A (QUALIFIED) DEFENSE OF THE TRANS-FAT BAN. This probably won't help increase comity between progressives and our newly receptive libertarian brothers and sisters, but as William Saletan and Lindsay Beyerstein point out, the case for New York City's much-derided ban on trans-fats is actually very compelling. I tend to start from quite libertarian premises on such issues, and I certainly for the most part don't think that it's a legitimate role of state coercion to mandate asceticism or conformist aesthetic values. But this isn't what this ban will accomplish. There are many problems with making reducing obesity in itself a primary goal of public health (starting with the fact that, as an independent variable, being overweight has a weak impact on one's health), but in this case it has had the ironic effect of making the case for banning trans-fats look weaker than it actually is. To be clear, this ban will not cause New Yorkers to become thinner, or result in a significant reduction...

    TRAMP THE DIRT DOWN. Randy Paul helpfully supplements the NYT 's list of important dates in the life of the late Augusto Pinochet : September 1974: Has DINA, his secret police organization plant a bomb in the car of General Carlos Prats, his predecessor in Buenos Aires. The bomb kills General Prats and his wife, Sofia. Debris from the explosion is found on the ninth floor of a building across the street. October 1975: Has DINA, through Italian fascist terrorist Stefano Della Chiae, attempt to murder Christian Democrat politician and regime opponent, Bernardo Leighton in Rome Italy. Leighton and his wife survive, but live in constant pain for the rest of their lives. September 1976: Has DINA blow up the car of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC, killing Letelier and his American assistant, Ronni Moffitt. November 1978: The bodies of fifteen men who were "disappeared" are found in an abandoned limestone mine in Lonquen . June 1990: The bodies of 19 men who disappeared in the 1970's are...

    MCCAIN TRUE COLORS WATCH UPDATE. Ari Berman at The Nation reminded us on Friday that there's more to Terry Nelson , the campaign hatchet man whom John McCain has hired, than the racist tv "bimbo" ad attacking Harold Ford that Nelson created this year. He has also engaged in anti-democratic trickery. An unindicted co-conspirator in Tom DeLay' s scheme to raise illegal corporate cash for Texas state legislature candidates, and the supervisor of the staffer who purposely jammed Democratic Party phones in New Hampshire in 2002, Nelson is an all-around class act. It's ironic that McCain, who made his name by supposedly attempting to restore American faith in democracy through his campaign finance laws and "straight talk," has decided that merely selling his positions on issues to the nastiest elements of the GOP's base isn't enough. Apparently he's going to engage in their underhanded tactics as well. --Ben Adler

    HIGH DUDGEON, LOW STANDARDS. This is making the rounds and is too funny not to share. On Friday, a WBGH (Boston, MA) commentator reporter named John Carroll ran an "investigative" piece about bloggers for the "Beat The Press" segment on Greater Boston , a local commentary program. Carroll's report was basically a distillation of the recent op-chart in The New York Times , but he tried to spice it up by doing some "real" journalism of his own -- and quickly got himself into trouble. Carroll falsely reported that MyDD founder Jerome Armstrong is actually the person behind online pseudonyms Matt Stoller , Chris Bowers , and Scott Shields . (In response to the Times chart, Jonathan Singer had written this tongue-in-cheek post making that claim, which Carroll took literally and cited in the piece.) As anyone who actually spends time in the blogosphere -- you know, instead of cruising through for a drive-by "expose" chock full of high dudgeon but skimpy on reportage -- knows, all three men...
  • Larry Summers Misses the Boat on Inequality

    Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers got fired from his last job as president of Harvard. He doesn't seem to be doing much better at his current job, working as a columnist at the Financial Times . Today's column rightly notes the anger produced by growing inequality in the United States, but he misses both the dimensions of this inequality and its causes. First, the problem of inequality did not begin in the last five years as Summers implies in his column. The country has seen a sharp growth in inequality over the last quarter century, as most workers have seen almost no increase in their wages even though productivity has increased by more than 70 percent. This basic fact is extremely important, because Summers seems to think that we have a great economy, that could get messed up by stupid populist policies. To many of us, an economy that fails to produce dividends for the bulk of the population for a quarter century does not look very good. In other words, the economy was...
  • Most Important Economic News Stories of 2006

    Many reporters are called upon to write year-end pieces that discuss the big events of the year. In its continuing effort to be helpful to the hardworking men and women who report on the economy, BTP has five suggested topics: 1) The End of the Productivity Boom � It could be a bit early, but the evidence is mounting. Productivity growth for the last four quarters averaged 1.4 percent. (This will be revised down by about 0.2 percentage points when 810,000 addition jobs are added into the March number with the annual benchmark revision to the establishment survey.) With productivity growth now looking to be around 1.0 percent for the 4th quarter (2.5 percent consensus GDP forecast, 1.5 percent hours growth), we are looking at 4th quarter to 4th quarter productivity growth of 1.7 percent for 2006, the lowest rate since 1995 when it was 0.9 percent. Of course, this may be a cyclical slowdown associated with the onset of a recession, but that would be worth writing about too. 2) The End...
  • Really Bad Budget Reporting

    Both the NYT and Post came through with some genuinely awful budget pieces today. The articles committed not only the common sin of printing large budget numbers without placing them in any context, they also failed to give readers any sense of the time periods involved. For example, the NYT article refers to a provision that would spend $4 billion to clean up abandoned coal mines. Is this a single year appropriation? Presumably not, since that would be more than half of what the country spends on Head Start in year. Of course, if the time period is, say 10 years, then the impact of this proposed expenditure is one-tenth as large. The Post refers to a series of tax breaks that have a cost of $50 billion. Is this for one year or many? I'm sure that there are people out there who know the answer to this question, but I don't and I doubt very many Post readers do either. These folks do budget reporting as their day job. It shouldn't be too much to ask that they take the time to write...
  • The Reason We Have Newspapers: Busting Congress and the Oil Companies

    Ed Andrews at the NYT did some great investigative pieces a few months back that are likely to bear fruit in the new Congress. He exposed the fact that the government (under Clinton) had given leases to drill on public land, without any royalty provisions. Previous leases had suspended royalty payments if the price of oil was below $34 a barrel, in effect providing some element of insurance to the industry. The new leases eliminated royalties altogether. The amount of money involved is not huge, about $10 billion over ten years (0.03 percent of projected spending), but it is hard to justify this sort of giveaway to what is currently an incredibly profitable industry. Andrews' article in today's paper indicates that new Congress may take it back. --Dean Baker

    AN END TO ABSTINENCE FUNDING? Backers of abstinence-only education are starting to worry that their funding will be cut off when Democrats assume control of Congress. A Christian news service reports that a "Republican source" says "the staff of liberal Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman is in the process of rewriting the set of definitions of what is considered an abstinence program." Sweet! Could this mean they'll push to start funding comprehensive sex education , which discusses abstinence but also teaches students about contraception ? At the very least, they could impose greater restrictions on programs that receive abstinence-only money, ensuring that the curricula are free of medically inaccurate information, religious themes and gender stereotypes. Since 1996, abstinence-only has been the official sex-ed policy of the U.S. government. But with Waxman in a better position to act on the content of his widely read report on the subject, I'm hopeful about reform. --Ann Friedman

    JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: NO HOLY NIGHT . Reveling in the vast, left-wing anti-yuletide conspiracy, Brad Reed explores the possibilities for using the power of the newly Democratic Congress to kill Christmas for good . Here at TAP, we've got the non-denominational holiday spirit. --The Editors