THE TROUBLE WITH THE SENATE. A few days back, Brad Plumer highlighted this excerpt from a New York Times piece on Iraq oversight; he was focusing on something else in the excerpt, but my attention turned to the mention of Jay Rockefeller : It is unclear how far chairmen like Mr. Rockefeller may push the administration to obtain more information about secret programs. The committee, like many others, has often degenerated into partisan rancor over the past two years, and Mr. Rockefeller, like other incoming chairmen, has told colleagues that one of his priorities is to restore the committee�s historic bipartisanship. Needless to say, everyone's making happy talk like that right now for public consumption and one should avoid taking it all at face value. That said, Rockefeller's political fecklessness as the leading Democrat on the Intelligence committee is by now a matter of established empirical fact. (He's "a wimp � not confident of his own judgments,� was how one source put it to...

    THE KRAUTHAMMER FALLACY. I've been pushing back here quite a bit on the "Democrats won, but as conservatives" meme already, but a few reporters and other people have asked me to explain the riddle of how it can be that both congressional parties, as a result of last week's election, could actually have moved to the right. Here is Charles Krauthammer , for example, from Friday's Washington Post : Democratic gains included the addition of many conservative Democrats, brilliantly recruited by Rep. Rahm Emanuel with classic Clintonian triangulation. Hence Heath Shuler of North Carolina, antiabortion, pro-gun, anti-tax -- and now a Democratic House member. The result is that both parties have moved to the Republican X = 55right. Is that possible? Actually, yes. The simplest way to see that is to imagine a basket of watermelons with one cantaloupe in it, and a second basket full of peaches. Move the cantaloupe from the first basket to the second and, voila, the average per-fruit weight...

    BUCKLE UP FOR BI-PARTISAN SAFETY. Recognizing fully that internet polls are non-scientific and highly skewed toward (younger, more cynical?) online readers, I thought this question posed by Newsweek was quite interesting in its results. If the public is right, time to buckle-up for the bumpy ride these next two years. --Tom Schaller

    THE EXECUTIVE QUESTION. I understand completely the political reasons why we won'd have a chance to vote for the guy who helped lead Overseas Democrats For Udall 30 years ago when I was pitching Mo to people on Milwaukee's South Side. However, Russ Feingold 's departure pretty much guarantees that the issue of lunatic Executive caesarism is not going to play a big role among the people seeking to be the next ones to run the Executive branch. ( Pat Leahy , it should be said, is making very intriguing mouth-noises on the subject, as regards the new Democratic congressional majorities.) I still believe that one reason Michael Dukakis didn't hit Iran-Contra harder in 1988 -- other than the obvious one that his campaign was run by half-bright stoats -- is that he could envision needing to develop an "off the books" capacity himself to respond to some future crisis. Nobody runs for president without feeling deeply in their ambitious little souls that they're going to need a dollop of...
  • NYT Attacks Wall Street Protectionism

    For those who think that I hate the NYT, I have a big surprise; some gushing praise. An editorial in today's paper hits a real home run, trashing efforts to water down the corporate accountability rules in Sarbanes-Oxley. The editorial gets it exactly right, putting Wall Street's quest for weaker rules in the context of global competition for business. As the editorial notes, Wall Street is losing market share, not because of accountability rules, but because it charges too much. (Ever wonder where those $100 million paychecks come from?) Corporate management decides where to list shares, arrange mergers and buyouts, and carry through other financial business. Wall Street hopes that by weakening rules that protect investors against management abuses, it can make itself a relatively more attractive market to corporate management. This is a protectionist move in the same vein as the steel industry's efforts to get higher tariffs back in 2001. [I previously had said in this post that...
  • The Post Continues its Attack on Reforming the Medicare Drug Benefit

    The Post had yet another piece attacking plans to reform the Medicare drug benefit, although they at least had the decency to put their latest shot on the editorial page. Recognizing the artistic license that such pieces enjoy, this one still exceeds the bounds. The writer, an economist at a right-wing Italian think tank, warns against Italy's mistakes in regulating drug prices. For example, he claims that the regulation of drug prices makes it difficult for people to get reliable information about drugs. Well, in the United States, the incentives created by unrestrained patent monopolies has created a massive industry designed to deceive patients and doctors about the effectiveness of drugs. We are also told that regulation of drug prices has led to rapid medical care inflation in Italy over the years from 1998-2003. Yep, it's been more rapid in the United States over the same period (about 25 percent, according to the OECD). Then we are told that the pharmaceutical companies have...
  • Protectionism Gone Nuts

    The NYT has an article today about the University of Alabama's efforts to prevent an artist from painting pictures of their football players. Its case includes a request to prohibit his use of the school's "famous crimson and white color scheme." This is intellectual property rules gone crazy. It is also an extreme form of protectionism. Unfortunately, the NYT reporter never mentioned the economic angle here. If you impose a 10 percent tariffs on shoes, the Thomas Friedman crew start foaming. But, if you put an outright ban on a whole form of art (it ain't my bag, but people apparently buy it), they don't even think it's worth mentioning. If only we could require some minimal level of consistency among columnists (and economists). --Dean Baker
  • The Post Continues Its Crusade Against Social Security

    The Washington Post editors, along with most of its columnists, have long advocated cutting and/or privatizing Social Security. Unfortunately, this position infects their news reporting as well, as illustrated with a front page story discussiong the alternative minimum tax. The article lists a set of "ticking time bombs set to explode soon after the 2008 presidential election." Yes, this list includes Social Security. Well, if anyone at the Post had access to the CBO website they would know that the program will be running an annual surplus of more than $200 billion at that point and is projected to continue to running large surpluses for more than a decade after 2008. And, its accumulated surplus is projected to be suffiicient to keep the program fully solvent until 2046 with no changes whatsover. I guess the Post is trying to give new meaning to the word "soon." --Dean Baker
  • Paulson Wants to Fix Social Security, How About an English Language Version of the New York Times?

    The New York Times continues its crusade to cut and/or privatize Social Security by again referring to efforts to restore the long-term solvency of the program. Since the program already has long-term solvency (through the year 2046, according to the Congressional Budget Office), this is a phony problem. Of course it's fine that people want to restructure the program, but it is simply not true that there is any need to do so over any reasonable time horizon. It would be nice if the Times reporters could be a bit more honest in their discussion of the topic. -- Dean Baker
  • Cheap Thoughts on Turning the Peru-U.S. Free Trade Agreement Into a Free Trade Agreement

    You've heard it here before, but those who want to hear my rant again can find it at Lame Duck Hunt . --Dean Baker