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Daily Howler

Somerby is good today, if I bit more perturbed by the media than usual (“EXTRA! IT’S TIME FOR NAGOURNEY TO GO: Adam Nagourney needs to be fired for his work in this morning’s New York Times”). Why? Nagourney, whose work I often like, is faking quotes. Here’s what Nagourney has Clark saying (quote doctored to make it look like Clark “appeared to struggle”):

“No, I always — I’m a fair person. And when this administration’s done something right, well, if they were Russians doing something right, Chinese doing something right, French doing something right or even Republicans doing something right, I’m going to praise them.

“Right after 9/11, this administration determined to do bait and switch on the American public,” he said. “President Bush said he was going to get Osama bin Laden, dead or alive. Instead, he went after Saddam Hussein. He doesn’t have either one of them today.”

Note that not only are there no ellipses anywhere, the closing quote in the first paragraph is also missing. Why no ellipses? Because ellipses do not imply time travel.

From the transcript of the debate, the latter half of the quote (“Right after 9/11 …”) precedes the first half of the quote and is in response to a different question!

Now let’s take a look at Nagourney, as he “struggles” to make sense. This is an exact quote of Nagourney’s first paragraph in the article:

Rough and intensively, and if the congress should have authorized $87 billion which would help the democratic candidates of president, here discussing, other Sunday one harms on the intelligence to maintain president Bushs of the invasion making of Iraq the effort of war.(*)


(*) Actual text, translated into German, then French, then back to English using BabelFish. With sufficient creative license, it’s easy to make anyone sound like they’re “struggling.”

UPDATE: Thanks to Jay, I see that the NYT has added this “correction”:

An article on Monday about a debate in Detroit by Democratic presidential candidates referred incorrectly to a response from Gen. Wesley K. Clark: “Right after 9/11, this administration determined to do bait-and-switch on the American public. President Bush said he was going to get Osama bin Laden, dead or alive. Instead, he went after Saddam Hussein. He doesn’t have either one of them today.” The comment responded to a question about where he stands on the war in Iraq, not to the question “Are we to understand that what you’re saying now is that those things you have said that were positive about the war was not what you meant?”

I think that’s a pretty sorry excuse for a correction in that it completely mis-states the original error and hides the intentional mendacity of the authors.

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If you know what a robots.txt file is, take a look at the White House’s. Why would they do this [disable outside searching and archiving of White House material related to Iraq]? Here’s a tidbit from Google’s FAQ [emphasis mine]:

Google takes a snapshot of each page examined as it crawls the web and caches these as a back-up in case the original page is unavailable. If you click on the “Cached” link, you will see the web page as it looked when we indexed it. The cached content is the content Google uses to judge whether this page is a relevant match for your query.

When the cached page is displayed, it will have a header at the top which serves as a reminder that this is not necessarily the most recent version of the page. Terms that match your query are highlighted on the cached version to make it easier for you to see why your page is relevant.

The “Cached” link will be missing for sites that have not been indexed, as well as for sites whose owners have requested we not cache their content.

Thus, absent someone or some organization periodically visiting and cataloging the contents of the White House’s web page, you won’t know the next time that “combat operations” magically becomes “major combat operations” (see also Spinsanity). Nice. I should learn to never go to work without my copy of 1984–I’m sure I could quickly find some parallel scene. Via CalPundit.


UPDATE: Via Amazon’s new super-cool search inside the book feature:

Winston dialed “back numbers” on the telescreen and called for the appropriate issues of the Times, which slid out of the pneumatic tube after only a few minutes’ delay. The messages he had received referred to articles or news items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, or, as the official phrase had it, to rectify. For example, it appeared in the Times of the seventeenth of March that Big Brother, in his speech of the previous day, had predicted that the South Indian front would remain quiet but that a Eurasian offensive would shortly be launched in North Africa. As it happened, the Eurasian Higher Command had launched its offensive in South India and left North Africa alone. It was therefore necessary to rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother’s speech, in such a way as to make him predict the thing that had actually happened.

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Conventional Distortion

David Broder, alternatively heralded as the Dean of the Washington Press Corps or the Standard Bearer of Conventional Wisdom, is really stretching logic in his column in today’s Washington Post. It’s not quite an attack on Dean, but it’s a clearly intentional distortion of facts that’s fairly obviously intended to belittle Howard Dean’s support and advance GOP strategy.

First, Broder comments on Dean’s prodigious lead in New Hampshire (38% Dean, 21% Kerry, 11% Clark), and then adds this:

By contrast, Dean was essentially tied with Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri among prospective Iowa caucus-goers.

Is that really such a contrast? Iowa is tailor-made for Dick Gephardt (he has the backing of Iowa unions, has long professed his love of ethanol, is from a neighboring state, and won the Iowa caucus when he ran in 1988). Sure, Dean also supports ethanol, but I doubt that Dean ever addressed the issue until this year (you can’t win in Iowa if you’re not big on ethanol, which in no small part explains Lieberman and Clark skipping Iowa). The point: being tied with Gephardt in Iowa is quite an accomplishment for a governor from the Northeast. But this point is minor in comparison to Broder’s next bit of silly reasoning:

Since Dean has emphasized his early opposition to the war in Iraq as his calling card in the race, it is easy to assume that his antiwar stand and his criticism of Lieberman, Gephardt, Kerry and Edwards for supporting the resolution authorizing the use of force must account for his strong showing — especially in New Hampshire.


[snip–Broder talking about how New Hampshire is not a pacifist hippy commune]

The fact that Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire are not reflexively opposed to our involvement in Iraq is underlined by the poll finding that, by a margin of 54 percent to 38 percent, they favor a nominee who “reluctantly supports” Bush’s $87 billion aid request over one who opposes it — while Iowa and South Carolina voters lean slightly the other way.

If it’s not his early antiwar stand that is powering Dean, what explains his lead in the Jan. 27 primary? The Democracy Corps poll strongly suggests it is the fact that the New Hampshire primary electorate — including many of those independents — is overwhelmingly liberal on social issues on which Dean has identified himself. By a margin of 76 percent to 18 percent, they favor civil unions giving gay couples the same legal rights as married couples. Dean signed the first such law as governor of Vermont. Two-thirds of those likely to vote in New Hampshire also approve of gay marriage.


In short, it is cultural forces — far more than anything else — that explain Dean’s appeal in New Hampshire, forces that may tug the other way when the race moves to more typical battleground states.

Get it? New Hampshire voters like Dean in spite of his Iraq position! Broder intentionally conflates Dean’s pre-war opposition with “reflexive opposition to our involvement in Iraq.” Wrong. That’s Dennis Kucinic’s view, not Dean’s. Broder says that New Hampshirites’ views on Iraq differ from Dean’s, but let’s listen to Howard Dean, in his own words:

DEAN: We have no choice [but to approve the $87 billion for Iraq], but it has to be financed by getting rid of all the president’s tax cuts. Even though I did not support the war in the beginning, I think we have to support our troops. The $87 billion ought to come from the excessive and extraordinary tax cuts that this president foisted upon us, that mainly went to people like Ken Lay who ran Enron.

That sounds a lot like, perhaps even exactly like, “reluctant support” to me.

Broder wants you to think New Hampshirites like Dean primarily because he is in favor of gay marriage. Why would Broder bend, stretch, and distort to make such a point? Apparently, because the GOP wants him to. From Saturday’s Washington Post:

Republican lawmakers and conservative activists are making plans to turn gay marriage into a major issue in next year’s elections … Party strategists said the issue could be a bonanza for mobilizing conservatives to fund campaigns and turn out to vote, particularly in the South.

Note that I agree with Atrios, that this position may cost the Democratic candidate some votes, but that they “can’t out-gaybait the Republicans” and that they should therefore “Do the right thing, and explain why.” My point is that for Broder to claim that this issue is the source of Dean’s support is, at best, feebleminded.


P.S. Speaking of Dean’s avowed support for ethanol subsidies, Matt Y. has an interesting take on Dean’s free trade views: Dean is a free-trader at heart, as evidenced by his record, but he’s paying lip service to protectionist sentiment to keep Gephardt from getting the still-open AFL-CIO endorsement. Matt might be right–Dean just needs to stall till Gephardt drops out. Assuming the field narrows to Dean, Clark, Lieberman, and Kerry, Dean is surely the front-runner for the endorsement.

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A story in today’s Washington Post, Iraq Survey Fails to Find Nuclear Threat: No Evidence Uncovered Of Reconstituted Program, should put the final nail in the bogus aluminum tubes for uranium-enriching centrifuges claim. As the story makes clear, US experts opined before the war that the tubes were neither suitable for, nor intended for, use in such centrifuges.

According to records made available to The Washington Post and interviews with arms investigators from the United States, Britain and Australia, it did not require a comprehensive survey to find the central assertions of the Bush administration’s prewar nuclear case to be insubstantial or untrue. Although Hussein did not relinquish his nuclear ambitions or technical records, investigators said, it is now clear he had no active program to build a weapon, produce its key materials or obtain the technology he needed for either.

Among the closely held internal judgments of the Iraq Survey Group, overseen by David Kay as special representative of CIA Director George J. Tenet, are that Iraq’s nuclear weapons scientists did no significant arms-related work after 1991, that facilities with suspicious new construction proved benign, and that equipment of potential use to a nuclear program remained under seal or in civilian industrial use.

Throughout, the story is consistent with claims made by former State Department Director of the Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs Greg Thielmann on 60 Minutes II last week (which I excerpted here). The Post story is also a compelling addition to Sy Hersh’s in-depth piece last week for the New Yorker.

As numerous observers (most vigorously, Bob Somerby) point out, the primary bias in the media is laziness–it’s much easier to write a story that someone else has already written. So expect more articles similar to this one. In this case I think that the White House, by not releasing the Kay Report, is adding a layer of intrigue and thereby fueling the media flames.


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Dwight’s Back

Making my regular visit to Wampum to skim this week’s Flashback Friday, I see good news. In addition to the usual top-notch material from MB, Dwight Meredith is now contributing to Wampum. He’s got a great post up on why Bush should lose, but may nevertheless win (no primary opponent; tons of cash; fractured opposition).

Near the end, Dwight makes a point I’ve tried to make before, but with more eloquence:

Let me make it perfectly clear. Howard Dean can not beat George Bush without the money, activism, energy and support of the DLC Democrats. John Kerry can not win without the active support of labor union members now in the Dick Gephardt camp. Joe Lieberman can not win without African Americans. Wes Clark can not win without the support now held by Howard Dean. A southerner like John Edwards can not win without the support of the Greens. None can win without the support of all of the others. The margin for error is just too thin.

Ben Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence said, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” That was true for all Americans in 1776. It is true for all Democrats and liberals in 2004.

Some might deride this as an “anyone but Bush” strategy, but let’s instead call it the “every single Democrat/Liberal counts” strategy.


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Unintelligently Designed Policy

Time to check in on the goings on in my home state. This update on Texas’ latest antics comes via Bob Park’s weekly newsletter:


The Texas Board of Education has scheduled the science textbook vote for November 6. The books they approve will be used by Texas students for several years and will influence the choice in many other states. The Discovery Institute, based in Washington state, pushes I.D., and seeks to dilute arguments for evolution. C.A. Quarles, the Chair of the Texas Section of APS, is gathering signatures on a letter to the Texas Board of Education. For info Texas scientists and teachers should e-mail

I wonder, if an intricate and complex universe is “proof” of “Intelligent Design”, then what does the existence of asinine policies like this prove?

If anyone has a website for the petition drive, let me know and I’ll link to it.


P.S. Here’s Park on the elevation of Mother Theresa to sainthood (this can be taken as evidence of witty design):

So the Vatican sent a crack team of investigators to India, where a woman said a beam of light from a picture of Mother Teresa had cured her of cancer. The team pronounced it a genuine miracle. But her doctor says no one asked him. He insists it was a cyst, not cancer, and he cured it with medicine. Who’s right? I asked an old classmate, Dom Credulo, who knows a lot about miracles. “Do you think this is a miracle?” I asked. “Of course it’s a miracle,” Dom snapped, “how many times have you seen a picture emit light and cure cancer?” He had me there.

UPDATE: Charles Kuffner has this posted now too, and he has some links that put it into context.

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Cutting Corporation Taxes

As reported in today’s NYTimes, congressional Republicans want to reduce the top corporate tax rate. The result would be to reduce federal tax receipts by $60 billion.

I won’t even get into the problems associated with increasing an already massive budget deficit. However, it is worth noting other two points. First, collecting a smaller share of tax revenues from corporations effectively means a lower tax rate on the individuals who own those corporations. We all know who they are. Is this really what we want to do?

Second, take a look at these historical trends in corporate tax collections, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The pictures speak for themselves, I think. The CBPP has a nice summary of the issues involved with corporate taxes in the US. Check it out if you’re curious to know more.


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How Much was Really Pledged in Madrid?

Powell has done some serious arm-twisting, and numerous Iraqis have been running around like hucksters in Madrid over the past two days to wring some pledges of money out of the rest of the world to go toward Iraq’s reconstruction. Typical headlines are now reading “Iraq donations reach $19 billion,” and that impressive sounding figure is what the Bush administration will certainly push. Added to the US’s $20 billion, it sounds like they made it a good portion of the way to their goal of $55 billion.

But there’s something funny about that number, because it largely consists of loans, not grants. The Bush administration is fighting tooth and nail with the US Congress to get the US’s $20bn to consist entirely of grants, with no loans (an issue discussed in this earlier post). They argue that loans don’t do Iraq any good – what they need is outright grants. In fact, they feel so strongly about it that they’re threatening to veto.

But most of the $19bn figure pledged in Madrid is also in loans. Of the $19bn, the IMF has pledged $4.3bn in loans, the World Bank $5bn in loans, Japan $3.5bn in loans, and Saudi Arabia $500 million in loans. Several other pledges were not specified as to whether they are grants or loans, which suggests that they may well also be loans. But according to the Bush administration, loans are of no use to Iraq. Furthermore, the $19bn total includes $400 million ‘pledged’ by Canada and Korea that has already been spent.

So the real pledges may not even reach $5bn. The Bush administration worked hard to lower expectations as far as possible in the days before the conference – a figure as low as $6bn was quitely voiced before the meeting. So not even meeting this very low goal makes the Madrid fund-raiser look like a pretty miserable failure.


Update: News reports are now saying that only $13 billion were raised from sources other than from the US, not $19 billion. I’m not sure which of the loan committments mentioned above they’ve started excluding, but I would guess that some or all of the IMF and World Bank’s offers are no longer being counted in the total.

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Who Won in Tuesday’s Abortion Vote?

We know who lost: women. But who won, politically? Republicans or Democrats? Barry, at Alas! a blog has a series of intriguing posts on the latest “partial-birth” abortion ban and abortion in general. (For your reading convenience, Barry also has the posts indexed here.)

In this post, Barry makes a decent case that this will harm Republicans by shifting the debate to the first trimester, where abortion rights have much stronger support. If this happens, Republicans will face a tough choice: anger their fundamentalist base (they have the numbers and the motivation) or suburban supporters (they have the money):

What’s going on is, “partial-birth” abortion is a great issue for Republicans, and they donÂ’t want it to go away. It lets Republican Congresscritters show their pro-life base that they’re fighting the good fight and trying to save babies. It lets them portray Democrats who favor banning late-term abortions, but who want a health exemption, as extremist baby-killers. And by concentrating their fire on “partial-birth” abortions, the Republicans get to avoid dealing with the controversial and electorially dangerous issue of first-trimester abortions.

You see, as long as the fight against “partial birth” abortion consumes pro-life attention, Republican politicians get a pass from proposing any serious legislation attacking first-trimester abortion rights in the states. And that’s very important to the GOP, because a serious fight against first-trimester abortions would be terrible for the Republicans; it would not only galvanize Democrats, it would create a serious split in the Republican party between pro-life and pro-choice Republicans.

There’s a lot more at Alas.


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Insurance and Lemons

Atrios is starting a series on insurance markets and common misperceptions about them. Part 1, here, discusses insurance in general and introduces two topics that are crucial to any discussion of insurance: moral hazard and adverse selection. Atrios’ Part 2 is forthcoming, but will address the specifics of health insurance; it should be interesting. And if I had to guess, he’ll be tying it to the current grocery workers strike in California, and perhaps more broadly into an argument for national healthcare.


P.S. Here’s my version of Atrios’ primer:

Adverse selection basically reflects the observation that people will make choices in rational ways. For example, healthy people choose managed care plans; unhealthy choose plans with more extensive coverage. So, managed care companies will have lower costs, at least in part, because they are insuring a non-random sample of patients that is disproportionately healthy. This does not mean that managed care is not efficient, but it means that any study claiming that managed care is more efficient must control for the selection issue.

Moral hazard refers to the observation that people will take more risks when they do not, because of insurance, bear the full costs of that risk. Here’s a simple analogy: consider fire insurance for your home.

For example, adverse selection says smokers will buy more insurance than non-smokers, because the smokers have private information that their house is more likely to burn down. Moral hazard says that smokers are more likely to be careless about leaving lit cigarettes lying around, precisely because they are insured–so much of the cost of that negligence is born by insurers.

UPDATE: Why do I mention “Lemons” in the title? Atrios’ insurance discussions are likely to draw on the famous work of Nobel Laureate George Akerlof and his result from the classic, The Market for Lemons, that asymmetric information can lead to market failure. Akerlof alse recently made this statment:

“I think this is the worst government the US has ever had in its more than 200 years of history It has engaged in extraordinarily irresponsible policies not only in foreign policy and economics but also in social and environmental policy.”

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