Archive

  • MUSICAL CHAIRS.

    MUSICAL CHAIRS. The New York Times reports on U.S. plans to attempt to curb Moktada al Sadr 's influence by fostering a new coalition that gives enhanced power to SCIRI's Abdul Aziz al-Hakim . As Laura herself notes , she reported on variations of these plans for TAP Online recently: The plan would be to try to forge a new and more effective Iraqi government coalition that would include the Sunnis, Kurds, and the Shias, while engineering a tilt within Maliki's Shia coalition away from Sadr and toward fellow Shiite leader Ayatollah Abdul Aziz Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its attendant Badr Brigade militia. (Hakim is scheduled to arrive in Washington next week on an official visit.) The Mahdi Army loyal to radical young Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr would continue to be the enemy. Washington would also engage Saudi Arabia and regional neighbors to encourage Sunni support for Maliki, and Syria and Iran would be pressured to limit their...
  • MORE ON PROLIFERATION ROLLBACK.

    MORE ON PROLIFERATION ROLLBACK. Via Brad Plumer , this discussion from Jeffrey Lewis elaborates on the point I made last week regarding the British nuclear program: The debate over Trident is somewhat surreal because, frankly, the UK�s nuclear weapons are irrelevant: they don�t deter anyone, confer any status or, frankly, threaten anyone. They are not particularly good or bad. On a related subject, I failed to note at the time that North Korea represents another opportunity for rollback of nuclear proliferation. Although it�s unlikely that North Korea will ever willingly give up its nuclear program, a collapse of the regime would likely lead to reunification with South Korea. If that happens, and if Seoul manages to get control of the DPRK�s nuclear arsenal, it�s possible that the unified Korean state could be convinced to disassemble the weapons. It might be a tough sell, since even a unified Korean regime will be at a military disadvantage to all of its neighbors, and I suspect that...
  • HANDS OFF THE...

    HANDS OFF THE MISTLETOE, BUB. While I was tickled to read Brad Reed 's prescription , here on TAP , for a liberal jihad on Christmas, as a gay (well, almost) Wiccan (well, not exactly) ukulele-player (yes, really), I must request exemptions for yuletide and mistletoe. The former refers to the time of year once called "Yule" by the pagan Anglo-Saxons, who celebrated the winter solstice with a ceremonial fire that is also known as the burning of the Yule log. (According to the Heathen Calendar on the Web site, Normannii Thiud & Reik , "The Yule log ideally should be made out of oak, a wood that is sacred to the thunder god Thunor.") Thus, the celebration of Yuletide is inherently anti-Christian. As for mistletoe , it is the magical fauna of the Celtic Druids (also pagans, y'know), who employed it at solstice time for the enhancement of fertility. As Steve Tatler writes : Because of the colour and juice of its berries mistletoe was regarded as the 'sperm of the gods', containing...
  • Why We Have Newspapers: Exposing Improper Links Between Credit Rating Agencies and the Companies They Review

    The credit rating agencies are the umpires of the financial world. They are supposed to be giving objective assessments of the financial status of the companies they rate. This is why it is big news that Standard & Poors may have altered its rating of Portland General Electric at the request of the company. David Cay Johnston deserves credit for tracking this one down . The NYT should not have buried the piece in the distant recesses of the business pages. --Dean Baker
  • NPR Misinforms on Fed

    NPR presented an interview with Wall Street Journal reporter David Wessel this morning in which he asserted that controlling inflation is the Fed's charge. This is not true. The law says that the Fed is obligated to run its monetary policy in order to promote price stability and high levels of employment, and specifically sets 4.0 percent as a target unemployment rate. Many economists would like to ignore the second goal, but that is not the law. --Dean Baker
  • Yet Another Episode in the Washington Post's Jihad on Social Security

    Did anyone get a 6 percent (nominal) wage increase last year? Congratulations on your "skyrocketing" paycheck. This is the term that the Post applies to Social Security expenditures, which have risen at an average rate of 5.2 percent in the last five years and are projected to rise at a 5.5 percent rate over the next five year (both in nominal dollars). This leaves Social Security expenditures virtually unchanged as a share of GDP over this period. Social Security expenditures are projected to rise more rapidly in the future, but they clearly are not "skyrocketing" at present. A little greater commitment to reality on this topic would be useful. --Dean Baker
  • Inequality and Trade

    In the wake of some of the comments from my last post, I thought I should make a few points on inequality and trade. 1) High-end professionals like doctors and lawyers have been winners in the economy of the last quarter century. It is not true that only the very wealthy have benefited. (If only the wealthy had benefited, then it would be much easier to win the political battle to change the system) According to the latest State of Working America (the bible for data on the economic well-being of the country�s workers), real wages for workers at the 90th percentile rose by 26.7 percent over the last quarter century, and 5.1 percent over the last five years. These are workers who are more highly paid than 90 percent of the workforce, but less highly paid than the top 10 percent. Workers at the 95th percentile saw their real wages rise by 33.2 percent over the last quarter century. Clearly these workers are doing just fine. Reliable wage data for higher paid workers is not available,...
  • UNIFORMITY AND CONFORMITY....

    UNIFORMITY AND CONFORMITY. Yesterday, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell detailed the lack of diversity among Post columnists and then concluded, "The point is not to toss excellent white male columnists; the point is to add more and lively voices to The Post." Today, however, Ezra bemoans the lack of excellence and accountability among those throngs of white male columnists, and how op-ed pages are the one part of newspapers where no one ever loses their job for getting major matters of national importance completely wrong. It's hard to imagine these two issues -- lack of diversity and lack of accountability -- are entirely unrelated. Indeed, it seems like this might be a good time for editors to really think about what defines excellence, and what their obligations are to their readers, and whether the similarity of the opinion writers' backgrounds is so great that it might contribute to a dangerous uniformity in the opinions they express, and so increase the risk that the...
  • GETTING SPECIFIC.

    GETTING SPECIFIC. I think Max Sawicky is getting at something very important here: The task for those who have come around to oppose this war is to extrapolate wisely in order to cope with the bouquet of calamities elaborated in the article. It pretty much comes down to Iran. Will the U.S. permit Iran to become a regional, nuclear power, or will it precipitate yet another lurch down the slopes of disaster. In principle, I would say that is the number one issue for the next presidential campaign. Given where I think we'll still be in two years regarding Iraq, I'd dissent from that last line, but this is still important. Intra-center-left foreign policy fighting tends to get as airy and abstracted as it is virulent. Iran presents a specific issue that's going to be with us for a while and which will likely be put back on the front burner of political discussion by interested parties sooner or later. As the Iran question surfaced periodically as a subject of political debate this past...
  • PORK PRESERVES. ...

    PORK PRESERVES. This rather misses the point of what the GOP did last week: The hero of the lame-duck session was freshman Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. He was instrumental in blocking a Senate-House conference on a military construction appropriations bill, which would then be used as the last train out of town to carry pork. He didn't block the bill, he delayed it. DeMint and a handful of other Republican congresscritters kicked a couple bills down the road, the better to not be blamed for them. Fair enough -- that's politics. But they did nothing to actually eliminate the pork; they just removed the GOP's fingerprints and made sure Democrats would control the process. Funny how a massive defeat focuses the moral righteousness. Meanwhile, Tom Coburn 's bill to force a pork report card, "under which the Pentagon would grade earmarks on a scale of A to F," seems interesting, depending on how the grading body is set up. Democrats and Republicans united to defeat it,...

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