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Friday, May 30, 2003

A Bit Of Data From (And For) The CalPundit

The CalPundit seems to have re-triggered a debate about income inequality. He sends us to a fascinating Census Bureau table showing income distributions over time. I want to relate this data to Kevin's follow-up post, which tells us that:

Although I'm in favor of government programs that help the needy, my real concern when I talk about growing income inequality is the middle class. My reading of history tells me that a growing and thriving middle class is essential to democracy and to a flourishing economy. Both suffer if the middle class stagnates for too long, and that's what's been happening for the past 20 years.

OK, I apologize for my deplorable HTML skills. I am excerpting from the chart titled "Table A-1. Households by Total Money Income, Race, and Hispanic Origin of Householder: 1967 to 2001", which is on p. 21 of the .pdf file (p. 15 of.the report). For a starting point I am using 1981, which seems to be the preferred baseline, since for at least some liberals it represents the ascension of Ronald Reagan and the Descent into Darkness. The data is titled "Income in 2001 CPI-U-RS adjusted dollars. Households as of March of the following year. For meaning of symbols, see text", so we seem to have inflation adjusted data. Here we go:

Percent of Households in each income category

....................................... 1981.......... 2001
Under $5,000.....................3.2%..........3.1%
$5 K to $10 K.....................8.7.............5.9
$10K to $15K.....................8.1.............6.9
$15K to $25 K..................15.8...........13.3
$25 K to $35 K.................13.6...........12.4
$35 K to $50 K.................18.1...........15.4
$50 K to $75 K.................19.1...........18.4
$75 K to $100 K.................7.8...........10.8
Over $100 K.......................5.5...........13.8

Median Income.............$35,478.......$42,228 (a 19% increase)

Hmm, I'm so busy typing I lost sight of the crisis. Oh, yes, it is the disappearance and stagnation of the middle class. It appears from this chart that, over the last twenty years the ranks of the deeply poor have shrunk, and the middle class has drifted into the "Above 100 K" category. An additional 8.3% of households fill this category, with offsetting drops at the lower income threshholds.

As I said, I am having trouble keeping sight of the crisis.

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner has a comprehensive reply.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Happy 100th to Bob Hope!

I just rented "The Road To Perdition". I think it is great that they are finally re-making those classic Hope-Crosby "Road" movies.

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Where's Howell?

If that headline is good enough for Andrew and Mickey, it's good enough for me.

And I have an answer - given the unfortunate circumstances, "The Invisible Man", aka Howell "Claude" Raines, will not be seen tonight. Frankly, I am shocked (Shocked!) that no one else has made this connection.

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The MoDo - Reloaded

Columnists at the New New York Times get mulligans - who knew?

Back on May 14, Maureen Dowd used her Creative Excerpter to mis-represent comments President Bush made about al-Qaeda, as detailed by Brendan Nyhan of Spinsanity.

A mere two weeks later, Ms. Dowd offers what I suppose passes for a correction, presenting the complete quote in her May 28 column. What she does not do is mention her previous abuse of this quote. I expect Ms. Dowd's regular readers could be excused a puzzled sense of deja vu, but I don't imagine her regular readers are looking for a lot of coherence or consistency in her column anyway.

However, let's pitch in the full quote, just for the record:

Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly, but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they're not a problem anymore. (Applause.) And we'll stay on the hunt. To make sure America is a secure country, the al Qaeda terrorists have got to understand it doesn't matter how long it's going to take, they will be brought to justice. (Applause.)

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Clymer V. Krugman

Adam Clymer of the NY Times had a long piece describing the predicament of the Democratic Party today. One excerpt:

"The Democrats have generally spent their energy defending past accomplishments, from Social Security to Medicare, rather than seeking to refocus that basic commitment to the middle class and the poor into ideas that reflect how the nation has changed since those laws were passed. President Bill Clinton tried to reframe the party agenda, failing with health care, though succeeding with welfare revision and a few other issues. Still, after his troubles with Monica Lewinsky, he largely gave up and instead pushed small ideas, like school uniforms."

As evidence of this defense of the past, we offer the column by Prof. Krugman, which was published, presumably without a sense of irony, the following day:

..It's no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. But not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration's policies might actually be driven by those ideologues — that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut — was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories.

Yet by pushing through another huge tax cut in the face of record deficits, the administration clearly demonstrates either that it is completely feckless, or that it actually wants a fiscal crisis. (Or maybe both.)

Here's one way to look at the situation: Although you wouldn't know it from the rhetoric, federal taxes are already historically low as a share of G.D.P. Once the new round of cuts takes effect, federal taxes will be lower than their average during the Eisenhower administration. How, then, can the government pay for Medicare and Medicaid — which didn't exist in the 1950's — and Social Security, which will become far more expensive as the population ages? (Defense spending has fallen compared with the economy, but not that much, and it's on the rise again.)

... either taxes will go up again, or programs that have become fundamental to the American way of life will be gutted. We can be sure that the right will do whatever it takes to preserve the Bush tax cuts — right now the administration is even skimping on homeland security to save a few dollars here and there. But balancing the books without tax increases will require deep cuts where the money is: that is, in Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security."

Mr. Clymer seems to have a point.

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Monday, May 26, 2003

Victor Davis Hanson Was The Unabomber?

I need to read this more carefully. Look for Monday, May 26, 12:03 PM.

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Accept No Substitutes

There are several "Emma" bloggers, but THE Emma not only makes an interesting connection between the FCC and the BBC, but she says nice things about me.

I feel certain I will have a sensible response at some point. I know which way I am leaning, and I want to work in Jack Nicholson's "Do you want the truth?" diatribe, but I will have to come back to this.

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New Math At The NY Times

Adam Clymer gets successive front page stories with features on the future of the Republican and Democratic parties.

The Democratic Party is presented as in a state of near-death. However, with just slightly different circumstances, we could be discussing a party united behind Al Gore in the White House which controlled the Senate and was poised to re-claim the House. Perhaps the NY Times is just doing their own direct-mail solicitation here. The impact of McCain-Feingold deserves more emphasis (and a mention of the Times role is its passage would be interesting). Also, the changing ethnic mix of America, which may favor the Democrats, could have gotten more ink.

Anyway, as to the New Math - Mr. Clymer tells us this:

There are two major elements of the Democrats' message problem. One is defensive — on the issue of security. The public strongly prefers Republicans on national defense, and even though most Democrats in Congress backed the war on Iraq, at least a third of the rank and file was unhappy with it, which makes it difficult for party leaders to get too far out in front.

Emphasis added. Now, since no one at the Times does any fact-checking, let's make it a fair contest. Rather than look it up, I will first give you the benefit of my sieve-like memory, and guess that last October Senate Democrats backed the Iraqi war resolution 27-21, while in the House 60% of Dems opposed it. I will further note, upon reflection, that prior to the election there were 50 Democratic Senators, plus Jeffords, so my memory has dropped two Senators. [Only two?!]

The envelope, please.

Senate Democrats supported the resolution 29-21, so I did OK. In the House, 126 Democrats opposed it, out of how 208, which is 60%, a memorably round number. Let's figure the split at 126-82. Now, if I remember this, how could a professional political reporter at the Times get it wrong?

Adding the two groups together, we get (29+82) supporting the resolution, and (21+126) opposing it. Somehow, 111 Congressional supporters and 147 Congressional opponents becomes, in the world of the NY Times, "most Democrats in Congress". I am not sure how they explain that.

UPDATE: You have not seen this argument before - Dems are doomed in 2004 because they can't play poker.

Alternative Rep and Dem links.

UPDATE: TAPPED offers its own gloomy assessment of Dem problems.

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Friday, May 23, 2003

Save The Last Dance, Save Social Security...


... Did David Frum really speculate that union members were responsible for the bombing at Yale? Yes, he did.

You know, Tapped hasn't got the faintest clue who is responsible for the explosion. But arguing that the boming (sic) looks like "good old-fashioned union violence," based on zero evidence, is about as responsible as Tapped wondering whether, say, the bombing was actually the work of those overzealous conservative dudes who broke into Yale undergrad Katherine Lo's room last April to confiscate her upside-down American flag.

Or hey -- maybe it's actually Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As Atrios points out, the Yale alum keeps a sign in his office that reads "SAVE AMERCIA, BOMB YALE LAW SCHOOL."

Why does Clarence Thomas hate America?

"Boming" (sic)? "AMERCIA" (sic)? Mercy! Why does TAPPED hate spellcheck?

Oh, we relent. The link to which TAPPED sends us seems to have spawned the second typo. We get another sighting of the story, with conventional spelling, here.

As to the substance of their post, I can't argue with "Tapped hasn't got the faintest clue". Apparently investigators are wondering about rejected law school applicants, as well as disgruntled employees, students, and faculty. Hey, what about disgruntled alumni? Union folks would fall under the "employee" heading, but it does seem absurdly premature to presume that the answer will lie there.

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My Vigorous Response To A Non-Issue

Via Prof. DeLong, we see Andrew Tobias taking multiple shots at BushCo. As to the Jessica Lynch- BBC- "staged rescue" story, we will let TAPPED break the news to Mr. Tobias. However, what caught the eye of the Sinister Left Coaster was this:

Verbatim from the Washington Post:

"I don't believe anyone that I know in the administration ever said that Iraq had nuclear weapons." – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, May 14, 2003

"We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." – Vice President Dick Cheney, March 16, 2003

Whoa, Nellie. If it was the official Administration position that Iraq had nukes, that should have been screaming headline news. How did I miss it? OK, I am in denial about many of the quirks of the current Admin, but this is not something I would have overlooked. Nor, I suspect, would the media.

So, let's go to the videotape, or at least an excerpt - Cheney on "Meet The Press", March 16, 2003:

[Cheney] ...we also have to address the question of where might these terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear weapons? And Saddam Hussein becomes a prime suspect in that regard because of his past track record and because we know he has, in fact, developed these kinds of capabilities, chemical and biological weapons. We know he’s used chemical weapons. We know he’s reconstituted these programs since the Gulf War.

Emphasis added. We are going to track his word usage, and see if he mis-speaks.

...MR. RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree, yes. And you’ll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree. Let’s talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We’ve got, again, a long record here. It’s not as though this is a fresh issue. In the late ’70s, Saddam Hussein acquired nuclear reactors from the French. 1981, the Israelis took out the Osirak reactor and stopped his nuclear weapons development at the time. Throughout the ’80s, he mounted a new effort. I was told when I was defense secretary before the Gulf War that he was eight to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon. And we found out after the Gulf War that he was within one or two years of having a nuclear weapon because he had a massive effort under way that involved four or five different technologies for enriching uranium to produce fissile material.

We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing.

Well, the original question was, is the IAEA right or wrong about the Iraqi program. Cheney should have said, to be responsive to the question and consistent with his prior usage, "we believe they have reconstituted their nuclear program". He didn't. Notice, however, the non-pounce by Russert. Also, a few minutes later, Cheney says this:

[Cheney]: ...We’re now faced with a situation, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, where the threat to the United States is increasing. And over time, given Saddam’s posture there, given the fact that he has a significant flow of cash as a result of the oil production of Iraq, it’s only a matter of time until he acquires nuclear weapons.

So, my argument is that he simply misspoke, and Russert, the Non-Barking Dog, understood that immediately. No one seems to have asked about it at the next White House press briefing, and the President does not make a similar assertion the following evening when he delivers a final ultimatum to Saddam.

Hey, is there a job opening up for a Spinner in the White House?

UPDATE: Brad DeLong agrees with me. Eugene Volokh (much later!) agrees with me, unbeknownst to him. And Dana Milbank of the WaPo (check the last line in parentheses) gets Cheney's aides to support my argument.

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Thursday, May 22, 2003

Let Me Know How You Like This

Some political observers penned the following:

Democrats have yet to fully comprehend the new reality of the post-Sept. 11 world. While most Americans viewed the war in Iraq through the prism of the Twin Towers attacks, many prominent Democrats still seem not to grasp the profound sense of insecurity that so many people feel in our country. This unease is especially pronounced among women, who have been a cornerstone of the party's strength and without whom they cannot hope to win back the White House or Congress.

The American people agree with the Democrats on many vital issues -- but they believe that Democrats are weak and indecisive when it comes to standing up to dictators and terrorists, and when it comes to the primary responsibility of government: defending the nation. No matter how compelling their positions on the economy, health care, Social Security, the environment and privacy, if voters continue to see them as feckless and effete they will not listen to their message next year and they will re-elect Mr. Bush.

Hmm, I am going to guess that Dems wouldn't like to hear from that from a righty. But really, I am a Sensitive Guy, so let me reassure you - the above passage is, with minor editing to put it into the third person, from a WSJ piece by Donna Brazile and Timothy Bergreen. Ms. Brazile needs no introduction, but here are their brief bios anyway:

Ms. Brazile, who served as the campaign manager for Gore 2000, is a political strategist and a member of the board of advisers of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism. Mr. Bergreen served in the State Department during the Clinton administration and is the founder of Democrats for National Security.

If the WSJ link does not cooperate, try the equally frustrating Blogger link.

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We Live, And Review, The Matrix Reloaded

Sometimes, when the morning coffee and the glazed doughnuts collide with the residue of the previous evening's beer, the results are... well, see for yourself.

A friend called, hoping to chat with my wife, and got stuck with me instead. No idle chit-chat allowed! Names are changed to confound the guilty, and we are dispensing with boring punctuation.

Sally: We saw the Matrix last night. Have you seen it?

MinuteMan: I do not need to see it, I am living it. In fact, I may be the One.

You're Neo?

Neo, One, I have a theory about that.

I'm listening.

Well, "One" is an anagram of "Neo". People think that "Neo" means "new", but the movie is much more complex than that. It operates on many levels.

You don't say.

It's like peeling an onion, although you probably didn't cry when you watched the movie.

I might cry right now. Can we get back to your being the One?

Sure, I was in the kitchen with [my wife]. She had arranged a tray of pastries for a church coffee. Anyway, she showed them to me, and said "Be sure to take these to church, I'm going to put them right here". Then she put them down on the kitchen counter, but she sort of missed and they fell to the floor. Well, they would have, but I had my moment of "Oneness".

Your moment of Oneness?

Yes, it was like time stopped. With a display of quickness that surprised even me, I reached out, caught the tray, and saved the pastries. It was as if they stopped in mid-air, just like those bullets.

Uhh, pastries aren't bullets.

C'mon, pastries can kill too. Have you seen the stats on obesity?

Are you obsessing about your diet again?

It's not a diet, I'm just cutting back, thanks for noticing. The ounces are melting away. But tell me how you and Jim loved the film.

It was great, but I was disappointed that Tank was not in it.


One of the characters, Tank.

Oh I read about that, I know what happened.

Go ahead.

His agent had no idea how big this role would be, and turned down a spot in the sequel.

Turned it down?

Yes, they said "Do you want a role for your client in the sequel, and he said "No, Tanks".

Hmm, does your "Oneness" extend to having a sense of humor?

My Unity is highly variable and unpredictable.

Anyway, Tank was replaced in the new movie by "Link".

Ahh, that is deeply significant.

I'm afraid to ask why.

Well, the obvious connection to "link" is, well, connection, or bond. But "Link" is also an anagram for "Kiln", which symbolizes the the intense heat, the purifying flames, the final finishing.

The final finishing?

It's different from intermediate finishings, but I can't explain how. The other key point is that "Tank", who is out, is an anagram for "Kant", the great philosopher. What is reality, what is man, who are we, who am I? All those pronouns have gone missing because of Kant.

The pronouns are missing?

What do they mean? But Kant is gone! The time for philosophizing is over! The purification has begun! The final finishing is at hand!

What's weird is, that is not totally ridiculous.

It comes from being the One.

I'm glad you explained that to me.

I will now explain the Bush tax proposal.

You're breaking up.

Hey, you're not even calling from a cell phone! It all hinges on the step up of tax basis with retained earnings.

You're breaking up....

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Tuesday, May 20, 2003

TAPPED: Even When They Admit They Are Wrong, They Are Wrong

First, they lost Mohammed; now they have lost their own links and their own post, and are blaming their woes on the BBC. Let's review.

First, TAPPED links to a BBC story wondering whether the Special Forces raid that freed Jessica Lynch was staged.

TAPPED also offered some supporting evidence for this theory - a mysterious "Mohammed", reportedly instrumental in the Lynch rescue, has disappeared! Or did he even exist, they wonder?

I, and others, debunk the Mohammed angle by noting that the Newswwek story was a month old, and that Mohammed has since re-surfaced.

TAPPED graciously attempts to correct the record with a new post, which says the following:

"Several readers pointed out that "Mohammed" is not so mysterious as the BBC makes him out to be..."

Hold on, buddy. The BBC never made Mohammed out to be mysterious. The BBC story makes no mention of Mohammed. It was TAPPED's failure to check the date on the Newsweek story, and TAPPED's failure to perform any research, that created their confusion about Mohammed.

Whn I first saw this attempt to debunk the heroes at the Pentagon, I wondered why TAPPED hates America. Now, I wonder why they hate the British.

KIDDING! I'm sure they love the British.

Anyway, as to the BBC "staging Private Lynch" story itself, here is a report from just after the rescue:

"While troops engaged the Iraqis in another part of the city, the team persuaded an Iraqi doctor to lead them to Lynch, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart."

Dramatic gunshots? Not mentioned.

Here is a follow-up on "troops engaging Iraqis in another part of the city" - a diversion, evidently.

"They weren’t the ones who pulled [Lynch] to freedom; Army Special Forces did that. Instead, these three and 25 other "Force Recon" members were assigned to attack a compound near the hospital, creating havoc as a diversion for the rescuers."

The hospital itself was reported as being deserted by CNN back on April 18.

The InstaPundit has more, and announces that the BBC reporter is in retreat.

Peter Jennings aired a similar "it was staged" report on May 7, which I mention in response to TAPPED's plaintive plea that "it would be nice if more of the American press would follow this story."

So, TAPPED - what else is new?

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Monday, May 19, 2003

Intellectual Diversity In The Blogpsphere - Left v. Right

Patrick Ruffini and Andrew Sullivan comment on intellectual diversity in the blogosphere, and believe the Right has more of it. Patrick first:

...it's probably true that, advocacy-wise, lefty bloggers make the most of their limited traffic by being very party line on Bush and most domestic issues. The "righties" aren't.


As to the greater eclecticism of those broadly on the right, I'd say Patrick's onto something. I'm forgetting who coined this phrase but I think it's largely true that today's right looks for converts whereas today's left looks for heretics. That's why the left tends to be duller, more self-absorbed and generally less entertaining than the right. The right is always trying to build an audience; the left is busy purging theirs'.

Say it with me - oh, for heaven's sake. My zen reply is this - zebras look different to other zebras.

Now, Andrew revives a puzzle - can I write a sentence without a hyphen? Yes, but he brings up another puzzle as well - who said "the right looks for converts while the left looks for heretics"?

I find several sources attributing it to Doug Henwood, but I find a message board comment from Doug Henwood attributing it to Michael Kinsley. Perhaps they are both popularizers of someone else's quip.

Anyway, I seem to be at the end of the Google-verse with this problem. Time for the high-priced Lexis-Nexis talent to take over.

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Sunday, May 18, 2003

Back, And On Drugs!

I take a little break, and the GammaMan re-emerges. Cool! He mentions his busylife (yeah, yeah!) and tells us this:

Now I don't want to jeopardize my amateur standing by doing a whole lot of nasty research...

Amateur? Has he read TAPPED lately? Oh, Cheap Shot.

Anyway, the subject is drugs, sex, and the GDP. Two out of three ain't bad. I remember glacing at the headline of the story he analyzes, and wondering if that could possibly be correct. GammaGuy did more than glance, and is quite convincing in his skepticism.

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Saturday, May 17, 2003

I Steal Material From Andy Borowitz

My man Andy appears each Friday on the CNN feature "Gimme A Minute". Since they stole my name (sort of), I steal back, paraphrasing wildly.

Q: How much damage has the Jayson Blair scandal done to the NY Times?

Andy B: Oh, I think they are doing a good job of turning it into a positive. Have you seen their new motto? "All the News Tha's Fit To Print... And So Much More".

Q: What is your pick for under-reported story of the week?

Andy B: Most news outlets have reported from Iraq that we have recently captured Mrs. Anthrax and Dr. Germ. However, the overlooked story is that we have also apprehended Dr. Evil, Dr. Octopus, and the Penguin. I read it in the Times.

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Al-Qaeda On The Comeback Trail

The NY Times reviews the evidence. Deeply buried item:

"At one point, earlier in the year, it seemed as if the group had been seriously and possibly irreparably damaged. Its leaders were routinely arrested or in hiding. Recruitment had fallen off. It appeared to lack the resources or numerical strength to mount large attacks.

But since the United States invaded Iraq in March, officials said, the network has experienced a spike in recruitment. "There is an increase in radical fundamentalism all over the world," said a senior counterterrorism official based in Europe. "But whether that means more young men will leap to Al Qaeda, I don't know if that is clear."

The Newer NY Times.

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Bill Keller On Bush, Religion, And The Religious Right

Not to worry? I want to buy a Starbucks franchise, because throughout the nation, loyal Times readers are spilling the coffee they haven't sprayed through their nose.

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Note To Self

Two good ideas:

(a) Harness the power of the blogosphere as the universal ombudsman for merchant complaints. Hmm. May be VERY self-interested.

(b) TAPPED versus "The Corner". "Rumble in the Jungle"! Good point, what jungle, the asphalt wilderness? The Fact Checker "Look-over in Blogovia"? Without a catchy tag, this is Only a Great Idea. Developing...

OK, work on these Monday. Save as draft.

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TAPPED Loses Mohammed; The Ooold Crow Helps Them Out

TAPPED picks up a BBC story suggesting that the Jessica Lynch rescue was staged to provide some "Black Hawk Down" footage to promote the war effort. The BBC story has since been picked up by The Guardian and other news services.

However, none of the stories mention this detail provided, as far as I can tell exclusively, by TAPPED at the end of their story:

"It would also explain why the man who supposedly alerted U.S. forces to Lynch's whereabouts, an Iraqi lawyer known only as Mohammed -- they know he's a lawyer but not his last name, even though, according to Newsweek, he had three visits with a Marine detachment before the raid -- has mysteriously disappeared. If the BBC is to be believed, maybe he didn't exist at all.

Henry Hanks has a laugh-out loud response to this, and if his Blogger links were working, I would go directly to it. Try to scroll down to Thursday, May 15, "TAPPED wrong yet again, Update II".

The short version? Let's go to The Guardian:

"It was only thanks to a courageous Iraqi lawyer, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, that she was saved. According to the Pentagon, Al-Rehaief risked his life to alert the Americans that Lynch was being held.

...Al-Rehaief was granted asylum barely two weeks after arriving in the US. He is now the toast of Washington, with a fat $500,000 (£309,000) book deal. Rescue in Nassiriya will be published in October."

This is the chap that TAPPED believes never provided a last name, and has "mysteriously disappeared". Well, the mystery is, what is TAPPED's source for this rumor? The BBC story to which they link does not mention the disappearing Mohammed. Ahh, TAPPED also links to this MSNBC account of the Lynch rescue from the April 14 edition of Newsweek, which contains these cryptic passages:

The other parties deserving a share of the plaudits included... an Iraqi man named Mohammed who was so moved by her plight that he risked his own life to tell the Americans where to find her. “Someday, I hope to meet him,” Lynch’s father, Greg, a soft-spoken, 43-year-old truckdriver, told NEWSWEEK. “And I hope Jessie meets him. He’s just got to be an angel sent by God.”

...Marine officers confirmed at least the outlines of Mohammed’s vivid account, which he gave to reporters for The Washington Post and USA Today before he dropped from sight.

That's it! TAPPED mentions Newsweek in their own story, but didn't check the sell-by date! As we recall, he dropped from sight in April for reasons of personal and family security, and was whisked to asylum in America. TAPPED has missed his re-emergence? Can we hear a "Sweet Mercy"! How hard did they look?

However, there is a bit of good news here - at least we have some evidence that TAPPED has not confused "Where's Mohammed" with "Where's Raed".

Still, this is troubling. It certainly does raise questions about what is going on at TAPPED, and who has the heart to pass on to them such tidbits as "Elvis is dead"? Then again, news of Nixon's impeachment and subsequent life imprisonment should brighten their day. And I want to be there myself when they learn that Howard Dean won the Nobel prize in Medicine (Really! Just Last Year!)

Other questions have been raised as well. In a SEEMINGLY unrelated post, Andrew Sullivan wonders about reports that recently fired NY Times reporter Jayson Blair has suddenly got lots of cash. And the Junkyard Blogster can not conceal his irritation at the absence of bylines at certain professional blogs.

It all comes together, people, and I will break some news myself, TAPPED style (no research, no evidence, pure agenda and amusement): Jayson Blair is blogging for TAPPED, and is spending the signing bonus. I am not kidding. NOT!

UPDATE: Yes, of course, the real reason the lefty mags blog anonymously while NRO folks have a byline is quite simple - liberals celebrate group identification, while conservatives believe in the individual. But you knew that.

UPDATE: The InstaPundit and his readers battle the BBC. Stop the fight, ref!

UPDATE 2: I am agog at the power of Ms. Cornett and the Biaslide. We have more on recent misadventures at TAPPED. They don't just lose Mohammed; here they lose Paul Krugman's website; here, they lose their own website. Troubling.

UPDATE 3: TAPPED has a new post which backpedals a bit. However, the vapor-lock continues, as they open with this:

"...Several readers pointed out that "Mohammed" is not so mysterious as the BBC makes him out to be..."

Gee, if TAPPED could follow their own links, they would see that the BBC story does not mention Mohammed; if they could read their own posts, they could see that they originally wrote "It would also explain why the man who supposedly alerted U.S. forces to Lynch's whereabouts, an Iraqi lawyer known only as Mohammed -- they know he's a lawyer but not his last name, even though, according to Newsweek, he had three visits with a Marine detachment before the raid -- has mysteriously disappeared."

The source of TAPPED's confusion was a Newsweek article from April 14, not the BBC. My goodness.

In other news, they wonder this:

The Pentagon also refuses to release the unedited videotape of her rescue. Perhaps it wants to avoid compromising operational security. But the fact that the rescue was videotaped at all is curious. If you're going into a harrowing rescue against hardcore Iraqi troops, as the Pentagon claimed at first, would you really add the risk and difficulty of a camerman?

I think that someone should tell TAPPED that the Special Forces have these cool night vision goggles that transmit an image back to HQ so that commanders can observe the action "live". Just part of what puts the "Special" in Special Forces. I don't believe that a network "embed" was their with his camera crew, although TAPPED may tell me differently.

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Friday, May 16, 2003

I Have A Good Idea... And So Did The WaPo

Get ready for the twentieth century! Corrections at the NY Times have been in the news recently, as a result of the Jayson Blair scandal. Well, it occurs to me, if the corrections process at the Times is so fraught with uncertainty, perhaps the Times ought to include bylines in their "Corrections" feature. The reporter got a byline when the story was first printed, right? Let's get them on the backside, then.

Here is a current cryptic correction at the Times (and I notice the link is undated, so I wonder if tomorrow the excerpt will still match. The joke continues):

A front-page article on Tuesday about bombings in Saudi Arabia misstated the theory of American investigators about the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers apartment block in Dhahran, which killed 19 members of the American military. (The error was repeated in an article on Wednesday.) United States officials have publicly stated that the attack was carried out by members of a pro-Iranian group known as Saudi Hezbollah. The United States government has also made those charges in federal court. The attack is not believed to have been the work of Al Qaeda.

OK, with Google or the NY Times search engine, I suppose I could figure out who wrote this, and make a mental note to keep an eye on them. But look what the WaPo offers at corrections on their website - the headline of the story in question, a link to the original story, and a sidebar explaining the correction. Very Good! And for the casual reader, recent corrections from days gone by. They make it look easy.

So, memo to the NY Times - this can be done, and should be done. Transparency! Get going.

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Krugman On Terror

Prof. Krugman echoes Sen Graham's complaint that Bush is losing the war on terror.

How is the war on terror going? You know about the Riyadh bombings. But something else happened this week: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, a respected British think tank with no discernible anti-Bush animus, declared that Al Qaeda is "more insidious and just as dangerous" as it was before Sept. 11. So much for claims that we had terrorists on the run.

Busy as we are this weekend, we just have time to check out the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Here is a Guardian story describing the study on terror which Prof. Krugman cites.

And this same respected group prepared a report on the Iraqi WMD program last September. Let's check the summary:

Our objective has been to assess, as accurately and dispassionately as possible, Iraq’s current WMD capacities.

...Nuclear Weapons:

Our net assessment of the current situation is that:

Iraq does not possess facilities to produce fissile material in sufficient amounts for nuclear weapons.

It would require several years and extensive foreign assistance to build such fissile material production facilities.

It could, however, assemble nuclear weapons within months if fissile material from foreign sources were obtained.

It could divert domestic civil-use radioisotopes or seek to obtain foreign material for a crude radiological device.

...Biological Weapons:

Our net assessment of the current situation is that:

Iraq has probably retained substantial growth media and BW agent (perhaps thousands of litres of anthrax) from pre 1991 stocks.

The regime is capable of resuming BW Agent production on short notice (in weeks) from existing civilian facilities. It could have produced thousands of litres of anthrax, botulinum toxin and other agents since 1998. Actual stocks cannot be known.

Iraqi production of viral agents is unknown as is the question of whether the regime possesses small pox.

...Chemical Weapons

Our net assessment of the current situation is that:

Iraq has probably retained a few hundred tonnes of mustard and precursors for a few hundred tonnes of sarin/cyclosarin and perhaps similar amounts of VX from pre-1991 stocks.

It is capable of resuming CW production on short notice (months) from existing civilian facilities. It could have produced hundreds of tonnes of agent (mustard and nerve agents) since 1998. In these circumstances, it is not possible accurately to estimate present stocks.

Fascinating. Is it credible? One presumes that Prof. Krugman believes so.

So, if I am following correctly, the Earnest Professor will not decry future terror alerts as cheap political stunts designed to scare the electorate into voting Republican. The issue is real!

Further, the Earnest Professor seems to be saying, albeit indirectly, that the threat of Saddam's WMD program was also real, or at least that the threat assessment was credible.

Quite an odd day for Krugman readers.

UPDATE: Has Krugman ever suggested that terror alerts are, or might be, cheap political stunts? Good question? How about this, from what seems to be June 25, 2002:

Clearly, George W. Bush's people believe that real-world problems will solve themselves, or at least won't make the evening news, because by pure coincidence they will be pre-empted by terror alerts.

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The clash of Titans! On the subject of Jayson Blair, troubled NY Times reporter, TAPPED endorses the suggestion made by the WaPo's Terry Neal that Jayson Blair was "too good to be true":

Neal makes another worthwhile point too: None of us know for sure what went wrong at the Times that allowed this to happen. But the most logical, intuitive explanation isn't that top editors treated Blair with kid gloves because of his race; it's that he rose through the ranks because his stories stood out -- specifically because they were made up. It's the same reason Glass rose so quickly at TNR: It's a lot easier to produce amazing copy if you're making things up than if you're playing within the rules of journalism. Viewed in that light, it's no surprise that people thought Blair was a rising star, and treated him accordingly.

Hmm, can we have a rebuttal from TAPPED, please?

Now, it's certainly fair to ask whether Times editors overlooked some of Blair's mistakes because they wanted to pull along a seemingly talented, engaging, and bright young black journalist despite his being known to be a little sloppy.

Hmm, he was "known to be a little sloppy", but he was a rising star because his made-up material fooled people into thinking he had talent. Can both of these be correct?

I will cast the deciding vote. From the NY Times account, it is perfectly evident that many folks at the Times, including Howell Raines, were well aware of credibility problems with Jayson Blair:

His mistakes became so routine, his behavior so unprofessional, that by April 2002, Jonathan Landman, the metropolitan editor, dashed off a two-sentence e-mail message to newsroom administrators that read: "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now."

Star treatment? I would love to see the personnel files at TAPPED - maybe that is typical. Or how about this?

Joyce Purnick, who was the metropolitan editor at the time, recalled thinking that he was better at newsroom socializing than at reporting, and told him during a candid lunch that after graduation he should work for a smaller newspaper. "I was telling him, `Go learn the business,' " she said.


But Jerry Gray, one of several Times editors to become mentors to Mr. Blair, repeatedly warned him that he was too sloppy — in his reporting and in his appearance.

...Mr. Blair continued to make mistakes, requiring more corrections, more explanations, more lectures about the importance of accuracy.

...A few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, he wrote an article laden with errors. Many reporters make mistakes, and statistics about corrections are only a rough barometer of journalistic skills. When considered over all, Mr. Blair's correction rate at The Times was within acceptable limits. Still, this article required a correction so extensive that it attracted the attention of the new executive editor, Howell Raines.

...Still, Mr. Blair's actions stood out. He made mistakes and was unavailable for long stretches.

Mr. Landman sent Mr. Blair a sharply worded evaluation in January 2002, noting that his correction rate was "extraordinarily high by the standards of the paper." Mr. Landman then forwarded copies of that evaluation to Mr. Boyd and William E. Schmidt, associate managing editor for news administration, along with a note that read, "There's big trouble I want you both to be aware of."

Oh, enough. Jayson Blair was closely supervised for several months, his quality improved, and he was scheduled to be moved to the Sports Desk, where he would delight Mets fans by fabricating Mike Piazza quotes. Is that the typical career path of a rising star? However, Raines put him on the sniper team, and the rest is history.

History, that is, for most of us. TAPPED, or at least parts of it, remains stuck wth a fantasy in which Blair's deceit went unnoticed and actually contributed to his success.

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Thursday, May 15, 2003

TAPPED: Never Say Never Again

Our reliable source of mirth is at it again, weighing in on the Cavuto-Krugman brawl:

Seriously though, does Cavuto know anything about journalism or newspapers? You'd think so, since he's been in the biz for a while. But what kind of an idiot thinks Krugman's column -- which appears on the op-ed page, with all the other opinion columns, which are, you know, known to be opinionated from time to time -- is supposed to be a "straight news story"? ...Krugman, whatever his faults, has never called himself a journalist -- although that weasel "no doubt" clause gets Cavuto off the hook for not checking.

Emphasis added, here and below. And speaking of "not checking", perhaps TAPPED can guess at the identity of the chap who posted this at the Paul Krugman website (oops, that might give it away!)

"...It's important that a national publication like the New York Times insist that its journalists be free from conflicts of interest; kudos to my employers for their strict rules, which insist that writers be free from anything that might raise questions - rules that I have followed from the moment I joined the Times. It's also important for a journalist to disclose previous connections where they are relevant - which I have."

Hmm, did you guess "Paul Krugman"?

Is TAPPED telling us that they can not take Krugman seriously as a journalist? Welcome aboard! I don't suppose they can teach him much about fact-checking though.

Now, I want to rally the spirits of the TAPPERS - this sort of research is not that hard. I got results on my very first Google search, and had an answer after roughly forty five seconds. It took a special inspiration to Google on "Paul Krugman" and "journalist", but this sort of skill can be developed with practice.

I may have a special benefit - a Nigerian minister sold me a special lifetime subscription to Google, and I benefit from access to searches of the web, images, news, and other cool stuff (Blogs?!). But maybe TAPPED can learn about Google too.

UPDATE: Read their whole piece to fully grasp the "straight news story" question. Cavuto is referring to himself and defending himself against the charge that he editorializes within the news segments in this next bit. He is not, contra TAPPED, suggesting that Krugman editorializes in his "news stories". Judge for yourself:

"Look, I'd much rather put my cards on the table and let people know where I stand in a clear editorial, than insidiously imply it in what's supposed to be a straight news story. And by the way, you sanctimonious twit, no one -- no one -- tells me what to say. I say it. And I write it. And no one lectures me on it. Save you, you pretentious charlatan.

TAPPED sees what they want, of course. Perhaps an excess of medication.

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People Who Don't Like Castro Are Going To Like This

C'mon, it's only been forty years. The warm-up period is almost over!

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Is This The NRO Or The NYT?

Where, the CalPundit might wonder, are the standards? Stephen Moore has a column with an egregious arithmetic error, as the CalPundit noted here. But wait, the cover-up is worse than the crime - the column has been fixed with no explanation! If the NRO can have a "Krugman Truth Squad", maybe they should also deliver "Moore Truth".

Now, I part ways with Mr. Drum when he says:

No explanation is offered. Of course, since the only explanations are that Moore is either (a) innumerate or (b) a lying sack, I guess that's not surprising.

That's it? The CalPunster can only think of explanations? C'mon, we have seen him spin like an Okie twister in a trailer park, coming up with one, two, three, four, five, six posts on Jayson Blair before admitting that maybe part of the problem is affirmative action as implemented at the Times. Maybe he is just dizzy, and can't spin the Moore story. I can help extend his list.

(c) "we regret the editing error" - c'mon, pass the buck! Moore submitted a text saying "roughly 60%", and some helpful editor who should stick to "Spellcheck" decided to "tighten up the text". YES, that is Moore's name on it, but who knew?

(d) He phoned it in! In a good way, that is. Look, he was calling from some airport on his way to some Important Meeting, and outlined the column to an Earnest Lackey (I've been one, I know the drill). Moore supplied the theme and the lead, told the Lackey to fill in the blanks, and was off to Cut Taxes and Save the World. The rest is grim history.

Shocking? I know you have a (depressingly accurate) mental image of the Minuteman, typing furiously in the MinuteGarret, with the Encyclopedia Brittanica at my side and a fully-paid subscription to Google on my PC.

In fact, I myself can imagine the Cal Pundit, a fine looking youngster perched in his aerie overlooking Southern California, swooping down like a hawk to carry away poor miscreants like Roger Moore. Perhaps, given his generous budget, he is at poolside, typing on a laptop with a cool wi-fi connection while some slinky babe hands him a double latte. (HEY, that is not some slinky babe, that is his wife! Whatever.)

But the point is, we write this stuff ourselves. Not everyone does. Maybe Moore didn't. He looked it over, and put his name on it, and overlooked the mistake. But it was wrong, wrong, WRONG!

I have exerted the influence of the MinuteMan to investigate this. If there is power in e-mail, this will be resolved!

There is no excuse for the non-announcement of the correction. Troubling.

And there is no reason that the CalPundit can't come up with better spin. Also troubling.

But what really puts sand on my strawberries is the complete absence of a proper double latte here in MinuteParts, despite an abundance of fine looking MinuteLadies.

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Robert Shiller Appears In The NY Times

In one of the stranger columns we have encountered at the Times, Robert Shiller, Professor of Economics at Yale, proposes that the US index its tax brackets and rates to the level of income inequality. No, seriously. Eventually, we will get to our rebuttal points, which is that his concept slices the pie without growing it, is hopelessly complex, deliberately confuses "income" with "wealth", ruins incentives, and annoys me. Meanwhile, we have some fun.

"...While economic stimulus [of the current tax proposal] is important, Congress and the president should also take up an issue with far more consequence for America's long-term growth and stability: economic inequality.

According to the Census Bureau, the bottom 40 percent of American families earned 18 percent of the national income in 1970, but by 1998 they earned only 14 percent — and that figure could fall to 10 percent before too long. On a global scale, too, inequality is a problem. Per capita gross domestic product in India in 2000 was only 7 percent of that of the United States, and for China the figure was 11 percent. Such a difference could increase the possibility of greater inequality within America.

The prospect of worsening inequality is truly frightening... "

Emphasis added. Well, I am familiar with statistics indicating that median and working class incomes have stagnated, and that a rising tide has not lifted all boats. Maybe Prof. Shiller should present them, rather than me, since I am Not On His Side. That said, what can we make of the prospect which truly frightens the Timorous Prof? If the US GDP doubled tomorrow, and I managed to claim half, I suspect that income inequality would rise. Would that be such a terrible thing? Income inequality fell during the Great Depression and WWII - were those frightening times? Say it with me - it is not just how you slice the pie that matters, it is also the size of the pie that counts! YES, it's a cliche, and for a reason - it is still true after all these years.

...The tax cut passed two years ago was fairly conventional. Tax rates and brackets were mostly indexed to the Consumer Price Index. President Bush's current tax plan proposes some minor adjustments in this plan that accelerate the tax reductions.

This basic framework for tax law doesn't make much sense. Instead, future tax brackets and rates should be contingent on the extent of future inequality. Tax law should be based on a principle that might be called inequality insurance: the taxes would be collected in such a way as to insure that the level of inequality, after taxes and transfers, does not exceed the levels present when the law was enacted. If such indexing were put in place today, the brackets and rates would adjust whenever inequality worsened beyond today's levels.

If the nature of the economy changes, and a small number of people capture the lion's share of pretax income, then the tax rates on them would automatically rise, and the tax rates on lower-income people decline, until today's level of inequality was restored. Higher taxes on the high incomes would be imposed exactly at a time when the few are suddenly becoming enriched relative to the many. There would be no delays while politicians debated whether taxes should be raised or cut.

Ahh, this will not be passed as an attempt at tax simplification. Just for starters, even if we all agreed this was a good idea, aren't there lags in data collection of at least a few years? Not to mention honest disputes about how to interpret the measures of inequality. And do we change brackets and rates annually, or every five years, or what? Surely there is some benefit to pretending to have a predictable tax code. Oh, don't answer these questions, this is a terrible idea for other reasons as well.

First, news flash, and my wife pointed this out to me as I raved about something else at the breakfast table, taxes already increase on people who earn more. First, they move into higher tax brackets, which is why we call it a "progressive" tax system. Secondly, folks who earn more even within the same bracket pay more - the higher rate is applied to more income. This should all be obvious, but it may bear repeating.

Now, the Prof wants to go beyond that and automatically make the tax code even more progressive as income inequality rises. Let's see why:

Reframing the tax system in this way could help deal effectively with one of the world's most serious problems, which is the potential for growing inequality. Highly talented, educated and hard-working people living in less developed countries often earn only a small fraction of what their counterparts in advanced countries earn. As Americans increasingly compete on a world market, there is a serious risk that their jobs will be given to people overseas and their incomes will drop precipitously — producing sudden profit opportunities for other Americans and creating sharp increases in inequality here.

So, globalization may increase income inequality (I agree), inequality is so clearly bad that, with no context or further explanation we should oppose it (really?), and we must DO SOMETHING! Whatever.

No doubt there would be strident opposition, especially among Republicans, to a tax system that would produce automatic tax increases for the wealthy. [Hmm. Do I sound strident?] But the issue is not just what is best for the wealthy; it is how to create a just society with better opportunities for all. Not even the most antitax Republicans want a gratuitously unequal society that could create resentment and even violence.

Speak for yourself, Mr. Bleeding Heart! I know Evil Republicans who can only get themselves out of bed and into their cars each morning because of their hope of driving the BMW past a homeless person. Takes all kinds!

Or seriously (OK, I'm backing down - the last bit was NOT serious), OF COURSE the issue is "not just what is best for the wealthy". Their are plenty of Republicans who think low taxes and reduced Government actually grow the economy and benefit everyone. We even look at places like Germany, which are endlessly contemplating reform of their hopelessly rigid labor markets, and wonder why that should be the model to which we aspire (hey, now my strawman can battle his strawman! Sort of like Intellectual Battle-Bots).

Unlike Europe, the US economy creates jobs and absorbs immigrants; depending on where immigrants arrive on the income scale, they can be a drag on inequality statistics. Should we stop accepting immigrants? That might help the inequality statistics, but I would find that proposal truly frightening.

Now, I should note that I do NOT mean that specific immigrants are a drag on our statistics - if all immigrants go from sweeping the streets to running their own companies over ten years then each is a success story. However, in their first year in the country, they show up in the bottom portion of the inequality stats. My point is that each year, there are new immigrants entering near the bottom of the economic ladder. IF we stopped taking new entrants, the workforce would become smaller (or at least, less large) and more equal - is that an unambiguously "good thing"?

Besides, the prospect of future tax increases that are contingent on changes in the distribution of wealth may not be as politically unlikely as it seems. After all, high rates on the very rich would be put in place only after it became much easier to get rich. The new system could be designed so it would always be just as easy for people to attain the same relative economic status that the upper segments of society enjoy today. There is no reason to worry that more wealthy people will feel any less of an incentive to work hard than they do now.

Incentives won't be affected? Well, at least he acknowledges that it is an issue, saving me the trouble. So, two points. First, he is, presumably deliberately, confusing "wealth" and "Income". When Heinz stock doubles in value, income for Theresa Heinz is unchanged, unless the company also raises the dividend. She is considered "wealthy" not only because of her income, but because of her, ahh, I'm stuck for a word, "wealth". Progressive taxes on "income" may reduce income inequality - whether that is a sensible proxy for wealth inequality is an open question. I suspect that the real problem is wealth - let's see:

When the top tenth of the population has attained such a high percentage of society's wealth that it can effectively block any reform, it can be counted on to use its power to keep its riches.

"Keep its riches"? Sounds like he is referring to the stock of wealth (net worth), rather than the flow, "income". Evidently he is aware of the difference.

Anyway, second point - "high rates on the very rich would be put in place only after it became much easier to get rich". Easy? Was the California Gold Rush easy? Or the recent Silicon Valley Chip Rush, where folks worked 120 hours a week prepping for the IPO? I think the idea of the current system is that, if opportunity knocks, folks can answer the door, work hard, and be rewarded. In Shiller's world, if opportunity knocks, don't answer, you are only increasing inequality and the taxman will, quite rightly, take it away.

So, what do we think? I sense a hidden agenda at work over at the Times. We can keep carping about Krugman all we like, but the Times can threaten us with folks like this. Better the devil you know than the deep blue sea you don't.

UPDATE: More on Shiller's ideas.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Did You Know There Was A War On? (It's Over Now)

Television coverage of the Iraqi war was intense. Viewership was up. What does Prof.Krugman have to say about this?

A funny thing happened during the Iraq war: many Americans turned to the BBC for their TV news. They were looking for an alternative point of view — something they couldn't find on domestic networks, which, in the words of the BBC's director general, "wrapped themselves in the American flag and substituted patriotism for impartiality."

This article refers to comments made by BBC Director-General Greg Dyke, but lacks the specifc quote provided by the Earnest Professor. Are there any viewership figures?

BBC reports on the war were shown four times a day on the cable network BBC America, available in about a third of U.S. television homes. BBC America also ran about 100 hours of continuous news coverage when the war broke out.

The network can't say whether Dyke's anecdotes about U.S. interest are reflected in a larger audience; it has no ratings information for its news shows.

BBC World News coverage is also available on 220 public television stations in the United States. Ratings for its newscast increased by 28 percent during the war, according to the program's distributor.

During the war, viewership for Fox News Channel jumped by 207 percent, for CNN by 250 percent and for MSNBC by 294 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research.

So, an increase for the BBC of somewhere between "don't know" and 28%. Increases for the US outlets exceeding 200%. There was a war on, and a rising tide lifted all boats. Figures for Al-Jazeera not offered here.

As Prof. Krugman admits, and this story mentions, the BBC was, in the eyes of critics, less than impartial:

The BBC's own impartiality has been called into question, however.

Some conservatives nicknamed it the "Baghdad Broadcasting Corp." And one of the BBC's own correspondents, Paul Adams, accused the network of downplaying British military achievements in Iraq and exaggerating the impact of casualties.

Andrew Sullivan had some beauts about BBc reporting, but what is the point? Speaking of which, what is the point of this column? Privately held media may have an incentive to curry favor with the ruling administration - does the Times dare print this? Here is an odd hint of a possible direction for this column:

...Yet because the networks aren't government-owned, they aren't subject to the kind of scrutiny faced by the BBC, which must take care not to seem like a tool of the ruling party. So we shouldn't be surprised if America's "independent" television is far more deferential to those in power than the state-run systems in Britain or — for another example — Israel.

Hmm, a call for state ownership of broadcast media? Only a state run media can be truly free? Well, it is a pretty muted call. Maybe we should attempt to stabilize the regulatory regime? Well, it would be easier it we coul dstabilize the industry. Shouldn't this column mention the Capture Hypothesis? Here is a link to an article on business-government collusion, which I probably ought to read at some point. Feel free to tell me if you love it, or otherwise.

I suppose the Earnest Professor is warning us that bad things may happen under the evil Bush regime, or, hypothetically, any other. But I am not worried, not while Paul and Howell are on the job and Hillary! waits in the wings.

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Sunday, May 11, 2003

Plagiarism And Fraud At The NY Times - The Blair Snitch Project

A young black journalist formerly at the NY Times has serious problems, including plagiarism and fraud with about half of his seventy-three bylined articles. The Times has a long account of behavior so odd it could never be passed off as fiction. Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan are following this, as are many other media big-feet.

So, what have we to add? Two points:

1. The Times runs a help-wanted notice as follows:

"The Times is asking readers to report any additional falsehoods in Mr. Blair's work; the e-mail address is retrace@nytimes.com."

Uhh, hello, most of the articles are archived. I'm supposed to pay for access to this? Who is helping whom? And what about this 30 days and out archiving policy, in light of this debacle? Set the archives free, and maybe a little sunlight will help prevent further mold (hey, INSPIRED metaphor!).

2. To what do we attribute the evident collapse of the editorial and supervisory processes? Mickey is using stuff like "evidence" to blame affirmative action. I say, Cherchez La Femme! Further, I Boldly Predict that no responsible journalist will stagger down this path, so here I go! IF, I say if, Jayson were an attractive young woman, wouldn't someone would be muttering snidely "Who did she sleep with to get and keep her job?" Well, let's move this story into the twenty-first century - doesn't the Times have senior editors who are women? And is the Times going to trash the reputation of one of its senior women just to salvage the reputation of its diversity hiring? Troubling!

And why do we presume Mr. Blair to be involved with a woman, anyway? What if this is the newsroom romance that dare not speak its name, hmm? Not that there is anything wrong with that! Maybe Mr. Blair is even more of a diversity hire than we realize, that he has high level protection for reasons we don't know about, and we are criticizing affirmative action targeting blacks when we should be looking elsewhere. If this were the case, would the Times let us in on the real reason for their failure to supervise Mr. Blair? No. A cover-up of epic proportions? How would we know?

Leaving us where? Some of these questions might have answers in newsroom gossip, although I would be surprised if a Responsible Journalist published these sorts of suggestions without serious evidence. So critics end up picking affirmative action as the fall guy, rather than attributing this problem to something as simple as the world's oldest professional hazard.

UPDATE: Hmm, even when I'm right, I'm wrong. Or vice versa. Responsible journalists seek, and sort of find, la femme. The Daily News, on romance and intrigue at the Times:

Meanwhile, staffers buzzed about whether Blair's relationship with a woman who is a friend of Raines' wife helped win him favored treatment.

Sources said the woman, Zuza Glowacka, has worked in The Times' photo department.

The Times reported Sunday that Blair, when confronted with a charge of plagiarizing a story about a Texas family, was able to describe their house in detail, possibly because he had seen the paper's "computerized photo archives."

Glowacka, 23, a Polish emigre who could not be reached yesterday, is said to be a friend of Raines' Polish-born wife, Krystyna Stachowiak, whom the editor married in March.

Stachowiak, a former journalist who later worked in public relations, and Glowacka's mother, journalist Ewa Zadrzynska, were among three people who set up "Poland on the Front Page, 1979-1989," a media exhibit in Warsaw last fall.

Raines said through a spokeswoman last night that he never socialized with Blair.

Originally published on May 13, 2003

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Friday, May 09, 2003

Dennis Miller Speaks

I overload the Creative Excerpter:

'Why Are We in Iraq?'


"With their dominance in sport, at work and at home eroded, Bush thought white American men needed to know they were still good at something. That's where Iraq came in . . .

The great white stars of yesteryear were for the most part gone, gone in football, in basketball, in boxing, and half-gone in baseball . . . On the other hand, the good white American male still had the Armed Forces . . . ." -- Norman Mailer, writing in the London Times' op-ed page last week.

When The Wall Street Journal asked me to react to Mr. Mailer's latest daft screed, I almost took a pass. I've never written an opinion piece for a newspaper before, and furthermore I know as much about Norman Mailer as I do about Mary Quant. I think they were both kinda hot for a few minutes in the '60s.

Other than a vague recollection that Mr. Mailer once played Boswell to Jack Henry Abbott's Samuel Johnson, I really only remember one other pertinent fact about him. But, what the heck, if you're going to take a stab at something new, why not take a stab at it with Norman Mailer.

Mr. Mailer was the Father of the Non-Fiction Novel and now he can also claim lineage as the distant, addled third-cousin of the Rational Op-Ed. Studying at the Sorbonne as a young man obviously made a deep impression on him because this thing reads like Jacques Chirac's Dream Journal.

With six marriages under his belt, one would assume Mr. Mailer has a stranglehold on warfare. One would be wrong.

His basic contention is that we went to war with Iraq because with the dominance of white American men in the boxing ring, the office and the home front eroded, George W. Bush thought they needed to know they were still good at something. Mr. Mailer has a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Harvard so he had to know that argument wouldn't fly. But, then again, maybe this claptrap is just a grand put-on. The fact that I and many others can't differentiate anymore does not auger well for Norm's legend.

You know something, the only "race" that really occurred to me during the war was our Army's sprint to Baghdad. Conversely, Mr. Mailer appears to see just race in our armed forces, right down to the "Super-Marines" as he calls them. It seems that Mr. Mailer even notices color in people when they're wearing camouflage. He then goes on to speak about racial subsets in the world of sports. Now, when I watch baseball, football and basketball, I see uniforms and skills. Mr. Mailer evidently sees races and nationalities. He's like a Casey Stengel/William Shockley hybrid. "Why'd you send the rook' back to Triple A, Skip?" "Well, he was gettin' around on the fast ball but he still couldn't hit the bell curve."

Ironically, Mr. Mailer seems to see everything in the world in terms of black and white, except of course, good and evil.

He also fancies himself a boxer, a "champeen," but stuff like this will just sully his record. He's now a club fighter, a pug, a tomato can that Warhol no doubt gave him. He constantly uses boxing metaphors and yet refuses to give President Sugar Ray Bush any credit for his startling TWKO (Three-Week Knock Out).

A guy like Mailer hates a guy like Bush because Mailer thinks of himself as infinitely smarter than Bush and yet President Bush is the most powerful man on the planet and old Normy's connecting through Atlanta and flying on prop planes to a community college that's so far out in the sticks the mail rider has yet to arrive with the message that The Great Mailer is currently more out of the loupe than a jeweler with conjunctivitis. All so he can scoop up a sub-microscopic honorarium and the accolades of star-struck locals and 18-year-olds who mistakenly think Mr. Mailer wrote "Gravity's Rainbow."

He feels there's no connection between the secular state of Iraq and radical fundamentalist terrorists. Not true. Abu Abbas was recently recaptured there after Europe practiced catch-and-release with him many years back. Abu Nidal was found shot to death last year in his Baghdad apartment. Police suspect fair play.

And while I don't want to appear to pick more nits than a father-and-son Spider Monkey team who know they're being followed by a National Geographic film crew, Mr. Mailer's wrong when he says that only one-half of our country was for the war: 70% is one-half only if the whole is considered to be 140%.

Mr. Mailer at one time challenged and provoked. Now he just provokes. Norman Mailer has become Norman Maine, a former matinee idol whom loved ones best keep an eye on, because if this is the best he can now muster, he'll no doubt be walking purposely into the surf off Provincetown any day now. And as Mr. Mailer's prostate gradually supplants his ego as the largest gland in his body, he's going to have to realize, as is the case with all young lions who inevitably morph into Bert Lahr, that his alleged profundities are now being perceived as the early predictors of dementia.

I empathize with Mr. Mailer in one regard, though. Although he's clearly abdicated the lucid throne, it must be hellish for someone who can still arrange words so beautifully -- i.e. "the question will keen in pitch . . ." -- to wake up every morning and have it slowly dawn on him that he's effectively been rendered totally irrelevant.

Mr. Miller is a comedian.

Updated May 5, 2003

"Mr. Miller is a comedian". Boy, I hope that was obvious.

Now, Mr. Mailer replies:

Dear Dennis,

Just because the two big guys who flanked you on Monday Night Football took away your balls and left you with a giggle in replacement doesn't mean you have to suck up to The Wall Street Journal.

But thanks for appreciating my fine use of "keen."

Keen up, then, to my piece and read it again without panic. You're too good to become squalid and kiss-ass for so little.

Cheers, blessings,

Norman Mailer
Provincetown, Mass.

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When Worlds Collide

Daniel Drezner applaudes the announcement that the Administration will promote the creation of a free trade zone in the Middle East. The Man Sans Q is bemused, just as we are bemused by his so-called Blogger links. Try Friday, May 09, 2003, Posted 10:05 AM.

Jumping jiminey, do I actually have to go ahead and form my own opinion? Why do I read these guys, anyway?

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My Six Year Old Gets "Boo-boos" Sometimes

We put a band-aid over it and tell him to just wait, he will be fine. Being six, he waits at least ten minutes before peeking under the band-aid to see how he is doing. But he only checks about a hundred times in the first few days, and then settles in to poking the scab every few hours for the next week. Yes, it would be better to accept the pain and move on, but he is only a kid. We do hope that he will outgrow this self-defeating habit.

However, when I read Mr. Schrank, the Man Sans Q (Wednesday, May 07, 2003, Posted 8:44 PM), or others, I see that, for some folks, old habits die hard.

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Quick Picks

The Nets may shock me by losing to the Pistons in the Eastern finals. Meanwhile, I am ignoring that game last night, and staying with Sacramento over San Antonio in the "Real Finals".

UPDATE: Well, Chris Webber being out may change things.

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Tear Out The Front Page

Or, as they say at Best of the Web, "You don't say". How about this shocker:

"Spirituality Protects Against End-Of-Life Despair"

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Quicker Krugman

Seriously. From his Friday column denouncing, yet again, the Bush tax cut, we excerpt this:

...bear in mind that Bush-style tax cuts now have a track record. Of the 2.1 million jobs lost over the past two years, 1.7 million vanished after the passage of the 2001 tax cut.

Cheap shot, or a serious attempt to suggest a cause and effect relationship? We cut taxes, and it cost us jobs? I think that other factors, including the collapse of the tech bubble, the recession that began in March 2001 (prior to passage of the tax cut), and the 9/11 attack, are responsible for a significant portion of those job losses. Therefore, my guess is "cheap shot", but given the Earnest Professor's recent embedding of serious economic models in cryptic comments, how do we tell? Watch his website, I guess.

OK, I can't stop. One more:

The tax cut will be passed, and the budget will plunge even deeper into the red. And one day we'll realize that international investors are treating us like a banana republic — that they won't finance our trade deficit unless they are paid very high rates of interest (have I mentioned that the dollar has just fallen to a four-year low against the euro?) — and everyone will wonder why.

No, he has not mentioned that the Euro is strengthening against the dollar. The Euro is also improving against the yen, despite Japan's current account surplus. A different road to banana-dom for Japan, perhaps. This article recites the conventional wisdom, which is that the Euro is benefitting from higher interest rates than either the US or Japan.

Also unmentioned by the Earnest Prof is that US Treasuries are back at the lows set in March. Hmm, is this consistent with hyperinflation? Back when he refinanced his mortgage in March, Prof. Krugman seemed to be worrying about higher interest rates.

He mentions the Euro as a comparison, so let me play my own broken record. France and Germany have budget deficits around 3% of GDP, which is proportionately higher than ours. They also have higher unemployment, less favorable demographics, more rigid labor markets, higher taxes, and more generous welfare and health programs. If the US faces a crisis caused by budget deficits and Social Security, how is the outlook for Europe any better?

Back in private, the Prof is pondering the problem of deflation and liquidity traps for the US economy. In this view, the Fed may be powerless, and fiscal action, such as a tax cut, may be appropriate to rally the economy. Meanwhile, over at the Times, the Bush tax cut is evil.

There is a middle ground, of course - pitch the tax cut that makes sense now. Republicans will label it as "me-too", others will wonder whether short term tax cuts produce changes in long term behavior, and away we will go. Meanwhile, I think both of these predictions will be wrong - no deflation, no hyperinflation, just muddling through.

Now I am really finished. Almost. I just want to make sure that everyone is up to speed, on the same page, and ready for the weekend.

"You know, $550 billion here, $550 billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." comes from Krugman's column. The original line, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money", is attributed to Sen. Everett Dirksen, Republican wit and raconteur. But not so fast!

UPDATE: I should read the newspapers. The NY Times has a long, gloom inducing piece on the current attempt by the French Governmrent to reform their pension system in an attempt to confront fiscal and demographic reality. I think I will rely on the power of flexible timestamps to put a new post below this one at 10:00 AM.

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Deeply Troubling

"Judge Rules Disabled Student Will Be Sole High School Valedictorian":

A federal judge ruled yesterday that a South Jersey high school senior with an immune deficiency would be the sole valedictorian for her graduating class this year, after she contended that the school district was discriminating against her by proposing that two other students share the honor.

The student, Blair L. Hornstine, 18, sued the Moorestown school district, its superintendent and the township of Moorestown after learning that although she had the highest grade-point average in her class, she might have to share the honor with two others. She maintained that the proposal would diminish the award and her academic career.

But lawyers for the school district in Burlington County argued that because of her immune deficiency, Ms. Hornstine is classified as a disabled student and is granted privileges that other Moorestown High School students are not.

In her ruling today, Judge Freda L. Wolfson of United States District Court in Camden agreed with Ms. Hornstine.

Because of her illness, Ms. Hornstine spends only a few hours a day at the high school taking classes, and the rest of the day at home with private tutors. Because she is exempt from physical education classes, school officials said, she was able to take more weighted academic classes.

Earlier this year, several parents and students expressed their concern to the superintendent, Paul J. Kadri, that Ms. Hornstine had an unfair advantage over other students because of her home schooling and ability to take multiple advanced placement classes, according to court papers.

...In the lawsuit, Ms. Hornstine asked for $200,000 in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages. Judge Wolfson is expected to address those requests in a later ruling, Mr. Jacobs said.

A lawyer for the school district, John B. Comegno II, did not return several messages, and Mr. Kadri was unavailable for comment.

Ms. Hornstine's lawsuit is hardly a novelty. In recent years, students in Michigan, Ohio and Washington have gone to court to prevent schools from naming co-valedictorians.

Mr. Jacobs said that his client would attend Harvard in the fall and that she planned to become a lawyer. He said he did not know what topic Ms. Hornstine would address during her commencement address on June 19.

Well, the topic of her commencement address will probably not be "How to win friends and influence people." As to the "right" thing to do, I am stuck. It's not fair that she has this disability, it's not fair that she gets tutors and extra scheduling, life is not fair. If the school had created a special category for "Disabled Valedictorian", that would not fairly recognize her very real achievement. If the rules do not create a special category then she won, and what are we arguing about? Other than, of course, a complete failure of manners and common sense. Or, as my wife wondered, did anyone ever teach these kids about sharing?

That said, the idea that she is also asking for another $2.7 Million eliminates my sympathy for her. I am only guessing here, but I suspect that her school district does not have the odd million or three lying about. I also suspect that the private at-home tutors have been paid for by the school district over lo these many years, and I expect her parents had to slug it out with the district over that, so we may be seeing the last act in a gruesome "I know my rights!" drama. Further, her attorney surely wants a payday, but this is absurd. Where do I sign up for jury duty? She will get a special education, all right.

Have a great time at Harvard. Maybe you can sue them, too. And prospective employers will no doubt find the story of your high school experience quite interesting, before they accidentally lose your resume.

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So John Kerry Has A Pre-Nup

For those of us who read "Cinderella" as a cautionary tale about the importance of estate planning, the news about Theresa Heinz and John Kerry is not surprising. However, as one wag wondered on "Imus in the Morning", if Kerry's own wife doesn't trust him, why should America? One more barnacle on the Good Ship Kerry - this latest tidbit can't help, might hurt.

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Lieberman On Letterman

Doleful Joe gave the Top Ten reasons he should be the nominee. Number one, which I paraphrase: "Look at me - will I ever get involved in a sex scandal?"

Big laughs. Now, note to Joe and his staff - Clinton is not your opponent, and Republicans are not likely to nominate you.

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Pension Reform in France

As a sidebar to the trecent column by Professor Krugman, I drifted back to the question of the fiscal and demographic challenge facing France, Germany, and other European states grappling with generous pensions, a retiring baby boom, and a non-growing work force.

France first! (Not the motto here, BTW). From the NY Times:

PARIS, May 8 — France's social safety net is less safe than ever these days.

By far the most explosive domestic issue in the country is reform of the expensive and generous pension system, a "pay-as-you-go" setup in which today's workers pay for the retirement of the previous generation.

But confronted with the demographic reality of retirees who are living longer and the prospect of waves of baby-boom retirees, the center-right government has decided to confront the unions and try to push through painful reforms in the public sector by the summer.

My cocktail party summary - the ruling right wing party is attempting a legislative push this summer for changes in pension calculations. Union leaders are opposed, claiming it will reduce the value of public sector pensions by 30 to 50 percent. Major strikes derailed the last attempt at reform in 1995, and strikes are planned again - a national strike is scheduled for May 13, so circle the date.

Meanwhile, the French have also decided to freeze Government spending to reduce their budget deficit, which exceeds the limit set by the Euro No-Growth and Instability Pact. That's how we fight recessions in Europe!

And, bonus tid-bit: "A World Bank report issued today concluded that most nations in Europe must urgently change their pension systems or face a sharp decline in the living standards of their retirees." Well, here is a Reuters story, and is this the report?

Ok, huge excerpts from the Times story, with highlights:

Full-page ads in the country's major newspapers on Wednesday carried an unusual, emotional open letter by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin to working men and women. "Conceived more than 50 years ago, our retirement system no longer corresponds to the current and future demographic reality," he wrote.

The statistics are daunting. Mr. Raffarin said that in 1960, four workers financed each pensioner, compared with two in 2000 and one by 2020. The burden on each worker has therefore grown. Unless there are radical changes, he added, pensions will shrink by 50 percent in 20 years and the entire retirement system "will be doomed."

...Under the plan, France aims to bring public sector workers — more than one-fourth of the French work force — in line with the private sector by 2008. That would force public sector workers to contribute to the state pension system for 40 years, up from 37-and-a-half years now.

By 2020, the payment period would be increased to 42 years. Government support for early retirement, a clever way to hide unemployment, will be phased out. Tax incentives will be introduced to attract workers to company-based savings programs like those in the United States, and workers will be allowed to get a pension "bonus" if they work beyond 40 years.

Currently, public sector workers like elementary school teachers, nurses and policemen are allowed to retire at full pension at 55; some civil servants can even retire at 50.

UNSA, a large civil servants' union, estimates that the government's reform plan will lower pension levels by between 30 and 50 percent in the public sector.

"This isn't reform of the pension system — it's the destruction," said a recent UNSA statement. Hervé Baro, secretary general of the union, said in Friday's issue of Le Monde that the government did not "properly measure the damaging side effects of its project," adding, "Our determination to act is stronger than ever."

The unions are particularly concerned about their workers' losing some of the hidden benefits they enjoy under the current system. Bonuses are added into final salary calculations, which add, for example, 19 percent to police pensions. Government employees who work overseas receive a 35 percent bonus on the basic pension benefit.

Early retirement programs make it easier for many civil servants, particularly women with children, to retire after 15 years of paying into their pension funds.

Some commentators have said the reform package does not go far enough. "If 25 years after Britain, 15 years after Italy and 10 years after Spain, France finally started to cut back the public sphere, it would be a revolution," wrote Alexis Brezet on Tuesday in the center-right daily Le Figaro.

Last night, Mr. Raffarin pled his case on national television, saying he was willing to listen to constructive criticism but would not tolerate any effort to thwart his overall plan.

...He underscored that populism would not win out. "Let's be clear," he said. "Parliament must decide. The street should express itself, but it's not the street that governs."

The "street" in essence means the unions, which have a long history of mobilizing the working masses against pension reform and have scheduled a national strike for May 13. A demonstration in Paris is planned two weeks later. Last month, a strike over the proposed changes crippled rail and air traffic.

Mr. Raffarin has a large majority in the National Assembly and can push through just about any reform bill he wants. But the great fear of the government is a repetition of the devastating strikes over pension reform in 1995, which so damaged the government of Prime Minister Alain Juppe that it lost a general election two years later.

France is also under fierce pressure to meet European Union targets on budget deficits. On Wednesday, France was ordered by the union to either cut taxes or reduce spending to resolve the deficit problem by October. The government has announced that it will freeze spending next year in an effort to reduce its deficit of 3.6 percent and bring it into conformity with the European Union limit of 3 percent.

"The government would be wrong to believe that just because it is not politically in any danger it is protected from a large-scale social movement on pensions," Bernard Thibault, secretary general of the giant union C.G.T., said in Le Monde Thursday, referring to the prospect of public protests

The Socialist Party said in a statement today that it was Mr. Raffarin who was guilty of "a test of strength and of obstructionism of which he accuses all opponents of his reform." His goal, the statement said, is for workers to "work more and in fact to earn less."

The Communist Party today called for workers to "do everything to thwart" what it described as this "regressive plan."

The pension crisis is not unique to France. A World Bank report issued today concluded that most nations in Europe must urgently change their pension systems or face a sharp decline in the living standards of their retirees.

The report also said that in most European countries, the pension system fails to take into account rising divorce rates and growing numbers of female workers as well as the increase in part-time and self-employed workers.

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