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Archive: February 2006

Three New Surveys

The White House can't be happy about three new polls out today.

The first is an international poll, conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) for the BBC. PIPA interviewed almost 42,000 people in 35 countries and found that 60 percent thought that the Iraq war has increased the threat of terrorism. Only 12 percent thought that terrorist attacks are now less likely because of the war. The BBC has stories here and here.

The second is New York Times-CBS News poll of 1,018 adults in the United States, conducted from February 22 through 26. In this latest poll, President Bush's approval rating fell to its lowest point ever in a NYT-CBS poll, just 34 percent. That's eight percentage points lower than it was just a month ago. The President's decline reflects even larger drops in support among self-described Republicans (down from 83 approval in January to 72 percent in February) and self-described "conservatives" (down from 62 percent last month to 52 percent by the end of February). Overall, 65 percent of Americans disapprove of the President's handling of the Iraq war, compared to only 30 percent who approve. CBS News has more details here.

The final poll has got to be causing the biggest headache over at the White House. Zogby International interviewed 994 US troops currently serving in Iraq. According to Zogby, 72 percent thought that the US should pull out of Iraq within one year. Of these, 22 percentage points thought the US should leave within six months, and 29 percentage points thought the US should withdraw immediately. Only 23 percent agreed with the President that US forces should stay "as long as they are needed". Stars and Stripes has a story and Zogby has some additional details here.

The widespread opposition to the war reflected in the NYT-CBS poll and the opinions of the troops on the ground in Iraq captured in the Zogby poll suggest an obvious strategy for the Democrats in 2006: make the 2006 Congressional elections a referendum on the war, and make the Democrats' position "listen to our troops, withdraw within a year!" Imagine the power of a coordinated Democratic party arguing that "we need to trust the judgement of the best intelligence we have, our troops on the ground". Imagine the Democrats actually driving a wedge between an "aloof and isolated" President, increasingly out of touch with reality, one the one hand, and "our troops on the ground", on the other. Imagine Democratic leaders challenging the President directly: "We stand with our troops and stand by their judgment of the facts on the ground. Mr. President, where do you stand? Who do you stand with? What makes you a better judge of the situation and prospects in Iraq than the men and women who are there following your orders?"


So, if you're like me, you didn't know what a filk (below) was either. Well, Webster's online dictionary, citing "Jargon File", defines filk as: "n.,v. [from SF fandom, where a typo for `folk' was adopted as a new word] Originally, a popular or folk song with lyrics revised or completely new lyrics and/or music, intended for humorous effect when read, and/or to be sung late at night at SF conventions. More recently (especially since the late 1980s), filk has come to include a great deal of originally-composed music on SFnal or fantasy themes and a range of moods wider than simple parody or humor. Worthy of mention here because there is a flourishing subgenre of filks called `computer filks', written by hackers and often containing rather sophisticated technical humor. See double bucky for an example. Compare grilf, hing, pr0n, and newsfroup."

"Wreck of America"

My brother has written an outstanding filk, set to the tune of Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". (If you're not familiar with the song, you can listen to a brief excerpt here.)

Here are his new lyrics:

The Wreck of America

The legend lives on from the Iraqi's on down
Of a man they called George Dubya
Dubya it's said never used his big head
And many said it was empty
With a load of ideas from his neo-con friends
The worst one known as the Rummy
Dubya's it's true was a leaf through and through
When the gales of history came blowin'

Dubya was the pride of the far right wing side
After bein' governor of Texas
As personal histories go his was slipperier than most
With a string of failures and heavy drinking well seasoned
Concluding some terms with some friends in black robes
And suddenly he was the president.
It was in his first term that world it did turn
Could it be the terrorists he'd been warned of?

Tourists with videos shot images of death
That were broadcast over the airwaves
And everyone knew except for that one-Texas-dude
Twas no time to be readin' to children
The president in the air headed nowhere
A direction that for him was quite normal
At 9:30 A.M. it was chaos that reigned
And Dick Cheney was stuffed in a basement.

And the response came "At Iraq we should aim."
Said Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Rummy
At every presidential speech Dubya lied through his teeth
About of weapons of massive destruction
Though the evidence was thin, the CIA was like kin
With a penchant for living their falsehoods
And while Colin Powell cringed, Dick Cheney just winged
Sayin' "Boys I need a conviction."

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When a man makes war for no reason?
When the winds of March came they blew Sadam Hussein's name
And a war that no good person wanted
Some people say they could have still won the day
With a force of men twice larger
But no number is right when there's no reason to fight
It's just death and suffering and slaughter

Deficits rage but politicians get paid
By Abramoffs workin' on K Street
And when levees they break well the people can wait
You know Dubya and Dick Cheney are sportsmen
Humane treatment ignored and tortured employed
In the name of my country disgusts me
And down the road when the whole thing explodes
It'll be our grandchildren's' problem

Neath a roofless mosque in an Iraqi town
The people pray for their future
But there's no bell to ring to sound the death toll
Their numbers and faces are hidden
But the pain lives on of the mistakes long gone
The legacy of a man they called Dubya
Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When a man makes war for no reason?

(c) All rights reserved.

Post-Autistic Economics: Greatest Economists List

The results are in. Over 1,200 subscribers to the Post-Autistic Economics Review have cast their votes for the five greatest economists of the 20th century, where "greatest" was defined as the economist "who most added to our understanding of economic phenomena".

The top ten, with their total points (votes were weighted to reflect, first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on):

1. John Maynard Keynes   3,253
2. Joseph Alois Schumpeter   1,080
3. John Kenneth Galbraith   904
4. Amartya Sen   708
5. Joan Robinson   607
6. Thorstein Veblen   591
7. Michal Kalecki   481
8. Friedrich Hayek   469
9. Karl Polanyi   456
10. Piero Sraffa   383

I voted tactically, pretty certain that Keynes, who should have won, was going to win. So, I voted for (with their actual place, and total votes, in parentheses):

1. Joan Robinson (5th, 607 votes)
2. Albert Hirschman (21st, 208 votes)
3. Alan Manning ("Further results", 4 votes)
4. Nancy Folbre (52nd, 38 votes)
5. Dean Baker ("Further results", 4 votes)

If I could have voted for a top ten, I would also have included:

6. Samuel Bowles (78th, 20 votes)
7. David Gordon ("Further results", 12 votes)
8. Herb Gintis ("Further results", 1 vote)
9. E.F. Schumacher (34th, 67 votes)
10. Richard Freeman (No votes)

A few interesting things to note about the list. Joan Robinson was the highest-ranked woman. Nancy Folbre was the second-highest-ranked women --in 52nd place, with Rosa Luxemburg close behind in 54th. Deirdre (née Donald) McCloskey (67th) and Diane Elson (94th) were the only other woman in the top 100. By my count, my friend and CEPR colleague, Heather Boushey, was the 11th highest-ranked woman on the list! Not bad for a woman most of whose economics career has taken place in the 21st century, not the 20th.

Adam Hersh at Globalize This! points out that, given how left-leaning the Post-Autistic Economics crowd seems to be, the list has a surprising number of fairly right-wing economists. He's surprised to see the following names make the cut, for example:

13. Milton Freidman 319
13. Paul Samuelson 319
17. Herbert Simon 250
18. Ronald Coase 246
26. Douglas North 138
30. Ludwig von Mises 78
37. Gary Becker 58
43. James Buchanan 49
58. Robert Lucas 32

(You can check out how Adam voted here.)

And, no, I didn't make the cut. But things are looking better for this century than last.

Al-Qaeda Attack in Saudi Arabia

Al-Qaeda announced that it was behind yesterday's failed attack against an oil facility in Saudi Arabia, our ally in the Global War On Terrorism (BBC story here). Apparently, al-Qaeda hates their freedom, too.

You can read about all the freedom there is to hate in Saudi Arabia in this recent analysis from Human Rights Watch, or in the US State Department's latest Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia.

Ubuntu How-To

David Martin of Cornell University has put together a very useful "Ubuntu How-To" page, which includes step-by-step instructions for setting up and customizing your installation of the Ubuntu version of GNU/Linux.

GWOT by the Numbers

I've already mentioned David Cole's excellent piece in the current New York Review of Books, but I can't resist quoting one more passage.

Of the 80,000 Arabs and Muslim foreign nationals who were required to register after September 11, the 8,000 called in for FBI interviews, and more than 5,000 locked up in preventive detention, not one stands convicted of a terrorist crime today. In what has surely been the most aggressive national campaign of ethnic profiling since World War II, the government's record is 0 for 93,000.

Benchmarking the GWOT

A lot of people think that economics is supposed to be about numbers. Economics would actually have a lot more to say about the world if economists focused as much attention on relationships between economic actors as they currently do on numbers, but, numbers certainly have their place. Most importantly, they give us context and keep us honest. In that spirit, here are a few from an essay by David Cole (no relation to the USS Cole) in the current issue of The New York Review of Books:

How does one measure victory in the "global war on terrorism"? In April 2004, the State Department reported that terrorist incidents throughout the world had dropped in the previous year, a fact Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage promptly cited as "clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight" against terrorism. Two months later, a chagrined Colin Powell acknowledged that the department had miscounted, and that in fact terrorism worldwide had increased --where the initial report stated that the number of injuries resulting from international terrorist incidents had fallen from 2,013 in 2002 to 1,593 in 2003, the corrected report stated that in fact terrorist-related injuries had risen to 3,646. In 2005, the State Department eliminated numbers from its annual terrorism report, saying they were too difficult to track accurately, but soon thereafter a leak suggested another reason for the omission --government analysts had found that terrorist incidents worldwide had jumped threefold from 2003 levels, with 651 attacks in 2004 resulting in 1,907 deaths. So much for progress in the global war on terror.

You can read all of Cole's review of Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon's The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right, here.

Bootleg DiNardo

One of my favorite economists, John DiNardo, whose musical achievements I have praised elsewhere, has written a scathing review of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's best-selling book, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.

I have obtained a bootleg copy of the review, which is pretty devastating, and will keep it here until the long arm of the law (or John DiNardo) asks me to take it down.

If you read the book (I did), you really owe it to yourself to read DiNardo's lengthy critique.

Ask AriScott

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

AriScott, the President has come under a lot of criticism, on national security grounds, for his recent decision to approve the sale of shipping operations at six US ports to a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates. Independent of any security concerns, is the President worried about shifting ownership of these assets from private to state control? Is the President concerned that a government-run operation might lead to a decline in the quality of our port services?

Berlusconi = Jesus

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as Star Trek's Commander Spock

Christians readers will be interested to know that last Saturday night Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced to a roomful of his suppoters: "I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone."

For you doubting Thomases, here's the link to the Reuters story.

Froomkin's Readers' Questions

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing logo

On Friday, White House Briefing, Dan Froomkin's absolutely essential review of each day's coverage of the Bush administration, ran a series of readers' questions for President Bush (scroll down to "Reader Questions").

The questions are excellent and really make you wonder whether the country wouldn't be better off if we were to replace the entire White House press corp with a half-dozen Froomkin readers.

You can read a collection of my occassional questions for former White House press spokesperson, Ari Fleischer, and his successor, Scott "Don't Ask Me, They Don't Tell Me Anything" McClellan, here.

Cost of the Iraq War

Linda Bilmes, of the Kennedy School at Harvard, and Joe Stiglitz, Nobel prize-winner and professor at Columbia University, have written a new paper estimating "The Economic Cost of the Iraq War". The two researchers conclude that the war will end up costing the country about $2 trillion.

Bilmes and Stiglitz start their piece by reminding us that, back before the war started, economist Larry Lindsey, who was working as an economic advisor to President Bush at the time, got himself into hot water when he suggested that the total cost of the war could reach $200 billion. The Bush administration and official Washington dismissed the figure as a wild exaggeration. According to Bilmes and Stiglitz, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld put the eventual costs at $50 to $60 billion, with other countries (including Iraq itself) footing much of the bill.

Well, through November 2005, just the cost of operations in Iraq is already over $250 billion. The Bilmes and Stiglitz paper works through a host of other direct and indirect costs of the war, including the lost economic activity of US soldiers killed and injured, to arrive at their $2 trillion estimate.

TalkingPointsMemo's TPMCafe has an interesting forum on the Bilmes and Stiglitz paper. In December 2002, my colleagues at CEPR, Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot produced their own estimates of "The Economic Costs a War in Iraq". It is interesting that Baker and Weisbrot's numbers, based on information gathered from publicly available sources and analyzed over a couple of weeks by only two people, turned out to be much more accurate than what Donald Rumsfeld managed with the entire Pentagon working for him. (Has anyone in the Bush administration ever lost their job for being wrong about anything?)


Anu Yadav outside at Arthur Capper complex; photo by Elvert Barnes

Back in 1974, Jon Landau, writing in Rolling Stone magazine, penned one of the greatest (and truest) lines in the history of rock-and-roll journalism: "I have seen the future of rock and roll, and it's name is Bruce Springsteen." After seeing Anu Yadav perform her solo play "'Capers" at the Mead Theatre Lab in Washington, DC, last Saturday night, I'm feeling something like Landau that first time he saw Springsteen.

In the late 1990s, I saw Anna Deveare Smith perform her astonishing one-woman show "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992" at the Ford's Theater in Washington. It was one of the finest performances I've ever seen in a theater, with a whole extra charge provided by the surprise presence of then-President Bill Clinton in the audience. All I can say is that last Saturday Yadav was better. Her acting was better and her play was better. And in saying that I'm not taking anything away from Anna Deveare Smith, who is just one of the best things about this country.

You can read about the play at it's website. If you hurry, you can still catch Yadav and her play at the Mead Theatre Lab at 9th and G Streets, NW, in Washington, DC, through February 3.

Missing Inaction

Tomorrow morning, CEPR will release a paper that Dean Baker and I have been working on, on and off, since last spring. The paper presents evidence that the Current Population Survey (CPS) --the nation's main source of data on labor markets, including the monthly official unemployment rate-- is systematically overstating the share of the adult population that is in work. The problem is that the survey seems to be systematically undercounting adults who aren't in work.

We found the overstatement after we compared data from the 2000 Decennial Census, which had about a 98 percent coverage rate, with corresponding data from the CPS, which had a coverage rate of only 92 percent over the same period.

We had to correct the Census data for errors resulting from people "self-reporting" their labor-market status (employed, unemployed, or not in the labor force). The correction eliminated a good bit of the difference in estimated employment rates between the two sources. But, even after we made the necessary adjustments, it still looks as though the CPS overstates employment rates by about 1.4 percentage points, relative to the more comprehensive Decennial Census. This is not a small gap when you consider that in all three of the most recent economic recessions, the employment rate fell between 1.5 and 2.0 percentage points.

More research is required to confirm the existence and the size of the gap, but the implications are potentially pretty significant. The CPS is also the source of the country's official poverty rate, as well as the most frequently cited source of information on health-insurance coverage. If non-working adults are less likely to participate in the survey, the CPS might be painting an overly optimistic picture of poverty and health-insurance coverage, since non-workers are more likely to be living in poverty and less likely to have health-insurance coverage than workers are.

Another possible problem concerns the potential impact of declining coverage rates on the reliability of changes over time in key labor-market statistics. In the mid-1990s, the coverage rate in the CPS was about 95 percent, but fell to about 92 percent by 2000, before falling to just under 90 percent in recent years. If economically marginalized, non-working adults are increasingly likely to "drop out" of the survey, the declining coverage rate could be masking part of the already well-documented rise in economic inequality over the last several decades.

One point worth emphasizing here is that Dean and I have nothing but admiration and respect for the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), who are jointly responsible for the CPS. The two government agencies do an outstanding job with very limited resources. In fact, we were able to identify these potential problems thanks to published and unpublished research conducted by staff at both groups. Several current and former researchers at Census and the BLS also provided assistance with data or feedback on an earlier draft of the paper.

You can read the full paper, which is a little dry, here [pdf]; and here is a technical background paper [pdf] describing the procedure we used to correct for self-reporting error.