Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

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This blog translated:


Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

"There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." - Variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Marshall, Mark Twain and many other dead people.

Currently reading:

Songbook by Nick Hornby

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

You should read:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Bobos In Paradise by David Brooks

Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright

Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best

Books written or edited by my professors (well, only the good ones)

Nick Barr

The Economics of the Welfare State

The Welfare State As Piggy Bank

Chris Dougherty

Introduction to Econometrics

David Gewanter

The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (ed. with Frank Bidart)

In the Belly

The Sleep of Reason

Meredith McKittrick

To Dwell Secure

John McNeill

The Human Web (with William H. McNeill)

Something New Under the Sun

Max-Stephan Schulze

Western Europe: Economic and Social Change Since 1945

Greater Blogtopia

Abu Aardvark
Across the Atlantic
Asparagus Pee
Bohemian Mama
Brazos de Dios Cantina Carl with a K
Chip Taylor
Conceptual Guerilla
D-Squared Digest
Dilettante's Guide to Life
Egotistical Whining
Enemy of the People
Equilibrismi ridanciani Fester's Place
Fleeting Impulse
Funny Farm
Grammar Police
Head Heeb
I Know What I Know Interesting by Association
Impolite Company
Internet Activism
Jacqueline Passey
John Hoke
John Lemon
John Scalzi
Kick the Leftist
Kids Korner
Kieran Healy
Liquid List
Loopy Librarian
Mark Maynard
Martin Stabe
More White Teeth
No More Mr. Nice Blog Notes on the Atrocities
Open Source Politics
Passenger Pachyderms
Peevish...I'm Just Saying
Politics and Policy
Quantum Skyline
Radical Review
Random Points
Risa Wechsler

Sha Ka Ree
Sick of Bush
Signifying Nothing
Something's Got to Break
Talking Dog
Tom Runnacles
Truth is a Blog
Vaguely Right
Vast Left Wing Conspiracy
Vulgar Boatman
We Report... You Deride

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Boot Bush! Donate to the DNC today

2004 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac

"Everything to Everyone" by Barenaked Ladies

"In Between Evolution" by The Tragically Hip

"Phantom Planet" by Phantom Planet

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

"One Plus One Is One" by Badly Drawn Boy

"Sultans of Swing" by the Dire Straits

"Best of the Talking Heads" by the Talking Heads

How Shareholder Reforms Can Pay Foreign Policy Dividends, James Shinn, ed.

Weaving the Net, James Shinn, ed.

Fires Across the Water, James Shinn, ed.

Panasonic ES8017SC Men's Triple Blade Pro Curve Rechargeable Linear Shaver

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Friday, February 28, 2003
It's raining heavily here for the first time in a couple of weeks (unless you count yesterday, when it inexplicably rained on my train at Monument Station ... which is underground). I was beginning to wonder if the whole of London had somehow been moved to sunny Acapulco while I was asleep. I mean, this is London. It's not supposed to be sunny and 65 in the summer, let alone the middle of the winter.

Congestion charging, day 10 ...

No news. Literally, none. Zilch. Squat. Bubkis. Nada. Aucun. Keine. Ein. Nessun. Nenhuns. (I knew Babelfish had to be useful sometime)

Ah, Britain:

From The Guardian: "A marketing manager sacked by her husband, who then escorted her out of the office where they worked, yesterday won her claim for unfair dismissal."

She was awarded £2,500 [$3932] in compensation.


The Times has this article on the installation of Rowan Williams as the Archbishop of Canterbury. There's nothing too interesting in the article, but either that picture makes him look like a giant yellow rabbit or I've truly lost it.


The Times also has this article. A lone journalist decided to try to track own the 8 Britons on Interpol's most wanted list. Four were found within an hour and a half (a fifth is thought to be dead). Not bad, eh? (unless you work for Interpol, in which case, what the hell is going on?)


The Independent has this article on Britain's chances of entering the Euro Zone. It looks unlikely to happen this summer - it is probably both politically and economically infeasible at the moment - but there will probably be a reconsideration in the summer of 2004. Some have argued that the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, is holding back in order to gain political leverage over Tony Blair, but even if this is true, there are still important economic motivations right now. The anti-Euro groups are also fairly convinced that Blair is trying to 'drag' Britain into the Euro, against Brown's wishes. (a good summary of the five tests is here)


Simon Jenkins in the Times why the time may be right for the Liberal Democrats to exit the wilderness and become a true force in British politics. Well, if everything goes right, anyway, as far as capitalizing on anti-war sentiment and becoming more New Labourite than Labour.

Welcome to John Ashcroft's America

The Rittenhouse Review has a troubling post on racial profiling ... and photography.

Scoobie Davis is back (or will be returning shortly).

Worth Reading:

The New York Times editorializes about Tom DeLay's telemarketing.


Michael Kinsley on the ethics of human shields and war.


The Washington Post editorializes about why the House Ethics Committee ought to be investigating Tom DeLay and Michael Oxley. Given the continuous vacillation between left and right, a pitched battle inside a Washington Post's editorial board meeting might be expected any day now.


George Will offers another inane defense of Miguel Estrada. For the last time, whatever offenses the Democrats may have committed against the nominee, that doesn't excuse Estrada's near-total evasion. Will notes that there have been plenty of previous judicial nominees confirmed with little or no judicial experience, like Estrada. If anything, this makes his unwillingness to offer even the most basic questions all the more damning, since it makes it impossible to judge his competence, let alone his opinion.

Thursday, February 27, 2003
Bob Graham is running. Well, it's not completely official yet, but it's just about certain. The article says that he "is waiting for a green light from his doctors before hitting the campaign trail," however.

I'm all in favor of getting a diversity of opinion in the primaries, but this is starting to get absurd. I can't even count how many Democrats are running any more. The article notes that Dodd and Hart are also considering running. There's also Wes Clark and Joe Biden while we're at it.

UPDATE: He's also not running for re-election to the Senate at the moment. It'd be nice if, y'know, he'd change his mind on that one. It's one thing to try to appear confident, but it's another thing to pull a Bob Dole. He still has plenty of time to change his mind, but it'd complicate things seriously if there's a bunch of Democrats who get into the race now based on his absence.

UPDATE to the UPDATE: Nine. This makes nine. If we get three more, does the fourth come free?

UPDATE to the UPDATE to the UPDATE: Is it too soon to start making stupid "dirty dozen" jokes?

UPDATE to the UPDATE to the UPDATE to the UPDATE: I have no announcement. I just wanted to assure you that there will be no more updates on this strand.

Worth reading: Richard Cohen on John Ashcroft's "execution bender."

Congestion charging, day 9 ...

No news is good news, I suppose. Traffic seemed to pick up a little bit near school today, but I'm not drawing any conclusions form my own, wholly subjective, observations.

From the lighter side, the Telegraph is is reporting that a 105-year old Daimler that has sat in a museum since 1947 has received a penalty notice for evading payment. It has been ascribed to a computer glitch.

The Transport Minister, Alistair Darling, is finally supporting the London charge, the Guardian reports (the previous government line had been a variety of cryptic evasions along the lines of "wait and see"). Congestion charging is now being considered for expansion to other cities. Durham actually started charging a couple of months ago, before London, to protect the historic city center (sorry, centre). A slightly different system is being considered for Edinburgh. A few other cities are currently considering plans.

William Saletan on the hypocrisy of Tom DeLay (it seems to be a fairly common charge lately).

Via Daily Kos and Atrios)

Exhibition baseball starts today. Woohoo!

(cricket, while less boring and confusing than most Americans realize, just doesn't cut it)

The Guardian report on the vote last night is here. The Times report on the vote is here.

124 Labour MPs voted against the amendment (the vote was 399-193). Blair could not carry the parliamentary majority from within his own party alone on this one. It is being referred to by some as the largest parliamentary revolt ever (making references too far back in history is problematic because of differences in the political system long ago).

59 Labour MPs vote against the final motion. This was less than enough to prevent Blair from carrying a parliamentary majority from within Labour alone.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003
Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 19 ... The Wall Street Journal, that anti-Republican rag (well, half-right, anyway), has an editorial (I don't susbcribe, so no linking) in the European edition today denouncing the Bush steel tariffs (remember those?) which were put in place in a bare-faced political move about a year and a half ago. Since then, the editorial quoted an estimate that 200,000 American workers have lost their jobs due to higher steel prices (such statistics are somewhat fudge-able given how hard it is to track the exact cause, but I don't think the WSJ is likely to seek an overestimated number). Mind you, there aren't 200,000 people employed in the entire steel industry, says the editorial.

Bush's re-election slogan, maybe?:

"George Bush: tough on terrorists, tough on feeding our children. It's time the little brats learned to fend for themselves. Vote Bush in 2004!"

Hell, even Jay Caruso of the Daily Rant thinks this is a dumb idea.

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 18 ...

Brad DeLong had a post worth readong on the response by the Bush administration to a letter signed by 450 prominent economists, including 10 Nobel Laureates. He was unhappy with the text of the letter, and pointed out that most of those who signed were "people who don't know very much about the federal budget, old Republicans who should have known better, young Republicans who I hope will soon learn better, political hacks hoping for government jobs, lobbyists hoping to get their names on lists of people owed favors, and a smattering of True Believers with fringe views."

There's also the question of who's not on there. I'm not going to say that it's worthwhile to weigh 450 economists versus 250 economists or 10 Nobel Laureates against none, but I find it a little odd that the Bushies couldn't convince Milton Friedman or anyone else of his ilk to sign.

Now there come's this post from Tapped, which points out that a good chunk of those who signed (they listed 24) don't fit the definition of professional economists.

As a student of economics, I will quibble with the notion that you specifically require a PhD to become a bona fide economist (not that I consider myself an economist ... yet). A few of the people on the list probably have at least a rudimentary idea of how the economy works. At the same time, you can't call yourself an economist and be one any more than you can call yourself the President of the United States and be him (or her). Ben Stein, Grover Norquist and Larry Kudlow aren't economists, no matter what they think of themselves.

In other words, part of the list is full of hacks and the rest is padding. It's not worth the paper it's printed on (if read online, I suppose it ain't worth the bytes).

I'm doing surprisingly well at this prediction thing (maybe I should become a professional pundit, no?) ...

Actually, when I said "it doesn't seem likely that the opponents of the motion will top 200 votes," what I actually meant was "the amendment will get 200 votes, plus or minus 1."

Yeah, that's it.

Anyway, if you want the Guardian's article on the vote, go here. A final tally isn't expected until later tonight.

UPDATE: 434-124 on the motion, 393-199 on the amendment. That's 101 not voting on the motion (including the speaker and the three deputy speakers, who do not vote except to break ties), and 67 not voting on the amendment. No word yet on whether Blair failed to carry the majority on Labour votes (pretty unlikely, though)

Congestion charging, day 8 ...

Well, the Telegraph is reporting that the fines are going to be about £1.5 million per week, which is about twice what was predicted. This is because 7,000 evaders have been caught per day, far more than the 3,000 that was initially expected. Some of this may be due to individual civil disobedience, with some people just refusing to pay the charge. That will likely bring the number down over time.

Of course, they're going to have a hard time collecting it if everyone is evading the charge by putting false license plates on their vehicles. The Independent is reporting that people are putting falsified plates on their cars to avoid getting charged. The result is that the bill either goes to no one or to the rightful owner of the license plate numbers. The report added that "TfL [Transport for London] said it was building up a database of 'rogue numbers' which will trigger an alert within their computerised system as soon as a car bearing that number plate enters the zone."

How this affects the long-term viability of the system depends on how quickly the problem could be combatted, I suppose. It could be fixed by putting up faregates that would block entry if the plates were not immediately verifiable, but this would be expensive, and could lead to all sorts of technical malfunctions and vandalism, not to mention that it would probably create the massive traffic backups that were feared to be a result of the charge itself around the edge of the zone.

The debate in the Commons on a motion on Iraq is going on this afternoon. Votes should start around 7 PM or so. I'd go and watch, but it's pretty much impossible to get a seat when important business is going on unless you've arranged it with your MP (I'm not a British citizen, so my MP isn't likely to help me with this). There is an article from the Telegraph here and from CNN here.

At the very least, Blair can count on the 115 who backed the amendment (80 of whom were Labour backbenchers - the rest were Tories and from the minor parties) as well as the 50-some Liberal Democrats (who support a different amendment) to vote for the amendments and against the motion. The numbers may creep up somewhat. A few people from the minor parties who didn't back the amendments will probably change, and a few Labour and Tories who did not want to be on record as supporting the amendment will find a reason to vote against the motion, though a few Labour backbenchers may also be coerced by the whips into changing their minds. Despite that, it doesn't seem likely that the opponents of the motion will top 200 votes (out of 659, minus four who usually do not vote). Blair should probably command a majority within his own party, and can count on the support of most of the Tories. Still, it will be a minor loss for Blair if he cannot command a parliamentary majority from within his own party (he can only lose about 85), and has to depend on the Tories to put him over the top, particularly given the huge majority that Labour started out with.

Of course, who knows if I'm as prescient as Tapped.

Lately, Blogger and SiteMeter have been more or less alternating days. One one day, Blogger won't work. On the next, SiteMeter will be malfunctioning. Somebody seems to have screwed up the calendar, though, since they're both barely working today.

Bugger, bugger, bugger.

UPDATE: And that's not even taking into account my often malfunctioning internet connection. With apologies to Charles Schultz, ARGGGGH!

Now this is the kind of religion I could go for.

2/25, 1:55 PM, EST - Tapped posts: "Any minute now, David Broder is going to write another column about the dire fiscal health of the states."

2/26, Washington Post - David Broder's column discusses the dire fiscal health of the states.

My home state (well, one of my many home states ... don't ask) is going to ratify the 14th Amendment ... 135 years after the rest of the country (well, what made up the country then) did. And this makes us the last state to do so.

Of course, even if it had been done then, it wouldn't have counted (due to a technicality, Ohio wasn't technically a state until 1953)

But what's 135 years between friends?

(via Pandagon)

Well, so much for reforming the Lords.

It's too bad that nothing will be done, although, as it has been pointed out, it's not like the Lords is a real impediment to democracy. It's just a waste of time and money.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Did Karl Rove commit perjury?

It certainly seems like it.

"For those who argue that President Bush's support for limiting jury awards has nothing to do with politics, a complication has emerged: His top political adviser, Karl Rove, has taken credit for the issue."
"The two issues, education and juvenile justice, were on his agenda list," Rove told Wayne Slater and Jim Moore in an interview for their book, "Bush's Brain." Rove, noting Bush's interests in "compassionate conservatism" and "faith-based institutions," said: 'Later, we added tort reform. I sort of talked him into that one.'"
"Rove's claim of responsibility for the tort reform issue is somewhat at odds with a deposition he gave during the tobacco lawsuit. Asked whether he discussed overhauling civil liability law with then-Gov. Bush, he replied: "I can't say that I did. But I can't say that I didn't. I do not recall. I know that tort reform was a significant part of his legislative agenda but it was not my area."

My question is this ... can we impeach Karl Rove?

(no, but it would be funny)

(via Atrios and Sam Heldman) (and, of course, thanks to Dana Milbank, the author of the article, and one of the few people determined to save the Washington Post from itself)

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 17 ... you can kiss consumer confidence goodbye. As Ken Goldstein, one of the economists cited in the article noted, consumer confidence tends to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If consumers think that the economy is doing badly, they'll cut back on their expenditures to conserve, which makes the economy worse. Conversely, if consumers think that the economy is doing well, they'll increase their expenditure due to the feeling that their income and welfare levels are safely ensconced.

Congestion charging, day 7 ...

The Central Line on the Tube is still shut. It should re-open shortly before the end of time.

The Guardian is reporting that Mayor Livingstone has promised that there will be no rise in the charge above the current £5 ($7.86). The article also said that "Traffic levels in central London were around 20-25% lower during the first week of congestion and around 20% lower yesterday. Mr Livingstone said that traffic would probably "creep back" into central London, but that even if 5% more vehicles entered the charge zone it would still be in line with the 15% reduction target he had set."

There isn't much of a history of civil disobedience in Britain, but I'm still fairly surprised that there hasn't been any protests, save for some non-payment. One would've thought that some people would have figured out a way to block the lenses of the cameras or otherwise disable them.

A few people, though, seem to have probably disfigured their license (sorry, licence) plates (sorry, tags) so that the charge gets diverted to someone else ... which explains this story in today's Metro (the story isn't online):

"A grandfather from Scotland who has not been to London for 38 years has been fined for dodging the congestion charge. Tony Kielb, 55, was stunned to receive the £80 ($125) penalty along with a letter telling him his silver Ford Focus was snapped by cameras last week. At the time, he was 400 miles away in Fife on a shopping trip ... Mr. Kielb last visited the capital in 1965."

(The Guardian article reported that 45 cases of people being incorrectly fined are known so far)

UPDATE: XfM radio is reporting that the relevant authorities think there may be some organized evasion of the charge going on. Nothing more concrete than that pronouncement, however.

Around the web today: Compare and contrast

Being a college student, I've found that one of the popular tactics used by professors and TAs to assign essay topics when they can't come up with anything for us to write about is the tried and true "compare and contrast X and Y." That said, compare and contrast the following op-eds:

1. This Adam Cohen op-ed in the New York Times displaying how the Bush administration is trying to pack the court, this Walter Dellinger op-ed in the Washington Post on how the Democrats need to approach the judiciary, and why they need to be proposing qualified candidates for Bush to nominate (makes sense - there's nothing to lose), and this godawful Benjamin Wittes op-ed in the Post defending the right of Estrada to stay silent and evade questions during his nomination hearing. The article is based on the following two premises: judicial independence is good, and the Democrats were picking on Estrada - they don't ask the same tough questions to everyone. As far as the first point, judicial independence is clearly good (if you want evidence, go see Souter), but Estrada stonewalled and evaded questions to the point that even his judicial competency is in question, particularly given his lack of a written history. As far as the second point, um, two wrongs don't make a right (three lefts do, but that's another story). Just because the Democrats decided to ask Estrada tough questions and not do the same to others doesn't give him the right to not answer the questions. And if you're still not convinced about why Estrada is a problem candidate, go read today's MediaWhoresOnline on just how Estrada got that "well qualified" rating from the ABA (hint: it's not cricket).

2. This intelligent Krugman column on Bush's credibility gap at home and abroad and this Richard Cohen column on the credibility gap of the anti-war movement (he some valid points - it's clearly not just about the oil - but proving a negative wrong doesn't make the positive true - the oil issue is still there - and the hardline anti-war movement has no real chance of providing the Democratic nominee in 2004). Cohen also fails to draw a line between the reflexively anti-war Kucinich and the anti-unilateralist Dean.

The New York Liberal Party has shut down. Good riddance.

I'm in favor of fusion voting, as, in theory, it should allow for greater support of third parties and force the two major parties to do more than pay lip service new and good ideas. The Liberal Party, however, had become a joke in recent years. It simply existed for the sheer purpose of patronage, and didn't bother espousing any actual political philosophy.

Monday, February 24, 2003
Since the CalPundit asked ...

er ... I have no idea if the proposed national road toll scheme would get charged on taxis too (I would assume that buses, cars using hybrid and other environmentally friendly engines, etc., which have been exempted under the current scheme, would probably get at least a cut rate). If the technology is viable for such a scheme - which I don't know enough about to judge - it is conceivable that the costs just get added to the taxi's meter (sorry, metre).

As far as reports ... the Guardian and the Telegraph both reported that fears of an increase back to normal levels of traffic after the end of the half-term school holiday (it's a British thing) seem to have been unsubstantiated so far. As far as what I saw with my own eyes, neither tube train was particularly busy (I got a late start). The roads near the LSE seemed a little busier than previously, but I wouldn't draw any conclusions from it.

Kevin commented that "These kinds of things frequently have a short term effect just out of shock value, but then traffic creeps back up and a year later it's back to its old level. Then what? Just keep raising prices, I suppose."

Which is true. But the shock value is pretty severe. Getting charged £25 (about $40) per week to commute is a significant amount (though parking is already a lot more expensive). Because the charge has to be paid every time you enter the zone - either ahead of time or on the day in question (you can't keep a tab), people will still have to think about it each time. The shock value won't fade too quickly. The charge is going to have to cope with other problems as well. The price will have to keep up with inflation, which won't be popular. Population growth in and around London is going to come into play, particularly with the rail system constantly breaking down and more people moving to the outer suburbs. Building better roads within central London to increase capacities and speeds isn't going to happen cheaply given the high costs of, well, everything here (and the money from the charging is going to pay for buses, which do a lot of damage to roads due to their huge weight). The charge has, for the time being, apparently opened up some excess capacity on the roads, but it can't last forever.

Also worth reading in the blogs:

The CalPundit has an post worth reading on why it's being a centrist on Iraq can be lonely. It's followed up by Matthew Yglesias here.

And for the record, I think that this may actually be the worst argument ever. (note for the humor-deficient: it was a joke)

Worth reading in the blogs: Schizophrenia is cropping up everywhere

Brad DeLong wonders why the Bush's economic policies seem to be so completely and utterly screwed up, and comes up with the following hypothesis - there are two factions - one interested in fiscal responsibility and the other, um, not - within the administration fighting it out to control economic policy, and each wants to present the public face that it is in charge. Such a schizoid policy process does not exactly make good economic health. The economy needs to be based on sound and reliable policies. The absence of either one can seriously undermine the health of the markets.


The Rittenhouse Review asks "Whatever happened to the Washington Post?", referring specifically to this conservative puff piece.

I've been reading the Post daily since I got to Georgetown two and a half years ago, and it's not like the newspaper has suddenly putting out conservative propaganda on a daily basis, like its crosstown neighbor, the Washington Times. For one thing, it hasn't been that sudden.

The paper has been getting increasingly conservative over the years, especially since the departures of the late Meg Greenfield, the longtime editorial page editor, the late Katherine Graham, the longtime publisher, and Ben Bradlee, the longtime editor in chief. Still, I'm not willing to write off the paper entirely.

While the paper has been getting increasingly conservative, it has also been getting increasingly schizophrenic (see, I knew there was a way to link these two things). For every hack like Ceci Connolly, there's an insightful and interesting Dana Milbank. For every conservative puff piece like the one that the Rittenhouse Review (rightly) complains about, there an interesting and enlightening profile about (well, no one liberal or Democratic) someone else. As far as the schizophrenia of the editorial page, I've already detailed it here, here, and here. But while I'm at it, the sports section is probably about as good as there is in the country (only the Boston Globe comes close), even though Kornheiser and Wilbon have been largely AWOL since "Pardon the Interruption" went on the air. The comics section (yeah, I admit to reading it) is about as good as it gets.

And while I'm at it, the Post still compares favorably to the Washington Times and is better than all but a handful of other daily newspapers in the US. Seriously, if you pick up a copy of a daily newspaper in any mid-large size city, the odds are that it will mostly be made up of wire reports and ads. And you still can't say that about the Post (well, not about the wire reports).

Yes, the quality of the print media has largely been going downhill in recent years, following whatever leads are handed to them, and not seeking them out on their own, it would seem. And yes, the Post has been getting more conservative, along with the rest of the print media. But I still believe that the Post is better than a lot of what else is out there. And that, I'm afraid, is a terrible condemnation.

Sunday, February 23, 2003
MSNBC currently has this article from Newsweek up on its front page. The subtitle asks "Is Tehran in cahoots with Al Qaeda? And if so, why doesn’t Washington do something about it?"

The subtitle is misleading about the content of the article, but it still suffices to say that the author has an axe or three to grind. The author seems to be wondering why the American government has failed isn't threatening war against a country that has the misfortune of being nestled between Iraq and Afghanistan (which of course means that there must be something big and evil passing through there, no?).The article notes a series of suspected Al Qaeda terrorists and sympathizers who may have snuck through the border between Iran and Afghanistan. Which makes Iran guilty of nothing more than running a shoddy border patrol and failing to track every person within its borders. Of course, the American experience with border control gives them something to learn from, right?

And as even the author notes, Iran has expelled suspected Al Qaeda terrorists in recent months. The Iranians wanted nothing to do with Al Qaeda and the Taliban when they were in control of Afghanistan. The article notes that, within the government, it has been made clear that the punishment for any support would be an execution. The actions of a few people to support them who may have done so does not taint the whole country.

I'm not seeking to defend Iran against legitimate complaints for one second - reform has been stifled by anti-democratic means, there has been significant evidence that the state has sponsored terrorism through Hezbollah, and the lack of free speech and treatment of religious minorities is often troubling - but none of these are mentioned in the article. There are plenty of reasons to have an unfavorable view of the current Iranian government. Al Qaeda just doesn't seem to be one of them right now.

I think it's been at least a week - probably closer to 10 days since we've had any rain here. At the start, it was pretty cold, but it's been warming up over the last couple of days, and it's now warm enough to go outside without a coat.

What the hell gives? This is supposed to be London, home of the eternal rain shower and barely above freezing temperatures.

Hmm. Maybe I should stop bitching about global warming. It's not without its advantages.

Well, the congestion charge is not a week old, and the government is already considering how to replace it with the next and greatest thing: tracking cars by satellite, reports the Observer (the Sunday edition of the Guardian).

The system would charge motorists between 3p [$0.05] a mile on quiet roads to £1.30 [$2.05] a mile in city centers. The system would work thus: "Cars will be fitted with tagging devices and their journeys followed by roadside detectors with a bill automatically dispensed to drivers."

While the congestion charge has worked so far, putting tags in every single car would seem to raise all sorts of civil liberties issues (although civil liberties are usually not as much of a concern in Britain as in the United States - CCTV cameras are pretty much everywhere, which can get unnerving at times). Once a tag can be used to track road use, it can also be used to track anyone suspected of being a criminal, adulterer, lazy, or simply the child of an over-eager parent. And that's besides the fact that the decentralization of tracking (as opposed to the current system) would be an invitation to every would-be hacker to try to figure out how to initiate a flaw in the tag so as to avoid being charged.

One of the fun things about SiteMeter is that it lets you track where people are referred to your site from. Nothing Orwellian, just fun (besides, it lets me find out who has linked to the site). Some people come from MyDD, some from The Rittenhouse Review (speaking of which, read this), The Daily Rant, Brad DeLong, Neal Pollack and a few other blogs. Some people, though, get here by using a search engine. And sometimes, I find that someone has gotten here by running a search like this.

Run a search for "statistics of cannibalism" on Google and I come in 35th (because of this post on the Kinsley article). But, um, who would run a search on that ... and keep going until you hit the 35th site?

UPDATE: Apparently I come in 10th for a Yahoo! search of the words: "LeBron James screensaver"

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Worth reading: The Republican Party is shifting to telemarketing to raise money.

I suppose it's only a matter of time until this turns out to be real.

The CalPundit writes that:

"Marbury vs. Madison is an 1803 Supreme Court case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Supreme Court is allowed to toss out laws that the Supreme Court thinks are unconstitutional. Got that? And in case you think this is a gross oversimplification, it's not, really. Basically, the Supreme Court gets to decide on the constitutionality of laws because it says it can - and no one ever really challenged them on it.

Judicial review is one of the cornerstones of the American constitutional system, but it's not written down anywhere."

In Article 3, Section 2, though, the Constitution says that "The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority." Now, this doesn't say the exact words "judicial review," but it seems damned close enough for me.

Now, I'll happily agree with Kevin that "The constitution is a marvelous document, but it's not really the basis of the American government. .... Rather, the real basis is the collective acceptance of the constitution's principles by the American people - even when the chips are down - and our willingness to constantly reinterpret it to fit our needs. That's what makes it worth the paper it's printed on."

The two of us will just have to disagree with Scalia on that one (whenever Scalia goes off on one of his tiffs that the Constitution should be interpreted exactly the same way as the Founders had it, I happily remember that, were we to still use the exact same legal code as existed when the Constitution was written, anyone carrying a balance on their credit card would end up in a debtors prison).

Friday, February 21, 2003
From yesterday's Kausfiles comes this quote (scroll down a little bit to find it):

"...there is a large hidden cost to relying on the Secretary of State as the one man who can keep Rumsfeld and Cheney in check. ... Does anyone think Rumsfeld and Cheney are scared to leave town?"

Um, Cheney hasn't gone anywhere other than his secret bunker in recent memory. Neither, for that matter, can I recall Bush doing significant travelling outside of the States in the last couple of months. Rumsfeld, however, doesn't seem to be scared of anything (which is, in its own way, disconcerting), let alone traveling. He went to Munich just two weeks ago, where he and Joschka Fischer traded barbs. If anything, it should be the Bush administration that should be scared of him traveling, though, now that he seems to be occupying the Paul O'Neill Memorial Chair as the Cabinet Secretary who either can't or won't stop speaking, even when he ought to.

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 16 ... It's based on, well, lies, damn lies and statistics (I had to use it sometime). They're fudging the numbers and cheating the people.

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 15 ... Stagflation? Not yet, but we may be getting there.

Thursday, February 20, 2003
Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 14 ... You can kiss the debt limit goodbye. The Treasury is pulling investments out of government pensions so as to keep the government from violating the debt limit (an actual default would pretty much cause an apocalyptic amount of destruction on global financial markets).

Is there going to be anything left for my generation other than a massive, crushing debt?

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 13 ... As Michael Kinsley explains it, Bush's complete lack of fiscal sanity is essentially based on the idea of eating yourself thin (not cannibalism, but eating until you have no choice but to lose weight).

And for the record, economic accounting mechanisms argue that the larger the deficit, the higher interest rates must go. This contracts the economy, and eats into GDP growth. And once GDP growth is gone, it's gone (you can catch up, but you can't recapture lost growth for the purpose of compounding). (like everything in economics, reality is a lot more complicated than that, but this is the simplified, bare-bones version)

(via Tapped and also posted pretty much on every other blog I check regularly)

From the spectacularly bad editing dept. ...

CNN (actually, it's an AP article) is reporting that Yale graduate students are going on strike. The article says that "Yale's roughly 2,300 graduate students receive stipends of $15,000 to $25,000, free tuition, health care and other benefits."

I am fairly certain that, in reality, the free tuition, stipends and health care go to the graduate students who also work as teaching assistants, research assistants, etc., and not to the entire graduate student population (to do so would be, among other things, insanely expensive). Otherwise, I've definitely got to think about going to Yale to do my graduate work.

Congestion charging, day 4:

The Guardian is reporting that the actual number of people who paid their fees is somewhat smaller than initially thought - closer to 87,000 than 100,000. The number of people being fined seems to have been revised downwards (from 10,000 on the first day and a similar number on the second day to about 15,000 total over the first two days). The Guardian article notes that it appears that the number of people entering the zones is less than expected, and shopping within the zone has declined, but fails to note that, as opponents of the scheme have pointed out, traffic is naturally slower right now because most primary and secondary schools have their mid-term break this week.

Two quick things:

I got searched today going into the Tube en route to the LSE. Well, not me so much as my backpack. One of the many, many guards who work for the Tube and usually stand at the gates and help passengers with baggage and malfunctioning gates was standing at the entrance to the station. He pulled me aside, made me open up all of the various pockets in my bag, and then took down my personal information (which included my name, address, birthdate, citizenship ... and height). I realize that this it was just a random check - the guard cited an "increased security alert" which I knew of but hadn't seen any changes in the Tube - but the whole thing made me feel more uncertain about travelling on the Tube than I had before.


While at school, I went to a presentation for a company that was hiring students for summer jobs. The information I had gotten sounded interesting, but the presentation made the whole company sound a little sketchy. The clincher, though, was when the woman doing the presentation pointed out that most of the positions were in the U.S., and "you will have time to travel around America, though clearly you can't see all 52 states in the time available."

Kieran Healy has an enlightening post up on academia.

But I think the economist's quote might actually be closer to the following: "I still don't see how that has anything to do with Friedman's Permanent Income Hypothesis, particularly given the logical direction of the covariance between the disturbance term and expected income. And more importantly, how will this help me get a job in investment banking?"

Continuing to vacillate between political extremes, the Washington Post has an editorial today criticizing the Congressional Republicans for forcing corporations to hire Republican lobbyists in order to get access. Or, as it puts it, "The GOP should start behaving more like the party of Abraham Lincoln and less like the party of Tony Soprano."

I just have to quibble with the title. It's not "A whiff of thuggery." It's a stench.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Congestion charging, day 3:

The Evening Standard is reporting a significant drop in business within the zone. Realistically, it's too early to draw any long-term conclusions as to future traffic or revenue levels.

£1.6 million in fines has been raised, and by my guesswork, about £1.1 million in paid charges as well. That should easily cover the £1.8 million that Transport for London (the parent company controlling the Tube, buses and other local mass transit systems) spent on a new logo. Idiots.

The Washington Post editorializes on the Kimberlin case. Kimberlin, you may remember, recently lost their lawsuit, which had challenged the right of prisoners in federal prisons to keep and use an electric guitar in their jail cell. The article confirms that, in fact, this is the same Brett Kimberlin who once claimed to have sold pot to Dan Quayle (the story, unfortunately, has never been confirmed).

The Post wants the decision overturned on the grounds of prisoner rights, feeling that, believing that it is a slippery slope to deny prisoners a privilege on the basis of the cost of a few cents. The editorial also makes the point that the defendants tried to defend their case on about the worst grounds possible - cost - and not as a localized rule or a nusaince-prevention means.

What the hell is up with the Post's editorial page lately? It vacillates between extreme conservatism on one day - backing a vote on Miguel Estrada - and extreme liberalism, defending the rights of prisoners on the next.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003
David Ignatius writes in today's Washington Post that Mugabe, will, in fact, be attending the Paris Conference, at the French invitation (despite EU sanctions that should have prevented Mugabe's travelling to Europe).

We can only hope - for the sake of the people of Zimbabwe, certainly - that, as Ignatius hypothesizes might happen, some within the government in Harare will use the conference as an excuse to launch a coup and overthrow the dictator.

Josh Chafetz raises an interesting question: If France (and Germany and Belgium) are telling nineteen other countries in Europe to sit down, shut up, and follow their lead, does that make France/Belgium/Germany unilateralists?

Congestion charging, day no. 2:

There are some reports of non-payments. The Evening Standard reported it as 10,000. About 115,000 were said to have paid. The 125,000 total is about half of the normal daily traffic within the zone.

Traffic was still pretty quiet, though not quite dead, within the zone today relative to the pre-congestion charging days of yore. The Tube ride in during the rush hour was fairly normal. The mid-afternoon ride home, though, was a lot more crowded than normal. There were about three to four dozen people standing in my car for my entire journey along the District Line. Usually there's about three or four people standing at that hour. Given the high propensity of the Tube trains to break down, though, the congestion charging may not have been the reason for the crowding.

The Washington Post is calling for an end to the filibuster on Estrada.

Their argument against the fact that Estrada clearly refused to answer any questions of any serious judicial weight is that previous Democratic nominees were similarly evasive.

Um, although I don't think this will change the mind of anyone already convinced one way or the other, but two wrongs still don't make a right (three lefts do, though).

Katherine Graham and Meg Greenfield must be rolling over in their graves.

Monday, February 17, 2003
The CalPundit is discussing tax reform.

Eliminating the possibility of a super-charged sales tax or a Value Added Tax (I have to put up with a 17.5% VAT here - it's a pain in the arse that has caused pretty much everything not covered by the Common Agricultural Program to be a lot more expensive than it would be in the States), he figures that "an income tax that doesn't tax savings, investments, or corporate profits" is a possibility. As he notes, not taxing savings tends to be very, very regressive, and requires serious adjustment to make it work. Dealing with investment taxation requires more thought and time than I've got space for at the moment.

But, as far as not taxing corporate profits, that would be a disaster. It's not that there's a large amount of revenue involved. And it's not that corporate taxes are paid by the corporations. There is a general consensus from empirical studies that the bulk of the tax gets passed on to conusmers via higher prices (though there is disagreement over how much of the tax is passed on). If corporate profits are not taxed, however, any individual could incorporate themself and thus legally avoid taxes. For that reason, the corporate tax rate has to be kept at a level broadly similar to the income tax (a relatively small difference won't have any effect). Eliminating the tax on corporate profits - which any corporation with a half-decent accountant can usually avoid, anyway - just isn't feasible.

Just a quick note (not particularly pro-war or anti-war):

I think it's probably worth pointing out - particularly given this past weekend's demonstrations - that the ideas of warfare existing on both sides of the Atlantic are probably wholly unrealistic. There hasn't been a large-scale war on U.S. territory in about 140 years - a long time no matter how you count it - and some of the oldest living Americans might have heard about the Civil War from the vague recollections of their grandparents, who were children at the time. So Messrs. Perle, Wolfowitz, etc. (not Powell, obviously), have never been at the warfront, and have little idea of the human cost of war. Just as the American supporters of war are probably underestimating the damage that it will wreak, many of the European opponents of the war are probably overestimating it. A good chunk of the European population was either alive during World War II, might remember the reconstruction that followed, or at least had a parent or grandparent who was around then. It's probably safe to say, though, that any war in Iraq will not lead to the same kind of civilian damage that existed in World War II - not even close. Thankfully, the US army hasn't tried to mount a wholesale attack into civilian areas since Vietnam - when it tried to do so on a limited scale in Somalia, it didn't exactly go too well. This shift is unquestionably a positive development. Expecting Dresden and Hiroshima to be repeated in Baghdad is just unrealistic.

Any war would likely resemble the campaigns in Bosnia, Kosovo, and moreso Afghanistan and the last Gulf War (one would hope it would follow the attack, but not the final results, experienced in Haiti, but I'm not exactly optimistic that war will be averted). The first Gulf War did cause a significant amount of devastation to civilians in Iraq, but two things are worth noting - there have been significant improvements in the technology used by the American armed forces since then and it would also probably be a lot easier to set up a western-run humanitarian aid infrastructure in an American-occupied Iraq than a Saddam Hussein-run Iraq, as occurred last time around. It would be interesting, incidentally, to know what the opinion of the Bosnian, Kosovar and Afghani peoples and their governments to American intervention would be. I haven't heard much of that.

Well, the congestion charge is up and running. So far there have been a few complaints about people being unable to pay, but there haven't been any apparent widespread failures. Mayor Livingstone could probably win back a few votes (many of which he has lost by supporting the project) were he to announce a grace period for the fines for this week. I don't know, however, if the software would support such a move (a lot of the public complaints that have asked for various adjustmenst to the system were met with responses that, while such and such a move would be beneficial, it isn't feasible given the technology ... it's either true or an easy way of ignoring the complaint).

I took the Tube into school today, and it was a little bit more crowded than usual. I've seen it a lot worse in the past, though, and the crowding may have been caused by any one of a number of factors.

The roads around the LSE, which are normally quite clogged, were emptier than usual. It made jaywalking a lot easier. Eyeballing it, there were about the same number of trucks and buses on the road as normal - and more taxis (the cabbies were probably being a little opportunistic, and I doubt that will last) - but far fewer private cars. For the first time that I can remember, large numbers of public parking spots in Central London were actually available.

The bus ride home was a lot faster within the zone, though it slowed down for the part of the ride that went along it. There has been a lot of concern that the congestion charging would lead to an enormous amount of traffic around the areas just beyond the zone (I live in one of them). The traffic was slower on the edge, but nothing unmanageable, and I've certainly seen it worse in the past.

Sunday, February 16, 2003
Well, it's C-Day here in London. Starting at 7 AM, the congestion charge - £5 ($8.20) if you drive a car into central London - goes online. That is, if the system actually works.

If you want my past thoughts and analysis of the situation, go here.

It should be interesting to see what kind of reaction this provokes. Transportation may be even nuttier than usual, given that two of the Tube lines are still shut, and the rest of the system never runs at full speed anyway. That is, if the system actually works.

Well, Kucinich is running. He stands just about no chance, given that he's too far left of most people, even within the Democratic Party, on most issues - except for being anti-abortion. He also is infamous for putting good old Cleveland into default in 1979 (although history shows that it turned out best for the city, and that he was probably blackmailed by a couple of local businessmen into making the move). (via MyDD)

This also raises the question of what will happen to his Congressional seat. It's a fairly Democratic, but also very culturally conservative area. The seat was held by a two-term Republican, Martin Hoke, until Kucinich unseated him in 1996, but his election was mostly due to the corruption trial of his Democratic predecessor, and his subsequent re-election against a challenger who had nearly driven the county to defaulting on its loans (I'm beginning to see a theme here). Conceivably, if Kucinich doesn't pull out in time, the seat could be competitive, at least if the right Democrat isn't found to replace him.

Friday, February 14, 2003
Ashcroft has recently overruled federal prosecutors in New York and forced them to try a dozen defendants under the federal death penalty statute, rather than having them face a maximum penalty of life without parole. He has said that he is doing this in order go more evenly apply the death penalty.

As I've already said, it just won't work. Regardless of the evenness of the application of the statute, the regional diversity in juries means that there will be some diversity in the actual sentencing. Nothing can be done about it (well a federal jury pool could be used, but that's not logistically feasible).

Now there comes this report from the New York Times, that, of the dozen defendants in New York, none are white (8 are black, 4 are Hispanic). Of the 28 defendants nationwide whom Ashcroft has ordered to be tried under the death penalty statute, a grand total of 2 are white. I don't have the statistics at hand, but I seriously doubt that only 7% of those tried for murder in the U.S. are white. (the sample may be too small to draw any conclusions from a binary regression, but the number is clearly absurd)

By the way, Ashcroft has previously claimed that there is "no evidence of racial bias" in federal death penalty cases. It appears that he's doing his best to fix that.

Thursday, February 13, 2003
"U.S. Not Pressing Sanctions on N.Korea for Now."

President Bush reportedly added "I don't see any point in sanctifying them."

Atrios is linking to an article that hypothesizes that the US might be tempted in the future to just inflate the deficit away.

This is perfectly feasible (well, not right now, given the current lack of maneuvering room for the Fed to lower the discount and fedfunds rates, but under normal circumstances, it would be possible). The government could just inflate the dollar, thus causing enormous losses to those holding US bonds. Within the US, this could be recouped somewhat (overall) because it would cause the dollar to depreciate, and exports would rise and imports would fall. Outside of the US, it would cause enormous contraction, and would bring many financial institutions that depend on the reliability of US financial notes to the edge of collapse, and send many of them over the edge. In other words, it's feasible ... if you want to cause an economic armageddon.

If the Bush administration were willing to chance a little fiscal responsibility, as opposed to its recent proposed deficit-busting budget, this wouldn't be an issue.

The Rittenhouse Review has a study up of French history that shows that the only war that France has actually won outright was ... the French Revolution.

Is it me, or is getting a little red-emergency-banner-happy?

I mean, it's not like every single new piece of news that comes requires an alert. The news that there was a verdict in the trial of that woman who was convicted of running over her husband with her Mercedes, I don't give a damn about. But there it was. At the rate they're going, the news alert banner sometime next week is going to be posting the final scores from LeBron James' basketball games.

But at least it's not another crawl. Yet.

Mickey Kaus thinks he's figured out who's behind MediaWhoresOnline (or at least where they are):

"The mystery of who runs Media Whores Online doesn't seem too important right now, I agree. But there's a big clue on the MWO site right now. ... I think I know that door! It looks like a Georgetown, D.C. door ... There's even a house number. ... Take it away, Lloyd Grove! ..."

Um, not so fast, Mickey.

The number next to the door is no. 217. Which - if it is a DC address, and there's no way of knowing for sure - places it either between B (or, where replaced, by Constitution or Independence) and C Streets, if on a numbered street, or between 2nd and 3rd street if on a lettered street. Under DC's grid plan and street numbering system, the numbers go up by a hundred, starting from zero, for every letter or number (the north-south streets are numbered, the east-west streets are lettered). For the record, Georgetown is very roughly bounded by 28th St., 40th St., K St. and W St., NW. So, at the very least, MWO isn't based out of a stylish Georgetown townhouse.

UPDATE: Thanks to The Rittenhouse Review for the link. If you want to see the whole blog, go here.

Inmates Brett Kimberlin and Darrell Rice have been denied the constitutional right to play the electric guitar in their jail cells.

I'm assuming that this is the same Brett Kimberlin who once publicly claimed to have sold pot to Dan Quayle while the future vice-president was still in law school (the story, unfortunately, remains unconfirmed). Kimberlin's story was famously portrayed in Doonesbury.

Carol Moseley-Braun has announced that she's running for president. She probably stands no real chance of winning the nomination.

The good news is that, as MyDD pointed out, this has the effect of giving the voters who would have been attracted to Sharpton a real alternative, and turns Sharpton into a Gary Bauer-style sideshow attraction rather than an actual factor. I'd like to think, though, that serving as a spoiler to Sharpton wasn't her primary reason for getting into the race, as MyDD said.

The bad news is that, probably - it's still way too early to say this for sure - Moseley-Braun will not be running for her old Senate seat. Peter Fitzgerald, who replaced her, has done a spectacular job of behaving petulantly and disagreeably towards many of his constituent groups. Her probable absence from the race leaves it without a clear idea of who the Democratic candidate might be.

The New York Times happily editorializes about the death of Total Information Awareness.

Safire is happy that it's dead, too. And for the record, he opposes the Patriot Act Part Deux.

Between getting rid of TIA and filibustering Estrada, it may be that Congress actually has some guts, spines, and brains after all. Who knew?

Now if they'd only stand up to Bush's idiotic economic planning, we'd really be getting somewhere.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003
I was watching the BBC evening news a few minutes ago, and they were discussing the results of a poll that they had commissioned (I can't find it online right now). It showed that 60% of Brits do not believe that the government has made its case for a war in Iraq. It also showed that 56% of Brits think that the government has proved a link between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Or, as the guy sitting across from me said: "All this proves is that 60% of British people are insane."

The CIA has reported that North Korea may have a missle capable of hitting the West Coast.

And the Bush administration is doing what about this, really?

"In purely economic terms, highway robbery has much to recommend it. Administratively efficient. Precious little waste. Probably few production distortions. And insofar as he managed to hold up the right stagecoaches, the highwayman's every theft would surely satisfy the Pigou-Dalton transfer principle. Could a modern-day tax administration, one wonders, perform so uniformly well?" - Frank A. Cowell, Cheating the Government, p. 157

(warning: contains economic jargon)

This article has been linked to in a couple of places I visited. It argues that Bush wants to overthrow Iraq to bust OPEC and make sure that the oil exporters keep using the dollar as the currency received for oil sold, not Euros.

It has a couple of problems. One of which is that it's completely paranoid.

It is based around this argument: "It will be logical for OPEC to switch to the euro for oil pricing. Of course that will devalue the dollar, and hurt the US economy unless it begins making some structural changes -- or use its massive military power to force events upon OPEC . . . Facing these potentialities, I hypothesize that President Bush intends to topple Saddam in 2003 in a pre-emptive attempt to initiate massive Iraqi oil production in far excess of OPEC quotas, to reduce global oil prices, and thereby dismantle OPEC's price controls."

It is logical that OPEC will switch to Euro pricing (it's actually logical that they shold acceptboth currencies, so as to build a more balanced currency portfolio, but it's feasible that they could switch entirely).

There are a number of problems with the overall scenario, though. First, the US could bust OPEC and there still won't be anything stopping its former members from switching to Euro pricing if they want to do so.

Second, oil prices probably aren't going to skyrocket much higher than current levels, unless the war goes very, very badly (this seems evident from comparisons between prices now and before the first Gulf War). OPEC also seems to be nearing one of its periodic production gluts anyway.

Third, oil production in Iraq probably can't be ramped up immediately, and the US knows this. One of the people quoted in the article hypothesizes a 150% increase above current production levels. Besides the fact that no one is actually sure how much oil reserves are actually in Iraq (due to differing measurement methods and the fact that no outsider has been able to verify the amount in a long time), the lack of an up-to-date production infrastructure means that Iraqi oil production will take a while to increase significantly beyond the levels produced in the oil-for-food levels.

Fourth, the American dollar was overvalued for a while, for a number of external reasons. The Treasury sought to keep it highly valued to maintain foreign investment in the US and to allow Asia and some European countries to safely devalue their currencies in the wake of the 1998 crisis. The dollar also remained overvalued due to a shift into dollars by people who previously held Japanese Yen (which has been abandoned due to deflation there) and people who held various European currencies - particularly the German Mark (DM), which was the central currency in Europe - who were waiting for proof that the European Central Bank would be a succesful inflation tamer. Those who fled the Yen have no intention of going back any time soon - the Japanese central bank is trying desperately to devalue the Yen to stimulate exports. Those who fled European currencies are going back to the Euro now that the ECB has been almost too successful at containing inflation. This shift away from the dollar was to be expected. Having multiple major reserve currencies is nothing new. The dollar depreciation is also probably reflective of the market being flooded with dollars as a result of the collapse of the Argentine currency board (though some of this has probably been recouped by increased dollar demand within Argentina).

Fifth, a small amount of depreciation can be healthy, since it increases exports and decreases imports. A large devaluation can be inflationary. The US dollar actually needs to depreciation somewhat, in order to shrink the huge trade deficit. What would be a large depreciation in most other countries, though, would be a small one in the US. This is because the US is largely a self-contained economy. Despite the enormous trade deficit, US imports and exports are actually a smaller share of GDP than almost any other developed country. And the largest share of that trade, by far, is with Canada, whose business and currency cycles are largely symmetric with its southern neighbor. The result is that it would take a massive depreciation shock (something in the range of 40-50% has been floated by some) to significantly affect the US economy. The recent depreciation, in fact, has barely budged the inflation numbers (any movement is also reflective of the unfortunate Bush tax cuts).

Sixth, given the precarious state of the European economy, a large appreciation of the Euro would, while increasing the prestige of the currency, do enormous harm to the ability of many European countries to sell their exports outside of Europe, and would hurtle Europe towards recession. Europe, as odd as it may seem, can't afford for the Euro to get much stronger than it currently is. If this were solely a contest about whose currency was used to buy oil, the Europeans would be just as opposed to a total shift to Euro pricing as the Americans are hypothesized to be. And they would be a lot more supportive of the war.

Seventh, I'm not entirely convinced about how much a switch to Euro pricing would lower dollar demand, for that matter. The oil trade is an enormous business, but this is largely because of the numerous middlemen involved. Relative to the whole of the global economy, the OPEC countries cannot be ignored, but they are hardly enormous. There are still plenty of other countries that want to hold dollar reserves now and in the future. Nor, for that matter, would it be sound for the OPEC countries to hold their reserves solely in Euros.

Eighth, the US economy (plus dollarized countries, it should be noted), remains bigger than the Euro-zone economy. Expecting the larger to become a satellite of the smaller is historically unprecedented, as far as I can remember.

Ninth, the author is relatively convinced that the UK will imminently be joining the Euro, and thus increase the Euro's strength. I'm going to play the I'm-in-England-right-now-and-can-see-things-firsthand card. I don't see it happening, given the current viewpoint of the British public (and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown). I've also got a number of reasons as to why I think Britain shouldn't go into the Euro right now, but that's another (long) story.

Tenth, creating a Euro-dollar exchange band is good ... so long as you keep it secret. The second the limits of the band are made public, speculators may try to break it so as to profit (though given the size of any relationship, I'm not sure it's feasible).

Eleventh, as the Bretton Woods system proved, having the whole world dependent on a single currency places enormous - and not necessarily sustainable - burdens on the country maintaining the reserve currency. Trying to maintain a single reserve currency would be bad if the US were actually doing it (it hasn't been) and would be bad for Europe if the ECB had to back it (if the author's fears come true).

The author is sound in some points. Principally that some of those fleeing the US dollar are doing so because of fears about the total lack of fiscal responsibility in the Bush adminstration, and that the OPEC countries shifting to Euro pricing would depreciate the American dollar. Also, the fact remains that any serious spike in oil prices, for whatever reason, is going to do a lot of damage to Japan.

The truth is (if you're still reading this) there's still an argument that the war is about oil - particularly given either North Korea or the fact that oil reserves are about the only thing separating Iraq and Syria - but it's not about the oil currency.

For the foreseeable future, the dollar and Euro are probably likely to orbit about each other, rather than having one as a satellite of the other (pardon the imagery). This is exactly what the Europeans wanted, and it's probably good for the US too in the long run (particularly given the weakness of the Japanese currency, a friendly competitor is needed to maintain stability). The Bush administration still needs to get a grip on fiscal policy, though, regardless of this.


Tuesday, February 11, 2003
Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 12 ... 10 Nobel Laureates and 400 other economists think that the plan won't work.

(by the way, the BBC and AP put up articles on this. But don't bother finding anything about this on CNN or MSNBC. It ain't there. That's the good old liberal media for you.)

Monday, February 10, 2003
The French, Belgians and Germans have vetoed a US proposal to send defensive military equipment to Turkey. This is, even by recent standards, spectacularly stupid.

First, if NATO doesn't send/sell/loan/etc. the equipment to Turkey, the US and Britain will, regardless of whether or not they plan to undertake a war on their own. Turkey is a trusted ally of all parties concerned, and there's no reason not to protect it against all contingencies, regardless of whether a war is imminent or not (and regardless of whether one supports the war or not). One way or another, the missiles and planes are going to end up in Turkey. Second, this poisons relations between France, Belgium and Germany with the US and Britain (not they were great before this). Third, this poisons relations between Turkey and France, Belgium and Germany. The Turkish-French relationship has already been strained by the opposition of France (and more specifically, Giscard-d'Estaing) to possible Turkish membership in the EU. The Turkish-German relationship has long been strained by German treatment of Turkish immigrants in Germany. The opposition to war can be justified, but opposition to defensive measures is plainly not going to get those who oppose war anywhere.

UPDATE: I was right. Rumsfeld has announced that the Turkey plans will go forward, NATO or not.

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 10 ... Unemployment statistics only measure those in the work force (those with jobs and those looking for work), and do not include those who have given up hope of finding a job. Bob Herbert thinks that this population is growing to a dangerously large size.

Which is why we need more tax cuts for the rich, and less investment in human capital, right?

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 9 ... deficits as far as the eye can see.

Sunday, February 09, 2003
(warning #1: the following post contains a serious amount of economic jargon. If you aren't interested in economics, go down to here)

(warning #2: I am an economics student. I'm not qualified to give financial advice, and the following post is just something that I noticed. Any activity on the market that you may undertake is your responsibility, and in no way my responsibility. Then again, if someone who has enough money to speculate on the currency markets is reading my blog, I'll have to set up a PayPal box).

The markets are predicting that the Canadian dollar is going to fall about 1% over the next six months. I think that's a bit wrong.

To a certain extent, the Canadian dollar has been undervalued for a long time, and is going to continue to be so in the future. I don't hold any expectations that purchasing price parity is going to miraculously appear in the next couple of months. That said, the Canadian dollar has significantly depreciated in recent years (even accounting for that it has gained about 5% of its value back in the last five weeks), probably to an unsustainable level (it peaked at C$1.59 to US$1 in mid-November). At the levels that it has been at, it has become noticeably cheaper for Americans living near the border - which is not a particularly large number - to buy much of their consumer purchases across the border, even accounting for higher sales taxes where they exist and the border charges. So some appreciation of the Canadian dollar seems possible.

There's more reason to believe that an appreciation of a few percentage points, rather than a depreciation of a point or two, is possible. Canadian GDP growth has been about 0.9% in the last year than the US level, and is expected to be about 0.6% higher in 2003 (the forecasts are from the current edition of the Economist). Admittedly, consumer prices are rising somewhat faster in Canada - forecasted at about 0.6% last year and 0.5% this year. Producer prices shrunk about 0.8% faster in Canada last year than this year, but this difference should be recouped by a 1.6% difference this year.

Finally, there's one last major reason why the Canadian dollar is likely to appreciate relative to the US dollar. Which is simply that the US policy of maintaining a strong dollar is dead for the time being (despite what John Snow said). With the lukewarm (at best) recovery from the recession, the US needs to let its dollar sink in order to encourage growth, to the chagrin of, well, everyone else. I can't foresee the Canadian government getting involved in a competition with the US to depreciate its dollar more. Given the current healthy economic climate in Canada, it's not necessary. And anyway, given the fact that the American economy is (very roughly) about ten times as large as the Canadian economy, intervening to force the Canadian dollar to sink faster than a depreciating American dollar would be extremely difficult, if not altogether impossible.

So, anyway, I think the Canadian dollar is probably going to strengthen relative to the American dollar. It has already strengthened by a few percentage points - the markets were predicting that it would weaken by a couple of percentage points by now a couple of months ago. It just seems to make sense.

But I could be wrong (notably, one needs to account for the difference in the producer and consumer price inflation rates, and the fact that forward rate predictions tend to be self-fufilling)

(note: The currency value is available here. The currency forecasts are from Thursday's Wall Street Journal Europe. The economic forecasts are from this week's Economist)

John Ashcroft (or the Justice Department, more broadly) has rejected the recommendations of New York prosecutors to forgo the federal death penalty in 10 prosecutions. This is intended to create a degree of national uniformity in death penalty prosecutions. The Times is reporting today that some think it may backfire, and may actually lead to some of those prosecuted under the death penalty statute to be found not guilty.

Regardless of whether the move actually will lead to greater unity in the application of the statute, trying to get uniform application of the death penalty nationwide is a lost cause. The jury system is intended to provide a body representative of the populations from which they are selected to judge the defendant's guilt. Where the people are less supportive of the death penalty, there is less likely to be support of its application in any particular case (although clearly there will be some volatility in this). To a certain extent, the effect of this is undermined by the fact that, in death penalty cases, the jury selection system is allowed to weed out those who oppose the death penalty on various grounds, which is clearly a departure from the original basis of the jury system (in extreme cases, as recently happened in DC in a federal death penalty case - the district has no death penalty statute of its own - this may lead to some difficulty in finding enough people to fill the jury). That said, the juries in any given area are going to reflect the public sentiment to some extent. That is simply inevitable. As the article pointed out, in the half dozen cases in New York in which the federal death penalty statute has been applied, no defendant has been condemned. So no matter how evenly defendants are tried under the statute, there is no way to guarantee that they will be sentenced evenly.

Friday, February 07, 2003

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 8 ... the last round of tax cuts has produced has led to the worst hiring slump in 20 years. And the president wants to make the same tax cuts permanent.

Thursday, February 06, 2003
"A high school senior says he earned an A+, not an A, and has sued to get the grade changed."

Hmm ... maybe I should sue Georgetown (the highest grade possible is an A, not an A+, and I feel that's, y'know, a violation of my civil rights or something. I'm outraged)

OxBlog has a pool running on when the war starts up.

I'm guessing March 22nd. Why? Because some of the student groups at the LSE have been preparing for a strike intended to paralyze the university. So I can't believe there's a chance that the war will interrupt my classes (but interrupting my exams, well, that'd just be a godsend).

Never, ever, bet against Murphy's Law (although, if you bet on Murphy's Law, Murphy's Law says that Murphy's Law will be false ... damned logical circles)

Now for something completely different ...

Go here to download a screensaver that uses your computer while it's idle as part of a virtual supercomputer in order to help run calculations that may eventually help find cures for cancer, smallpox and anthrax (it's the same idea as SETI@home, which helped filter through information on whether alien life exists ... though I don't think they've found anything yet on that one).

And anyway, download it ... since I can't (my computer is so old and feeble that it doesn't meet the requirements). (Via the Instapundit and the Bloviator)

Worth reading in today's Guardian: Timothy Garton Ash on why ambivalence on whether to invade Iraq is a perfectly reasonable position.

OK, so evading questions may not be cause for being unfit for holding a judgeship. But how about lying to Congress?

You'd think that it would do it, right?

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 7: This Washington Post editorial sums up what's wrong with the budget (though not the long-term problems that it will create, which are actually far worse).

In today's column, William Safire wrote: "It isn't the crime that gets you — it's the cover-up."

Rather ironic, considering that he was a Nixon speechwriter (and has spent a good part of his career since then defending the crook)

Wednesday, February 05, 2003
"Our only hope is that our pollution kills the terrorists." - Scott Adams (the guy behind Dilbert)

Articles on the failure in the Commons of the proposals to reform the Lords are here in the Independent (fiercely centrist), the Times (conservative but not Conservative), the Guardian (leftist), the Telegraph (conservative and Conservative) and the Evening Standard (conservative tabloid).

None of the papers deviated far from its traditional line. The Independent noted that Blair and the extreme left in his own party blamed each other for the failure. The Times noted that the votes were a setback for Robin Cook, the leader of the Commons (a separate post from the Prime Minister, it should be noted), who had publicly and vocally supported a wholly elected chamber. The Guardian article blames Tory MPs for strategically voting, not on the basis of their actual views, but in the hope of torpedoing the entire process. Both the Telegraph was concerned with the fact that this meant that Blair would likely be unable to maintain the promise of creating a more democratic and representative upper chamber, although the Telegraph would probably call it a failure on Blair's part when he fails to finish the crossword puzzle.

The overwhelming vote in the Lords to support a wholly-appointed house is clearly nothing more than an indication of the Lords own inclination for self-preservation.

Basically, the only consensus in all of the articles is that there probably won't be any major reform until after the next general election (no later than 2006), except possibly for turning out the remaining 92 hereditary peers. Blair's apetite for democratic reform has clearly soured in recent years (sorry for the analogy), particularly after the devolution to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The Scottish Parliament, particularly, has been something of a headache, having staked out positions to the left of Blair and his supporters on a number of issues.

Why Bush's economic plan won't work, no. 5: Brad DeLong has another graph, this one showing the projected deficits to 2050. Basically, Bush is doing everything he can to give tax cuts to the rich, and is doing so on the backs of my generation (which votes in relatively low numbers) and those younger than me (who can't vote at all). At best, it's just incompetence; at worst, it is completely duplicitous. (Via CalPundit)

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 4: When the government runs deficits, as it tends to do after tax cuts (conservatives will hem and haw about how lowering taxes raises tax revenues by heating up the economy, but it doesn't seem to work that way ... Reagan's tax cuts aren't are reliable comparison because they were tied to a badly needed simplification of the tax code that closed many loopholes - that is, the government was spending an enormous amount on military and welfare spending in addition to the tax cuts), then the Fed often has to increase its borrowing by selling new bonds through open market operations. This tends to draw investment away from the private sector, where it is possible to put investment to productive ends (the interest on a bond doesn't directly produce anything tangible). This will shrink the money supply and raise the interest rate and contract the economy, right at the time that an expansionary monetary policy is needed.

For someone avowedly so determined to avoid being a one-term President like his father, Bush is sure as hell doing his best to promote the same economic troubles that did in his father.

For that matter, excluding the 1970’s from consideration – the oil crises were caused externally and wreaked havoc with the economy – the last Democratic president to lead the U.S. into a recession was Harry Truman. Given the last Republican president to serve a full term and not lead the U.S. into a recession was Rutherford Hayes. So basically, Republicans claim to return money to the voters by lowering taxes, but end up costing them more money by lowering their income. And yes, I know that this ignores the whole "Congress passes the budget" thing (and it's just a correlation, not a clear causative link)

(note: this is an edited version of this January 14th post).

Why the Bush economic plan won't work, no. 3: The Daily Kos notes that Bush is already going to have to go back to Congress to raise the debt ceiling (this was last done in the summer, which is an extraordinarily short time in between hikes).

Kos is right about wanting to keep the hike as small as possible - not for political reasons, as he wants - but because it might finally force the Bush administration to improve its fiscal discipline. Opposing the hike, though, is not really feasible. It's not a matter of partisan politics (The AP article that Kos is linking to is wrong, as far as I'm concerned). Because the budget is already in place for this year, there cannot be any large changes to the tax collection and spending programs until the end of the fiscal year. The government, though, needs to continue to meet its obligations and roll over old debt. If the debt ceiling is not hiked when a hike is needed, the government will have to choose between either laying off a large chunk of its workforce (or paying them with IOU's, anyway) or defaulting on its short-term debt, which would more or less push large parts of the international bond and financial systems into a crisis, if not outright collapse (much of the world conducts some of its trades in U.S. financial securities, which are considered all but as good as actual dollars. Neither option is worth considering.

If the debt is about to bump up against the ceiling, the ceiling absolutely must be raised, but only enough to accommodate the government until the end of the year at most - preferably a shorter time, in order to gain political leverage.

Why Bush's economic plan won't work, no. 2:Atrios has a graph showing the Bush deficits. It ain't a pretty sight.

Another commentary on why Bush's economic plan won't work, no. 1.

Two prescient points:

1. "Some also argue that variations of the Bush plan work well in other countries. Actually, they don’t. Germany, Britain, and Japan are moving toward the current U.S. approach, and Italy and France are considering doing so."

2. "R. Glenn Hubbard, the outgoing chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers — predicts that the overall Bush tax plan will boost growth by only 0.2 percent a year while swelling the budget deficit." (Tapped and Brad DeLong recently criticized Hubbard for suggesting that the tax cuts would spur investment ... which is generally considered to be wrong. It also directly contradicted Hubbard's own writing.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003
The list of companies being boycotted because of their advertisements on Rush Limbaugh's radio show is here.

Short-run economic downturns may actually improve your health. So maybe Bushonomics is all part of a secret plan to make us all fit and healthy?

SiteMeter has a number of cool toys, including one where you can track where people are coming to your site from. Interestingly enough, I seem to be attracting a small (but hopefully dedicated) readership in the GMT +6 time zone, which is Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Tashkent (Kazakhstan ... but don't hold me to that). Actually, more likely, it's someone in India, which is a half-hour behind GMT +6 (the half-hour time zones don't show up on the map). I also have a readership somewhere in the GMT -2 time zone ... which is somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic (it crosses no land). So someone is floating onboard a ship somewhere, reading my blog. Who knew?

UPDATE: Upon further review, Tashkent is actually in Uzbekistan.

This is a pretty damning quote: "However you count, the market isn’t buying his program. And in the long run, the market’s pretty savvy."

Allan Sloan is explaining why Bushonomics is a failure (now and in the future). It's pretty obvious ... unless you work in the White House, that is.

With regards to Hitchens, there has been an annoying tendency in recent years for pundits known for being at one extreme of the political spectrum, and whom the public has lost interest in, to shift over time to the other extreme. Hitchens is only one example of this. Arianna Huffington and David Horowitz are others. This is done, quite simply, for reasons of ego, as the individual wants to get back into the public attention.

I'm not denying that a person can't actually change their views over time, but in the case of some pundits, the shift is so obviously geared towards getting his or her face back on TV that as to insult the intelligence of the public. Any solutions to this problem would be greatly appreciated.