 52%6%
Jun 200542% 53%5%
May 200543%51%6%
Apr 200544%50%6%
Mar 200547%48%5%
Feb 200549% 45%6%
Jan 200551% 44%5%
Dec 200450% 45%5%
Nov 200451% 43%6%
Oct 200445% 47%8%
Sep 200445% 48%7%
43% 50%7%

Makes me think of the chorus of this song, especially when you ask yourself how many people would support W even if there was a live telecast of him personally assaulting Cindy Sheehan and Valerie Plame/Wilson.....

Update: But see the results of this Rasmussen poll, which show a much rosier picture for Bush (48% approve). With reasonable sample sizes, there's no way to rationalize these difs...except that Rasmussen has four categories: "Strongly Approve (23%)", "Somewhat Approve (25%)", "Somewhat Disapprove (14%)", "Strongly Disapprove (38%)". I'd love to see the similar breakdown in the R poll over time: perhaps what is happening is that formerly strong approvers have moved to being very weak somewhat approvers, with some of them preferring "disapprove" to "approve" if forced to choose.....

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Max Speaks, CCM Listens

This post by Max Sawicky is so important to understand that we here at CCM reproduce it in toto:

First sentence in their editorial on August 17, 2005:

"In case there was any remaining doubt in the Berkeley faculty lounge, the Congressional Budget Office has now confirmed that federal revenues will rise this year by more than $262 billion -- the largest single-year increase in tax revenues in American history."

Wow! Such a milestone! But inquiring minds want to know, how many times in the past might such a wondrous event have occurred?

If you start with 1901, with apologies to Millard Fillmore and other ancients, it turns out the answer is 19 times. 19 times, the increase in revenues was "the largest single-year increase in tax revenues in American history."

What were some of these wonder years? If we skip past WWII, the first big year was 1969. The next was FY1977, for which we should credit President Gerald R. Ford. Jimmy Carter struck in 1979, and again in 1981. Next is Ronald Reagan in 1987, Clinton in 1994, 1997, 1998, and 2000. (Note: 1994 followed tax increases, 98 and 00 followed tax cuts.) Not until FY2005 does G. Bush break out of the pack.

The previous 'record' in FY2000 was $197 billion. Alas, the WSJ does not tell you that although this year's increase tops that by $65 billion (262-197), most of that is due to the shift forward in revenue resulting from temporary depreciation relief for business firms in 2002 and 2003. The way it works is simply the Gov lets a business deduct more this year for capital expenses, and less of those same expenses in later years. Even if your revenues and other costs are exactly the same, the effect is to increase your tax liability and the Gov's revenue year-over-year at a more rapid rate. The present value of revenue in this case would decline, since it's always better to pay a dollar of taxes later than sooner.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Incomparable John Roberts

There's been a lot of discussion in the MSM lately regarding Roberts and issues related to gender discrimination. First, the easy thing: like a lot of people, I thought yesterday's frontpage WaPo article totally misread this 1985 statement:
"Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good, but I suppose that is for the judges to decide."
But a lot of other quotes have come up, too. I find it hard to know what to think about some of the more controversial-sounding ones without knowing more than the articles I've read have provided about the context in which Roberts was writing, and the written context of those words of his that have been quoted.

For example, consider this discussion, from Linda Greenhouse's August 16 NYT piece:

In the documents, there was nothing "squishy" about Judge Roberts's response to an employment discrimination theory known as "comparable worth" then being put forward by women's rights groups.

The theory started from the premise that antidiscrimination policies that addressed solely "equal pay for equal work" failed to take into account the fact that heavily female occupations generally paid less than male-dominated job categories.

In 1984, a federal district judge in Tacoma, Wash., accepted the theory and ordered new pay scales for female state employees in job categories where 70 percent or more of the workers were women.

Three members of Congress, all Republican women, wrote to the White House not to join the state's appeal.

"I honestly find it troubling that three Republican representatives are so quick to embrace such a radical redistributive concept," Mr. Roberts wrote in a memorandum to Mr. Fielding. "Their slogan may as well be 'From each according to his ability, to each according to her gender.' " The federal appeals court in San Francisco overturned the ruling the next year in an opinion by Judge Anthony M. Kennedy, whom Mr. Reagan named to the Supreme Court a year later.

And Todd Purdum's August 19 NYT piece has this quote of Roberts's:
"staggeringly pernicious law codifying the anti-capitalist notion of 'comparable worth' (as opposed to market value) pay scales."
I leave open the possibility that there is more to the context, but for the sake of argument let me take Roberts's words at face value. Let me also state my understanding of what "comparable worth" means broadly, i.e., not necessarily specifically in the context Roberts was discussing. Comparable worth compensation systems basically seek to develop objective (i.e., describable) measures of the type of work done in a job and the skills needed to do it. They then rates different jobs on some index that is meant to allow comparisons across different jobs in terms of the assessed features. Thus two jobs that involve the same basic skill set (say, a highschool degree and the ability to type X words a minute) and have very similar other features (most work is done in a desk during business hours) would be assigned the same salary in comparable worth systems.

Let's consider the issue of whether markets always lead to what might be considered neutral (if not otherwise "fair") wages and salaries across genders. Under perfect competition with no market failures, economists would expect unregulated markets to lead to equilibria (outcomes) in which wages equal what's called the value of a worker's marginal product (VMP). In other words, we'd expect people to be paid the amount they contribute to a firm's revenues, holding constant the firm's physical capital, number and quality of other workers, and so on. A firm that discriminates in the sense of paying less than a worker's VMP is vulnerable to losing workers to competitors who do not so discriminate. The result would be that equally qualified women face no discrimination in equilibrium: either they get paid the same as men, just at different employers, or the discriminating firms go out of business because they wind up paying a higher wage to equally productive workers (i.e., men).

This argument is the one often deployed by economists to assert that competition undermines discrimination, and I imagine it is the argument Roberts had in mind when implicitly appealing to "market value" in normative rather than positive terms (I will make this assumption, rather than assuming that he simply doesn't care whether there is a normative justification for unequal pay).

I think there are (at least) two serious arguments against what I understand to be Roberts's position here.

First, the premises of the competition-undermines-discrimination argument may not hold. It is well understood that when consumers in a perfectly competitive market have discriminatory preferences, the free-market equilibrium not only will not penalize discrimination, it will reward it. Thus firms that hire women to work in traditionally male occupations will lose customers to the extent that customers are sexist and are aware of the firm's nondiscriminatory hiring. This sort of thing would be one explanation for the existence of systematically "male" and systematically "female" occupations; to the extent that women are kept from high-wage occupations, this dynamic would help cause and sustain a gender gap in wages even in the presence of healthy competition. Some might argue on consumer sovereignty grounds that there is nothing wrong with such an outcome. While I would certainly disagree with that view, it is beside the point in any case: the issue is whether or not "market value" should always necessarily be privileged when considering the fairness of different compensation systems.

Moreover, perfect competition is only a model; no one reasonable really thinks any actually existing market is perfectly competitive. That fact certainly does not mean that "very" -- or even "moderately" -- competitive markets won't chase out discrimination. But it could take a long a time to happen, especially if firms have deep pockets and/or indifferent or imperfectly-observing shareholders (kind of like governments). There is some decent econometric evidence that deregulation of the banking industry reduced compensation of women working in banking considerably less than it reduced men's compensation--exactly as competitive theory predicts (see "The Division of Spoils: Rent-Sharing and Discrimination in a Regulated Industry", by Sandra E. Black and Philip E. Strahan, AER, September 2001; link for AER subscribers). Such evidence is good news in the sense that it means that more competition can be good, but bad news in the sense that it suggests that women working in industries with less competition may well face serious discrimination. (For more evidence on this issue, see Hellerstein, J. K., Neumark, D., & Troske, K. R. (1999) "Wages, Productivity, and Worker Characteristics: Evidence from Plant-Level Production Function and Wage Equations," Journal of Labor Economics , 17, 3, 409-446 [Link (via JStor)].)

Second, even ignoring the points just made, I don't really think there is a very good per se explanation for Roberts's opposition to comparable worth as departing from market value. The jobs in question were government jobs, many---if not most---of whose compensation levels I imagine are set via civil service rules. If I'm right, then comparable worth is just one particular way of setting salaries. I don't know if it's the most reasonable, partly because I don't know the details of the particular comparable worth policies proposed, and partly because I don't know the details of existing civil service compensation rules. But the idea that existing public sector compensation policies somehow perfectly reflects the exalted equilibria of "market value" strikes me as about halfway between nonsequitur and silly. In this sense, comparable worth's "redistributive" nature would be "radical" only insofar as it led to large changes in amounts; it would hardly be radical in departing from "market value". Note that none of this means I think current civil service pay scales are necessarily better or worse than other alternatives, e.g., merit pay, though I will say that I am skeptical that the public sector can simply be run like private firms.

One of my biggest concerns about Roberts is that he seems to have relatively little experience living life the way most people do. He is the son of wealthy people, he went to an exclusive boarding school, he went to college and law school at Harvard, and his entire professional experience was spent either relatively far up the ladder in the executive branch, as a lawyer in what I understand to be a high-dollar Washington law firm, or as a clerk or Judge for appellate courts. Now, most of these things are prima faciae evidence of legal qualification in the sense of knowing or understanding the legal concepts Roberts will need to consider if he is confirmed. And in that sense they are certainly good things.

But what is glaringly missing from Roberts's bio is any evidence that he knows what most people's lives are like. It's unclear that he believes there is or has been (since...when? perhaps the Civil Rights Act? earlier?) any economically sustainable discrimination based on gender (and, from other comments I've seen, race). I do not think these issues are ones that can or should be considered only in terms of abstract theories---legal or economic---by either lawyers or economists.

Say what you will about O'Connor, she had a politician's attunement to the practical, real-world implications of the Court's decisions.

The more I read about Roberts's comments and papers, the less I think he understands---or, at least, understood---about the world inhabited by most people.

Lastly, let me note that the NYT website has posted three long files (one, two, three) concerning Roberts's views on comparable worth. I doubt I'll have time to read them, but it could be illuminating.

Note: For some related and interesting discussion, see this post at Body and Soul (which I noticed at Kevin Drum's WM blog) and this one by Dahlia Lithwick.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Robert W. Gordon on Roberts

Robert W. Gordon has made two extremely informative posts about Roberts at TPMCafe. Definitely worth reading.

Post 1

Post 2

Email from CCM to John Podhoretz

From: CardCarryingMember
To: jpod@sprynet.com
Date: Aug 19, 2005 6:44 PM

Dear Mr. Podhoretz:

Last Friday you wrote this:

"I don't really understand all of it, but the evidence suggests that the Able Danger information could and should have been shared with the FBI and wasn't -- solely owing to the "raising" of the intelligence wall that was done by Jamie Gorelick herself in 1995."

It is now abundantly clear that you're just wrong on the facts: there is no such evidence, since the Gorelick memo had no force regarding or impact on the DOD. Yet you now pretend that you never said any such thing, and you assert that

"when the deputy attorney general, in 1995, writes a memo insisting that when it comes to sharing intelligence, it is important to go 'beyond the letter of the law" -- and she is the same person who was the general counsel at the Pentagon before that -- said memo indicates a mindset in the government about the dangers and inherent incorrectness about the sharing of intelligence information that was very dangerous."

As a ThinkProgress reader who occasionally reads your posts, I have to echo the spirit of TP's question at the end of this post:

Do you stand by your statement that the evidence suggests that the Gorelick memo prevented the Able Danger information from being shared or not?

If so, why write a post that ducks this question?

If not, why not act like a grown-up and just say you were wrong?

Jonah B. Gelbach
CardCarryingMember Blog

Fristing Science

Now I totally understand how Bill Frist could feel comfortable making his video diagnosis of Terri Schiavo: he thinks faith=science. Here's an AP report from today:
Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, spoke to a Rotary Club meeting Friday and told reporters afterward that students need to be exposed to different ideas, including intelligent design.

"I think today a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith," Frist said.

This statement may involve a complete confusion of what science actually is, but it does explain why people like Arthur Laffer keep being referred to as economists in the media, and why people like Dick Cheney are taken seriously when it comes to Iraq policy.

Doesn't anyone on the right give a damn about the decline of a great nation?



And now for something completely different...a spot of good news.

The number of deployed nuclear weapons dipped by more than 2,500 over the last year. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's 2005 yearbook reported an estimated 13,470 nuclear weapons deployed worlwide by eight nations -- with an estimated 14,000 other weapons in reserve. The total number of nuclear weapons is also believed to have decreased from roughly 31,500 last year to about 27,600 this year, SIPRI concluded. The dip is mostly attributed to bilateral cuts made by the U.S. and Russia.

Russia has the most estimated deployed warheads, 7,360, according to the article. That includes 3,980 strategic warheads on ICBMs, submarines and bombers, and 3,380 nonstrategic warheads on aircraft and at sea, it says.

The United States came in second at 4,896, with an estimated 4,216 strategic warheads on ICBMs, planes and submarines, and 680 nonstrategic warheads for delivery as gravity bombs by aircraft and by Tomahawk cruise missiles from submarines, it says.

Next is China with an estimated 400 deployed warheads, 120 of those estimated as nonstrategic, France with 348, Israel about 200, the United Kingdom with 185, Pakistan with 30 to 50 and India with 30 to 40. (via NTI's Global SecurityNewswire)
But let's put this in perspective. Imagine everyone on the planet is standing up to their armpits in gasoline and we've just been told that there are slightly fewer matchbooks around. There are still plenty of matches remaining. CHB said a `spot' of good news, nothing more folks.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Demented and Sad...But Honest

Check this out....

And how about this:

You told us what now?

We know about the Downing Street Memo. We know about Richard Clark's ``Against All Enemies.'' We know all about RoveWarLiesDeathGate and the rest.

Now add one more kick-in-the-crotch to the list: newly declassified State Department records of the warnings delivered not simply to the Pentagon but the U.S. Central Command itself. For those of you who don't know, CentCom, based in Tampa, Florida, is the command responsible for the operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the region beyond. It was General Tommy Franks, that patriotboy himself who let his wife listen in on confidential supersecret briefing sessions, who led CentCom when Operation Iraqi Freedom was planned and launched.

In a February 7, 2003, memo to Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, three senior Department officials noted CENTCOM's "focus on its primary military objectives and its reluctance to take on 'policing' roles," but warned that "a failure to address short-term public security and humanitarian assistance concerns could result in serious human rights abuses which would undermine an otherwise successful military campaign, and our reputation internationally." The memo adds "We have raised these issues with top CENTCOM officials."

By contrast, a December 2003 report to Congress, also released by the State Department, offers a relatively rosy picture of the security situation, saying U.S. forces are "increasingly successful in preventing planned hostile attacks; and in capturing former regime loyalists, would-be terrorists and planners; and seizing weapons caches." The document acknowledges that "Challenges remain." (via GWU's The National Archive)

CHB is an optimistic fellow these days on the political homefront. The domestic audience for the Bushanistas is quickly turning into a fraudience -- filled with little more than those paid to ape the commander in chimp's line or those on the lunatic fringes of reasoned political discourse. But the situation in Iraq is perilous. At best, it might seem, Iraq will be absorbed into a greater Iran. At least Iran would provide some measure of stability to this region, which could very quickly become the powder-keg of the Middle East.

Cindy Sheehan is a noble figure, a patriotic symbol even. But there is no nobility in the foreign policy disaster served up by the current administration. There is only shame, the bitter, morbid shame that can turn a private citizen's personal loss into this White House's most potent challenge. Domestic politics are secondary here -- behind the safety of the nation and the world. And on those counts, the optimism is dwindling.

Wipe That Santorum Off Your Face

This just in from the DSCC

From: "Phil Singer"
Sent: 08/18/2005 04:46 PM


New Poll Shows that Santorum's Net Approval Rating Is The Worst in the Nation

A new poll by Survey USA reveals that Senator Rick Santorum has the lowest net public approval ratings of any U.S. Senator. The survey was released today and showed that only 42% of those polled said that they approve of the job Santorum is doing, while 46% said that they disapproved, leaving Santorum with a net approval rating of -4%. The results of the poll, as well as results for Senators in all 50 states, can be viewed at: http://www.surveyusa.com/100USSenators0805SortedbyNetApprovalScore.htm.

The survey was a collection of 50 separate but concurrent statewide public opinion polls. According to SurveyUSA, The average favorability rating for all U.S. senators was 56% and average unfavorability rating for all U.S. senators was 32%.

Santorum has gained attention in recent months for writing a book that is disparaging of working mothers and making controversial statements about the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Santorum Criticized Women Who Work Outside the Home. In his book, It Takes a Family, Santorum criticized feminism and its effect on families. He said, "Many women have told me, and surveys have shown, that they find it easier, more 'professionally' gratifying, and certainly more socially affirming, to work outside the home than to give up their careers to take care of their children. Think about that for a moment...Here, we can thank the influence of radical feminism, one of the core philosophies of the village elders. [It Takes a Family, pg. 95]

In 2002, Santorum Said it Was "No Surprise" That Church Sex Scandal Centered On Boston. Writing about the sex scandals in the Catholic Church in a 2002 column, Rick Santorum said, "it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm." [Catholic Online, 7/12/02 ]

Victims' Advocates Accused Santorum of Minimizing the Scandal With His "Harmful Comments." In July the AP reported, "David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Santorum's column tries to minimize the abuse scandal, and imply that 'some vague, larger societal defects' somehow caused clergy to assault children. 'In 2002, we gave Senator Santorum the benefit of the doubt, assuming he was not aware of the scope of the abuse crisis,' said Clohessy. 'In 2005, it's hard to understand how he could repeat and stand by such misguided and harmful comments.'" [Associated Press, 7/13/05 ]

Flagging Patriotism

It would be hard to say it all better than Paul Begala just said it over at TPMCafe.

His post concerns the America-hater who drove his (based on news reports, anyway) pickup truck through Camp Casey's white crosses and American flags down in Crawford.

Which raises an interesting question: how many rightwing bloggers who support vandalizing our Constitution with a flag-burning amendment also have defended the Crawford Vandal?


Arianna Huffington has up a very interesting post regarding the NYT and its reflexive support for Judy Miller -- not just its support of her defying Fitzgerald and landing in jail, but its total refusal to hold her accountable for her "reporting" in the time leading up to and following the invasion of Iraq.

For all the interesting stuff in the post, the one thing that really struck me was this description of NYT publisher Arthur Sulzberger by an anonymous inside-the-NYT source (!) of Huffington's:
You have to understand something about Arthur,” my source explained. “He’s always unequivocal. He doesn’t have another setting. You’re either his friend or his enemy. He either supports you in an extreme, almost childish, way or he won’t speak to you.”
Who knew George W. Bush was moonlighting as publisher of that scourge of the right, the New York Times?

Psst, wanna strike it rich in Iraq...

It was bound to happen: a bloody war sold on lies has spawned a load of spam to capitalize on the misery.

This particular solicitation arrived in the inbox of a friend of CHB (FOCHB). It is conceivable, she said, that this will be the new wave of internet come-ons, replacing the now dated pitches from alleged African princes seeking your help to free their millions from frozen Swiss bank accounts. The so-called Nigerian Bank Scam is dead. Long live the Iraqi Contracting Scam.

Original Message -----From: Richard Martins <richiemartins@myway.com> At: 8/17 22:11

For Your Attention,The Managing Director / Owner




Maybe this scam should honor its true inspiration and be named the George W. Bush Baghdad Flim Flam? W's WMD Sandbag Gag?

We here at CCM welcome any and all suggestions for naming this grift, so please send in your ideas. Best submission will, if it's really, really good, make it onto the hallowed CCM blogsite. (I know, you can barley contain your enthusiasm, but our budget is limited and we can barely rub two pennies together here at CCM World Headquarters.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Trouble Brews

This just in from Senator Leahy's office....

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy

(D-Vt., Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee)

On The Recent Documents Relating To The Roberts Nomination

August 16, 2005

Since the President announced his intention to nominate Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court, Democratic Senators have done our job on behalf of the American people in trying to learn as much as possible about the man who could replace Sandra Day O'Connor for this lifetime appointment to our highest court. As we made clear from the start, there has been no pre-judgment before the facts about this important nomination. Instead, Democratic Senators have gone about fulfilling our constitutional duty by insisting on fair access to documents from John Roberts's time working as a senior policymaker for two Republican Presidents. Although the Bush Administration still refuses to provide the most important examples of Judge Roberts's policy views from his tenure as the politically appointed Principal Deputy Solicitor General, we have been able to review thousands of pages of documents that have been provided by the National Archives and Records Administration in response to earlier public requests.

Those papers that we have received paint a picture of John Roberts as an eager and aggressive advocate of policies that are deeply tinged with the ideology of the far right wing of his party then, and now. In influential White House and Department of Justice positions, John Roberts expressed views that were among the most radical being offered by a cadre intent on reversing decades of policies on civil rights, voting rights, women's rights, privacy, and access to justice.

He advocated overturning a Nixon-era Executive Order that assures non-discrimination in federal contracting; he mocked the efforts of women legislators to find a way to remedy the effects of sex discrimination; he wrote of a "so-called right to privacy" and "so-called fundamental rights;" he opposed efforts to make the voting rights act more effective; and he championed efforts to strip courts of their ability to grant remedies to civil rights plaintiffs, taking a position more extreme than conservative political appointees in the Reagan Justice Department.

When President Bush recently introduced Judge Roberts to the nation, we knew he was a well-educated, accomplished lawyer, but Americans had few other facts. There is still much of Judge Roberts's record that we do not have and that would be useful in considering this lifetime appointment to replace a most influential voice of practical reason on the United States Supreme Court. The White House is steadfastly refusing to follow past precedent and allow Senators to review a good deal of the most relevant material from his work in the Executive Branch. By doing so they raise the inference that there is much to hide. They leave Judge Roberts with a heavier burden to carry during his upcoming hearings before the Judiciary Committee.

Doleful Argument

In today's NYT, Bob Dole writes a doozy of a column.

First, the good part: Dole argues that the press should have a Federal shield. I'm on board with that one. But I am highly puzzled by this paragraph:
Congress can help rectify this situation by passing a bill introduced by Senator Richard G. Lugar and Representative Mike Pence, both Indiana Republicans, that sets clear standards the federal government must meet before it issues a subpoena to a reporter in a criminal or civil case. For example, in a criminal investigation, a reporter would be required to turn over confidential information only if a court determined that there are reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed, that the requested information is essential to the investigation and that it could not be obtained from nonmedia sources. This is hardly a free pass for journalists; importantly, the bill specifically authorizes the forced disclosure of a source's identity if doing so is necessary to prevent imminent and actual harm to national security. [Emphasis added.]
Dole must be unaware of many of the basic facts of the Fitzgerald investigation. First, as Mark Kleiman has noted, Judge Hogan (the one handling Miller's contempt citation) said that Miller's is "a case in which the information she was given and her potential use of it was a crime"; so I guess "a court determined that there are reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed"; for more, see this post by Lawrence O'Donnell. Second, I'm pretty sure that Fitzgerald has argued in his court filings that there is no other way to get the information he seeks from Miller; assuming that information was transmitted between Miller and a single source (or recipient) facing legal jeopardy himself, I'm not sure how Fitzgerald could possibly get the information "from nonmedia sources". My point isn't to argue that Dole is wrong to support a Federal shield law (or, necessarily, to support Pence-Lugar). Rather, it's that the conditions of this law -- as Dole lays them out -- would be met here. So what's Dole's point?

Dole also writes that
I am also greatly concerned about Judith Miller's situation because she has been incarcerated as a result of an investigation into possible violations of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, of which I was a sponsor. The law was intended to protect covert intelligence operatives whose lives would be endangered if their identities were publicly disclosed. We were particularly concerned about people like the notorious Philip Agee, a former C.I.A. officer who systematically exposed the agency's covert operatives.

Thus the act was drafted in very narrow terms: our goal was to criminalize only those disclosures that clearly represented a conscious and pernicious effort to identify and expose agents with the intent to impair America's foreign intelligence activities.
Where to begin?

Having listened to legions of conservative assaults on the judiciary, I thought that the text of the IIPA is what matters. Dole's reference to perniciousness appears nowhere in the text, so this statement is basically a nonsequitur. In any case, isn't the intentional disclosure of a WMD agent's identity to discredit or seek revenge against political opponents pernicious enough for Bob Dole?

Dole continues:
With the facts known publicly today regarding the Plame case, it is difficult to see how a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act could have occurred. For example, one of the requirements is that the federal government must be taking "affirmative measures" to conceal the agent's intelligence relationship with the United States. Yet we now know that Ms. Wilson held a desk job at C.I.A. headquarters and could be seen traveling to and from work. The [despicable] journalist Robert D. Novak, whose July 14, 2003, column mentioned Ms. Wilson, using her maiden name, and set off the investigation, has written that C.I.A. officials confirmed to him over the telephone that she was an employee before he wrote his column.
Gee, I thought that CIA official Bill Harlow specifically asked Novak not to publish his story; the fact that Harlow didn't tell Novak that the reason was Plame/Wilson's undercover status seems to be because Harlow himself would have violated the IIPA if he had done so. Lastly, I have yet to hear a single coherent argument as to the relevance of Plame/Wilson's "desk job" status at the time Novak published his column. Dole may have helped write the IIPA, but he seems to have forgotten that 50 USC 426 says
(4) The term "covert agent" means—

(A) a present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency—

(i) whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and

(ii) who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States;
For a few naive years after the 1996 election, I allowed myself to be lulled into thinking that Bob Dole wasn't such a bad guy. I realized the error of my ways when I watched Dole join the swift boat slander campaign. Read this column by former Nixon aide Noel Koch if you have any doubt regarding Dole's motives or essential indecency.

Update: ThinkProgress comments on Dole's column as well.

Update 2: Don't know how I forgot this, but I meant to point out that the IIPA is hardly the only, or even apparently the most likely, law posing jeopardy to the 21 Bush WH/inner circle members so far tied to the RWLDGate. Mark Kleiman has been pushing the Espionage Act angle for years; click here for a recent post.

Tierney of Lies: Edition 1

In his column today, John Tierney suggests that the TSA should stop bothering with pocketknives and scissors, since cockpits are now reinforced and pilots trained not to open up no matter what. Could be reasonable. Tierney argues that the problem is the federalization of the TSA, which is another argument for another day (though I can't help remembering what a bang-up job those private companies used to do....). He also says that "a former T.S.A. official told me" that "Rather than treating every airline passenger as a potential terrorist, you should husband your resources and concentrate on the higher-risk passengers." We'll leave the profiling discussion for another time.

Let me instead focus on Tierney's discussion of Republican desires to re-privatize airline security screening:
"Right now T.S.A. is the regulator, the auditor and the operator of airport security," said Representative John Mica, the Florida Republican who is chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. "That never works. It's a total conflict of interest."

Mr. Mica has tried - and failed so far because of Democratic resistance - to pass legislation making it easier for airports to switch to private companies. I hope he succeeds this fall, but I'm worried that the T.S.A. may sabotage him. [Emphasis added.]
Ah, yes. Those poor, insufficiently powerful House Republicans. Their Herculean efforts at oversight constantly thwarted by an indifferent Administration, they must also face the indignity of overpowering "Democratic resistance". How do they get anything done?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Nyah Nyah Nafta

Free trade isn't for the faint of heart. The open-markets rallying cry may be music in Adam Smith's ears, but he's been dead for eons and not running for reelection next year.

Now it comes that the U.S. may be looking to pick up its free trade ball and leave our NAFTA partners empty-handed.

Canada's international trade minister has called his U.S. counterpart to demand the Americans return the $5 billion in duties they've collected in the softwood lumber dispute. Jim Peterson warned U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman that the future of the North America Free Trade Agreement is in peril if the United States doesn't respect a ruling handed down by a NAFTA panel on Wednesday. (CBC 9-13-05)

Could this bode well for CAFTA? For international trade agreements everywhere? Could the U.S. come off any more like a petulant bully?

None of this should surprise anyone. If this is strictly a provincial matter of pork and jobs, the administration's utter tolerance of the recent energy and transportation bills makes it as guilty as those on the Hill. But don't forget that the administration champions open markets and free enterprise while it hands out billions in no-bid contracts to well-connected industry allies. Cronyism never smelled right to Adam Smith. It smells like Agent Orange to this crew, it smells like victory.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Tony Perkins: The Lord's Hypocrite

More fun with quotes:

``We are going to be vigilant to make sure that there is not this religious litmus test imposed,'' said Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, an evangelical Protestant group that is the principal organizer of the [conservative Christian `Justice Sunday'] telecast, which will take place at 7 p.m. Sunday from a megachurch in Nashville.

```Are you Catholic? Do you really believe what the Catholic church teaches?' These kinds of thinks shouldn't be part of the discussion,'' Mr. Perkins said. (NYTimes 8-12-05)

Huh? They're hosting a religious hodown for the President's Supreme Court nominee but don't want anyone else talking religion?

Why does Tony Perkins deny us the lord? From everything the FRC has told me, HE WHOSE NAME IS `I AM' wants a seat at the table of American democracy. And now instead of allowing an offering or sacrament these folks give HIM the holy stiff arm?

I wish the commandment against being a total partisan hack had made it down the mountain with the rest. But i'll settle for NUMBER NINE. NUMBER NINE. NUMBER NINE.

(CHB Tip: If they want to keep the gospels on the down low, how about bringing in the holy mimes and cutting the volume entirely?)

Thursday, August 11, 2005


This will be my last post til Monday night or Tuesday, as I am off to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.

No, I am not going to help out Harry. Rather, it's bachelor party time....Hoping to make it back alive, with my liver in one piece. I know CHB will keep you all in the loop.

That said, I do want to comment on two advertising issues.

First comes NARAL's ad against John Roberts. According to the WaPo:
"Supreme Court nominee John Roberts filed court briefs supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber," the ad states. The ad concludes by saying, "America can't afford a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans."
There's been quite a bit of controversy over this ad. GOP henchmen like Orrin Hatch and the oxymoronically named Committee for Justice have criticized (to put it mildly) the ad, with even non-extremist Republicans like Arlen Specter saying that NARAL should take it down.

I've read a number of articles about this controversy, though I haven't seen the ad. However, the last statement quoted above--suggesting that Roberts's "ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans"--is way over the line. NARAL has a page up detailing the violent acts of anti-choice extremists in the period preceding Roberts's involvement in Bray vs. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic. Let's stipulate all those facts (which I'd bet are true). Let's also stipulate NARAL's (correct) point that "Roberts was a senior political appointee responsible for shaping legal strategy", rather than being just a lawyer representing a client.

I don't know all the details of this case, but from what I do know I think that NARAL's ad is both over the line in the language uses and misleading in the point it makes. In a 1986 memo, Roberts argued against pardoning violent anti-choice extremists, saying

"No matter how lofty or sincerely held the goal, those who resort to violence to achieve it are criminals," the memo said.
Now, I don't think anyone should refer to anti-choice people's goals of depriving women of liberty as "lofty", and the sincerity of their beliefs is a complete non-sequitur. But the fact is that this is Roberts arguing against precisely the view that NARAL seeks to ascribe to him. NARAL President Nancy Keenan even told the Post's Dan Balz that "We're not suggesting that Mr. Roberts condones clinic violence."

But that's exactly what it means to say that Roberts's involvement in the Bray case means he "excuses" violence. This is just plain wrong. It's also guilt by association, something liberal defenders of liberty have to battle all the time when the rightwing extremists who run this country say things like "Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve" to critics of the Administration's assault on basic liberties.

NARAL will only hurt its own cause by insisting on this distortion of the record. Why not simply point out the facts: Roberts could have argued for the Administration to take the side NARAL agreed with in Bray, but he did not; he could have argued for the Administration to stay out of Bray, but he did not. Even if he sincerely believed that the KKK Act didn't apply to this case, he could have argued for laws that would have done; but he did not. Isn't that a damning enough indictment of him? Why act like Republicans when the truth works?

The second ad I want to discuss is the Montana Democratic Party's ad against incumbent GOP Sen. Conrad Burns, who is up in 2006. After the Burns campaign and the NRSC whined about the ad and sent a threatening letter to TV stations, the MDP agreed to change the wording.

The ad said that Burns "takes $136,000 from notorious Rebuplican lobbyist Jack Abramoff" (who was just indicted today for other reasons). The Republican complaint is essentially that Abramoff didn't personally give the cash to Burns....No, he just arranged fund-raisers to drive that same cash Burns's way.

The MDP wound up changing the wording of the ad, doing something like adding "associates of" before "notorious lobbyist...".

This is exactly what they should do. Never mind fighting over the basically irrelevant details. Focus on the key issue.

If they're smart, the MDP will follow up by running an ad that makes fun of the GOP freakout about this ad. For example, they could run an ad that says

Sen. Conrad Burns has received $136,000 thanks to notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is under federal indictment. Burns and national Republicans are so worried about his connection to this sleazy lobbyist that they threatened Montana TV stations to try to stop us from telling you about it. What else are they hiding? And why are they so afraid of the truth. Conrad Burns: the wrong man for Montana.

This is not the first time the GOP has tried to knock Dems'/allies' ads off the air: for example, it happened a few months ago when the Campaign for America's Future placed ads criticizing Rep. Jim McCrery's (R-LA) support for SS privatization.

Many national Republicans have become nothing more than schoolyard bullies: they can dish out the lies, slander, and smears, but they don't think they should have to face even the truth. The right way to handle them is mockery, and a good, hard smack in the face. Let's hope Dems take advantage of these openings.

But He Didn't Do Anything Wrong

Josh Marshall tells us that the Duke wants to use his campaign funds for a new legal defense fund.

I just called the Duke's office to ask about his legal defense fund. In particular, I wanted to know whether they'd be willing to accept boats or houses in lieu of cash donations. [Giggle....]

Unfortunately, Cunningham's Press Secretary wasn't in the office and offered to take a message. When I explained I that what I wanted was to find out more about the legal defense fund, the nice woman who answered the phone did connect me with the voicemail for the LA handling this fund.

For those of you who are interested, the LA's name is Victoria Stackwick. The Duke's main office number is (202) 225-5452.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

"This is the new Iraq," said Mr. Tamimi, secular engineer with no party affiliation. "They use force to achieve their goal." (NYT 8-10-05)

That's Alaa al-Tamimi, mayor of Baghdad until he was `recalled' by Shiite radicals who apparently hadn't heard freedom was on the march. Let's file this under ReapWhatYouSow.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


The U.S. leads by example -- and that example blows chunks.

For all his talk about controlling the spread of WMDs, W has done precious little about it. The military couldn't even contain the mountains of conventional explosives cached in Iraq before the war. These caches, well known to US military planners, were left unguarded after the fall of Baghdad and are likely now in the hands of the deadenders.

(CHB note: I was lucky enough to be in the audience during W's speech last year at the U.S. Naval War College in which he challenged the world to tighten controls on weapons proliferation soon before offering virtually nada in terms of funding for his own program. This was around the time Pakistan pardoned A.Q. Khan for his little teeny tiny weeny petite oh-so-insignificant nothing-really-here-to-see-so-move-along-folks proliferation problems. W looked more like Alfred E. Newman during that speech than you can imagine.)

Now Australia, one of W's key `coalition' partners, is readying to sell uranium to China. Yes, China. The very same RED COMMUNIST EMPIRE that the Majority vowed would never be allowed to purchase US-oil firm Unocal for fear that a vital national security asset would fall into enemy hands.

I guess with friends and Americalovers like these, it's time to start handing out more Presidential Medals of Freedom? Or maybe a different type of token, one that more appropriately reflects the leakyboat that is W's anti-proliferation efforts?

Only in DC

So last night my lady and I sort of accidentally wound up having dinner at the bar at Restaurant Nora. We got engaged there last year and are planning to have our rehearsal dinner there this fall, and we stopped by around 8 to look at the room, planning to go have enchiladas at Lauriol afterwards. Suffice to say that the manager suggested we try some wine at the bar. The bartender was great to us, and lots of fun to talk to. So, when it started to pour down rain, we figured we might as well have a snack and some more wine, and wait out the storm.

Several hours of excellent wine, wonderful food, and amazing bourbon and rye later, we'd spent a fair amount of time talking to a couple seated next to us at the bar, who were there to taste wine for their own event.

Turns out he is a DC lawyer who says he's not a Republican, but that he knows Scalia, Thomas, and John Roberts socially. He spoke very highly of Roberts on a personal and temperamental basis, and he suggested that while Roberts will likely be right of O'Connor in many ways, he is unlikely to pursue radical changes for their own sake. He even offered (we didn't ask) that he thinks it very unlikely that Roberts would vote to overrule Roe. His comment was that Roberts was as good a nominee as Democrats could possibly expect.

Very interesting evening.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Oy Oil

Let's face it: Saudi Arabia is our drug dealer and the U.S. has a serious itch.

This is why the U.S. has never dealt altogether sanely with the Saudis. We need their oil desperately. So while claiming to put freedom on the march out of one side of our mouth, we're also whispering sweet nothings to a repressive desert monarchy so entrenched in misogyny that the poobahs at Augusta must tip their hats in acknowledgement. (You can tease out a sense of how difficult life is for Saudi women by examining gender ratios in the country according to age group. As Saudis age, there are fewer women to every man. Simply put: Saudi life grinds women into the ground much faster than it does to men.)

So it shouldn't surprise that the administration is moving to approve Saudi Arabia's bid to join the World Trade Organization. When oil prices flirt with $64 a barrel, supplying the bulk of extremist Islam's financing and death-mad young men, curtailing none of its Wahhabi crudity, and actively suppressing democratic initiatives with its petroprofits evaporates as a concern.

It could get a lot worse as Saudi Arabia continues its lousy attempt at Saudi-ization: closing more fields to foreign workers in order to preserve employment opportunities for Saudi nationals in country. With 40 percent of Saudi nationals under 15 years of age, the prospect of loads more unemployed young men scratching about for something to do should send shivers up the spine of any petrojunky.

(One possible shining point of light has arrived, however. CHB knows that nothing curbed his youthful inner-insurgent more than a Happy Meal.)

Congressional Oversight The GOP Way

They do nothing to investigate the politically motivated leak of the identity of a CIA agent trying to protect us from weapons of mass destruction.

They cancel ridiculously delayed plans to investigate whether the Administration manipulated intelligence to drag the nation to war.

They pass "emergency" supplemental after "emergency" supplemental to fund the war, even though everyone knows the war will be funded.

They apparently refuse to investigate whether John Bolton willfully perjured himself on his Senate questionnaire before his testimony to become UN Ambassador.

They do nothing when the Administration uses public funds to propagandize.

They do nothing when a man posing as a Secret Service agent expels three law-abiding people from a Presidential event paid for with public funds, simply because of the text of a bumper sticker the people have.

They do precious little (though, thanks to McCain, Warner, and Graham, at least not nothing) to stop the policy of torture and abuse of prisoners.

They do nothing to stop trains full of deadly chemicals from travelling right through the nation's capital (chemical and rail companies wouldn't like that), even as the Administration ignores the problem.

They do nothing while the FDA politicizes the approval of the morning-after pill.

They do nothing pretty much most of the time when it comes to oversight of this Administration's miserable, deceitful and dangerous policies.

But baseball, well that's something these fools think deserves their oversight:
A member of the House committee that held hearings on steroid use in March says Congress may feel compelled to get involved in testing major league players for banned substances.

"At this point I think [the chances are] getting better and better because of baseball's inability to police their own players," Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said Saturday on the ESPN program "Outside the Lines."

Has a more ridiculously incompetent group of people ever run this great country of ours?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

A crime is a crime is a crime

I don't know whether to laugh or cry:

``Administration Takes Broad Reading of Espionage Law.'' NYT (8-6-05)

The leaking of background Pentagon information used in the formulation of Middle East policy has landed one former DoD analyst and two former AIPAC goons in hot DOJ prosecutorial water.

But the leaking of an ACTUAL INTELLIGENCE ASSET working directly in the field of WEAPONS OF MASS DESCTRUCTION prompts not a broad reading of espionage law by the administration but new levels of hagiography for Rove. Blessedly, not all of the love is heartfelt and the DOJ (and thus the administration) is no longer behind the wheel of the RoveWarLiesDeathGate investigation.

Today's NYT article doesn't seek out any GOP foreign policy mandarins for comment -- or even any party lackeys on the Hill. It's evidently too early to turn this stinky-turd into a political matter. But it will happen. And it will be mucho interestingo to read who in the majority is able to parse the two issues so delicately as to emerge law-and-order tough on the Affair de Franklin while remaining pliantly partisan on the RoveWarLiesDeathGate matter.

Friday, August 05, 2005

False Claim to Congress => Perjury Probe

Yesterday's WaPo has an article with this sentence:
Congress will investigate whether [Person X] perjured himself when he told [a Congressional] committee [something that may not be true].
Ok, that makes sense. On his Senate questionnaire concerning his nomination to be UN Ambassador, John Bolton provided an "inaccurate" answer to a question concerning whether he'd been interviewed by any Inspector General. The questionnaire is submitted with a sworn affidavit attesting to the accuracy of the answers. No one questions the fact that Bolton's answer was inaccurate.

Perhaps Bolton just forgot about the IG interview about one of the most reported and discussed issues flowing from the lies and distortions that enabled the Bush Administration's Iraq invasion (the IG investigation concerned the issue of Niger and uranium). Seems unlikely, but possible. Surely it is reasonable to leave open this possibility while Senator Richard Lugar's Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigates his "inaccurate" answer.

Because the quote from the WaPo article actually reads
Congress will investigate whether John Bolton perjured himself when he told the Senate Foreign Relations committee that he had not been interviewed by an IG in the preceding five years, something which is not true.

Wrong. The quote is actually
Congress will investigate whether baseball slugger Rafael Palmeiro perjured himself when he told a House committee that he hadn't taken steroids.
This is what we've come to under the hypocritical "leadership" of Congressional Republicans.

Pressure Getting To Novak?

What more is there to say? Go here, or here or here. Some days a video is worth a thousand words.

One of the more interesting facts is that a copy of Who's Who seems to have been on the table when the despicable little Bobbie scooped up his balls and ran home.

Update: In the words of Lenny Kravitz, what I really wanna know is....who will get Bill Bennett on record about Novak's public vice?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Still crazy after all these years

In an earlier post I made light of Frank Gaffney. He is, as they say in carny circles, nuttier than elephant dung at the circus. And now he's weighing in on the acronym wars GWOT vs. GSAVE -- and nothing less than the survival of America hangs in the balance. He quite literally is calling for open, unending war. By going soft with words, he says, we should just as well enact Sharia right now. This just barely a week after he skipped his meds and declared Democratic opposition to now-UN Ambassador John Bolton's appointment the first step towards a UN-levied global tax.

Dismiss him if you must. But remember that his opinions are SOLICITED by the majority in Congress, most recently in hearings over China's bid for Unocal. Yes kids, if you eat all of your lead paint chips and huff all the paint within reach, you too can be an influential member of the posse.

(CHB shares none of Gaffney's shrill and unAmerican pessimism. But some days...)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Edjumacation President

Intelligent design in the classroom, Mr. President? We are not surprised. How could we be?

W didn't get elected by appealing to his base's hunger for raw knowledge. The scientific method, that touchstone of Western civilization's idea of progress, has been replaced by the political method. This -- characterized by lying, character assassination and a fuzzy relationship with reality -- won W reelection and reaffirmed the GOP's control over Congress. It's hard to argue with success, right?

Their failure to embrace what seems fully embraceable science (evolution, global warming, etc) has nothing to do with their fealty to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. I suspect their reluctance also has little to do with Schrodinger's cat - though that could be argued as a reason we invaded Iraq; to find out if the cat's got the WMD we have to rip open the box and look in for ourselves.

Such epic uncertainty in the face of mountains of evidence should be worrisome to everyone -- W's political foes and friends alike. If he can be so uncertain on issues in which virtually everyone not already on the WH payroll (or Exxon Mobil's) is already in basic agreement on, maybe he's got other things backwards too?

Maybe Iraq wasn't part of the broader conflict against Al Qaeda and its ilk?
Maybe cutting billions of dollars in taxes for the very wealthiest isn't the way to right a listing economy?
Maybe deficits do matter?

Why should we take their word on anything if they can be so mushy-headed on cold hard SCIENCE?

UPDATE: The Kansas School Board wanted intelligent design, so now they've got it. Courtesy of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Prices, Real Wages, Wal-Mart & GE

Interesting Op-Ed in today's NYT by Pankaj Ghemawat and Ken A. Mark, called "The Price Is Right".

The authors argue that, contrary to the bad press it receives, Wal-Mart has actually greatly benefited low-income communities, especially rural ones. The argument is straightforward: yes, the authors implicitly conced, WM may (they say "supposedly") have the effect of
securing subsidies, destroying jobs in competing stores, driving employees toward public welfare systems and creating urban sprawl.
G-M cite price price reductions of 8% in rural areas and 5% in urban ones and argue that the gains that WM produces far outweigh these costs: their calculation is that
Wal-Mart saves its consumers something like $16 billion a year. And because Wal-Mart's presence forces the store's competitors to charge lower prices as well, this $16 billion figure understates the company's real impact by at least half.
They also cite a McKinsey Global Institute study, writing that
Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics and an adviser on the study, noted that the most important factor in the growth of productivity was Wal-Mart. And because the study measured productivity per man hour rather than per payroll dollar, low hourly wages cannot explain the increase.
Lastly, G-M argue that even seemingly modest wage increases -- they use $2 per hour -- would "wipe out" WM's profits unless WM raised its prices, which they predict it would. G-M's conclusion is that
the debate around Wal-Mart isn't really about a Marxist conflict between capital and labor. Instead, it is a conflict pitting consumers and efficiency-oriented intermediaries like Wal-Mart against a combination of labor unions, traditional retailers and community groups.
There's a lot to talk about here.

I'm not a knee-jerk opponent of Wal-Marts, but I also think one should avoid wearing rosy glasses when thinking about these issues.

  1. The most basic point that seems to get lost in these debates is that, unlike most employers, and unlike most retailers, WM is big enough to have potentially general equilibrium effects on both consumer prices and wages. For nontechnical readers, what I'm talking about is the fact that in a competitive economy, most firms are small enough that their price-setting decisions have small or zero effects on the level of prices -- when you have lots of competitors, you tend to be able to charge only "what the market will bear". WM has become big enough that it can probably move prices, up or down, to a greater extent. In other words, WM has some ability to determine what the market will bear for its competitors.

    Now, economists measure standard of living roughly as how much stuff (goods and/or services) households are able to afford. Few people seriously doubt that WM's presence reduces prices of the goods it sells in the markets where it operates. At the same time, WM's wages are widely believed to be low, and reduced labor costs are thought to be a key to its profitability and ability to keep prices so low (as G-M's claim about wiping out profits clearly underscores).

    A common -- if simplifying -- way to think about real wages is as the ratio of the hourly wage to some price index. (Think of a useful price index as an average of what all the different things you buy will cost, once we've accounted for the share of your budget for which each thing accounts.)

    Now, if WM lowers both the price index and the wage, then its impact on standards of living is ambiguous. It could be positive, even for low-wage workers, if goods prices are reduced more than wages are (note that you need to include the impact of WM on other firms' benefit packages, too). On the other hand, it will be negative if wages fall more than prices when WM moves in. This strikes me as a very interesting economic question to resolve -- one that someone could probably get a whole labor economics dissertation out of it if the data are available (which they may or may not be).

    The frustrating thing in debates I've heard about WM is that people tend to say "WM lowers prices" and then others tend to say "WM lowers wages", as if these statements are somehow mutually exclusive. There's no way to assess WM's impacts on worker-consumers without addressing both questions.

    If you don't believe my point, then consider this part from G-M's article:
    Wal-Mart's customers tend to be the Americans who need the most help. Our research shows that Wal-Mart operates two-and-a-half times as much selling space per inhabitant in the poorest third of states as in the richest third. And within that poorest third of states, 80 percent of Wal-Mart's square footage is in the 25 percent of ZIP codes with the greatest number of poor households. Without the much-maligned Wal-Mart, the rural poor, in particular, would pay several percentage points more for the food and other merchandise that after housing is their largest household expense.
    Yes. And they might also receive several percentage points more in wages.

    Serious discussions of the impact of an economic phenomenon cannot concern only the costs, nor only the benefits.

  2. G-M's article says little about the social costs of losing downtowns, mom-and-pop stores, etc. I don't know how to measure these costs, and I don't even know if WM really destroys traditional outlets (though I'd be surprised if it doesn't): perhaps those stores would go under even without WM's entrance. But G-M don't even bother to discuss the possibility that "way of life" could be valuable to people. This isn't an easy issue, but it's hardly irrelevant, either.

  3. I wonder about G-M's statement that "because the study measured productivity per man hour rather than per payroll dollar, low hourly wages cannot explain the increase." It really depends on whether the measure here is gross productivity or net productivity. Gross-of-labor-costs productivity equals the value of total output divided by the total number of hours worked. Net productivity equals the value of total output minus the hourly wage bill, divided by the total number of hours worked. You can increase net productivity by reducing the wage bill, holding output constant. Which means that G-M's claim about productivity per "man hour" holds only if we are using gross productivity. Each measure of productivity has a role (gross-of-labor-costs prod tells us how much stuff we can make, however it is that our society divides it up, while net-of-labor-costs productivity tells us how profitable -- and thus how globally competitive -- private businesses in the US can be).
It's too bad that G-M do such a poor job of making their argument. I would have welcomed a serious attempt to address this issue.

Update: For all you non-economists, "GE" in the title of this post refers to general equilibrium, not the manufacturer....

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Devolution, Indeed

Comments on this from the WP:

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Monday he believes schools should discuss "intelligent design" alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life.

During a round-table interview with reporters from five Texas newspapers, Bush declined to go into detail on his personal views of the origin of life. But he said students should learn about both theories, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported.

  1. Order your advance copy of Chris Mooney's The Republican War On Science today. Buy a copy for an apathetic friend, while you're at it.
  2. Is anyone at all surprised?
  3. Brad DeLong is right to suggest that any scientist who stays in the GOP and doesn't fight this assault on science has real problems.
For more on this story, check out these links:
  1. Marginal Utility
  2. Pharyngula
  3. Pandagon
  4. John Cole
  5. Even Glenn Reynolds joins the fun.
Update: Definitely check out this site, whose decription is that it is "the virtual pub of the University of Ediacara. The patrons gather to discuss evolutionary theory, critique the claims of the antievolution movement, defend the integrity of both science and science education, and share good conversation."

Update 2: Also, Kevin Drum has some links to other anti-science stuff about Bush, DeLay, and Frist.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Novak Breaks Silence, and GOP Argument

With a small number of exceptions, the despicable Bob Novak has stayed mostly quiet since his October 1, 2003, column explaining why his July 14, 2003, column was just dandy, and why PlameGate is in his opinion a tempest in a teapot. In a recent CNN interview, he said "I can't answer any questions about this case at all," later adding that when Fitz's case is closed, "I will reveal all in a column and on the air."

Today he has broken his silence. He says he does so against his lawyers' advice, because he simply must defend his reputation. Last Wednesday, the WaPo's Pincus-VandeHei article included this discussion concerning former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow:
[Harlow] said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.

Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.
In today's column, Novak takes issue with that claim:
So, what was "wrong" with my column as Harlow claimed? There was nothing incorrect. He told the Post reporters he had "warned" me that if I "did write about it her name should not be revealed." That is meaningless. Once it was determined that Wilson's wife suggested the mission, she could be identified as "Valerie Plame" by reading her husband's entry in "Who's Who in America."
There are three things to note about this rejoinder of Novak's:
  1. Novak does not contradict Harlow's claim to have called Novak back. He contests other parts of the same sentence in the P-V article (for example, Harlow's apparent statement that Novak's description of events leading up to Wilson's trip as wrong). But he doesn't contest that Harlow called him back.
  2. [See Update 2 below; I think what I wrote originally is much less likely to be true in light of the update; I'll leave the text I wrote originally for posterity -- and humility.] Novak got the name "Plame" from Who's Who. This is at least the second time that Novak has noted that the name Plame appears in Joe Wilson's WW entry (the other written case I know about being Novak's October 1, 2003, column. This makes a lot of sense, actually.

    A while back I discussed an online profile of Joe Wilson that uses the name "Valerie Plame", but that profile refers to her as "the former Valerie Plame". So it's a good bet Novak didn't get it there. It also seems unlikely that he got it from anyone at CIA or otherwise in the loop. As I think I've discussed before, Joe Wilson insists (and that profile backs him up) that his wife's legal name is Valerie Wilson, and that her only use of "Plame" was as cover. So it seems weird to think either that the June, 2003, State INR memo would refer to her as Plame or that someone looking to discredit Wilson by leaking this story to a hack like Novak would say "Plame" rather than "Valerie Wilson" or even just Karl Rove's choice, "Joe Wilson's wife".

    So here's an easy story: Novak talks to two SAOs, who've heard somehow or another (via the State INR memo, Judy Miller, John Bolton, however) that Joe Wilson's wife is a CIA operative on WMD issues. Then Novak gets curious or wants to show off by using her name, so he does like any snob of his age and looks in Who's Who (Google be damned). Sure enough, there's the name, Valerie Plame. It would be interesting to know when the entry was written; I'd bet it was before she started using Plame as her cover name (I recall reading somewhere that her cover name has changed over time, including during the years (10?) that she has been married to Joe Wilson).

  3. Novak evidently has little patience for the (absurd) GOP/Luskin/Fox/etc argument that Rove & Co are in trouble only if they used Joe Wilson's wife's name: "That is meaningless. Once it was determined that Wilson's wife suggested the mission, she could be identified...". Maybe someone in the MSM should call Ken Mehlman and ask him what he thinks about Novak's torpedoig of the GOP line.
Novak goes on to say:
I have previously said that I never would have written those sentences if Harlow, then-CIA Director George Tenet or anybody else from the agency had told me that Valerie Plame Wilson's disclosure would endanger herself or anybody.
Kind of a catch 22 for Harlow/CIA, isn't it? Tell Novak what he wants to know to agree not to publish, and you -- personally -- violate the IIPA. Don't tell him, and he outs your agent anyway.

Raise your hand if you'd commit a felony to exactly zero effect.

Update: ThinkProgress has just noted this same issue.

Update 2: Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum both refer to this Newsday article by Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce from July 21, 2003, in which they quote Novak as saying:
Novak, in an interview, said his sources had come to him with the information. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it." [Emphasis added.]
I'd forgotten about this statement of Novak's. It certainly does make it hard to buy the casual explanation he provided in yesterday's column or his October 1, 2003, piece, and it also makes one doubt the Who's Who explanation I piled onto above.