Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Right-Wing's Wrong About Ronnie Earle and Kay Bailey Hutchison


It gives me no joy to write this piece. I think the DeLay prosecution is bunk, and I'm a reliable GOP partisan, as a review of this site will show.

However, exhibit A in the GOP push-back on the DeLay prosecution is the argument that Earle filed a politically motivated prosecution against GOP Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and that the case so weak that he was unable to present evidence when the case actually came to trial. The Wall Street Journal and DeLay himself have suggested that Earle somehow brought an indictment against Hutchison without any evidence whatsoever, forcing him to drop the case when Hutchison called his bluff and asked for a trial.

That's not right, and DeLay in particular should know it's not right, since he has Hutchison's lawyer working for him. I can't say if Senator Hutchison is guilty or not, but assuming that the article I cite below is correct, Earle was right to prosecute, and ended up blowing the case by a stupid tactical decision. Here's what happened:

  • For some time in 1992-1993, the Travis County prosecutor's office had been investigating allegations that Hutcheson had used State Treasurer's office resources for personal purposes or to support her political campaign. The investigation was chugging along, but hadn't found a bombshell, until . . .

  • On June 9, 1993, four days after Hutchison won a US Senate runoff, Wesley McGehee, a computer guy from the Texas State Treasurer's office, came into the prosecutor's office. McGehee told Travis County prosecutors that his boss had ordered him to erase evidence from computer backup tapes, allegedly on orders from Hutchison herself. McGehee had a copy of the pre-altered tape, which he allegedly made for himself before the modification and kept at his home.

  • Apparently fearing destruction of evidence, Earle ordered a raid on the State Treasurer's office, acting pursuant to grand jury subpoenas rather than a search warrant.

  • McGehee's boss, R.T. Burkett, testified to a grand jury that Hutchison ordered him to alter the tapes, and that Hutchison continued to pursue the tape erasure project after the criminal investigation had begun.

  • Michael Barron, Hutchison's assistant, also testified to the grand jury. He testified that, upon learning that one of her staff had used his work computer, rather than his home computer, to do some political work, Hutchison ordered that the political files be removed from the computer and from automatic backup tapes.

  • As the parties prepared for trial, Hutchison's lawyers requested that the Judge exclude most of the evidence, arguing that it was improper to get the evidence with a grand jury subpoena instead of a search warrant. Judge John Onion refused to rule on the evidence motion before trial.

  • Earle them made his fatal mistake. He attempted to dismiss the charges against Hutchison. (He later admitted this was an attempt to refile the charges somewhere else in an effort to get a more sympathetic judge.) Rather than allow him to dismiss, Onion impaneled a jury and instructed them that, since the prosecutor was unwilling to present evidence, they should find Hutchison not guilty.

Source: "The Case Against Kay," by Miriam Rozen, readable here. (The article is obviously slanted, but I've restricted myself to the facts presented there, which seem to be right).

What's the upshot? Earle might or might not be a partisan hack, but the Hutchison prosecution doesn't prove it. Hutchison might not have been guilty of a crime, but Earle wasn't wrong to prosecute - almost anyone would if they got credible evidence that a criminal investigation subject was destroying evidence.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Serenity Mini-Review


I saw Serenity at the blogger's preview last night, and I was very pleasantly surprised.

My guess is that this will be the science fiction movie of the year, and one of the better movies of the year. If you don't hate science fiction, you should see it, whether or not you have seen the TV show.

A brief synopsis: In the far future, most of humanity lives in a star system with hundreds of terraformed and habitable moons and planets. (I know, but go with it.) The inner planets are ruled by the "Alliance," a civilizing but somewhat corrupt government, and the outer planets tend to be a little more anarchic, something like frontier towns in the American West. Captain Mal Reynolds was a soldier on the losing side of a civil wara against the Alliance, and now makes ends meet by taking various jobs as the Captain of the spaceship Firefly. The ship is always in constant danger of falling apart and/or killing the crew, but somehow, Mal has managed to collect one of the best crews in space, with various genius-level (at least in their specialties) members, including a pilot, a mechanic, a doctor, a psychic, a mercenary, and a prostitute with a heart of gold. (Hey, it's a Western - you've got to have a prostitute with a heart of gold!).

The movie does a nice job of setting up a plot that ties into the TV series but stands fine on its own. The major plot is the Alliance's attempt to recapture the psychic on Mal's crew and her brother, a former member of the Alliance's creme de la creme who threw away his career and fortune to save his sister from the experimental facility in which they were keeping her. Whedon sets up the characters well enough that you don't need to have seen the show to enjoy the movie, and he alternates very nicely between drama, pathos, and humor. His dialogue is great (although I could do with all the "I reckons" and "I cogitates" that apparently give the outlier characters Western verisimilitude) and he has a real sense for his character's emotional lives. The actors are all first rate, and it's an engaging, emotional plot.

The cinimatography, on the other hand, is functional but forgettable. I don't think you would miss much if you saw the movie on a DVD instead of in the theater, but I would still go to the theater, if I were you, so that you could see the movie now.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Pre-Serenity Blogging



I'm signed up for one of the upcoming Serenity premieres. After I see it, I'll post a non-spoiler and a spoiler review.

For what it's worth, here are my early thoughts on Serenity. Joss Whedon is a creative, original guy with a real talent at coming up with quirky ideas, at inspiring his actors to go an extra mile, and at writing funny dialogue. He is actually not very good at writing tight plots or final acts, but he has some good writers working for him, so that usually doesn't show.

Of the three shows he did, Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, I think he picked the right one to make into a movie. There was a lot more story to tell in Firefly, and the larger ensemble cast might set up some better plots. Based on Whedon's record, the movie could be great, or could suck, but I suspect great - otherwise they wouldn't be doing the advance previews.

Now to earn my wages. The movie guys demand that I link to the Serenity promotional website, and that I include the following synopsis.

Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family –squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.


Ok, that's done. I'll be back once I've seen the movie.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Typesetting Trivia



Eugene Volokh asks why the American usage is to place commas and periods that do not form part of a quote inside quotation marks, but not to do so for other puctuation. (Apparently, the British only put commas and periods inside quotation marks if they are part of the actual quotation.)

I had always understood that it was because back in the old days, typeset commas and periods were more likely to break or become misaligned if placed outside the quotes, and, as it turns out, I am right.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

An Inflammatory Post About Democrats, Hypocrisy, and Gannon


Warning, this is an inflammatory post, at least for me. You would be well advised to skip to my much better, if somewhat more boring, post today, which sifts through Bill Burkett's various statements to find a few new inconsistencies to add to his mountain of shifting sand (or, technically, his dune of shifting sand, I guess).

Why the Lefties' Search for Hypocrisy Is an Increasingly Transparent Fraud


Throughout the various iterations of Gannon-Gluckert-Gate (e.g., here), the lefties have explained over and over again that they didn't out Gluckert just because they wanted to silence the only right-wing voice in the press conferences - no, it was the HYPOCRISY that got to them. Well, although I can't be bothered to care too much whether or not Talon News is represented at the press conferences, I would like to call b*llsh*t on the hypocrisy argument, for the following reasons:

1. The latest wrinkle is an alleged $10,000 reward for hard evidence, so to speak, of any sexual or romantic relationship between Jeff Gannon and any "high-ranking official" in Washington. Are you guys assuming that any gay high-ranking official in Washington must be a "hypocrite," or are you only going to out the hypocritical ones? (Hint - it's that first thing). (HT: Ace, Jawa, Protein Wisdom).

2. For that matter, what makes anyone in this story a hypocrite? Americablog claims to be up in Gannon's face because Talon News, in a separate article apparently not written by Gannon*, said that 20/20 had run a story questioning whether Matthew Shepard's murder was a hate crime or not. Well, heck, Aravois, why stop at Gannon? The story that's got you so upset started on 20/20. By Aravois's logic, it is not only the left's obligation to out Elizabeth Vargas,*** who ran the story that Talon was citing, but it is also their obligation to out any ABC reporter they can find, because for a GLBT person to remain working at ABC after they questioned the Shepard killers' motives is HYPOCRISY!!! HYPOCRISY!!!!

* I should say that it's entirely possible that the article was, in fact, written by Gannon under a yet undisclosed pen name. :-P

** I should also say, seriously, that I have no idea why Shepard was killed, but that I'm for giving his killers the worst punishment Wyoming has regardless of them motives.

*** I should also also say that while I don't support outing people and I don't support outing anyone against their will, outing Elizabeth Vargas would at least be hot!hot!hot!


3. More generally, the idea that every Republican who doesn't kick gays is some kind of hypocrite is rediculous. I will say this once. George Bush is the most gay friendly Republican president since, at least, Lincoln, and you can make a case that he's the most gay friendly president ever of any party. Yes, he's taken a stance against gay marriage,**** but he came out early with a demand that the Federal Marriage Amendment leave room for civil unions, and now we learn that he has been willing to tell his base to shove it on anti-gay discrimination. (Except for the FMA, where, as noted, Bush least took a pro-states-rights-on-civil-unions stand, and took it early).

**** Note: I'm all for passing gay marriage legislatively, and would vote for it, but I think that judicial activism on the issue has resulted in a mess. I'll post more on it later, if I find time.

4. See also here, where "S.Z." accuses Jeff Frackin' Goldstein of blatant hypocrisy. Um, if Goldstein's hypocrisy is so "blatant," shouldn't I be able to figure out what it is?

The Inflammatory Part - Why Hypocrisy Charges Are Unfair


Finally, I should come clean as to the reason why hypocrisy charges from the left torque me off.

I'm jealous. That's it, plain and simple. The left gets to throw a party when they catch a Republican having an affair, or gambling, or find one with a drug addiction or making racially offensive comments. In each case, the Republicans get some egg on their face, which is appropriate, and in many cases, the actual sinner takes a career hit.

But we Republicans can't do the same thing to the Democrats. There is no non-criminal act that will render a Democrat hypocritical, because, as far as I can tell, the Democrats don't have any personal values. I'm sorry, but there it is. Let's say you find out that a Democrat is a slum-lord who won't do basic repairs on his property, or was a Grand Wizard in the KKK and still uses the 'n-word' today, or are trying their best to stop a wind power project because it would disturb the view from their multimillion dollar homes, or, of course, had an adulterous affair with an easily influenced subordinate. Result: a big fat nothing. The Democrats are in favor of tenant regulations, political correctness, wind power, and sexual harassment regulation for other people, they will explain, and whether they follow those principles in their private lives is irrelevant to the fight for justice.

(I know the paragraph above is unfair, and I apologize. But, if this counts as an apology, I think it's about 50% frustration, 40% funny . . . and 10% right).

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bill Burkett - Lieing Then or Lieing Now? (Also, Salon's Factchecking Failure)


A bunch of people have noted that CBS's "unimpeachable" source, Bill Burkett, is now threatening to sue CBS. (See, e.g., Ace, Say Anything, INDC, Unpopulist, Malkin). However, as much as I hate to defend CBS, I don't think Burkett has a leg to stand on. In the Salon story, Burkett is now blatantly lieing about what he told CBS - Burkett's latest story, that he merely failed to contradict CBS producer Mary Mapes when she suggested that his friend George Conn was the documents' source - is flatly contradicted by his own statements his interview with Dan Rather. (In addition, while I was reviewing the transcript of the CBS interview, I noticed yet another change in Burkett's story.) Finally, as Ratherbiased notes Burkett's story about where he obtained the documents has now changed multiple times.

On the brighter side for the VRWC, however, I note that the moonbats are now doing their best to drum up a theory that Karl Rove planted the Burkett documents. I note in passing that (1) this theory depends on believing Burkett's latest story about where he got the documents and (2) Burkett's constantly-changing stories do not inspire confidence in this weakest link of an awfully weak chain of evidence binding Rove.

Full details after the jump.


Short background: Bill Burkett is one of the more colorful characters in the Rathergate story. A former Texas Guardsman, Burkett first made news a couple years ago, when he claimed that his friend George Conn led him to a garbage can on the base, in which Burkett found documents that had apparently been purged from George Bush's guard file. However, Burkett's story was suspect for a number of reasons. Burkett next turned up, of course, when he was revealed to be the man who CBS had described as an unimpeachable source for the Rathergate documents, and who Dan Rather had personally described as a "strong" source.

Burkett's Changing Story Part 1 - Who Named George Conn?

According to CBS, Burkett turned over the documents to them, then, when asked to identify their source, told CBS that he had obtained the documents from the same guy that he relied on in the garbage can story, George Conn, but that they shouldn't call Conn, because Conn would deny being the source of the documents. (See the CBS Thornburg report, at pages 15-16 (pages 25-26 of the pdf)).

Now, Burkett is threatening to sue CBS, and claims that he never named Conn at all. Instead, according to Burkett, CBS producer Mary Mapes suggested Conn's name, and Burkett didn't affirmatively say no. Specifically, Salon author Eric Boehlert writes:

According to Burkett, as soon as he handed over the memos, Mapes began needling him for information about his source, focusing on George Conn, a former Texas Air National Guard colleague of Burkett's. She "began playing an old media trick of baiting questions to get me to deny their origin. I simply did not play," Burkett wrote. "Mary Mapes did specifically ask me if George Conn was the source. My failure was to not answer that question emphatically -- NO -- though the question was a continued entrapment trick that she used after receiving the documents. Instead, when Mary Mapes specifically asked me if the documents came from George Conn, I did not definitively answer the question, believing it was not germane to any subject since we had reached an agreement that the documents would be authenticated and become 'stand alone' material."

Burkett isn't providing much basis for a lawsuit, given that he's almost certainly lieing about what he told CBS. First, as Salon notes, USA Today also reported that Burkett told them that George Conn was the source.

Second, in a detail that Salon apparently missed, Burkett specifically told Dan Rather that he personally volunteered Conn's name. According to the transcript of Burkett's full interview with Rather, they had the following exchange:

Rather: Okay. Now, you take a breath now. 'Cause there are several things here that I wanna clean up and get this straight off. That when we ask you originally where -- from whom you got the documents, who handed documents to you-- you said a man now living overseas, and you named him.

Burkett: Yes, sir.

...

Rather: ... Why did you mislead us?

Burkett: Well, I didn't totally mislead you. I did mislead you on the one individual. You know, your staff pressured me to a point to reveal that source.

...

Burkett: And-- I simply threw out a name and I told you this. And your staff and-- and all of your people this week, I gave you a name that was-- that was basically-- it was a-- I guess to get a little pressure off for a moment.

Rather: You gave us the name of a real person.

Burkett: Yes sir.

(From the CBS transcript of Burkett's interview, at pages 141-144 of the pdf.)

Now, during this interview, Burkett and Rather agree not to reveal the name of the "individual" who Burkett fingered as the source of the documents, but it's clearly Conn. (The alternative is that Burkett named some other guy as the source, and neither he nor CBS have revealed it).

I don't see how Burkett can possibly argue now that he didn't affirmatively name Conn as his source - USA Today got Conn's name, and Burkett told Rather, on tape, that "I simply threw out a name . . . to get a little pressure off."

I remind you, this is the guy who CBS called "unimpeachable," and on whose testimony the latest Rove controversy depends.

Burkett's Changing Story Part 2 - What Was in the Garbage Can?

While reading the full Rather-Burkett transcript, I noticed one other piece of Burkett's story that has changed. Specifically, in February 2004, when the garbage can story first came out, Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum interviewed Burkett, and asked him what was in the alleged garbage can:

Instead I looked down into the trashcan. Underneath most of the trash — the trash level was within two inches of the top — I saw that the trash on the bottom was basically packing cartons, I do remember that there were a couple of elastic type straps and that sort of thing, and on top there was a little bit of paper. And on top of that pile of paper, approximately five-eighths of an inch thick, and Jim wanted me to estimate the number of pages and I said probably between 20 and 40 pages of documents that were clearly originals and photocopies. And it wasn't any big deal, I looked at it, it was a glance situation, and it made no sense to me at all except at the top of that top page was Bush, George W., 1LT.

And I look back at it now and I know I was troubled that those documents were in the trashcan. I did ruffle through the top six to eight pages.

And what were they?

Those documents were performance, what I term performance documents, which would include retirement points, [unintelligible] type documents, which would be a record of drill performance or nonperformance, and there was at least one pay document copy within the top six to eight pages of that stack that was in the trash….

At about that same time, Burkett talked to Chris Matthews on Hardball, and recalled the same thing that he told Drum:

BURKETT: No. And that‘s what‘s so important here, Mr. Matthews. This thing needs to be put in context. And it takes a lot longer than most people are willing to listen.

We walked into a facility. There was a standard folding table there with a large trashcan. Old style. Metal trashcan, roughly 15 gallon, tabletop high. I was standing next to that trashcan, right next to that trashcan. These files were there.

And of course, in the course of a very informal conversation about the files, I looked down. And the top piece of paper was—had the header on it in handwritten, on a standard form in handwritten letters, “Bush, George W.,” his initial, “1LT.”

As those individuals did walk away I did something that I‘m not terribly proud of. But I did look at the first five or six or seven or eight pages, and they were all Mr. Bush‘s files.

MATTHEWS: Why were they drawn to your attention?

BURKETT: Because of the first occurrence in which I had listened, I had head that call, and because I had also witnessed the second conveyance of the directive. And here I was actually seeing something that I considered to be an effort to shape an image.

MATTHEWS: As you went through those, you sorted through those six pages, you found in the trashcan with Bush‘s—President Bush‘s name on it, at the time a lieutenant, did you notice anything that was written on those pages?

BURKETT: I noticed a type of document more than anything else. These were performance type...

MATTHEWS: What was it?

BURKETT: These were performance type documents. Performance certificates. Either you did or did not attend drill. And in a couple of cases, there were photocopies of pay documents.

However, when he talked to Rather, Burkett had suddenly developed a much more specific recollection of the documents:

Rather: So, you reached into the gabage can?

Burkett: Yes, sir.

Rather: And you pulled out-- one paper, two papers--

Burkett: Six to eight, I would say.

Rather: And one of 'em, the one you say--

Burkett: The one that was on top.

Rather: Looked like to you something counselling-- what did it say?

Burkett: Well, (SIGH) it explained why Lieutenant Bush had been grounded from flying. And it basically said that it was a failure to meet-- standards-- and a failure to do a physical.

Rather: Did it use the phrase "failure to follow an order," or just failure to use a physical--

Burkett: No. Failure to complete mandatory physical, I believe is more correct.

Rather: Would you say you read a coupla lines, a coupla paragraphs?

Burkett: I would say I closely read two paragraphs probably, and skimmed the balance, including the second page.

Rather: Did this have a name on it?

Burkett: It was signed by Lieutenant Colonel Killian.
(CBS Exhibit 9c, at pages 111-112 of the pdf).

So let me get this straight. When talking to Rather, Burkett says that one of the documents was a Killian memo stopping Bush from flying due to failure to take a physical and that all the others were "basically pay documents-- administrative documents," but when he talked to Drum and Matthews earlier that year, he told both of them that there were several documents about "failure to show up for drills," but didn't mention the stop flight order at all.

Unfortunately for the left's conspiracy theorists, Burkett has now told so many different stories about so many different things that it is impossible to tell which one, if any, is true. I'd like to know as much as anyone, but at this point, the only value of Burkett's latest stories is for chuckles and grins.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Social Security - You're Both Wrong



There's been a mild debate brewing about whether Franklin Roosevelt intended Social Security to be replaced by self-supporting annuities. The idea appears to have reached popular discourse in a TechCentralStation article by Duane Freese, which was quickly followed by a Brit Hume piece on Fox News and a Wall Street Journal Political Diary posting by John Fund. On the other side, Keith Olberman, Media Matters, and Al Franken jumped in, accusing Hume of "misrepresenting FDR" and demanding that Hume resign. Since then, Megan McCardle, Kevin Drum, and others have jumped in as well.

The problem is, everyone is debating the public statement, but, as far as I can tell, no one has analyzed the actual bill that FDR was endorsing to see what FDR really had in mind. Let me break it down for you.

Al Franken is half-right


I hate to say this, but Al Franken is closer to correct on the issue of FDR's original intent than Hume and company.

The problem is that everyone is arguing solely about FDR's January 17, 1935 statement to Congress, in which FDR said:

In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps thirty years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions. Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.


Understandably, Hume and others have interpreted "voluntary contribution" and "self-supporting annuity plans" to mean something more like Bush's proposal than the current system.

Unfortunately, Al Franken is basically right (on this one issue, mind you). If you look at the text of the actual bill that FDR had introduced on January 17, 1935, you'll see that FDR's plan was substantially similar to the system we have today. Specifically, the proposed bill included provisions that would have:
  • established an "Old Age Fund" to "hold" and "invest" money received through payroll taxes; (Section 404)
  • paid workers retirement annuities based on their contributions to the Old Age Fund; (Section 405) and
  • most crucially, would have invested the Old Age Fund in US government bonds. (See Section 404(a), which provides that the old age trust fund shall be managed and invested in the same manner as the "Unemployment Trust Fund" and Section 604(a), which provides that the Unemployment Trust Fund shall be invested in US government bonds or in other equities for which both principal and interest are guaranteed by the United States).

To be sure, there were important differences between FDR's initial proposal and the Social Security system we have today. For example, if a worker died before collecting his or her full annuity, the remaining value of the worker's contributions and interest was supposed to go to his or her heirs. (Section 405(c)).

However, on the essential point, Franken is closer to correct than his opponents. FDR's bill anticipated that old age benefits would be paid from public taxes while the Old Age Fund built up, and from the Old Age Fund as workers who had made contributions to the fund retired, (see Sections 1-4, 405). Therefore, because the Old Age Fund was almost certainly going to be invested in US treasury bonds, each current generation of workers was essentially going to be loaning the government the money to pay the previous generation's benefits. Under his actual bill, therefore, the shift from "public funding" to "self-supporting" was largely an accounting fiction - the fund was "self-supporting" on paper, but the government bonds in the fund would be paid off with money borrowed from current workers, and their bonds would be paid off with money borrowed from future workers. It was perfectly possible to allow workers to contribute more, but if those contributions went to the "Old Age Fund," as they certainly would have, then they too would have been a paper investment similar to the current Social Security Trust Fund.

Al Franken is also, of course, half-wrong


Although I think Al Franken is right on the facts, his accusation that Hume is a "lieing liar" and should resign is absurd. If anyone is a lieing liar, it's FDR, whose original statement dressed up his social security bill in a way that caused a bunch of people to read it the way Hume, Freese, Fund and others have. (This is why the "lieing liar" formulation isn't that helpful - you take every piece of spin your opponents state and convert it into an evil lie, then either ignore your own side's spin or argue that you were forced into it by those evil guys on the other side).

My suggestions:

  • Hume, Freese, and Fund should read the original bill, then either address it or issue a correction;

  • Al Franken and Media Matter should take up yoga or something and chill; and

  • We should all try to discuss social security and Bush's proposal (once we find out what it is) on their merits.


Update: For more on the controversy, see INDCJournal, Celluloid Wisdom, Confederate Yankee, Villainous Company, etc., etc., etc.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Liberals Will Rue The Day, Part 1



It occurs to me that liberals are likely to rue the day they decided to start mocking the Bush administration for allowing a gay reporter to get a pass to the White House.

The most likely outcome is that the White House will tighten standards for reporters. I could easily see them deciding that only reporters who represent a certain number of paid subscribers can get passes, and that only news reporters can get in. If the WH doesn't do something, there's nothing to stop Media Matters from sending Oliver Willis to every press conference from now on, but thanks to Willis and others, I assume they will.

(Full linkage to follow).

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Pack Versus the Hive



Tom Maguire has an unusually good post today, which is saying something, because all of his posts are pretty good. His analysis of "pack-blogging" versus "hive-blogging" deserves to become as influential as linkers versus thinkers.

If I may add one self-referential item, I wonder where trackbacks fit on the pack<->hive continuum. My one Cornerlanche aside, I get most of my hits from trackbacks to other posts, which argues that they should be put in the "pack" column, but I'm sure that 100 times as many people read my trackbacks but never click on them, which argues for a "hive" classification. Maybe trackbacks split the difference, or burst the paradigm, or something.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A Very Odd Kevin Drum Temper Tantrum



The normally thoughtful Kevin Drum throws a surprising amount of heat and zero light on social security privatization with this post, which Tom Maguire takes apart here. Some background:

1) Two weeks ago, NYT Op Ed columnist, Paul Krugman, who I understand claims to have some kind of expertise in economics, wrote that social security "schemes" have been assuming a long-term growth rate of 6.5-7 percent over inflation for the next 75 years. He assured his readers that this rate of return was "mathematically impossible" unless the US GDP growth rate was much higher than is now predicted, and then asserted that if the US GDP growth rate is higher than predicted, there will be no social security shortfall.

2) A few people, of whom Tom Maguire is the most fun to read, pointed out that this statement sounded, well, not true. In posts such as this one, various kibbitzers pointed out that Krugman's "mathematically impossible" statement wasn't correct. Not only have stock returns grown faster than the economy for the last thirty years, they could theoretically continue growing faster than the economy if (i) the share of GDP going to capital increases relative to the share earned by labor; (ii) US stock returns reflect foreign investments and profits made by companies traded on the US stock exchanges; (iii) the investments in the stock privatization accounts are diversified into international stocks; or (iv) there's a significant cash-out from the system by retiring baby boomers. (There's also another quibble about whether Krugman was right about the effect of increasing GDP growth on social security financing, which depends on whether the growth is a result of an increasing number of workers or increasing productivity per worker, but that's not material to Drum's tantrum).

3) That debate is now over, and Maguire won. Brad DeLong has weighed in, saying that Maguire is at least technically right that it is mathematically possible for stock return growth to exceed GDP growth. Professor Delong is a respected economist and blogger, and I think most of the blogosphere will recognize him as offering the final word on whether Maguire is technically right and Krugman technically wrong.

4) Rather than moving the debate to whether the various economic assumptions are reasonable and what those assumptions mean for social security privatization, Drum and fellow usually-reasonable blogger Matthew Yglesias have decided to move the debate to whether, despite being correct, the people who disagree with Krugman nevertheless suck.

I'm really astounded. If Yglesias and Drum can't have a reasonable discussion with Maguire, who is not provacative at all, and was apparently just trying to work out the economics, who can they have a fair debate with? It wasn't like Maguire was jumping up and down calling Krugman a "lieing liar," although by Al Franken standards, I think Maguire would be entitled. Drum and Yglesias appear to be arguing that Macguire is wrong because he didn't personally write about this issue before Krugman brought it up, but that's silly - the argument about whether it's plausible to predict increasing stock growth relative to gdp growth has been going on for years - here's a piece hashing out these same arguments at the time of the 2000 election.

Seriously, I think the dialectic has actually revealed some good questions:

1) Including the question of whether the privatization estimates of stock growth and economic growth can be reconciled, are each of the each of the estimates reasonable? Why or why not?

2) Is Drum right that over the past 75 years, the return on stocks has matched the increase in GDP growth? I had thought that for the past 30 years, stock returns have significantly exceeded GDP growth. Does that mean that returns were low for the 45 years before that or is one of us wrong?

3) If stock returns are lower than 6% over inflation, what does that imply for the privatization program? Krugman and Drum must expect there to be some risk premium for equity holders - how much do they expect and why?

These are all interesting questions - I look forward to a time when Drum has calmed down enough to address them.

Friday, February 11, 2005

James Watt Replies to Bill Moyers


Secretary Watt provided me with a copy of his response to Moyers' insulting apology. The letter is a hum-dinger, and is copied in full after the jump.

Read more!



AN OPEN LETTER


February 10, 2005

Mr. Bill Moyers
NOW
PBS/Public Broadcasting Service
450 W. 33rd Street
New York, NY 10001-2603

Dear Mr. Moyers:

Thank you for your apology of February 8th.

I, of course, never said what you wrongfully attributed to me; nor have I ever thought it or believed it: Your quote -
Remember James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first secretary of the interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever-engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.

Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots out across the country. They are the people who believe the Bible is literally true -- one-third of the American electorate. . .
Nor do I know any Christian who has ever taken such a position of intentionally ignoring or damaging the environment - as your letter of apology struggles to establish.

I understand how you could find other documents in the public domain critical of actions we took under the law. I often said if I believed the Washington Press Corps, I would dislike James Watt. I found that most often reporters just took what some special interest group said I said and reported it as fact. Then the next reporter just quoted the Washington Post or Time or etc., or as in the present case, they have and will quote Bill Moyers. And the lies just keep rolling on.

As a practical matter, neither you nor I will be able to turn off the lies of the Grist story and your expansion on that quote. Grist expanded (way over the top) on the false quote it got from an extremely unreliable book; and you then expanded on the Grist quote.

When I became the Secretary of the Interior, I knew that I was responsible for my character. “Character is who you are; reputation is what others say you are.” Others would control my reputation. My reputation has been impacted wonderfully by the marvelous supporters who cheered the great work our team did for the Nation. And negatively, by the arrogant Washington Press Corps that knows they can not be sued by a ‘public figure’ for libelous lies and misrepresentations; the selfish interest groups, like the handful of Washington based environmental groups that raised tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars by smearing my name and totally misrepresenting the Reagan record; and publications, like Grist, which to advance their agenda, exercise a reckless disregard for decency and truth.

In your letter to me, you said you found it ‘baffling,’ that I was “unaware of how some fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible influence political attitudes toward the environment.” And then you added that these Christians “have such a deep distrust of science that they ignore what is happening to our environment and contribute to advancing a political and corporate agenda that has no concern for the morrow. You (Watt) said you (Watt) had heard nothing of this phenomenon. . .”

You may be ‘baffled’ and you may think I am ill-informed, or worse, but the fact is, I am not aware of Christians who are determined to destroy the environment. Further, I am exposed only to Christians that do care for the environment. Somewhere in the world there may be Christians who are not concerned for the environment, I just do not know them or know about them.

In the communities of Christians I am associated with, we all know that we have a stewardship role to play. And that is our Biblical Worldview. That worldview does influence our agenda and that is why I had the integrity to talk about my faith and the government policies which put people in the environmental equation as we exercised our responsibilities of stewardship.

Now it is my turn to be ‘baffled.’ You stated that you found my policies to be “abysmally at odds with what I (Moyers) understand as a Christian to be our obligation to be stewards of the earth.” Such a statement suggests strongly that you have not read the record, which is easily available, or specifically my testimony of Feb. 5, 1981 before the House Interior Committee. I have been quick to profess my Christian commitment and on that particular day spoke openly and forcefully demonstrating that my Christian views compelled us to be good stewards of the resources of the land for the benefit of future generations. The testimony was well received by the committee members.

Some time after that, we saw the anti-Christian hatred pour out in the form of political cartoons and columnists’ statements and a few Washington based environmental groups distorting the truth beyond recognition. The anti-Christian ‘hate-mail’ followed. But, soon decent folks spoke up - Members of Congress, religious leaders and community thought leaders. The American community started to rally and the matter died down.

In your letter to me, you say, referring to the libelous lies of Grist, “those or similar quotes had also appeared through the years in many other publications – in the Washington Post and Time, for example --- I too easily assumed their legitimacy.” (my emphasis) Yes, you did. No doubt the politically active environmental groups did repeat the “old lies” over and over. That does not make them true. I have no reason to believe that in later years the legitimate press repeated them, as you suggest. Certainly no such statements came from me. If you can give me the quotes from the Washington Post and Time and the books you said you relied on as you were preparing your speech, I will address them also.

With a little, very little, research one will find that “there is no historical record” for many of the things the liberal environmental community has slipped into print.

I do not want to embarrass you about the primary research you have done on my well-documented public record, but have you read any of the three Annual Reports to the President and the Congress that the government printing office published on our marvelous accomplishments of stewardship? Which of the Congressional Hearings records did you read where I presented to the Congress our plans and programs for stewardship? And, by the way, the Congress approved and funded everything we did.

In the letter of Introduction to the Third Annual Report to the President and the Congress I say:

“All the lands (one-third of the Nation) managed by the Department of the Interior are in better condition today than they were three years ago when we took responsibility for them. Because we have cared and exercised stewardship, the parks, refuges, forests, coastal barriers, wetlands and deserts are being better managed. This is also true for the wildlife living on these lands.”

Our National Park System is the envy of the world. Unfortunately funds to restore and improve the parks were cut by 50 percent in the four years prior to our arrival. To reverse that trend, we implemented a $1 Billion Park Restoration and Improvement Program (PRIP). Our program was the largest commitment that had ever been made to the National Park System.

Am I to understand that you did not support the largest program ever created to restore and improve our National Parks – a $1 billion five year program commencing in 1981? What did Grist tell you about that program?

Your primary research, or Grist’s, would have pointed out that in 1983 alone, through trade, donations and purchase, we added more park and wildlife land to the federal estate than any previous Administration added in a single year since Alaska was purchased in 1867. In fact, in that single year, we added more park and wildlife land to the federal estate than was added from 1977 to 1980. Neither Teddy Roosevelt, nor Franklin Roosevelt, nor your Lyndon Johnson, nor Jimmy Carter came close to our 1983 record of adding to the Federal park and wildlife estate in a single year.

Knowing that fact causes you to call my policies ‘abysmal’?

What is it that you do not like about the fact that during my tenure, we acquired for the Federal Government more than 1.6 million acres of land to be managed as national parks and wildlife refuges? In addition, we recommended or supported additions totaling more than 1.8 million acres to our great wilderness system in the Lower 48 States. Are you opposed to that?

In 1981, we were concerned that surface-mined lands were not being properly reclaimed. I trust you were. The officials in all the mining states were greatly troubled with the requirements of the Department of the Interior as it related to surface-mined land reclamation. The previous Administration had adopted a ‘cookie cutter’ approach as to the requirements for reclaiming mined lands. The Wyoming authorities told me that they could not comply with such demands as planting Maple trees, as they do in Pennsylvania, on the sagebrush prairies of Wyoming.

Thus, we re-wrote the entire surface-mined land reclamation requirements with the involvement of the experts from Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and other mining states so that climatic conditions, geology, wildlife habitat requirements and other factors could be considered. As an example, the State of West Virginia did not want to be required to return all the mined land to its ‘original contour’ as the previous Administration demanded. They wanted some flat land for schools, hospitals, shopping centers, housing projects, etc. That sounded reasonable to me, but not to our critics. They called it a ‘sell out to the mining industry;’ every thing was contested in the courts. As in all other arenas of battle, we prevailed. I hope you support meeting the needs of people.

We did these things because we believed in stewardship and putting people in the environmental equation. In your primary research you would have found the Congressional testimony about these significant changes. Each state would be responsible for exercising stewardship in the reclaiming of the surface-mined land. It is interesting to note that these actions were not significantly changed when the Democrats took control of the Department for eight years during the Clinton years.

You or your friends at Grist can turn to page 7 of my Third Annual Report to the President and the Congress and read:

Endangered Species Recovery
One of our highest priorities over the past three years has been the development of recovery plans for our endangered and threatened wildlife and plant species. In our three years, we have approved or developed nearly three times as many endangered species recovery plans as were processed the entire four year period from 1977 to 1980.

The difference in focus (recover versus listing) in our program is a result of our stewardship philosophy and our ultimate goal of restoring species so that they no longer are endangered or threatened. Exceptional progress toward this goal is being realized.
It is tempting to go on and on, but my letter is already too long. I am attaching a copy of the letter I sent to President Reagan in October of 1983. In that letter you will find that ‘stewardship’ is the theme. I ended the letter by saying, “Mr. President, our excellent record for managing the natural resources of this land is unequaled – because we put people in the environmental equation.”

It is unequaled, Mr. Moyers. I do not believe you will find figures, statistics or facts showing that it has ever been done better. You will get feelings and opinions contrary to my presentation, but they will not be substantiated by facts.

In reviewing this record (and I have only presented a small portion of it) one can only conclude that you are ill informed of the facts. While there is always room for improvement, no informed person can review the facts and say our record is at odds with Christian stewardship of the natural resources and environment.


James G. Watt

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Which of These Things Is Not Like the Other



Glenn Reynolds reports as follows:
A LATE NIGHT AND AN EARLY MORNING: Taped a segment of Charlie Rose last night with Joe Trippi, Andrew Sullivan, and Ana Marie Cox.
This seems like an unbalanced lineup to me. After all, Glenn Reynolds is a well-known blogger, and the other three guests are not bloggers at all.

Well, I guess that's not completely fair - Joe Trippi has a blog now, which means that Rose apparently decided to split the panel between two bloggers and two has-beens former bloggers.

Ok, I'm still not being fair - even though he's supposedly "on hiatus," Sullivan is still posting more than most bloggers. But really, I just want to pick on Wonkette, and my point still holds for her, so here goes.

Why is Ana Marie Cox still on TV? She's a moderately funny, moderately pretty woman who was hired to write a blog. She has no opinions other than "Republicans suck" and "butt-sex!," and I'm not sure that second thing even qualfies as an opinion. She had some blog for a year or so, quit writing it, then got hired to write Wonkette, then quit writing Wonkette. (Worse yet, her current guest editor is unreadable. Seriously, I've gone from saying "that's not funny" to "this makes no f-ing sense whatever.")

So my advice is - Charlie, unless you really did do a show about survivors and has-beens in the blogosphere, you can do better than Cox. I know you wanted to get invited to Nick Denton's after party, but you're on frickin' PBS. You shouldn't have to sell out for whatever pathetic payola Denton hands out to get Cox on the air - you have standards.

Alternately, if you're going to cast cute hacks without apparent talent, give me a call.

Update:For a glimpse of how happy Sullivan and Cox look now that they're not writing their blogs, go here, and submit a caption while you're at it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Another Watt Update, and Another Goofy Moyers Quote



As Powerline reports today, Watt has written a blistering letter to the Strib, and Moyers has publicly apologized for not fact-checking his fake Watt quote. (See for example, my earlier posts here and here).

However, if Editor and Publisher's report of Moyer's letter to Watt is correct, it seems as if Moyers couldn't resist using the "I'm sorry you're such a jerk" apology form. Specifically, E&P writes, quoting Moyers:

"You and I differ strongly about your record as Secretary of Interior," the letter continued. "I found your policies abysmally at odds with what I understand as a Christian to be our obligation to be stewards of the earth. I found it baffling, when in our conversation of today, you were unaware of how some fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible influence political attitudes toward the environment."


Let's get this straight. Moyers, who doesn't even know the name of the Book of Revelation, finds it "baffling" that Watt, an actual evangelical Christian, has not heard of Moyer's pipe dream that evangelical Christians believe that they can hasten the Second Coming by DESTROYING THE ENVIRONMENT.

Umm, no. In his original article, Moyers offered a total of three pieces of evidence of this supposed evangelical belief that destroying the environment will hasten Christ's coming. The first was Watt's quote, which was fake. The second was a quote by Zell Miller, in which Zell Miller mentioned the word "famine," except that Moyers didn't disclose that Miller was talking about cultural values, not the environment. This leaves Moyers clutching one piece of evidence - a home school textbook that doesn't appear to endorse destroying the environment and has an at best unclear impact on Bush environmental policy.

Given that his two key pieces of evidence turned out to be bogus, I'm not sure why Moyers is baffled that Secretary Watt hasn't heard of his theory. I would have loved to have heard the Moyers-Watt phone conversation, though. Listening in on Moyers lecturing Watt about the true sinister agenda of evangelical Christianity would have made my week.

Three Comments on the Eason Jordan Affair



I have two things to say about Eason Jordan's irresponsible comments at Davos.

First, everyone should go, right now, and read Iowahawk's transcript of the closed meeting where Jordan made his comments. (1) It's amazing, but other than the Arsenio Hall comments, I'm betting Iowahawk got pretty close to what was actually said. (2) It's even funnier if you read the Barney Frank parts in your best imitation of Barney Frank's actual voice. (Of course, I use a Buddy Hackett imitation for Barney Frank, so it's especially appropriate when Frank asks Jordan "With all due respect, Mr. Jordan, what the f*ck? I mean... what the f*cking f*ck!?"

Second, I'd like to disagree with Easongate on forcing Davos to release the tape. I like seeing biased newsmen get their comeuppance as much as the next guy, but if you ask me, Davos should keep the tape sealed. (1) Jordan didn't commit a crime, at least not literally; and (2) as far as I'm concerned, organizations should have the right to keep their records confidential. Jordan was speaking under an expectation that he was operating under the Chatham House Rules, and the people who asked him questions had the same expectation.

Look, we all know that the media is biased, or we should, and it's very satisfing to prove it, but the people at that conference agreed to maintain confidentiality, and no crime was committed. IMHO, Davos should keep the video under wraps.

None of this is to say that we shouldn't beat up on Jordan and CNN as much as we can without the tape, of course, but organizations I don't like should have the same right to meet privately as organizations that I do like.

The True Villian Behind Special Ops Cody's Kidnapping



Apparently, some guy has claimed responsibility for the now-famous kidnapping of a US soldier doll. (HT: BestoftheWeb).

I'm disappointed that n oone else has figured out the true culprit. I mean, it's so painfully obvious that I'm ashamed of you all for not figuring it out.

Let's review the evidence, shall we? Bush's enemies (in this case, the Iraqi terrorists) have been humiliated by a transparently goofy hoax. As any leftist can tell you, every time Bush's enemies are humiliated by their own apparent stupidity, it is obviously the work of

. . .


Rove


Karl Rove!

That's right, by standard leftist reasoning, I have concluded that because Bush has once again benefitted from his enemies' apparent stupidity, the trail once again leads back to Mr. Rove. (Sorry for not offering more evidence than that, but as far as I can tell, that's all the evidence that is ever offered in favor of the various shadowy Rove plots.)

All I can say is, I'm glad we voted for someone whose staff can come up with plans like this. If we'd voted for Kerry, all we would get is Chris Lehane and Susan Estrich issuing petty sound bites about Al Quada, and what good would that be?

P.S.: Does anyone know where Rove was the day these signs were distributed? I didn't think so. Snopes says it was an honest mistake, but I can tell you that Evil Bert was the work of Rove too! Rooove, I tell you, Rooooooove!

Update: This post is a little more timely in light of recent barking moonbat ravings that Rove was responsible for the Rathergate documents. Still, as far as I know, only I realized the real depth of Rove's sneakiness . . . (See also: Ace, Powerline, Michelle Malkin, Confederate Yankee).

Update 2: Let me also say that life is very frustrating when the moonbats can come up with better Karl Rove conspiracy theories than professional (well, ok amateur) satirists such as myself.
I apologize to anyone whose comments I blew away when I enabled Haloscan commenting and trackback features. It had been so long since I blogged I hadn't realized how well Haloscan had worked out trackbacks and blogger.

The two commenters I remember are:

Captain Salty, who thinks Goldberg was wrong to offer a bet on Iraq's future (but doesn't link to me, and I ask you, what's the greater crime? ;P ) and

DSS Hubris, who would like to start a debate over whether Cole's assertion that the 97 Iranian elections were "much more democratic" than the 05 Iraqi elections is correct.

On the Morality of Goldberg's Iraq Bet



Captain Salty writes that he thinks Goldberg's offer to make a charity bet on the outcome of Iraq is immoral, much like Don Ameche offering to bet a dollar in Trading Places over whether he can make Eddie Murphy into a securities trader. I think Salty is missing two important distinctions.

First, Goldberg isn't just making the offer to increase his prestige, at least as far as I can tell. Goldberg and Cole are having a debate about, among other things (1) whether the war in Iraq was justified and (2) whether Goldberg is qualified to opine about Iraq.

Goldberg's offer of a bet serves to clarify Cole's position, which would be welcome, since I still have no idea whether Cole thinks the people of Iraq will be better off as a result of the war or not. It also serves to test Goldberg and Cole's relative qualifications to opine on the outcome of Iraq. Cole's position is that Goldberg should go read some more books, and should shut up until he does so. Goldberg's is that even though Cole knows more facts about the Middle East than Goldberg, Goldberg's conclusions about the issues relevant to US foriegn policy decisions in the region are more sound. The bet provides a clean objective test. (A series of bets would be better - maybe 10 bets at $100 per).

Second, the bet in Trading Places is offensive because it's a bet for entertainment, because it dehumanizes Eddie Murphy (the brothers' position is that anyone, even Eddie Murphy can be a successful trader), and because it is secret. Imagine for a moment that immediately before Eddie Murphy started work, Don Ameche had called him into his office and said:

Billy Ray, I want to tell you something. I believe you've got a great future here, and I want you to succeed. My brother Juan Cole doesn't believe you've got it in you, but I do. In fact, I believe in you so much that I've bet him a that you'll be a star, with the loser to donate $1000 dollars to charity. Now get out there and prove me right.
Eddie might well think that Don was a freak (or he might not), but I have a hard time believing that Don would have ended up the villian.

A Definitive History of the Goldberg-Cole Feud, and Some Comments



In case you missed it, National Review writer Jonah Goldberg and U-M poly sci professor and MESA president-elect Juan Cole recently got into a bare-knuckled brawl over Iraq, Iran, and each other.

A Brief History:

1. Goldberg wrote a paragraph mocking Cole for saying that the 1997 elections in Iran were "much more democratic" than the January 2005 election in Iraq.

2. Cole responded, arguing (i) Goldberg is an uneducated idiot who is unqualified to have an opinion about the relative democraticness of the 97 Iranian and 05 Iraqi elections; (ii) Goldberg was a vicious warmonger who promoted the war in Iraq when everyone should have known Saddam was no threat to us; (iii) the 97 Iranian elections were actually more democratic than the 05 Iraqi elections because, although the Mullahs rejected almost all candidates, and although they didn't let the winner of the election actually carry out any liberal policies, they did allow a liberal candidate to run, and people could campaign and vote safely; (iv) Goldberg's real agenda in picking on Cole is to distract the world from Goldberg's desire to kill thousands of Iranians; (v) if Goldberg likes war so much, why doesn't he enlist, and (vi) if Goldberg agrees to debate "Middle East issues," Cole will be glad to show him for the idiot he is.

3. Goldberg answered by (i) mocking Cole a little more; (ii) conceding that Cole made "a pretty good point" about the democratic nature of the 97 Iranian elections; and (iii) raising the criticism that Cole isn't just talking about how democratic the Iranians were, he's mainly criticizing the Iraqi elections, and doing a sloppy job of it. Cole responded in his original piece, calling Goldberg's response "smarmy" and generally picking on Goldberg some more as an uninformed warmongering buffoon.

4. Goldberg wrote an article in which he argued that: (i) his pre-war position that Iraq was a threat was widely held and reasonable; (ii) Cole himself has expressed some support for the Iraq war at various times; (iii) the Iranian elections weren't all that democratic because the Mullahs rejected more than 300 candidates and because the Mullahs prevented the winner from actually implementing any reforms; (iv) contrary to Cole's characterization, Goldberg didn't want an Iranian bloodbath; (v) the chicken-hawk argument was stupid; and (vi) Goldberg would be happy to debate various specific issues (Bush's foriegn policy, whether the war in Iraq was justified, etc.), but wasn't prepared to debate "Middle East issues"

5. Cole responded that: (i) Goldberg should try reading a book sometime; (ii) contrary to Goldberg, Cole speaks Arabic very well, but speaks so many dialects of Arabic that he knew better than to use his vast Arabic knowledge in an Al Jazeera interview; (iii) Cole never supported the war, and never thought Iraq was a threat to US interests, but was ambivalent because he knew how bad Saddam was; (iv) Cole would debate "Middle East issues," but not the war in Iraq or US policy with regard to Middle East issues, and Goldberg was a coward for narrowing the subject of the debate; (v) Goldberg was too a chicken-hawk for not fighting; (vi) we should have known Iraq was no threat, but many people were fooled by liars like Goldberg; and (vii) more generally, as shown by Jon Stewart (!) "empty headed" and "dime a dozen" pundits like Goldberg are a threat to the polity because they decieve rather than educate.

6. Goldberg wrote another article, arguing that: (i) Cole's ad-hominem attacks don't show anything; (ii) Goldberg has too read a book; (iii) Cole's arguments regarding expertise and judgment are hollow; (iv) James Wolcott is an idiot (an idea Goldberg wrote more about here); and (v) if Cole was so proud of his judgment, Goldberg would be happy to make a bet, with proceeds to go to charity, with Goldberg to win if in two years, Iraq had a constitution, did not have a civil war, and the majority of Iraqis and Americans believed that the war was a good idea. (Goldberg also offered to bet on other conditions of Cole's choosing).

7. Cole announced that he was "nearly immobilized with disgust and grief" by Goldberg's offered wager. In Cole's opinion, Goldberg was proposing to bet "on the backs of human beings." Cole wants nothing to do with the wager, or with Goldberg. (Goldberg, predictably, ruthlessly mocked Cole's sensitivity to whatever it is Cole is sensitive to).

8. In between the above posts, both Cole and Goldberg posted too many comments from readers and links to other sites to summarize. If you want to, you can read them by skimming the early February posts from Informed Consent and The Corner.

Comment 1 - Civility

My first thought is that Cole's attacks do his actual arguments a severe disservice. Cole's core positions - which seem to be that the 97 Iranian elections were more democratic than people give them credit for; that the 05 Iraqi elections are much less democratic than commonly thought; and that the Iraq war was unjustified - are serious arguments that we on the right should at least consider. If Cole had responded to Goldberg clearly and succinctly, I think it would have helped him in preparing responses to counterarguments and in expressing his ideas clearly, and he may even have convinced some people.

The problem is that Cole's arguments are buried under a mountain of anti-Goldberg invective. To find out why Cole thinks Iran is more democratic than most people think, you have to sort through all kinds of stuff about whether Goldberg has ever read a book, what an evil chicken-hawk he is, etc. I never would have found Cole's real arguments if I hadn't re-read everything to write this piece.

So my advice for the Doctor is: "chill." I understand that you think Goldberg is a prime example of a group of know-nothings who are deceiving the populace and driving us into evil, needless wars. Still, if you would put all the anti-Goldberg stuff at the end of each of your responses, then your readers could separate the two arguments, and consider each on their merits. When you mix them up, all you do is cause everyone who doesn't already agree with you to tune out.

Comment 2 - Cole's Disgust and Grief

I am amazed by Cole's response to Goldberg's bet. Goldberg is offering to wager that in two years, most Iraqis and most Americans will think that the Iraq war was worth it, with the winnings to go to charity. I can't see that Goldberg is harming anyone (to the contrary, whoever wins, some charity will get some money), and he's testing his ability to predict events in Iraq versus Cole's.

In response, Cole is so horrified that he's "nearly immobilized." How can Goldberg make a bet? Doesn't Goldberg understand that people are suffering, right now, in Iraq?

I think that's part of the problem with the anti-war left. Confronted with suffering, they are too often "immobilized." For example, two years ago, we all knew that we had basically one of three choices: (1) oust Saddam, (2) eventually let Saddam out of the sanction and no fly zone regime; or (3) keep up inspections and the no fly zones indefinitely. There was going suffering no matter which option we and the world chose - #1 would result in war deaths, collateral damage, and instability; #2 would leave Saddam free to continue sponsoring terror, restart his WMD programs, and begin a massacre of the Kurds; and #3 meant prolonging the sanctions' suffering on the Iraqi people indefinitely, plus continuing the deaths from the constant no-fly-zone-related engagements.

Faced with three choices involving human suffering, Cole was justifiably saddened, but unjustifiably immobilized. As Cole has written on his site, he was unable to decide on the war - he knew very well what a monster Saddam was, but couldn't quite bring himself to justify war.

A rightous inaction in the face of horror is not what this world needs, whether or not that inaction is backed by a bunch of degrees and a working knowledge of three Arabic dialects. Cole should take Goldberg up on his offers to: (1) have a public debate whether the Iraq war was justified; and (2) make a concrete prediction about whether the majority of Iraqis will agree that the war was a good thing. (If Cole is horrified by betting, he can just make a clear public prediction, and we can come back to it in two years to see who was right). If not, Cole's contributions as a public intellectual are useless or worse on the things that really matter.

Update: Wow, a Cornerlanche! Now I wish I had taken the time to fix up my template and links. (Not unlike when a date asks to see your house, and you start inventorying just how much clothing you have on the floor, and how quickly you can kick it away . . .)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Secretary Watt Speaks

I wrote Secretary Watt to ask about Mile's allegation that Watt made the "last tree" statement on the PTL Club. Secretary Watt wrote as follows:

I have appeared on the PTL Club with Jim Bakker. Never in my entire life have I thought, believed, said, read or heard anything similar to what Miles is attributing to me.

AS you have researched and written, it is not something believed in any Christian circle that I am familiar, nor could one in or one who has been in public service even accidentally say such a thing.
I suppose it's Secretary Watt's word versus Reverend Miles' at this point, but I'm strongly inclined to believe Secretary Watt - the Miles quote just isn't consistent with the publicly verifiable statements and beliefs of Secretary Watt.

Absent historical evidence, that's probably where the debate has to end. At a minimum, though, I ask again that people who peddle the Miles quote remember to include Secretary Watt's side.

Washington Post - The Bill Moyers Myth Hits the Big Time



Ugh. Yesterday, the Washington Post repeated Bill Moyers' myth about James Watt. In a piece about the supposedly new trend of Christian stewardship of the land, Washington Post author Blaine Hardenstates:

James G. Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first interior secretary, famously made this argument before Congress in 1981, saying: "God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."
As I've discussed (endlessly) below, it is definitely false that Secretary Watt said the "last tree" quote in Congressional testimony, and almost certainly false that he ever said it at all. There's no way Harden or his editor could have done any factchecking, short of reading Moyers' article and assuming it to be true.

It's all a little disappointing. I have to wonder if Mr. Harden or his editor know any evangelical Christians personally. I'm not evangelical myself, but I at least know some, and the idea that US public policy is based on an assumption that we might as well use up the environment before Jesus comes struck me as absurd the first time I read it. It's especially disappointing here, because Secretary Watt's actual 1981 Congressional testimony shows his understanding of the same Christian environmentalism that Harden is exploring.

Other Appearences of the "Last Tree" Myth: Martin Caver (writing from . . . France), informs The Economist of the alleged "last tree" quote, and uses it as evidence that evangelicals are "try[ing] to fulfil their own apocalyptic prophecies in the hope of speeding up Christ's return" and "selling out our future in the hope that God will one day sort things out."

Update: U-M journalism fellow Frank Lockwood interviewed Secretary Watt and Reverend Miles, and wrote about the "last tree" kerfuffle here. (I'm not sure how long the link will be good, but I can't find the article published anywhere with a permanent link).

One More Question on the Bill Moyers Article



J. Mann, quote detective, rides again.

In his now thoroughly fisked piece, Bill Moyers writes the following about Zell Miller.

The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian coalition was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who recently quoted from the biblical book of Amos on the Senate floor: "The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land." He seemed to be relishing the thought.


As David Kopel points out, Miller wasn't talking about a literal famine, he was talking about a decline in moral values. (The actual speech is classic Zell Miller and pretty entertaining.)

However, Kopel also states that Miller was quoting Martin Luther King Jr. when he said the famine line. Is that right? As Miller states in his speech, Dr. King certainly did quote Amos when he said "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream", but I can't find any reference to Dr. King using the "famine" quotation, and it does not appear that Senator Miller was quoting Dr. King during that portion of his speech.

Moyers and Watt, Part 3



Powerline has written something pretty close to the definitive wrap-up of Moyers' sloppy work. In particular, Powerline contributor John Hindraker spoke to Secretary Watt, and Watt confirmed that he has never, at any time, spoken anything like the quote Moyers attributes to him. I can only think of one thing to add to Powerline's analysis.

Specifically, with regard to the alleged Watt quote ("when the last tree is felled, Christ will come back"), the latest word on sourcing is Loren's conversation with Austin Miles. As I wrote last week, Rev. Miles has told Loren that he recalls Secretary Watt making the quote on a PTL broadcast. Although I'm sceptical that the quote was ever made, it's pretty hard to prove or disprove something like that without some kind of records from the PTL. I'll leave that to a real journalist, or a more enterprising blogger than me. At a minimum, however, it seems to me that anyone peddling the "last tree" quote should at least disclose that Secretary Watt has categorically denied making any such quote.