Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Men: The New Special Class

According to the Census Bureau, women earned 58.5% of the nation’s bachelors’ degrees in 2006. And according to the College Board, the advantages college graduates—3/5ths of them women—enjoy over their high-school graduate peers include:

 college graduates earn 61% more over their lifetimes than workers with high-school diplomas.

 67% of college graduates enjoy health insurance through work, compared to 51% of employees with only a high-school diploma.

 69% of college graduates have access to retirement plans on the job, vs. 53% of workers who stopped their education after high school.

 only 9% percent of college grads smoke, compared to 26% percent of those with a high-school diploma.

 college grads are less likely to be unemployed, live in poverty or require public assistance.

This means every male who didn’t graduate from college--when his female counterpart did--adds to an ever-growing disadvantaged minority.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What Makes the Masses Different?

In his book Populism and Elitism: Politics in the Age of Equality, Jeffrey Bell gets at the gap between the elite and the people. Politics—the fight for power—has historically involved battles within the elite. The masses, when separated from their elite “vanguard”, have been outside the power arena.

It's true that Franklin Roosevelt, using the power of radio, successfully made the masses a part of his New Deal. But Roosevelt also built a new elite, one that dominates the country today. Republicans are still the party of small business, an elite group. But government, government-supported academia and non-profits, the constitutionally-protected elite of media, arts and entertainment, along with the lawyers who turned constitutional protections into dollars--all are growing, and all are linked to Democrats. By now, this new elite is large enough to be the elite.

As the elite recolored from Republican to Democrat, Reagan developed the first truly effective response to the New Deal's government-led legacy. Like Roosevelt, Reagan drew on his ability to communicate (via television) to the masses, and thereby mobilize them.

Bell chronicles Reagan's relationship to populism/anti-elitism. The elite care about character. Being in the elite club means getting things done through personality; helping someone who helps you in return. Your credentials are important, doing things right is important, and any faux pas is devastating. You must be there to play in tomorrow’s big move. We now know that people who rise to the top feel an endorphin rush as significant as any drug provides. Members of the right club, the elite focus on personalities, not issues.

Reagan and populism encompassed the different way common people view politics. They care much less about character. For the people, it’s not about who you know, and they don’t mind if some leader, like themselves, screws up from time to time. The public does, however, care about issues. They care because issues affect their daily lives—war, jobs, health, crime, money, values. Reagan instinctively understood popular concern with issues, while the elite missed that change in American politics.

The elite see issues as a means to a desirable end—power. They select a leader based upon character. For the masses, issues are the end. Vote for somebody who will make your own life more bearable.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

America Blessed with Great Fed Chairs

Last night, ABC News failed to report the second day of stock price increases, the biggest two-day gain since Spring 2003. So what’s new? Though he has little good to say about 2007, Newsweek’s Robert Samuelson does use publication of Alan Greenspan’s book to glow over good economic news of the past, even the recent past (Greenspan’s been gone since January 2006). We are talking about good news the media has scrupulously ignored since Bush’s 2000 election.

Samuelson notes that during Greenspan’s two decades, which began in August 1987:

-- The economy (gross domestic product) grew 70 percent from 1987 through 2005.

-- The number of nonfarm jobs increased 31.4 million, or 31 percent, with average unemployment of 5.6 percent.

-- Annual inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index averaged 3.1 percent.

-- Pretax corporate profits jumped from $369 billion to $1.33 trillion.

-- The stock market quadrupled, with the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index rising from 287 (the 1987 average) to 1,207 (the 2005 average).

Truth is, we’ve had three fine fed chairs helping the U.S. economy grow for nearly three decades. Greenspan followed Paul Volcker [picture]. Through a severe recession, Volker cut inflation from 13.3 percent in 1979 to 4.4 percent by 1987. The Volcker-launched disinflation triggered a virtuous chain reaction of lower interest rates, higher stock prices, greater wealth and strong consumer and business spending. In the 1990s under Greenspan, productivity growth—old-fashioned efficiency—increased, probably reflecting the impact of computers. And then came globalization. From 1989 to 2005, the number of workers worldwide engaged in export-oriented industries rose from 300 million to 800 million -- a reflection of the entry of China and India into the global economy.

Now we have a new Fed Chair—Princeton’s Ben Bernanke [picture]. Bernanke has just surprised economists by cutting the prime interest rate by 0.5%, when the expected cut was the usual 0.25%. He also cut the discount rate by the same amount. His aggressive response to the threat bad sub-prime loans pose for the U.S. economy sent the stock market soaring. It’s too early to say how good Bernanke is, but CNBC’s Larry Kudlow certainly likes what he saw Wednesday. According to Kudlow, “Ben Bernanke‘s shock and awe, frontloading action to slash the fed funds rate [0.5%] . . . is just what the doctor ordered.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

For Media, Economy is always Bad

Edwin Feulner is head of the conservative Heritage Foundation. He has observed the media buries good economic news, and features bad news, something this blog has previously noted. Feulner’s example involves U.S. worker pay. He quotes an August 21 New York Times story that said, "While incomes have been on the rise since 2002, the average income in 2005 was $55,238, still nearly 1 percent less than the $55,714 in 2000, after adjusting for inflation."

Here’s what the Times’ bad-news article misses, according to Feulner:

 employees are actually paid quite a bit more than the amount shown on their paycheck. The Heritage Foundation’s average benefit ratio was 26 percent. Nationwide, it's 30 percent. That's a lot of compensation that never shows up in a bank account.

 because lawmakers choose not to tax benefits while taxing regular pay at high rates (often 40 percent or more), employers are encouraged to shift more and more of their compensation into benefits. The good news is that total compensation is better -- and the economy stronger -- than the media would have us believe.

Feulner leaves out that Bush tax cuts also give workers more take-home pay. But the media are apoplectic about the possibility that a strong economy will keep Republicans in power. After all, it was economic failure that doomed Carter in 1980 and Bush 41 in 1992, and success that sustained Reagan in 1984 and Clinton 42 in 1996. Republicans must be denied the issue in 2008.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Media Slip: Doesn’t Everybody Know We Help Democrats?

Blake Dvorak, a blogger, caught this confession from liberal MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann that his network helps Democrats, and expects Democrats know the obvious. Olbermann let his bias show in a discussion of a John Edwards paid commercial that aired during Olbermann’s hosting segment.

Here, without further comment, Olbermann’s exact words:

I don't want to be diverted by talking about commercials in the middle of the show but, Rachel, why on earth did he buy that commercial? I don't think I'm saying anything unknown to the audience, I don't think he would have gotten a hard time from this particular network. Why on earth did we do it that way?

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Too-Divided America

Owen West, a trader at Goldman Sachs who served two tours in Iraq with the Marines (and son of Bing West), wrote this important commentary for the Wall Street Journal. West is concerned, as am I, that America is too sharply divided today to spare either side blame. We have to change the way we do politics in America.

West’s argument:

 In the United States, the chasm that separates combatants in Iraq is too rarely discussed. Disillusion with the entire effort has obscured and in some cases mutated the truth that small numbers of evil men tilt entire populations. Nearly six years into the war on terror--which is being fought by less than 30% of the military and less than one-half of 1% of the nation—the stark irony of America in modern war has emerged.

 Our professional warriors who take the most risk believe the nation must commit to a long-term fight that includes Iraq in some form. Overall support for the endeavor wanes with distance. In past wars, the nation was tied to its soldiers and had a familial barometer. Today most Americans have never met a Gold Star family, let alone shaken the hand of a fallen soldier. The military community is increasingly insulated even as the burden of global war swells.

 [Many] assert the nation's most precious resource is our children. But during wartime our greatest asset may be our guardians. We are off to a terrible start in the long war, having allowed the Iraqi battlefield to embitter and weaken the country. [Yet] The public recognizes [the blessing the military offers us]. In July's Gallup Poll on America's most trusted institutions, the military ranked highest with a 69% confidence rating. Congress ranked last (below HMOs), with a 14% confidence rating.

 So it’s surprising that, according to an August CNN poll, 68% of Americans said Gen. David Petraeus's congressional testimony on Iraq this week would not sway their personal view one way or the other. Worse, 53% of Americans do not trust him to report what's really going on in Iraq, according to a USA Today/Gallup Poll. This wrenching inconsistency indicates a deeper problem—the poisonous partisan climate in Washington has seeped beyond the Beltway and is now harming the public's trust in the [military].

 Extremists from both political parties have used Iraq as a zero-sum emotional battle for votes instead of putting the battlefield in proper context. First, the Republicans declared the enemy in Iraq defeated before we started fighting, later employing invective to attack rational critics of the order of battle. Then Democrats declared the war lost just as we employed a new strategy. According to the Pew Research Center, 76% of Republicans expressed confidence in the military to give an "accurate picture of the war," but only 36% of Democrats did.

 Stepping back from the froth, this week will strengthen the country if political leaders recognize that a bipartisan course of action must be chosen in the context of [the] larger war on terror. If the politicians continue pulling the country apart, this game of chicken will end badly and imperil both Iraq and the U.S. If America were hit tomorrow there would be more finger-pointing than ranks closing. That must change.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

9.11 sure didn’t unite us, did it?

Norman Podhoretz of Commentary is upset about the left. It seems so much like the left we grew to dislike in the ‘60s. Podhoretz quotes Todd Gitlin, a leading '60s New Left figure and now a professor at Columbia, who currently questions the "negative faith in America the ugly" that his comrades tenaciously held onto for so long.

Podhoretz’s points:

 in the ‘60s, the ideas and attitudes of the left would turn one of our two major parties upside down and inside out. By 1972, only 11 years after President John F. Kennedy had promised that we would "pay any price, bear any burden . . . to assure the survival and the success of liberty," Democrat George McGovern was campaigning for president on the antiwar slogan, "Come home, America."

 as the Vietnam War ground on, the institutions that shape our culture converted to "faith in America the ugly." By 2007, in the world of the arts, in the universities, in the major media of news and entertainment, and even in some of the mainstream churches, that faith had become the regnant orthodoxy.

 bureaucrats and administrators tend to be the slaves of historians and sociologists and philosophers and novelists. These "practical men" read the New York Times, switch on their television sets, go to the movies--and, drip by drip, a more easily assimilable form of the original material is absorbed into their nervous systems.

 the new antiwar movement already is where it took years for its Vietnam era ancestors to reach. Like the McGovernites with Vietnam, the Democrats want America out of Iraq, and the sooner and the better. Sept. 11 did not do to the Vietnam syndrome what Pearl Harbor did to the old isolationism. The Vietnam syndrome is back and it means to have its way, even though we still face the long struggle against Islamofascism in Iraq and elsewhere into which we were blasted six years ago.

Monday, September 10, 2007

AP Cooks the Books on Iraq

Dafydd ab Hugh has done the spade work needed to expose bad statistics AP used to counter recent Iraq success. The media’s story line is “Iraq’s a failure.” The media embrace numbers supporting their story line, ignore other numbers, and counter positive numbers when, in spite of media efforts to control, good numbers get through. AP’s bad civilian death numbers are one example of the ongoing anti-Iraq effort that plays fast and loose with facts.

Here’s the original AP story:

• “Civilian deaths rose in August to their second-highest monthly level this year, according to figures compiled Saturday by The Associated Press. That raises questions about whether U.S. strategy is working [emphasis added] days before Congress receives landmark reports that will decide the course of the war.”

Here’s ab Hugh’s deconstruction of AP’s figures:

• AP said civilian deaths rose from 1,760 in July to 1,809 in August. But they embargo a critical fact until later in the article: the August total includes the huge triple-bombing on August 14th that killed 520 Yazidis (AP's count). The attack occurred far away from the counterinsurgency forces, up in Kurdistan. [Without the Yazidi incident,] the civilian death toll would have dropped to 1,289, by far the lowest level this year. So what looks . . . like bad news is, in fact, very good news. . .

• [The Yazidi incident] was an anomalous attack: Nothing like it had been done before, and it's not likely to be repeated anytime soon. [And as to the overall] Iraq death toll, even the 1,809 figure is well below the deaths in November (1,967) and December (2,172), as is the worst month this year, May (1,901).

Friday, September 07, 2007

ABC’s Raddatz Cues Up Reid on How to Blacken Petraeus

ABC’s Martha Raddatz is successfully briefing Senate Democrat leader Reid. In her September 5 report, Raddatz used clips from past interviews with Gen. David Petraeus to make her point that Petraeus, who has a reputation for telling it like it is, actually (in Raddatz’s words) “always manages to paint a hopeful picture.” She has him saying in 2004—when Petraeus was in Kirkuk—that he sees “the Kurdish governor and the Arab governor going out together," and in 2005, when he was training Iraqi forces, that “it’s great to see the determination of so many who were good partners when they were here.”

Raddatz was twisting Petraeus’ very innocent comments into words suggesting the war itself is going well. But Raddatz didn’t actually cross the line to falsehood, since all she actually said, with her flimsy evidence, was that Petraeus “always manages to paint a hopeful picture.”

Reid obviously watched Raddatz’s report. And, just as obviously, he decided to embellish it. Today, he said of Petraeus, “he’s made a number of statements over the years that have not proven to be factual.” That’s quite a leap from what Raddatz said, but “close enough for politics,” I guess.

Iraq: KIA Down on Eve of Petraeus Report

Here’s our latest monthly, highly abbreviated version of the Iraq Index, published and updated twice a week by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution:

Americans Killed in Action, Iraq (monthly average)
2003: 32
2004: 59
2005: 56
2006: 58
2007: 80
August: 52

Americans Killed in Action, Vietnam (monthly average)
1965: 128*
1966: 420
1967: 767
1968: 1140
1969: 785
* = First U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam, 5.3.65
Vietnam table compiled by Galen Fox using Defense Department sources.

Crude Oil Production (m. bbls./day)

Prewar Peak: 2.50
Goal: 2.10 (Revised downward, 1/07)
actual: 1.71 (8/07)

Electricity (megawatts)

Prewar: 3,958
Goal: 6,000
actual: 4,340 (8/07)

Since our last monthly report, the American KIA total dropped from July's 63 down to 52. That KIA total is the lowest since July 2006, and represents a 56% drop from May's 117. [Please note: the number of KIA is almost always lower than the media-reported total of American deaths, which covers all causes, including non-hostile. Our Iraq and Vietnam figures are KIA only.] In the midst of the surge, which should produce rising KIA totals, the low American KIA total for August hints the surge may be going well partly because al-Qaeda truly is hurting, and therefore is unable to kill Americans as effectively as before. We'll see what happens during September.

Oil output dropped sharply from July's 2.06 million barrels a day average to its lowest average since January. Electricity output during August's heat rose to another 2007 high, but remained below August 2006's average output of 4,440 megawatts.

By consensus, Iraq's political situation has yet to reflect the good news generated by the U.S.-led military effort. We will know more after Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker report to Congress next week.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Sick Duke Snuffed out the Truth

NPR has a discussion with Stuart Taylor, who helped write Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case. Taylor is a columnist for the National Journal. His co-author KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY. While their book predictably excoriates the media for its heard mentality in going after privileged white males who had supposedly abused poor black females, it reserves its most striking condemnation for Duke’s administration and faculty, and for the illiberal pressure to conform that so dominates leading American university campuses.

According to the book:

 many professors were initially swayed by Nifong's public comments and the initial silence from the lacrosse players. All but ignored were the captains' March 16 cooperation with police, their confident March 28 prediction that the DNA would soon clear them, the similar predictions by defense lawyers, and the unlikelihood all would do so unless confident that no rape or sex of any kind had occurred.

 the faculty, resolutely refusing to reconsider their initial presumptions as new facts emerged, served as cheerleaders for Nifong, with whom they had little in common besides their opportunism. For many months not one of the more than five hundred members of the Duke arts and sciences faculty—the professors who teach Duke undergraduates — publicly criticized the district attorney or defended the lacrosse players' rights to fair treatment. Not even after evidence established clearly both the falsity of the rape charge and the outrageousness of Nifong's actions—the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct ever to unfold in plain view.

 Duke's arts and sciences faculty kept quiet as the activists created the impression that Duke professors en masse condemned the lacrosse players. They were afraid to cross the activists—black and female activists especially—lest they be smeared with charges of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, or right-wingism. When a chemistry professor who—months after the team's innocence had become clear—became the first member of the arts and sciences faculty to break ranks with the academic herd, it took less than 24 hours for the head of Duke's women's studies program to accuse him of racism.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Democrats Stumbling over Free Trade

A blog about capitalism + democracy leading to peace is, more generally, a blog about politics, economics, and security. So naturally, I’m interested in how leading Democrats view the economy, a subject Bloomberg’s Matthew Benjamin has examined. His conclusion: Democrats are offering nostrums from the past, drawing from independent Ross Perot’s 1992 “giant sucking sound” campaign against jobs lost to free trade.

Democratic candidates focus on voter discontent over lost jobs, stagnant incomes and the growing gap between rich and poor:

 60% in an April Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll said there will be a recession within a year. “The issue driving the anxiety is not the number of jobs but the kinds of jobs being created," says Matthew Slaughter, Dartmouth professor of economics. “Real income growth for many Americans has been quite poor in recent years, with a lack of strong earnings growth along all parts of the income distribution," Slaughter says.

 75% in a December Bloomberg poll said the widening gap between rich and poor is a serious concern. John Edwards is “very concerned [that] 150 million Americans . . .combined earn what the top 300,000 earn," says Leo Hindery, Edwards’s economic policy adviser. From 2000 through the first half of '07, high-paid workers at the 90th percentile of earnings saw their income rise 6.4 percent, while salaries for those at the 10th percentile fell 2.9 percent, according to an Economic Policy Institute study.

 Assertions that global trade harms American workers have been a staple of Democratic campaigns since 1988, when Dick Gephardt won the Iowa caucuses by blaming U.S. economic woes on Japanese and South Koreans. Gephardt, 66, is now a top economic adviser to Hillary Clinton. In 1997 Clinton said, “The simple fact is, nations with free-market systems do better. . .Those nations which have lowered trade barriers are prospering more than those that have not." But in 2005, Clinton voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement. And this June, she announced opposition to the free trade deal with South Korea.

 Obama has had the least to say about trade. He recognizes the benefits of lowering tariffs, according to his top economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist. "However. . . we need to be mindful about those left behind," Goolsbee says.