Saturday, July 16, 2005

Nicklaus Says Goodbye

Jack Nicklaus Waves Farewell at St. Andrews Posted by Picasa

Nicklaus Exits The Open Posted by Picasa
Nicklaus Completes Bittersweet Farewell : "After a record 18 major titles in five decades of professional golf, Jack Nicklaus [age 65] made an emotional exit today at the British Open.

St. Andrews gave him two of his three British Open titles, endearing him to Scottish golf fans forever.

But Nicklaus's prime has passed, and he acknowledged that. He said his family was prepared to return to Florida on Saturday rather than stay at St. Andrews through the weekend, when Woods will try to win his second major of the season and 10th over all of his career, compared with 18 for Nicklaus.

When Nicklaus exited the tent this evening, the sky he left was still bright. Golfers who had spent their lives looking up to him were finishing their rounds.

In Scottish summers, the sun stays out a little longer."

Tierney on Wilson and Rove

John Tierney on the Joe Wilson, Valerie Wilson, Karl Rove, Judith Miller, Matt Cooper, Bob Novak story with Where's the Newt? : "this scandal is about a spy who was not endangered, a whistle-blower who did not blow the whistle and was not smeared, and a White House official who has not been fired for a felony that he did not commit. And so far the only victim is a reporter who did not write a story about it.

It would be logical to name it the Not-a-gate scandal, but I prefer a bilingual variation. It may someday make a good trivia question: What do you call a scandal that's not scandalous? Nadagate. "
Tierney is becoming a star with his clarity, brevity, and his citation of other readings at the end of his columns for further sources on his current subject - he is the professional that Krugman is not.
(And with apologies to my friend Nada.)

VDH Explores the Left's View of the GWOT

Victor Davis Hanson on the War on Terror : "Ever since September 11, there has been an alternative narrative about this war embraced by the Left. In this mythology, the attack on September 11 had in some vague way something to do with American culpability...

...That is the dominant narrative of the Western Left and at times it finds its way into mainstream Democratic-party thinking. Yet every element of it is false.

...Why does this false narrative, then, persist — other than that it had a certain political utility in the 2002 and 2004 elections?

In a word, this version of events brings spiritual calm for millions of troubled though affluent and blessed Westerners...

These tenets in various forms are not merely found in the womb of the universities, but filter down into our popular culture, grade schools, and national political discourse — and make it hard to fight a war against stealthy enemies who proclaim constant and shifting grievances. If at times these doctrines are proven bankrupt by the evidence it matters little, because such beliefs are near religious in nature — a secular creed that will brook no empirical challenge.

These articles of faith apparently fill a deep psychological need for millions of Westerners, guilty over their privilege, free to do anything without constraints or repercussions, and convinced that their own culture has made them spectacularly rich and leisured only at the expense of others.

So it is not true to say that Western civilization is at war against Dark Age Islamism. Properly speaking, only about half of the West is involved, the shrinking segment that still sees human nature as unchanging and history as therefore replete with a rich heritage of tragic lessons.

...we are divided over two antithetical views of the evolving West — Europe at odds with America, red and blue states in intellectual and spiritual divergence, the tragic view resisting the creeping therapeutic mindset.

These interior splits largely explain why creepy killers from the Dark Ages, parasitic on the West from their weapons to communications, are still plaguing us four years after their initial surprise attack.

'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.' "
Always read all Victor Davis Hanson you can find, please.

Two Looks at Muslim Suicide Bombers

First, Tom Friedman writes in A Poverty of Dignity and a Wealth of Rage : "...Why are young Sunni Muslim males, from London to Riyadh and Bali to Baghdad, so willing to blow up themselves and others in the name of their religion? Of course, not all Muslims are suicide bombers; it would be ludicrous to suggest that. But virtually all suicide bombers, of late, have been Sunni Muslims.

There are a lot of angry people in the world. Angry Mexicans. Angry Africans. Angry Norwegians. But the only ones who seem to feel entitled and motivated to kill themselves and totally innocent people, including other Muslims, over their anger are young Sunni radicals. What is going on?

Neither we nor the Muslim world can run away from this question any longer...

'Some of these young Muslim men are tempted by a civilization they consider morally inferior, and they are humiliated by the fact that, while having been taught their faith is supreme, other civilizations seem to be doing much better,' said Raymond Stock, the Cairo-based biographer and translator of Naguib Mahfouz. 'When the inner conflict becomes too great, some are turned by recruiters to seek the sick prestige of 'martyrdom' by fighting the allegedly unjust occupation of Muslim lands and the 'decadence' in our own.' This is not about the poverty of money. This is about the poverty of dignity and the rage it can trigger. How does that happen?

Britain's Independent newspaper described one of the bombers, Hasib Hussain, as having recently undergone a sudden conversion 'from a British Asian who dressed in Western clothes to a religious teenager who wore Islamic garb and only stopped to say salaam to fellow Muslims.' The secret of this story is in that conversion - and so is the crisis in Islam. The people and ideas that brought about that sudden conversion of Hasib Hussain and his pals - if not stopped by other Muslims - will end up converting every Muslim into a suspect and one of the world's great religions into a cult of death. "

Then we have William F. Buckley Jr. on the 7/7 London Bombings and the War on Terror : "The first thought, surely, has to be that not all young Muslims at large in Europe have a viral compulsion to put bombs in London subways or to shoot and stab provocative filmmakers. So having arrived at that thought, what is our next thought?

It is not highly developed, but it focuses necessarily on acute security measures. They mount aggression, we mount a defense. This is bitter medicine in that the countermeasures signal a victory for terrorism.

London withstood years of bombings organized by a sovereign madman who came to control Germany.

That threat, on reflection, seems simple: Cope with it by waging a world war. We know how to do that. We don't know how to abort the evolution of young Muslims into murderers

Measurement and Accountability in Schools Fix Problems

Younger Students Show Gains in Math and Reading : "America's elementary school students made solid gains in both reading and math in the first years of this decade, while middle school students made less progress and older teenagers hardly any, according to test results issued today that are considered the best measure of the nation's long-term education trends.

Nine-year-old minority students made the most gains on the test, administered by the United States Department of Education. In particular, young black students significantly narrowed the historic gap between their math and reading scores and those of higher-achieving whites, who also made significant gains.

Older minority teenagers, however, scored about as far behind whites as in previous decades, and scores for all groups pointed to a deepening crisis in the nation's high schools.

Nine year old students born in the mid-1990's, on average, earned the highest scores in three decades, in both subjects.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings attributed the gains among elementary students to President Bush's school reform law, No Child Left Behind. Sounding jubilant, she also credited the nation's teachers, principals and state and national policymakers, including Democrats who have supported the federal law.

"I'm really excited, it shows that we're on the right track, that N.C.L.B. is working, that all our attention to the early grades and to minority kids - now we've got some good results to show for it," Ms. Spellings said. "As a country we're headed in the right direction.

Several groups that have criticized the federal law, including both national teachers' unions, said that increased teacher training and efforts to reduce class sizes as well as a proliferation of early childhood and kindergarten programs should also be credited for the gains.

No Child Left Behind, which has required states to test students grades three through eight in English and math every year, and to report minority scores separately from student averages, first took effect in fall 2002."

Wie's Masters Debut 2007?

Michelle Wie at US Am Public Links in Ohio Posted by Picasa

A Defeated Wie Puts Her Masters Dream on Hold - New York Times: " Michelle Wie's run at the men's United States Amateur Public Links championship came to an end... when she was beaten by Clay Ogden, 5 and 4, in the quarterfinals.

The golf world usually sets its sights exclusively on the British Open at this time of year. But Wie's play this week, and her pursuit of a spot in the Masters tournament next year, managed to transform a sleepy Ohio town into a center of attention among the news media and fans.

The 15-year-old from Honolulu was attempting to become the first woman to compete at Augusta National. Every Public Links champion since 1989 has been invited to the next year's Masters.

"Obviously I am very disappointed, but it is not the end of the world," Wie said.

Wie fell behind early as Ogden, who will be a junior at Brigham Young University this fall, birdied four of the first five holes."

Rosett: "Saddam and al Qaeda"

Claudia Rosett, our nation's star reporter in my opinion, (the NYT's John Burns is a close second) discussing the abundance of evidence connecting two forces against Western civilization in OpinionJournal - The Real World: "Any conclusions or even inferences about contacts between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda are subjected these days to the kind of metaphysical test in which existence itself becomes a highly dubious philosophical problem, mired in the difficulty of ever really being certain about anything at all.
Certainty is then imposed in the form of assurances that there was no connection. This notion that there was no Saddam-al Qaeda connection is invoked as an argument against the decision to go to war in Iraq, and enjoined as part of the case that we were safer with Saddam in power, and that, even now, the U.S. and its allies should simply cut and run.

Actually, there were many connections, as Stephen Hayes, writing in the current issue of the Weekly Standard, spells out under the headline "The Mother of All Connections."

...By the time Mr. Hayes is done tabulating the cross-connections, meetings, Iraqi Intelligence memos unearthed after the fall of Saddam, and information obtained from detained terrorist suspects, you have to believe there was significant collaboration between Iraq and al Qaeda. Or you have to inhabit a universe in which there will never be a demonstrable connection between any of the terrorist attacks the world has suffered over the past dozen years, or any tyrant and any aspiring terrorist. In that fantasyland, all such phenomena are independent events.

Mr. Bush, in calling attention to the Iraq-al Qaeda connection in the first place, did the right thing. For the U.S. president to confirm that clearly and directly at this stage, with some of the abundant supporting evidence now available, might seem highly controversial. But reviving that controversy would help settle it more squarely in line with the truth. "

WSJ: "Karl Rove, Whistleblower"

OpinionJournal :"... In short, Mr. Rove provided important background so Americans could understand that Mr. Wilson wasn't a whistleblower but was a partisan trying to discredit the Iraq War in an election campaign. Thank you, Mr. Rove.

...If there's any scandal at all here, it is that this entire episode has been allowed to waste so much government time and media attention, not to mention inspire a 'special counsel' probe. The Bush Administration is also guilty on this count, since it went along with the appointment of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in an election year in order to punt the issue down the road. But now Mr. Fitzgerald has become an unguided missile, holding reporters in contempt for not disclosing their sources even as it becomes clearer all the time that no underlying crime was at issue.

As for the press corps, rather than calling for Mr. Rove to be fired, they ought to be grateful to him for telling the truth. "

May Trade Deficit Improves

May Trade Deficit Shows Slight Improvement : "The Commerce Department reported that America's trade deficit fell by 2.7 percent in May to $55.3 billion, the best showing since March. The bulk of the improvement came from a big drop in oil prices which pushed petroleum imports down by 6.8 percent. However, the trade improvement was likely to be temporary because prices of crude oil have soared to record levels above $60 per barrel since May. The trade performance in May was also helped by strong export sales, which edged up 0.1 percent to a new all-time high of $106.9 billion. Sales of agricultural products, industrial supplies and consumer goods all set records."

"Barbarity and Civility"

The Union Leader- Barbarity and civility: Eyeing the terror war with clarity"IMMEDIATELY after Thursday's bombings in London, some on the far left blamed Prime Minister Tony Blair, saying it was his fault for sending troops to Iraq. This is the same poisoned thinking that blamed America for the 9/11 attacks and equated the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay with the acts of terrorists and totalitarian regimes...

As we debate whether glovelessly handling a Koran is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, terrorists plot the destruction of all Western civilization, or at least as many "infidel" non-believers as they can possibly wipe out.

The CIA reportedly kidnaps Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, a radical cleric, in Milan, and ships him to Saudi Arabia, and there is widespread outrage. Meanwhile, al-Qaida kidnaps and executes Egyptian envoy Ihab al-Sherif, and there is only a murmur of mild indignation.

That the fundamental differences between the actions of Western governments and the actions of the Islamist terrorists have to be continually pointed out is one of life's absurd realities. That many of the people who need to have it pointed out are Westerners themselves is doubly absurd."

Krugman Says Good News on Deficit a "Temporary Blip"

Un-Spin the Budget : "The usual suspects on the right are already declaring victory over the deficit, and proclaiming vindication for the Laffer Curve - the claim that tax cuts pay for themselves, because they have such a miraculous effect on the economy that revenue actually goes up.

But the fact is that revenue remains far lower than anyone would have predicted before the tax cuts began. In January 2001 the budget office forecast revenues of $2.57 trillion in fiscal 2005. Even with the recent increase in receipts, the actual number will be at least $400 billion less. [me: Krugman ignores impact of 9-11-01]

A close look at the tax data explains why these experts believe that we're seeing a temporary uptick in revenues, not a sustained change in the trend. Taxes that are closely tied to the number of jobs and the average wage, such as payroll taxes and income taxes automatically withheld from paychecks, aren't showing any big pickup. [me: Krugman ignores the steady growth and that employment has now reached the same level as September 2001]This confirms other data showing that the economy as a whole is, if anything, doing worse than one would expect at this stage of an economic recovery.

It turns out that all of the upside surprise in tax receipts is coming from two sources. One is tax payments from corporations, up both because last year corporate profits grew much more rapidly than the rest of the economy and because the effective tax rate on corporations went up when a temporary tax break, introduced in 2002, expired. [me: Krugman likes to think corporate profits aren't related to consumers being able to buy more goods with less personal taxes and the notion that an expired corporate tax provision in 2002 resulted in a surge of revenues last quarter 2005.]Both are one-time events

The other source of increased revenue is nonwithheld income taxes - taxes that aren't deducted from paychecks but are instead paid by people receiving additional, nonsalary income. The bounce in nonwithheld taxes probably reflects mainly capital gains on stocks and real estate, together with bonuses paid in the finance and real estate industries. [me: Krugman hates to think people are more entrepreneurial and make a lot more money to spend and invest as non-withheld taxpayers with lower tax rates; also note they do usually pay nice quarterly estimates of taxes owed, but to Krugman that means Wall Street bonuses not any economic success caused by reduced taxes]Again, this revenue boost looks like a temporary blip driven by rising stocks and the housing bubble.

In other words, we're still deep in the fiscal quagmire, with federal revenues far below what's needed to pay for federal programs. And we won't get out of that quagmire until a future president admits that the Bush tax cuts were a mistake, and must be reversed." [me: Krugman would solve every situation with taxes so burdensome the US would have unemployment at the 11.7% rate like Germany in June and France at 10.2%, and growth rates of 0.3% to 0.5% for France and Germany respectively.]
Bernard Goldberg in his book about the 100 people ruining America only has Krugman at the number 8th worst - I would rank him at least in the top 5 - and very sad he has any influence at all.

CBO: US Deficit To Be 24% Below Forecast U.S.: " 'Rising tax payments and a growing economy may push the U.S. federal deficit down to $325 billion or lower, a 24 percent decline from the previous estimate,' the Congressional Budget Office said. The agency, in a monthly snapshot for fiscal 2005 that ends on Sept. 30, said tax payments and spending were running ahead of the year-ago pace. As a result this year's deficit 'will be significantly less than $350 billion, perhaps below $325 billion.' The White House is scheduled to issue its revised estimates on tax collections, spending and the deficit on July 13. In February, White House budget director Joshua Bolten forecast a deficit of $427 billion, about 3.5 percent of the nation's gross domestic product.

``Treasury receipts have been skyrocketing since April,'' and in June ``corporate receipts will lead this boon,'' said Ellen M. Beeson, an economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd. in New York, in an interview before the report. Her firm expects the July 13 report to forecast a 2005 deficit of $315 billion to $330 billion. 'The stock market will certainly like the lower-than- expected deficit as it will mean less financing will be needed to cover U.S. debt,' Beeson said.

In its monthly report, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said federal tax collections from people and corporations are up about 15 percent from the same period a year ago, and spending is up about 7 percent."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

China's Political Economy

Rural Poor Aren't Sharing In Spoils of China's Changes: "A recent study conducted by the World Bank found that incomes among rural Chinese -- about three-fourths of the total population -- have declined slightly in the years since China entered the WTO, while urban residents have enjoyed modest gains...

...Last month, China's government announced that the income gap had widened in the first three months of the year, with the richest 10 percent of the population controlling 45 percent of the country's wealth and the poorest 10th holding little more than 1 percent, according to the official New China News Agency.

In Beijing, concern mounts that the rural poor are falling so far behind as to challenge the legitimacy of the party. Demonstrations have become near-daily occurrences as farmers protest loss of land to development and excessive taxation. In response, the central government has rolled back taxes on peasants.

...Throughout China, more than 200 million farmers have supplemented incomes by heading to coastal provinces to do construction or factory work. Typically, one or two people go, sending money back to relatives who remain at home to tend land.

All of Wang's hopes rest on his youngest son, now in Jingyuan in high school. He is the first in his family to attain that level of education. The costs of keeping him in school are monumental, about $250 per year.

Every year, Wang borrows that amount from the local credit cooperative, and every year he cobbles together about $100 from friends to keep up with the interest payments so he can draw another loan.

His total debt exceeds $1,250 -- about what the average person lives on here in a decade. Still, his may be a rational strategy for the times: He hopes his son will test into a university, get a white-collar job in a city, and lift his family out of the poverty that still defines reality in most of rural China."

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Freakonomics Guys: Seat Belts vs. Car Seats

From Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, the authors of "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything" with The Seat-Belt Solution : " question about car seats is rarely even asked: How well do they actually work?

They certainly have the hallmarks of an effective piece of safety equipment: big and bulky, federally regulated, hard to install and expensive. (You can easily spend $200 on a car seat.) And NHTSA data seem to show that car seats are indeed a remarkable lifesaver. Although motor-vehicle crashes are still the top killer among children from 2 to 14, fatality rates have fallen steadily in recent decades -- a drop that coincides with the rise of car-seat use. Perhaps the single most compelling statistic about car seats in the NHTSA manual was this one: 'They are 54 percent effective in reducing deaths for children ages 1 to 4 in passenger cars.'

But 54 percent effective compared with what? The answer, it turns out, is this: Compared with a child's riding completely unrestrained. There is another mode of restraint, meanwhile, that doesn't cost $200 or require a four-day course to master: seat belts.

...For children younger than roughly 24 months, seat belts plainly won't do... Even a quick look at the FARS data reveals a striking result: among children 2 and older, the death rate is no lower for those traveling in any kind of car seat than for those wearing seat belts.

So if car seats and booster seats aren't the safety miracle that parents have been taught to believe, what should they do? The most important thing, certainly, is to make sure that children always ride with some kind of restraint...

It may be that the ultimate benefit of car seats and booster seats is that they force children to sit still in the back seat. If so, perhaps there is a different contraption that could help accomplish the same goal for roughly the same price: a back-seat DVD player. "

WSJ: "Lessons of Srebrenica"

OpinionJournal : "If American policy makers want to avoid facing another Srebrenica on their watch, they must never let the U.N. determine the mission. Allowing the Europeans to 'take the lead' is also a bad idea. Above all, Srebrenica is what happens when Western policy makers reject taking pre-emptive measures against gathering dangers, so that by the time the dangers are obvious it is too late to do something.

It has become trendy in certain circles to speak of 'No More Srebrenicas,' as well as 'No More Rwandas' and 'No More Darfurs.' If these people really believe the slogan, then the policy to make it work already has a name. It's called the Bush Doctrine. "

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Democrats Stand FOR... What?

In today's Washington Post and yesterday's Washington Times two very different editorials address the problem summarized by my post title - we know Democrats oppose anything George Bush wants (whether it makes sense or not) but who knows (especially Democrats themselves) what Democrats are for - what is the Democrat Party 's agenda?

First, let's look at David Broder, usually a stable voice for the Democrats, in his column Democrats In Need Of Stances: "Because Republicans control the congressional agenda, the Democratic leaders cannot bring forward their own initiatives with any hope of success. The best they can do is block GOP efforts or criticize their policies. But that strategy simply strengthens Republican accusations of negativism. The tactic of not offering an alternative on a subject as vital as Social Security -- which makes sense in the legislative context -- does nothing to enhance the Democrats' reputation with the public.

When I interviewed Dean recently, he readily acknowledged that 'people think they know what the Republicans stand for, and they can't say that about the Democrats.'

...There's a better model available, should Dean have the courage to follow it. In the late 1950s, after Adlai Stevenson had lost to President Eisenhower for the second time, DNC Chairman Paul Butler created the Democratic Advisory Council as a policy voice for the party.

...Once again, the Democrats need a vehicle for speaking to the country about the changes they would bring if entrusted with governing. They can find that vehicle in their archives."
Next look at Victor Davis Hanson, now one of the most respected voices on the right, with Who are the reactionaries: " understandably frustrated opposition seeks some sort of countermove. But instead of the hard, necessary work of winning the public over to a systematic alternative vision, the Democratic leadership seems to hope a quickie scandal, a noisy filibuster or a slip overseas will tip a few million voters and thus return the Democrats to power. ...Can't the Democrats find spokesmen other than a calcified Mr. Kerry, Joe Biden, Mr. Kennedy or Al Gore -- who all crashed in past general presidential elections or primaries and now drip bitterness? How do you politely tell your leadership that it, not just George W. Bush, is the problem?

...The Democrats should focus on new issues and faces and promote national optimism and an overdue return to a more inclusive broader-based populism. Instead, the leading members of the party -- who have become the new reactionaries in American political life -- choose to fixate on John Bolton and try to ankle-bite a wartime president working to bring democracy to the Middle East. Apparently, the liberal opposition thinks sarcasm and negativism can reverse the larger political tide of the last three decades. Good luck."
This is not just a political problem for Democrats. This problem is disturbing to America because I believe our country is better facing choices and making decisions as to how we move forward rather than attempts from either party to just block progress. We need to deal with the future with our heads up high and firm in this ever-changing world. I happen to trust the people to make the right choices when they understand the questions and the choices of answers. I happen to think that is why George Bush is president of the United States right now. Let's trust the people and give choices not a move forward in one direction or a roadblock.