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June 2003 Archives

June 1, 2003

If it was good enough for the Million Man March...

Always read the fine print. The New Jersey Education Association wants the state to raise taxes on a certain group:

The solution: what the NJEA and nearly 100 other groups calling themselves the Fairness Alliance have dubbed the "millionaire's tax." The tax is designed to infuse about $1 billion into the state budget for education, health care and the arts by raising income taxes on those earning more than a half-million dollars a year.
I guess "People who don't make anywhere close to a million tax" didn't sound quite as promising in focus group testing.

June 2, 2003

Why We Will Always Need the New York Times I

From today's Times:

"WASHINGTON, June 2 — The Justice Department's roundup of hundreds of illegal immigrants in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks was plagued with 'significant problems' that forced many people with no connection to terrorism to languish in jails in unduly harsh conditions, an internal report released today found.

The highly critical report from the Justice Department's inspector general concluded that F.B.I. officials, particularly in New York City, 'made little attempt to distinguish' between immigrants who had possible ties to terrorism and those swept up by chance in the investigation.

Justice Department officials said they believed they had acted within the law in pursuing terrorist suspects. 'We make no apologies for finding every legal way possible to protect the American public from further terrorist attacks,' said Barbara Comstock, a spokeswoman for the department."

I'm all for finding every legal way possible to protect the American public from further terrorist attacks. Who isn't? But, an apology is in order, for what was done was not legal.

I'm not a lawyer, but it's not difficult to figure out why the actions taken weren't legal. All one has to do is go to these four sentences:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial,

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Those are, of course, the 4th, the beginings of the 5th and 6th, and 8th amendments to the Constitution. People must be secure in their persons. They must, if they are imprisoned, charged with a crime and given a speedy trial, and they cannot be forced to languish in jail under unduly harsh conditions. It's un-American and un-Constitutional.

June 3, 2003

Why We Will Always Need the New York Times II

Paul Krugman's column today. Many others are going to link to it, some will attempt to "fisk" it. It's a must read.


Jay Mazumdar is right when he reminds us that we need to be precise about what we talk about: "The likelihood of Iraq having no WMDs seems pretty thin considering who Saddam was, how big Iraq is, and how many of its neighbors also seems to have WMDs. The WMDs probably are there, as the newly discovered trailers demonstrate. The question we should be emphasizing is whether Saddam ever had enough WMDs to present an imminent threat that justified a preventive, unilateral war lacking international legitimacy."

The war is over; what's the answer to this question?

Burying the lede

I am as critical as the next blogger about abuses of police power, but when Partha writes about post-9/11 immigration enforcement that "what was done was not legal", he's simply exhibiting the knee-jerk reaction the New York Times wants him to. He skips the eighth word in the very first sentence of the article. Hundreds of illegal immigrants were rounded up. It is not, of course, "un-American and un-Constitutional" to detain and then deport illegal immigrants.

The article begins by pointing out that many of the people arrested had no connection to terrorism, and then goes into great detail about their treatment, but underplays considerably the fact that the people who were detained were, in fact, criminals. Indeed, as the article notes, "most of the 762 immigrants have now been deported." Although the Times does include one sentence suggesting actual legal problems --

But the inspector general's report found that some lawyers in the department raised concerns about the legality of the tactics, only to be overridden by senior officials.
- it fails to elaborate on this in any way, or provide any evidence to back up the suggestion that laws were broken or rights were violated.

This is part of a pattern of New York Times stories portraying illegal immigrants as victims, rather than criminals. It's apparently true that (a) most of those arrested were not dangerous, and (b) most of these people would never have been arrested had it not been for the post-9/11 crackdown. As such, it would be reasonable to question whether post-9/11 immigration enforcement has been efficient or even effective. But that in no way is synonymous with the idea that these people were wrongly arrested. If the Times wishes to take the last as its editorial position, if they wish to argue that the nation's immigration laws shouldn't be enforced, they should do so overtly, rather than using the news section to repeatedly insinuate that the government violated the rights of criminals by arresting them. And if the Times has evidence that laws were actually broken, it should say so.

Context, shmontext

Donald Luskin can occasionally be a little strident in his attacks on Paul Krugman, but he effectively demolishes Krugman's recent partisan screed (yeah, I know, that doesn't narrow it down. I mean this one, from Friday.) Krugman's main theme lately -- okay, his only theme lately -- is that the Bush administration is dishonest. But Krugman (or "former Enron advisor Paul Krugman," as some like to call him) feels so desperate to establish this, that he resorts to dishonesty of his own. In this case, Krugman strings together a series of damning quotes proving that the Bush administration was lying about Iraq -- and the results are compelling. I know Bush lies -- he's a politician, after all -- but reading the editorial made me think the charges were extremely serious, this time around. The only problem is that Krugman pulled them all out of context, as Luskin points out. One example:

And, inevitably, the tangled yarn finally leads to a clipping from Krugman's favorite source for war news -- the BBC.
"This week a senior British intelligence official told the BBC that under pressure from Downing Street, a dossier on Iraqi weapons had been 'transformed' to make it 'sexier' — uncorroborated material from a suspect source was added to make the threat appear imminent."
But it turns out that Krugman's version of the BBC story is what's uncorroborated -- by the actual content of the BBC story, that is. Hogberg found John H. Hinderaker of the Power Line blog has tracked down the BBC story, "Iraq Weapons Dossier 'Rewritten'". Hinderaker writes,
"Even the BBC's own anonymous source concedes that 'Most things in the dossier were double source.' In fact, there is only one fact stated in the dossier that the BBC's anonymous official questions: the statement that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction could be 'ready for use within 45 minutes.' This statement was based on information from only one source, who was not considered reliable by the BBC's informant.

"That's it. Everything else in the British dossier is conceded to be correct: '[T]he official said he was convinced that Iraq had programme to produce weapons of mass destruction, and felt it was 30% likely there was a biological weapons programme. He said some evidence had been 'downplayed' by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix."

Why does Krugman go on like this, clipping his clippings and linking them together and searching endlessly for the key to the secret code that will reveal the truth about the Bushie plot to hijack America?
Indeed, Luskin actually goes too easy on Krugman here. When you read the BBC piece, it makes it clear that the BBC's source is not, in any way, questioning the case against Saddam:
But the official said he was convinced that Iraq had programme to produce weapons of mass destruction, and felt it was 30% likely there was a biological weapons programme.

He said some evidence had been "downplayed" by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix.

So why would Krugman cite a BBC article supporting Bush's arguments in claiming that the BBC reported that Bush's arguments were false? Did he not read the BBC piece before quoting it? Or did he just hope nobody else would check up on him? And how long is the New York Times going to let Krugman and Maureen Dowd continue to embarrass themselves like this?

Another entry about Paul Krugman

Roger Simon takes on Krugman's morning Times column:

What appalls me about this morning’s Paul Krugman NYTimes column about WMDs are not the factual errors, bad as they may be, reported on Instapundit and elsewhere, but the continued “Old Consciousness” Krugman’s article represents.

What factual errors in this morning's column? Instapundit does not list any. Neither does Simon -- he just states that they are there, that they are "bad," and his is appalled. Just saying that they are there doesn't make it so.

He and, alas, too many of my one-time allies on the Left are still mired in a “gotcha game,” attempting to dethrone George Bush at all costs, as if that were the most important action in the world, while the rest of us have moved on.

There is nothing wrong with being critical of the government or of our leaders. This isn't a "gotcha game" -- it's democracy. It's important. I wonder where Simon has "moved on" to.

This “Old Consciousness,” call it politics-as-usual or pre-9/11 or Party Politics, if you will, has placed Krugman and his ilk clearly, and I assume inadvertently, on the side of fascism—what should be a very uncomfortable spot for a left/liberal, former or otherwise. But on the side of fascism they are because the focus on missing WMDs, instead of on the unearthing of thousands of mass graves and the overthrow of a brutal, torturing regime that supported terrorism, distorts the reality of the victory in Iraq, which has already freed the people of that country and has changed the equation in the Middle East so that Israeli-Palestinian peace seems possible for the first time in years.

Krugman and his ilk are fascists? Or are on the side of fascism? Sticks and stones.

Krugman address this issue (of the "overthrow of a brutal, torturing regime") in his column: "It's no answer to say that Saddam was a murderous tyrant. I could point out that many of the neoconservatives who fomented this war were nonchalant, or worse, about mass murders by Central American death squads in the 1980's. But the important point is that this isn't about Saddam: it's about us. The public was told that Saddam posed an imminent threat. If that claim was fraudulent, the selling of the war is arguably the worst scandal in American political history — worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra. Indeed, the idea that we were deceived into war makes many commentators so uncomfortable that they refuse to admit the possibility."

The question remain: Was Saddam an imminent threat?

But Krugman must get the demon Bush, using any pretext he can, the WMDs in this case. But let’s give Paul his due. Let’s stipulate, even though we have no way of knowing at this point, the presence of these weapons was exaggerated by the administration; I still say—so what? Saddam’s gone. It was worth it. And I ask Krugman this simple question: What if some leader had used a similar ruse to get rid of Hitler in 1940? What would he think of that?

Prediction: We won’t be hearing a Krugman answer to that one any time soon.

I'll answer it.

I'm sure -- positive in fact -- that some leader would have LOVED to have used any ruse necessary to have gotten rid of Hitler in 1940. But, of course, no ruse was necessary in 1940. Great Britian and France were already at war against Germany.

And, does Simon genuine believe what he wrote in that paragraph? That it doesn't matter if our leaders -- and I'm not saying they did, he's saying that if they did, it doesn't matter -- if our leaders lie to us? That only the end result matters?

June 4, 2003

Trust me, I know what I'm doing

I happened to run across this post from last week, in which Dwight Meredith points out what he considers to be a major inconsistency in George Bush's attitudes towards juries:

George W. Bush has a perverse view of juries. Some people think that juries make essentially random decisions and have no trust in the accuracy of jury verdicts. Others, myself included, think that juries generally find the truth. George W. Bush is firmly in both camps.

While Governor of Texas, Mr. Bush showed an abiding faith in the unerring accuracy of jury decisions in death penalty cases.


Mr. Bush has much less confidence in the accuracy of the verdicts of civil juries. Mr. Bush has proposed that politicians and not jurors decide the amount of non-economic damages due to the most seriously injured victims of negligence.

On the surface, this does seem a little puzzling; why -- other than ideological politics -- would Bush be so eager to challenge one type of jury verdict but not the other? However, there's no necessary contradiction between these two positions which Mr. Meredith attributes to Bush. Civil and criminal trials, of course, have different burdens of proof. As such, it should theoretically be much harder for a jury to incorrectly convict an innocent person than for a jury to incorrectly find a non-responsible party to be liable.

That doesn't negate the validity of Meredith's observation that criminal defendants are more likely to have poor representation than high-profile civil defendants are. However, that observation is relevant only to the extent that the problem in each situation is one of jury error due to imperfect information. But that isn't the case; the issues presented aren't the same. With regard to criminal trials, the question we must confront is the accuracy of the verdict. With regard to civil trials, the issues Bush is raising (correctly or otherwise) are (A) the costs of frivolous suits regardless of the outcome and (B) overly generous damage awards. The latter is not a question of "accuracy"; indeed, the whole point is that there is no "correct" amount of punitive or non-economic compensatory damages (i.e., pain-and-suffering). 

A civil jury that awards millions to a woman for spilling coffee on herself (and spare me the ATLA propaganda about this case; I've read it, and it isn't convincing) is not making an inaccurate decision due to imperfect information; it is making a dumb decision based on emotion. Of course, one could argue that the same problem could present itself with regard to criminal juries, but (a) Dwight Meredith isn't making that argument, and (b) as I noted above, the differing standard of proof in criminal cases would (hopefully) make that less likely. Moreover, the situation is different precisely because there is a right answer in a criminal case. We ask the jury whether they're convinced that the defendant committed the crime; that's a question of historical fact. Whether the parents of an injured child suffered $15,000 worth of non-economic damage or $15,000,000 worth is inherently arbitrary, leaving far more leeway for the jury, providing more opportunity for a bad decision.

So, in fact, this "perverse" inconsistency that Dwight Meredith sees in Bush's views exists only if you accept his premise that the primary problem with jury verdicts is imperfect information correlating with the skill of the lawyers. Presumably Bush is not working from that premise.


Thirty-five years ago today, Robert F. Kennedy won the California Democratic Primary and, after making his acceptance speech, was shot. (He was actually shot a bit after midnight on June 5th, but it was still the night of June 4th.)

Many extraordinary books have been written about Kennedy. Some of this countries best historians and journalists have weighed in -- including Evan Thomas, Pierre D. Salinger, Jules Witcover, David Halberstam, Jack Newfield, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

For my money, however, the best biography of Kennedy is Joseph A. Palermo's In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. It's extraordinary, Kennedy's voice comes across loud and clear, and it's a shame that it did not get the same attention as, say, Thomas's book, which was excerpted in Newsweek magazine a couple of years ago.

If you're interested in Kennedy's life, I highly recommend Palermo's book.

Lies, damn lies, and journalism?

Opponents of the Iraq war, and of George Bush, have been very vocal lately in claiming that the failure (so far) to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq proves that "Bush lied." But for people worried about honesty, they don't seem to have any trouble distorting the truth for their own agenda. First we had Maureen Dowd falsely claiming that Bush said that Al Qaeda wasn't a problem anymore. Then we had Paul Krugman, among many others, claiming that Paul Wolfowitz said that weapons of mass destruction were just an excuse for war.

Now we have a fellow named George Wright in Britain's Guardian repeating that lie, and extending it, claiming that Wolfowitz admitted that the U.S. was really motivated by oil:

Oil was the main reason for military action against Iraq, a leading White House hawk has claimed, confirming the worst fears of those opposed to the US-led war.

The US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz - who has already undermined Tony Blair's position over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by describing them as a "bureaucratic" excuse for war - has now gone further by claiming the real motive was that Iraq is "swimming" in oil.

The only problem? Well, there are two. The first is that if you read the quote, it doesn't say what the Guardian claims it says:
Asked why a nuclear power such as North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, where hardly any weapons of mass destruction had been found, the deputy defence minister said: "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."

Saying that oil was a difference between the two countries is not saying that oil is reason for war. For instance, if someone asked why Iraq and North Korea were different, and Wolfowitz identified the desert terrain of Iraq as being more suited to America's military forces than North Korea's terrain, would that be an admission that sand was the reason for war? Of course not. There's a difference between a particular element creating a condition for war and a particular element being a reason for the war.

The second problem, though, is more fundamental. Wolfowitz didn't say what the Guardian claims he said. From the actual transcript:

Look, the primarily difference -- to put it a little too simply -- between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil.  In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that I believe is a major point of leverage whereas the military picture with North Korea is very different from that with Iraq.  The problems in both cases have some similarities but the solutions have got to be tailored to the circumstances which are very different.
Last I checked, words in quotes are not supposed to be paraphrases of what a person says. And when you do choose to paraphrase something, you're not supposed to change the meaning. This Guardian article fails both tests.

As the Guardian frames it, Wolfowitz is apparently claiming that Iraq's oil is important to us economically; as Wolfowitz actually said it, he's claiming that Iraq's oil was important to Iraq economically, giving us no options in pressuring them financially, unlike the near-bankrupt North Korea. They manage to reverse the meaning of Wolfowitz's words entirely.

I just don't understand it. Do reporters just assume that nobody will ever check up on them? I suppose it's not an unreasonable assumption -- just an outdated one. Before the age of the internet, it was very difficult to do so. Reporters apparently simply haven't adapted to the fact that the real transcript of a press conference can be available to us before their own versions of it are. (I guess the only way to file the story sooner than the truth can come out is to use Jayson Blair's approach -- skip the time-consuming reporting process and go right to the writing.) But even though it's wonderful to see that the public can learn the truth in spite of media attempts at spin, it's depressing to realize how many stories we'll never know the truth about, simply because they slipped under the radar or happened before the blogosphere arrived to point out their lies.

June 6, 2003

Freudian slip

The Guardian has admitted that the article I (and every other blogger) jumped all over was wrong, and has actually taken the step of removing the article from their site. (Doesn't that seem awfully sneaky, by the way? While I certainly endorse the practice of printing corrections, should a paper really hide its errors by rewriting history to pretend they never published the error in the first place?) At least one blogger has suggested that the error may have occurred because the reporter was working with the German translation of the speech rather than the actual transcript of the speech. That seems slightly plausible, given how quick they were to admit that they were wrong. So let's assume it was an honest, unintentional error.

But step back a minute, and try to figure out exactly what they were thinking. First, a reporter had to read the speech and interpret it that way. Then, an editor had to approve the story. And neither one thought anything was strange about this story, as written? Wouldn't someone reporting such a bombshell pause for a minute and consider whether there was something wrong with it? And if they did, and concluded that it was reasonable? What does that say about them?

In order to believe that this story was reasonable, they would, fundamentally, have to believe that it was true: the U.S. war was about oil. Okay, well, a lot of people believe that, although I'm not sure they have a clear grasp of what "about oil" would mean. But they would also have to believe either that (a) the Bush administration had suddenly, inexplicably, decided to admit this inconvenient truth, or that (b) it was such a self-evident truth that Wolfowitz just couldn't help but admit it, even though he was trying to keep it a secret.

If that doesn't sound that strange to you, insert different facts. Would you think it remarkable if Jacques Chirac "admitted" that he opposed the war because he doesn't like Jews? Or if Gerhard Schroeder "admitted" he did so because he was on Saddam Hussein's payroll? If you heard either of those things secondhand, even if you believed it, wouldn't you say to yourself, "Hey, wait, that can't be right. He wouldn't say that. Maybe I'd better doublecheck that"? Of course you would. For neither the reporter nor his editor to do so? Can't you just picture them sitting there, reading it, nodding, and saying, smugly, "Well, of course. I already knew that. No point in going to the original source. That's obvious." For one guy to do it, well, someone can be biased. But for two people (or more, for that matter)? What kind of groupthink is there over at the Guardian?


Once again, Jay Mazumdar is right on target.

With all the repulsive back-slapping and congratulations throughout the blogsphere about the resignations at the New York Times, perhaps it's time for some of these bloggers to come clean themselves. The New York Times has; will bloggers? Or is the blogsphere above self-correction? We know the New York Times can accept responsibility. Is the blogsphere above accountability?

Jay writes: "Prior to the onset of the war, right-wing bloggers were throwing around all sorts of accusations about how the French and the Germans opposed the war because they provided Saddam with his WMD arsenal in violation of UN sanctions. They promised us -- most prominently Steven den Beste -- that the war once prosecuted would reveal French and German duplicity and complicity with a murderous regime."

But den Beste wasn't alone. Andrew Sullivan made these accusations. Instapundit repeatedly made them (or repeated them).

So, it's time for accountability. Did the French and Germans provide Saddam with WMDs? Or, are we going to see a correction soon?

I'm not holding my breath.

The Day of Days

Recent diplomacy aside, on this anniversary, it's important to remember who are great friends are.

Witch Hunts

Instapundit approvingly quotes someone saying: "These people destroyed themselves. Nobody went on a witch hunt for Raines or Lott, they dug their own graves and made a lot of enemies all on their own."

Huh? No one went on a witch hunt for Howell Raines?

Not that he had anything to do with Raines's demise, but there is a two word answer for this incredible falsehood: Andrew Sullivan.

June 7, 2003

Raines's Legacy

Ken Layne writes (and Virginia Postrel agrees) that Howell Raines's legacy is a legacy of lies.

Other than trying to figure out which lies Raines actually told in these various scandals (did he tell knowlingly any?), I have to disagree with Layne and Postrel.

True enough, some will gloat on and on about Raines and his resignation. To these people, this will always be Raines's legacy.

To most, I believe, what they will most remember about Raines's stewardship of the Times will be its post-9/11 coverage (for which it won 6 Pulitzer Prizes) and, most of all, the Portraits of Grief. The Times is not a newspaper without fault. But, these were journalism at journalism's highest.

Oh, you meant those antiquities

Remember those museum looting stories? They might have been a tad bit premature:

Almost all of the priceless items feared stolen from the Baghdad Museum when it was ransacked by looters have been found safe in a secret vault, the U.S.-led administration for Iraq said on Saturday.
A relative handful of items are still missing -- 3,000, compared with the 170,000 that were initially reported stolen -- but most, particularly some of the more valuable ones, were located.
Another trove of priceless jewelry, the Treasure of Nimrud, was found in a flooded Central Bank vault on Thursday.

The Nimrud artefacts, hundreds of gold and gem-studded pieces from the ancient kingdom of Assyria, were retrieved by U.S. investigators after the vaults below the gutted shell of the looted bank building were drained.

The treasures, discovered between 1988 and 1990 in ancient royal tombs below an Assyrian palace dating from the ninth century BC, had been feared lost. But U.S. investigators learned they had been placed in a central bank vault in the early 1990s, possibly to protect them during the 1991 Gulf War.

"They were never lost," acting Central Bank Governor Faleh Salman said. "We knew all along they were there. It just took a bit of time to get at them because of the flooding."

Good news, of course, for archeologists and historians. But more important, yet another lesson in why not to trust media frenzies. Not only were the items not stolen, but some of them had been hidden away a decade ago. Some suggested that this might have been the case, but they were drowned out by the voices attacking the U.S. Was the media deliberately lying? Probably not. They were just reckless. It fit their plotline -- mean ol' heartless Bush administration not caring about anything other than oil, letting other tragedies occur in pursuit of Bush's goals. So they didn't bother to stop and consider other possibilities.

We're seeing another example of the media piling on right now, with the lack of discoveries of weapons of mass destruction being cited as proof that Bush lied. Maybe they're right, or maybe we'll find out in a few months that they were hidden right before the regime fell, and some Iraqi will say, "We knew all along they were there."

June 8, 2003


As many bloggers are either taking credit for Howell Raines's resignation or crowing about it, let's remember what the vast majority of the blogsphere still is. Once again, Jay Mazumdar, from a few months back: "But really, [bloggers] are little more than ideological librarians, providing links to stories (by real reporters) which confirm their preconceived notions. The writing styles of even the most respected bloggers (you know the ones) differ greatly from that found in news stories or respected columns. These bloggers confuse condescension with argument and sarcasm with wit, leaving the bitter aftertaste of pathetic know-it-all-ism. If blogging does have a future, it should be because true journalists have more to offer, other than their print media pieces. I think Josh Marshall is an ideal example, combining actual reporting with analysis reflecting both his opinions and a sense of fairness. It would be nice to see more blogs with actual news reporting and fewer peddlers of ideological rigidity."

Jay mentions Josh Marshall. There are other wonderful exceptions: Kos, Brad deLong, Kieran Healy, the extraordinarily literate duo of Molly Wyman and Deirdra Clemente (neither of whom write much about politics, and, in Molly's case, recently hasn't been writting much at all, but when they do write, it's written so incredibly well), and Jay Mazumdar. There are, of course, other exceptions, but, as of now, these are just exceptions and there are few.

June 9, 2003

The role of blogs

Blogging is not journalism. Not that there's anything wrong with finding "actual news reporting" in blogs, but arguing that blogs should have "actual news reporting" is like arguing that the science section of the newspaper should contain "actual scientific research." It conflates roles. Bloggers are commentators, essayists, pundits. They -- we -- are not reporters. Sure, if we happen to experience something firsthand, we can report it. If we feel like doing original research, we can. But that's not our primary function.

While I don't agree with much of his politics, I do agree that Josh Marshall's blog is a high quality one -- and it should be, since Josh Marshall is a professional. But most bloggers are not, and it's unrealistic to hold them to the same standard. Even if it occasionally seems otherwise, Glenn Reynolds has a full time job; Instapundit is just a hobby for him. Is he an "ideological librarian?" Perhaps. So what?

If I want reporting, I'll read the New York Times. (And then believe the opposite of what they say.) If I want commentary on Australian politics, I'll read Tim Blair. If I want someone to savage Paul Krugman, I'll read Donald Luskin. If I want a roundup of all the important Middle Eastern news, I'll read Little Green Footballs. If I want essays on applied economics, I'll read Asymmetrical Information. If I want professional punditry, I'll read the New Republic. Etc., etc. But it surely doesn't make sense to criticize one media outlet for not being the other.

Come again?

Last week, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press created some big news by releasing their annual survey of world attitudes towards the U.S. as part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Eric Alterman, occasionally accused of anti-Semitism for his anti-Israel bias -- and quite defensive about it -- made a big deal of one of its findings:

In the meantime, check out this amazing statistic. "U.S. policies toward the Middle East come under considerable criticism in the new poll. In 20 of 21 populations surveyed - Americans are the only exception - pluralities or majorities believe the United States favors Israel over the Palestinians too much. This opinion is shared in Israel; 47% of Israelis believe that the U.S. favors Israel too much, while 38% say the policy is fair and 11% think the U.S. favors the Palestinians too much." Did everybody get that? The Israelis think we favor Israel too much. Call me an anti-Semite, but I think that makes it true.
Huh? Does it make any sense to believe that half of Israelis think that Americans favor Israel too much? Yes, that is what the poll seems to indicate, and (for a change) the press release accurately reflects what the question asks. But does that sound at all reasonable? It certainly doesn't to me.

There's always a danger of rejecting inconvenient facts just because they don't support our preconceptions, but I don't think that's the case in this instance. A friend of mine likes to quote Carl Sagan's "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" saying, and I think it applies here. (At least, I think that it's a quote from Sagan.) Given that our recent policy consists of supporting the democratically-elected Israeli government, that "finding" is essentially the equivalent of saying that half of all Israelis are less supportive of Israel than the U.S. And that, despite the fact that the opposition to the current Israeli governing coalition was pummeled in the last election.

That's possible, I suppose -- but does it make sense to say so based only on a single question asked once of 903 people? Isn't it more plausible that (a) the random sample wasn't truly representative for some reason, or (b) there was a translation problem which caused the question to be misinterpreted (We only have the English translation of the questions asked, but presumably the surveys were conducted in the native languages of the various countries), or (c) there was some sort of error in data compilation, or (d) the numbers represent a typographical error, or even (e) fraud occurred?

In this case, I suggest that the design of the question was flawed. The question asked for the respondent's opinion of U.S. policy:

Q.29 What’s your opinion of U.S. policies in the Middle East – would you say they are fair, or do they favor Israel too much, or do they favor the Palestinians too much?
(Again, noting that this is the English language version of the question.) Isn't it plausible that at least some people interpreted "fair" as "equal," and then rejected that option because, clearly, the U.S. does favor one side more than the other? If so, then the only remaining option one could select would be that the U.S. "favors Israel too much." In other words, if one feels that (a) the U.S. supports Israel over the Palestinians and (b) the U.S. is justified in doing so, what does one choose in responding to the question? Neither "fair" nor "favors Israel too much" fully captures that opinion.

We tend to take survey results as gospel, at least within the mathematical confines of the error margin, but they're subject to the same limitations as any other reports: mistakes, lies, confusion, the vagaries of chance. (A 95% confidence interval implies that one out of twenty times, there will be an error larger than the error margin.) We shouldn't ignore data that's strange merely because it's strange, but we shouldn't toss our common sense out the window, either. And if the strange results surprisingly agree with us, we should be doubly cautious that we're not accepting the results merely because they provide validation for our idiosyncratic opinions.

The death of irony?

The Wall Street Journal opinion page is irate at the federal prosecutors handling Martha Stewart's case.

The WSJ says that Stewart's crimes, if there are any, aren't that big. It compares it to lying about speeding. Also, since she hasn't been charged with insider trading, they note that she shouldn't be charged (as she has been) with lying about participating in insider trading. (It's more complicated than this, but, basically, Stewart denied that she committed a crime, and the prosecutors have used this denial to charge her with misleading the prosecution and her stockholders). The prosecutors, the WSJ claims, are overreaching.

I wonder if the WSJ was able to write all this with a straight face? Or if they were intending to be ironic?

The Wall Street Journal, of course, was unrelenting in its pursuit of President Clinton. Clinton, whose crime (if you actually believe it was a crime), was lying about something he did. And the thing he lied about wasn't even a crime.

You can't support Martha Stewart and not support President Clinton. It's not logically possible. Except if you're the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.

June 10, 2003


Last night's Charlie Rose show was a low point of American journalism. It was something you'd expect from Fox or the local news.

Rose had Chris Matthews and Margaret Carlson on to talk about Senator Hillary Clinton's new book. They weren't to talk about the buzz around the book, but what was actually contained in the book.

All three actually admitted that they hadn't finished the book, yet. You'd think that ethics would preclude them from discussing a book they hadn't completed. They just sat there, talking about what they assumed was in the book and making jokes about the Clinton family.

When I read a movie review, I expect that the critic has seen the movie. When I watch PBS, I expect the "experts" to have read what they are analyzing. From now on, I'll make exceptions for Chris Matthews and Margaret Carlson.

June 11, 2003


Peter here. David invited me to be an occasional contributor to his blog, and who am I to turn down such an invitation? I suppose this is where I'm supposed to tell you a little about myself. But really, if you want to know about me, stick with the site and read my posts; you'll figure me out eventually.


At our college reunion weekend, Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy took to asking fellow alumni the following questions:

  • How does your life today compare with what you thought your life would be like at your 10th Reunion as of the day you graduated from college?
  • If you could go back to the beginning of your freshman year of college and give yourself advice about how to go about college, what advice would you give yourself?

My answers were "it's about as I expected" and "work harder and play harder". (Hey, it's the best I could come up with after a weekend of drinking.) The latter answer seemed to be about what most people came up with as well. Take college by the horns. Live life to its fullest. Good advice, always.

Well, a little while later, Orin links to party-pooper Dan Simon, who notes that basically, none of us would follow our own advice. (He links to a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story that illustrates the point). And he's probably right. But I already knew he was right about me. I'd hear the advice from my future self, and then probably go right ahead and be the lazy-ass I was doomed to be. Which is fine with me, because I enjoyed college, and I'm generally happy with my life.

But if I only had the presence of mind to ask my future self for some hot stock tips...

Don't Tread On Me?

By now, you've no doubt heard that the Army has been using "culturally offensive music", such as Drowning Pool, Metallica, and Barney (yes, the purple dinosaur) to break the spirit of Iraqi prisoners. Turns out that Metallica is none too pleased. But they know their limitations:

"What am I supposed to do about it," [drummer Lars Ulrich] asked, "get George Bush on the phone and tell him to get his generals to play some Venom?"

Actually, that sounds like a pretty funny idea to me...

June 12, 2003

What's Plan B?

It's fashionable, and perhaps too easy, to bash the United Nations. Still, sometimes it's so easy because it's so necessary. The problem is not that the UN is utterly useless -- plenty of organizations are -- but that people are determined to pretend otherwise. Remember all those people who wanted to let the UN handle the Iraq situation, both before and after the war actually began? Well, maybe the way the UN, and the international community generally, is handling the mess in the Congo should be seen as instructive of why the Bush administration was determined to bypass the organization as often as possible:

Three days after gun battles between warring ethnic militias brought this town to a terrified standstill, the newly arrived commander of the multinational force dispatched by the United Nations pledged today "to reassure and to protect" its people. But he made clear he did not intend to disarm the fighters, many of them children.

Speaking to reporters on the airport tarmac here, the commander of the French-led force, Brig. Gen. Jean Paul Thonier, said he would not strip the militias of their guns, venture outside the city or get in the middle of a gun battle.

"Separating the factions is not part of my mission," he said.

In short, it's a peacekeeping force that has no plans whatsoever to keep any peace (and what makes this story even more precious is that it is the French who are running this mission). In fact, they have no plans to do much of anything; massacres have been going on, but the UN is standing by:
The United Nations peacekeepers in Bunia — who preceded the European Union force, and are hampered by a mandate allowing them to use weapons only when fired on — have been unwilling to risk investigating such incidents, let alone stop them.
Which leaves the as-yet-unanswered question: why are they there? What's the point of getting involved if your mandate is to sit around and play cards? Is it just to assuage the collective conscience of the "international community" by letting them pretend to themselves that they're helping?

Now, the situation in the Congo -- an ethnically-based civil war, in which neighboring powers keep interfering -- is a mess, providing no simple answers. And certainly the United States hasn't made the sort of commitment to resolve the situation that it did with regard to Iraq. But is that required? Is the lesson we're supposed to take away from this situation, and the rhetoric surrounding the Iraq crisis, that a practical model of successful international cooperation involves Europeans deciding when something should be done, and then Americans providing the muscle to make it happen? Because I don't think that's going to be acceptable to many in the United States. Nor should it be. If they can't take care of the minor problems without us, then why should we solicit or respect their input on the major problems? The only reason would be if they had superior wisdom and judgment to that of the U.S. -- and it's a little offensive to suggest that.

I Want It That Way

Tired of being subjected to unwanted Metallica and Barney, Iraqis are fighting back by forming boy bands:

Cinemas, breweries and alcohol stores have been threatened and attacked by militant groups, and in many areas women have been told not to walk outdoors without a veil. But Unknown To No One say they won't let extremists get in their way.

"We lived under dictatorship for 35 years. I'm not prepared to go through that again, and I don't think anybody is," said lead singer Nadeem Hamed, a 20-year-old biology student. "If people attack us for being in a band, that's terrorism."

Seriously, this is great news. May thousands of Iraqi boy bands bloom. As a bonus, it's a perfect way to piss off anti-American-culture fundamentalist Muslims and anti-American-culture fundamentalist leftists at the same time. Someone get George Bush on the phone and ask him to play Unknown to No One at his next press conference...

Time for Safire to Give it Up

In today's New York Times, William Safire writes: "In the Hillary Clinton Travelgate case, the independent counsel Robert Ray concluded that her sworn testimony was 'factually false,' but he declined to prosecute because he didn't think a jury would convict the first lady of perjury. Prosecutors hate to spoil their records."

Safire's implication is clear: Clinton was guilty, but her fame would have kept her from being found guilty.

If he would have pursued the matter, Robert Ray's record would not have been sullied because of the supposed incompitance of the jury. It would have been because, as Kenneth Starr himself said, there was no "substantial and credible" evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Safire is still trying to spin "travelgate" for his own devices. However, the witch hunt is over. It's time for him to give it up.

June 13, 2003

James Garfield, this one's for you

Less than 15% of the American workforce is unionized. The New York Times thinks it's awful that many government workers might have to suffer under some of the same oppressive working conditions faced by the other 85% of the population:

The House has already rubber-stamped a plan proposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who wants the "flexibility" to become in effect the potentate of payroll. Under that bill, Mr. Rumsfeld and his managers would have final word on the merit, demerit and pay raises of workers, who would have minimal recourse to appeal. Workers are understandably anxious about this work force revolution, warning of a retreat toward the 19th-century spoils system of patronage and cronyism.
For some reason, I can't seem to muster any sympathy. Perhaps government clerks working in air-conditioned offices in the Pentagon don't quite conjure up images of immigrants toiling in sweatshops in the garment district. It's understandable why government employees are opposed to reforms that would eliminate automatic pay increases and allow government employees to be fired without an appeals system that takes longer than the death penalty's appellate process. It's just unclear to me why the rest of us should be concerned. Does the Times really believe that the Secretary of Defense is going to personally go around policing a three-quarters of a million-person workforce, promoting only those who gave money to the right political party?

(And what if that did happen? Would it really hurt the quality of the federal workforce all that much, anyway?)

Next year's record ski season credited to global warming

According to the National Weather Service, as reported in the New York Times:

the average temperature in New York for May, a customarily balmy month, has been an inhospitable 58.7 — several degrees below normal. More telling, however, is that for the first time in 20 years there was not a day in May when the thermometer hit 80.

Calling 58.7 degrees "inhospitable" is an allowable exaggeration, considering it's supposed to be spring. And along with the cold, it's been rainy and dreary here for a month straight. So how do they lead off that very same article?

On a chilly and sodden afternoon last week, Christina Vrachnos braced herself against the wind on Madison Avenue, and cast her eyes toward the skies. "Is it global warming?" she wailed. "What is it? What have we done to deserve this wretched weather?"

Talk about a political axe to grind. Global warming is somehow to blame for one of the coldest Mays on record? Perhaps without global warming it would only have been in the 40s. Perhaps we deserve this weather because Christina Vrachnos is an idiot. Or at best very gullible.

Maybe it was the weather gods

Peter overlooks a possibility; it may be that Christina Vrachnos is more subtle than the reporters at the New York Times. She might have been attempting irony which went over the reporter's head. Knowing the media's penchant for hyping the global warming issue, I often sarcastically blame the weather conditions -- whatever they are -- on global warming. Cold outside? Maybe it's because of global warming. There was an earthquake? Maybe it was due to global warming. The Cubs are in first place? Maybe it's global warming. I can certainly picture an overly earnest New York Times reporter overhearing such a comment and eagerly repeating it in a column. They want to believe it, after all.

And on the subject of global warming, there's an excellent post by Iain Murray, generally at the Edge of England's Sword, but guest-blogging over at the Volokh Conspiracy, in which he points out what a truly objective media would:

I've been dealing with climate science issues in detail for approaching a month today. As a result, I am amazed whenever I hear anyone say that "science shows" anything in the climate change debate. The plain fact is that normal scientific methods simply aren't applicable in the climate science area. Normally, you come up with a hypothesis and run experiments to check it. The trouble is that you can't run experiments with the climate. We have no other Earth to act as a control (anyone who points to Venus as an example is showing his ignorance there and then). The science can therefore only progress by building models, which, if acceptably accurate, might predict what will happen. But those models are based on theory. If they cannot predict what is currently happening (as we know from observation) accurately, there is something wrong with them and/or the underlying theory. Theorists, however, are often wedded to their theories.
Exactly; if you read popular coverage of the global warming issue, all too often scientific models and scientific laws are confused. We hear talk that newly-collected data has enabled scientists to refine their models, and shows such-and-such about the future, when what is really the case is that plugging the newly-collected data into the model shows such-and-such, if that model is accurate. But a newly refined model can never be said to be accurate; only by seeing if the model accurately predicts the future can we make that determination, which means there must necessarily be a time lag between scientific understanding and public policy changes. But because this doesn't fit some agendas, the distinction between "the models suggest X" and "science suggests X" gets lost.

I don't mean to suggest that there's anything dishonest about changing the models to explain new data; that's a perfectly reasonable scientific practice. The problem is changing the models to explain past data and then pretending that the models represent established science, as opposed to mere hypotheses.

And if that doesn't work, baptize 'em

Good news from Saudi Arabia: they're now telling al-Qaida members directly that they're bad Muslims:

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - Saudi investigators are using an unusual tactic in their interrogations of al-Qaida suspects arrested after last month's suicide bombings here: They're bringing in clerics to lecture the militants on the nature of Islam.

The clerics are telling the prisoners that they have strayed from their religion and that they must atone by confessing to everything they know about plans for future terrorist attacks, according to a Western diplomat and a Saudi official.

The article goes on (as articles are wont to do) to say that this tactic may or may not work:

Some analysts question whether the presence of clerics during interrogations would have any impact on militants who are convinced that their radical brand of Islam is the only true form, and that other Muslims who disagree with them are infidels who should be killed.

"I am not sure that religious debate would work with some of these people," said Khalil al-Khalil, a professor of education at the Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh. "They have been brainwashed to a point of no return."

But hey, it's worth a shot. Let's hope it's a sign that Saudis are finally and truly becoming less and less willing to make excuses for the terrorists in their midst.

Sources at Jumping To Conclusions said...

I think anybody with an IQ above his shoe size could figure out that I don't agree with The Nation much. But when they're right, they're right. In a column by Russ Baker criticizing the New York Times' Judith Miller for what he believes to be overly credulous reporting of Pentagon claims, he writes:

Jayson Blair used the cover of unidentified sources to make things up. Miller allows sources to hide their identities in order to advance a self-serving agenda. Using unnamed sources is a common and necessary technique in journalism. But sources should not be allowed to remain unnamed when the information they are imparting serves to directly advance their own and their employers' objectives. In other words, a reporter needs a very good justification for not naming a source--usually because a source is saying something that could get him or her in big trouble with some powerful entity. But what kind of trouble could befall some unnamed Pentagon source who is leaking material in accord with the objectives of the current Administration? The principal motive for remaining under cover in such circumstances, besides preserving deniability, is to gain greater currency for the leaked material, as something that has received the imprimatur of our internationally recognized "newspaper of record," the New York Times.
Citing anonymous sources should be a rare exception, not standard operating procedure. When a reporter cites a real person, he's saying, "Trust me. I spoke to this person." While the Jayson Blair scandal shows that this is hardly an ironclad guarantee, it does provide an opportunity for (a) the quoted source to rebut the claim if untrue, and (b) the reader to decide for himself how much credence to give to the statement. When a reporter cites an anonymous source, he's saying, "Trust me. I really spoke to someone who said this, and that person fits the description I gave him. And I haven't misquoted him. And I've evaluated his credibility, and I've decided that it's sufficient to justify the story. He's not mistaken or lying and he has no personal agenda."

Well, that's just a little too much for me to take on faith. I know what Paul Wolfowitz thinks, so if he's quoted, I can decide what it means. I don't know what a "Pentagon source" thinks or wants. I don't know if he's trying to float a trial balloon or stir up dissent or if he's a genuine whistleblower. But I can see with my own eyes that most "officials" aren't saying anything worth keeping secret, and if they're not willing to say it openly, then the reporter should just work a little harder to get someone who will.

Heads I win; tails you lose

Perhaps the feature of New York Times-style liberalism that I dislike the most is the assumption that nobody is ever responsible for anything they do -- except for conservatives, "right wingers," "hard liners," or whatever other epithet is used to describe the Times' enemies. Everyone else is a victim of circumstances, reacting to provocations but never acting. The Times carried an editorial yesterday, on the Middle East, which embodies this attitude perfectly. (I've ranted about this attitude before-- it's endemic to, but not unique to, the Times -- but blogs are good for beating dead horses, if nothing else.) The Times writes:

The deadliest blows so far have come from Palestinian terrorists. Yesterday, a Hamas suicide bomber killed at least 16 people and wounded nearly 100 on a rush-hour bus in central Jerusalem.

But the gravest political damage is being done by Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, whose reflexive military responses to terror threatens to undermine the authority of Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate new Palestinian prime minister.

See, Ariel Sharon is bad, because he chose to respond. (Though at the same time, the response was "reflexive," because that way the Times can portray it as mindless.) But as for the terrorist acts themselves, or Abbas's failure and/or inability to stop them, the Times has nothing to say. But note that these acts, according to the Times, have no impact on the "peace initiative." Why not? Because, you see, Israelis should be mature enough to shrug off the terrorist bombings. But Palestinians? They're not capable of handling Israel's retaliatory strikes. It will just set them off. And will they blame the people who brought the strikes upon themselves -- namely, Hamas? No. It will just undermine poor Mahmoud Abbas, their supposed leader.

Now, in a sense that should be flattering to Israelis, right? I suppose in a sense it is. Israelis are being called mature and responsible, while Palestinians aren't. But in a larger sense, it undermines the entire process. If Palestinians are just children, incapable of self-control, of discerning right from wrong, then how can anything ever be accomplished? Only one way: for Israel to assume responsibility for everything that happens on both sides, to make all the sacrifices, to ignore every provocation, and then to pray for the best.

The Times goes on:

Ignoring strong pleas from Washington, Mr. Sharon has now twice ordered Israeli forces to rocket cars carrying suspected Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Aside: suspected? Has anybody denied that the targets were members of Hamas?
Challenging the new Palestinian leadership to take over security responsibility for Gaza is one of the first concrete tests of the road map. Sending in Israeli forces as if nothing had changed needlessly damages the credibility of Mr. Abbas and of the whole Bush peace plan. If it is not evident to Mr. Sharon by now that military reprisals alone can never bring Israel security from suicide bombers, the White House must do all it can to help him understand.
So again, note that in the view of the Times, the attacks don't challenge the credibility of Abbas, but Israel's responses to them do. That's because all that matters is whether Palestinians trust him; whether Israelis do is of no concern to the Times.

And while it's certainly true that Sharon's use of a military response hasn't eliminated the Palestinian practice of homicide bombings, it's just as true that Israel's attempts at negotiation haven't succeeded, either. The White House must do all it can to help the editors of the Times understand that point.

Nobody expects Israel to tolerate terror against its people. But terror can be more effectively rooted out if responsible Palestinian leaders like Mr. Abbas are strengthened, not undermined. It is easy to see why Hamas would like to make Mr. Abbas look irrelevant. But Israel should be doing all it can to strengthen his hand because in the long run that is in Israel's own interest.
No, nobody expects Israel to tolerate terror -- except, of course, for the New York Times, which is asking Israel to do exactly that. And for what? For the mere hope that Israel's toleration will give Abbas the strength and credibility to end terror, and that he will choose to do so. (After all, Yasir Arafat had strength and credibility -- but what has he used it for?)
The obvious place for him to start is Gaza, where Hamas is based and where the Palestinian Authority's security forces are strongest. To build a Palestinian political consensus against terror, Mr. Abbas needs to show his people that his conciliatory words have brought a change in Israeli behavior. Regrettably, Mr. Sharon's latest actions demonstrate just the opposite.
I thought that what Palestinians wanted was an end to settlements; well, Sharon's "latest actions" include language and steps towards dismantling some. But apparently the "Israeli behavior" that was so offensive was actually Israel responding to terrorist attacks. The Times considers the Palestinians to be so hypersensitive that Israel's mere self-defense is what needs to "change."

In short, the only side that needs to do anything is Israel. It's up to Israel to prove its good faith to Palestinians by not responding when terrorists kill Israelis. Not only don't Palestinians have to prove their good faith to Israel, but in fact Israel must assume that Palestinians won't act in good faith, accept it, and assume that Abbas is acting in good faith, and then help him prove his good faith, not to Israel, but to other Palestinians. A little one-sided, don't you think? When do we get to the point where Palestinians stop blowing up Israeli buses?

June 14, 2003

Yes, but America is the real police state!

The protests in Iran have taken a turn for the worse:

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Automatic gunfire echoed in the Iranian capital early Saturday as hundreds of hard-line Islamic militants, some armed with Kalashnikov rifles, attacked groups of people demonstrating against clerical rule.

In the most serious violence since the U.S.-applauded pro-democracy protests began four days ago, witnesses also reported seeing hard-line vigilantes pulling young women out of cars and beating them with sticks.

Police stood by as hundreds of militiamen, who wear no uniforms and are fiercely loyal to Iran's conservative clerical leaders, manned checkpoints and roared around on motorbikes brandishing batons and chains. By 3:30 a.m. (7 p.m. EDT on Friday) there were no signs of protesters on the streets of the capital and hard-line vigilantes had complete control of streets around the Tehran University dormitory which has been the focal point of the demonstrations.

Let's hope it's only a temporary setback. And just for fun, contrast these courageous Iranian students with the (U.N.-applauded?) anti-democracy protestors in the U.S. and Europe from a few months back. (Apologies if the comparison makes you ill.)

Keeping up with the news

Israel and the Palestinians agree on one point:

Both IDF and Hamas spokesmen announced this evening that the suicide bombing in Jerusalem and the IDF elimination of a car full of terrorists were unrelated to the events of the last 24 hours. The Hamas spokesman, while warning that the organization intends to take revenge for yesterday’s IDF helicopter attack on Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, admitted that his organization is incapable of organizing an attack on such short notice and called the timing ‘a fortuitous coincidence.’
(Via Damien Penny.) That story was dated June 11th.

So why is the New York Times, in a story published on the 13th, commenting otherwise:

In the intensifying struggle between Hamas and Israel, Mr. Shabneh's attack is widely viewed, though Israeli officials dispute it, as retribution for the attack on Mr. Rantisi.
Though Israeli officials dispute it? How about Hamas disputing it? I won't even attempt to address the question of whether a reporter can accurately talk about what is "widely viewed" without doing any polling. That sounds to me like reporterspeak for "I believe this, but I'm not supposed to say that."

June 16, 2003

Another one bites the dust?

One out of three members of the Axis of Evil (*) is gone; another one appears to be crumbling. I'm not an expert on reading Tehranian tea leaves, but I've got to imagine that this can't be a good sign for the regime:

Police arrested dozens of pro-clergy militants who smashed their way into university dormitories and beat up sleeping students in a wave of violence aimed at putting down protests against Iran's Islamic government.


Saturday's arrests appeared to be an attempt by Iran's ruling hard-line clerics to rein in their militant supporters, reflecting fears that the violence might only stoke the past week's anti-government protests, which were the largest in months.

These "militants" are simply thugs employed by the mullahs to suppress dissent; that they would be arrested says to me either that there's significant dissension in the ranks in the upper levels of the Iranian regime, or that the regime is worried enough about the current situation that they feel the need to try to mollify angry protestors by making this gesture. Either way, it's a good sign for the United States and the Iranian public, and a bad sign for the government.

Something else which hasn't been remarked upon much: credit (or blame) for encouraging the protests has gone to various satellite television channels:

Khamenei has accused arch-enemy the United States of orchestrating the unrest. Many protestors seeking to join the fray were answering calls from US-based Iranian opposition-run Persian language satellite television channels -- notably the Los Angeles-based pro-monarchist NITV.
NITV describes itself as "an independent 24 hour Persian TV station" which is "not affiliated with any political or government organization" (emphasis in original). The extent to which NITV's influence has been significant I cannot say, of course, but to the extent that it is true, it's very interesting. Many people have criticized the American government's propaganda efforts in the Middle East for being ineffectual; NITV, on the other hand, is a privately-owned affair. Yet another example of the private sector accomplishing what the government cannot?

(*) In the interests of accuracy, I should note that President Bush never said that Iran, Iraq, and North Korea made up the Axis of Evil. He never said that there were three "members" at all. What Bush said was that countries such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea make up an Axis of Evil. Subtle but important difference.

June 17, 2003

Steven Den Beste I

In a piece about proposed reforms of the United Nations, Steven Den Beste writes: "Democracy [in India] doesn't operate as well as it does here in the US or in some (but not all) of the nations of western Europe, but it's a hell of a lot better than in China or Nigeria."

I wonder if Den Beste has perfomed or read a study of India's democracy or whether he just wrote this sentence because India is in the third world?

Maybe he's right. Maybe in India, maybe democracy doesn't work that well. Perhaps they have a system where a candidate can receive 500,000 fewer votes than his competition yet still win. I don't think so, though.

Steven Den Beste II

Steven Den Beste writes approvingly of the recent decrease in tourism in France. He attributes this to two reasons: (1) the supposed rudeness of the French, and (2) Americans voting with their checkbooks and getting back at France for its position on the second Gulf War. He writes that: "When it comes to tourism, it's a buyer's market. No one can stay in business indefinitely by sneering at their customers, and there's a lot of competition out there. But it's going to take a lot more than just forced smiles to change the situation. It's going to take a deep attitude change. The French need to accept that the tourists are doing the French a favor by visiting, rather than the French doing the tourists a favor by deigning to take their money."

I do not doubt that these two rationales are playing some role in the tourism drought. (Well, actually, the first one, the supposed rudeness of the French, doesn't hold much water -- these supposed attitudes didn't keep Americans from visiting Paris before). However, he incredibly omits other contributing reasons for this decline, like, say, the current weakness of the United States dollar and the current weakness of the American economy. It's expensive to go to France, and much more expensive than in years past.

But, I'm writing this post not because of Den Beste's shortsightedness. I'm writing it because of the last line I quoted. Tourists are not doing the French a favor by visiting. Tourists are taking part in an economic transaction. Tourists pay their money, and they get to do and see things when they are in France, like go to the Louvre. When I buy grapes or toliet paper at the local grocery store, I'm not doing the grocers a favor. I'm getting something out of the transaction as are the grocers.

Perhaps tourists like Den Beste have been treated rudely because they believe, just because they are spending money, that the French should be prostrate before them.

I hear Poland is nice this time of year

I can't speak for the entire U.S. population, but last winter my wife and I were planning on taking a vacation in France this summer. Not anymore. My parents are planning on taking us on vacation as a Christmas present this year. We haven't decided where we're going, but my mom was clear that France is not an option. And I assure you it's not an exchange-rate issue.

(But even if we weren't angry with the French, who'd want to go there now? It sounds like the whole country is a big mess.)

It would be interesting to see how the drop in tourism to France compares to any changes in tourism to other European countries.

Government gets fatter and fatter

New Yorkers will soon be paying extra tax (on top of the 8.75% we already pay) on junk food. Oh, not now, maybe not even next year, but I'd say probably by the end of the decade. A state assemblyman has floated just such a proposal, and fortunately it looks like it will go nowhere in this session:

ALBANY, N.Y. - A proposal to tax junk food, video games and television commercials to pay for an obesity prevention program faces stiff opposition from lawmakers and business groups.

Chances of the proposal passing before lawmakers go home for the summer on June 19 looked slim after a spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said he would not support the tax.

The 1 percent tax hike proposed by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz would apply to junk food, video games and television commercials, which Ortiz blames on New York's growing obesity problem. Ortiz, a Democrat, did not rule out proposing tax increases on other things that he believes contribute to obesity.

Ortiz said the proposed tax would raise at least $1 million to jump-start the obesity prevention program aimed at developing health promotion campaigns, establishing nutrition and physical activity programs in schools and others.

Business groups oppose the proposal, arguing New Yorkers already face high taxes. The Legislature recently increased the state sales tax and income tax to help the state's fiscal crisis.

If there were any illustration as to why I generally prefer "business groups" to government, this is it. I'm sure the reporter looks at it differently - you know, Assemblyman Ortiz trying to save the children while evil "business groups" stymie him at every turn.

Unfortunately, given that the proposal purports to be "for the children" (and just incidentally means more power to lawmakers who feel it is their duty to tax things they don't like), the chances of it being signed into law after a few more tries are about as good as J. K. Rowling doing well on the New York Times Best Seller list in the next few weeks.

Newsday's Sheryl McCarthy goes from being skeptical to being a nearly-enthusiastic supporter in a single column. Oh, she opines that the tax won't really stop people from eating junk food. She notes that deciding which food should be labeled "junk" won't be easy. She implies that any money raised by the tax will probably be wasted on pork projects. And she admits the tax will fall heaviest (pun mine) on the poor. Yet she still thinks it's a good idea:

Is Ortiz's fat tax sounding better? Instead of trying to figure out if a candy bar that contains protein is a junk food or a health food, we could start by putting a 1-percent tax on soft drinks. Everyone agrees that they ruin your teeth, pack on the weight and have no nutritional value whatsoever.

Yes, but not everyone agrees that this is a valid reason to tax something! Note that she practically hopes that a tax on soda is just the beginning. What next? Apple juice? Coffee? Tea?

June 18, 2003

Running the gamut from A to A

Some Democrats think Bush's tax policies favor the rich too much, and other Democrats think that Bush's economic policies favor the rich too much. Which, prompts this great headline in the New York Times:

Democratic Candidates Assail Bush Across a Wide Spectrum
Other Democrats dislike Bush's foreign policy, in case you were wondering.

Only the New York Times would think John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, and Dick Gephardt represent a "wide spectrum." (I wouldn't put it past the Times to change this headline, but trust me: I cut-and-pasted it directly. Didn't even retype it.)

But did they include the effects of blogging in the study?

Remember all that venom directed at the Bush administration for repealing the ergonomics rules that President Clinton put into place at the eleventh hour? Remember the diatribes from self-proclaimed labor advocates who declared that Bush was going to cripple millions of workers? Well, it turns out that a large part of that argument just ain't so:

Frequent on-the-job use of a computer keyboard does not pose a major risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, according to the largest study of the topic to date. The findings were published June 11 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
There are, of course, critics of the study (aren't there always?), and it did find a small possibility that mouse use -- I have a trackpad, so nyah -- may contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome. But it seems as if there's little chance that carpal tunnel syndrome comes from sitting in front of the PC. That doesn't mean that repetitive stress injuries can't be caused by job-related activities, of course; this study only covered the use of computers. But that would have been an awful lot of unnecessary regulation if Bush hadn't acted.

Pity the poor makers of those wacky "ergonomic keyboards," though.

The Land of Nod

What's currently the best selling book on amazon.com? No surprize, it's the new Harry Potter book, which will be released next week.

The third best selling book on amazon.com? Again, no surprize, it's Senator Hillary Clinton's memoir, which was released a few days back.

What's the second best selling book on amazon.com? Don't cheat and look (or click on this link -- not until you've guessed).

It's John Steibeck's East of Eden.

The entire country spending a good part of the summer reading East of Eden? God bless Oprah Winfrey. Among other things, she's what Martha Stewart never could have been.

June 19, 2003

Americans are from Mars... Europeans are from Never-Never Land

It's well known that there's a split between the United States and Europe on the issue of capital punishment. (Or at least between the U.S. and European elites; I've seen polls in the past suggesting that the European aversion to the death penalty isn't quite as universal as has been portrayed.) But if this Op/Ed in yesterday's New York Times is accurate, the gap in attitudes is far greater than that:

In the rest of the Western world, the desires for retribution and permanence — so compelling when one sees through a victim's eyes — do not drive legal policy as they do in the United States. The European Court of Human Rights has suggested that to deny lifers the consideration of change and the chance of parole is "inhuman and degrading," and of the Western European nations, only England does. It has all of about 20 such prisoners.

Like our use of the death penalty, our embrace of the natural-life sentence is seen as alien by almost all the countries that share our culture and legal heritage. (Tellingly, death penalty opponents in the United States have been vocal advocates of life without parole, as though to supply a substitute answer to the acute American need for vengeance and finality.)

Wow. I'm speechless. Now that takes bleeding-heart soft-on-crime liberalism to a whole new level. Even life-without-parole is too harsh for them?

June 20, 2003

Who needs to go to the movies for nudity? That's what the internet is for.

Are you not seeing enough naked chicks at the local multiplex lately? Blame global warming. No, I mean blame John Ashcroft:

Hollywood's diminishing appetite for sex is partly attributed to the influence of a more socially conservative government under George Bush, the president, and his attorney general, John Ashcroft, a member of the Pentecostal church noted for his moral certitude.

Paul Verhoeven, the director whose film Basic Instinct drew more attention for Sharon Stone's risque leg-crossing scene than it did for the quality of its plot and acting, told Premiere magazine: "There's a drip-down effect of this government's position in the film industry, so you will see much more other things than nude scenes on your screen." He added: "What do you expect with Ashcroft who is an ultra-Christian puritan?"

I don't know. What would he have expected if Tipper Gore were living in the White House?

And what do you expect when Hollywood types open their mouths? Verhoeven hasn't had a movie out since George Bush took office. His troubles really have nothing to do whether the U.S. Attorney General is an "ultra-Christian puritan" or a flaming homosexual libertine. But I can understand that he'd sooner blame his lack of work on a lurking-under-the-bed Ashcroft rather than accept that it might have more to do with his not having a real hit since before the elder George Bush left office. (That would be the aforementioned "Basic Instinct", which came out in 1992. Incredible that a Republican president would allow that movie to be relased, isn't it?)

As for the rest of Hollywood, where anti-Ashcroft feeling borders on psychosis, you'd think that they'd be cramming movies full of more sex and violence just to tick Ashcroft off. But the fact is there aren't as many R-rated movies these days simply because studios tend to make more money with movies rated PG-13, PG, and G. Note that on a list of the highest-grossing movies of all time, the top R-rated movies are "The Matrix Reloaded", currently at #22, and 1984's (!) "Beverly Hills Cop" at #30. If only that dirty Ashcroft hadn't been secretly pushing Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings (all movies a supposed "ultra-Christian" would love, don't you think?) on an unsuspecting American public...

And when are the Dutch going to rescue New Amsterdam?

The New Republic's Peter Beinart takes the US to task for hypocrisy. Because we're all acting triumphalist about how we helped in Iraq while Old Europe sat around baking cookies and being useless -- but meanwhile, back in Africa, France and England have been solving problems (in the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, respectively) while the US is too busy watching American Idol to do anything. Okay, that argument has some merit. At least until you hear Beinart's reasoning:

Compare that with what the United States has done--or not done--in Liberia. Liberia is as American as Côte d'Ivoire is French or Sierra Leone British. Founded in 1847 by returning American slaves, Liberia's flag resembles the Stars and Stripes. Its capital, Monrovia, is named for America's fifth president. During the cold war, it was America's closest West African ally. Yet the United States, which pledges to bring security and liberty to a vast new sphere of influence in the Middle East and Central Asia, has done nothing of the sort in Liberia, a sphere of U.S. influence for 150 years.
Hmm. France ruled the Ivory Coast up until 1960. The UK ruled Sierra Leone for 150 years, up until 1961. The United States ruled Liberia up until -- oh yeah, never. It was founded in 1822, and became a formal republic in 1847. And the US? Never ran the place. Liberia was never a colony of the United States.

So how exactly does Beinart conclude that "Liberia is as American as Côte d'Ivoire is French or Sierra Leone British? Are there some historical ties between Liberia and the US? Sure. But that's not in any way comparable to actually being an American colony.

June 22, 2003

Who paid for this study?

If Eugene Volokh can write about Lesbian Barbie to increase his hit counts, then I can write about women sexually aroused by other women.

It's no surprise that lesbians like to watch lesbian pornography. But the big news in a new study is that they also get turned on by watching heterosexuals and gay men have sex.

And straight women? They like it all, too.

The findings confirm what researchers have suspected for some time -- women may prefer to date one gender or the other, but they get sexually aroused by both.

Men, on the other hand, aren't nearly as flexible. Straight men like to watch women have sex, and gay men like to watch men. Case closed.

So the dreams of teenage males everywhere are for real? Women are all attracted to other women?

And what does this all mean? From the researchers' press release:

“The fact that women’s sexual arousal patterns are not all predicted by their sexual orientations suggests that men’s and women’s minds and brains are very different,” Bailey said.
Well, duh. Don't you wish you had tenure?

Good theory, poor execution

Over in Reason, Ron Bailey has a column explaining why he joined the ACLU for the first time, prompting a discussion over in their blog.

I was a card-carrying member of the ACLU for a long time -- enduring jibes from certain other members of my family (you know who you are). I've always thought of the ACLU in the abstract as playing a crucial role; it's important to have an organization standing up to the government, taking on unpopular causes, fighting for civil liberties even at times like this, when many are ready to toss the Bill of Rights overboard.

The problem is that this describes the ACLU in the abstract. In practice, the ACLU all too often seems to be a one-track-minded organization that is more interested in making petty points in the name of ideological purity than in doing the things we need them out there doing. Now, I'm not talking about the fact that they've only decided to focus on certain aspects of civil liberties (e.g. speech, equal protection), while ignoring others (e.g. gun rights, economic liberty). That's reasonable, if a little disappointing; after all, we can find other organizations (the NRA, the Institute for Justice) to handle those matters. Rather, I refer to their obsession with the most trivial of issues, as long as those issues fit their agenda.

Take, for instance, this case. The ACLU recently lost a suit over a county court's seal. The seal, a one-inch circle stamped only on court documents, contains a picture of the ten commandments. Well, actually, that's not quite accurate -- actually, it contains a picture of two rounded stone tablets, with the roman numerals I-X on them, and no text at all. The ACLU spent three years litigating over this. And in describing this in the past tense, I'm being misleading; according to the story, they're still planning to appeal further.

Now, let's stipulate for the sake of argument that the ACLU is right. Maybe this is a clear violation of the Constitution -- though they couldn't find judges who agreed. But who cares? Is it important? Why on earth would you spend limited time and resources litigating this? Some guy out there was offended. Big deal. The ACLU will spend mucho time ranting about the evil John Ashcroft and the horrible Patriot Act -- but then they spend their resources suing over whether a couple of tablet-shaped blips that nobody ever sees in something the size of a quarter violate the Constitution. Good choice, guys.

And then there are the issues on which the ACLU takes a political stand, such as arguing against school vouchers or for driver's licenses for illegal aliens. These policies may be good ideas, or bad ideas, but they're far outside the areas upon which the ACLU should be focusing. They, of course, have every right to take such stands; I just don't want to support an organization which does so. These are policy matters, not civil liberties matters.

If I'm going to give them my money, I expect them to use it for the big issues. The big legal issues. So, currently, I'm not a member. I'll give my money to the Institute for Justice instead.

Show wrist, slap

Orin Kerr points us towards this rare story of a "Nigerian" scammer (that is, he was running the Nigerian scam; he himself wasn't Nigerian) actually being caught and punished. Sort of. He cheated at least 20 people of at least $6 million, and prosecutors think it could be as much as $15 million. (Admittedly, it was a Canadian $6 million, which is worth about three dollars and seventy-five cents American.) He "has a history of fraud convictions dating back to the 1960s." And do you know how much prison time this recidivist criminal got?

Mr. Statz, an Alberta native, was sentenced to 18 months probation, and was given credit for 10 months he already spent in custody.
In short, none. Just the time already spent in prison.

I'm not sure I actually have much sympathy for the victims; if this was a typical Nigerian scam, the scammer tells his prey that he needs their help in escaping with ill-gotten gains. But do you think, perhaps, that might not have a "history of fraud convictions" if the government would actually take his crimes seriously?

Sheesh, if I want to break the law, I know what country I'm moving to.

June 23, 2003

Show wrist, please

If David were a criminal, he says he'd move to Nigeria.

If I were going to be a police officer, I'd want to move to Chestertown, Maryland. From the Chestertown Kent County News (via the most recent issue of the New Yorker, this piece not on line):

"Donald David Cothin, 45, Millington, on April 15 was charged with possession of cocaine after he complained to police that the cocaine he had purchsed was not authentic.... It is alleged that at 8 pm., Cothin flagged down Tfc Stacy Hoon to complain about the drugs he had purchased and to say he wanted his money back."

June 24, 2003

Deep thoughts

Having read the two Supreme Court race preference decisions today, a few brief thoughts that came to mind:

  1. While not shocked, I was a little surprised (although I shouldn't have been) to see these cases come down as they did. I couldn't see any real difference between the undergraduate and law school policies, and assumed that a judge trying to evaluate the cases would come down on them the same way. In retrospect, I'm convinced I was right in my evaluation -- the two policies being challenged are very similar -- and naive in my politics. The issue was never really whether the policies were similar, but whether they looked different enough so that people could pretend that there were distinctions. With Sandra Day O'Connor being the key vote, of course the court was able to find distinctions. Where some people split hairs, O'Connor splits invisible specks of dust.

  2. Here's something to ponder: if there had been only one case, instead of two, how would Justice O'Connor have ruled? It's obviously harder to split the difference -- not that O'Connor wouldn't have tried -- when you have to make a ruling one way or the other. By presenting her with two cases, the University of Michigan gave her an easy out: strike down one program, and uphold the other.

  3. Does O'Connor receive kickbacks from trial lawyers? These decisions, while definitively clarifying one point -- that "diversity" is a compelling interest which justifies racial discrimination -- give very little guidance to schools. They know they can't explicitly give fixed points for race, that they need to provide "individualized" assessments of candidates. But unless they copy the Michigan law school plan exactly -- and it may be rather difficult to scale up a plan designed for a few hundred students to a situation involving tens of thousands of applicants -- they're going to be subject to litigation from every third non-minority student rejected.

  4. These decisions may create muddled law, but they make one thing abundantly clear: diversity is a total red herring, a desperate attempt to find some rationalization for a policy everyone knows can't be justified. George Bush was criticized by his political adversaries before the Iraq war began for allegedly giving continually shifting reasons as to why war with Iraq was justified, but he had nothing on supporters of race preferences. In O'Connor's opinion alone, we hear, inter alia, that diversity (as represented by a "critical mass") can help teach whites that blacks can think differently -- though one would hope that an elite school would only admit applicants who already knew this -- that diversity teaches white people to understand black people, that diversity teaches white people to get along with black people, and that diversity will cause citizens to have faith in our politicians. But nothing explaining why any of these represent a compelling state interest.

  5. Justice Scalia really doesn't care about making friends, does he? What other justice would dare write that the respondents' argument -- one accepted by the court's majority -- "challenges even the most gullible mind."?

I'm sure much more will come to me as I have more time to digest these cases.

Same difference

I noted that the two Michigan policies (undergraduate and law school) were similar; the Washington Post agrees, in an editorial (while supporting the ruling):

The undergraduate program differs from the law school's less in its substance than in its transparency; it systematizes much that the law school leaves to the invisible discretion of admissions officers. The message is that the use of race will stand a better chance of being sustained if it is shrouded in vague terms than if it is quantified and easily assessed.
Exactly my point about O'Connor's dust-splitting. She felt the need to wobble, so she invented imaginary distinctions between the two programs, but there's no difference between adding 20 points to a specific score in order to get a "critical mass" and adding a "flexible, nonmechanical" bonus to a non-specific score in order to get a "critical mass." In each case, the admissions office starts with the desired outcome and then works backwards, racially, until it gets the preferred statistics.

If I were a rich man

From the New York Times editorial on the Michigan cases:

The court's analysis was far from perfect. In evaluating the undergraduate program, the majority was too quick to accept that all uses of race are equally suspect — that helping disadvantaged blacks is akin to saving seats at the front of a bus for whites. The court also failed to recognize that the point scale, by giving a distinct but limited advantage to minority applicants, used just the sort of "plus" factor Bakke permitted.
Here's what the New York Times doesn't mention: the undergraduate program was not designed to "help disadvantaged blacks." Indeed, the exact opposite: the undergraduate program was designed to help already advantaged blacks.

The "point system" established by the University of Michigan gave a bonus to all disadvantaged people, regardless of skin color -- and under the system, an applicant could earn only one bonus in this area. (In other words, a poor black could get the plus for being poor, or for being black, but not both.) Hence, even in the absence of the black bonus, disadvantaged blacks would get the boost, by virtue of being disadvantaged. In short, the only blacks who needed the "black boost "were middle-class or rich. In other words, the people who need it least.

So, what explains the editorial comment?
A) The New York Times didn't know how the program worked.
B) The New York Times was being deliberately misleading.
C) The New York Times thinks all blacks are inherently disadvantaged simply because of their skin color.
D) Some combination of the above.

June 25, 2003

A voice of reasonIn the

A voice of reason
In the midst of a series of death threats issued in the name of the religion of peace against those who offend its followers, Salman Rushdie asks where, after all, is the Muslim outrage at these events? That's what I'd like to know. If, as we're told, Islam is a religion of peace, if, as we're told, most Muslims don't support Muslim fanaticism, then where are these people? Islamic rioters in Nigeria have killed hundreds of people in a couple of days, but... silence. But let one Israeli soldier shoot a Palestinian teenager, even if that Palestinian is himself rioting, and we hear an international outcry. Isn't it time someone holds the Islamic world to the same standards as the rest of us?

Shock and Awe

Michelangelo Signorile of the New York Press doesn't get it:

It was a week of raised eyebrows and dropped jaws on the sexual diversity front. Sit down for this one, but George W. Bush actually seemed to get it recently while meeting a transgendered woman in, of all places, the White House. In a report sent my way over a week after it was published–and apparently unnoticed elsewhere–San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik noted that at W.’s recent Yale reunion at the White House, Yale alum Louise Casselman saw a female classmate approach Bush.

"You might remember me as Peter," the woman stated, referring to her years with Bush at Yale, which was an all-male school at the time. Bush apparently didn’t bat an eyelid, grabbed her hand, and replied, "Now you’ve come back as yourself." (No word yet on what Christian Right leaders thought of that–perhaps because no other media organization seems to have picked up on it–nor if Karl Rove will have Bush backing away from the comment).

"Sit down for this one"? Only if you're a leftist like Signorlie are you going to be shocked and amazed that the President can be a decent guy!

June 27, 2003

Black humor

Was I the only one whose first thought, after hearing of Strom Thurmond's death, was that Trent Lott was probably saying to himself, "Damn, why couldn't this have happened six months ago?"

June 29, 2003

On further review

It's been fashionable around certain areas of the blogosphere to single out certain New York Times articles and say, "See, they're finally trying to be fair, now that Howell Raines is gone." I don't really know whether he has anything to do with it, but it does seem as if the reporting has undergone a sharp change in direction in a short time. For instance, the Times has been "flooding the zone" (in Raines' favorite phrase) to prove that George Bush's tax cuts have been devastating for state budgets. (Though it's never explained _why_ the federal government should be funding the states.) We hear horror stories about people devastated, communities decimated, and children weeping in the streets.

But, now, in the post-Raines era, lo and behold, a story which is actually balanced, pointing out that the budget cuts aren't extensive at all.

Fire marshals will no longer investigate most car fires. There will be 3,500 fewer police officers compared to three years ago. Inmates on Rikers Island will not get intensive drug counseling. And most city libraries are now open five days, instead of six.

It is hardly the kind of thank you that New Yorkers might expect after being asked to pay higher income, sales and property taxes in the fiscal year that starts Tuesday. But despite those cuts, New York City government will offer an array of services that is still more generous than it was early in Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's tenure, when New York faced its last major fiscal crunch. And the cuts agreed to this week by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the City Council are just a pittance compared to the wholesale reduction of basic government operations that occurred during the mid-1970's fiscal crisis.

It's nice to see, when reading the hysteria of Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman on the editorial page about the Republican plan to starve babies and puppies, some actual perspective. Spending, despite all the drastic, mean-spirited Republican tax cuts, is actually increasing in New York. As it is in most of the states with budget crises. The real crisis isn't that taxes are being cut, but that there is never an appetite for cutting any government program, ever.

June 30, 2003


Katharine Hepburn is dead at 96. I'm not much of a cinephile; I have seen at most maybe one or two of her movies. Like W.C. Fields and Mae West, much of what I think I know about her comes from caricatures in 1930's Warner Brothers cartoons. But I always felt a little glimmer of amazement to know that, unlike all the others being lampooned, she was still alive. Sadly, no more.

To Serve Mankind

While I'm glad the New York Times, as I noted, is finally providing some perspective on the supposed budget crises, the article still frames the debate as being between services or tax cuts. But what "services" are we talking about, exactly? Libraries? I suppose so. Fire investigators? Apparently. And, of course, the cabaret cops.

Records from the city's Department of Consumer Affairs show that the Bowery Bar is not one of the city's 332 licensed cabarets, so the evening's dancing was illegal under current laws. The city has shut down 11 businesses for cabaret law violations this year, compared with 20 closed from 1999 through 2002.

The cabaret laws have drawn fire since they were enacted in 1926 in reaction to popular racially mixed jazz clubs in Harlem, said Paul Chevigny, a New York University professor who has written a history of the laws. Critics say the laws do not address the more serious problems surrounding nightclubs, like noise, security or loitering.

Gretchen Dykstra, the consumer affairs commissioner, said the city was re-examining the laws for this very reason. But unless the laws change, members of the night life task force known as March — for Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots — will continue to crack down on unlicensed cabarets.

And heaven forbid people smoke while they dance; then the city of New York would declare martial law and call out the National Guard.

Gee, I can think of a few government employees who could be fired without impacting the "quality of life" in New York City. (Or, rather, firing them will improve the quality of life in New York City.) It would be a lot less irritating to read columns about the horrors of government budget cuts if there weren't so many stories like this, of completely wasted government resources. Nobody even makes an attempt to slash programs like this before raising taxes.

The Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction

From the issue of Time Magazine hitting newstands today:

"Meeting last month at a sweltering U.S. base outside Doha, Qatar, with his top Iraq commanders, President Bush skipped quickly past the niceties and went straight to his chief political obsession: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Turning to his Baghdad proconsul, Paul Bremer, Bush asked, 'Are you in charge of finding WMD?' Bremer said no, he was not. Bush then put the same question to his military commander, General Tommy Franks. But Franks said it wasn't his job either. A little exasperated, Bush asked, So who is in charge of finding WMD? After aides conferred for a moment, someone volunteered the name of Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. 'Who?' Bush asked. "

About June 2003

This page contains all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in June 2003. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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