Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

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Dan is a student at Georgetown University. He is currently trying to think of a new biography for this space.

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This blog translated:


Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

"There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." - Variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Marshall, Mark Twain and many other dead people.

Currently reading:

Songbook by Nick Hornby

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

You should read:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Bobos In Paradise by David Brooks

Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright

Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best

Books written or edited by my professors (well, only the good ones)

Nick Barr

The Economics of the Welfare State

The Welfare State As Piggy Bank

Chris Dougherty

Introduction to Econometrics

David Gewanter

The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (ed. with Frank Bidart)

In the Belly

The Sleep of Reason

Meredith McKittrick

To Dwell Secure

John McNeill

The Human Web (with William H. McNeill)

Something New Under the Sun

Max-Stephan Schulze

Western Europe: Economic and Social Change Since 1945

Greater Blogtopia

Abu Aardvark
Across the Atlantic
Asparagus Pee
Bohemian Mama
Brazos de Dios Cantina Carl with a K
Chip Taylor
Conceptual Guerilla
D-Squared Digest
Dilettante's Guide to Life
Egotistical Whining
Enemy of the People
Equilibrismi ridanciani Fester's Place
Fleeting Impulse
Funny Farm
Grammar Police
Head Heeb
I Know What I Know Interesting by Association
Impolite Company
Internet Activism
Jacqueline Passey
John Hoke
John Lemon
John Scalzi
Kick the Leftist
Kids Korner
Kieran Healy
Liquid List
Loopy Librarian
Mark Maynard
Martin Stabe
More White Teeth
No More Mr. Nice Blog Notes on the Atrocities
Open Source Politics
Passenger Pachyderms
Peevish...I'm Just Saying
Politics and Policy
Quantum Skyline
Radical Review
Random Points
Risa Wechsler

Sha Ka Ree
Sick of Bush
Signifying Nothing
Something's Got to Break
Talking Dog
Tom Runnacles
Truth is a Blog
Vaguely Right
Vast Left Wing Conspiracy
Vulgar Boatman
We Report... You Deride

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Boot Bush! Donate to the DNC today

2004 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac

"Everything to Everyone" by Barenaked Ladies

"In Between Evolution" by The Tragically Hip

"Phantom Planet" by Phantom Planet

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

"One Plus One Is One" by Badly Drawn Boy

"Sultans of Swing" by the Dire Straits

"Best of the Talking Heads" by the Talking Heads

How Shareholder Reforms Can Pay Foreign Policy Dividends, James Shinn, ed.

Weaving the Net, James Shinn, ed.

Fires Across the Water, James Shinn, ed.

Panasonic ES8017SC Men's Triple Blade Pro Curve Rechargeable Linear Shaver

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Tuesday, December 31, 2002
My internet connection is on the fritz again, and blogger seems to be having some problems as well. So posting will probably be limited for the rest of the day. And I've got other things that need doing, anyway.

What had been here has been removed. I wasn't happy with it, so I'm pulling it.

The Simpsons returns to the BBC on January 2nd. Woohoo!

Let me make it clear that I think very highly of Paul Krugman. That said, today's column needs work. He is right that the U.S. is close to deflation, and it is probably starting to warp the economy slightly (deflation is the opposite of inflation - prices begin to drop - and although that sounds good to the layman, it can lead to a vicious circle that is very hard to break, as Japan is currently learning, since people simply wait to make their purchases until prices drop further and hold on to their money). That said, the column is missing out on one really huge factor: oil prices. Oil prices have an enormous effect on the economy (if you want confirmation, just go compare oil prices shocks and real GDP in the 1970's). The recent oil price hikes due to the cutoff of oil production in Venezuela and fears regarding the Middle East. The former is a real problem, while the latter has historically tended to be overblown. Oil price hikes are certain to lead to inflation - and also lead to shrinking production - driving us away from the prospect of deflation. This will be harmful in the short run, since it may plunge the U.S. back into a recession, but should be good in the long run if it avoids any deflation.

Scarily enough, then, the war in Iraq may actually be good for the U.S. economy in the long run. Although I don't think that the Bush administration is probably looking at it that way - these are guys who look at the short run and only the short run, since, as Keynes put it "In the long run, we're all dead." The long run doesn't matter one bit to the political prospects of the Republican party.

Monday, December 30, 2002
I'm back. But only for a little while.

Monday, December 23, 2002
I'm going away for a few days again - the idea of a month-long winter break is brilliant - so blogging will be limited, if at all for a few days.

How true.

Michael Kinsley has realized that the Republicans are trying to screw the middle class, for the benefit of the rich. And as he notes, "It conflicts with obvious reality." Well, duh.

Sunday, December 22, 2002
As I see it, there are two possibilities to this:

1. Trent Lott realizes that he was screwed by the White House. He is plotting his revenge, and will probably keep plotting all the way through to his retirement, whenever that is (either that or he actually takes his revenge, becomes a liberal Democrat, and proclaims Teddy Kennedy the best thing that ever happened to America ... um, maybe not).

2. Trent Lott blames the Democrats for screwing him. He is delusional, and needs to be institutionalized and heavily sedated. He also needs group therapy. Lots of it.

There you have it.

This is too funny.

(from the Daily Telegraph)

Court refuses trial by combat
By David Sapsted
(Filed: 16/12/2002)

A court has rejected a 60-year-old man's attempt to invoke the ancient right to trial by combat, rather than pay a £25 fine for a minor motoring offence.

Leon Humphreys remained adamant yesterday that his right to fight a champion nominated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) was still valid under European human rights legislation. He said it would have been a "reasonable" way to settle the matter.

Magistrates sitting at Bury St Edmunds on Friday had disagreed and instead of accepting his offer to take on a clerk from Swansea with "samurai swords, Ghurka knives or heavy hammers", fined him £200 with £100 costs.

Humphreys, an unemployed mechanic, was taken to court after refusing to pay the original £25 fixed penalty for failing to notify the DVLA that his Suzuki motorcycle was off the road.

After entering a not guilty plea, he threw down his unconventional challenge. Humphreys, from Bury St Edmunds, said: "I was willing to fight a champion put up by the DVLA, but it would have been a fight to the death."

You've got to love this place.

I normally don't have much interest in responding to what George Will writes, or even reading it for that matter. He hasn't had anything original to say in a very long time. Today's op-ed is no different. (Josh Marshall once wrote that "George Will must be a great inspiration to those who want to believe that even if you lack insight, honesty, or wit you might still succeed as long as you dress like you have all three"). Anyway, as to what passes for an opinion piece in today's Post, there's a lot missing in terms of logic and backround.

The reason that the GPO was created in the first place was the response to a long-running scandal over the awarding of various printing contracts at inflated rates to various presidential and congressional cronies. The Bush administration has repeatedly shown its willingness to recreate the old spoils system, corruption and all, in order to break the power of the unions. The savings that Will cites may also have resulted from any one of a number of other completely extraneous reasons. What Will found was a correlation, not a causal relationship, though it doesn't stop him from pretending that he found the latter.

I want to make it clear that I'm not particularly fond of unions. What I've seen in Britain - which is hardly the extreme in Europe - has shown that there are clear disadvantages to letting the entire country unionize. The sclerotic nature of the system here has led to strikes by the firemen and various transport unions in the couple of months that I've been here. There are clear advantages to unions in protecting low-wage workers from exploitation, however.

I root for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It's days like this that make me wonder why.

God, they suck.

An interesting interview with Charles Lewis on Frist's links to HCA. He's the director of the Center for Public Integrity, a damn fine institiution that is in the business of outing the corruption in Washington (and he's a pretty entertaining public speaker to boot).

Anwyay, here's to hoping that Congress is due for another Abscam. It was a sting run by the FBI in 1980, in which Congressmen were caught taking bribes from a man dressed up as an Arab sheik. Michael Myers (no, not that one) was expelled, and a number of other congressmen were censured. Maybe they should start with Mitch McConnell (nah, too obvious) ...

Maybe Congress needs to replace it's Ethics Committees (which generally refuse to do any actual investigations unless there are already criminal trials proceeding) with some sort of independent ombudsman to do the same thing. Not that there is a snowball's chance in hell of it actually happening.

Saturday, December 21, 2002
The expected Bush tax cuts for next year are unlikely to help the economy. Not that this should come as a surprise to anyone who knows anything about how the economy works ... which apparently excludes anyone working in the White House.

See also: Why Republicans are bad for the economy.

I'm certainly in favor of moving towards a Senate that actually looks like America (and thus isn't almost entirely made up of white men), but appointing your own daughter to take your former Senate seat smacks of nepotism (although, for all I know about Alaska state politics, she may actually be the most qualified person).

Santorum is not running (scroll down to the sixth paragraph). He waited too long to decide, which shouldn't come as a surprise.

At this point, barring a massive Bob Livingstone-style collapse, there probably won't be anyone else running besides Frist, and he will be the next Majority Leader.

So, let's see, about Sen. Dr. Frist ...

1. We know that he's a little overly concerned about the effects of Marion Barry on Tennessee.

2. We know that "From the late 1980's until he first ran for office, Mr. Frist was a member of the all-white Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville."

3. We know that this morning's New York Times reported that "Mr. Frist, going to a largely black march against crime, had asked a worker to obtain imprinted pencils to distribute, requesting unsharpened pencils. 'I don't want to get stuck,' he told the aide."

4. We know that he has "close ties to HCA, the hospital chain founded by his father and brother that has agreed to pay cumulative fines or penalties totaling $1.7 billion to settle accusations of health care fraud that included overbilling Medicare and kickbacks to physicians." (although he doesn't seem to have actually been involved in the management of HCA, so there's nothing but guilt by association here at the moment).

5. We know that he experimented on stray cats while a student in medical school, after lying to animal shelters to obtain the cats.

6. We know that he left his fiancee two days before the scheduled wedding for the woman who is now his wife.

I'd say there's probably more to come, if I were the betting type.

Ok, so rumor (or, as the British say, rumour) has it that the BBC has not actually cancelled The Simpsons, but has only put it on hiatus around Christmas and New Years. This is somewhat less heinous, but still pretty annoying.


Even the Guardian is picking up here on the blogging phenomenon, citing Josh Marshall, Atrios - oh, and Andrew Sullivan - in getting rid of Lott.

One other thing. That Thurmond never said anything publicly (at least nothing I noticed) to support Lott speaks volumes. Although Thurmond's body has seemed to have failed in recent years, his mind seems to be mostly there. That he never was propped up in front of a microphone (or as he always called it, 'the machine') and said something to the effect that "I've renounced my past positions on segregation and civil rights. I was wrong, and I am sure that Trent Lott believes the same" - or even issued a press release to say the same - is amazing.

The Washington Post has a couple of editorials this morning about the Lott situation and Rep. Ballenger's recent idiotic comments about Cynthia McKinney that he had "segregationist feelings" about her. The latter editorial is well thought out and well written.

The lead editorial, though, is crap. It states that "neither Mr. Frist nor other possible contenders for Mr. Lott's position have been accused of making racially charged remarks." This is completely wrong. You can see that here and in today's New York Times article (Part 1 and Part 2).

If you want an editorial about the situation that's actually worth reading, check out the New York Times editorial here.

As to the last post, I don't think that the information about Sen. Dr. Frist (or is it Dr. Sen. Frist?) having left his fiancee is going to affect him significantly. People can be counted on to get reliably outraged about adultery and similar problems, but it doesn't seem to affect voting patterns in any real amount (see Clinton and every woman he could find, Gingrich and his geometry teacher, Gingrich and his wife the cancer patient, etc.). The cat thing, on the other hand, is undeniably creepy. While I don't think that there are many PETA-heads likely to vote Republican to begin with, it's may be off-putting to a lot of people.

Friday, December 20, 2002
I don't think that this is what Republicans want people to think of Sen. Frist.

"Not all of Frist's life story is saintly. He left his fiancee two days before their wedding for the woman who is now his wife. As a medical student, he lied to animal shelters in order to acquire cats for experiments."

The usually intelligent and constructive Saeb Erekat (the chief spokesman for the PLO) wrote an op-ed in the New York Times today that needs a little response.

First, he argues that "Palestinians are committed to two equal states for two equal peoples" and that Israel has an "insatiable appetite for constructing settlements in occupied Palestinian territory." This is despite the fact that, as he admits, "more than half of Israelis claim that they favor a Palestinian state as part of a permanent peace."

Second, he argues that the wall being built by Israel near the West Bank border (but mostly within the West Bank, so as to take in certain settlements) "has more to do with seizing Palestinian land than it does with security." It seems highly (if only hypothetically) unlikely that the wall would have been built were it not for the existence of the suicide bombers (who wouldn't exist if ... yeah, I know this thread can go back a long way).

The idea that either of the sides involved here have been any worse than the other is simply wrong. The behavior of the two has been equally repugnant in recent months.

Now for my half-assed solution to the problems of the Middle East. Give France to the Palestinians.

About the mass arrests of Muslims in southern California.

Yes, it's a little disturbing. Professor InstaPundit has made the case that the arrests are fairly minor, and that the people arrested were either wanted for various immigration and visa violations or for other crimes.

That said, the arrests seem to be something of an over-reaction to the situation at hand. With regards to those people wanted for crimes, they should have been arrested. For them, the only question is why this didn't happen earlier (and to a certain extent, why wanted persons are not being arrested when the police may know their whereabouts). On the other hand, there is no reason why immediate detention is needed for immigration proceedings that may or may not lead to deportation.

The unwillingness of the INS to release numbers is also disturbing, in that the government is continuing to refuse to release information that there is simply no reason to keep from the public - other than shielding the government from criticism. It is not the job of the government to cover its own ass after the fact. If detentions are kept secret and indefinite or the detainees are not allowed access to lawyers - as has occurred in the Hamdi and Padilla cases - then clearly there is a massive problem to be dealt with, along the lines of many other past situations that this has already been compared to elsewhere (I have no intention of resorting to such hyperbole ... um, yet).

"The Ross Perot Theory" (also known as the Political Mendoza Line) - Roughly 20% of any sizeable population is likely to be made up of idiots, bigots, morons, the ignorant, or people otherwise susceptible to supporting the ideas of those people. This can explain the support for Ross Perot in 1992, the support for Jean-Marie Le Pen in the recent French presidential elections.

Oh, and it can explain this (scroll down a little for the survey results).

Josh Marshall has already found a quote from Frist that indicates that Frist is not any cleaner than Lott on the whole "I'm not a racist, really" stance of the Republicans.

I wonder how much else is out there on this.

Oh, and extra points for timeliness, no?

McConnell already endorsed Frist. Nevermind on McConnell running.

Okay, one other thing. Lott resigned on a Friday morning, after the newspapers had already come out, so that the news wouldn't be reported until Saturday morning. A couple of weeks ago, the White House 'downsized' Messrs. O'Neill and Lindsey on a Friday afternoon for the same reason. It's one thing to occasionally try to bury bad news on a Friday afternoon, but this is getting ludicrous.

Mayberry Machiavellis, indeed.

So now the question begins of who the Republicans are to replace Lott with.

The early money is likely to be on Bill Frist, who already announced that he would oppose Lott. This should generally give him a fair amount of momentum - particuarly since he has already picked up committments from Senators Bond, Warner and Alexander (Frist has not formally announced that he was entering the race, but the fact that he has already received public commitments means that there is just about no chance that he will not run). In the race for Democratic Minority Leader in the House, early momentum proved key for Nancy Pelosi in overcoming challenges from Martin Frost and Harold Ford. Early momentum is not everything, to be sure. One case of this is the 1990 replacement of Margaret Thatcher with John Major, not her initial challenger, Michael Heseltine (the comparison between the American and British caucuses should not be made without distinction - there are significant differences in how the elections take place). Frist is a former heart-transplant surgeon, which should likely resonate with voters, and somewhat telegenic (far more so than Lott, but still less so than pundits have said). Frist is occasionally given to stupid and asinine tactics, though.

Other challengers may also enter the race now that Lott has cleared out. Nickles seems likely to run, and should put up a good fight. He is slightly more conservative than Frist, and less telegenic. Still, he may come across better to conservative Republicans. Santorum may also run. He seems, in some ways, to be the combination of Nickles and Frist. He appears conservative enough to satisfy the party base, and is more telegenic than Nickles. Santorum, though, has also seemed somewhat unready for the spotlight recently, and may well take too long to decide before running. He is also a devout Catholic, which may not fare too well with the, um, racist wing of the party (this shouldn't much affect which Senators want him as Majority Leader, though). McConnell might also run, but having already won the Majority Whip position, he might simply take what he has and avoid any further intra-party squabbles. McConnell would be a ready target for the Democrats, given the fact that he can fairly said to be openly in favor of corruption with regards to campaign finance. He is perhaps the one Republican in the Senate more controversial than Lott. Only an idiot would want him as Majority Leader.

A wild-card entry, either from the reform wing (McCain, Snowe, Collins, Hagel, and maybe Gordon Smith) or from the old guard (Specter, Hatch, Dominici, etc.) might also be possible. A reform candidate (particularly McCain or Snowe) might be particularly popular publicly, but is probably unlikely to muster significant support among the Republican party. A loss by a member of the reform wing might actually drive middle-class Republican voters away (this is pure speculation, admittedly). The candidacy of an old guard senator is highly unlikely to even take place, since they are often loath to give up powerful committee chairmanships, and closer to the end of their careers.

It seems a little odd that none of the senators mentioned above as likely viable candidates are from anywhere remotely in the northern part of the country. Then again, there are fairly few Republican senators to draw on from those areas to begin with.

I dunno. Should be interesting, though.

That racist buffoon (you all know who by now) is stepping down.

Blogging will be limited for the foreseeable, um, present. My computer is having a full-blown nervous breakdown.

The BBC has decided to cancel The Simpsons. Well, not technically cancel it. It's just that it's been replaced by some crap show called "Treasure Hunt" in its normal 6 PM slot, and will only be shown whenever the Beeb feels like it, not in any regular time slot.

OK, so I'm not so high on Britain at the moment.

Thursday, December 19, 2002
The Trent Lott debacle (is it too early to start calling it Lottgate? or Segregationgate? or Racist-Senatorgate?) is still ongoing, five days after I left for Prague (where not much news outlets are available to someone who doesn't speak a word of Czech). In other words, the story has legs. Serious legs.

This, of course, raises the question of where it will stop. This is probably going to fester for a while, certainly until the Senate is convened on January 7th. Unless something major (read: war, etc.) dislodges it from the news, that is. How long the drive against Lott can be maintained without further new nuggets of past racist behavior (the comment in 1980, the fraternity behavior, the Bob Jones university amicus brief, etc.). Paradoxically, the CCC information has been floating around for a while, and can't really qualify as new and shocking.

At least CNN has finally figured out that Lott hasn't been speaking on the Senate floor about his behavior (um, I'll take credit for the change, right?).

Oh, and Josh Marshall has continued to make a number of salient points about the situation. His argument that it is incorrect to see the entire Republican Party as racist, but rather that the party has enacted a clear, though unspoken, policy of trying to attract the votes of racists and bigots. It's not exactly the same.

It should also be noted that it might actually be bad for the Democrats if Lott isn't re-elected as Majority Leader. Should he be re-elected, this would be a prime motivator for Democrats in prying the sane middle class away from their attraction to Bush over security issues. It would give them a huge issue to run on, both against Bush and in congressional elections. That said, any speculation of Lott resigning entirely from the Senate, having Ronnie Musgrave (the Democratic governor of Missississississippi) replace him with Mike Espy, and then have Lincoln Chafee or someone else switch parties, giving the Democrats control of the Senate again, seems to be an unrealistic flight of fancy. Lott's ego is clearly far too large to resign entirely, no matter what threats he may or may not have made.

Any switch also might be problematic for the Democrats, since it would raise the prospect of having the control of the Senate be switched to the Democrats twice due by unelected defections in successive Congresses. It would seem somewhat undemocratic to many, I believe. Chafee would probably not vote much differently if situated in either party, so a party switch would only matter in terms of setting the Senate agenda. This is obviously quite an important power, but it does not connote the same thing as actually passing a bill. Putting Espy in the Senate would be quite beneficial, though (the fact that the Senate consists of 100 white people - well, 99 white people and Ben Nighthorse Campbell - is positively repugnant in this day and age).

The furor in England over Cherie Blair's purchase of the flats in Bristol seems to have died down somewhat, and it's not due to any other story displacing it. Tony Blair certainly hasn't won any votes over the issue, but probably hasn't lost many votes, either. It's not an issue that people are likely to give a damn about when they go to the polls (which probably won't be before 2005, barring an unexpected catastrophe). None of the major papers that I bothered to skim through had anything about the story. Links are at left if you want to do any fishing beyond what I did.

And one last thing. I think they've been adding something in the water at the Washington Post. Both William Kristol and Richard Cohen chose to deal with the Lott debacle by quoting poetry (Andrew Marvell and T.S. Eliot, respectively).

Most people in Prague don't speak English well, if at all. As a result, there are many mistranslations that occur, such as the one that appeared on the door of one of the rooms down the hall from mine at the hostel. It read:

Would the residents of the room kindly please come down on the reception?

I've returned from Prague. It was a ton of fun (and quite cheap as well, which was a relief after London and Paris).

Saturday, December 14, 2002
I'm off to Prague, so there probably won't be any posting for a few days.

Friday, December 13, 2002
About the British newspapers (a helpful little summary).

The reputable papers (the broadsheets): There are four of these. The Guardian has very liberal and borderline socialist columnists and editorials. Its actual news coverage shouldn't be confused with those parts of the newspaper, and is more centrist and objective (although generally left-leaning to a slight amount). The Independent is fiercely centrist. Which is why next to no one reads it. The Times is conservative, but not Conservative. This means that it is Rockefeller Republican/Ted Heath-style conservative, not Reagan/Thatcher-style conservative. It will generally take a slightly pro-civil liberties and pro-business - if somewhat stodgy - stance on most issues. It is owned by a conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch. The Daily Telegraph is Conservative. It basically thinks that everything done by the Labour Party is part of an insidious plot to destroy everything that is godly and right in the world. It is owned by Conrad Black.

The respectable tabloids: The Daily Mail, The Evening Standard and Metro are owned by by a single corporation. The Daily Mail is a morning paper, The Evening Standard comes out in the afternoon and early evening, and Metro is a free newspaper that mostly contains condensed versions of stories from the other two and is distributed in Tube stations each morning (where it creates an enormous amount of rubbish). Both papers are generally listed by Londoners as conservative, but have seemed to me to be not so much conservative, as against everything. The type of people who want to throw cold water on every single idea in existence. One notable exception to this is the The Daily Mail's sometimes illogical (and always unrequited) seething hatred of Tony Blair. The Evening Standard isn't too fond of the PM either, but tends to go about it in a calmer and more rational manner.

The somewhat respectable tabloid: The Daily Mirror used to be below with the other tabloids, but has made a conscious decision to present a more respectable tone since September 11th.

The tabloids: The Sun, The Daily Star, and the Daily Express. These are not like American tabloids, in that you will not find stories about alien probings of celebrities and so on. All of the stories have at least some link to reality, although many are exaggerated, sensationalist, or drivel about celebrities and sports. They also sometimes include photos of celebrities and models in revealing poses. The tabloids tend to harass certain public figures from time to time. They are all minimally conservative, though generally politically apathetic. They particularly hate any appearance of hypocrisy, especially among any Tory politicians. The Sun, in particular, is very popular, and often breaks many news stories and contains interviews not found elsewhere (either due to the harassment or the practice of buying interviews).

Most of the newspapers put out Sunday editions that are nominally separate from the Monday-Saturday papers (instead of the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday is published, and instead of The Times, the Sunday Times is published). Most of these are only nominal changes, with both papers sharing most staff and plant. The only exception to this is The Guardian, which is replaced by The Observer on Sundays. Both papers are owned by the same parent company and shares the same ideology, but the two are more separate from each other than not.

Got all that?

So I was walking by the Tower of London today, and I realized that, in addition to the tennis court, there's a swingset set up in the moat. Go figure.

Being in London, I figure that I have to write about London from time to time. So, about the big story in the British press the last couple of days, Tony Blair's new apartment ...

(there are way too many stories about this out there, and the story is moving along too quickly to bother with linking. There are links to most of the major British papers on the left side of the site if you're looking for the latest information). The summary of the story is basically that the Blairs decided to purchase two flats in Bristol (whoever told them that investing property in Bristol was a good idea is obviously nuts - a little sense of the economic reality among the Blairs would've prevented this entire crisis). One was for their son, who is attending university there, and the other was as an investment. The Prime Minister was obviously occupied, as was his wife, Cherie, who serves as a judge in London. She dispatched a friend (Carole Caplin, who the tabloids have named as Cherie's "lifestyle adviser" to check out the apartments. Ms. Chaplin's boyfriend, Peter Foster, got involved at this point, and began serving as a negotiator for the flats, and the price of the flats was lowered fairly significantly as a result. Cherie is clearly very intelligent, but has developed something of a reputation as somewhat flaky at times (in anything outside of her career, really).

Two problems have since arisen from this. First, Peter Foster is a convicted felon - he's been found guilty of running a diet scam - and is due to be deported soon to Australia. Second, all government ministers in Britain are required to put their assets into blind trusts, so that there can be no conflicts of interest between their personal interests and their ministerial duties.

On the first problem, it doesn't appear that Cherie actually did anything illegal. For the Prime Minister's wife to be associated with a felon is somewhat stupid, but hardly illegal. Some of the tabloids - notably, the Daily Mail, which seems to hold a serious grudge against the PM - have accused Cherie of interfering in the deportation case, although this has been denied. Yesterday, Mrs. Blair admitted that she had been sent information on the case, but had refused to look at it, and only told Ms. Chaplin and Mr. Foster on how the proceedings were likely to play out, not how to carry out the case.

On the second problem, Mr. Blair has cleared himself, but there will be further allegations of sleaze raised in the coming days in all likelihood. Whether within the rules or not, I don't think anyone cares too much about the apartment bought for the Blair's son. The trust is supposed to be blind, not ignorant, and the flat was clearly intended for use, not for an investment. The second flat is somewhat more problematic. It seems unlikely that even the PM could covertly and significantly influence the property market so as to drive up the price of a single property, but this would have been far better handled if they had just said that they wanted the second apartment for a place to stay when visiting their son while he was at school.

Now, part of the reason that there has been such a big fuss over this in Britain is twofold. First, to date, the Labour government has been relatively free of corruption allegations. This is in comparison to the Major government, which had a number of sleaze allegations (though was relatively free of actual corruption). The other problem is that the allegations of this action were initially denied by the Prime Minister's press office, until the Daily Mail managed to get a hold of e-mails that Mr. Foster and Mrs. Blair had sent to each other. Apparently this was due to miscommunication (or no communication, possibly) between Cherie and the Press Office. The press, though, has taken up the story, seeing evidence of how the Blairs are willing to manipulate the press and spin stories for their own ends.

So, as a result, Mrs. Blair was paraded before the cameras a couple of days ago, to apologize. It was eerily reminiscent of the Katherine Harris press conferences - she wearing way too much makeup, and crying. The sympathy ploy - and it clearly was a sympathy ploy - has worked somewhat. The papers are still pursuing the story fairly vigorously, but any allegations of any malicious acts have been subsequently downplayed, and the Blairs seem to be getting the benefit of the doubt from reporters, which they certainly were not in the time between the publication of the e-mails and the press conference. This is probably likely to be even more the case with the publication by The Sun, one of the tabloids, of transcripts between Mr. Foster and a couple of other people, mostly dealing with his plans to sell his story to a newspaper. Buying interviews is a somewhat common practice among the British papers, particularly the tabloids, although it doesn't really reflect well on the credibility of the interviewer. The PM's office has rejected any allegations that anyone in the government was involved in the taping and leaking of the tape. But the further lowering of Mr. Foster's credibiltiy even more raises the question of why Cherie Blair didn't get the hell away from him and Ms. Caplin at an earlier date.

So I was right!

In today's column, Paul Krugman owns up to having read Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo. Hah!

I'm sure it was the unrelenting pressure of LDLaS (hey, every blog has to have a catchy shortened version of its name to refer to itself in the third person) that brought this about. Yeah, I'll just keep telling myself that.

Thursday, December 12, 2002
OK, so there have been a number of comparisons of the Lott situation in recent days to the past of Robert Byrd (I'm not going to link to them right now, because I've read through too many of them to remember exactly where they are). Byrd briefly joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1942. Since then, he has apologized repeatedly, and done a lot to work for civil rights legislation ... and pork spending for West Virginia too, to be fair.

1. Byrd joined and left the Klan in 1942. Lott has been engaged with openly racist groups in the near past. And for that matter, Lott has met with and given support to the Conservative Citizens Council in recent years. The CCC is a successor to the White Citizens Councils that carried out the anti-desegregation fight at the local level. It is essentially seeking to do by political means what the Klan failed to do by violence. Josh Marshall also found a New Republic article (scroll down in the post) that has raised the possibility that Lott is actually an active member of the CCC.

2. Some have implied that Byrd ought to resign entirely. This seems wholly out of touch with the situation. No one that I know of has called for Lott to resign entirely from the Senate on the basis of his recent comments, and any suggestion that both ought to resign and retire immediately seems to be something of an overreaction.

3. What most are calling for Lott to do is step down as Majority Leader. Byrd has no commensurate post in the party leadership to resign. He is currently President of the Senate, Pro Tempore, a position that he will lose when the Senate reconvenes and the Republicans become the majority. It is also a post that is automatically given to the senior member of the majority party (Thurmond actually preceded Byrd in the position), regardless of the merits. Byrd is also currently the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, another post that he will lose when the Senate reconvenes (he will probably become the Ranking Minority Member of the committee).

Words, words, words ...

Finally, one other article I came across defended Lott's comments on the unrelated basis that 21 Democrats voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965, whereas only 8 Republicans did the same. This, though, is somewhat misleading. At the time, there were 68 Democrats and 32 Republicans in the Senate. This works out to 31% of Democrats versus 25% of Republicans, which is a much smaller difference. The numbers were also skewed by the fact that, of the 24 senators from the former Confederate states, at the time of the vote, only 2 were Republicans: Thurmond, and John Tower (this is via The Political Graveyard). Looking at the basic numbers alone is very misleading.

Lies, damn lies and statistics, folks ...

Let me see if I can get this straight ...

Charles Krauthammer thinks Lott is an ignorant buffoon, and must go.

Richard Cohen, on the other hand, is defending Lott against charges of racism.

Hmm ... maybe the Post switched the bylines by accident.

Well, it took a week for Bush to say something. At least he got it right, if late.

Oh, and will someone please make it clear to CNN that Trent Lott hasn't said anything about this on the floor of the Senate (not that he could do it at the moment even if he wanted to). Making it look like he's apologized from the Senate floor looks a lot better than apologizing in print and speaking to Sean Hannity.

So Trent Lott has finally been willing to say that segregation was "you know, bad."

Josh Marshall also has gone over Lott's disgusting relationship with the Council of Conservative Citizens in detail.

He's still unwilling to do the honorable thing and resign as Majority Leader, though.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Oh, and about the title, it's from an old aphorism that "there are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." It's been variously attributed to John Maynard Keynes, Alfred Marshall, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and probably about a dozen other people.

Note: I've decided to switch over some recent posts to this blog, which I'm now initiating. So the dates and times on the post below are a little incorrect.

One other thing: shouldn't the Democrats have found out about this and publicized it ... say, some time within the last 8 years or so?

I've heard a number of people at the LSE (like Ohio State, it's the LSE, thankyouverymuch), some less reputable (people from the various Socialist groups) and some more reputable (Naomi Klein at a speech a few weeks ago) variously insinuate that the recent depreciation of the Brazilian real has been some sort of punishment for the election and popularity of the new president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

This, of course, is utter nonsense.

(A devaluation of a currency is when it gets cheaper. When it takes 1.60 Canadian dollars to buy an American dollar, where it used to take 1.50 Canadian dollars to buy an American dollar a few years ago, the Canadian dollar can be said to have been depreciated relative to the American dollar).

These claims have variously argued that foreign investors, seeking to prevent Lula's election, pulled their money out of the country and caused the Real to be depreciated. Now, there were times during previous campaigns that Lula had promised to undertake policies that would have been unfriendly to foreign investors. These had more or less all been repudiated leading up to the election, which probably contributed to the increased popularity that he and his Workers Party (PT) enjoyed during the recent election, finally putting them over the top.

Any withdrawals that were predicated on the possibility of Lula's election were almost certainly not predicated on preventing Lula's election, but on fears that he might, once in office, apply some of the anti-business policies that he had recently rejected. Investors are likely to flee once they think that their returns may be in question, particularly in developing countries. This is hardly an attack, but rather self-defense.

Secondly, Brazil has recently had to deal with the economic collapse of its neighbor, Argentina. The two countries (and Uruguay) are tied to each other economically through a customs union, Mercosur. The troubles in Argentina led to a huge devaluation of its currency. This, by definition, makes Argentine exports cheaper to foreign buyers, and makes Argentine imports much more expensive, thus improving its trade balance (and, thus, GDP levels, if everything else stays the same). But since this allowed the economic problems in Argentina to be instantly transmitted to Brazil, which is now flooded with cheap imports from Argentina, and finds itself unable to export what it once did to Argentina. In other words, when Argentina gets the flu, Brazil sneezes too. Moreover, foreign firms that once sold to Argentina and are now unable to do so may instead be unloading their goods cheaply in Brazil. In order to avoid an economic catastrophe of its own, Brazil had to depreciate its own currency in order to keep its firms competitive both domestically and on international markets. (Note: I haven't bothered to check this with any actual economic data. But I do know that this is perfectly within economic theory, and it's hell of a lot more plausible than any idea that Brazil has been 'attacked.')

I've loved these last couple of months in London, but there are still a few things I'm trying to figure out here. Like why there's a tennis court in the moat at the Tower of London.

Hey, I think Paul Krugman's great, both as a columnist for the New York Times and as an academic (I've used his textbook on international economics for a couple of classes), but is it me, or is today's article basically a summary of the last few days of the Talking Points Memo?

I don't know if this speaks more about Krugman or Josh Marshall.

So Trent Lott apologized ... sort of.

His response, true to form, was inappropriate. He said that “A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”

He referred to segregation as "discarded," and not as wrong, further failing to distance himself from Sen. Thurmond's old views, something that is entirely disturbing. For that matter, he saw fit to issue a written statement, and not make his apology before the same cameras that caught the initial incident. CNN's web article particularly botched this, putting a picture of Lott speaking in the Senate alongside the leading paragraph that noted that he wouldn't actually say the written words. Lott couldn't have spoke in the Senate on this, since it's currently recessed until the new Congress is sworn in. He could have, on the other hand, at least held a press conference, an interview, or said anything on tape.

The AP article wasn't much better, stating that Al Gore had called for Lott to be censured. What Gore actually said was that Lott "should withdraw those comments, or else the United States Senate should undertake a censure" ... which is actually a lot weaker.

I suppose this hasn't been a banner few days for anyone.

The price of Claritin is expected to drop after the prescription requirement is dropped in a few days. In related news, Schering-Plough has been upgraded from "evil" to "creepy"

This, of course, is after years of delays, and various attempts to extend the patent so that they could get bigger profits from higher prices ... while it was available cheaply over the counter in Canada at the same time.

Interesting thought: Excluding the 1970’s from consideration – the oil crises were caused externally and wreaked havoc with the economy – the last Democratic president to lead the U.S. into a recession was Harry Truman. Given the last Republican president to serve a full term and not lead the U.S. into a recession was Rutherford Hayes.

So basically, Republicans claim to return money to the voters by lowering taxes, but end up costing them money by lowering income.

And yes, I know that this ignores the whole "Congress passes the budget" thing.

Trent Lott, apologist for segregation.

You'd think that the Republicans would've figured out by now that he's become a weak link for Democrats to attack, just as Gingrich and Clinton became. Of course, the next guy down the chain of command as of January, Mitch McConnell, would be even worse for them, since he seems to be about the closest thing to an openly corrupt member of Congress now that Torricelli is on his way out.

Okay, I'm figuring out that my idea of teaching myself html may have been a little off.

This blog is mostly a review of whatever thoughts - politics, economics, and otherwise - are going on in my head whenever I get around to posting. Plus, it should finally force me to learn a little html.

Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.