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

Anonymous Economist: Real Wages are Rising?

Lawrence Kudlow wants us to believe real wages are rising rapidly:

According to the New York Sun, one economist at a large Wall Street firm, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested that the recent broad-ranging economic expansion is a plus for the Bush-Cheney campaign. “Wage growth is outstripping inflation handily, and often doubles it in most white collar jobs. I’d say the data trend belongs to the President at this point”.

Why didn’t Kudlow identify which New York Sun article he was referring to? And did Kudlow let his readers know the New York Sun is a “conservative newspaper” that even gets the wrath of conservatives such as Eugene Volokh? But why would any economist speak only on condition of anonymity? Perhaps because nominal hourly earnings have risen by a mere 1.3% over the past 6 months, while consumer prices have risen by 2.5%.

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Impugning Joseph Wilson’s Crediblity

The following passage from Susan Schmidt’s July 10, 2004 article in the Washington Post are being used by many of Bush’s defenders to suggest Joseph Wilson lied:

Wilson’s assertions – both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information – were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report. The panel found that Wilson’s report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson’s assertions and even the government’s previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address.

Odd that Ms. Schmidt omitted the context of Wilson’s remarks best summarized by the June 8, 2003 statement from Condoleezza Rice:

We did not know at the time – no one knew at the time in our circles – maybe someone knew down in the bowels in the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery

In other words, the infamous 16 words had been called into question even before Mr. Wilson weighed in on this fray.

Josh Marshall has already effectively taken Ms. Schmidt to task for her assertion that the CIA never questioned the reliability of the African intelligence. As one reads the various attempts to smear Mr. Wilson from Andrew Sullivan, Jonah Goldberg, and in particular Cliff May (who apparently still believes those 16 words were true), it might be helpful to read what Mr. Wilson actually said.

So as I read Mr. Wilson’s account, he never said he alone debunked the Iraq-Niger story. He was putting forth his own findings, which did show that Dr. Rice’s 6/8/2003 statement was false. As far as who recommended Mr. Wilson to the Vice President’s office, this was not material to Mr. Wilson’s account, but I guess it is part of the excuse-mongering for this Robert Novak piece.

So why is it that Mr. Goldberg, Mr. May, and Mr. Sullivan are so willing to sacrifice their own credibility (assuming Goldberg and May ever had any crediblity) in their desparate attempt to smear Mr. Wilson? I guess now that their case for invading Iraq has been tarnished by the Senate Intel report – it is critical for Bush defenders to claim Bush was not responsible for the misleading Intel in anyway.

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Work Yet to Do

The Democrats have some work left to do in getting across the point that I linked to yesterday: Bush has a long record of position-changing and general hypocrisy. This is apparently not widely recognized:

WASHINGTON – President Bush is viewed by more American voters as decisive and arrogant than Democratic rival John Kerry according to an Associated Press poll. Voters are more likely to see Kerry as intelligent.

…Two-thirds in the poll think the president is decisive, the biggest character advantage the president has over Kerry in the poll. But a majority, 52 percent, also say they think Bush is arrogant.

At least there’s that arrogant thing going the right way. And Kerry is seen as intelligent… though I’m not sure whether that will win or lose him votes in the election.


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The Monster Turns on its Creators

France and Germany (especially Germany) were among the principal architects of the EU’s “Monster” — the Stability and Growth Pact, an agreement written in 1992 wherein all countries joining the euro are required to keep any budget deficits below 3.0% of GDP. The economic reasons for imposing such a limit are slightly complicated, having to do with the fact that a country in a currency union (like the euro countries) can essentially “export” the bad side-effects of large budget deficits to the other members of the currency union. The political reasons for the Pact are less complicated: In the early 1990s Germany wanted to raise the bar for entry into the common currency area, hoping to keep out (or at least delay the entry of) certain “fiscally irresponsible” countries like Greece and Portugal. The plan worked, sort of; Greece and Portugal were not kept out of the euro, but they were forced to rein in their budget deficits.

The problem is that now it is France and Germany who are breaking the 3.0% limit on budget deficits, while Greece and Portugal are abiding by them. According to the Pact’s provisions, if you break the limit for three years in a row then the European Commission is supposed to levy fines on the offending country. We’re not talking about a little slap on the wrist here, either; the fines could be in the tens of billions of dollars. The monster takes big bites.

Today these fines came one step closer to reality. The finance ministers of the EU countries had sought to prevent the European Commission from levying the fines, but today these efforts were ended.

Why is this significant? No one likes the Stability and Growth Pact, and the rules may well be amended or dropped in the near future. But nevertheless, we may soon see a country fined for running excessive budget deficits, probably for the first time in history.


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Oak Ridge

Today, the president gave a speech in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, proclaiming once again that the invasion was the right thing to do:

Faced with polls that show many believe the terror threat against them has increased due to the Iraq war, Bush argued that wars against Iraq, Afghanistan and al Qaeda have made them safer, as has diplomacy that led Libya to surrender its weapons of mass destruction programs.

“Today because America has acted, and because America has led, the forces of terror and tyranny have suffered defeat after defeat, and America and the world are safer,” Bush told employees at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where components of Libya’s nuclear program are being stored. [Emphasis mine]

“Oak Ridge National Laboratory” rings a bell — where have I heard of that before? In this post, about a 60 Minutes II interview of former Iraqi WMD expert Greg Thielmann, who said this:

Powell said: “Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries even after inspections resumed.”

“This is one of the most disturbing parts of Secretary Powell’s speech for us,” says Thielmann … “Experts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the scientists who enriched uranium for American bombs, advised that the tubes were all wrong for a bomb program…It turned out the tubes’ dimensions perfectly matched an Iraqi conventional rocket.”

Houston Wood was a consultant who worked on the Oak Ridge analysis of the tubes. He watched Powell’s speech, too. “…I was angry at that,” says Wood, who is among the world’s authorities on uranium enrichment by centrifuge. He found the tubes couldn’t be what the CIA thought they were. They were too heavy, three times too thick and certain to leak.

That Oak Ridge. The one where the scientists said that parts of the administration’s pre-war WMD claims were nonsense. I guess I’ll say this for the president: it took some gumption to go to Oak Ridge and reassert the WMD line. Of course, the WMD story has now devolved from “WMD” to “WMD related program activities” to “the capability to produce WMD.”


P.S. Here’s the relevant part of Bush’s speech today:

In fact, according to former weapons inspector David Kay, Iraq’s weapons programs were elaborately shielded by security and deception operations that continued even beyond the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. So I had a choice to make: Either take the word of a madman, or defend America. Given that choice, I will defend America every time. (Applause.)

Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq. We removed a declared enemy of America, who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder, and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them. In the world after September the 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take.

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Al Qaeda, the US Elections, and a Little Logic

Item #1: This past week the Bush administration warned that Al Qaeda is seeking to “disrupt the democratic process” by launching terrorist attacks in the US during the period leading up to the November election.

Item #2: Nearly everyone (at least nearly all of those whose opinions I’ve heard) thinks that a terrorist attack in the US is likely to have the effect of causing people to rally around the President, boosting his popularity, at least temporarily. In the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, it seems likely that people will prefer stability to a change in leadership.

Item #3: Al Qaeda probably knows about item #2.

Now apply some logic. Items #2 and #3 imply that Al Qaeda would only attack the US if they want Bush to remain president. Furthermore, item #1 implies two things. First, if it is true Al Qaeda wants to attack the US before the election, then this is our first evidence that Al Qaeda does indeed want Bush to win the election. Second, item #1 tells us that the Bush administration knows this.

Let me repeat that. These three items taken together mean that the Bush administration knows that Al Qaeda would rather have them in office than a Kerry administration. Think very carefully about what this means before you go about your business.


p.s. Of course the real October surprise could be this (we should credit Greg for being the first with this story around these parts), but this doesn’t affect the logic above in the slightest, and our conclusions remain unchanged.

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Terrorism and the Spanish Elections

My wife has spent most of her adult life studying, living in, and writing about Spain. This weekend she wrote a letter to the editor of our newspaper, in response to yet another article containing the oft-repeated fallacy that the Spanish people “surrendered to the terrorists” with the elections in March. I thought her letter was worth sharing:

On Friday this paper ran an AP story asserting that the “political success” Al Qaeda enjoyed in Spain following the Madrid train bombings could lead to a similar attempt to influence the US election. The implication that Spaniards caved to Al Qaeda’s demands following the worst terrorist attacks in their history is incorrect and insulting to the Spanish people.

Spain’s former Prime Minister, José María Aznar, made an overwhelmingly unpopular decision by sending Spanish troops to Iraq. Not coincidentally, the opposition candidate ran on an anti-war platform, vowing to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq if elected. As a result, polls showed a very close race in the days leading up to the terrorist attacks. Furthermore, in the days following the bombings, the prime minister attempted to deceive the Spanish public by placing blame for the attacks on ETA, the Basque separatist group, and by trying to suppress information regarding the bombings’ true authors. The prime minister’s attempt to mislead Spanish voters on the eve of the national elections smacked of craven political manipulation, and voters responded by ousting his party.

Some, including Donald Rumsfeld, have accused the Spanish people of cowardice in the face of terror. This accusation is unfair and untrue; Spaniards know what it means to live with terrorism. Since 1959, more than 800 people have died in terrorist attacks by ETA. Spaniards have responded to terrorism bravely, by speaking out and organizing spontaneous demonstrations, sometimes at great personal risk, following ETA strikes.

Spaniards take democracy very seriously. It’s a freedom they’ve only come to enjoy recently – the memory of Franco’s forty-year dictatorship still informs discussions, both public and private, about democracy and its incumbent responsibilities.

The attacks in Spain did not decide the outcome of the election; Aznar’s policies did.

The truth about the events in Spain does not fit with the worldview of many people on the right, so they (with the acquiescence of the US media) have been busily trying to promote their incorrect version of events instead. Don’t let them.


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Edwards as the Anti-Cheney, Part II

Last week I explained one reason why I think Edwards makes the perfect anti-Cheney. MoveOn has taken this idea and turned it into a nice web ad. You can take a look at it here.


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Fafnir on Torture

Quoting Fafblog is becoming a regular feature here of late. They have a knack for exposing the fundamental absurdity of an issue:

“But Fafnir I do not want to read about torture” you say because you are a lazy whining person. “I want to read about gumdrops an rainbows and Presidents who are made of gumdrops an rainbows an use them to blow up the terrorists.”

No you should really read it it is a very important issue now go or I will have Giblets hit you with the waffle again.

… It’s so easy to kind of sweep it all under your brain an think “Well theres nothin more to be said an nothin more to think about it” cause let’s face it nobody wants to think about their government participating in horror. An right now the level of torture talk has gone from “Torture: Bad!” to “Torture: Bad, But Not As Bad As Saddam Hussein” to “Torture: Bad, But What About Ticking Bombs?” to “Torture: Bad, But Not Necessarily Proof That The People Who Ordered Torture Are Bad” to “Torture: We Still Talkin Bout Torture?” to “Torture: Bad?” An before we get to “Torture: Sorta Like Mowin Your Lawn” I think we should try as hard as we can to wake up.

And don’t miss the Fafblog interview of Ralph Nader, in which Ralph says

NADER: Listen: it’s all very simple. When Democrats take dirty corporate money from dirty corporations, it taints them irrevocably. When I take money from the same corporations, I eat it and then excrete it in the form of pure white energy which then is added to my aura of holy goodness which I will than use to fight those corporations.


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