Saturday, August 28, 2004

Iran so far away (I couldn't get away)  

Dr. Josh reports on Douggie Feith's neocon backchannel to known foreign liars, only this time they're Iranian dissidents. His crew bypassed the CIA in order to directly acquire intel that would support a "regime change" policy for Iran. Aren't you glad this tired gambit hasn't backfired on us before? Currently the FBI and Senate are investigating.

More at War and Piece.

As usual, Needlenose was well out front.

But clearly this sort of deal is way too complicated to be important. The media should focus on the real story next week: how Laura Bush won't tell reporters to "shove it".

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I forget where I first saw The Flock o' Seagulls/Iran punnery. Not the first to use it.
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"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer."  

"HA!"

Nearly everyone at Rue de la Course coffeehouse looked at me, the source of the unrestrained guffaw. My laugh sounded like Alf had barked into a megaphone, and I swear it echoed throughout the converted Savings & Loan building. Embarrassed, I looked down and continued reading my newspaper. But how is one supposed to be restrained when they stumble across headlines like:

Did Kissinger Tolerate Rights Abuses in Argentina?


If that didn't strike you like it did me, refresh your memory with Hitchens' scathing indictment.

"Tolerate"-- I mean, that's genuinely hilarious! Cambodia, Timor, Chile... when in hell did the good "Doctor of Diplomacy" not tolerate rights abuses? That's what I'd like to know.

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Link to Kissinger title quote and others at truthout.
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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Dropping your thief off at the pool 

A recent post on things dismal and random inspired "insane" jealousy from one reader, and a promotion to another's "Weblogs of Distinction".

So, with more and more sophisticated visitors pouring into the Thief, what better time to showcase a collection of gross, coarse, and scatalogical stories?

1. You've seen this one. The Dave Matthews Band continues to dump excrement on the unwitting, only this time not aurally. (h/t Monk)

2. 250 lbs of Papasan's pinched yams-- dumped, funneled, heated and sprayed.

3. Norbizness is always funny as shit. I laughed so hard at his "Ask the Prez" post, that some long-dormant 'rhoids became brutally enflamed.

4. The classic comedy piece on ass-shaving I must link to monthly.

5. A place where you can share your own adventures in poo (via c franz).

6. If you're like me, you'll lose your shit to this vid (vice presidential language).

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Updates:
7. Blog ReLOAD (heh) has a story about why you shouldn't test public plumbing with a steaming 3-coiler.
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Flogging the Monk  

If interested in an amateur economics debate between two Yankee fans of differing political stripes, read this first.

So, a Heritage Foundation study precipitated an unannounced "sea change" in Greenspan's view of the comparative quality of the payroll versus household surveys. According to the Monk's excerpts, this claim seems largely based on characteristically vague statements by Greenspan such as "poised to resume a stronger pace of expansion" and his assertion that labor-market conditions continue to improve... My, that is quite a leap-- especially since Greenspan has not publicly altered his view from his congressional statement on 2/11/04:

'I wish I could say the household survey were the more accurate. Everything we've looked at suggests that it's the payroll data which are the series which you have to follow. '
By the Maestro's standards, that is a pretty bald, straightforward claim. If a "sea change" in his view on employment measures has occured, wouldn't Greenspan have indicated this? (Perhaps in a somewhat Delphic manner, to be sure, but surely in such a way that the markets could easily see the subtext). Plus, if such a radical change had occurred, and if all other indicators agree, why would Greenspan have spoken of a "soft patch" in the economy this summer when the Household numbers have been phenomenal? Also, like I indicated, why does the stock market still only react to the payroll numbers, while totally ignoring the household data?

The Monk correctly claims that payroll numbers don't count certain types of jobs; true, but the Monk neglects to note all the extra "pseudo-jobs" which the household survey counts. The survey's own definition of employment includes an immense array of so-called "non-traditional" workers. The following is a quote from "Employed Persons" on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Definitions page:

"Persons 16 years and over in the civilian noninstitutional population who, during the reference week, (a) did any work at all (at least 1 hour) as paid employees, worked in their own business, profession, or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of the family, and (b) all those who were not working but who had jobs or businesses from which they were temporarily absent because of vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management dispute, job training, or other family or personal reasons, whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs."
(my emph)
This is a pretty loose definition, no? If I wash cars for 6 hours on the weekend, or do some part time (unpaid) chores at the family business, should I count as "employed"? And how useful is that gauge with the escalating retirements of baby boomers who might still do work on the side to supplement their pension or SS or annuity...etc?

Recently the BLS produced an "adjusted version" of the household survey, which obliterates the argument made by some who say that this time the Household survey is more reliable as it diverges from the payroll. As the graphs in the following link make clear, the Household tracks the payroll survey fairly closely over time-- its more expansive definition is what creates a relatively consistent divergence when you take the longer view (though its volatility is not as reliable in the short-term, which is at issue here). BLS graphs and discussion

Coincidentally, the San Francisco Fed recently studied and addressed two popular conservative criticisms of the payroll versus the household survey. Excerpts from the Reuters article:
One argument [against the payroll survey] is that the survey of businesses misses new start-up companies and therefore undercounts jobs.

"Errors arising from missing job growth in new firms may be much smaller than they were in the recovery following the 1990-91 recession," because the Bureau of Labor Statistics began a major redesign of the survey in 1998 aimed at improving the survey's accuracy, the San Francisco Fed said.

Therefore, a widely cited large upward revision to the payrolls data after the 1990-91 recession "might have been a special case," Fed economist Tao Wu wrote. Economists and Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan prefer the payrolls survey because it is larger and considered more accurate.

The Bush administration, seeking to accentuate the positive during a slow employment recovery, has often highlighted the strength of job growth revealed in the household survey. In July, the establishment survey of employers showed a gain of only 32,000 jobs, while the household survey showed a rise of 629,000....

The other argument favored by supporters of the household survey has to do with anticipated revisions.

Advocates of the household survey have also argued that the payrolls data is usually revised higher, suggesting that more jobs will be apparent once revisions to recent data are known.

However, in recent months the tendency has been to revise previous months' data lower, not higher, and the Fed report said this was also the case in the recoveries from the 1975 and 1980 recessions.

"Clearly, the initial releases of the payroll survey do not always underestimate employment in the early phases of the recovery," the San Francisco Fed paper said.

Figures on self-employment -- another debated area -- may also send a false message on the strength of the job market, it said. Self-employment rates tend to rise during economic downturns, and then fall as the job market picks up and people return to salaried jobs, the paper said.

"Therefore, increases in self-employment in the early stages of an economic recovery reported in the household survey may indicate a weak rather than an improving labor market, suggesting that the household survey may send a false signal of employment strength," Wu wrote.
(my emph)

Thus (notwithstanding the fantasy of Greenspan's unannounced, analytical overhaul) we have the Fed, the stock market, the BLS and most economists on one side of the debate, and conservative think tanks, the Monk, and a survey which includes unpaid 16 year olds on the other...

I know whose numbers I'll bet on... and I'll advise extreme caution when anyone makes the claim: "this time, it's different."

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Update: More about this from Dr DeLong, a real economist.
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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Do you prefer working in a strong economy and investing in a bull market?  

(Longish post-- better get comfy).

When the best blogger in the "gret stet" asks for an opinion, one shouldn't tarry. Here's my take on the huge variance in economic performance between Democratic and Republican administrations. Really, it's just a collection of data I've been waiting to promote. First, for context, the recent Times-Picayune article Ricky cited:
Since 1901, the Dow Jones industrial average has returned an average of 6.4 percent under Republican presidents and 9.1 percent under Democrats, according to the Stock Trader's Almanac. In fact, some of the stock market's darkest days have been during Republican presidencies: the crashes of 1929 and 1987 as well as the bear market from 1969 to 1974. On the other hand, some of the biggest runs during the 1960s and 1990s came with Democrats in the office.
That's a 42% better market performance per year during Democratic presidencies. Compounded over time that 2.7% difference (9.1 - 6.4) becomes huge. For example, a $10k investment would total $68k after 30 years under Republican presidents versus $152k after 30 years of Democrats.

The differences are even more profound if you focus on stock returns since President Hoover (who will soon relinquish his title of "Last Net-Job Loss President"). And that's precisely what two UCLA finance professors did, as discussed in the article, "Economic Scene; Which party in the White House means good times for stock investors?":
Professors Santa-Clara and Valkanov look at the excess market return -- the difference between a broad index of stock prices (similar to the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index) and the three-month Treasury bill rate -- between 1927 and 1998. The excess return measures how attractive stock investments are compared with completely safe investments like short-term T-bills.

Using this measure, they find that during those 72 years the stock market returned about 11 percent more a year under Democratic presidents and 2 percent more under Republicans -- a striking difference...

The difference in returns persists even if one looks at subsamples. For example, if you break the sample in two at 1963, the Republicans still come out with lower returns in both periods....

One interesting finding is that although both large and small companies do better under Democratic administrations, small companies do especially well, while larger ones do only a little better. The return on the smallest 10 percent of traded companies is 21 percent higher during Democratic administrations, while the return on the largest 10 percent is only 7.7 percent greater. (NYT 11/20/03)

A NINE PERCENT annual net difference in returns persisting over a 72 year period?! That's freakin' Gigantor! Why haven't liberal talking heads mentioned this statistic at every opportunity? I mean, it's pretty easy to court the emerging "investor class" when you can show them a history of excellent returns. The article only speculates as to the cause of the phenomenon, but draws no conclusions. I'm very hesitant to posit any firm reasons, either. Granted, the president doesn't control the American economy, nor can that economy possibly turn on a dime right after inauguration day. Be that as it may, I'm sure more than dumb luck is responsible for such dramatic numbers. Whatever the case, Dems should repeat those wildly favorable statistics ad nauseum until the day they ever reverse. When a powerful, simple, argument supports your side (read: Dems are good for stocks) it's political idiocy not to squeeze it for all its worth.

Thus, the stock market was in the back of my mind when I got so hysterical after July's pissant jobs number came out. See, in my amateur opinion, the bad employment report effectively "capped" the stock market's potential through election day. The uncertainty created by that will ensure that the stock market will not make a sharp, strong rally like it did last year; thus, the so-called investor class will not have a fresh infusion of financial optimism prior to choosing whether or not Bush deserves reelection. Many retirees are earning much less on their life savings than they would like. Also, the huge baby boom group is very nervous about their own rapidly approaching retirement. You can bet they won't neglect to check their quarterly 401k statements this October, perhaps paying more attention than normal to the performance of their investments over the past 5 years or so. The Dow closed at 10,587 when Bush took office, and it's still below that number today.

"Stocks, Shmocks" you may say.... what about real economic indicators that reflect the efforts of the middle and working classes who don't have a lot of fancy investments? Is there a difference among GOP and Democratic administrations in terms of the crucial economic fundamentals? You might be interested to learn there is. Helpfully, Michael Kinsley investigated this recently, using uniform data from 1960-2002 (summarized by h2g2fan):
Real GDP Growth:
Democrat: 4.09%
Republican: 2.75%

Unemployment:
Democrat: 5.33%
Republican: 6.44%

Government Spending:
Democrat: 19.58% of GDP
Republican: 20.87% of GDP
But the Republicans spend a lot on defense, so let's remove that...
Government Spending Without Defense:
Democrat: 13.76% of GDP
Republican: 14.97% of GDP
And it follows...
Deficit Spending:
Democrat: 1.21% of GDP
Republican: 2.74% of GDP

Taxation:
Democrat: 18.39% of GDP
Republican: 18.12% of GDP

Inflation:
Democrat: 3.81%
Republican: 4.85%
There will be many objections to all this, some of them valid. For example, a president can't fairly be held responsible for the economy from the day he takes office. So let's give them all a year. That is, let's allocate each year of an administration to the party that controlled the White House the year before. Guess what. The numbers change, but the bottom-line tally is exactly the same: higher growth, lower unemployment, lower government spending, lower inflation and so on under the Democrats. Lower taxes under the Republicans.
So, an extra .27% of GDP in taxes for Democrats, but better GDP growth, lower unemployment, lower government spending (with or without discounting defense), and much lower inflation.
Isn't this the framing Democrats should use? That (at times) a few more pennies in public investments can yield dollars more in growth? Shouldn't this be trumpeted? After all, these numbers are simply a way of telling the economic story of America. The labors of millions are summarized in the GDP percentages, while higher unemployment numbers indicate a vast waste of potential. It's due to these stats that Goopers have to perform such logical gymnastics, like when they credit Reagan instead of Rubinomics for the roaring 90's. (In 93, by the way, not a single conservative was saying that Reagan's policies would continue to prevail no matter what Clinton tried to do. Instead, they predicted slight tax increases would lead to another recession. They've never forgiven Elvis for presiding over the longest period of sustained growth in American history.)

Now, conservatives will attempt to explain the above numbers, saying traditional measures don't take into account the many stimulative benefits of supply-side tax cutting. New "dynamic" measures and weights are needed, they argue. But recently that claim was once again debunked:
As chief economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Mr. Holtz-Eakin had helped build President Bush's case that big tax cuts could at least partly pay for themselves by speeding up economic growth.

Democrats suspected that Mr. Holtz-Eakin would undermine the agency's rigorous independence to advance Mr. Bush's tax-cutting agenda by making it look less costly than it was. Things did not turn out that way....

Within weeks of taking office, Mr. Holtz-Eakin dealt a big blow to Republicans. Analyzing the impact of Mr. Bush's spending and tax plans together, he concluded they would do little or nothing to stimulate long-term growth or make the deficit any smaller than it would be otherwise. (NYT )

Alan Murray elegantly traced the birth and death of these supply-side dreams in his Wall Street Journal article entitled 'Dynamic' Scoring Ends Great Debate With a Whimper. Importantly, he also explained portions of Holtz-Eakin's CBO study that were not widely discussed:
DO TAX CUTS pay for themselves? That's been the hot debate of American political economy for the better part of three decades. But it ended last week -- with a whimper.

The great argument got its start in 1974, when a White House chief of staff named Donald Rumsfeld sent his deputy, Richard Cheney, to have lunch with an ebullient young economist named Art Laffer and his journalistic sidekick, Jude Wanniski. According to local lore, Mr. Laffer sketched a curve on a cocktail napkin suggesting that a cut in income taxes could provide such a spark to the economy that government revenues would rise, not fall. The free lunch was born.

The problem with Mr. Laffer's graph, however, was that it had no numbers on the axes. How much would growth be boosted? At what level of taxation would tax cuts become self-financing? Those remained the big unknowns as the issue became a central question of American politics....

Enter Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist on leave from Syracuse University and an avowed advocate of supply-side "dynamic" scoring... Last week, in his agency's analysis of President Bush's tax and budget plan, he provided his new bosses with their first taste of dynamic scoring.

The results: Some provisions of the president's plan would speed up the economy; others would slow it down. Using some models, the plan would reduce the budget deficit from what it otherwise would have been; using others, it would widen the deficit.

But in every case, the effects are relatively small. And in no case does Mr. Bush's tax cut come close to paying for itself over the next 10 years.

FOR THE HANDFUL of people who read the report in its entirety, there is another surprise. Of the nine different economic models used to analyze the president's plan, only two showed a large improvement in the deficit over the next decade as a result of "supply side" effects. Both those models got their results by assuming that after 2013, taxes would be raised to eliminate the remaining deficit. The theory is that people will work harder between 2004 and 2013 because they know that their taxes will be going up, and will want to earn more money before those tax increases take effect.

Using those same models, if the assumption is changed so that government spending falls after 2013 to close the deficit -- the outcome preferred by most supply-siders -- the economic benefits disappear. The president's plan would cause the deficit to become slightly wider over the next 10 years than it would have been otherwise. (WSJ, 4/1/03)

This devastating study took 35 government analysts six weeks to complete. I've yet to see a remotely credible and comprehensive counter to it. Memorize this, liberals: there's no free lunch-- tax cuts do not pay for themselves. Republicans practice supply-side voodoo by borrowing trillions to finance tax cuts for the rich, while stapling the IOU to their children rather than having the stones to actually cut spending . Democrats like Clinton showed fiscal restraint, reducing inherited debts rather than ballooning them, keeping interest rates in line, and the result was a more vigorous economy.

Even today, that's the contrast folks: learn it, live it, love it.

Others may ask: doesn't the interplay between President and Congress factor in? Haven't Democrats controlled Congress throughout most of the recent presidencies? Of course they have, and this can quickly become a complicated debate. Many different things could be argued, such as a split party government being more conducive to fiscal discipline. But my point is mainly political. This is solid information that should be used by Democrats, since it is so highly favorable to their presidents and their party. I've no doubt that if the tables were turned, we'd be hearing about it for the rest of our lives.

Whatever the reasons for this notable variance, they are probably many and complex. Most Americans simply want to hear the bottom line. It is this: under Democratic Presidents the economy and stock market are much stronger than they are during Republican Presidents. We don't understand exactly why that occurs, but do you want to doubt this long-term trend, or benefit from it?

So, in light of all this, if Kerry is elected will I hasten to put my self-directed IRA funds back into equities, anticipating a run-up? Hell no. I'm predicting the painful deflating of America's credit bubble throughout the rest of the decade. This, among other things, will keep the Dow in a 7000-12000 range, paralleling the 700-1200 range it kept from 1968 to 1982. Truly, I hope I'm wrong-- I'd love for Kerry to be a hero to both Wall Street and Main Street-- but I'm not very sanguine about what's coming down the pike.

(Disclaimer: Consult your financial adviser about any potential decision so that you can blame him or her afterwards.)

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Update: Speaking of the credit bubble, both Political Animal and Angry Bear discuss the cooling housing market. Not an easy thing to sell short...

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Update: Rebuttal here.
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Crackin' good shot, mate! 

Josh concludes:

The same sort of moral cowardice that led [W] to support the Vietnam war but decide it wasn't for him, run companies into the ground and let others pay the bill, play gutter politics but run for the hills when someone asks him to say it to their face, those are the same qualities that led the president to lie the country into war, fail to prepare for the aftermath and then refuse to take responsibility for any of it when the bill started to come due.

That's the argument John Kerry needs to be making. And he needs to make it right now.
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Monday, August 23, 2004

Not helping 

Bob Herbert has based his last three columns on a non-story about alleged black voter suppression tactics in Florida. While I'm highly sensitized to this issue, and predisposed to believe nearly anything that supports my views, for the life of me I don't see any substance to Herbert's claims. There's tons of innuendo and implied connections, yet little else. Hate to say it, but I'm finding the investigative work from RealClear Politics very persuasive on this one.

Face it, Jeb and company aren't going to deliver Florida by intimidating several dozen elderly black voters. Instead, they're going to try and go big time, doing things that will impact thousands of voters (bogus felon lists, for example).

Oliver Willis and others have called for more attention to this story. I say we give it less. Herbert is hyping a very serious topic with an incredibly thin story. That's a disservice. I'm positive the left can do a much better job of investigating attempts at voter suppression. And if it cannot break a real story before November, there's plenty of older ones to remind voters about.
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Kids will say the funniest things! 


Welcome home, daddy! Posted by Hello



Thanks to fantastic planet.
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Little, Brown, Different 

George P. Bush, one of the Bush clan's "little brown ones" has all grown up, and was stumping for his uncle in Mexico City the other day, trying to get support from Americans living abroad. First he railed against the current Border Patrol practice of firing paintballs filled with chili powder at illegal immigrants:
"If there has been American approval for this policy, that is reprehensible... It's kind of barbarous."
What is it with conservatives and chile discipline these days? The AP story then immediately notes:
The pellet guns, which were approved at the federal level, have been used on a trial basis since 2001 in California and Arizona.
Well, perhaps "P" was thrown off his ditty on that one. Surely, though, he can offer a robust defense of Bush's Iraq misadventure:

[P] defended the military action,saying "we're almost done with it."
Really? Wow, if that's true, I think Americans in this country should hear the good news. Use that for your new slogan, Bushies...
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Sunday, August 22, 2004

Who inspires you? 


Subcomandante Marcos: reflection in the forest '94Posted by Hello

How I desire to emulate Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista guerrillas who've fought against the oppression of Mexico's indigenous populace. You've got to love a former literature professor who one day puts on a ski mask, organizes some like-minds, and goes to live in Chiapas jungles, defending Mayan descendants from further corporate exploitation, military oppression, and cultural extinction. But what impresses me most is Marcos' public insistence on maintaining a sense of humor throughout the (sometimes deadly) struggle. For example, he wrote the following in a dismissal to ETA Basque terrorist/separatists who requested solidarity:

We know you are angry because we haven't taken you seriously, but it is not your fault. We don't take anyone seriously, not even ourselves. Because whoever takes themselves seriously has stopped with the thought that their truth should be the truth for everyone and forever. And, sooner or later, they dedicate their force not so that their truth will be born, grow, be fruitful and die (because no earthly truth is absolute and eternal) rather they use it to kill everything that doesn't agree with this truth...

P.S. ...I shit on all the revolutionary vanguards of this planet.


His guide to politics is Don Quixote, and he believes humor and sarcasm are indispensable qualities within a tragicomic world. I couldn't agree more.

Though no expert on the movement, if I were in NYC later this month I'd want to march with the Zapatista Contingent August 30, Noon at Union Square. Of course, I'd show my solidarity sans mask, since NY has a very un-Carnivale prohibition on them.

Everyone going to NYC should watch out for THESE OTHER GUYS, though. Seriously. They're coming, and their language is highly vice-presidential. (Hat Tip: Grammar.police)



Fights for justice, reads Cervantes... Posted by Hello

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A selection from a recent interview by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who asked: "If everyone knows who you are, why the ski mask?"

Marcos: "A bit of leftover coquetry... What's in play here is what Subcomandante Marcos is, and not what he was."

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