Paul Krugman's connection with reality has taken an early summer holiday, leaving astounded readers with today's "Heart of Cheapness". His theme - the US, under those faux Compassionate Conservatives Bush and O'Neill, doesn't spend enough on foreign aid to Africa. Readers learn that as a percent of GDP, the US spends less than Canada, Sweden, and other bastions of socialist thought. How our spending compared to theirs during the enlightened era of Bill Clinton, especially when the Dems controlled the Congress in '93-'94, is left unanswered. And Krugman's surprising policy prescription: No new tax cuts! Rather than repeal the estate tax, raise the exemption so it only hits the very, very rich (above $5 million). Bravo, Paul - his demonstration of compassion is a willingness to tax other people to provide aid. Paul's own contribution will be limited to forceful, and well compensated, advocacy.
That's my two cents. For thoughtful, well researched dissections of the latest Krugmania, check out the Gamma Man or Jane Galt.
"The college tradition of lounging on old couches in the open air may become a mere memory here, at least if students want to avoid jail.
Appalled by several small but destructive disturbances near the University of Colorado in the last few years, events in which inebriated students invariably stole couches off porches and burned them, Boulder officials last week approved an ordinance that forbids keeping upholstered furniture outside. "
But don't underestimate the commitment of these future leaders and NRO staffers:
"We're going to get drunk, we're going to party, we're going to do what we do — you can't stop it," said Scott MacMaster, 22, who graduated with a business degree this month.
And not everyone is convinced that property crimes can be prevented simply by banning property:
"It seems stupid that they would try to stop riots by taking couches off porches," said Jessica Sufit, 20, a junior ...
"People are going to be destructive, especially when there's 1,000 drunk teenagers or 20-year-olds. They'll knock down lampposts or burn trees."
Evidently, there was fascinating public debate at the town council meeting. A local activist, Mr. Smokes, asked the chair to table the couch ordinance, but he was refused and the ordinance passed.
A slow news day at the Times? Hey, it beats writing about Gary Condit.
Andrew Sullivan provides the following from Ehud Barak, out of the New York Times Review of Books, regarding the Camp David negotiation amongst Clinton, Arafat, and Barak:
They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie...creates no dissonance. They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn't. They see themselves as emissaries of a national movement for whom everything is permissible. There is no such thing as 'the truth'.
OK, so Barak doesn't trust the Clintons. But how does he feel about Arafat?
A schoolboy fight had rekindled an old clan enmity, and hot words led to open preparations for battle. The villagers built earthen ramparts and gun emplacements. They fashioned six-foot cannons from empty gas cylinders and cantaloupe-size projectiles from scrap metal.
Frightened neighbors repeatedly called on the police to head off the looming catastrophe, but for months the Lanshan County authorities did nothing, Ms. Li recalled. Finally the villages began pummeling each other with their crude weapons, shooting hundreds of cannonballs across a half-mile of rice paddies in two daylong battles, one in December 1998 and the second the next month.
Some 12 people were killed and 60 homes destroyed, local residents said. A truce was called only after a misaimed volley hit the wrong village, killing four more including (Ms. Li's) daughter.
There have been many complaints about the security screening system at our nation's airports. A major concern of Underperformin' Norman Mineta is to avoid the appearance of racial profiling or any sense of unfair treatment in the process of selecting people for extra searches. As a result, we have the absurd spectacle of seventy year old grandmothers being subjected to intense scrutiny, wasting time, resources, and credibility.
But why so negative? If people wanted to be picked for the "special shakedown", the whole dynamic would change. If getting picked was cool, or exciting, or rewarded with a special prize, people would be clamoring to be picked. OK, "clamoring" may be a bit strong, so let's say that they would at least not be objecting, or later suing for harassment.
How to achieve this? The simple idea - give the lucky people who are picked for extra screening a lottery ticket. If people can get excited about standing stand in line for hours to buy a lottery ticket, they can get excited about having some Fed hand them a ticket just for submitting to an extra going-over. "I'm just going to check for bombs here, sir - why don't you concentrate on the $50 million you might win."
Obvious problems: Not everyone likes the lotteries, some people have religious or ethical objections to gambling, lotteries are not legal in all states, there would be the expense of buying the tickets - please, there are probably a million problems. Try other prizes - maybe Disney can offer an "instant pass" for a ride on Space Mountain, letting the holder cut to the front of the line at Disney World, for example. The result could be a situation where the government can defend itself against a racial discrimination suit by presenting statistics about who was frisked that are hopelessly muddied by the prospect of prizes. If this works, we can search the people that need to be searched, and we might be on the road to safer skies.
In time for the holiday weekend, we are warned about threats to rail travel. Quick question: Are there any procdures for screening luggage carried by railroad passengres? Full answer: No. A duffle bag packed with explosive, a suicide bomber, a tunnel under Grand Central Station in Manhattan, and a Memorial Weekend to remember. Or maybe, a couple of guys get on at one station, a couple of guys get on at the next, and so on until suddenly there are ten terrorists walking up the aisle to the engineer's compartment. We are not ready. But have a nice day.
Eric Alterman has unleashed his new blog upon us this week. I am always intrigued by reasonable lefties, as a valuable antidote to my own drooling right-wing churlishness, so I stopped by. Evidently overcome by the euphoria of slipping the bonds of conventional journalism, AlteredMan asks us:
"In the meantime, isn’t Drudge a dick for doing that story on David Brock checking into a mental institution last summer? "
I have only performed a "brain-search", but I am highly confident that this is not the style of wit and rhetoric employed by Sullivan, Kaus, Marshall, the InstantMan, the Volokh Conspiracy, or, frankly, anyone I read regularly. But if (Not a Good) Alternative wants to compete for the space occupied by Howard Stern and the Yahoo message boards, I say he should go for it. And just keep going.
The X-Files, with its gothic tales of elaborate conspiracy, has ended. But the spirit lives on, and Paul Krugman is tending the flame. In his Tuesday column, we learn that:
" For corporate America as a whole, 1997 was a watershed year. According to government statistics, overall corporate profits grew rapidly between 1992 and 1997, but then stalled; after-tax profits in the third quarter of 2000 were barely higher than they were three years earlier. But the operating earnings of the S.&P. 500 — that is, the profits companies reported to investors — grew 46 percent over those three years.
There are technical reasons that these measures of profits need not grow at exactly the same rate, but they have historically tracked each other fairly well. So why did they suddenly diverge? Surely the main reason was that after 1997 companies made increasingly aggressive use of accounting gimmicks to create the illusion of profit growth.
You see, corporate leaders were desperate to keep their stock prices rising, in an environment where anything short of 20 percent profit growth was considered failure. ..."
There you have it - an increasing use of gimmicks by desperate managers. Forget the 80's, when underperforming companies were subject to hostile takeovers. Managers weren't desperate then. And don't bore us with alternative hypotheses about the apparent divergence in accounting results mentioned above. Managers got greedy in the late 90's, and it is all George Bush's fault.
Dana Sculley is skeptical, as usual. Writing as Jane Galt, she grapples with these theories in her regular "Krugman Watch". As a bonus, she gets some interesting comments from folks I presume to be the Lone Gunmen.
Francis Fukayama has an interview with Salon on the subject of runaway biotechnology. I am confident that it is being dissected throughout the blogosphere, but don't miss the Gamma Man's review, and his cool link to Kurzweil.
My two cents? Fukayama tries to imagine a "sympathetic scenario" where clonign might seem acceptable: "A child gets killed and the parents don't have any possibility for having another one, and they want to clone that one." How about these possibilities: a nine year old child has a blood cancer, or a kidney failure, or diabetes, and no compatible donors are available for a procedure which might save this child's life. I have read about parents conceiving another child with the hope that the new baby will be a compatible donor. Assuming that the donor is relatively unscarred by the procedure and that the disease is not due strictly to a genetic flaw, would cloning the sick child to produce an indentical, but younger, twin strike everyone as hopelessly beyond the pale of medical ethics?
I finally saw the new Star Wars flick, "Send in the Clones". Unable to schedule a dentist appointment and not having a kidney stone to pass, I agreed to take some of the kids to the theatre for the latest from Lucas. The fellow sitting behind me kicked my chair repeatedly as he crossed and re-crossed his legs, so I stayed awake for most of the film, which I would describe as long stretches of nothing interspersed with short bursts of not much.
But let's be positive. For the Big Finish, there was a nice tribute to Russell Crowe and "Gladiator". Then, Lucas delivers an even more exciting tribute to Signorney Weaver of "Galaxy Quest". Surely you recall how Ms. Weaver's outfit becomes progressively more shredded and revealing in the closing battle of that comedy classic. Well, Natalie Portman has the same problem with her costume in "Clones". Although normally in a military context I favor the rapid application of overwhelming force, in this case I was OK with the idea of a protracted battle. However, the good guys are able to prevail in time to save both the Republic and the "PG" rating. Sorry, hope I didn't give away the ending.
So the suspense builds for the next episode. In "Phantom Action" (only the illusion of a story) Lucas regaled us with a plotline of taxes and trade treaties. In "Clones", we get his wisdom on campaign finance reform and bio-ethics. What Big Issues will he address next? Gun control? Unlikely, since neither the 'droids nor the clones seem to be able to control their guns. Gay priests? Abortion? I'm begging him, no. Terrorism and civil rights - that's my prediction. Although its possible that the fall of the Republic will somehow be tied to a lack of strong digital copyright protection.
In Washington, it's never to early to shovel dirt on someone's grave. So, purely as speculation, I hereby un-nominate Condoleeza Rice for VP. I don't think her current status is in jeopardy, and I still love her. But given the faulty intelligence coordination preceding 9/11, her own widely-rebutted statement that ``I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon", and the fact that coordinating intelligence and assessing threats seem to be her job, I don't see how she merits a promotion.
From today's NY Times, "Diplomatic Problems Stall Japanese Food Aid to North Korea". Well, the problems are quite old. What is new is the Japanese diplomatic tactic: they are holding up badly-needed rice shipments until the North Koreans make some concessions on long-standing grievances. Not the sort of hardball that relief agencies have felt comfortable with in the past, but the Japanese seem to sense an opportunity. Yet another indication of the weakening position of the "axis of evil".
"Not all of Secretary Powell's administration colleagues are so diplomatic. They note that much of Europe's military is outmoded or incompatible with American forces, and are quick to recall the widespread European unease about President Reagan's aggressive posture against the former Soviet Union in the 1980's, a stance that succeeded so well it is now beyond debate."
Beyond debate? Debate by whom - Powell's administration colleagues, the Eurpoeans, or the NY Times? I will surely miss those editorials denouncing Reagan's reckless deficits and needless defense buildup. Unless I don't.
The video of a sobbing two year old girl being lead away by the Chinese police has been aired repeatedly by Japanese televison, and is creating domestic pressure on the Foreign Ministry. Where is Janet Reno to make herself useful?
In related news, the AP wire reports that the two North Koreans that had sought refuge in the Canadian Embassy in Beijing have been allowed to leave for Singapore. Their final destination is believed to be Seoul, although no one is saying so, which seems like a cute diplomatic touch.
The Washing Post has nothing on this story today, but here is a link to yesterday's news.
Carter Disputes Cuban Involvement
Mon May 13, 8:32 PM ET
By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer
HAVANA (AP) - Touring a major biotechnology lab with Fidel Castro (news - web sites), Jimmy Carter on Monday took issue with Bush administration claims that the island nation has exported technological know-how to rogue states for use in biological weapons.
Please. His own aides didn't believe Carter when he said he was attacked by a rabbit. Now he is a biotech expert?
Rober Fisk burst across the blogosphere heavens last December with an account of his beating at the hands of a crowd of angry Afghans. Since then, this particular anti-American, anti-Israeli Euro-bleater has had a bit of a rough go, as he describes in this touching column. Because he seems to want friendlier e-mails, I tried to oblige, below.
Dear Mr. Fisk;
I hope this e-mail reaches you. I wasn't sure whether to address it to the news desk, the features desk, or the comics section, but away we go:
I think you make a valid point in your recent column, "Why does John Malkovich want to kill me?" In the Middle East, Palestinians strap explosives around the waists of teenagers and send them into Israel with the hope of killing themselves and as many Jews as possible. Meanwhile, back in London, you are receiving hateful e-mails. Civility has certainly disappeared on both sides.
I marvel at your blithe assertion, in your description of your beating in Afghanistan, that "I could not blame my attackers, that if I had suffered their grief, I would have done the same." But there are roughly 3,00 dead in the US, and hundreds dead in Israel. Perhaps the people attacking you over the internet are also feeling pain and grief. Where is your sympathy for them? Or are they not hitting you hard enough to feel it?
I actually do have a vague recollection of your original piece describing your beating at the hands of a crowd in Afghanistan. I had originally taken it as intended for the Onion, or perhaps a suitable British counterpart - you know, amusing satire, sharp wit, very British. If I may paraphrase the part I found most biting:
"I understood the helpless anger of the crowd - 200 years of British imperialism, the brutal Russian occupation, now yet another atrocity committed by yet another group of foreigners, this time American bombers - or perhaps they were just trying to steal my camera." You truly have a masterful comic insight.
I also enjoyed a bit near the close, which I must rephrase from memory:
"My face was bloody as they struck me with rocks. As I wallowed in self-pity and anti-imperialist self-loathing, my life flashed before my eyes. But then I said, "Oh, piss on it. What would Margaret Thatcher do? What would George Bush do?" So I drew myself up to my full, imposing Western height and smacked one of my assailants in the face. Hah! They ran like schoolboys! In fact, as I wiped the blood from my eyes, I could see that they WERE schoolboys! Hey, sometimes this "fighting back" idea really works!"
Oh, it was a brilliant piece all right. For a new column, why don't you travel to Ramallah and interview "Palestinians in the Street". Ask them whether they are worried about corruption in the Palestinian Authority, whether they would like supervised elections, and whether they think they will be able to get their lives on track if they don't succeed in killing all the Jews. Then you can report back on how the Palestinians treat a Western journalist who doesn't suck up to them. You just might make John Malkovich's day.
More news on North Korean seeking asylum in China. First, Diplomacy's Funniest Embassy Videos shows the Chinese police tackling two asylum seekers inside the grounds of the Japanese embassy. Quite a diplomatic no-no, since the consulate has similar legal status to Japanese territory, which means the Chinese police were operating outside their jurisdiction.
The Washington Post fulminates about this in a Sunday editorial, so the pot is beginning to heat up. According to WaPO,
"China is a signatory to a 50-year-old international convention on the protection of refugees, and is obliged by it not to send refugees who seek asylum back to areas where they could face persecution. "
Additional spice (but no MSG) is added to the problem because the refugee treaty confilicts with the China-North Korea treaty regarding border security.
Where is this headed? I don't see a lot of videotape coming out of Tibet, and the South Koreans seem disinclined to embarass the North Korean leadership, so these stories may fade from view. But I am still tabbing this breakdown of control on the North Korean border as the emerging story of 2003.
If you like stories that combine sports, affirmative action, quotas, and slim, physically fit young men and women, you will love this NY Times piece featured on the front page (below the fold), and titled:
OK, the story is long, does not arrive at a conclusion, and is woefully short of pictures of the physically fit young men and women under discussion. But if you like this sort of thing, you will like this.
The NY Times has an account of North Koreans entering China and then seeking asylum at Western consulates. Apparently, there are estimated to be 300,000 North Koreans living illegally in China who have crossed the border in search of food and work. Up to now, the Chinese have turned a blind eye to this. Now, however, some of these people are getting into Western embassies in Beijing and other cities, claiming asylum and seeking safe passage to South Korea. The Chinese are now blocking approaches to the consulates and stepping up enforcement, but seem to be conflicted. Returning these people to North Korea annoys the West, but sending them to South Korea annoys North Korea and encourages more illegal immigration. I infer from this article that the Chinese would much rather not deal with this.
So why do you care? Because you remember back in 1989, when the collapse of the East German government was precipitated by the decision of the government of Hungary not to enforce strictly its border regulations. Illegal immigrants left East Germany, made it through Eastern Europe to Hungary, and thence to Austria and the West. Evidently, border controls within Eastern Europe were much less strict than at the East-West divides. For example, not a lot of folks were defecting from East Germany to Czechoslovakia or Hungary, so tourist visas were easily obtainable.
Obviously, a lot of other changes were happening in Eastern Europe and the time was right for upheaval, but still – George Bush and the South Koreans seem to think it is time for a change in North Korea.
So, who is aiding these immigrants in their flight to freedom? Are they stalwarts who defy the North Korean and Chinese police to aid the unjustly downtrodden? Or are we seeing another commercial people-smuggling opportunity for the snakeheads? Either way, Bush’s speech has already been written and delivered, and only needs updating:
And Andrew Sullivan will say something nice about a Paul Krugman column. In today's effort, Krugman bashes the Red State beneficiaries of the latest farm bill, and even admits that Democrats are also at fault. As a city-slicker myself, I'm no fan of the farm bill either. Points not addressed by Krugman:
(1) Find a wealthy country that doesn't subsidize its hallowed agricultural past. This is the "if you think we're dumb, just look how stupid they are" defense. And no, if another country jumped off a bridge, I wouldn't jump too.
(2) What portion of our total national energy usage is dedicated to the subsidized agricultural effort? We are running tractors, moving products, and producing fertilizers from oil. If we stopped subsidizing production, how much energy would we save?
"Weak growth means that Sweden has lost greatly in prosperity compared with the United States," HUI's President Fredrik Bergstrom and chief economist Robert Gidehag said.
International Monetary Fund data from 2001 show that U.S. GDP per capita in dollar terms was 56 percent higher than in Sweden while in 1980, Swedish GDP per capita was 20 percent higher.
Black people, who have the lowest income in the United States, now have a higher standard of living than an ordinary Swedish household," the HUI economists said.
If Sweden were a U.S. state, it would be the poorest measured by household gross income before taxes, Bergstrom and Gidehag said. "This meant that Swedes stood "below groups which in the Swedish debate are usually regarded as poor and losers in the American economy," Bergstrom and Gidehag said.
Between 1980 and 1999, the gross income of Sweden's poorest households increased by just over six percent while the poorest in the United States enjoyed a three times higher increase, HUI said.