Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.


  • Ampersand has an excerpt worth reading from a letter Rachel Corrie wrote to her parents, shortly before her death. (Regardless of which side you take on Israel/Palestine, there is unarguably much suffering in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; Rachel Corrie first gave up comfort and then her life to do what she thought was right).

  • Via ArgMax, Forbes has a poll on the question “Which do you think is the best blog about the economy?” Right now, “None of the Above” is leading with 59% of the vote. Perhaps a sea of AB readers are protesting my exclusion from the list? (In fairness to ArgMax, his blog is much more closely focused on the economy than mine). And while we’re on the subject of ArgMax, read this “Do Deficits Matter?” post (if you don’t have time, the answer is yes).

  • Kos says it well: “In yet another stunning victory for Bush and his economic team, first-time jobless claims remained above the magic 400,000 mark for the fifth straight week. In the week of March 15, 421,000 lost their jobs. Even better news for Bush (and bad news for his enemy — the American working people) was the more salient 4-week moving average [also above 400,000]“. See this for more.

  • A lot of you have seen the Clear Channel Funded the Pro-War Rallies, notably the Atlanta one, stories moving around the web and Chicago Tribune. Credit to Digby who last Thursday (3/16) looked at a picture from one of the rallies and asked presciently “Where did all those exact same sized flags come from, anyway? Who paid for them?”.
  • I’m already very tired of hearing about “embedded” reporters. I believe that is code for “shown what the Pentagon wants them to see”.

  • Mortgage rates are up. Car and home buying–fueled by low rates–are two important sectors propping up GDP these days.

  • And if you didn’t read it before, read this post from yesterday.

  • Also, if you missed them, you should really see the re-captioned safety posters.

  • Via Joe Conason, this BBC piece on Blix, who said, “We had made rapid start. We did not have any obstacles from the Iraqi side in going anywhere. They gave us prompt access and we were in a great many places all over Iraq…[the Americans] lost patience some time at the end of January or the beginning of February…I somewhat doubt that when (the Security Council) got the resolution last November they really intended to give under three-and-a-half months for inspections.”


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Nobody likes us, but there’s some optimism on Iraq

This Pew Report, America’s Image Further Erodes, Europeans Want Weaker Ties…But Post-War Iraq Will Be Better Off, Most Say, is worth reading. Here’s a good graph, but there’s a lot more there.

Another interesting quote from the report: “More than seven-in-ten of the French (73%) and Germans (71% ) see the Iraqi public benefiting from the end of the war. Only in Russia and Turkey is there significant pessimism that war may worsen conditions in the region.” Here’s hoping the French and Germans are right. Another fairly optimistic sentiment: Russia and Turkey are the only two countries that see the war destabilizing the Middle East.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias points out that it’s a bit hard to understand how, given the quote above, France and Germany could still oppose the war. I also think it’s a bit odd and spent some time pondering the question. Upon reflection, it’s not entirely inconsistent. Here’s the actual survey question: “If Iraq is disarmed and Saddam Hussein is removed from power by the U.S. and its allies, do you think the people of Iraq will be better off or worse off in the long run than they are now?” Whether or not the French and Germans are contradicting themselves depends on how long the long run is, and also what the responders took “and its allies” to mean. If accurate, though, these 70+% numbers suggest that more–and more deftly handled–statesmanship may well have been able to win UN, or at least NATO, approval for a second resolution with “automaticity”.

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Angrier Bear

Not so long ago, I echoed CalPundit’s sentiment that “… the Standard really a more interesting, more unpredictable, and basically more honest conservative magazine than National Review?”. Well all it takes is the impending start of war for the Standard to go off the deep end. Here’s a typical hyperbolic quip by the author: “the United Nations, which is now a theme park for anti-American hatred”. Of course the writer is Austrailian, making him a member of one of the “group of 30″ nations supporting–but not committing troops to–the U.S. (ok, I’ve read somewhere that the Australians will send either 100 or 1,000 troops, but I don’t consider either of those numbers to be “support”). Fortunately, Ezra Klein is here to give a thorough Fisking to this silly essay.

This is important, people. Repeat this until it sinks in: opposing the war with Iraq is not the same thing as hating America. Failing to grasp this makes you an idiot. It’s the classic syllogism mistake:


All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore Socrates is mortal.


All men are mortal.
Ann Coulter is mortal.
Therefore Ann Coulter is a man.

So while those who do in fact hate America likely oppose the war, opposing the war does not mean that you hate America. Use some logic, damn it. Similarly, those who support the war don’t ipso facto hate Muslims.


Note: why do I say “likely”? Well, even many on the Right argue that bin Laden’s objective was to start a Holy War between the West, primarily the U.S., and the Muslim World, so some of those who hate America may support the war. Assume OBL’s objective was in fact to start such a war. This makes him pro-war, but it really, really, doesn’t make make him pro-American.

UPDATE: The syllogism mistake nearly perfectly describes House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert, who in response to criticism of the president by Tom Daschle said “[Daschle's] comments may not undermine the president as he leads us into war, and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close.” I like Josh Marshall’s take on Hastert: “Almost needless to say, Senator Daschle is a Vietnam vet, Air Force intelligence, if I remember correctly. Hastert, during the same years, was otherwise occupied.”

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New Feature

If you look to your left, you will see a new “topics” section. Whenever I post a multi-part series on a particular topic (these will generally be economic topics), permanent links will be collected there, so that you can easily find the relevant posts, should you be so inclined.


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Make Sure to CC John Ashcroft

Missing Bill of Rights copy recovered (after having been missing for 138 years).

More seriously, this is a subject on which I can actually agree with Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit):

…because it’s pretty obvious that, barring a miracle of some sort, we’ll be at war shortly. And my next advice is equally applicable to war supporters and opponents: Keep your eye on the civil-liberties ball, and don’t be distracted. I predicted on September 11 itself (and in this column just a couple of days afterward) that bureaucrats would take advantage of 9/11 to slip through items that had been on their wishlists for years, and they did. There’s now a “USA Patriot II” bill floating around in draft form. I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone try to slip it through Congress while everyone’s attention is on the war.


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Budget Deficits

The OMB (the White House agency with responsibility for the budget) pegged the upcoming budget deficit at $300b–this is basically a direct projection based on the fact that the deficit for the first four months of fiscal year 2003 was $98b (so 12 months should be just under $300b). This of course does not include any expenditures for the war, nor for any post-war nation-building in Iraq. The White House has, somewhat famously, refused to attach a number to the cost of war. Here’s Ari Fleischer in late February on the topic:

“There is unquestionably a responsibility on the Executive Branch to provide to the Legislative Branch an estimate about what the war would cost, what the humanitarian operation would cost. And that is a responsibility the administration takes seriously…Because we take it seriously, I’m not in a position to speculate what the number may be.”

Recently, CNN and othersreported that the White House would make a $95b supplemental request to cover the war. In any event, CNN now has an interesting piece on various estimates of the likely costs of the war.

So that puts this year’s deficit at at least $400b (and there are more tax cuts to come soon). As a percentage of GDP, $400 billion will approach 4%, levels only seen in 83-86 and 91-92, neither being great stretches for the U.S. economy. Indeed, the 91-92 recession bears much of the blame (credit?) for the elder Bush’s loss to Clinton in 1992.


P.S. The CNN story also has a great graph on “Budget Deficits as a Percentage of GDP”, but note that the projections do not include the cost of the war or any rebuilding of Iraq.

UPDATE: See also this editorial in today’s Washington Post, which ends with “To approve a budget plan including large tax cuts without attempting even to estimate the cost of the war would be breathtakingly irresponsible.” I’m not sure why they wrote “would be” instead of “is”.

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Funny or Scary?

Via Ampersand, this link to a collection of safety posters and instructions from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with new and improved captions explaining what they mean. They are hilarious.

After about the fifth, I thought they were real pictures, actually used by the DHS. By about the tenth, I was sure a sketch artist had made them up–a parody of safety placards, not actual placards that the government would really use. Well, sure enough, they are real, copied from the website (the same site that introduced you to Duct TapeTM brand chemical and biological weapons repellant).


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From Bold to Audacious

You may recall not so long ago when everything President Bush did or proposed doing was “bold”. As in “the President’s tax package may severely damage the economy and wreak havoc on the poor, but it is a very bold plan”. Apparently, the new word is “audacious”, as in “In a series of audacious moves, President Bush–eschewing diplomacy–is straining or breaking relations with long-time allies and setting a dangerous precedent for unilateral agression.”

Atrios has the “audacious-watch” here. And for what it’s worth, I can add the NYT’s David E. Sanger who in a piece today writes:

What has surprised the world is the audacity with which Mr. Bush has pursued that vision — to the point today of drawing up detailed plans for making Iraq an American protectorate, for as long as it takes to transform it into a peaceful nation.


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