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Joshua Sharf

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April 17, 2009

When Astroturfing Isn't

The Denver Post reporters John Ingold and George Plavin either don't know what "astroturfing" is, or don't care to correct leftists for using the term incorrectly.  In their report on the Denver Tea Party, they quote Mike "The Headless Chicken" Huttner, as deriding the Tea Parties:

"The tea parties are the latest version in a months-long campaign against change, organized by right-wing think tanks and lobbyists who have done well over the last eight years under George Bush," he said.

He pointed to a number of national conservative political groups listed as sponsors on, including FreedomWorks and Americans for Limited Government.

But of course, publicizing events isn't astroturfing. 

Astroturfing is when paid activists pretend to be unpaid volunteers or "men on the street."  It's when ACORN members pretend to be "outraged citizens" stalking AIG employees.  It's when people are paid to spam websites with comments, or when the Pew Foundation finances a campaign finance reform campaign, and then conducts a poll showing increased interest in the subject.  It's when DNC employees photocopy petition signatures and then report the number submitted in triplicate. 

In short, it involves deception, and hiding one's involvement in a campaign in order to make it look popular.

This isn't random name-calling, this is an attempt to deprive the language of a useful term for the sort of thing the Left excels at by changing the definition to any sort of organizing.

April 8, 2009

The Denver Post on HSAs and Single-Payer

Guess which one gets a better review?

As the Colorado House of Representative took us further down the road to socialized health care earlier this week, Douglas County School are considering moving to a Health Savings Account plan for their employees. Needless to say, the Denver Post finds this objectionable:

Douglas County School District soon may join a growing number of employers pushing workers to manage their own medical spending with health savings accounts, eliminating copays for drugs and doctor visits.

The transition is frightening for many who see it as a reinvention of health insurance as they've always known it.


The plan would work nicely for about 85 percent of employees, who are predicted not to spend more than the $1,000 put into their accounts by the district.

But for the other 15 percent, the change could mean a few extra thousand dollars a year spent on health care.

By the twenty-second paragraph, we find out that the system would actually include all that preventative care that single-payer advocates talk about:

A major component of the new health plan, up for a teachers-union vote at the end of the month, is a push to get employees to eat healthier and exercise more.

The plan comes with free preventive care, meaning no charge for mammograms, well-baby checkups and vaccines. Also, the district wants to reward employees for getting healthier - holding contests akin to "The Biggest Loser" reality TV show.

In-between is a real-life, specific case of financial hardship that the plan might cause.

And then, almost at the end of the article, comes what could well be the most appealing aspect of the plan for middle-class employees:

Health savings accounts are the fastest-growing trend in health care, said Andrew Sykes, chairman of Health at Work, a Chicago company hired by Douglas County to coordinate the possible conversion. The accounts have a triple tax benefit - the money goes in pre-tax, grows without tax and can be taken out without tax penalty to spend on health care.

In fact, the money can eventually be rolled over into a regular IRA, without the health-care-spending stipulation. And the tax implications for that real-life case aren't even discussed.

Compare this with the promise-heavy description of single-payer earlier this week:

During the extended debate on the bill, Democrats argued passionately for a government-backed system covering all Coloradans to replace a current system they said is inefficient and full of holes.

"I think it is our responsibility that every single Coloradan, regardless of their wealth or position in society, get the health care they need," said Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village. "It is our obligation."

"This system we have right now," said Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, "is completely and fundamentally broken, and there's no amount of patching it up that we can do to provide universal coverage."

Democrats said a single-payer system would save money overall by streamlining the health-care machinery and taking advantage of economies of scale.

Eventually, we get to the Republican response, but the political trumps are saved for the last paragraph:

Last month, the head of the state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing told lawmakers that Ritter is against the bill, noting that Ritter's health-care commission studied a single-payer system and rejected the idea.

There are no numbers given, no estimates of what such a system will cost or what care compromises will inevitably have to be made, no examples of people who would lose treatment because it wasn't deemed cost-effective by the state, only vague Republican accusations of rationing and expense.

In the meantime, a system that the Post admits will work for 85% of employees, that is intended to control costs by having individual rather than bureaucracies make choices, that provides a serious tax shelter for the young and healthy - exactly when we want people to be putting away money for retirement, is described as scary.

Apparently, for the Denver Post, free stuff is an easier sell that freedom.

February 1, 2009

AP Warns GOP Against "Risky" Opposition to Debt

Opposition to excessive debt as "analyzed" by the AP:

Analysis: GOP gambles in opposing Obama stimulus


AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.

At least two of these folks come with a history. Charles Babington, when at the Washington Post, and Jennifer Loven, in her current position as Democratic flack for the AP, each have a history of writing briefs for the current Democratic position disguised as news reporting or analysis, with Loven having trouble interpreting polls correctly.

WASHINGTON (AP) Eight days after Barack Obama took office as a "change" president, House Republicans have made a huge political gamble that could set the tone for the next election cycle.

In unanimously opposing the massive spending bill that Obama says is crucial to reviving the economy, they signaled they are not cowed by his November win or his calls for a new era of bipartisanship. Obama's popularity will slacken, they say, and even if it doesn't voters will reward a party that makes principled stands for restrained spending and bigger tax cuts.

As usual, "bipartisanship" for Democrats means, "do it our way." The cuts to the package were trivial, the remainder a wish-list of payoffs, new permanent spending, and disguised protectionism.

Democratic officials think Republicans are misreading Americans' hunger for action. And if they are right, the GOP could face a third round of election setbacks next year.

Ah, "Democratic officials" believe there's a Republican gamble, therefore there is one. No possibility that the gamble is on the Democrats' side instead.

The rest of the article is essentially a Democratic press release, repeating claims that the Republicans are rooting for a weaker economy, and that tax cuts for people who don't pay income taxes are actually offset against payroll taxes. Remarkable that when the Democratic party spent 2006-2007 talking about, "the worst economy since the Great Depression," and actively undercutting the war effort in Iraq, the AP never found time to accuse them of rooting against their country's economy or military.

The House vote makes it easier for Democrats to portray the entire Republican Party as a do-nothing, head-in-the-sand group, though GOP officials call that unfair.
It certainly will make it easier for the AP to portray the GOP that way, as only GOP officials will call it unfair.
Both parties point to polls that they say show support for their respective viewpoints. White House chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told House Republican moderates this week that surveys find about 80 percent support for the stimulus legislation.

House GOP leaders, meanwhile, cited a poll Thursday in which most respondents said the stimulus bill is too expensive. It also found, they said, that 71 percent think it's unfair to give refund checks to people who do not pay federal income taxes.

I don't believe published polls supporting Emanuel's position exist, and the AP doesn't cite any; Gallup has a slim 53% majority supporting the bill, while Rasmussen has the bill supported by 42-39. And while the Gallup poll has independents supporting it 46-40, Rasmussen has them opposing it 50-27. The AP reports no numbers for the Republican claims, and instead focuses on the unfairness of tax cuts.

In reality, the political decision here is easy to make. As Powerline pointed out, if the package is seen to be successful, the Democrats will get credit regardless of how the Republicans vote. If the package is seen not to have helped, then Republicans who vote for it will once again have forfeited a chance to distinguish themselves from Democrats.

In the world of the AP, only Republicans always take political risks by acting on principle.

January 15, 2009

Shoe, Meet Other Foot

So Monday, after the rally on Sunday (yes, that's usually how the days are ordered...), a friend of mine calls me to complain about media coverage of the event, and how equal press was given to both sides, even though we had about 5 times as many demonstrators on our side.

I had to walk him through how you deal with those situations, how you work the press even though they're clearly hostile, and how you get your message out, even though they'll ask 10 minutes' worth of questions and print one sentence.

This reliably liberal (although not insanely leftist) Democrat was completely flummoxed at being treated unfairly by the press.

Shoe, meet other foot.

December 29, 2008

Stirred, Not Shaken

That's what we ought to be after a molotov cocktail attack on a Chicago synagogue. The AP is reporting that the police are investigating it as a hate crime, but, "Officials say they don't know if there's a link between the incident and increased violence in the Middle East."

No, of course not. Probably no connection whatsoever. Obviously, it could just as easily have been a white supremacist as an Arab, but I'm guessing this wasn't just someone who thought it would be cool to light up a shul on the last night of Channukah.

December 8, 2008

Rocky for Sale

As by now everyone know, the Rocky Mountain News has been put on the block.  This at a time when the Tribune Company has filed for Chapter 11, when over 30 papers are for sale nationwide, and there don't seem to be any buyers for large-market papers.  The business reasons for this have been chewed over ad infinitum, but the chief culprit is declining ad revenue, which only looks to get worse.  (I'd also suggest brand equity; the Rocky used to win the lion's share of the journalism awards, but the Post had a better brand, in part because broadsheets seem to carry greater credibility.)

Editorially, this is an opportunity.  It's an opportunity for center-right bloggers, who will now be able to go after the Post as it inevitably spins off to the left, becoming our version of the Strib.  It's an opportunity for us to do more original reporting, since it's possible the Rocky won't be there to do it.

It may be a big opportunity for the Examiner, which may try to pick up some of the loose talent soon to be running around Denver looking for work.  The online paper is based here in town, and could rapidly turn its local edition into the flagship for the country.

It's also an opportunity for the talent at the Rocky, who could try the same thing on their own.  Shed the national reporting, bring in some entrepreneurial-minded management, ditch the printing presses and expensive delivery system, and turn the paper into an online, state- and local-oriented newspaper.  Charge a nominal fee for a subscription, and go back to a no-holds-barred style, that takes on the Post directly.

December 2, 2008

Junior Strikes Out

I've been a fan of John Feinstein's sports writing for years. Not so much of his political writing. Today's Washington Post carries a sterling example of the latter, masquerading as the former.

As some of you may have heard, New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress carried an unlicensed handgun into a New York nightclub (is there any other kind of handgun for a private citizen in New York?), and put himself on the disabled list by shooting himself in the leg.

This is the latest in a series of gun-related, ah, fumbles by NFL players in recent months, and Feinstein uses it as an excuse to call for repeal of the 2nd Amendment, and to launch a broadside at those who might disagree:

Now, let's not start screaming about the Second Amendment. To begin with, the amendment should be abolished -- a sensible interpretation of the amendment is that it was written to allow the people to raise a militia for protection and to hunt for food. Clearly no one needs to raise a militia these days, and those who hunt for a living can be licensed to do so.

It would be nice if President-elect Obama had the time to focus his energies on repeal of the Second Amendment, but he first has to deal with a broken economy and the incredibly wrong-headed war started by his predecessor. What's more, the issue of gun rights causes almost as much screaming from the right as abortion rights, the irony being that those yelling the loudest about the right to life are usually those yelling almost as loud about their right to carry weapons that kill.

Barring that, he says, the NFL should make it a condition of employment that no player can own a handgun. This, because protection even in their own homes is something that NFL players apparently can't be trusted with. To get there, he has to revisit the death of Sean Taylor, who had gotten himself on the straight and narrow just in time to be killed in his own house by what I would presume to be

It's not worth arguing the 2nd Amendment with someone who lives near DC but who evidently hasn't bothered to read or understand the Heller case. But the juvenalia on display in the second paragraph could have appeared, word for word, in the Cavalier Daily 25 years ago when I was in school. And probably did.

Imagine a conservative sportswriter writing a column about the evils of McCain-Feingold, the abuses of Title IX (coming to a physics department near you), or the joys of limited government, and in the bargain, questioning man-made climate change and accusing Obama of socialist tendencies. I'm sure it happens every once in a long while, and when politics creeps into sports talk radio, it does tend to be from both sides. But for some reason, the print guys tend to think their columns are a license to shill for the Left.

December 1, 2008

Disarming the Front Lines

Completely missing from media reports of the Mumbai attacks are India's strict gun control laws, which virtually disarmed the people at the point of attack, turning them almost inevitably - and almost immediately - into victims. (Hat Tip: Instapundit)

I'm mentioned before that should you - God forbid - find yourself in such a situation, you must act as though your life is already forfeit, since the jihadis will treat your life that way. Difficult though it is, acting to thwart or complicate the attack is the best way to save your life and those of others.

Apparently, it hasn't occurred to the media that the best way of making sure that doesn't happen is to make the targets helpless.

September 9, 2007

Down The Memory Hole

Never's a long time, but, "Never Enough" seems appropriate for the state Democrats and their enablers over at the Denver Post. This morning, the paper's Local & Western Politics Blog runs an uncritical story about the desire of state Democrats to raise taxes again ("Seventeen tax proposals under discussion in Colorado").

The two liberal groups quoted, the Bell Policy Center and the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, are not identified as such. Members of Bell campagned with Ref C supporters a couple of years ago. And the CFPI's parent institute, the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, describes its mission as: "The Colorado Center on Law and Policy's mission is to promote justice and economic security for all Coloradans, particularly lower income people. CCLP advocates on behalf of the the poor, working poor and other vulnerable populations though legislative, administrative and legal advocacy." My guess is you'll find about as many free-market types there as you'd find Republicans in CU's Ethnic Studies faculty.

Meanwhile, they quote House Minority Leader Mike May, briefly suggesting other revenues, and former Republican Senator Hank Brown, now Presdient of CU, crying poor for the University again.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is given whole paragraphs (and backing by Bell's "outreach director," to make his case for suspending constitutional restrictions in order to overhaul the state's tax code. Naturally, the fact that he won't discuss the nature of that overhaul in advance of voters approving the suspension goes unnoticed.

Also unnoticed is the fact of Referendum C, and the fact that tax revenues, far exceeding proponents' projections, aren't being used as promised. CFPI is full of dire claims for Colorado spending:

The state ranks 49th in the amount it spends per capita covering low-income families on Medicaid. It is 48th in state spending for higher education, 39th in state highway spending per capita and in the bottom third in per-capita investment in K-12 education, according to the institute.

Remember, these are the same folks who brought you the debunked claim (parrotted in at least 49 other states), that Colorado ranked 49th in state spending on education. Needless to say, these claims also go unchallenged.

Well, at least now we know their platform and talking points.

August 15, 2007

The New Republic's Ostrich Strategy

For some reason - probably a long-forgotten registration - I'm on the New Republic's monthly distribution list. Here's the latest, somewhat abbreviated, but leaving out no stories.

Our cover story for this issue is a fascinating essay about genealogy by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. ... What Pinker calls "the geometric decay of relatedness" suggests that, for all the fun we might have with genealogy, discovering where we came from isn't nearly as important as we would like it to be.

Also in this issue, Paul Berman traces the career of noted Italian liberal--and convicted murderer--Piero Fassino. The piece continues a story that Berman began telling in our pages six years ago: the story of the European left and how it has changed over the past 40 years....

Plus, don't miss Michael Crowley on the demise of John McCain; Eliza Griswold on Ethiopia's occupation of Somalia; Andrew Bacevich on David Petraeus; Edward Luttwak on the late Jeane Kirkpatrick's new book; and a photo essay from Iraq by Ashley Gilbertson.

While scratching my head trying to figure out what's missing, I found myself wondering if that photo essay included any pictures of Bradleys running over dogs.

No, come to think of it, probably not.

August 8, 2007

Immigration Fear Factor

Apparently, the Undocumented-American community is having a tough time of it. No, really.

A year after state lawmakers passed what they called the toughest illegal-immigration laws in the nation, there is no proof illegal immigrants have been caught taking advantage of taxpayers. Instead, there are abundant stories of citizens eligible for services who can't prove it because they lack the required ID.

Of one side, the side that wants to prevent illegal aliens from taking our tax dollars, "proof" is demanded. From the other, anecdotal evidence comprising "abundant stories" is sufficient. Of course, abundance is also in the eye of the reporter.

"We have nothing to show that this law is doing what it was intended to do," said Maureen Farrell, executive director of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. "The reality is that more citizens appear to be impacted than illegal immigrants."

The Post, as freuqently happens when referencing liberal think tanks, fails to identify them as such. The CCLP's mission: "The Colorado Center on Law and Policy's mission is to promote justice and economic security for all Coloradans, particularly lower income people. CCLP advocates on behalf of the the poor, working poor and other vulnerable populations though legislative, administrative and legal advocacy." Maybe so you won't notice there's no "balancing" conservative opinion.

Beyond the effects on hospitals and social-service providers, businesses have also complained that the anti- immigrant fervor generated by HB 1023 and other laws has made it harder to find employees.

Ah, that's why! There is no balancing conservative opinion! Or at least no balanced conservative opinion. There's merely, "fervor." Fervor all through the Right. Fervor! Funnily enough, it's actually generated by the law in question, rather than helping to generate it. Oh, and note that it's no longer about illegal immigrants, but all immigrants.

Other lawmakers, meanwhile, argue HB 1023 doesn't go far enough.

Sen. David Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, said tales of how the law is hurting the homeless and indigent are a diversion tactic by social-service providers.

"That is being used as an excuse to make sure that this procedure is loose enough to ensure that anyone can apply," he said.

Schultheis never actually says the laws don't go far enough. What he does say is that social service providers want to, well, provide services, and that their claims are misleading.

Others argue that such immigrants were never draining Colorado coffers.

"People who are undocumented are here to work - not use social services," said Deb DeBoutez with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

Except for the gang members who are here to funnel drug money to jihadists, that is. They're fine, law-abiding illegals.

State agencies reported this year that the package of immigration laws cost them about $2 million to put in place. But they found no cost savings through kicking illegal immigrants off of state rolls.

This is the WMD method of argument. Fine enough for a Presidential debate, not so good for what supposed to pass for journalism. In fact, cost savings was only one reason for this law. Perhaps more important was taking away a reason for people to come here.

It is estimated there are nearly 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. and about 225,000 to 275,000 in Colorado.

If this doesn't conjure up images of Drew Carey standing on a stage, asking these reporters to make a guess, with the audience yelling, as one, "higher, higher!" There's no source for the national numbers, they're clearly at the low end of the range. Apparently, the numbers for Colorado come from a study by the left-leaning Pew Hispanic Center, but you wouldn't know this, either.

A large number of those who are affected, especially in the case of health care, are indigent citizens. Just try mentioning that mentally ill homeless should be put in state facilities, though, and see how many syllables make it out before, "warehousing!"

Denver Health, which serves a large percentage of the indigent and homeless population, has spent nearly $2 million in the past year treating indigent patients who don't have enough identification to prove they are legal residents. The hospital cannot include such charges in its application for a refund through the Colorado Indigent Care Program.

"It means that we have $2 million less in our operating budget," said Bobbi Barrow, a spokeswoman for Denver Health.

A shooting victim who arrived at Denver Health's emergency room without insurance or state-approved ID stayed for more than a month, leaving behind a $182,000 medical bill.

Denver Health's loss will not save the state any money.

Hospitals are refunded a percentage of the money they spend each year on indigent patients. But there is a fixed amount of grant money each year, and the state divides it up among the hospitals. So just because a hospital spent more money on indigent care, it doesn't mean that it will get a bigger check from the state.

This is simply incoherent. According to the logic, they weren't going to be able to recover the money, anyway, because there's a cap on how much the state pays out. We're not told what the algorithm for dividing up the money is (did the reporters even bother to ask?), so we have no idea whether spending more or less is better.

There's more, largely about the amount of paperwork the rule is causing non-profits. Don't hold your breath waiting for the paper to endorse a flat tax.

Oh, and that "fear factor" headline. Apparently Jim Spencer was able to find work after the buyout, after all.

July 16, 2007

Reiterating the Narrative

Media bias doesn't operate by outright lies (usually). Instead it operates by settling on and relentlessly repeating an overly-simple and therefore deceptive narrative. The Washington Post's article yesterday morning about how meaningful climate change legislation is being stifled (but only on this side of the Atlantic) by economic concerns ("Climate Change Debate Hinges on Economics"). There are those of us who are grateful for such concerns, but the Post seems disturbed by them. Naturally, the issue is cast as a morality play, with the selfless Europeans facing off against the narrow-minded Americans. The truth is, naturally, a little more, ah, nuanced.

The potential economic impact of meaningful climate legislation -- enough to reduce U.S. emissions by at least 60 percent -- is vast. Automobiles would have to get double their current miles to the gallon. Building codes would have to be tougher, requiring use of more energy-efficient materials. To stimulate and pay for new technologies, U.S. electricity bills could rise by 25 to 33 percent, some experts estimate; others say the increase could be greater.

Most of the technologies that could reduce greenhouse gases are not only expensive but would need to be embraced on a global scale, scientists say.

Nowhere does the article cite any basis for the claim that only reductions of 60% or more are, "meaningful." And since the US isn't the world's largest CO2 producer any more - China is - the Post is either admitting impotence or arguing for an even more aggressive extension of American sovereignty abroad.

In the Senate, five climate change bills have been introduced recently -- with sponsors from both parties. They do not tax carbon but use variations on Europe's cap-and-trade system. Europe modeled its system on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which the Senate rejected and President Bush later dismissed, saying it would cause the U.S. economy "serious harm."

The last sentence is deeply disingenuous, but the whole paragraph is misleading. In fact, President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol but never submitted it to the Senate. The Senate later took a non-binding vote, unanimously rejecting the treaty because it didn't include the most-polluting, fastest-growing economies of India and China. The Senate never formally rejected the treaty. And President Bush has never pulled the US's signature from the document.

Deutch says that the technology, seen as a vital part of almost any strategy to slow global warming, won't be commercially viable until carbon dioxide reaches $30 a ton. That would translate into a 25 percent average increase in electric bills nationwide, Deutch said.

"It's certainly affordable for our economy and our society," Deutch said.

Deutch said, thus demonstrating the same incisive acumen that's made the CIA what it is today. Of course, the Post never actually does any analysis on this statement, preferring instead to paint US citizens as pampered children who just don't want to pay more. The Post gives no average energy bill for individuals, the number of people which such an increase might push from saving to spending each month, the institutional costs of such an increase, the jobs it might cost, or the effects of the price increases on consumers, or even the disproportionate effects on smaller and mid-size businesses. You know, the sort of analysis we got when every welfare recipient was on the verge of starvation from reform.

In Europe, there is a much greater sense of urgency about combating climate change, as Bush discovered at last month's meeting of the Group of Eight major industrial nations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Merkel is expected to push for big increases in power plant productivity and more renewable energy, although Germany is already the leading country in Europe for wind and solar power. Spain and Italy are offering incentives of about 40 cents a kilowatt hour for solar-power installations.

Actually, in Europe, there's a much greater sense of urgency about not allowing the US economy to continue to out-compete. The Europeans are terrific poseurs, talking a big game, but doing worse than the US since 2000 in reducing CO2 output, despite the fact that the US economy has grown faster than Europe's over that time. They, and their Democratic friends in Congress, draw the baseline at 1990 in order to capture one-time, non-repeatable events, that in any honest accounting would be thrown out. Despite that, they still have to keep raising the 1990 baseline in order to minimize the amount by which they fail to keep their promises.

As for solar, that's just a technology bet that Germany's made, and is now looking for the rest of the world to subsidize their market. Of all the countries in Europe, Germany's one of the worst for solar power, given its cloudy climate and northern latitude. Their leadership in solar isn't bootstrapped by any domestic demand, it's created by a goverment policy of picking winners.

Overpromising and misinvesting should be signs of deep unseriousness. Sadly, the Post mistakes them for "urgency."

June 26, 2007

Signing Statement Statement

Do the Denver Post editorial writers even read the stuff they're commenting on?

A recent GAO report has them in high dudgeon about presidential signing statements, those usually-harmless-but-occasionally-informative comments on what a president thinks about the laws he's signing into being. Never mind that the legal portion of this discussion took place last year, with many liberals siding with the President.

More important is the Posts misleading report on what the GAO actually said.

"While the GAO studied only a small sample of provisions that Bush had objected to in signing statements in fiscal year 2006, it found that 30 percent of the time those provisions were not followed according to law." In fact, the GAO carefully selected 19 cases to cover a variety of different classes on objections. This is a sample so small as to be statistically meaningless.

"...those provisions were not followed according to law."In six cases, the law was not "executed as written," a completely different matter from "not followed according to law," since in the absence of a definitive court ruling, the Post cannot rightly claim that the law wasn't being followed. For example, the President is clearly under no obligation to enforce a provision contrary to the Constitution. And if he did, we'd certainly see a Post editorial about it. As soon as Dick Durban called a press conference to complain.

"House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., have wisely called for a more extensive review of bill provisions that Bush has objected to in these signing statements." Well, except that the GAO report was itself in response to a request from these two, a fact the Post conveniently omits. The GAO could have come back with a clean bill of health, and Conyers and Byrd would likely have interpreted the absence of evidence as anything but evidence of absence.

As important are two GAO comments the Post omits entirely:

  • "Although we found the agencies did not execute the provisions as enacted, we cannot conclude that agency noncompliance was the result of the President’s signing statements." (Emphasis added. Commentary superfluous.)
  • The GAO concludes that courts almost never cite signing statements as authoritative. This is similar to their spurning of legislative history as a source of authority, and indicates a willingness to overrule presidents on this sort of thing when they like.

    But this isn't really a converative vs. liberal issue, anyway, although the Post only seems to have problems with the current President exercising his judgment. As in the GAO report, it lumps together Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton, without mentioning that Clinton issued statements at a 50% greater clip than Reagan. Go to that UCSB link, and you'll find plenty of Clinton signing statements that challenge or interpret sections of the law in question.

    Stuart Buck has analyzed a 1986 memo by Samuel Alito defending the practice, and the Post seems not to have noticed Walter Dellinger's 1983 memo reaching the same conclusion for the Clinton Justice Department.

    In fact, the "constitutional mess" the Post worries about is inherent in Constitution itself, in the separation of powers, and thus has been going on since at least 1787. The Post would - at least for the duration of this presidency - make the executive the only branch without the power to interpret the Constitution, or laws according to it. This comes uncomfortably close to the fears address in Lincoln's First Inaugural:

    I do not forget the position assumed by some that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court, nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case upon the parties to a suit as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the Government. And while it is obviously possible that such decision may be erroneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it, being limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be overruled and never become a precedent for other cases, can better be borne than could the evils of a different practice. At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal. Nor is there in this view any assault upon the court or the judges. It is a duty from which they may not shrink to decide cases properly brought before them, and it is no fault of theirs if others seek to turn their decisions to political purposes.

    Dan Haley - a genuine good guy - is the new editorial page editor for the paper. He's conservative, which means this job must often make him feel like one of those travelers to distant lands who is captured, brought to the king, and made to serve out the rest of his life as court physician and chief advisor. You know, Joseph. Or The Last King of Scotland.

  • March 6, 2007

    Economics By Doctors

    Last week, the local propagator of economic illiteracy, the Denver Post, ran an op-ed by a professor over at the University of Colorado Health Sciences center, who specializes in bioethics and the humanitites. It included the usual bromides about obscene profit margins and too much marketing vs. too little R&D. It concluded with a call for the citizenry to demand more R&D spending by drug companies. Or presumably, we'll be taking away those profits to make sure there's no more R&D. (Ironically, a week earlier I had had this debate with a friend of mine who's a doctor there, so maybe it's something in the water. Or a virus.)

    In the meantime, Russ Roberts has an extensive podcast with Mr. Law-and-Economics himself, RIchard Epstein, an actual economist, of the Hoover Institution and the University of Chicago. Epstein makes the following points.

    • That studies show that drug companies keep somewhere between 15% and 25% of the economic profit from their discoveries. Which means that you and I get to keep about 80% of the benefit from someone else's work.
    • That the excessively long FDA approval time robs the compnies from many of the benefits of the patent system
    • That taxing away the profits is only going to force the drug companies to focus on the higher-margin projects, which will then lead the same whiners to complain about the even more obscene profit margins
    • That there will always be competition, since it's the molecule not the health benefit that gets patented; this means that your slightly different drug with a slightly different mechanism can compete even while the original is under patent protection

    I'd add one other point. Mark Yarborough complains about the ratio of marketing budgets to R&D budgets. But this is always true. I just finished visiting a company, Brush Engineered Materials, which refuses to get pantents on much of its research out of the belief that they'd rather not have their competition reverse engineer their processes. Their competitive advantage and their real asset is their institutional know-how and craftsmanship in the art of making metal alloys. This is a company that knows it needs to be ahead of the curve, always developing new alloys and new uses for those alloys.

    They spend less than 1% of gross revenues on R&D.

    I never would have know about Epstein's book if not for a series of blog links.

    Thus do institutional biases restrict the debate. At least on their pages.

    February 20, 2007

    *Sigh* Even AdWeek

    Barbara Lippert at AdWeek had some harsh criticism of the pulled Volkswagen "Jumper" ad. The column included these two winners:

    At least "Jumper" has things people can relate to. When the dude on the rooftop begins reciting his list of misery to the crowd below, it includes, "There's no affordable housing." I particularly liked his line, "You think I wanted global warming ... or reality TV?"

    Go view the ad, and see what complaint she left out. Right. I'm sure the phrase, "high taxes" would have busted right through her column's word count.

    Maybe it's the times. For whatever reason, VW is hardly alone in joking about suicide. Once "Jumper" hit the airwaves, it was the third spot in three weeks to go the self-offing route after the GM robot and a Washington Mutual spot featuring a bunch of non-WaMu bankers headed off a rooftop, just like in the Depression.

    Is all this talk of suicide an unconscious metaphor for the state of the automotive industry? Or, given WaMu's inclusion, is it more of an unconscious representation of a sense of doom pervading the ad industry? Or, as The New York Times noted post-Super Bowl, could the violence of suicide be a metaphor for our unresolved war? At least we've got ourselves three fine options to consider. Meanwhile, let's get back to the VW debacle.

    Ah, the Gratuitous War Reference appears even in industry trade magazines. Yes, maybe it is the Times, rather than the times. A quick Google search turned up two | ads and a reference to a third from over a year ago.

    Maybe all the talk of suicide in print publications says something about that industry.

    October 24, 2006

    Reporters Without Borders Redux

    Apparently, for the Reporters Sans Frontiers who decided that France has a freer press than the US, the definition of a "free press" includes the right to slander entire countries, and then to haul into court anyone who bothers to question that right. Richard Landes reports on the Paris trial of Philippe Karsenty, who questioned France 2's coverage of the Mohammad al-Durah Pallywood Production. Karsenty has been found guilty of libeling France 2.

    Landes, tartly:

    After all, the definition of honor-shame culture is one in which you are allowed, expected, even required to shed the blood of another for the sake of your own (alpha-male) honor. And the definition of a civil society is one that systematically substitutes a discourse of fairness for violence in dispute settlement. When a civil society uses the very courts that were created to make that transition from violence to discourse, in order to unfairly protect the honor of dishonest people who pump poisons into its information stream, it corrupts the very life-blood of its republic.


    There Are Whistleblowers We Like...

    ...and those we don't. In the < I>Denver Post's case, they don't llike whistleblowers who leak to Republican campaigns. Of course, they're more than happy to report on the reaction of the Perlmutter campaign to a story planted by that campaign in the Post itself.

    The Post ridicules Beauprez's claim that his source is courageous, even as it campaigns for federal shield laws for journalists. It states that Beauprez's source leaked for partisan political purposes, even as it defends the New York Times for publishing information that's likely to get Americans killed, in pursuit of its own political agenda.

    Someone needs to remind the Post that "freedom of the press" is a right reserved to all the people, for all political speech, not just to newspapers.

    In the meantime, I'm sure the paper will make much of this report by Reporters Without Borders, with the absurd claim that press freedom is eroding in the US:

    "Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of 'national security' to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his 'war on terrorism,' " the group said.

    "The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 U.S. states, refuse to recognize the media's right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism," the group said.

    The fact that relations between an administration and a partisanly hostile MSM have deteriorated is no evidence at all of actual curtailment of press freedom. At this point, the only journalists to serve time in a terrorism-related case did so because of an investigation initiated at the behest of the newspaper that published them. If RWB really believes that the administration has conducted some sort of war against hostile journalists, they've been toting more than laptops back from Columbia. (I would note the scare quotes around War on Terrorism, except that RWB might accuse me of censorship.)

    August 7, 2006


    Driving through northern Colorado and Utah yesterday, we had the radio - and thus the hourly news - on the whole time. Not a single word about the Reuters photoshopping scandal. Not on ABC, CNN, or CBS.

    Imagine that.

    In spite of Rathergate, Jason Blair, and countless other fiskings of the MSM by the blogosphere, the MSM continue to believe that if they don't report it, it isn't news. And that whatever they do, whatever they do isn't news.

    July 28, 2006

    All Hugs and Kisses

    Why is it that the normally-sensible Rocky goes all weak-kneed and gooey-eyed when the subject is Israel and its neighbors right now?

    A few dozen Israeli Jewish, Israeli Arab, and Palestinian schoolgirls are coming to Denver to meet each other and you know, like, have a dialogue.

    Seeking Common Ground requested that the teens' last names not be published for safety reasons.

    No comment necessary.


    "I'm so completely confused," said Lily, 18, of Guerneville, Calif....


    "There's no right on either side," said Lily...

    QED! I promise, any lack of context here is entirely the fault of the reporter.

    "Any time you get Palestinians and Israelis in the same room together, it's a success," she said.

    Unless it's a deli, schoolbus, shopping mall, pizzeria, bar, or ice cream stand. Then it's only a partial success.

    When the Israeli girls talk about understanding someone else and discovering similarities, and the Arab girls "have their opinions" and are "ready to talk about differences," it says a lot about the relative confidence of their cultures.

    These kinds of things have been going on for as long as I can remember, along with mushy NPR-speak about "building bridges" and "breaking down barriers." That's all well and good as long as the enemy isn't using them for resupply and cover.

    June 29, 2006

    The Washington Post Goes Litigator

    My friend Peter Baker is following the President around on the campaign trail. This morning's report from a Missouri fundraiser for Senator Jim Talent contains this technically accurate but deeply dishonest paragraph:

    Sharpening his rhetoric as the midterm congressional campaign season accelerates, Bush offered a robust defense of his decision to invade Iraq even though, ultimately, no weapons of mass destruction were found, and drew standing ovations for his attacks on those who question his leadership of the war or the fight against terrorists.

    The only merit in this sentence is that it so neatly encapsulates the MSM's storyline on Iraq and the politics surrounding it. And the only thing that allows the Post to publish something like this without abject shame is their years-long ostrich-like refusal to publish anything that doesn't fit.

    Saying that, "Bush offered a robust defense of his decision to invade Iraq even though, ultimately, no weapons of mass destruction were found," is like saying that, in 1778, Washington defended the Revolution even though there was trade with Mexico, meaning that George III hadn't quite, "cut off trade with all parts of the world."

    Never mind that they have been found. Never mind that the WMDs were merely one reason for going to war in the first place. Never mind Iraq's running a pre-war bed-and-breakfast for Islamist terrorists. Never mind the Duelfer Report's findings that Saddam was planning to restart his WMD production after his hos on the Security Council got sanctions lifted. The war was all about WMDs, and the fact that we haven't found Castle Anthrax makes it a failure.

    The second half of the sentence is no better. The President takes hits all the time for his "leadership of the war." What he's objecting to here is something very specific - the attempt by politicians to run the war by PERT chart, or at least to score points by appearing to try to do so.

    The Post is trying to narrow the focus of the war to a point it can pretend it's won, while broadening the President's presumed response into Ray Bolger.

    And no Post political story about the President would be complete without the obligatory Bush-as-Rove's-sock-puppet reference:

    In his appearance in this St. Louis suburb, he said directly that some Democrats want to surrender, adopting the more cutting approach of his senior political adviser, Karl Rove.

    The fact that this is exactly the take that Congressional Republicans, in one of their few recent moments of lucidity, used exactly the same language is of no moment whatsoever. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

    This is how the MSM and the Post will make use of the narrative they've established.

    June 27, 2006

    The Denver Post and the Death Tax

    Warren Buffett, in addition to his admirable philanthropic endeavors, has also been trying to make sure that the Federal Government continues to be the recipient of your largess from beyond the grave:

    The world's second-richest man, Warren Buffett, has asked Sen. Ken Salazar to vote against repealing the estate tax.

    Buffett sent a letter to Salazar, D-Colo., the senator's spokesman, Drew Nannis, said. The multibillionaire Monday called on Congress not to repeal the tax.


    Repealing the entire estate tax now would cost the government an estimated $550 billion to $700 billion through 2010. (emphasis added - ed.)

    The Post gives no citation for this number, nor does it consider the additional wealth that will be created by businesses that can, well, stay in business after their owners die. If the estate tax comes back, it will be on estates over $1 million. Most estates over that number aren't just cash sitting around under mattresses. They're in businesses that employ people.

    Larger businesses tend to be separate corporations, but the smaller businesses hit here are often partnerships or sole proprietorships that tend to struggle for cash. They would have to sell all or some of their assets just to pay the IRS. In all likelihood, they'll sell to larger companies. Even assuming that everyone stays employed - a bold assumption at best - these transfers concentrate wealth, they don't diffuse it.

    The Post also fails to notice that Mr. Buffett hasn't been such a big fan of paying unnecessary taxes himself:

    Mr. Buffett’s decision to give away to charity Berkshire Hathaway stock valued at about $37 billion, much of it to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is the sort of bold move that has made so many Americans admirers of Mr.Buffett. As an avowed supporter of the estate tax, Mr. Buffett could have let the government take its share of his estate after he dies. But just as Mr. Buffett has accumulated his vast wealth without paying much personal income tax, he has found a way to avoid the tax man in this maneuver as well, even writing in his letter to Bill and Melinda Gates that a condition of the gift is that the foundation “must continue to satisfy legal requirements qualifying my gifts as charitable and not subject to gift or other taxes.”

    (Hat tip: Best of the Web)

    June 23, 2006

    Whither the ISM?

    The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News continue to ignore the good economic news in the ISM's Regional Reports on Business. The Institute for Supply Management's monthly national survey is one of the most respected and widely-followed economy surveys, covering as it does the expected purchasing and hiring trends, as well as the trailing indicators of price and supplier performance.

    In addition to the national survey, the ISM also publishes monthly regional surveys, one of which is based in Denver.

    For the last two months, the manufacturing survey has been extremely strong. This month, the more violatile non-manufacturing index moved from slightly negative (49.4) to solidly positive at 53.2.

    The Rocky gave plenty of space to the unreliable Index of Leading Economic Indicators and the one-week increase in the volatile Jobless Claims, ignoring the decline in the more reliable 4-week moving average.

    Personally, I believe we're cresting the economic cycle, but economic news is always mixed. Eliminating the positive while accentuating the negative doesn't help anyone make informed decisions.

    Former Spook Calls It

    In From the Cold had this to say about the MSM's treatment of the chemical and biological shells found in Iraq:

    The MSM--if it ever gets around to this story--will likely claim that Santorum and Hoekstra are playing politics with intelligence.

    From this morning's Washington Post (buried on Page A10):

    The intelligence officials also suggested that they were pressured by Hoekstra into declassifying the study in recent weeks. Hoekstra first sought its release June 15 and June 19 and made the request again giving John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, 48 hours to declassify it, according to a senior intelligence official.

    In From the Cold does what the Post declines to - describes the way intelligence now operates that makes such pressure necessary:

    As a young intelligence officer, I was drilled that important information should make its way up the chain of command as soon as possible. Apparently, things have changed since I left the business. Information that contradicts prevailing judgements can be ignored, or simply buried on an intelligence website--let the customer find out on his own. If members of Congress want information, simply delay your response as long as possible, and provide data only when someone with enough horsepower (in this case, the HPSCI chairman) demands answers. Then, provide only a fraction of what they ask for.

    June 11, 2006

    NPR's Paula Poundstone on Gay Republicans

    NPR's got a weekly news quiz program called "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell me!" It's actually pretty funny, although like most of NPR's programming, it has a fairly pronouced port-side list.

    This week, though, the decidedly unfunny Paula Poundstone (as of this writing, NPR's list of the week's panelists is incorrect) asked, in response to a question about gay marriage:

    I don't even know what a gay Republican is. Does that mean they beat themselves up in parking lots?

    Which got a predictably hearty laugh from the audience. You can hear it on the first clip listed, the "Who's Carl This Time?" segment.

    Ah, suppose a comedian on publicly-funded radio had asked, "What's a Democratic soldier? Does that mean he spits on himself in airports?" It would have had about the same relevance, about the same accuracy, the same truth content (which is to say, none), and it would have been met with immediate howls of indignation that someone's patriotism was being impugned.

    She also asked

    Who are these Log Cabin guys? They show up around every election, and then they just disappear and you don't hear from them.

    Which I guess means they behave just the opposite from Democratic voters.

    June 9, 2006

    Is Joe Rice Running For Something?

    Well, yes, actually, although you wouldn't know it from this morning's addition to the "Yes, but" Chorus from the Rocky.

    The al-Qaida leader's demise has given the Iraqi people "a lot of hope and optimism," said Joe Rice, a former Glendale mayor and Army reservist who recently completed his second tour in Iraq.

    Joe Rice is also running as a Democrat to succeed Joe Stengel in the Colorado House's 38th District. Should our friend Matt Dunn win the Republican nomination, this is the guy he'll be going up against.

    Rice has actually been over there, so he does have some expertise on the situation. But doesn't it behoove the Rocky point out when they're giving free pub to a candidate for office?

    May 24, 2006

    Local Economy Booming: Women, Minorities Hardest Hit

    In addition to its monthly national survey, the Institute for Supply Management publishes a series of local and regional reports as well. Denver's manufacturing sector is lucky enough to be included in the list, and April's report explains why state tax revenues are going through the roof, and would have solved the budget problem on their own, without a need for Ref C. (It's a terrible thing when a governor loses faith in his own state.)

    Now, it's worth remembering that the local reports often cover either only manufacturing or services, which narrows the base even further. As a result, these reports tend to be more volatile than the national survey. And yet.

    Looks, it's not all three-martini lunches and Tyco Analyst Days parties. The cycle is starting to hit some self-limiting factors, such as price increases in a time when nobody seems to have pricing power, a labor shortage, increasing lead times, and suppliers who can't seem to get copper or components onto the trains fast enough. But those are good problems to have. They're somewhat manageable, and are problems of prosperity.

    In fact, even the Raw Materials story isn't all glooomy. Raw Materials inventories are rising, even as prices and lead times rise, and supplier performance deteriorates. if managers are complaining they can't find tungsten, maybe it's because they're hoarding the stuff.

    The time to worry is when these guys are blowing dust off their inventory and their LIFO reserve starts to rival their equity.

    These surveys were only published today. Let's see if the local papers bother to pick this up. After all, you'd think that business sections that have space for the Annual Tucler Hart Adams We're All Going to be in Hoovervilles This Time Next Year While The Bank Directors Use Our Those Vacant Unsold Homes For Their Dogs, might be available to cover a survey with national juice.

    May 12, 2006

    Qwest For a Defense

    The Denver Post reports that among Joe Nacchio's other problems, he was the first Qwest CEO to refuse to help the NSA analyze phone records in the pursuit & deconstruction of terrorist networks. Even as,

    "This is a case where (Qwest) showed some independence and courage," said Phil Weiser, a University of Colorado law professor who specializes in telecommunications issues.


    In 2002 he chaired the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, a group of industry executives who advised President Bush. He also chaired the Network Reliability and Interoperability Council, an advisory panel on emergency communications networks and homeland security to the Federal Communications Commission.

    Powerline has already noted that Qwest's independence and courage ended where its business relationships began:

    As a general rule, Qwest does not release customer account information to unaffiliated third parties without your permission unless we have a business relationship with those companies where the disclosure is appropriate."

    The Post quotes the Qwest Privacy Policy on the matter of aiding law enforcement, ignoring the question of sharing the information with other businesses.

    At the same time, the Post, assuming incorrectly that the rest of the country is as outraged as its newsroom is at these shocking, five-month-old revelations, claims that:

    The news report casts Nacchio in a more positive light than he has received since departing the company amid an accounting scandal and falling stock price in mid-2002.


    His fight with the NSA could improve Nacchio's image in Denver, where his own lawyers concede he is "reviled." They are seeking a change of venue for his trial.

    Note the assumption that this relevation is "positive." Also note that apparent the DenPo didn't get a chance to read the WaPo before going to press:

    The new survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, including 44 percent who strongly endorsed the effort. Another 35 percent said the program was unacceptable, which included 24 percent who strongly objected to it.

    A slightly larger majority--66 percent--said they would not be bothered if NSA collected records of personal calls they had made, the poll found.

    Also, I can't find this disclaimer at the bottom of any other overnight polls the WaPo has done:

    The practical difficulties of doing a survey in a single night represents another potential source of error.

    Qwest: We Put The "W" in Qwality

    April 30, 2006

    In Other Economic News

    UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit Readers, and feel free to take a look around the site.

    Among the news items that the MSM ignored last week in favor of $2.82 gas (source: Barron's):

    • Retail store sales were up 4.1% year-over-year
    • Same-store sales were up 5.1% year-over-year
    • Consumer Confidence rose to 109.6, well above the consensus estimate range
    • The housing bust continues to track the elusive Afghan Winter, as existing home sales rose slightly, when they were expected to decline
    • This was offset somewhat by a decline in mortgage applications
    • Durable goods orders were up 6.1%
    • New home sales soared 13.8% in March, even as prices moderated and supply dropped
    • Jobless claims sat pretty much where they have been for the last 2 years
    • Employment cost index was up 2.8% y/y, but we'll need to evaluate that in terms of the productivity index, due out this week
    • The GDP boomed, conusmer sentiment (a different survey from consumer confidence) held, and the Purchasing Managers' index showed continued strong growth.

    Despite the strong housing market, MSNBC still found time to quote USA Today as saying that the "strong housing market is slipping."

    UPDATE: It also occurs to me that long-term interest rates have been inching up lately. This is both good news and bad news, but it's always spun as bad news. When the yield curve briefly and narrowly inverted, there was a great deal of talk about recession. Now that long-term yields have edged back up over short-term rates, the talk is of the effect on mortgages, even as the recession indicator has receded.

    MSM Still Passing Gas

    MSNBC's First Read continued its obsession with gas prices to the exclusion of, well, all other economic news this past week. A rough word-count of economic reporting on First Read's blog shows that of 3500 words devoted to economics, 3250 were about gas prices. This does not include a Monday posting ostensibly about the Dahab bombing that spent the second paragraph talking about oil prices.

    Ironically, First Read is aware of the problem, even if they don't know that they know. On Friday:

    Asked in the April 21-24 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll who is most responsible for high gas prices, 37% of those polled say the oil companies are most responsible. Oil-producing nations rank second at 22%, while only 15% lay the most blame at President Bush's feet and 4% say Congress bears the most responsibility.

    While on both Tuesday and Wesnesday:

    ...unstable relations with Iran and political instability in Nigeria seem to be the primary drivers of the price of oil.

    Gee. I wonder where people are getting this idea that ExxonMobil is wearing the oil-soaked black hat here?

    MSBNC "First Read" Issues Correction

    Last week, we noted how MSNBC's First Read blog had reprinted the New York Daily News's misquote of a CNN poll about how oil prices were affecting families. In the poll, 23% said that gas prices were having a "severe effect," 46% said they were having a "moderate effect." The Daily News and First Read both reported 69% under the "severe effect" label.

    On Friday, in response to my email, First Read issued the following correction:

    On Tuesday, we quoted a New York Daily News article, which cited a CNN poll showing that 69% indicate gas prices are causing them severe hardship. However, the actual poll finds that 69% say these prices are causing them "hardship", not "severe hardship."

    To their credit, the correction was given about the same prominence as the original report - at the end of their long, daily commiseration about gas prices.

    It's not a perfect correction; they probably should have noted the difference between "severe" and "moderate," for instance. But Ms. Wilner replied promptly and without attempting to make excuses.

    April 25, 2006

    What Is It With NBC's First Read and Polls?

    For a few days, it looked as though maybe MSNBC's First Read - written in part by NBC's political director Elizabeth Wilner - was being more careful with their poll numbers. Then, from today:

    The New York Daily News says the same CNN poll showing Bush's approval at 32% also notes that 69% "said gas prices were causing them severe financial hardship."

    Well, they quoted the Daily News accurately enough:

    Sixty-nine percent of Americans in the CNN poll said gas prices were causing them severe financial hardship.

    Take a look, though, at the actual poll. Forty-Six percent say gas prices have caused "moderate hardship," while only 23% say "severe hardship."

    In effect, both the Daily News and Ms. Wilner triple the number of people reporting "severe hardship". At least it wasn't their own poll they got wrong this time.

    Meanwhile, First Read, now posting throughout the day, fails to mention today's buoyant consumer confidence numbers, which would tend to contradict the claim the gas prices are forcing people to take second jobs.

    So why the discrepancy? Probably because gas prices are the one price that everyone knows, because it's posted on every street corner in America. As you drive by the sign, you're literally coming closer to having to pay that price. Gas prices are a lower percentage of total household expense than ever, but gas consumption is something that usually takes some major change to affect. So any change in price gouges into that always-thin margin between the red and the black.

    I realize that First Read is primarily political, not economics, but they're clearly letting their political biases get in the way of their economic fact-checking.

    April 12, 2006

    NBC's Political Director Fabricates Own Poll Results

    This morning's NBC "First Read," ostensibly an analysis by NBC News's Political Director Elizabeth Wilner (and others), lies about the contents of an NBC/WSJ Poll:

    The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll and other surveys continue to show that Americans have little appetite for extending the tax cuts in the face of more pressing domestic concerns -- including energy prices.

    The poll contains exactly two questions about taxes. By a 49-29 margin, respondents said they were more likely to vote for a candidate favoring "making the tax cuts of the past few years permanent." And by a 56-39 margin, respondents support the tax cuts (Question 18). Gas prices do not show up on the list of questions. The only support for Wilner's comment is that by a 49-19 margin, people asked are more likely to vote for someone who "emphasizes domestic issues over military and foreign policy issues," leaving those issues completely unspecified.

    By the way, "favors tighter controls on illegal immigration" wins 71-11, the largest more-likely/less-likely result of any split. Somehow, that little nugget didn't make it into their analysis of the political dyanmics of the immigration debate.

    March 29, 2006

    CJR's High Journalistic Standards (Update)

    Columbia Journalism Review's Daily takes note of my comments on Hugh's interview yesterday with Michael Ware. In doing so, they exhibit the kind of straw-man argumentation that's made the MSM a kind of Jefferson Society with keyboards.

    But the View isn't done. "[Ware] could do a lot more reporting under the protection of the US military than he either knows or acknowledges." (Ware doesn't know the embed option exists?) "If he's really concerned about either his safety or that of his staff, there does seem to be an answer."

    This was the part of the interview I was referring to, and going back and reading it, it appears I misheard:

    But I mean, what I'm saying to you is that if you think anyone would have the right to complain or to take umbrage at what I do, it would be the troops here on the ground. It would be U.S. military intelligence. It would be the U.S. military. You'd think that they wouldn't give me embeds, wouldn't you? You'd think that they wouldn't grant me backgrounders, or wouldn't take me out on special events. You'd think that they wouldn't give me access to the generals, or to military intelligence. You know, in this war alone, I've been in combat with virtually every kind of U.S. fighting force there is, from the SEAL's, to the Green Berets, to Delta, to Infantry, Airborne, Armored, Mechanized. I mean, I've been there, done that in combat. I've been in every major battle of this war, except from Najaf and the first battle of Fallujah. That includes the battle of Tal-Afar, the Battle of Samara, and the Battle of Fallujah, with front line units. I witnessed an event that the Pentagon subsequently asked me to write about as a witness, which is now a matter for the Congressional Medal of Honor nomination. And I am mentioned in that citation. So if anyone would have a problem with what I do in exploring the issues of this war, you'd think it'd be the military. Yet strangely, they don't.

    When I heard this on the air, it sounded to me as though Ware was complaining that he might be denied access based on how he reported. Going back and reading it, he's clearly not saying that. But he does say this about other reporters:

    And something happens, something that may not exactly play well back home. And yet, it's something that you know, well, people outside of this experience would never understand that. I mean, how do you relay that without betraying the trust and the confidence of the troops? And for some journalists, they have to bear in mind well, if I write a negative story about the military on this embed, will they give me another embed? So there's always these pressures from all the players. (emphasis added. -ed)

    And yet, there's plenty of evidence that most reporters don't get out much beyond Baghdad, and those that do limit themselves to military press events. Bill Roggio reported that while he saw reporters on the ground outside of those events. Ware appears to have been all over the place, and does seem to have availed himself of the military's openness in a way that is unusual for western journalists.

    Incredibly, the CJR responds to my complaint as though I had the right interpretation, and proceeds to defend the press on that basis.

    UPDATE: In reading even further, I found another quote which supports my initial interpretation, that Ware seems to believe that the military picks and chooses its embeds based on their coverage. Ware's ostensibly referring to what other reporters believe, but then goes on to describe a case where he claims the Iraqi government came after him for a story he wrote. So he's also clearly tying this to his own experience. Whether his later comment is a clumsy recovery aimed at buttering up his, er, bread-and-butter is unclear, but it's certainly at odds with the second quote, from earlier in the interview.

    March 28, 2006

    Reporting From the Other Side

    One section of Hugh Hewitt's interview with Michael Ware struck me in particular. Hugh analogized to WWII, and what would happen if a reporter had the chance to report from the other side in that war.

    Actually, William Shirer & other journalists did report from Germany during the war. But they did it 1) when the US wasn't a belligerent, and 2) while reporting that they were under Germany censorship. Neither of those conditions obtains with Michael Ware.

    Like it or not, when the war broke out, the Germans didn't make it a habit to kill foreign correspondents; they deported them. Once the war started, any newspaperman wandering across the front lines to hang out with the Germans on maneuvers would have been shot as a spy. And for good reason. The mere fact this is at least a matter of dispute amongst the councils of our current enemy should tell you something about the service that Mr. Ware is performing.

    Remember, too that normal military censorship has relatively well-known rules. Talk about morale if you like, but the troop train schedule is off-limits. Ware's admitted to being "careful," but without careful questioning after each story, it's impossible for a reader to figure out what kind of restraints he's putting on himself. Not only can't you read between the lines, you're not even sure what directlon the lines run, or if there are any lines.

    The fact is, there are plenty of embeds who reports what they see, good or bad. Michael Yon comes to mind. The military is confident in the rightness of its behavior to the point that as long as Yon doesn't pick up a weapon again, or as long as Bill Roggio doesn't have flashbacks to his service days, they can keep going and reporting as long as they like. While it does seem that Ware has gotten out of the bar at the Palestine Hotel, he could do a lot more reporting under the protection of the US military than he either knows or acknowledges. If he's really concerned about either his safety or that of his staff, there does seem to be an answer.

    This is worse than the deal cut with Saddam, first, because it comes after Eason Jordan's nasty little revelation, and second, because you can't make normal assumptions about what's fair game and what's not.

    This guy's sold his soul for a few bylines.

    UPDATE: Upon further reflection, this post has been revised and extended from its initial form..

    March 26, 2006

    AP: Criminalizing Illegality

    Apparently, the AP doesn't think that illegal immigrants are breaking the law:

    More than 50,000 people gathered downtown Saturday as part of a national protest against a crackdown in immigration laws, including federal legislation aimed at criminalizing illegal immigrants and building more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border. (emphasis added -ed.)

    In fact, the proposed legislation would make being here in the country a felony. It's already a crime, of course.

    This is at least a two-part issue. We can have an open immigration policy, or a closed policy, or something in-between. But we can't have any policy at all without control of our borders. The fact is, and it is a fact, one can be for strong border control and support a large flow of immigrants, or even a guest-worker program. This kind of obfuscation lumps all immigrants together, makes it easier to accuse border-control advocates of racism, and is part of a larger set of talking points designed to politicize the issue along partisan lines. The ultimate goal, of course, is to preserve the Hispanic vote for Democrats:

    Speakers during the rally ridiculed the Republican party telling participants that "they're not on our side and they're pitting Americans against us."

    Right. That's why the Democratic governors of Arizona and New Mexico - and Bill Richardson himself is Hispanic - have declared states of emergency along their borders with Mexico. If the rally itself was this politicized, the AP made no attempt to discern the political leanings of its organizing groups.

    "This is the standing point of a new beginning," said protester Eli Chairez-Clendenin, 36, of Denver, who immigrated to Colorado in 1974. "We're not going to be intimidated or afraid to speak our mind. We're going to be who we are."

    Mr. Chairez-Clendenin thus came here when he was, what, four years old? So he came here with his family. It's not as though he made this decision himself, as an adult, responsible for his decisions. To all intents and purposes, the man's a native, and his opinions on recent illegals need to be weighed with that in mind.

    This was the wire service. It'll be interesting to see what the Denver Post does with it tomorrow.

    March 24, 2006

    The Language of Business

    Mais Non!

    If the French government cared about business, the fact that their businessmen get it might matter.

    March 9, 2006

    Oh, Those Middle East Experts

    The Washington Post this morning reports on a supposed anti-Muslim backlash in the United States:

    James J. Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute, said he is not surprised by the poll's results. Politicians, authors and media commentators have demonized the Arab world since 2001, he said.


    Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, agreed, saying Americans "have been given the message to respond this way by the American political elite, mass media and by select special interests."

    Cole said he was shocked when a radio talk show host asked him if Islamic extremists would set off a nuclear bomb in the United States in the next six months. "It was ridiculous. I think anti-Arab racism and profiling has become respectable," he said.

    Messrs. Zogby and Cole, Paging Messrs. Zogby and Cole, Please pick up the white courtesy phone, your spaceship has arrived.

    Sure, it has all to do with that avalanche of Hollywood films showing Arabs and Muslims as the bad guys, that non-stop stream of race-baiting invective from the White House and Congress, and, no doubt, the posting of the Danish cartoons as reading material for the long lines of young, Middle-Eastern men being detained by TSA for screening.

    Nothing at all to do Iran's eschatologically loopy President, riots and embassy bonfires over a few innocuous drawings, MSM depictions of an Iraq seemingly resistant to common sense, French Citroen-fueled marshmallow roasts, and a CAIR that's to be worried that the McCarthy era won't return and they won't be in charge. Indonesia and Malaysia stand as symbols of how Islam can work within the modern world, but they're not the ones getting the ink, and most (but not all) of the loudest American Muslim groups are less interested in battling for the soul of their religion than in protecting the "rights" of the opposition. That's bound to leave an impression, even if it's not the right one.

    What's remarkable is that Juan Cole's opinions on the matter are still considered newsworthy. This and this leave little doubt as to the "special interests" he has in mind. Cole's reading of the 9-11 Commission report beggars description. And he's been a leader in the attempt to keep government money flowing to Middle Eastern Studies departments, while not producing the skilled language experts the money is supposed to help fund. (He's not anti-war; he's just on the other side.)

    Finally, Cole is an intellectualy bully who has slandered the indispensible MEMRI, called publicly for opposition research on Martin Kramer, and spends a lot of time rejecting calls for intellectual honesty as McCarthyism while hinting darkly about lawsuits against his detractors.

    The next time the WaPo needs a real Middle East expert, allow me to suggest Fouad Ajami, Amir Taheri, Bernard Lewis, Martin Kramer, or Daniel Pipes.

    February 28, 2006

    WaPo: US Opposes UN HRC Just Because

    The Washington Post reports that the US is opposing the UN's feeble trotting-out of Commission in Council's clothing, but doesn't bother to explain why the proposal is worse that useless. ALmost 2/3 of the article is devoted to quoting the Council's supporters and describing the supposed "improvements," without any discussion of why these changes make things worse.

    The Post:

    [Annan and other supporters] noted that provisions to subject all council members to scrutiny of their human rights record would discourage countries with poor records from joining. They also said that council members suspected of abusive behavior can be suspended by a vote of two-thirds of the U.N. membership present.

    The problem:

    There is a provision for suspending a Council member that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights. But the step can only be taken with the agreement of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly. Fifty percent of the General Assembly could not even agree that Sudan was guilty of human-rights violations in November of 2005.

    The Post:

    The new council would consist of 47 members selected by secret ballot on the basis of "geographical distribution" and committed to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights."

    The problem:

    Instead of a much smaller body designed to attract the best states from each regional group, the proposal merely reduces the number of members from 53 to 47.


    The proposal significantly shifts the balance of power away from the Western regional group, including the United States. The African and Asian regional groups will hold 55 percent of the votes. The proportional representation of the Asian group will represent the greatest increase and the representation of the Western group the greatest decline.

    The Post:

    Members would be elected for as many as two three-year terms at a time and would meet for at least 10 weeks throughout the year.

    The problems:

    States which are elected must rotate off every two terms. The United States has been a member of the Commission every year since 1947, with one exception, and has played a leadership role in efforts to promote human rights throughout the Commission’s history, not to mention paying for 22 percent of its costs.


    Special sessions of the commission can be called by just one third of the council's membership. Although this feature has been hailed as an improved capacity to deal with urgent human rights situations, the membership of the new council will make it more likely that special sessions will be about the United States and Israel rather than China or Sudan.

    The Post reduces the US response is reduced to mere distrust and discontent, and allows Annan to take the high ground of opposing obstruction. While it's not the Post's job to act as a mouthpiece for the administration, it's hard to see how this article even approaches a fair airing of the facts.

    January 19, 2006

    The WaPo Shish-Khababs Good News From the Front

    Front-page real estate on the Washington Post is hard to come by, especially if you're good news from the GWOT. The Post has run five stories in the last six days on the American airstrike intended for Zawahiri, but which seemingly instead got his assistant Abu "Shish" Khabab, and you can gauge how good the news is by the page number.

    At first, when simply reporting that the airstrike had taken place, and who its target was, the Post put the news on page 9. The next day, the page-9 airstrike turned into a page-1 debacle:

    Pakistani officials said Saturday that a U.S. missile strike intended to kill al Qaeda deputy Ayman Zawahiri had missed its target but had killed 17 people, including six women and six children.

    Tens of thousands of Pakistanis staged an angry anti-American protest near the remote village of Damadola, about 120 miles northwest of Islamabad, where Friday's attack took place. According to witnesses, the demonstrators shouted, "Death to America!" and "Death to Musharraf!" -- referring to Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf -- and the offices of at least one U.S.-backed aid organization were ransacked and set ablaze.

    On Monday, as the PR situation deteriorated, the protests were demoted to Page 10, but the only note of doubt was a comment that, "U.S. intelligence sources were uncertain about the identities of those killed and about whether Zawahiri was among them." You had to wait until paragraph 10 to hear that unsupported doubt. While the story was on Page 10, I seem to remember it getting a somewhat, er, larger, headline on the website.

    Two days later, also on Page 10, the emphasis remains on the negative: we didn't get Zawahiri, and there were demonstrations:

    U.S. intelligence sources said Tuesday that they were increasingly certain a missile strike in Pakistan on Friday had failed to kill Ayman Zawahiri, second in command of al Qaeda, but regional officials in Pakistan said the attack had killed four or five other foreign Islamic extremists who were attending a dinner in a village near the Afghan border.

    The Pakistani report bolstered earlier U.S. assertions of strong pre-strike intelligence that a group of al Qaeda figures was in the immediate area. But political condemnation and confusion continued in Pakistan over the CIA-ordered strike, in which 13 to 18 civilians, including women and children, were also reported to have died.

    Finally, today, when the news is actually confirmed as being good, it barely merits 225 words, and gets demoted to page 16. Really:

    A senior Pakistani intelligence official who also spoke on condition of anonymity said Pakistan had received convincing reports Wednesday confirming that at least three al Qaeda operatives were killed, including Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, who uses the alias Abu Khabab al-Masri. The United States has posted a $5 million bounty for the reputed training camp leader and expert in explosives and poisons.

    The intelligence official also said Abdul Rahman Maghribi, the son-in-law of Zawahiri, was killed. Maghribi was believed to have been al Qaeda's chief of propaganda for the region. A key operative in Afghanistan's Konar province, Abu Ubayida Misri, also died, the official said.

    Now, if we can only get Abu Shwarma and Abu Falafel, we'll be in good shape.

    December 25, 2005

    Fact-Checking the DenPo

    This isn't exactly media bias so much as media sloppiness. Really simple things that imply that the paper's editors and fact-checkers are either non-existent or very overpaid.

    Let's begin with "insider trading." According to the Post,

    Insider trading is a term that encompasses any stock transaction by a company's management, board or significant shareholder. What makes it illegal is if those insiders trade on key information not publicly available.

    Well, this is sort of right. The problem is that insider trading encomapsses anyone trading on non-public information, not just the corporate bigwigs. It means that you, yes you, are at risk, if the company CEO gives you a heads-up, and you trade on that information, even if you don't work for the company. The "insider trading" reports that are filed with the SEC are restricted to senior management and major shareholders, which may have confused the reporter. But since this was in an article about alleged criminal activity at Qwest, so the relevant part was the insider information, not the status of the trader.

    The relevant New Year's Resolution suggests itself.

    November 23, 2005

    Rabbi Invokes Hitler, Press Yawns

    I'm no fan of Eric Yoffe. But the religious head of the Jewish Reform Movement in America gives a biennial sermon at the national convention, to set the tone and the agenda for the next tow years. This time, he's outdone himself. In discussion the "religious right" and its approach to gay issues:

    We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations.

    I'm going to have more - a lot more - to say about this, especially about his call for "discussion with civility", but for the moment, just consider the irony from the press's point of view. He's sought out for quotes on Supreme Court nominees. When Senators call him "The Antichrist," they back down. Political meetings he attends are front-page news. The Post and the News report about James Dobson as though the Colorado Springs exits off of I-25 have toll booths with direct deposit to Focus on the Family, and participants in City Council meetings need to kiss his ring before they can go into chambers.

    But when the spiritual head of one of the three major Jewish denominations compares him to Hitler, that's unremarkable.

    November 22, 2005

    BBC: Israel Defends Self, Violates International Law

    The BBC has a funny view of international law - make sure the obligations fall on Israel.

    Yesterday, Israel responded to a broad Hezbollah attack - including artillery-supported cross-border raids - by, well, responding:

    Hizbullah launched a failed attempt to kidnap soldiers Monday in an assault on Mount Dov and the northern town of Rajar and a coordinated mortar and rocket barrage on northern Galilee towns and kibbutzim.

    A fierce Israeli response killed four infiltrators and struck at Hizbullah targets in south Lebanon, but at least 12 soldiers were wounded and a house severely damaged in Metulla by Hizbullah mortar fire.

    Now, here's the BBC on the matter:

    Israeli troops have killed three Hezbollah fighters during a guerrilla attack near the Lebanese border, which also left several Israelis wounded.

    It was the heaviest fighting in the disputed Shebaa Farms area since 2000, when Israeli troops left south Lebanon.

    Hezbollah fighters launched a major assault on Israeli army posts, triggering retaliatory air strikes.

    Israel captured the area from Syria in the 1967 war but it is now claimed by Lebanon with Syria's backing.

    Eyewitnesses reported at least 250 explosions in an intense two-and-a-half hours of rocket duels.

    Scores of fighters were observed taking part in the Hezbollah operation, which Lebanese security sources said was aimed at taking Israeli hostages.

    Israeli aircraft overflew south Lebanon as far north as Tyre, in defiance of repeated calls by the United Nations for an end to violations of Lebanese air space.

    Israeli TV said Hezbollah's artillery barrage was designed to divert attention from a raid on the Druze village of Ghajar to capture Israeli soldiers.

    The majority of residents in Ghajar are reported to have taken Israeli nationality after Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967.

    The water-rich Shebaa Farms area lies at the convergence of Lebanon and Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

    The UN has ruled that the area belongs to Syria - not Lebanon - and says its fate is linked to the Golan Heights.

    In 2004, UN Resolution 1559 called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, but the Lebanese government has so far refused to act.

    So, in 246 words, the Beeb manages to:

    1. Start the story with Israel killing Hizbollah fighters
    2. Mention twice that Shebaa farms is "disputed," while leaving until the next-to-last paragraph the news that the only people disputing its status are those who want to keep killing Israelis
    3. Refer to Israeli overflights as "defiance," while waiting until the last paragraph to note that the Lebanese government apparently has different definitions of "sovereignty" for different parts of its territory
    4. Not note the irony in those two facts.
    5. Ignore completely Hizbollah rocket attacks on Israeli civilians in towns far from the attempted raids...
    6. ...leaving the impression that almost all the fighting was at Shebaa Farms

    Naturally, it's not only the BBC. Reuters does pretty much the same thing, waiting 10 paragraphs to note the nature of the "dispute" over the area.

    November 18, 2005

    Blowing Smoke

    An Italian film crew claims that the US military indiscriminantly blanketed civilians in Fallujah with the white phosphorus during last year's assault on the city. The Denver Post picks up the Colorado angle on the white phosphorus non-story, and while it impeaches the credibility of the film's star witness, it buries the lead, and leaves most of the background fabrications intact.

    Here's the big news. The "witness," Jeff Englehart, can only claim to know that 1) white phosphorus was used in the attack, and 2) someone inside the city got caught in it:

    Englehart said Thursday that some of his statements were taken out of context. He maintained that he believes white phosphorus killed civilians, though he never saw anyone burned by it while in Fallujah.

    "I never personally did," he said. "That's where the ... documentary misquoted me. They took that out of context."


    "I know I heard it being called for on the radio. That's the only proof that I have, and I talked to a reconnaissance scout after the siege while we were still in Fallujah. He said they called in for white phosphorus on human targets," Englehart said.

    Englehart said an Italian reporter asked him during a five-hour interview in August whether he had seen innocent civilians killed in Iraq. Englehart said he had. Englehart said the producers of the Italian documentary took his answer to that question and edited it in after a question from a reporter about whether he had seen women and children killed by white phosphorus.

    "It wasn't very good journalism," Englehart said. "It's about 80 percent true."

    Sounds to me like it's about 0% true. It ought to be the lead of the story, and it ought to be the headline.

    (Also, Washington Post military affairs blogger William Arkin takes the claims at face value, while appearing to hedge his bets on its legality. He lumps various governmental responses together, assuming that any given briefer has perfect information, and that, for instance, the State Department can speak for the DoD. According to this logic, I suppose I should just skip the intermediaries and claim that the WaPo takes the claims at face value. Naturally, if white phosphorus isn't a chemical weapon - and it factually isn't - then we would deny having used "chemical weapons," until it became clear what the hell the accusation is.)

    But again, as with so many attempts to turn the US Military into a marauding gang of war criminals, there's just no there there.

    Here's the DenPo again:

    The use of white phosphorus is not banned but is covered by Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. The protocol prohibits use of the substance as an incendiary weapon against civilian populations and in air attacks against military forces in civilian areas. The U.S. is not a signatory to the convention.

    Here's Snapping Turtle on that:

    I've seen a lot of people claiming that the 1980 Incendiary Weapons protocol of Geneva forbids the use of white phosphorus against civilians. It does not. It forbids the use of "incendiaries," and specifically excludes weapons like WP where the incendiary effect is a secondary effect of smoke production (incendiary weapons by definition are those weapons designed to create fires... WP occasionally will start fires, but it's not very reliable in that role... generally it just creates a lot of smoke). Whether the U.S. has signed it or not is irrelevant.

    As for how the weapon was used, there's been some confusion. Apparently, the State Department, as the Turtle puts it, managed to make things worse by confusing phosphorus with magnesium, and claiming rounds that make smoke were being used for illumination. (Cough.) The military claims that it was using WP to smoke out defenders from hardened positions, and it's certain that some of those defenders happened to be standing a little too close to those shells when they went off. For further common-sense rebuttals, see tjic and Mudville Gazette.

    October 10, 2005

    Denver Post: Free Speech = "Loopholes"

    For the Denver Post, First Amendment protections apparently are "loopholes" to be examined.

    In an article about free speech campaign finance restrictions, the Post focuses on conservative groups' efforts, while biasing the article in favor of such restrictions in general.

    (This isn't the first site to notice the - oddity - of the state Democrats becoming concerned about the new campaign finance laws just as the Republicans begin to figure them out. Apparently the game is to keep the rules moving just fast enough to stay ahead of your opponents in understanding them, while retaining the moral high ground of "reform.")

    The Post has not always been so solicitous of public opinion, especially when it comes to illegal immigration and gay marriage.

    Even if government lawyers or state legislators come up with ways to better regulate the flow of money...

    No, no assumptions here. In an article about "loopholes," "better regulate" means closing those "loopholes," or further restricting speech. won't be in time to impact the 2006 elections. The contests include an open governor's race and an open seat in the 7th Congressional District, 65 state House races and 17 Senate seats. Republicans could regain a majority in the Senate by taking back just one seat.

    How, exactly, is this last more relevant than the Democrats gaining a majority of the state's Congressional delegation through tha open 7th District seat? Or the effect of any number of other electoral outcomes? Apparently, the main issue is the tenuous nature of Democratic control of the State Senate.

    In 2002, Colorado voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 27, which overhauled campaign- finance disclosure rules in an effort to get big money out of politics. The measure limited campaign contributions, encouraged candidates to curb their spending and banned corporate and union contributions to candidates and parties.

    The unintended effect, say some political observers, has been to encourage interest groups to exploit gray areas in the law and invoke broad constitutional protections such as free speech to continue the activities voters sought to regulate.

    Imagine that! People using First Amendment guarantees to safeguard their free political speech.

    For instance, the Independence Institute has been accused of running political ads couched as educational material. Critics say the Golden-based think tank should disclose donors who have supported its radio ads about Referendums C and D. The institute says it is merely educating the public.

    Apparently, they missed this proclamation by a 501(c)3 in favor of Referenda C and D. This decision has been defended on the grounds that it's a referendum, not a candidate being supported, a distinction that apparently escaped the notice of the Post when writing about the Institute.

    In fact, the main abuse of system was by Democrats in the 2004 State legislative campaigns:

    Colorado Democrats used the loophole last year, a maneuver largely credited with giving Democrats control of both legislative chambers.

    That's the extent of the article's mention of 2004. The fact that not all of these activities were exactly, uh, legal seems to have evaded Mesdames Caldwell and Crummy.

    In fact, the article devotes 78 words to Democratic and union groups, and 328 words to offenses - real or imagined - by conservative or Republican groups.

    Continue reading "Denver Post: Free Speech = "Loopholes"" »

    October 6, 2005

    The Cost of Lawsuits

    The Wall Street Journal this morning discusses our unpreparedness for an avian flu pandemic:

    The U.S. once boasted a large vaccine industry. But in recent decades drug makers have exited the business, for reasons including low profit margins, exposure to lawsuits and manufacturing difficulties. As a result, the U.S. has lost much of its capacity to produce vaccines for seasonal flu, leaving it largely dependent on a plant in Pennsylvania, which is owned by Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis Group

    Let's leave the question of whether or not Senator Salazar still thinks medical lawsuits are cheap, or whether he'll think so after the poultry-farming population of his state heads for the cities.

    Tellingly, the Washington Post covers the story as a governmental issue:

    "The good news is, we do have a vaccine," Leavitt added. But he also said there isn't an ability to produce it quickly enough or in sufficient quantity in the event of an emergency.


    As for treatment, HHS last month began spending $100 million for the first large-scale production of a bird flu vaccine. But the department has been criticized for only stockpiling enough of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu for several million people. The Senate last week passed legislation that would increase those purchases by $3 billion.

    Even the business section focuses on the local company, rather than the national problem:

    The government recently awarded a $100 million contract to Sanofi-Aventis SA for an undisclosed number of vaccines that target the current strain circulating, called H5N1. But there are about 16 strains of bird flu, and the government wants Gaithersburg-based MedImmune to create vaccines for each.

    And Washingtonians think provincials are, well, provincial. There's no discussion, none at all, of the wider reasons why our vaccine-production capacity is so limited in the first place, and no discussion of what's being proposed to fix the problem.

    None of this is to suggest that invididually, businessmen are better decision-makers than bureaucrats. The Journal continues:

    Though infectious diseases are huge killers, with about 35,000 to 40,000 Americans dying each year from seasonal flu, big drug companies are largely ignoring investing in vaccines. Instead, they are placing their bets on chronic diseases or on lifestyle drugs with big profit potential, resulting in a growing public-health problem.

    But collectively, dispersed decision-making is better than central control, because the ideas will likely be there come crunch time. And don't let the sheer number of biotechs fool you. Much of the funding for the small, startups comes from the large drug companies, who will still set the research priorities.

    As in other cases, Washington has over-regulated an industry (in this case, through lawsuits), taxing away its ability to place multiple bets and invest in excess capacity, and is now wishing to snap its fingers and will the product out of thin air. It's not surprising that a business newspaper would understand this, while a Washington paper would focus on the government's disaster-response planning. But enlightened regulatory policy can make governance easier down the line. This is a textbook case of bias-by-omission, where questions don't get asked, ideas don't get considered, conclusions don't get drawn, because they don't fit the underlying assumptions.

    September 27, 2005

    What's a Little Stoning Among Friends?

    From Tom Shales's WaPo review this morning of the new Geena Davis vehicle, "Commander-in-Chief":

    But when she gets tough, she's formidable, even if "the issues" in the pilot are not exactly earth-shaking. Chief among them is the case of a young woman in Nigeria who, by local custom, is to be buried up to her neck in sand and stoned to death for the crime of having sex and giving birth before marriage.

    Maybe such things really happen, but by leading off the series with it, Lurie suggests that the show won't be about a female president and her problems of adjustment but instead about a myopic busybody who sees herself as a feminist first and leader of the people second (or third).

    Ah, that old "local custom," kind of like deep-fried Adulteress-On-A-Stick at the Minnesota State Fair.

    In fact, the northern third of Nigeria has been suffering under a brutal form of Sharia (that's Islamic Law to you, Tom), of the sort advocated by people who did a little earth-shaking piloting of their own about 4 years ago. They use the flimsiest of pretexes to terorrize local Christians, rampage through the streets, pass death sentences on government officials, ban women from public transportation, and yes, sentence women to be stoned to death. (And this is what they do to people they're trying to help.) It's a wonder he didn't accuse Geena Davis of just doing it for the oil.

    Maybe he'd be more upset if he saw what they did to gays, Lawrence notwithstanding.

    Tom, I realize that most of the time you're fixated on the color of the President's ties, so perhaps the problem might seem more serious if the man fighting it were wearing red. But if you're going to write about political shows and pass judgment on "issues," it might help if you actually knew something about the issues.


    Power, Faith, and Fantasy

    Six Days of War

    An Army of Davids

    Learning to Read Midrash

    Size Matters

    Deals From Hell

    A War Like No Other


    A Civil War

    Supreme Command

    The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

    The Wisdom of Crowds

    Inventing Money

    When Genius Failed

    Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

    Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

    How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

    Good to Great

    Built to Last

    Financial Fine Print

    The Day the Universe Changed


    The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

    The Case for Democracy

    A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

    The Italians

    Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

    Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

    Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud