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

The Plame Affair

It looks like things are settling down regarding the Plame affair. The wheels have slowly begun grinding on an FBI investigation that will probably take months, Bush’s buddies are in charge of the investigation, the White House is effectively holding Congressional Republicans in line to stifle calls for an independent investigation, fallout from the affair seems to be quite contained, and the story has dropped out of the headlines in many media outlets.

Even a day or two ago I thought that we’d find out pretty quickly who leaked, that they’d be fired, and that Bush would suffer a noticeable (though probably not enormous) dent in his reputation. The rampant hypocrisy and arrogance that lead to this episode would have to have some sort of effect on the Bush presidency, wouldn’t it?

But now I’m starting to consider another scenario: what if we don’t find out who leaked? What if the investigation takes months, and doesn’t ever uncover the leaker? Is it possible that this disgusting episode of political payback and security manipulation will quickly fade away with little long-term repercussions on the Bush presidency?


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Are We Booming Yet?

This week’s initial unemployment claims were up a bit to 399,000, suggesting that tomorrow’s unemployment report may not look too good. There have been a few other worrying signs about the economy lately: manufacturing activity may have begun slowing again a bit, and consumer confidence is falling, not rising.

We’re supposed to be in the midst of a couple of high-growth quarters right now, with many economists’ forecasts in the 4%-5% range for economic growth in the third and fourth quarters of 2003. Business spending is indeed up strongly compared to a year ago, but otherwise the preliminary data sure doesn’t paint a picture of a very strong economy.

I wonder if we’re starting to see a reversal of the pattern that has kept the US economy going over the past couple of years. In 2001, 2002, and early 2003, strong consumer spending made up for weak business spending. I’m starting to have the hunch that the second half of 2003 and 2004 will feature the opposite pattern – strong business spending with weak consumer spending, as consumers worry more and more about their debt and their jobs.

We’ll know a little more tomorrow morning with the unemployment report…


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Clark Interview

Josh Marshall interviewed Gen. Clark yesterday and the entire interview is available here. Here’s a sample, but there’s much more and it’s worth reading:

And this administration comes in with an ideology that blocks its ability to see, articulate, and resolve those problems. It’s an ideology that’s a sharpened sort of right-wing Republican party ideology. It has no real intellectual base to it. It’s just the ideology of a party. By intellectual base, I’m talking first, trickle-down economics. No reputable economist stands up and says, “Trickle down economics reallyworks.” Because we know the marginal propensity to consume of people who are making $100,000 a year and less is much higher than the marginal propensity to consume of people who are making $350,000 a year and more.

So therefore when you say you’re going to give money to the rich so they’ll make jobs for the poor — that’s not a very efficient way of producing jobs in the American economy.


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Rush Limbaugh’s a Big Fat Idiot

Many of you probably have seen his comment from Sunday:

“I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”

Get it? McNabb’s success, and presumably Michael Vick’s stellar play last year, was all a part of the giant liberal media conspiracy.

Here’s McNabb’s reply:

“He said what he said. … I’m sure he’s not the only one that feels that way but it’s somewhat shocking to actually hear that on national TV. An apology would do no good because he obviously thought about it before he said it.”

Which I think, if you parse it, basically translates to “Limbaugh’s an idiot and so is ESPN for hiring him, but if I got upset everything some idiot said something stupid about minorities on TV there’d be no time for practice.” Here’s Limbaugh’s magnanimous response:

“All this has become the tempest that it is because I must have been right about something. If I wasn’t right, there wouldn’t be this cacophony of outrage that has sprung up in the sports writer community.”

Philadelphia won 23-10 over the 2-1 Bills. Rush is a jackass, and so is anyone who takes anything he says seriously.


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For some time, reader Scarlet Pimpernel has been sending me pictures of various messages that someone or some group has been posting near Camp Pendleton on I-5 near San Diego. For example, the “we’re all wearing the blue dress now” picture. That’s a phrase I meant to use more, as in Whoever leaked Plame’s name is wearing the blue dress now. I posted another pointed photograph here. And now, the entire collection is available online–updated as new banners arrive–at


P.S. Speaking of Plame, this CalPundit post is an absolute must-read. Here’s a sample from a former CIA agent [significant snipping follows; see CalPundit’s post for the full exchange]:

She has been undercover for three decades, she is not as Bob Novak suggested a CIA analyst….So the fact that she’s been undercover for three decades and that has been divulged is outrageous because she was put undercover for certain reasons…For these journalists to argue that this is no big deal and if I hear another Republican operative suggesting that well, this was just an analyst fine, let them go undercover. Let’s put them overseas and let’s out them and then see how they like it…I say this as a registered Republican. I’m on record giving contributions to the George Bush campaign…His entire intent was correctly as Ambassador Wilson noted: to intimidate, to suggest that there was some impropriety that somehow his wife was in a decision making position to influence his ability to go over and savage a stupid policy, an erroneous policy and frankly, what was a false policy of suggesting that there were nuclear material in Iraq that required this war….it sickens me to be a Republican to see this…We saw this in the 70s with Marchetti and others and Philip Agee who outed officers and they were killed…The principle’s established: do not divulge the names of these people. In my own career trainee class I did not know Joe’s wife last name; we went by our first initials….To realize this is a terrific woman, she’s a woman of great integrity…

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What the Hell….

…is wrong with Texans?

A high school band director has apologized for a halftime performance that included Adolf Hitler’s anthem “Deutschland Uber Alles” and a student running across the field with a Nazi flag.

In fairness to the majority of Texans, the shool and its band were roundly booed.


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Best of the Blogs

I got a bit behind in my reading, so here are some highlights from my catching-up:

  • Dan Drezner says that academic faculty are liberal and gives a compelling example from the humanities. Nevertheless, this argument is tiresome. While I’m not in a position to say one way or the other with regard to the humanities, I’m perfectly willing to believe that such departments are mostly liberal. Even so, this does not render them useless or even bad.

    Liberal or not, read Steinbeck, Bellamy, Wright, and London. They all give compelling looks at the world as it was as viewed through a particular lens. Read Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, and Rand too (each is an important thinker whose works are common subjects in undergraduate curricula). Balance your Rawls with Nozick.

    In my experience, professors are interested in, actually excited by, students who demonstrate an ability to engage in synthetic and critical–not leftist–thinking. And we’d do anything to see more competent writing, from any perspective. I have never seen anything that would prevent a smart conservative student from succeeding at the undergraduate level, which is the source of most criticism (“liberals are poisoning the minds of our youth!“).

    There may be a surfeit of liberal influence at the graduate level in the humanities, but that is likely offset by the center-Right views in most economics departments and business schools. I’m unsure about the typical composition of a political science department, but even assuming they are disproportionately liberal, the University of Chicago is also disproportionately (to the number of faculty and students, not necessarily to the structure of their arguments) influential and conservative. (Note that Matt Y. says that Harvard’s philosophy department is liberal. But also see Crooked Timber. Speaking of Matt, he also has a Plame piece up at TAP).

  • Charles Kuffner updates us on Texas redistricting events–they are in conference and the House and Senate are working from markedly different maps, meaning there will be delays, which is a good thing.
  • Dave Neiwert explains why the Freepers may have to rethink Bush’s anti-tort positions.
  • The non-evil Roger Ailes reports on more Conservatives who may not be so anti-tort (at least, not anti-tort until their ridiculous case crumbles into dust).
  • Jesse has the relevant law that senior (or top) administration officials apparently broke in the Plame outing.
  • Marshall is also at the epicenter of Plame information, and this post is particularly amusing.
  • TBogg has a roundup on why people are Republicans (ok, all the answers are from Democrats, but that doesn’t make them untrue). Chujoe may be onto something with this explanation: “I had sex once, but it wasn’t all that great–why should anybody else enjoy themselves.”


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A lot of discussion is happening today about the Valerie Plame affair, both in media and in the blogosphere. I’ve even started seeing the word “impeachment” come up in a few places, such as on Brad DeLong’s blog.

But there are really two separate questions one can ask about this situation regarding impeachment, and I haven’t seen the distinction really made yet. The first question is whether this crime falls into the category of “impeachable offenses,” particularly as it was defined during the 1990s. My answer is that I’m not sure, yet, and that we probably need more information. The second question is whether, if the press and public answer yes to Q #1, Bush could actually face impeachment over the issue. I think the answer is absolutely not — there is zero probability of that happening with the current Congress. Given the answer to Q #2, is it even relevant to ask Q #1?


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The Birth Tax, Revisited

A friend posed an interesting question to me last week: exactly how much of the astonishing change in the finances of the US government is due to Bush, and how much is due to forces outside of his control? Put another way, exactly what is the magnitude of the tax increase that Bush has deliberately levied on future Americans?

The astonishing collapse of this nation’s government finances over the past three years is well known, and was discussed in some detail in this earlier post by AB. In January of 2001 the US government was expected to run a total surplus of $5 trillion between 2001 and 2010. But now our best guess is that the US will actually run a total deficit of $2.2 trillion through the end of the decade.

It turns out that it is possible to estimate exactly how much of the change is due to which factor, using some CBO data that I referred to in my earlier post about Cheney’s lies on MTP. I spent some time yesterday doing the necessary calculations.

Part of this change is nobody’s fault. The estimate from early 2001 was just plain wrong, in two ways: it relied on overly optimistic revenue projections, and didn’t count on a long and lingering economic downturn. And of course, another part of the discrepancy is due to expenses related to 9/11, which also can’t be blamed on Bush.

However, once additional interest expenses are taken into account, and assuming that the tax cuts currently set to expire are extended (as both President Bush and the Congress say they would like to do), deliberate decisions by Bush and Congressional Republicans are the source for $4.1 trillion of the change in the government’s finances through 2010. Here’s the breakdown:

Total discrepancy between 1/01 estimate and 8/03 estimate: $7.2 trillion

Change due to earlier misestimation + effects of recession: $2.6 trillion

Change due to higher spending for 9/11-related expenses: $0.4 trillion

Change due to higher spending unrelated to 9/11: $1.6 trillion

Change due tax cuts in 2001, 2002, and 2003: $2.5 trillion

The graph below shows the total change in the US government budget forecasts, decomposed into the four elements given above. If you assume that Bush and the Republicans had no control over the top two items, you still must conclude that they deliberately caused the majority of the change in Americans’ future tax burden.

One interesting thing to note (and pointed out by AB in the earlier post about the birth tax) is that it is not just the tax cuts that have created the shortfall. Government spending has also been growing at breakneck speed. Increased spending for things unrelated to 9/11 will total roughly $1.6 trillion by the end of the decade. As noted by the Cato Institute, President Bush must share the blame for this. He has never vetoed a spending bill while presiding over double-digit increases in spending every year of his term. Compare this to President Reagan, who vetoed 22 spending bills during his first 3 years in office.

Look at it another way. What would budget deficits be if Clinton-era policies were still in place? The following graph shows three different scenarios: Clinton-era rates on both taxes and spending (though spending is augmented by 9/11 expenses); Clinton-era taxes but Bush spending levels; and Bush taxes and spending.

Hopefully this should put to rest the question of whether the terrible state of the US’s long-run finances is due to Bush, or to bad luck. It is unequivocally not due to bad luck.


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