Archive

  • ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTE.

    ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTE. I haven't yet read Larry Kahaner's AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face of War , but I reallly want to. Kahaner summarized the meaning of the AK-47 thus in a recent WaPo piece: The AK-47 has become the world's most prolific and effective combat weapon, a device so cheap and simple that it can be bought in many countries for less than the cost of a live chicken. Depicted on the flag and currency of several countries, waved by guerrillas and rebels everywhere, the AK is responsible for about a quarter-million deaths every year. It is the firearm of choice for at least 50 legitimate standing armies and countless fighting forces from Africa and the Middle East to Central America and Los Angeles. It has become a cultural icon, its signature form -- that banana-shaped magazine -- defining in our consciousness the contours of a deadly weapon. As a political scientist I'm forced to quibble with some of Kahaner's characterizations; I wonder, for example, how the market...
  • THE PAUL AND...

    THE PAUL AND TOM SHOW. Good day on the New York Times op-ed page today, where Krugman and Friedman make two of the more important, and overlooked, arguments for this juncture of the war debate. First up is Big Paul , explaining that, both in Greek mythology and the Iraq War, Cassandra was right. And so he offers up an honor roll of prominent and marginalized politicians who presciently opposed war from the start -- and paid a political price for doing so. Now, however, most agree that their foresight would've saved us from a disastrous, murderous conflict whose legacy will be measured in body counts and deficits. Nevertheless, not one of these pundits or politicians has become an honored voice in the national debate, not one of them is sought after to apply the analytical chops that could've stopped this to the conflict's current trajectory. As Feingold argued the other day, the Baker-Hamilton Commission was a "who's who: of hawks and establishmentarians -- it was not a roll call of...
  • Unit Labor Costs, Real Bad Data

    I was asleep at the wheel earlier in the week when I let news reports about the downward revisions to unit labor costs pass without comment. According to several articles (see the NYT , for example) downward revisions to unit labor costs in 2nd and 3rd quarter in the release of the preliminary productivity data for the 3rd quarter alleviated concerns about inflation. Well, I am not as concerned about inflation as many economists, but my fears were not alleviated by the new data. Quarterly data on unit labor costs are about as inaccurate as any data in the government's arsenal. While the Fed may be relieved to know that labor costs only rose at a 2.9 percent annual rate in the 3rd quarter, after falling at a 1.4 percent rate in the 2nd quarter, surely it was terrified by the fact that unit labor costs rose at a 13.6 percent annual rate in the first quarter . The moral of this story is that serious people do not take quarterly data on unit labor costs seriously. --Dean Baker
  • RUN, KERRY, RUN!

    RUN, KERRY, RUN! Though John Kerry could scarcely be less popular with Democratic voters, there's one group of Democrats that's keen to see him toss his hat into the presidential ring: Massachusetts politicians. It's not that they are out of touch with America. Far from it. They just want him to stop clogging up the local political system. The problem, as it was recently described to me by a young local politico, is that both of Massachusetts' senators have been so long-serving. Kerry has been in office since 1985, and Ted Kennedy since 1962. That means that, for the past 20 years, no Massachusetts politicians holding lower-level offices have been able to move up and into Congress's upper house. The congressmen can't move up by running for Senate, because the Senate seats are both unassailably taken, and the state senators can't move up by running for Congress, because the congressmen have become so long-serving in their turn. Secure incumbency at the top has created stasis throughout...
  • FUN FACT OF THE DAY.

    FUN FACT OF THE DAY. There was a bit of debate on this site and elsewhere this fall about whether the female editor of The New York Times editorial pages, Gail Collins , who was stepping down, could have had more of an impact than she did on the percent of women published on that page. Having been looking into a variety of questions around women and opinion journalism as a fellow at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard this fall, it's come to my attention that The New York Times op-ed page actually got its first woman editor in 1974 -- when former women's section editor Charlotte Curtis took the helm after transforming the women's page into a must-read -- so Collins is a bit less of a pioneer in this arena than people might have supposed (Similarly, the The Nation magazine had a female editor from 1933 to 1955, Freda Kirchwey , making Katrina vanden Heuvel that magazine's second female chief.) I'm unaware of any data comparing Collins' tenure to Curtis' tenure (which was, admittedly, in...
  • THE COUNTERMOBILIZATION MYTH -- CANADIAN EDITION.

    THE COUNTERMOBILIZATION MYTH -- CANADIAN EDITION. Gay rights litigation has been very successful in our neighbor to the north, with major victories at both the federal and provincial levels (including with respect to marriage benefits. According to oft-cited conventional wisdom , this success should have been a disaster for the gay rights movement, mobilizing a huge backlash and setting the cause back for generations as citizens were incensed by decision by "activist" courts. The problem is that this is not, in fact, true. Not only did Parliament end up formally recognizing gay marriage, but gay marriage has continued to become more popular, now commanding the support of almost 60% of the Canadian public. I do not mean so suggest that we can therefore expect a majority of Americans to support gay marriage right away too. My only point is that there is no evidence whatsoever that using litigation has anything to do with it . Courts are likely to provide the initiative with respect to...
  • Real Wages Are Rising, but Let's Not Get Carried Away

    The NYT had a front page article noting that real wages for most workers have begun rising in the last few months. This is of course good news -- the vast majority of people get the vast majority of their income from working -- if wages don�t rise, most people are not benefiting from economic growth. But the article gets a bit carried away at points. For example, the lead sentence asserts that �after four years in which pay failed to keep pace with price increases, wages for most American workers have begun rising significantly faster than inflation.� The use of �significantly� in this sentence can be disputed. It is true that real wages have been rising rapidly in the last few months, but this is because of the plunge in gas prices, that was clearly a one-time event (as later acknowledged in the article). The reality is that nominal wages are rising in a neighborhood of 3.9 percent to 4.0 percent, while the underlying rate of inflation is in the range of 2.5 percent to 3.0 percent,...
  • HOPE SHE'LL GET...

    HOPE SHE'LL GET A "THANK YOU" CARD FOR THAT. Via Eric Alterman 's indispensable McCain Suck-Up Watch comes this bit from Anne Kornblut : Commenting on Sen. John McCain 's proposal to send more troops to Iraq, The New York Times ' Anne Kornblut claimed that "McCain is proving that he is nothing if not an independent-minded maverick on this." Yikes. Look, McCain's plan may be very sincere, and very prescient, and totally likely to trigger Peak Pareto Pony Efficiency effects, but there's precisely nothing about it that proves him an "independent-minded maverick." His willingness to ignore the failure of a war he supported while advocating a useless alternative that's as unlikely to pass as it is to work is a dodge, not a profile in courage. --Ezra Klein
  • JOIN IN THE FUN.

    JOIN IN THE FUN. Greg has a suggestion for a contest that folks might want to get in on, though I'm worried reading one entry after another might get a bit nauseating. --Sam Rosenfeld
  • THE FREEDOM TO...

    THE FREEDOM TO BE VILIFIED. On Ann 's post below , one thing groups like NARAL have a tendency to do is accept vaguely acceptable-sounding or politically popular bills in an effort to remain in the center, believing their group's moderate credentials -- see also their early endorsement of Lincoln Chafee -- somehow important. The alternative strategy -- practiced by the NRA, among others -- would be to wage all-out war on even these minor encroachments, thus fighting to shift the center left. This strategy of trying to join the center rather than move it is a damaging one. If NARAL were totally dogmatic and absolutist, that would make life much easier on Democrats who could occasionally show their "centrism" by voting against NARAL-opposed legislation that actually doesn't much matter. Instead, however, to demonstrate independence on choice, Democrats end up supporting much more onerous and repulsive legislation, because just aping NARAL's priorities line doesn't win them any points in...

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