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Saturday, March 22, 2003

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RECALLING 911   
Andrew Sullivan is right to take the New York Times to task for this piece on the US bombing of Baghdad that manages to "insinuate that the precision targeting of the headquarters of a murderous tyrant is the moral equivalent of a terrorist assault on civilians."

That said... I don't feel the least bit guilty to confess that I thought of September 11 while I watched the bombing on CNN yesterday. I remember hoping that these images of shock and awe would overwrite that sector of the America's mental hard-drive where those shocking and awesome images of 9/11 have been stored all these months.

And I remember recalling a phrase spoken by a character in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, as I watched technologies that represent the greatest achievements of man's mind called into the service of a war of liberation -- and compared that to how on 9/11 mindless muscle had used stolen technology in an act of pointless murder:

"...let them learn the outcome of a contest in which there's nothing but brute force on one side, and force ruled by mind, on the other."

They're slow learners. But I'll bet they're beginning to see the light.

>> Update... Arthur Silber disagrees, and thinks Andrew and I ought to calm down a bit.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 7:27 PM | link  

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PC-CHECKING, NOT FACT-CHECKING, AT THE TIMES  
Andrew Sullivan found this hilarious first-person account of how the New York Times goes to great pains to edit commentaries for political correctness -- but doesn't fact-check them. Boris Johnson writes for The Spectator about the editorial process for a manuscript submitted to the Times (which, so far as I can tell, they have never published),

"...I started to get a floaty, out-of-body sensation when he [the Times editor] said that he had made a change to a sentence about donations of US overseas aid to key members of the UN Security Council. I had said something to the effect that you don’t make international law by giving new squash courts to the President of Guinea. This now read ‘the President of Chile’. Come again? I said. Qué?

"‘Uh, Boris,’ said [Times editor] Tobin, ‘it’s just easier in principle if we don’t say anything deprecatory about a black African country, and since Guinea and Chile are both members of the UN Security Council, and since it doesn’t affect your point, we would like to say Chile.’"

So snippy exaggerations -- no, let's be frank here: libelous allegations against the Bush administration of bribery on a global scale! -- are okay, just so long as we insult Hispanics instead of blacks? Now doesn't it become a little more clear how Paul Krugman's columns and Maureen Dowd's columns and all those other dump-trucks of hate manage to get parked on the pages of America's "newspaper of record"? Imagine how bad it would be if the Times had a liberal bias!

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 3:23 PM | link  


Friday, March 21, 2003

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DE GAULLE ON THE U.N.   
From our friend Reuven Brenner, the Montreal-based author of The Force of Finance, this article in today's Le Monde quoting Charles deGaulle on the subject of the United Nations. Brenner says, "the French leftist intelligentsia's pompous, unreadable newspaper -- but today, surprise, surprise! -- an article which questions a bit if France did not go too far."

Here's Brenner's translation of the DeGaulle quotation, then the original French:

"'It needs no explanation that France will never accept at any point that more or less totalitarian states, and bureaucrats associated with such new states, who are not quite responsible, not quite consistent, will decide on laws that France should follow.' [The UN is a] 'stage for irrelevant discussion, to sensationalize, and blackmail."

"Il va de soi qu'a aucun prix la France n'accepterait qu'un conjoction d'Etats plus ao moins totalitaires et professionnels dela dictature et d'etats tous nouveaux venus, plus ou moins responsables, plus au moins consistents, lui dictenet sa loi.' [L'ONU etait] 'une tribune derisoire pour les discours a sensation, des surencheres et les pires menaces."


Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 2:12 PM | link  

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KRUGMAN'S GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT   
My email box has been flooded with messages from legions of National Review Online readers, encouraging the work of the Krugman Truth Squad. Thanks to all of you who have said "keep up the good work!"

One clever reader wrote, "Krugman should stick to just misunderstanding economics. Misunderstanding geopolitical issues is reaching too far for any one man." Indeed, and in his latest New York Times column published Friday, that's just what Paul Krugman is doing -- he's gone back to what he's really good at: misunderstanding economics.

For the Krugman Truth Squad, that presents a special challenge. Economics is Krugman's Tora Bora caves -- it's dark in there, he knows the terrain very well, and there are lots of places where he can hide. So stay close behind us today as we venture into the depths. Don't worry, we'll find him.

Krugman's Friday column smears President Bush for the forecasted budget deficits supposedly caused by his tax-cuts -- the cuts already enacted in 2001, and the bigger ones still pending. Krugman's story hook is a study published Wednesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The study compares the 75-year actuarial shortfalls of Social Security and Medicare to the 75-year revenue loss from Bush's tax-cuts. Here's how Krugman summarizes it:

"...the estimated actuarial deficit of Social Security over the next 75 years is $3.5 trillion, and that of Medicare is $6.2 trillion. ...the present value of the revenue that will be lost because of the Bush tax cuts — those that have already taken place, together with those that have been proposed — using the same economic assumptions that underlie those Medicare and Social Security projections. ...comes to $12 trillion to $14 trillion — more than the Social Security and Medicare shortfalls combined. ...that revenue would have been more than enough to 'top up' Social Security and Medicare, allowing them to operate without benefit cuts for the next 75 years.

"...Without those tax cuts, the problems of an aging population might well have been manageable; with them, nothing short of an economic miracle can save us from a fiscal crisis."

Get it? If it weren't for Bush's tax cuts, then there would be no problems with Social Security or Medicare -- and probably no heartbreak of psoriasis, either.

Krugman makes this wild claim into an anti-Bush smear through several forms of innuendo suggesting an administration cover-up. For instance, he claims with no substantiation whatsoever that "The administration has tried to deny this conclusion, inventing strange new principles of accounting in the process."

But let’s set the baseless innuendo aside, and let the Krugman Truth Squad to get to work. First, just who is this Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that Krugman cites as an authority on these complex and controversial matters? Well, what do you know… it turns out that they are a liberal policy advocacy group. Of course Krugman doesn't honestly label them as such -- he doesn't label them at all -- but even a cursory once-over of their web site reveals where they're coming from.

Tom Maguire of Just One Minute pointed out to me that the first of the study's three authors is Peter R. Orszag, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution -- a well known left-tilted think tank. Orszag's other credentials include a stint at UC Berkeley (not exactly a bastion of conservatism), and various senior roles on Bill Clinton's economic team spanning four of that administration's eight years.

Now let's look at the findings of the study. Like most politically oriented statements about economic issues, it turns out that this study is little more than an exercise in making forecasts that are superficially defensible as objective, but are in fact skewed by arbitrary assumptions chosen to ensure the desired result. I suppose we could say that this study is challenged by various methodological issues. Or we could just say it's a pack of lies.

First, the study takes as its estimate of the actuarial shortfall in Social Security and Medicare the figures calculated by the programs' trustees in their most recent annual report. These calculations drastically underestimate the deficits in these programs because they give them credit for the principle value and anticipated interest earned from the Treasury bonds in the programs' trust funds -- the so-called "lockbox."

But as Matthew Hoy pointed out today on Hoystory.com, the true and far greater value of the deficit will only become obvious in 15 years when present payroll tax revenues will not be enough to meet present benefit payments. Then,

"When the government actually has to start redeeming those bonds in the 'lockbox,' that money has to come from somewhere. Unfortunately for the American people, that somewhere is the general fund, which pays for interstate highways, the military, and various pork programs... "

This is true because the bonds in the trust fund are nothing but promises from one unit of the government to pay another unit of government. To count these bonds or the interest on them as an "asset" of the programs would be the precise equivalent of writing a check to yourself and depositing it in your own checking account -- in a word, worthless.

Now let's turn to the study's claims about the tax revenues that would be lost under Bush's tax cuts. As David Hogberg pointed out today on Cornfield Commentary, the study estimates revenues losses in the same biased and unrealistic way that the Congressional Budget Office does:

"…agencies like the CBO rely on the largely discredited method of 'static analysis,' which assumes that tax cuts have no effect on economic behavior. It assumes that if the government cuts taxes by $1 million, it will cost the government exactly $1million.

"The problem with static scoring is that people react to incentives. If they get to keep more of their income from activities like working and investing, then they will engage in more of those activities."

An increase in economic activity would at least partially offset any revenue loss. Failure to consider this element is especially important when measuring the revenue loss from the elimination of double taxation on dividend income -- a centerpiece of Bush's current tax-cut proposal. By creating marginal after-tax incentives for capital investment, labor is rendered more productive and wages subject to income tax should be expected to rise. So dividend tax revenues may fall, but income tax revenues may well more than compensate.

You don’t need to be a die-hard supply-sider to see this point -- you don’t have to believe that tax cuts always and completely "pay for themselves" in economic growth. The point is that the study takes an equally extreme opposite position -- it acts as though government can raise and lower taxes at will, and workers and investors will never alter their behavior in response.

The study both understates the deficits in Social Security and Medicare, and overstates the revenue losses from the Bush tax-cuts. But when Krugman suggests that the lost revenue ought to be used to "top up" Social Security, he introduces an even more important methodological issue -- okay, a lie... the biggest one of all, when it comes to Social Security.

Krugman completely overlooks the fact that Social Security right now -- at its current level of tax inputs and benefit outputs -- already dictates a near-zero annual rate of return for the millions of younger workers now entering the system. If a Wall Street firm was out there marketing an investment this bad with the kinds of claims that the Social Security system makes to describe how wonderful it is, Eliot Spitzer would have marched them into the gas chamber long ago.

What Krugman so insouciantly calls "topping up" Social Security really just means throwing more tax dollars at it. In the end it doesn't matter whether those tax dollars are obtained by raising the payroll tax, by not implementing Bush's tax-cuts, or any other means. The result will always be the same: more money will get stuffed into the front end of the Social Security pipeline, but the same trickle will still come out the other end. That will take today's near-zero rate of return and drive it all the way into the negative zone.

For Krugman to cite this study as authoritative is an example of the garbage-in-garbage-out principle as applied to punditry. A third party source comes up with a subjective "conclusion"... the pundit subjectively chooses to cite it... and -- presto! -- two subjective things are suddenly turned into one seemingly objective thing. But having one guy write it and another guy cite it doesn't make it objective. And it certainly doesn't make it the truth.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 5:23 AM | link  

JENNINGS PLAYS RAINES    On our letters page: an alert reader catches ABC News anchor Peter Jennings doing a Howell Raines imitation, suppressing information about how the "Baghdad street" will welcome American liberation.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 1:17 AM | link  


Thursday, March 20, 2003

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GORE COLLECTS HIS BLOOD MONEY   
Here's Al Gore's payoff for the antitrust persecution of Microsoft during the Clinton administration. Today Gore joined the board of directors of Apple Computer, one of several Microsoft rivals that were extremely vocal in pushing for antitrust action. Gore replaces Larry Ellison on Apple's board -- Ellison being the CEO of Oracle, probably Microsoft's single most vocal antitrust opponent.

And please... don't tell me that Gore is joining this board because he invented the Internet.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 1:53 PM | link  

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FAINT PRAISE FOR AMERICA'S HEROES   
Here's the last sentence of today's lead editorial in the New York Times, giving our fighting forces at the dawn of war all the moral support that America's greatest newspaper can muster.

"We simply hope for the welfare of those men and women — sons and daughters — who will be flinging themselves into the Iraqi desert."

Of all the words in the English language that might have captured the purpose and execution of this mission undertaken by these highly trained and extraordinarily brave Americans, could executive editor Howell Raines have come up with praise any fainter with which to damn them than "flinging themselves into the Iraqi desert"?

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 1:33 AM | link  


Wednesday, March 19, 2003

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JOHN BURNS UNEDITED: "MOMENT OF LIBERATION"   
Who could fail to be moved by these words of John F. Burns, a New York Times reporter still in Baghdad, interviewed on tonight's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. Responding to a question from Gwen Ifill on the mood on the street:

"Along with all of this apprehension I think America should know that there is also a good deal of anticipation. Iraqis have suffered beyond, I think, the common understanding of the United States from the repression of the past 30 years here. And many, many Iraqis are telling us now, not always in the whispers he have heard in the past but now in quite candid conversations, that they are waiting for America to come and bring them liberty.

"It's very hard though for anybody to understand this. It can only be understood in terms of the depth of the repression here. It has to be said that this is not universal of course...

"All I can tell you is that as every reporter who has come over here will attest to this, there is the most extraordinary experience of the last few days has been a sudden breaking of the ice here, with people in every corner of life coming forward to tell us that they understand what America is about in this. They are very, very fearful of course of the [?] bombing, of damage to Iraq's infrastructure. They are very concerned about the kind of governance, the American military governance, that they will come under afterward. Can I just say that there is also no doubt -- no doubt -- that there are many, many Iraqis who see what is about to happen here as the moment of liberation."

Great reporting -- but that's John Burns direct, unfiltered. In print, in a newspaper that spares no hyperbole for the anti-Bush agenda that executive editor Howell Raines wants to push, this moving message of a war of liberation was presented under Burns' byline today watered down into little more than fatalism:

"The striking thing was that for many Iraqis the first American strike could not come too soon.

"In part, this appeared to reflect a yearning for closure among a people who have lived on their nerves for months, as the prospect of a new war loomed. Among many Iraqis, the mood for some time has seemed to be that war, if it is inevitable, might as well come soon as late, so the country can move forward into whatever future the conflict determines.

"Many seemed ready to endure American air attacks and the armored thrusts that are expected to follow them if the outcome is a new Iraq that brings freedom from the long history of repression here."

And yesterday, the "quite candid conversations" with "many, many Iraqis" are reduced to "barely whispered."

"As best an outsider could judge, given the widespread fear here of any candor in discussing political matters, the mood was one of deep apprehension of the immediate consequences for ordinary Iraqis of American air and ground assaults. But coupled with that, though barely whispered, there was a suppressed but fevered anticipation of the changes for the better that could come if American troops accomplish Mr. Bush's aim of toppling Mr. Hussein."

Now if only the Times would let Burns write the way he talks. Good luck John -- my prayers are with you.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 9:23 PM | link  

THE ALDOURI OP-ED THE TIMES REFUSED TO RUN    There are some limits. Here's an anti-war op-ed that even the New York Times refused to run -- an eleventh-hour appeal by Mohammed Aldouri, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 3:23 PM | link  

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I, DOWD   
Maureen Dowd spends most of her New York Times column today nattering that President Bush uses the word I too much. The first sentence of her column, then, will seem somewhat ironic to Dowd's few remaining readers:

"Sometimes I feel as if I've spent half my adult life covering a President Bush as he squares off against Saddam Hussein, an evil dictator who invades his neighbors and gasses his own people."

That's two I's and a my in the first nine words, in case you weren't counting.

Oh, and while I'm at it -- or rather, while we're at it -- later, mid-way through when the column drifts randomly away from the I thing and into an all-purpose smear of everyone surrounding the President, Dowd refers to Vice President Cheney as "Pluto, lord of the underground." That's supposed to be "underworld," of course.

Nobody fact-checks this stuff. But can't somebody please at least copy-edit it?

[OK, I couldn't sleep. So I read Maureen Dowd. Somebody has to. I feel sorry for her, looking up at me from that little square glam shot on the Times web site, with all that lipstick on -- and nothing to say anymore.]

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 3:13 AM | link  

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HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING   
There's a new ABC News/Money poll showing that "With war approaching and gasoline prices soaring, economic pessimism climbed this month to its worst since 1992, with Americans by more than 5-1 saying the national economy is heading south." But whenever the talking heads try to scare the daylights out of you with gloomy "consumer confidence" numbers like these, there's always one thing they fail to mention -- that public sentiment is a terrible forecaster of economic or stock market performance.

But the truth is right there in black and white, if you will just look at the numbers instead of the headlines. Just scroll down the page, and you'll see that this same ABC News/Money poll reached its all-time high level of confidence on January 16, 2000. Does that date ring a bell? That's two days after the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached its all-time high at 11,722.98.

Get it? So stop worrying that people are worrying. When they stop worrying, start worrying.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 1:41 AM | link  


Tuesday, March 18, 2003

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ANTI-WAR, ANTI-WARMING   
Paul Krugman today joins Hans Blix and Thomas Friedman in damning President Bush's Iraq policy because of Bush's stance on global warming:

"What frightens me is the aftermath — and I'm not just talking about the problems of postwar occupation. I'm worried about what will happen beyond Iraq — in the world at large, and here at home... the Bush administration has made it clear, over and over again, that it doesn't play by the rules. Remember: this administration told Europe to take a hike on global warming..."

Want the whole fisking? Matthew Hoy's got the axe on this one.

>> Update... My friend Paul Philp writes with a good question. Krugman stated today,

"There is a case for getting tough with Iraq; bear in mind that an exasperated Clinton administration considered a bombing campaign in 1998."

Philp responds,

"The Clinton administration did more than consider it. They dropped 400 cruise missiles, more than the entire Gulf War I, in 4 days. Do you think Krugman is under-reporting this because Clinton didn't go to the United Nations Security Council for clearance?"
 

Update II... Now Robert Musil has grabbed the axe, and he's swinging it hard.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 3:02 AM | link  


Sunday, March 16, 2003

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FRIEDMAN'S EXOLATERALISM   
Following up on my earlier comments about Thomas Friedman's New York Times column today in which he suggests that President Bush should just hand the whole Iraq decision over to Tony Blair, while the US should supply the wherewithal to carry out whatever Blair decides. This represents an entirely new definition of "multilateralism" -- one that doesn't require mutual decision-making among nations at all. It just gives the unilateral decision to someone else -- I guess we should call it "exolateralism." That's all "multilateralism" means at the Times now: anything, just so long as the US doesn't get to decide.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 7:56 PM | link  

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THOMAS FRIEDMAN: BESHAT   
For those of you who've clung hopefully to any tiny shred of residual respect for the New York Times because of Thomas Friedman's columns, it's time to give up. I'm here to tell you that Friedman today has beshat himself. He has now joined the mindless Times chorus of Bush-equals-bad, singing along with such foreign policy visionary heavyweights as Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman.

Today Friedman suggests that Bush should just hand the whole Iraq decision over to Tony Blair, while the US should supply the wherewithal to carry out whatever Blair decides. Why? Look past that long stretch in the first paragraph in which Friedman ridicules Bush for this choice of the Azores as the site for this weekend's summit, without explaining what's wrong with the Azores or why the location of the summit is important. The real reason is... because, almost ineffably, Friedman just feels it:

"The only way I can explain it is by a concept from the Kabbalah called 'tikkun olam.' It means, 'to repair the world.'"

Can you imagine how the Times would ridicule Bush if he ever cited such a religio-mystical basis for foreign policy? Why, it would almost be as bad as if Bush invited the author of The Bible Code to brief the Pentagon on how to find Osama bin Laden.

But Friedman has the goods. Here's his proof of Blair's superior world-repairing capability:

"He called for a new 'international consensus to protect our environment and combat the devastating impacts of climate change.' 'Kyoto is not radical enough," he said."

So now Thomas Friedman -- apparently without a trace of irony or self-awareness -- has echoed Hans Blix, who publicly beshat himself earlier this week when he told MTV News -- that's right, MTV News -- that "I'm more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict."

Freidman just committed suicide as a public voice. As a reader just emailed me, it's time for Friedman to turn in his pad and his pen. While he's at it, he should turn in his Lexus and his olive tree, too, and throw them and himself in the dumpster along with the rest of the Times garbage.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 6:20 PM | link  

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THE TIMES' NAKED FACE   
Well, here it is friends, right in this morning's lead editorial of the New York Times: the naked face of Marxism as applied to modern taxation. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (with the needy people getting to decide, of course -- or, rather, having the New York Times decide for them).

"With rationalizations running from tragic to ludicrous, House budgeters envision cuts of $470 billion in 'waste, fraud and abuse' in Medicare, Medicaid, education, child care and other vital programs, from transportation to health care, the environment to science research. The regressive 10-year plan, matched by an equally hypocritical Senate version, is a triumph of ideological rant over budget reality. Government now must be drastically crimped to pay for the rolling deficits resulting from Mr. Bush's triumphalist rewards for upper-bracket Americans...You would think a sense of embarrassment might strike the Republicans in blessing such a boon for a fortunate minority while taking a cleaver to programs vital for most taxpayers, notably a woeful $12 billion cut in food stamps. But they seem intent on ideology trumping responsibility."

Never mind the lie that food stamps are "vital for most taxpayers."  Never mind that the Times and its ilk have, themselves, brow-beaten the Congress into having to make unnecessary trade-offs by ceaselessly repeating the double lie that tax-cuts cause deficits dollar-for-dollar, and that deficits are evil under all circumstances. And never mind the Times' fourth lie -- that the proposed tax cuts benefit only the rich, when in fact they benefit all classes of taxpayers roughly proportionately. Let's take the Times at its word on these matters -- these are "vital programs;" cuts in them are necessary because tax-cuts cause deficits and deficits are bad; and the cuts benefit only the rich.

That brings us to the inescapable conclusion that the Times believes that the rich should be forced, willing or unwilling, to pay for what the Times decides are "vital programs." According to the Times, this is nothing less than "responsibility." To dare to disagree would be nothing more than "ideology."

What if we were able to take an instantaneous poll of "the rich," and ask them whether they would prefer a tax cut (and have these charities that the Times calls "vital programs" cut at the same time), or to continue to pay higher taxes (and leave the programs untouched). And let's say that "the rich" vote unanimously for the tax cut.

Or, let's even say that all "the rich" vote for higher taxes -- except one guy. Let's say his idea of charity is something different than that the Times, or even of all his fellow "rich."

On what grounds would that leave the New York Times in a position to override even one man's decision about how to dispose of his own earned income, to say that his decision is mere "ideology," to insist that it is "responsibility" to have his wealth taken from him by force and against his will, and transferred to other people whom the Times or anyone else designates?

Is it because the rich are only a "fortunate minority," as the Times says? What's up with that? Does that mean their property should be expropriated because they are "fortunate" (i.e., because they didn't really earn it anyway, they were merely lucky) -- or is it because they are a "minority" (we'll outvote them)?

Or is it just because it's George W. Bush who has proposed these tax cuts and these spending cuts?

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 12:39 PM | link