Skip a Beat

I have no earthly idea why Mike decided to include me in today’s Round Up at Crooks & Liars, but when you’re just checking the sites you always look at and see your own name staring at you, the heart stops for a second…not that I wouldn’t want it to happen again, mind you.

David Brooks Lies About Reagan and Reality

Last night on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer (emphasis added):

DAVID BROOKS: And — and I think partisanship — one of the things political science shows is that partisan shapes the reality you choose to see.

People choose the reality that — that flatters their partisanship. For example, in the Reagan years, unemployment went from 13 percent to 5 percent. If you asked Democrats, at the end of that, did unemployment go up or down under Reagan, 60 percent said it went up. Republicans said down.

You choose the reality you want to see.

Apparently so.

These unemployment figures are from the Census Bureau’s 1999 Statistical Abstract of the United States, Section 13, Figure 649, “Employment Status of the Civilian Population: 1950 to 1998”. According to the legend, they represent “annual averages of monthly figures.”

Year Unemployed
(percent of
labor force)
1980 7.1
1981 7.6
1982 9.7
1983 9.6
1984 7.5
1985 7.2
1986 7.0
1987 6.2
1988 5.5

First, note that none of the annual averages even approach “13 percent.” But more importantly unemployment in 1980 — the last year of Carter’s administration — was just over 7 percent, a figure that was below anything seen in the first five years of Reagan’s presidency. Even then, the numbers showing a downward trend were affected by changes in the methodology (Section 13, page 3):

Beginning in January 1985, and again in January 1986, the CPS estimation procedures were revised due to the implementation of a new sample design (for the 1985 revision) and to reflect an explicit estimate of the number of undocumented immigrants (for the 1986 revision).

First he claimed that under Reagan unemployment dropped 8 percentage points (13% to 5%) when by the government’s own figures it went down by 1.6 points from 1980 to 1988. He claimed that the unemployment rate had been 13% when the average annual rate was less than 10% at its highest. He implied that Reagan had reduced unemployment significantly when, in the first years of the Reagan administration, the unemployment rate actually increased, and it didn’t drop below the level of the last year of Carter’s final year until after Reagan’s re-election.

And that’s how partisanship shapes David Brooks’s reality.

You can retrieve monthly data for unemployment and many other statistics from the Bureau of Labor web site.

Crossposted to Daily Kos for comments.

Letter to Senators Smith & Wyden

Dear Sen. ________:

I called your office yesterday to encourage you to support Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold’s resolution to censure President Bush for conducting warrantless wiretaps on American citizens.

I would like to reiterate that encouragement due to recently-released information about how the FBI and other intelligence agencies have been wasting resources investigating peace activists from the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice and others who disagreed with the administration for more than three years. In an era when there are real, serious threats to the safety of this country, it’s an incredible waste of scarce intelligence resources.

What’s worse is that it’s exactly the same kind of misdirected effort that has been seen before in this country when secret police and intelligence forces are conducted without oversight. From the “red squads” of the 1920s to wiretapping civil rights leaders in the 1960s to the attempt to short-circuit the democratic process (i.e. spying on political opponents and creation of a blacklist) that led to President Nixon’s resignation, unchecked policing powers have always led to a constitutional abuse, That’s precisely why restrictions like the FISA law were set in place in the late 1970s.

Some of your Senate colleagues have speculated that the current NSA spying program could be made legal, but that program has been going on for four years in an extra-legal framework. Without oversight, we have nothing but trust in an administration that did an incredibly poor job of knowing what was going on in Iraq (while the NSA program was operational, no less) to go on that there have been no abuses. That’s from the people who brought us Abu Ghraib, the Pat Tillman death cover-up, and the Brandon Mayfield incident. It’s not a particularly good record.

It’s Time

The minute I saw that the prize firedoglake’s Jane Hamsher was giving out for her Joe Klein contest was a copy of the newly-released Action! DVD, I went ahead and ordered one.

I saw Action! on Fox when it ran in 1999, and made sure I caught the final few episodes on FX. Barbara and I can crack each other just repeating the inane tagline of “Beverly Hills Gun Club”, the movie that lies at the heart of the storyline of the 13-episode series.

There truly is nothing new under the sun, and the people who created a TV show about the movie business during the waning years of the Clinton administration put in a segment where the show’s protagonist — a morally-bankrupt producer named Peter Dragon — has to testify before a Senate panel on media violence that could have been written yesterday (or twenty years ago). This is a clip from the opening scene in the fifth episode (“Mr. Dragon Goes to Washington”) where a senator asks Dragon how he can make the films he does and look his little daughter in the eyes. As reprehensible as he is, Dragon rises to the occasion (although he, of course, gets in trouble for it):

Quicktime (3.33MB)

Peter Dragon: I never voted to subsidize the growing of tobacco, while turning my back on food programs for starving kids. I’ve never vetoed a gun control bill; all my guns are fake, Senator. I’ve never rushed to the defense of Kuwaiti oil fields, while ignoring genocide in Africa, because big oil companies that line your fat pockets aren’t concerned with black Africa. Those are all productions of your company Senator, this company right here!

Senator: Now you are perilously close to being cited for contempt, Mr. Dragon!

Dragon: I’m already in contempt! I’m in contempt of all you old whores and hypocrites! At least I’m giving the American people what they want!

Senator: And just exactly what it is that you think they want?

Dragon: I’ll tell “yew” exactly what they want, Senator. They want chase scenes and car crashes. They want firm breasts and tight-assed Latino men. They want their cowboys to be strong and silent. They want their cops to bend the rules to get the job done. They want the boy to get the girl. They want the alien to get killed — unless he’s cute. They want the good guy to win. They want the bad guy to die; hopefully in the biggest explosion the budget will allow. But most importantly, Senator, they want to walk into a theater and for ninety minutes forget the fucking mess that you have left of this nation.

Senator: You, sir, are a malignancy on America!

Dragon: I’m a malignancy? Well, if I’m a malignancy and my movies are cancer, I hope the whole damn country gets cancer, how’s that?

Just buy the damn DVD like I did.

For extra credit, here’s a twenty-some-odd-year-old clip from SCTV, lampooning the pressure put on commercial television by conservative groups and advertisers.

Quicktime (14.73MB)

Activision Co-Founder on Shockwave

I missed this back when it was originally published (on my birthday, no less!) but this month’s issue of Game Developer magazine reprints several interviews with some of the giants of the computer game development industry from, in preparation for this month’s Game Developers Conference.

One of those interviews is with David Crane, who worked for Atari before co-founding Activision in 1979. At Activision, he worked on Pitfall! and other legendary titles.

Since the mid-1990s, he’s been involved with Skyworks Technologies, which develops advergaming and casual game applications. This is from the interview (emphasis added):

“Garry and I have designed and marketed games for every video game system since the 1970s, and we decided to treat the internet as a new game system. Our expertise making quality games for the early (small ROM) game systems would be invaluable in keeping game files small enough for modem download. We settled on Shockwave as a game design platform, a tool we had been using almost since its creation.

Six Ports Over Hillary

Paul McLeary of the CJRDaily blog (which is associated with the Columbia Journalism Review) has been a collaborator of Nation columnist and MSNBC Altercation blogger Eric Alterman. He recently did a series of reports about the practice of journalism from Iraq. On the other hand, Atrios once named him “Wanker of the Day” for a statement that bloggers were somehow more partisan than mainstream media figures. Most of the time, his heart seems in the right place, but some of the things he comes up with make me wonder where his head is.

Take the Dubai Ports World deal. Last Tuesday, he wrote 500 words on the genesis of the “six ports” figure that’s been a prominent point in most stories. His conclusion? That it was five ports, not six, and that “the incorrect reports can be sourced to a press release issued by New York Senator Hillary Clinton.” No link to the press release was provided.

His basis for this claim is that “the confusion could lie in the difference between ‘container terminals’ and ports where the company performs stevedoring operations.” He came to that conclusion after speaking to one Robin Dolan, who is the VP for business development of P&O Ports, the operator being purchased by DPW. McLeary writes: “As Dolan notes, the release ‘stated that the New York and New Jersey ports were separate, when they’re one port.'” Actually, the P&O Ports North America lists them separately, as well.

Intrigued, I looked at Sen. Clinton’s site. The first press release there mentioning the port issue announced legislation from Clinton and Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) to block foreign governments from controlling US ports. It’s dated 17 February, and contains this language (emphasis added):

Dubai Ports World has announced plans to buy P&O Ports, the company that runs commercial operation at ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia, as well as other U.S. cities.

Note that this sentence mentions “commercial” operations and is not limited to containers. In fact, container terminals are not mentioned at all in this press release, although the final paragraph does say that only 5% of containers entering the US are inspected.

This is an important point, because the P&O operation in New York is actually the cruise line terminal on the Hudson River that handles over 800,000 passengers a year (emphasis added).

The New York City Passenger Ship Terminal, owned by the City of New York and operated by P&O Ports North America, provides five 1,000-foot-long berths suitable for servicing the worldÕs largest cruise vessels at a convenient location on the Hudson River only a few blocks west of Times Square in the heart of Manhattan. The terminal occupies the West Side of 12th Avenue between 46th and 54th streets.

 P&O Ports North America customers include Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal Cruises, Cunard, Holland America, Norwegian, P&O Cruises, Princess, Radisson Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn and Silversea. The terminal is also home to an array of trade shows and special events managed by P&O Ports North America.

Was Sen. Clinton’s press release the origin of the six port figure? A couple of minutes with Google got me this AP story:

UAE Co. Poised to Oversee Six U.S. Ports

Company From United Arab Emirates Poised to Oversee Six American Ports Due to Sale


WASHINGTON, Feb 11, 2006, (AP)A company in the United Arab Emirates is poised to take over significant operations at six American ports as part of a corporate sale, leaving a country with ties to the Sept. 11 hijackers with influence over a maritime industry considered vulnerable to terrorism.

The $6.8 billion sale is expected to be approved Monday. The British company is the fourth largest ports company in the world and its sale would affect commercial U.S. port operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

Again, the language in the article is not limited to “container” operations, using “significant operations” and “commercial U.S. port operations”, both of which include the activities at the New York City Passenger Ship Terminal. The article goes on to quote Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) but does not mention Sen. Clinton. It appeared nearly a week before the earliest press release from Sen. Clinton archived on her web site.

In comments to the CJRDaily article, I posted links last Wednesday to both the AP article (which may not be the earliest mention of the deal) and to Sen. Clinton’s press release. I pointed out that there was no link in the CJRDaily article to the Clinton press release McLeary and the P&O spokeman claim originated the “six ports” figure. After receiving an email from McLeary that said “what we’re talking about here” is container ships and not cruise ships, I pointed out to him and CJRDaily managing editor Steve Lovelady that neither the Clinton press release or the pre-dating AP article specified containers and that cruise ships are “commercial” shipping. I also invited him to send me a copy of a Clinton press release mentioning the six ports figure that eas earlier than the AP article I referenced, just in case one hadn’t made it to her web site or I’d missed it.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of Hillary Clinton (and I wasn’t particularly impressed by Bill, even during the 1992 campaign), but I find it troubling that someone working at one of the bastions of journalistic criticism would publish something accusing her of not knowing what she was talking about and either not have the evidence to back it up or the integrity to issue a retraction. It puts me in mind of the smirking and finger-pointing that the media indulged in when they were talking about the nerdy Al Gore in 2000. Rather than examine issues (Has Dubai actually proven itself as a reliable ally in the past four years? Is everyone in the ruling class there who might have supported bin Laden’s cause in 2000 completely reversed their ideals? Do any of them work for DPW?) people like McLeary find some meme (Al Gore exaggerated his involvement in the creation of the Internet! Hillary Clinton exaggerates the potential threat of foreign operation of ports! She doesn’t even know how many there are!) and run with it because it makes them look like “sensible” people who don’t toe any party line.

Too bad if the time you don’t bother to check whether the facts back up your gut instinct comes back to bite you. Of course, you could say the same thing about the Bush administration.

The sole reason for the existence of McLeary’s article is to claim that the number of ports involved in the deal has been reported incorrectly. He blames that incorrect number solely on Hillary Clinton, without any verifying documentation. As I’ve outlined above, I believe that he’s wrong about Clinton’s office being the source of the “six ports” figure, it’s only “incorrect” if you accept the premise of the P&O Ports spokesman that the discussion has been limited to container shipping (which is not the language used in most articles), and despite several requests to McLeary to provide a link or date of a Clinton press release that originates the figure, he has not provided one.

Finally, let me just add that it doesn’t take a shipping container to bring in something like a nuclear warhead.

This is a photo of a US W80 nuclear cruise missile warhead. It has a potential yield (150 kilotons) of up to 10 times the strength of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. It weighs about 300 lbs., is a foot in diameter and is under three feet long. Even with packaging around them to disguise its inherent “bombiness” you could fit an awful lot of these babies into the dark corners of the “world’s largest cruise vessels”. Heck, with something like a W80 parked in a ship “only a few blocks west of Times Square” you wouldn’t even need to bother to offload. The nuclear warheads the Soviet Union built for their Kh-55 cruise missile are likely a little larger and heavier (with a yield of 200kt). But presumably the warheads would be easier to get hold of. Certainly the missiles themselves are: Ukraine sold 18 older Kh-55s to both China and Iran.

Then They Came For Chomsky

I haven’t seen anyone comment on this truly bizarre exchange between General Peter Pace and Tim Russert on this week’s “Meet the Press”:

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Jafari said that one of his favorite American writers is Professor Noam Chomsky, someone who has written very, very strongly against the Iraq war and against most of the Bush administration foreign policy. Does that concern you?

GEN. PACE: I hope he has more than one book on his nightstand.

MR. RUSSERT: So it troubles you?

GEN. PACE: I would be concerned if the only access to foreign ideas that the prime minister had was that one author. If in fact that’s one of many, and he’s digesting many different opinions, that’s probably healthy.

I have my doubts that Pace has any idea who Chomsky is, much less that he’s read him. Frankly, I doubt Russert’s ever read him.

Watch what you read.

Top Search On Oscar Night: Do It Yourself Abortion

I just happened to drop into Technorati this afternoon, and noticed something that seemed decidedly strange. Here, placed so that the time (Pacific) and day are visible, is the Technorati home page, showing the Top searches, the popup that appears when you roll over the top search, and the status bar showing the link at the bottom of the window:

In case you can’t make it out (or it’s changed by the time you get there), the top search is “Do It Yourself Abortion”. The second slot is just Abortion. Those are both above “Natalie Portman”, Oscar, and Video.

Crossposted to Daily Kos, where you can comment, if you wish.

India’s Middle Class: 300 Million Strong?

Here’s a question for an economist.

We’ve been hearing a lot this week about how the middle class in India is 300 million strong. Why, that would make just the middle class there the size of the entire population of the US. But do people in the US assume that middle class in India is the same as middle class in the US? There was a study in the mid-90s I’ve seen referenced by the National Council of Applied Economic Research
on this site, for instance

The first dilemma in looking at the Indian middle class is defining it. Simply converting living costs from Indian Rupees (RS) to dollars is one sure way to misunderstand the economics of life in India. One aid is the National Council of Applied Economic Research’s mid-1990’s report on the growing Indian middle class. It was based on a national population that was estimated to be 900 million rather than today’s 1.1 billion. The survey said the Very Rich consisted of about 6 million (or 67/100 of 1 %). Below them were three sub classes: The Consuming class, about 150 million people (17%,) the Climbers, about 275 million people (30 %); and the Aspirants, about 275 million (30 %). Beneath these were the Destitute, estimated to be 210 million (23%).

The Consuming class was reported to have an annual income between $1,300 and $6,000, and typically owned a TV, cassette recorder, pressure cooker, ceiling fan, bicycle, and wristwatch. Two-thirds of them own a scooter, color TV, electric iron, blender, and sewing machine, but less than half of them own a refrigerator. India is now the world’s largest market for blenders and the second largest for scooters (after China). Sixty percent of all urban homes have TV sets and 68 million of all Indian homes have TV sets. More than 32 million of those have cable, growing 8% a year. By comparison, only 22 million homes have telephones.

Just to be clear, the Consuming class is the rung just below the Rich. The Climbers and Aspirants are between them the Destitute.

Re: The Port Deal. WWID?

Just a quick question about whether opposition to the Dubai Port World thing is driven by common sense or racism: what would Israel do? I mean, do they already have ports operated by DPW (hard to imagine if the owners, the UAE, don’t recognize Israel) or some other Middle Eastern company or country? Could someone ask an Israeli official whether they’d welcome the same sort of deal and if not, why?