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August 2, 2005

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is Strength. Mandates are Choice.

In a little-noticed surprise, it turns out that George Bush is in favor of abortion. Okay, maybe he isn't in favor of abortion, but he's pro-choice, anyway. At least according to Paul Krugman's logic, he is.

In his neverending quest to bash the Bush administration, Krugman tries to explain that the French aren't really faring worse than Americans, economically. His argument? That even though French workers work many fewer hours than Americans, and even though many more French workers are unemployed, this isn't a problem because they're just substituting leisure for work/income.

The point is that to the extent that the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice.
Hmm. Sounds fair. The only problem? It's complete bullshit.

When Krugman uses the word "choice" here, he doesn't mean that French workers are taking lower-pay, lower-stress jobs in return for more free time. He means that the French government has chosen tax and regulatory policies which make it impossible, sometimes illegal, for French workers to do otherwise. By that same "logic," if Congress outlaws abortion, then "to the extent that Americans don't have abortions, it's mainly a matter of choice." Isn't rhetorical sleight of hand great? A complete lack of choice is reframed as "choice." It would be comical if it weren't ludicrous.

That's not even touching upon the fact that Krugman regularly goes through contortion after contortion to try to explain why America's currently-low unemployment rate is really much higher than it appears, but he handwaves away the French unemployment rate with a mere:

There are several reasons why the French put in fewer hours of work per capita than we do. One is that some of the French would like to work, but can't: France's unemployment rate, which tends to run about four percentage points higher than the U.S. rate, is a real problem.
You might say that. The French unemployment rate is closer to double our rate than it is to our rate. And that's without any fancy "adjustments" to the unemployment rate to take into account discouraged workers and the like. If the American unemployment rate was similar to that of the French, Krugman would be screeching and shrieking about it every waking moment -- not even taking time to pontificate about the need for a military draft or to use fake quotes to invent phony trends about Japanese jobs moving from America to Canada. But since his main goal is proving that the U.S. needs to be more socialist, like France, he glosses over that point.

To recap: the French can't generate many jobs, and the ones they generate aren't very good. And French workers' "compensation" (*) for this is that they get to be unemployed. But because George Bush isn't president of France, this isn't a reason to criticize France.

(*) Krugman also describes other forms of "compensation":

But there are compensations for this lower level of consumption. Because French schools are good across the country, the French family doesn't have to worry as much about getting its children into a good school district.
Does Krugman really believe that "French schools are good across the country"? Or is this just yet another throwaway line bashing the U.S.?

August 11, 2005

Are you suffering from the heartbreak of psoriasis?

If you are, you shouldn't worry. Help is on the way. At least, I think so. I can only assume that personal health problems such as these will be next on New York Attorney General/gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer's agenda.

Certainly, crime is no longer a problem in the state of New York. After all, a few weeks ago he took time from his busy campaign schedule to save us from the scourge of bad music on the radio, leading to this Onionesqe quote:

As a result, Mr. Spitzer said in the settlement documents, "Sony BMG and the other record labels present the public with a skewed picture of the country's 'best' and 'most popular' recorded music."
(They did? The bastards! I am so disillusioned. I honestly thought Ashlee Simpson was one of the country's best singers. Next you're going to tell me that America's Next Top Model may not actually be America's next top model.)

And for an encore, he decided to protect us from the horror of tasteless radio sketches.

The New York State attorney general's office, which usually busies itself with white-collar crime, took the time yesterday to announce a crackdown on a face-slapping contest.
(Yes, you read that correctly.)
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said at a news conference that the parent company of a New York radio station, WQHT-FM, known as Hot 97, had agreed to pay $240,000 in penalties for its "Smackfest" competition, in which two contestants, usually young women, slap each other while standing several feet apart in the station's studio in Greenwich Village. The station also agreed to end the contests.

At the news conference, Mr. Spitzer played a clip that the station had posted on its Web site. It showed a man in a sweatshirt standing on the side between the two young women, their faces blurred out, and directing them in a loud voice.

"Queens, go!" he said, using one woman's competition name. She then smacked the other woman across the face. When they were not slapping each other, they stood with their hands behind their backs. The winner was the one who delivered the loudest slap.

I can think of less interesting things to listen to on the radio... like static. But it would be a close call. Of course, my solution would be to turn the dial -- which I guess explains why I'm not running for governor. I would assume it's just boring and pointless; fortunately, I have Eliot Spitzer to set me straight:
Mr. Spitzer said: "You can see how disturbing this is, how appalling. We'd like to think that we've advanced beyond the days of the Roman Colosseum."
Ah, yes. We clearly haven't. I distinctly remember reading the works of the great Roman historian Tacitus, describing the classic face-slapping contests between the Christians and the lions. Who won those, by the way?

And can we feed Eliot Spitzer to the lions? Where on earth does the Attorney General of New York get the authority to fine radio stations for tasteless (or even "disturbing" or "appalling") material? The article doesn't say; the New York Times spent three paragraphs giving us the history of face-slapping (I'm not making this up, folks -- read the article), but provided just this one cryptic comment on the legal issue:

The station crossed a legal line by advertising and profiting from the contest, said Francine James, the deputy attorney general who led the investigation.
Yes, there was an "investigation." ("Hey, Francine, what did you do at work today?" "Listened to the radio.") Your tax dollars at work, folks.

August 20, 2005

Blogging in the NYT

Yes, this is yet another post about Paul Krugman -- but I'll leave the details to others. Power Line comments on our favorite New York Times columnist:

Krugman's second Ohio nugget relates to Miami County: "Miami County reported that voter turnout was an improbable 98.55 percent of registered voters." Well, that would be quite a turnout, all right--impressive even by the standards of Democratic Philadelphia. I think I know where Krugman got that figure; it is on page 58 of the Conyers report authored, as noted above, by the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee.

Of course, Krugman has never been one to trouble himself by actually doing research. As far as I can tell, he never does any: he simply reads a far-left book or a Democratic National Committee press release, and summarizes it in his column. (And for this the New York Times pays him?) I'm not talking about hard, obscure research here; I'm talking about going to the website of the Ohio Secretary of State's office, where official voter turnout numbers are recorded. Miami County's turnout in 2004? 72.2 %.

How true. I don't know why many people haven't caught onto this already: Paul Krugman is a blogger. The vast majority of his pieces are simply passing along what other people have already written. He does no original research; he never picks up the phone to talk to an actual source. (Most bloggers don't do these things, either -- but they aren't paid by the Paper of Record, either.) What he does is find a news report, or story, that superficially "proves" what he wants to say -- Republicans are evil, of course -- refuses to dig any deeper, and then spends 750 words ranting about it.

In other words, he's a blogger.

Say what you want about Tom Friedman's ridiculous name-dropping and overextended metaphors, or Bob Herbert's tired warmed-over 1960s liberalism, or David Brooks' oversimplified sociological essays, but they all get out of their offices long enough to learn something about the subjects they write about. Krugman can't even be bothered to ask, "Is this really true?" before reprinting Democratic talking points.

August 28, 2005

All blacks are black, but some blacks are blacker than others

In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to exclude people from juries in criminal trials based on race. At the time, Warren Burger warned in dissent:

A further painful paradox of the Court's holding is that it is likely to interject racial matters back into the jury selection process, contrary to the general thrust of a long line of Court decisions and the notion of our country as a "melting pot." In Avery v. Georgia, 345 U.S. 559 (1953), for instance, the Court confronted a situation where the selection of the venire was done through the selection of tickets from a box; the names of whites were printed on tickets of one color and the names of blacks were printed on different color tickets. The Court had no difficulty in striking down such a scheme. Justice Frankfurter observed that
opportunity for working of a discriminatory system exists whenever the mechanism for jury selection has a component part, such as the slips here, that differentiates between white and colored. . . .
Id. at 564 (concurring) (emphasis added).

Today we mark the return of racial differentiation as the Court accepts a positive evil for a perceived one. Prosecutors and defense attorneys alike will build records in support of their claims that peremptory challenges have been exercised in a racially discriminatory fashion by asking jurors to state their racial background and national origin for the record, despite the fact that "such questions may be offensive to some jurors, and thus are not ordinarily asked on voir dire." People v. Motton, 39 Cal.3d 596, 604, 704 P.2d [p130] 176, 180, modified, 40 Cal.3d 4b (1985) (advance sheet). [n10] This process is sure to tax even the most capable counsel and judges, since determining whether a prima facie case has been established will "require a continued monitoring and recording of the ‘group' composition of the panel present and prospective. . . ." People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal.3d 258, 294, 583 P.2d 748, 773 (1978) (Richardson, J., dissenting).

Even after a "record" on this issue has been created, disputes will inevitably arise. In one case, for instance, a conviction was reversed based on the assumption that no blacks were on the jury that convicted a defendant. See People v. Motton, supra. However, after the court's decision was announced, Carolyn Pritchett, who had served on the jury, called the press to state that the court was in error, and that she was black. 71 A.B.A.J. 22 (Nov.1985). The California court nonetheless denied a rehearing petition. [n11]

Burger's worry was prescient, but I'll bet even he never realized how far it would go. Taking the balkanization of American society to its logical extreme, the New York Times reports that Mark Watson, a convicted black rapist in New York, is appealing his conviction, claiming Batson violations. The twist? Watson not face an all-white jury, as Batson did; in fact, there were ten blacks on Watson's jury.

So what's Watson's argument? They weren't the right kind of black.

In an unusual reflection of New York City's growing diversity, lawyers for a West Indian man are arguing that he was denied justice because the Bronx jury that convicted him of rape, sodomy and burglary included only American-born blacks while all five potential jurors who were West Indian were improperly excluded by the prosecution.


The lawsuit challenges the trial court judge's conclusion that West Indians are simply black people "who happen to be from the West Indies" and his rejection of the defense argument that "the absence of this group excludes a specific point of view that cannot be articulated by other members of the jury."

They go on to argue -- with sociological "evidence" -- that West Indians and American blacks have "separate experiences and values." A careful reader will note that this really has nothing to do with what the trial was supposed to be about -- guilt or innocence -- but that's beside the point, when you're playing the racial game. And as more facts make clear, it won't end with a division between American-born and West Indian blacks:
He also said that judges had not supported the defense claim that West Indians were systematically excluded and that, in fact, two of the jurors were West Indian (although Mr. Taglieri says they were of Puerto Rican descent).
Geographers would point out that Puerto Rico is in the West Indies, but that's also clearly irrelevant. There's no stopping point. If there are blacks on the jury, then they're not West Indian blacks. If they're West Indian blacks, then they're from Puerto Rico rather than Jamaica. If they're from Jamaica, well, they must be from the wrong province of Jamaica. If they're from the right province, they could be from the wrong city. Or from the wrong side of the tracks within that city. Whatever. And let's not forget the predictable claim that Jamaican women and Jamaican men have "separate experiences and values," and that the jury needs to include some of both. (Let's not even get into sexual orientation.)

I'd call it the law of unintended consequences, but that usually applies to unforeseen side effects, and as I noted above, Warren Burger predicted it at the time.

Only two things are certain: an imaginative defense attorney can always come up with a new ethnic category, and we'll never put this particular genie back in the bottle, as Democrats will scream "Racists Turning Back The Clock On Civil Rights!!!!!!" at any judge who tries.

August 29, 2005

And speaking of race, the 1960s are over

Mark Kleiman is a very smart person, and (for a Democrat) usually quite reasonable. But every so often, he goes off the deep end. Like many Democrats, that seems to happen when the subject of race comes up. I refer today to his overwrought ranting about Georgia's new voter identification law:

The Justice Department has just given Georgia the go-ahead to disenfranchise anyone who doesn't have a driver's license. The law is supposedly intended to deter fraud, but no one has come up with an actual examples of voting-by-impersonation, and the law specifically exempts absentee voting.

The true purpose of the law, and its certain effect, is to reduce the number of poor, elderly, black and otherwise Democratic-leaning voters.

Kleiman has apparently become a mind reader; if one wanted to play this sort of childish game, one could say that the "true purpose" of opposition to this law is to allow Democrats to perpetuate massive voting fraud. In support of his ridiculous assertion, Kleiman links to this crazed, rambling column by "voting rights attorney" David Becker in the Miami Herald; its title, "A law reviving Jim Crow?", tells you all you need to know about it.

The occasion for this hysteria? Georgia has passed a voting law forbidding black people from votingrequiring voters of all races to show photo identification when they go to the polls. To any sane person, that sounds perfectly reasonable, and doesn't have a damn thing to do with race. But to a liberal, everything has to do with race. Unfortunately, the arguments against this law (all from the article Kleiman links to) are so flimsy that they don't stand up to even the least bit of scrutiny. Opposition to the law is predicated on the theory that black people can't possibly get driver's licenses. One would think the starting point for proving such a point would be telling us the number of adults of each race without licenses -- but nowhere is that information provided. Instead, we get oblique evidence such as:

Additionally, it is surprisingly difficult to obtain a photo ID in Georgia. Though the state has 159 counties, there are only 56 places in which residents can obtain a driver's license, and not one is within the city limits of Atlanta or within the six counties that have the highest percentage of blacks.
Immediately, my BSmeter goes off. Why are we talking about "counties"? When one wants to go to a Walmart, or a Barnes & Noble, or the mall, does one look for one in one's county of residence -- or just one close to one's home or office? Why not tell us how many people live near a driver's license facility, instead of telling us about "counties"? (Telling us that the state has "159 counties" is supposed to impress us by showing us how many are unserved by the state motor vehicles bureau, but in fact, the more counties there are, the smaller they must be, which means the less significance there is to the claim. In fact, that's the case, as this map illustrates; the average county is just 370 square miles (the median is 344, and the largest is 900), meaning that one rarely has to travel more than 10-15 miles to get to the next county.

(The part about the "city limits of Atlanta" sounds bad -- until you find out that this is just temporary, and that they're re-opening their facility there within three to six months. Meanwhile, they have plans to "begin the Georgia Licensing on Wheels (GLOW) program, a mobile licensing bus that will travel the state of Georgia with the capability to issue up to 200 photo identification cards per day.")

Besides, despite Becker and Kleiman's red herring, the law doesn't say anything about requiring a "driver's license." It merely requires photo ID. These can include (as per the new statute) a license; a passport (there are 214 places in Georgia where one can go to get a passport); a military ID with a photo; a photo ID card issued by any federal or state government agency; an employee ID card with a photo issued by "any branch, department, agency, or entity of the United States government, this state, or any county, municipality, board, authority, or other entity of this state"; or even a student identification card with a photo issued by any public or private postsecondary school in the state of Georgia. So what's the big deal?

Becker goes on:

The law's proponents claim that it will help protect against voter fraud, but there appears to be no evidence to support this claim. Georgians already have to show one of 17 forms of ID to prove that they are who they say they are when they vote.
In fact, of those "17 forms of ID," ten of them did not have a photograph on them. They included such "ID" as a "utility bill" or "bank statement" -- but not even the originals; a "legible copy" would do. That's a "form" of something, but "ID" it ain't, and a photocopy of a utility bill does not "prove that they are who they say they are" by any reasonable standard. (At most, it proves access to an address's mailbox.) All the new law does is say that ID must actually identify a person in order to actually constitute ID.
Georgia's chief elections official, Secretary of State Cathy Cox, has said that not one instance of voter fraud relating to impersonation at the polls has been documented during her tenure.
Of course, since people don't have to show ID, it would be pretty difficult to "document" this fraud, wouldn't it? Clever, ain't it? Make it impossible to prevent fraud, and then say, "Ha! You didn't prove fraud."

But let's assume I'm wrong about everything I said above. Let's assume that it really is typical for people not to have licenses -- although there are far more licenses than voters in Georgia -- or other ID. Let's further assume that some people really do live far from motor vehicle offices, and that they can't get any other acceptable form of ID. Even so, keep in mind that this is a one-time requirement. You don't have to undertake this onerous task every time you have to vote; you can get a license good for ten years, and can renew it by mail. Does it really amount to "disenfranchisement" or "Jim Crow" to spend an afternoon once every ten or twenty years to get a picture ID?

But if that obvious hyperbole weren't silly enough, it gets worse!

Furthermore, while purporting to combat fraud, the Georgia law expressly excludes absentee ballots from the ID requirement. While all the evidence indicates that minorities are far less likely to vote absentee than whites, absentee balloting is the only form of voting in which there is documented fraud in Georgia. The exclusion of absentee ballots from the identification requirement raises serious questions about whether the anti-fraud justification for the law is purely pretextual.
Kleiman and Becker both raise this argument -- though they don't explain how one could require photo identification for absentee voting. But this proves too much. If it's so easy to vote absentee without identification, then why can't all these black people we're worried about do the same?

In sum, this is simply much ado about nothing. This law won't keep a single legitimate voter from voting. At best, the hullaballo represents misplaced liberal paternalism; at worst, it's deliberate race-baiting by a group of people devoid of any other ideas.

A billion here, a billion there...

The New York Times is upset because the Base Closing Commission isn't -- in the Times' view -- aggressive enough at shutting down bases:

Such reprieves hearten the communities involved, and it is easy to sympathize with local fears of base closings. Yet every such reversal diverts funds the Pentagon ought to be spending on real and urgent requirements - including the needs of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan - to the upkeep of installations the military has already concluded it can do without. The commission's actions eliminate a substantial chunk of the nearly $50 billion the Defense Department estimated it would have saved over 20 years.
Other reporting from the Times gives more specific numbers:
Principi told reporters Friday night that changes in the Pentagon blueprint approved by the commission had cut the estimated savings over 20 years to $37 billion, from $48 billion, though he called the revised number "very preliminary."
So, in other words, the Times is worked up about a difference of $11 billion... over twenty years. That is, about $500 million per year. Since the military budget (not counting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan) is about $400 billion, we're talking about 1/10th of 1 percent of the military budget. Within rounding error of 0. There may be good reasons to support more base closings... but "savings" isn't one of them.

Neither, in my view, is the Times' short-sighted, fighting-the-last-war argument:

Looking over the panel's rationale for most of these changes, we think the Pentagon had it right the first time. In the case of Portsmouth and the Groton base, a majority of the commissioners seemed to be swayed by the claim that China's naval building efforts might one day create new missions for America's current fleet of 54 underused nuclear-powered attack submarines - a costly legacy of the days when America's main enemy was an oceangoing superpower, not cave-dwelling terrorists. The Portsmouth shipyard is good at repairing submarines. The Groton base, located near the Navy's prime submarine building and repair contractor, Electric Boat, has a school for training submarine crews.

China does theoretically have the economic and technological capacity to build a large and threatening submarine fleet. But it has no obvious reason for doing so unless Washington insists on casting it as a substitute cold war enemy. The United States Navy remains the world's most powerful. The Bush administration has been handing far more dangerous leverage to Beijing by failing to narrow America's gaping budget and trade deficits, which have allowed China to buy a huge amount of the national debt.

Yes, that's all true, and the Times is right when it says that in this century we've been fighting "counterinsurgency wars" that are different than "superpower conflicts." But here's the thing: we don't know what we're going to face in ten or twenty or thirty years. To argue that China will never be our military enemy is myopic. And if/when we do need to confront them -- say, over Taiwan -- it will be awfully nice to have a submarine fleet ready... because it will be rather difficult to build one on short notice.

Ten years ago, would anybody have predicted we'd be engaged in a counterinsurgency war in Iraq? No. So why act as if you know what we're likely to face -- particularly when that prediction is based on faith in the goodwill of the government of China -- in the next ten years? (But I am amused at how the Times is preemptively Blaming America First, just in case such a confrontation with China happens.)

About August 2005

This page contains all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in August 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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