Sunday, July 31, 2005

We May Not Know Much About Art...

But on exhibitions, we're experts:

Vienna's prestigious Leopold Museum is usually a pretty buttoned-down place, but yesterday, some of the nudes in its marble galleries were for real.Scores of naked or scantily clad people wandered the museum, lured by an offer of free entry to "The Naked Truth," an exhibition of early 1900s erotic art, if they showed up wearing just a swimsuit — or nothing at all.

Posner...Better Late, Than Never

The Minute Man links to a lengthy article in the New York Times Book Review containing what could have been read here nine months earlier. Judge Richard Posner opines:

The charge by mainstream journalists that blogging lacks checks and balances is obtuse. The blogosphere has more checks and balances than the conventional media; only they are different. The model is Friedrich Hayek's classic analysis of how the economic market pools enormous quantities of information efficiently despite its decentralized character, its lack of a master coordinator or regulator, and the very limited knowledge possessed by each of its participants.

Indeed it is. As the FLUBA Committee on the Thankless Task of Educating J. Bradford DeLong put it in more detail in October 2004:

It's that the superior volume of information available from millions of sources is going to swamp that available to individual reporters. Journalism, as it's been practiced, will sooner or later disappear because it's inefficient. With modern communication technology, speedy, detailed, highly specific information, will outcompete multi-million dollar network anchormen, and the ink-stained wretches pounding reportorial beats.

Market This...

The Seattle Public Schools are attempting to stem their brain drain with marketing:

For Jane Harvey, the decision to move her son and daughter from their neighborhood school to the private Evergreen Academy this fall was agonizing.

....Harvey and the thousands of other parents who send their children to private schools represent yet another challenge for the crisis-weary Seattle district: how to burnish its image and put a stop to declining enrollment.

In a city where nearly one in four children attends private school, and where the population of school-age children is expected to dip over the next decade, it won't be easy.

Officials in the 46,400-student district -- which has long marketed its popular school-choice system through brochures and enrollment fairs -- plan to intensify their efforts and even recruit parents to help generate buzz about Seattle schools.

At stake are thousands of state dollars for each additional student the district can enroll.

....The district hopes to have a new marketing plan in place by fall, spokeswoman Patti Spencer said, likely focusing initially on one geographic area and targeting parents of incoming kindergartners or middle-schoolers.

The FLUBA Committee on Staying on Message thinks, given this, they will have an uphill battle:

Seattle Public Schools leaders asked the City Council yesterday to lend a hand in addressing a chronic budget deficit that threatens to destabilize schools again next year.

Council members were enthusiastic about supporting the district politically in [the state legislature at] Olympia. But they steered clear of bailing out the district financially.

During a joint meeting, School Board President Brita Butler-Wall asked for four commitments from the city:

• Make K-12 education funding the city's top legislative priority by, for instance, lobbying the Legislature to relax the school district's levy cap.

Waive the district's obligations to the city, such as utility bills and building-permit fees.

• Try to raise extra money to cover popular district programs not funded by the state, such as school choice, which provides students with transportation across the city. One example, Butler-Wall said later: a tax on soda-pop sales, which the district's teachers union pitched this spring. City Council members previously said they had misgivings about the proposal.

• Use city resources to supplement district efforts, such as donating the services of city auditors and marketing the value of the city's schools.

Council members swiftly rejected a free ride on the district utility bills and didn't respond to the idea of raising extra money to pay for district operations.

"The city has tremendous demands on our budget, as well," said Councilman Richard Conlin.

Message heard: 'We're broke. Send us your child.'

Friday, July 29, 2005

Psst. I've Got a Bridge In France I'd Like To Sell You

[Updated and dedicated to usual suspect anne at Semi-Daily Journal]

And this one, the Millau Viaduct, built with private capital, actually could be sold. It's now open (one month ahead of schedule) with its owners collecting tolls. It's the tallest bridge in the world, over 1,000 feet at one point.

Sacre bleu!

Photo by Daniel Lavabre.

Posted by Hello

The Worst of Times, The Best of Times

In his July 18th NY Times Op-ed column, retired economist Paul Krugman told us that the good news on the U.S. unemployment front was hiding the truth:

...maybe the figures on unemployment are giving a false signal.

....When the economy is generating an abundance of jobs, economists expect to see strong growth in the payrolls reported by employers and in the number of people who say they have jobs, together with a rise in the length of the average workweek. They also expect to see wage gains well in excess of inflation, as employers compete to attract workers.

In fact, we see none of these things. As Berkeley's J. Bradford DeLong writes on his influential economics blog, "We have four of five indicators telling us that the state of the job market is not that good and only one - the unemployment rate - reading green."

....The answer... is a decline in labor force participation.

But, when Paul The Perpetually Perturbed turns his gaze on France he can put on a happy face:

...a head-to-head comparison between the economies of the United States and Europe - France, in particular - shows that the big difference is in priorities, not performance. We're talking about two highly productive societies that have made a different tradeoff between work and family time. And there's a lot to be said for the French choice.

....It's true that France's G.D.P. per person is well below that of the United States. But that's because French workers spend more time with their families.

O.K., I'm oversimplifying a bit. 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. Another is that many French citizens retire early. But the main story is that full-time French workers work shorter weeks and take more vacations than full-time American workers.

The point is that to the extent that the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice.

Yes, and the choice is one imposed by the French government on the French people. Not one freely chosen as it is in America. Which is the real reason for his rosat scenario.

However, as with almost every Krugman column, we have an uncomfortable truth lost on Paul:

The French family, without question, has lower disposable income. This translates into lower personal consumption: a smaller car, a smaller house, less eating out.

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.

Which is because the French have, effectively, school choice, that is denied Americans for reasons of strict separation of church and state (aka, liberal ideology). But, what good are these schools if an education in one can't get a person a job, thanks to other choices made for the French people by their government?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Dumb Redhead Joke

Arianna Huffington discovers what has been known to the blogosphere for some time now:

It's July 6, 2003, and Joe Wilson's now famous op-ed piece appears in the Times, raising the idea that the Bush administration has "manipulate[d]" and "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." ....So [Judy Miller] calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, Who is this guy? She finds out he's married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby (Newsday has identified a meeting Miller had on July 8 in Washington with an "unnamed government official"). Maybe Miller tells Rove too -- or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and Cooper. The story gets out.
This is why Miller doesn't want to reveal her "source" at the White House -- because she was the source.

But, she gets it wrong. If, Miller is protecting a source, it is someone at the CIA. Perhaps someone married to a blabbermouth former diplomat.

Are They Going To Take This Lying Down?

Just an Italian day at the beach:

Women have been banned from showing off their breasts on Italian beaches, unless they are lying down.

New legislation bans women from walking, playing beach volleyball and swimming topless.

The Italian Association for Public Bathing has issued a 10-point guide which also forbids playing football on the beach, hanging up wet clothes to dry on beach umbrellas and drinking alcohol.

In news of other boobs:

Scarlett Johansson nearly crashed her car after being distracted by the sight of her own breasts on a giant Hollywood billboard.

The sexy star was forced to slam on the brakes when she saw how her chest appeared to have ballooned in size.The 20-year-old confessed she had no idea the poster to promote her new film The Island had been digitally enhanced.

She said: "I was driving through Los Angeles and I look up and see the biggest photo of me I have ever seen."I screamed and slammed on the brakes. I couldn't believe it. It's very strange to see my cleavage the size of a brontosaurus. My breasts were huge.

"I had long hair and my goodness, I couldn't get past the cleavage.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Scrivener Rules!

Like a round of golf played by Annika Sorenstam, the Scrivener methodically destroys the par-for-the-course weak labor market arguments of the usual suspects.

... quoting Brad DeLong's ....

Four Out of Five Indicators Say the Job Market Really Is Weak It's not just employment-to-population ratios. It's real wage growth. It's the relative amount of long-term unemployment. It's payroll employment. We have four of five indicators telling us that the state of the job market is not that good and only one -- the unemployment rate -- reading green.

Such claims can be found today all over the left-liberal side of the econo-blogosphere. But are they true?

No, unsurprisingly they aren't. Not when this recovery's apples are compared with the last recovery's:

Unemployment rate

Prior recovery: 5.8%
This recovery: 5.0%

Score 1-0 for this recovery.

Long term unemployment rate (15+ weeks)

prior: 2.25%, which is 40% more than
this: 1.58%

Long-term unemployment at this point in the prior recovery was higher even in absolute terms, 2.96 million versus 2.35 million, in spite of the work force being 17 million larger today. So the current recovery is much better on this point.

Score 2-0 for this recovery.

average real weekly earnings from pre-recession high

prior: -1.9%
this: +0.25%

In fact, during the prior recovery real average weekly wages would stay below their 1990 pre-recession high for seven years, until well into Clinton's second term....

DeLong's five indicators the current recovery is up 3 to 0 right now -- already we have a winner!

Ronny Turiaf Gets His Wish...

...just to be able to wake up this morning. Now he's going to start his journey of a thousand miles with one step:

A six-hour, open-heart surgery on Gonzaga center Ronny Turiaf was pronounced a success yesterday, generating hope that the 22-year-old Los Angeles Lakers draftee might play basketball again.

"We're just overwhelmed by the results," Gonzaga assistant coach Leon Rice said last night.... the procedure did not include replacement of a heart valve, which, according to reports, would have decreased the chance Turiaf could play competitively again. Even in the best-case scenario, Turiaf wouldn't be ready for the 2005-06 season.

"Turiaf's valve was functioning normally and did not need to be replaced," said the Lakers' [press] release, adding that he is "expected to make a complete and full recovery."

'Can't anybody here play this game?'

The FLUBA Committee on Stengelisms directs us to this Walter Pincus-Jim Vandehei piece in the Washington Post:

In a 2002 trip to Niger at the request of the CIA, Wilson found no evidence to support allegations that Iraq was seeking uranium from that African country and reported back to the agency in February 2002.

Along with the question, 'Why, oh why, can't we have a competent reporter at the Post?'

As the not exactly Top Secret report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence unanimously reported, Joe Wilson not only said that an Iraqi, who later came to fame as Baghdad Bob, had in fact made overtures to Iraq in 1999 about buying uranium, but that the CIA analysts who graded his debriefing found that to be the most important bit of information he brought back from his trip to Niger.

Wilson merely offered his own opinion that his contacts in Niger should be believed when they told him they had refused to do so. Which brings us to Christopher Hitchens in Slate:

A fairly senior CIA female bureaucrat, not involved in risky activity in the field, proposes her own husband for a mission to Niger, on the very CIA-sounding grounds that he enjoys good relations with the highly venal government there, and in particular with its Ministry of Mines. This government, according to unrefuted intelligence-gathering from British and other European intelligence agencies, is covertly discussing sanctions-breaking sales of its uranium to a number of outlaw regimes, including that of Saddam Hussein. The husband, who has since falsely denied being recommended by his wife, revisits his "good contacts" in Niger for a brief trip and issues them a clean bill.

Hitchens fails to add that said husband is a retired diplomat who now earns his living representing people who would like to invest in gold mines in that country. Imagine the outrage amongst the crowd currently throwing charges of treason at Karl Rove if that former diplomat had turned out to be a foreign policy adviser to George W. Bush rather than John Kerry.

Paulie The Prevaricator

With his latest NY Times column once respected economist Paul Krugman earns his hitman sobriquet for leaving a few relevant things out:

There has been fierce competition among states hoping to attract a new Toyota assembly plant. Several Southern states reportedly offered financial incentives worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But last month Toyota decided to put the new plant, which will produce RAV4 mini-S.U.V.'s, in Ontario. Explaining why it passed up financial incentives to choose a U.S. location, the company cited the quality of Ontario's work force.

Perhaps the nickname ought to be Paulie The Dunce, for thinking no one reads the news pages of the NY Times. Just last month those who do would have learned:

The Toyota Motor Corporation is expected to announce next Thursday that it will build a second manufacturing plant in Canada, people who have been briefed on the company's plans said.

The plant will be in Woodstock, Ontario, about 30 miles southwest of Toyota's operation in Cambridge. The plant is expected to open in 2008 and will cost about 600 million Canadian dollars ($486 million), including 125 million Canadian dollars in incentive money from the governments of Canada and Ontario.

As well as a few other details about Canada and Ontario's taxpayers' largesse:

The Ontario and Canadian governments have been aggressively pursuing automotive investments and offering incentives to manufacturers. The Ford Motor Company of Canada was recently given 1 billion Canadian dollars to rework a 51-year-old factory outside Toronto that makes minivans. General Motors of Canada has received 2.5 billion Canadian dollars for its operations in Oshawa, Ontario, and for expanding its research and development.

The Times later corrected the above figures to:

Ford received 200 million Canadian dollars or $162 million, not 1 billion Canadian dollars ($811 million), which was the total cost of the plant. General Motors received 435 million Canadian dollars, ($353 million), not 2.5 billion Canadian dollars...

But still a chunk of Loonies to ignore. According to Krugman it's the health care, stupid:

Canada's other big selling point is its national health insurance system, which saves auto manufacturers large sums in benefit payments compared with their costs in the United States.

You might be tempted to say that Canadian taxpayers are, in effect, subsidizing Toyota's move by paying for health coverage. But that's not right.... U.S. taxpayers, not Canadians, will be hurt by the northward movement of auto jobs.

.... the result of international competition will be to give Canada more jobs in industries like autos, which pay health benefits to their U.S. workers, and fewer jobs in industries that don't provide those benefits. In the U.S. the effect will be just the reverse: fewer jobs with benefits, more jobs without.

So what's the impact on taxpayers? In Canada, there's no impact at all: since all Canadians get government-provided health insurance in any case, the additional auto jobs won't increase government spending.

If you don't count the hundreds of millions of dollars, that is.

Krugman then finished this column with a stunning anti-economist claim:

In America, basic health insurance is a privilege; in Canada, it's a right. And in the auto industry, at least, the good jobs are heading north.

In both the United States and Canada--as well as everywhere else--health insurance is a good that has both costs and benefits. People trained as economists are not supposed to think in terms of 'rights' and 'privileges'. Those who do, aren't thinking at all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

More Fun with Uichetelle

Earlier this month the FLUBA Committee on 180 Degrees From the Truth in NY Times Columns noted Megan McArdle catching Louis Uichetelle in a hilarious error regarding the protagonist in the 1950s best selling novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit:

But Tom, like most Americans in the first three decades after World War II, took a rising standard of living for granted. When he needed more income to make ends meet, he simply landed a better-paying job.

Megan pointed out that the novel actually depicts a middle class couple struggling to keep their financial heads above water, rather than what Uichetelle (and Paul Krugman) would have us believe; that today's middle class couples are much less secure than their counterparts in the immediate post WWII era.

It was well known that the author, Sloan Wilson, was writing mostly about himself and people he knew in that novel and several others that followed. What isn't so well known is that Wilson also wrote two autobiographies. And that those books even more severely undercut the Good 'ol Days nostalgia currently being peddled by left of center economists.

In What Shall We Wear to This Party, Wilson said that the most memorable aspect of life in the aftermath of the War was, the ferocity with which everyone worked, in order to provide for their growing families. That there was a, pervasive almost physical smell of fear, which was combatted by many jokes and nervouse laughter. Some of my friends at Time [magazine] openly admitted their dread of getting fired or of falling hopelesly behind in the race for promotions.

He tells of, One public relations man I knew rode the rails for over a month looking for a job. ....I was never able to make his case believable in fiction, but this mild-mannered little man eventually held up a bank in a nearby town and got away with it so easily that he tried the same crime again at the same bank a few months later. That time he was caught and sent to jail.

Later in the same chapter he relates that, Most of us worried about money, and ignoring the conventional manners of our parents, talked about it incessantly. The bills were always piling up, yet as soon as we got a raise...we either bought a bigger house, a boat, a new car or all three, if our credit could be stretched far enough.

Wilson came to financial catastrophe several times in his own life. Even after making millions of (1950s) dollars from two best selling novels that were made into movies, he found himself scrambling to raise $20,000 in 1966 to buy an old yacht that he and his second wife and their two year-old daughter could live on for five years, to save money that otherwise they would have to spend on escalating apartment rents in New York City or on a house in Connecticutt.

The major culprit in his tale of woe was the IRS. Those good 'ol days were also the times of 90% marginal tax rates, which drove him into tax sheltered investments that the IRS loved to audit and disallow. If the investments didn't go belly up the IRS eventually took most of the earnings. Even after the Kennedy-Johnson rate reductions (to a top rate of 70%), any money Wilson was able to make (and by then his days as a star popular novelist were behind him) was mostly taken away by the high marginal tax rates.

Once a millionaire, world traveller, college lecturer, best-selling writer, Wilson descended into the worst of alcoholic nightmares, unable to write and thus support his family he somehow managed to eke out an existence in an old house in Ticonderoga, NY that he purchased for $11,500 after selling his boat.

A doctor finally prescribed lithium to cure him of his need to drink, and it appeared to work He wrote a few more books that had modest success, and lived, suffering from Alzheimer's, until 2003.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Nuclear Option

The FLUBA Shadow Gnat Lileks' Father Committee notes an atypical error in reasoning in his Screedblog for July 21st:

Bombing Mecca to revenge the acts of maniacs is like nuking the Vatican to protest the pedophilia scandal in Boston. The idea appeals to those whose nuanced study of Islam makes them conclude it’s better to alienate one billion people than defeat a fraction of the same group.

First, the Vatican is not equivilent to Mecca (or Medina). Even The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem wouldn't be that. Not to mention that there aren't Christian fanatics blowing themselves and innocent bystanders to pieces in Islamic metropolises around the world.

The idea first floated by Congressman Tancredo, isn't at all ridiculous. There already are millions (and possibly a billion) of alienated Muslims around the world, and they are profoundly emotionally disturbed. How exactly does one deal with this type of depravity (link courtesy of Betsy Newmark): of the London bombers, Shehzad Tanweer, boasted of wanting to die in a revenge attack over the way Muslims are treated.

...Tanweer confessed to his cousin his ambition to become a “holy warrior”. At his father’s home village 30 miles from Faisalabad, Mohammad Saleem described yesterday how Tanweer, 22, hero-worshipped Osama bin Laden.

Mr Saleem supported his cousin’s bombing at Aldgate station which killed seven people, saying: “Whatever he has done, if he has done it, then he has done right.” He recalled how Tanweer argued with family and friends about the need for violent retaliation over US abuse of Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

About which--after thanking the people of Illinois for giving us Senator Dick Durbin--we have to do something to put a stop to their deadly activities.

If the United States let it be known to the Muslim world that Osama bin Laden's organization was engaging in a course of action that will lead to the total destruction of that religion's holiest sites, just how popular would he be?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Dollars and Deficits

Today's Paul Krugman column raises the question, just how many elementary errors in economics does it take to have a John Bates Clark Medal revoked?:

To keep China's currency from rising, the Chinese government has been buying up huge quantities of dollars and investing the proceeds in U.S. bonds.

Krugman doesn't seem to realize how the mechanism of buying dollars works, as we can see from:

But pressures against China's dollar purchases are building. By keeping the yuan down, China is feeding a trade surplus that is creating a growing political backlash in America and Europe. And China, which is still a poor country, is devoting a lot of resources to the accumulation of a basically useless pile of dollars instead of to higher living standards.

A 'basically useless pile of dollars'! One wonders why they bother to exchange goods for them.

The question is what happens to us if the Chinese finally decide to stop acting so strangely.
An end to China's dollar-buying spree would lead to a sharp rise in the value of the yuan.

An end to China's dollar-buying spree would be because of a sharp decline in China's selling spree to the United States of Chinese manufactured goods. Just how does China buy dollars if not with goods.

...But if the Chinese stopped buying all those U.S. bonds, interest rates would rise. This would be bad news for housing - maybe very bad news, if the interest rate rise burst the bubble.

Note we have switched to talking of buying U.S. bonds rather than dollars. But immediately go back to:

In the long run, the economic effects of an end to China's dollar buying ....

First, it's an open question what China's spending its dollars on oil, Napa Valley wine, Washington state cherries, Boeing airplanes, etc. rather than on U.S. Treasuries would have on U.S. interest rates. The people who receive the dollars from China might use them to buy Treasuries.

Second, it doesn't appear that Krugman grasps the difference between buying dollars and buying bonds. Or, if it's simply a matter of sloppy writing, that he hasn't thought through the impact increased Chinese purchases of foreign goods and services with dollars would have on the U.S. economy.

No Way To Treat a Lady

Especially one who could kick your butt.

pgl at Angry Bear picks up on an attempt to smear the beautiful and charming Condi by TPM Cafe:

...a key exchange on the [Joseph] Wilson trip did occur in the July 11, 2003 press gaggle aboard Air Force One with both Ari Fleischer and Condoleezza Rice and it wasn’t Ari pushing the Wilson story.

The transcript of the July 11, 2003 press gaggle has this interesting exchange:

Q Dr. Rice, when did you all find out that the documents were forged?

DR. RICE: Sometime in March, I believe. Is that right?

MR. FLEISCHER: The IAEA reported it.

DR. RICE: The IAEA reported it I believe in March. But I will tell you that, for instance, on Ambassador Wilson's going out to Niger, I learned of that when I was sitting on whatever TV show it was, because that mission was not known to anybody in the White House. And you should ask the Agency at what level it was known in the Agency.

Q When was that TV show, when you learned about it? DR. RICE: A month ago, about a month ago.

Q Can I ask you about something else?

DR. RICE: Yes. Are you sure you're through with this?

[The exchanges go on to issues unrelated to who sent Wilson on his trip]

In reading the whole transcript you’ll find that no reference to Wilson had been made before Condi brings it up.

So Condi uses a barely-related question to bring up the issue about why Wilson was sent to Niger. She offers the news that he was not sent by the White House and then literally prods the reports to go ask the CIA why he was sent.

Then, when a reporter tries to change the subject she prods the reporters to ask more with: “Are you sure you're through with this?”

There are a number of out and out deceptions here. First, the informal press conference (gaggle) is well underway before Condi says anything about the Niger uranium controversy, and only after being twice asked about it.

From the point of the second Niger question, the transcript goes on for eight pages and 4,300 words before the exchange that TPC Cafe is making a big deal out of:

Q Can I ask you about something else?

DR. RICE: Yes. Are you sure you're through with this?

Meaning that she's making a joke, son. You know, 'You're sure we've beaten this dead horse enough already?' (and they hadn't, as she's immediately interrupted with more on Iraq during a trip in Africa)

Almost as misleading was the claim that no reference had been made to Wilson before Condi brought it up. His name hadn't been mentioned, but clearly she was being bombarded with questions about the intelligence on Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium in Africa. Questions that had begun with Joe Wilson's duplicitous stories told to the likes of Nick Kristoff two months earlier, and culminating in Wilson's own Op-ed piece in the NY Times claiming that that intelligence had been twisted by the White House.

Kristoff told Wilson's tale thus:

I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. ... that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.

.... The envoy's debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted — except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway.

Two months later Wilson outed himself (and inevitably his wife's role in his dishonest partisan campaign on behalf of John Kerry) by writing:

Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?

Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

It's that context that led to Condi Rice being questioned by the press 'gaggle' about the intelligence behind the Africa uranium seeking, and thus it is entirely unremarkable that Joseph Wilson's name would come up less than a week after his NY Times column and subsequent Meet the Press appearance.

And two days later, Condi was asked, by Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER: But 11 months earlier, you, the Bush administration, had sent Joe Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador to Niger....

RICE: Well, first of all, I didn't know Joe Wilson was going to Niger. ...counterproliferation experts on their own initiative sent Joe Wilson, so I don't know...

BLITZER: Who sent him?

RICE: Well, it was certainly not a level that had anything to do with the White House, and I do not believe at a level that had anything to do with the leadership of the CIA.

BLITZER: Supposedly, it came at the request of the vice president.

RICE: No, this is simply not true, and this is something that's been perpetuated that we simply have to straighten out. The vice president did not ask that Joe Wilson go to Niger.

The vice president did not know. I don't think he knew who Joe Wilson was, and he certainly didn't know that he was going. The first that I heard of Joe Wilson mission was when I was doing a Sunday talk show and heard about it.

Given the false impressions about who asked Wilson to go to Niger, it was inevitable that his wife's role in his anti-Bush campaign would come out. Any CIA spook who didn't realize that has no business in the intelligence profession.

All Heart

One of the biggest mysteries of the recently concluded NBA draft was why a prototypical power forward like Ronny Turiaf would slip into the second round, with clearly inferior talents drafted ahead of him. The Long Beach California Summer Pro-League did nothing to clear up that mystery when Turiaf exploded for 27 points and 14 rebounds in his second game. Then suddenly he was withheld from the final four games of the tournament:

Laker draft pick Ronny Turiaf will undergo open-heart surgery to repair an enlarged aortic root and will sit out one season, if not longer, as he recuperates from a condition that could have taken his life if not diagnosed.

....Turiaf, who grew up on the Caribbean island of Martinique and played high school basketball in Paris, had tests done several years ago in France that showed an abnormality of the heart, but was cleared to play. Tests done last month at the NBA's pre-draft camp in Chicago also presented an abnormality, but he was cleared there as well.

"Naturally, we wish that they would have seen it the way our doctors found it," Laker spokesman John Black said Thursday. "It would have made a difference, but we don't want to point fingers. We feel fortunate that it was found when it was. It probably saved the kid's life."


Despite the disappointment over his condition, Turiaf said he was grateful it was diagnosed in time.

"I feel lucky because I don't want to die," he said.

Turiaf agreed to a two-year contract with the Lakers, which would have been worth about $1 million if he played for both seasons.

Black said the team's position on the Turiaf's contract is that it is void because he failed to pass the physical, but the league will have final say.The Lakers want to pay for Turiaf's surgery, if the league approves, Black said.

Turiaf struck an optimistic tone when asked about his prospects for returning to the NBA following surgery.

"Hopefully the doctors do a good job — I'm sure they will — to fix me up," he said. "I'm going to be back. ... And if not, I'm smart, I have a degree in sports management and communications. I'll make money no matter what."

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Lady Doeth Protest

Odd that Ann Coulter would publish a column knocking John Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court:

...we don’t know much about John Roberts. Stealth nominees have never turned out to be a pleasant surprise for conservatives. Never. Not ever.

Because, when he was being denied a hearing on his nomination to the Appellate Court by Patrick Leahy she defended him as a fellow Federalist Society member and holder of impeccable qualifications:

[Miguel] Estrada clerked for Justice Kennedy and has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court. John Roberts clerked for Justice Rehnquist and has argued more than 30 cases before the Supreme Court. Jeff Sutton clerked for Justice Scalia and has had 15 arguments before the Supreme Court. Michael McConnell clerked for Justice Brennan and has argued 11 cases before the Supreme Court. None of them have even been given hearings by [Sen. Patrick] Leahy.

It turns out what the Democrats mean by "selected primarily for their ideology" means the nominee went to top law schools, had prestigious federal clerkships, went on to distinguished legal careers -- but are believed to be Republicans. Evidence of "extreme views" consists of association with the Federalist Society....

As legal scholar Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., explained: "We don't want this to be a judiciary jammed and packed with people who've come out of the Federalist Society with extreme views."
Consequently, Bush had already purged his list of judicial nominees likely to incite a Democratic witch hunt. He withdrew the names of two Harvard Law School graduates -- one a Supreme Court clerk, one a U.S. congressman -- after Democrats discovered with alarm that the two had suspicious associations with the Federalist Society. To get a fair shake from the Democrats, the Federalist Society should change its name to "Communist Party U.S.A."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

You're So Inane

Washed-up pop-diva news round up:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Madonna isn't the person she once was - and that's the way she wants it. These days, the former Material Girl spends more time with her two children than she does performing. She collects art instead of boyfriends, and she's traded in her leather and lace undergarments for more demure outfits.

In the August issue of Vogue magazine, Madonna is featured in a lengthy interview and a photo spread at the English country estate she shares with her children, 8-year-old Lourdes (Lola) and 4-year-old Rocco, and her director-husband, Guy Ritchie ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels").

The photos include Madonna feeding chickens on the lawns of Ashcombe wearing a cream-colored Grace Kelly-inspired chiffon dress and cashmere cardigan and playing dress-up with her children in her sitting room while wearing a yellow cashmere cardigan and multicolored polka-dot silk dress.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Lil' Kim has filed a $6 million lawsuit against one of the two men who gave wounding testimony at her recent trial on perjury and conspiracy charges.

Lil' Kim was sentenced to one year and one day in prison for lying to a federal grand jury about her involvement in a 2001 gun battle outside a Manhattan radio station.

The 30-year-old rapper, whose real name is Kimberly Jones, has been ordered to report to prison Sept. 19.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court, she accuses James "Lil' Cease" Lloyd of preparing to release an unauthorized DVD, "The Chronicles of Junior M.A.F.I.A. Part II: Reloaded."

Lil' Kim says she left Junior M.A.F.I.A., which included Lloyd, in 2001.
She says the DVD, like a predecessor, was unauthorized and improperly uses her name, image and likeness, amounting to false advertising and false endorsement.

And last, but not least, the one time girl singer for ketchup commercials is now a sexagenarian who is apparently not aging well:

...The best that can be said is Miss Simon does manage to carry a tune. There are no sour notes.

....From the start, Miss Simon, now 60, struggles mightily to get through the songs (I'm sensing there was a sigh of relief at the end of each take), leaving little room for style or emotions. It's a sorry state of affairs for a woman whose feelings poured out on such earlier earthy hits as "You're So Vain," "Anticipation" and "You Belong to Me."

Mr. Perry's rich orchestration of the album's opener, "Moonlight Serenade," perfectly captures the essence of the big-band era, but when Miss Simon comes in, it's like your cousin Maude performing karaoke -- albeit with spectacular instrumentation -- at the family reunion.

Cousin Maude may sit down after a song or two, but Miss Simon drones on, and it's the producer's fault.

Crispy Critters

It's said that even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while, but the sighted have other problems that baffle Canadians:

OSOYOOS, British Columbia -- Once again, a squirrel clambering onto a power line has been blamed for a brush fire in this border town north of Oroville, Wash.

Firefighters were summoned Monday after a squirrel scrambled up a Fortis Inc. utility pole, got zapped and landed in flames on some dry brush outside a fruit packing business, Fire Chief Ross Driver said.

By the time a pumper truck and a bush truck arrived, nearby residents had doused the flames.

"This identical incident has happened on the same pole one or two times a year for the past several years," Driver said.

Each time, firefighters find a dead, burned squirrel at the base of the utility pole, he said.
Driver said he didn't know what Fortis could do to prevent future squirrel-caused fires.

Just a guess, fellas, install an anti-squirrel net around the pole.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Why Joey the Wimp's Wife is 'Fair Game'

This conversation which took place on CNN on July 13, 2003 (the day before Bob Novak's column naming Valerie Plame appeared in newspapers) shows that the press had an intense interest in who had sent Joe Wilson to Niger. Because Joe Wilson--foreign policy adviser to John Kerry--had inserted himself in a partisan political dispute.

BLITZER: But 11 months earlier, you, the Bush administration, had sent Joe Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador to Niger, to find out whether it was true. He came back, reported to the CIA, reported to the State Department, it wasn't true, it was bogus. The whole issue was bogus. And supposedly, you never got word of his report.

RICE: Well, first of all, I didn't know Joe Wilson was going to Niger. And if you look at Director Tenet's statement, it says that counterproliferation experts on their own initiative sent Joe Wilson, so I don't know...

BLITZER: Who sent him?

RICE: Well, it was certainly not a level that had anything to do with the White House, and I do not believe at a level that had anything to do with the leadership of the CIA.

BLITZER: Supposedly, it came at the request of the vice president.

RICE: No, this is simply not true, and this is something that's been perpetuated that we simply have to straighten out.

The vice president did not ask that Joe Wilson go to Niger. The vice president did not know. I don't think he knew who Joe Wilson was, and he certainly didn't know that he was going.

The first that I heard of Joe Wilson mission was when I was doing a Sunday talk show and heard about it.

.... So no, the Wilson trip was not sent by anyone at a high level. It wasn't briefed to anyone at high level. And it appears to have been inconclusive in what it found.

BLITZER: Did George Tenet know about the Joe Wilson trip to Africa?

RICE: I am not aware that George Tenet was aware that this happened before it happened.

Joey the Wimp

All hit men have nicknames, and what better nom de guerre for Joseph Wilson--who, after attempting a cheap shot at the Bush Administration and having the big boys fight back, ran behind the reputedly lovely Valerie--since he lacks the self-awareness to see how he resembles Saddam Hussein. From The Politics of Truth:

...a statue of Saddam...had recently been erected in the Arab Knight Square in Baghdad...Since Saddam clearly wanted to be recognized as the Arab Knight perhaps we ought to point out that true Arab knights do not hide behind the skirts of women....

Wilson resembles Saddam in another way too, delusions of grandeur. In his ironically titled book Wilson makes numerous references to his having brought back the 'truth' back from Niger, and to Bush's obligation to find out who had inserted a lie in the 2003 State of the Union speech.
But, the actual truth is that the CIA analysts didn't have as high an opinion of Mr. Wilson's information as he did (and seemingly still does). From the Senate Intelligence Committee report:

The CIA...gave the former ambassador's information a grade of "good," which means that it added to the [Intelligence Community's] body of understanding on the issue.... The possible grades are unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good, excellent, and outstanding....The reports officer said that a "good" grade was merited because the information responded to at least some of the outstanding questions in the Intelligence Community, but did not provide substantial new information. He said he judged that the most important fact in the report was that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and that the Nigerien Prime Minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium, because this provided some confirmation of foreign government service reporting.

(U) IC analysts had a fairly consistent response to the intelligence report based on the former ambassador's trip in that no one believed it added a great deal of new information to the Iraq-Niger uranium story. An INR analyst said when he saw the report he believed that it corroborated the INR's position, but said that the "report could be read in different ways." He said the report was credible, but did not give it a lot of attention because he was busy with other things.

(U) DIA and CIA analysts said that when they saw the intelligence report they did not believe that it supplied much new information and did not think that it clarified the story on the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal. They did not find Nigerien denials that they had discussed uranium sales with Iraq as very surprising because they had no expectation that Niger would admit to such an agreement if it did exist. The analysts did, however, find it interesting that the former Nigerien Prime Minister said an Iraqi delegation had visited Niger for what he believed was to discuss uranium sales.

(U) Because CIA analysts did not believe that the report added any new information to clarify the issue, they did not use the report to produce any further analytical products or highlight the report for policymakers. For the same reason, CIA's briefer did not brief the Vice President on the report, despite the Vice President's previous questions about the issue.

If the CIA didn't notice him, why should the president and his inner circle?

The Electric Horsepower Man

Coming soon to a dragstrip near you:

Mark Buford is happy with the Honda Accord hybrid that he bought six months ago, and he has already driven it 13,000 miles. He was determined to buy a hybrid electric car, he said, and this one is clean, "green" and accelerates faster than the nonhybrid version. He just cannot count on it to save much gasoline.

.... The 2005 Honda Accord hybrid gets about the same miles per gallon as the basic four-cylinder model, according to a review by Consumer Reports, a car-buyer's guide, and it saves only about two miles a gallon compared with the V-6 model on which it is based. Thanks to the hybrid technology, though, it accelerates better.

Hybrid technology, it seems, is being used in much the same way as earlier under-the-hood innovations that increased gasoline efficiency: to satisfy the American appetite for acceleration and bulk.

Despite the use of hybrids to achieve better performance with about the same fuel economy, consumers who buy the cars continue to get a tax credit that the Internal Revenue Service allows under a "clean fuels" program that does not take fuel savings into account.

....Mr. Buford, a telecommunications analyst at Kraft Foods who works in the Chicago area, said he decided on a hybrid because he wanted to "go green," although he added, "I wasn't willing to make any of the trade-offs normally associated with a hybrid." He said he liked the way that the electric motor on his new car kicked in early during acceleration, at a speed range in which the V-6 gasoline engine is relatively weak.

....Mr. Buford said he expected that when he files his taxes next April, the purchase will cut his tax bill by about $600.

....Consumer Reports called the hybrid portion of the Accord a "green turbocharger." The main benefit is in getting from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.9 seconds, compared with 9.0 seconds for the basic four-cylinder model.

....Hybrid technology seems to be heading the way of earlier technologies, which got more work out of a gallon of gasoline, like four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing, that have been used in the end to make cars accelerate faster, rather than to hold them steady in performance and to cut fuel consumption.

Daniel A. Lashof, a car expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "The horsepower wars have really gotten out of control in the last few years."

....Mr. Buford said he got just what he wanted from the Accord, a hybrid with no sacrifices. "I wasn't prepared to give up anything to 'go green' - not performance, amenities, or space," he said.

Which could be called Jevon's Revenge: 1845. An English mathematician, William Stanley Jevons, had just written a book titled The Coal Question. Watt's new engines were eating up English coal. Once it was gone, England was in trouble. And Jevons wrote:

... some day our coal seams [may] be found emptied to the bottom, and swept clean like a coal-cellar. Our fires and furnaces ... suddenly extinguished, and cold and darkness ... left to reign over a depopulated country.

The answer seemed to lie in creating more efficient steam engines. Jevons may not have realized that steam engines were already closing in on thermodynamic limits of efficiency. But he did see that increased efficiency wouldn't save us in any case.

Look at the Watt engine, he said. It was invented because the older Newcomen engine was so inefficient. Did Watt cut coal consumption by quadrupling efficiency? Quite the contrary. By making steam power more efficient, he spread the use of steam throughout the land. Coal consumption was skyrocketing.

A few years later, Henry Bessemer invented a new highly energy-efficient scheme for smelting steel. Jevons's argument played out once more. Now that we could have cheap steel, we began making everything from it -- plows, toys, even store fronts. Energy-efficiency had again driven coal consumption upward.

We saw Jevons's script replaying yet again after the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s. Our response was to create more energy-efficient cars. Since then, Americans have increased the number of miles they've driven to 162 percent of what it was.

Pay them to...

...and they will come.

The FLUBA Committee on the Consequences of Perverse Incentives notes this NY Times article:

New York Medicaid Fraud May Reach Into Billions

...New York's Medicaid program, once a beacon of the Great Society era, has become so huge, so complex and so lightly policed that it is easily exploited. Though the program is a vital resource for 4.2 million poor people who rely on it for their health care, a yearlong investigation by The Times found that the program has been misspending billions of dollars annually because of fraud, waste and profiteering. A computer analysis of several million records obtained under the state Freedom of Information Law revealed numerous indications of fraud and abuse that the state had never looked into.

"It's like a honey pot," said John M. Meekins, a former senior Medicaid fraud prosecutor in Albany who said he grew increasingly disillusioned before he retired in 2003. "It truly is. That is what they use it for."

State health officials denied in interviews that Medicaid was easily cheated, saying that they were doing an excellent job of overseeing the program. ....

New York's Medicaid program is by far the most expensive and most generous in the nation. It spends far more - now $44.5 billion annually - than that of any other state, even California, whose Medicaid program covers about 55 percent more people.

....Doctors, hospitals, health care unions and drug companies have long resisted attempts to increase the policing of Medicaid. ....

The Dentist

On the streets of Downtown Brooklyn, the young men would regularly fan out to drum up business for Fulton Gentle Family Dentistry.

"Got a Medicaid card?" one of the men shouted one day last November. "Come in and get your free CD player right now!"

....In 2003, less than two years after joining Medicaid, Dr. Rosen and an associate reaped $5.4 million, more than the amounts garnered by 98 percent of providers of all types in the entire New York program, according to the analysis of Medicaid billings.

.... On a single day that month, she billed for 991 procedures, or more than 100 an hour in a typical workday.....

The Ambulettes

....New York Medicaid paid far more than any other state to get patients to hospitals and doctor's appointments: $316 million in 2003. ....

The largest chunk of the $316 million spent on transportation went to some 450 ambulette services, about a fifth of which are clustered in Brooklyn.

....The van is called an ambulette, and Medicaid is supposed to pay for it only when a patient cannot walk without help or requires a wheelchair. ....

Many doctors, therapists and clinics regularly order ambulette transportation for their patients when cheaper alternatives should have been used instead....

The state has known about abuses in the ambulette industry for years.... regulators discovered that a quarter of the entire state's transportation billings were coming from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where a few companies had cornered the market with an elaborate set of kickback arrangements, according to a 1996 report on waste in the industry by the New York City public advocate's office. The report, along with others on the industry, suggested that many ambulette services billed Medicaid for rides that were never delivered.


The School Districts

In just a few hours on a single day in September 2000, a senior official in the Buffalo school system wielded a rubber signature stamp and cost millions of dollars in questionable Medicaid payments for children.

Her name was Sheryl Carswell, and at the time she was Buffalo's director of special education. Moving her rubber stamp with assembly-line speed that day, she put 4,434 special-education students on the Medicaid rolls by recommending that they receive speech therapy....

Since 1990, schools in New York have been able to bill Medicaid for speech, hearing, and other school health services.... school health services have become an $800 million annual expense....

In an audit released last month, the inspector general revealed that in New York City schools, 86 percent of the Medicaid claims that were paid from 1993 to 2001 lacked any explanation for why the services had been ordered or violated other program rules. ....

The Executives

....According to records obtained from the Health Department under the Freedom of Information Law, 70 executives of nursing homes and clinics personally made more than $500,000 in 2002, the last year for which figures are available. Twenty-five executives made more than $1 million.

For the nursing home executives, that money was earned in salaries and profits, most of which came directly from the daily fee that Medicaid pays for caring for each low-income patient, usually in the range of $200.

Paul--Medicare for Everyone--Krugman could not be reached for comment.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

North Carolina is famous for you

David von Drehle nicely captures the essential difference between the right and left sides of the blogosphere:

When readers follow these links to Betsy's Page, they find a modest and good-natured voice, compared with the name-calling and screeds that can make the blogosphere feel like "Crossfire" with Tourette's syndrome.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Krugman Refuted in Record Time

The FLUBA Committee to Chart the Sad Decline of Once Respected Economists notes that Paul Krugman's employer is now the holder of the speed record for proving his claims to be false. On the same day that Krugman attacked Karl Rove for leaking Valerie Plame's name to the press: part of the effort to discredit Joseph Wilson IV, Mr. Rove leaked the fact that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the C.I.A. I don't know whether Mr. Rove can be convicted of a crime, but there's no question that he damaged national security for partisan advantage.

The Times carried a front page story that revealed that the direction of that information was actually the reverse; from the press (and Bob Novak specifically) to Karl Rove:

Mr. Rove has told investigators that he learned from the columnist [Robert Novak] the name of the C.I.A. officer, who was referred to by her maiden name, Valerie Plame, and the circumstances in which her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, traveled to Africa to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq....

After hearing Mr. Novak's account, ... Mr. Rove told the columnist: "I heard that, too."

The previously undisclosed telephone conversation, which took place on July 8, 2003, was initiated by Mr. Novak....

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Disclosure for Me, But Not for Thee

In Joseph Wilson's book, The Politics of Truth, the timeline of the disclosure of Valerie Plame's name by Bob Novak, according to Wilson himself, pretty clearly exonerates Karl Rove from any charge of outing a covert agent of the CIA on July 11th, 2003.

Wilson learned that Novak knew about his wife on July 8th, six days before Novak's article appeared in print. A friend, who was a total stranger to Novak, encountered him walking on a Washington DC street, and apparently decided to amuse himself by asking Novak what he thought about Wilson's Op-ed in the NY Times two days earlier. Getting this reply:

“Wilson’s an asshole. The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She’s a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him.”

Wilson says the friend immediately broke off from Novak and went to alert to him about this.

Keep in mind that Wilson has been claiming that disclosure of his wife's CIA status endangered her life, and sit down to read what he did to prevent it:

I contacted the head of the news division at CNN, Eason Jordan, Novak’s titular boss, whom I had known for a number of years. It took several calls, but I finally tracked him down on his cell phone. I related to him the details of my friend’s encounter with Novak and pointed out that whatever my wife might or might not be, it was the height of irresponsibility for Novak to share such information with an absolute stranger on a Washington street.

He compounded the 'damage' by informing another journalist that his wife was a CIA agent! Apparently in violation of the law.

With his wife's life supposedly in the balance, Wilson reacted with cat-like cunning:

I asked him to speak to Novak for me, but he demurred — he said he did not know him very well — and suggested that I speak to Novak myself. I arranged for him to have Novak call me and hung up.

Novak called the next morning, but I was out, and then so was he. We did not connect until the following day, July 10.

What's a couple of days when it's only a matter of life and death for the mother of your twins.

Nor was Wilson alert enough to deny to Novak that his wife was in fact CIA. Though what Novak was up to could prove deadly to several people (Wilson later has claimed) he merely:

... assumed...that the CIA would itself quash any article that made reference to Valerie. ...I knew that protection of the identity of agents in our clandestine service was the highest priority, and well understood by the experienced press corps in Washington. Novak had still been trolling for sources when we spoke on the telephone, so I assumed that he did not have the confirmations he would need from the CIA to publish the story. I told Valerie, who alerted the press liaison at the CIA, and we were left with the reasonable expectation that any reference to her would be dropped, since he would have no way of confirming the information — unless, of course, he got confirmations from another part of the government, such as the White House.

But of course, Novak got all the confirmation he needed from that very same CIA. Crackerjack diplomacy, Joe!

Kevin Drum: 'Al Gore not as honorable as Nixon'

Displaying a previously undisplayed knack of battering Democrats, as a bonus to the claim that Joe Wilson prevaricates with the best Democrat politicians, the 'intelligent' leftish blogging colossus isn't smitten with the 2000 Democrat Florida shenanigans either:

Don't forget that Nixon also over-ruled advisors who urged him to demand a recount of the '60 election returns -- because it would be too divisive. Nixon looks like a saint, compared to the current junta.

Kevin Drum: 'Joe Wilson is as big a liar as JFK'

Proof that liberals shouldn't be allowed to try logic at home, the Political Animal says, all Republicans should roll over and play dead for lying liberals:

To understand just how reckless and venomous Rove's actions were, let's take a trip down memory lane. The year is 1960. John F. Kennedy was running against Richard Nixon for the presidency and making much electoral hay over the "missile gap," a supposed disparity between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the quantity and quality of ballistic missiles at our disposal. The Reds, Kennedy claimed, were kicking our butts, and he promised to fix this pronto if he was elected president.

Except for one thing: there was no missile gap. What's more, Kennedy had received top secret briefings from the Pentagon and knew this. Did that stop him from talking about it? Not at all. It was one of the big issues of the campaign.

Richard Nixon lost that election by a hair, and public perception of the missile gap was probably one of the reasons. Despite that, he never revealed — either publicly or privately — the classified information about Soviet capabilities that could have saved his campaign.

Think about that. This is Richard Nixon we're talking about. His opponent was spreading clear misinformation that he knew to be untrue. And there was a presidential election at stake!

The FLUBA Committee of Connoisseurs on Flawed Analogies wishes to point out that JFK at least did his lying for himself rather than ask CIA agents to do it for him. Other than that, if this is your story, you're welcome to it.

Tales From Two Economists

One of whom ought to be cause for the other banging his head against the wall. First, Berkeley's Brad DeLong betrays an abysmal ignorance of the difference between a cost and a benefit:

The High-Wage Model

CostCo. If only we could once again have a tight labor market, CostCo would be likely to eat WalMart for lunch:

.... In a country where the retail industry has been convulsed over the past decade by the rise of Wal-Mart and rival discounters, Costco’s discount warehouse club is part of the revolution. But unlike Wal-Mart, whose low-cost labour model has provoked increasingly vocal criticism, Costco has managed to remain competitive while providing its workers with the highest wages and best healthcare plans available anywhere in the US retail industry.

Of course, when we had an extremely tight labor market (in the late 1990s) Costco did no such thing to Wal-Mart. Fortunately over at Cafe Hayek, Russell Roberts provides an antidope:

Wal-Mart doesn't determine what it pays its workers or what benefits it offers any more than you can set the price of your house when you want to sell it. ....

Wal-Mart is in the same situation. They don't determine the compensation of their workers in any real sense. The compensation of their workers is set by the market for people of a particular skill level and the alternatives in the work place available to workers of that skill level. What Wal-Mart does have some control over is the level of customer service and knowledge and skill used by their workers.

In general, the warehouse stores, Wal-Mart's Sam's Club and its biggest competitor Costco, pay their workers more than the standard discount retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and K-Mart. I assume the reason for this is that the level of skills those warehouse stores require is higher. Maybe it's because you have to be able to drive a forklift or do other stuff that's necessary in a warehouse store. But it's not because the head Sam's Club is a nicer person than the head of the regular Wal-Marts.

Correctamundo. Costco and Wal-Mart are serving two very different markets. As even a casual observer (you won't find institutional sized barrels of ketchup at Wal-Mart) could see, if he would bother himself to look.

Monday, July 11, 2005

African economist to UN: 'Drop Dead'

Betsy Newmark links to this Der Spiegel interview with Kenyan James Shikwati, who doesn't seem to be a fan of Bob Geldof:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa...

Shikwati: ... for God's sake, please just stop.

SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need.

As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The family that plays together...

Gets probation in Tennessee:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A couple pleaded guilty Thursday to hiring a stripper for their son's 16th birthday party and were sentenced to two years probation.

Landon and Anette Pharris, who were charged with contributing the delinquency of a minor, also were ordered to take parenting classes.

....Cassandra Joyce Park, 29, who police say used the stage name "Sassy," danced for a few hours before partygoers took up a collection and paid her $150 more to fully disrobe, Anette Pharris said.

....Pharris said after being arrested that she tried to do something special for her son.
"We even had grandpa there," she said.

Paul Calls for Jihad

In The War Against Gluttony (WAG) dark corporate forces lurk under every dining room table, according to once-an-economist Paul Krugman:

In today's America, proposals to do something about rising obesity rates must contend with a public predisposed to believe that the market is always right and that the government always screws things up.

You can see these predispositions at work in an article printed last month in Amber Waves, a magazine published by the Department of Agriculture. The article is titled "Obesity Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences," suggesting that government efforts to combat obesity are likely to be counterproductive. But the authors don't actually provide any examples of how that might happen.

Would anyone be surprised to learn that Krugman is...shall we say, not being candid about that?

In the article in question (from the Economic Research Service arm of the DoA) we learn, for instance:

A restaurant study in England found that providing nutrition information had no effect on overall energy and fat intake of patrons. In fact, the presence of “lower fat” information was associated with fewer restaurant patrons’ selecting the target dish.


Restaurants could also respond to mandatory labeling by expanding their menu options to include healthier choices, while still selling or even promoting their less healthy options. In this way they could satisfy their nutritionally conscientious customers without alienating their customers who prefer higher fat or caloric foods. This strategy could lead to unintended outcomes for nutrition information policy. A study by Christine Moorman of Duke University showed that following NLEA, food suppliers expanded price promotion of nutritionally poorer brands while promotion of nutritionally better brands did not change significantly between the two periods.

Nor is that all that is odd about Doctor Food's latest column:

... only a blind ideologue or an economist could argue with a straight face that Americans were rationally deciding to become obese. In fact, even many economists know better: the most widely cited recent economic analysis of obesity, a 2003 paper by David Cutler, Edward Glaeser and Jesse Shapiro of Harvard University, declares that "at least some food consumption is almost certainly not rational." It goes on to present evidence that even adults have clear problems with self-control.

Odd that Krugman didn't mention that the above paper is cited at the same Amber Waves site he's criticizing:

Harvard University's David Cutler, Edward Glaser, and Jesse Shapiro have suggested that the increase in food consumption prompted by the falling time cost of food is the major cause behind the surge in obesity since 1980. They note: "Technological innovations—including vacuum packing, improved preservatives, deep freezing, artificial flavors, and microwaves—have enabled food manufacturers to cook food centrally and ship it to consumers for rapid consumption. In 1965, a married woman who didn't work spent over two hours per day cooking and cleaning up from meals. In 1995, the same tasks took less than half the time."

Krugman just wants to do something...for the children:

It is more important, however, to emphasize that there are situations in which "free to choose" is all wrong - and that this is one of them.

For one thing, the most rapid rise in obesity isn't taking place among adults, who, we hope, can understand the consequences of their decisions. It's taking place among children and adolescents.

Left unexplained is why the same adults who are the parents of the children wouldn't also understand the consequences of their children's decisions.

Nor did Krugman comment on this from the Amber Waves paper:

Health insurance, both private and public, may reduce consumers’ incentives to take all cost-justified health precautions (including choosing a healthy diet) because it reduces the medical costs paid directly by consumers. The fact that a large part of the health care bill from overweight and obesity is eventually footed by taxpayers, not private insurance providers, may further misalign social and private costs. Economists have estimated that Medicare and Medicaid pay for at least half of obesity-attributable medical expenses. What would otherwise be a matter of personal choice (and responsibility) becomes a matter of concern for all taxpayers.

Understandable, since Krugman recently came out for Medicare for everyone.