What really troubles us about the new census income numbers.

What really troubles us about the new census income numbers.

What really troubles us about the new census income numbers.

A mostly political Weblog.
June 17 2002 5:53 AM

Make-up Call

Getting down to what really upsets us about the census income numbers..

NYT's Janny Scott cleans up the embarrassing mess Peter Kilborn and Lynette Clemetson made of the 2000 census results two weeks ago by delivering a  fair and sophisticated second-take analysis. ... She nevertheless persists in approving the term "barbell economy." Three points:  a) If you look at the income curve in the economies she's talking about, it's still a "bell curve," with a hump in the middle. It's not a barbell, with bulges at both ends. It's just a slightly flatter bell curve where the most rapid job growth is occuring on either side of the hump.  b) Better an economy with growth at the top and bottom than one with growth just at the top, as economist Jared Bernstein notes in Scott's closing grafs;.c) The middle still did reasonably well --- even in the "barbell" city of San Francisco, the NYT's hired number-cruncher says that during the 90's the "income of people in the middle rose by $16,961, to $70,470."...

What really troubles people about income numbers these days, I strongly suspect, is not the relative rise and fall of the middle or the bottom or even of  the top -- the crude distributional results analyzed by Scott. It's the increasing correlation of success with education, which gives the whole distribution a more invidious, meritocratic caste. But that could (and would) be happening whether the median was going up or down.  Kilborn's latest gloom-finding piece,  about the disappearance of low-skill, high-wage jobs in a strip-mining community is the relevant story, even if it's a decades-old one (and even if there are industries whose passing we lament more than strip mining). ... 2:00 A.M.

Scott Shuger, a good friend, a great guy, a no-b.s. writer and a Web pioneer (he gave "Today's Papers" a powerful voice) died in a scuba diving accident on Saturday. I miss him already. Kinsley has an appreciation here. 2:00 A.M.


As suspected, the Boston Business Journal report that had The American Prospect claiming a circulation of 500,000 contained a misplaced decimal point, the apparent result of a typo. (TAP claims circulation of 50,000). ... The story as  posted on the BBJ site has now been corrected. ... Meanwhile, TAP's Walsh-like investigation into its almost-as-suspicious Web traffic claims  grinds on. The magazine seems to be laying the groundwork for a "blame-the-stats-program" defense. ... 10:30 A.M.


Saturday, June 15, 2002

Reader-nominated names to replace "Homeland Security" (to date):  Department of Domestic Security, Department of Domestic Defense ("3-D"), Continental Security, Mainland Defense, Mainland Security, Home Defense, Federal Security, Federal Security & Intelligence, Heartland Defense, Department of American Protection, Homefront Security, Interior Security, Civil Security, Civil Defense, Civilian Security or plain old Department of Security. ... (Remember the headline writers' motto: "Good ideas come from bad ideas!") ... Current kf faves in red. ... 6:30 P.M.

More: Joshua Micah Marshall  also thinks "homeland" is "un-American ... creepy ... big-brotherish."  ...  "Man Without Qualities" agrees. ... As the NYT would say, it's an emerging national consensus!. ... On "Weekend Edition," National Public Radio's Alex Chadwick says  of "homeland":

This is a word you'd read in George Orwell and you'd rather not see it in big block letters across the facade of a Washington office building. ..We do live in a world where real enemies mean us real harm. We do have to fight them. We have to defeat them. But in every battle we've fought and won our most powerful weapons have always been words. We ought to use the best ones we can find now, which means the ones that sound most like us.


4:30 P.M.


Friday, June 14, 2002

So the CIA and the FBI have " quietly negotiated a cease-fire" in the "war of news here leaks and finger-pointing about the intelligence failures leading to the Sept. 11 attacks." Is this such a good thing? The American public learned a lot that it should know during the war of leaks. (Nothing like an Orgy of Recrimination to bring out the truth!) ... The NYT quotes a "senior White House official" saying the agencies realized "they were making themselve look bad." That's true -- but isn't that in part because they were  bad?  Is the new "truce" an act of patriotism or an equally familiar Washington phenomenon -- a conspiracy of incompetence, screw-ups who collude to protect themselves?

4:30 P.M.

An article in Boston Business Journal contains what seems to be an especially preposterous circulation claim by the editor of the American Prospect magazine:

The magazine, which [Robert] Kuttner described as one for "sensible liberals" who want authoritative articles on major policy issues, also was redesigned as an attempt to broaden its appeal and boost its then-18,000 circulation to upwards of 800,000 in five years. The magazine's circulation stands at 500,000 now, according to Kuttner, who noted little advertising is received.

That's obviously not true. Either the BBJ reporter misplaced a decimal point, or Kuttner is counting as "circulation" the 450,000 visitors TAP claims to receive on its Web site (claims that are themselves dubious). ... [ I thought you were going to give the Kuttner items a rest. You're only helping him, you know.--ed. Moment of weakness. This was too absurd to pass up. It won't happen again, I swear.] 3:30 P.M.  


Thursday, June 13, 2002


It's hard to believe former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich wasn't meticulously ambitious enough to establish a Massachusetts residency in time to satisfy that state's ridiculously long 7-year residency requirement. He's a Rhodes Scholar, after all, and they tend to be good at that sort of thing. ... But if his 1995 tax returns (which he's refusing to release) do show, as Reich claims, that he switched residency just in time to enable him to run for governor seven years later, it's another bit of evidence giving the lie to the bogus story Reich was apparently peddling to interviewers a few months ago -- that (according to the Boston Globe) "he moved back to Massachusetts in 1997 with no intention of running for office, and that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks sparked his interest in the governor's race." [What's the other evidence Reich's story's b.s.?--ed. The Globe noted that it had reported "as early as 1999 that he was meeting with associates to discuss a run for governor in 2002." It had even quoted Reich himself saying he was "sniffing around."] ... P.S.: Allright, I'll bite -- what could be in Reich's 1995 tax return that's embarrassing enough to make him not want to release it? Everyone already knows he's a buckraker, so the problem can't be too much income. Plus, he was Clinton's labor secretary at the time. How much money could he have been making in a government job anyway? Is the problem whom the income was from -- was the Association of General Contractors buying bulk copies of The Work of Nations, Jim Wright-style? Is the problem too little income -- would it be humiliating if the world learned how small a pile of loot the author of even successful public policy books gets? Is it principle? ... A few items back, I charged that Reich's "dirtiest little secret" is that he's a dramatist, not an economist. But I could be wrong! ... [Thanks to alert kf readers E and M.] 4:30 P.M.

Don't Merrill Lynch and Banc of America Securities actually deserve a few positive words  for refusing to carry out what the government alleges were unlawful insider transactions attempted by Dr. Samuel Waksal, former head of ImClone Systems? Yes, normally one doesn't want to praise businesses for just obeying the rules. But it's a relief to know that sometimes the rules governing Wall Street actually work. ...2:10 A.M.

In a breakthrough, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights may have become the first government agency to make enough work for itself by  bringing civil rights complaints against itself  that it need have no actual interaction with the outside world at all! ...The Commission has about 75 employees, and "Commission employees have filed nine recent complaints" of discrimination against the Commission, reports WaPo. ...2:30 A.M.

One more point about those recently-released census figures -- as the WSJ notes, "The median U.S. household income rose almost 8% faster than inflation during the booming 1990s."  Compare these census results with Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Robert Reich's absurd charge of a year ago  that

"The dirtiest little secret about the Roaring '90s is that average working families gained almost no income."


Again, Reich's dirtiest little secret is that he's a dramatist, not an economist. 1:30 A.M.

How to get your back button back: Readers who access this blog through the URL www.kausfiles.com  -- those would be the cherished kf "legacy" readers -- have been complaining that their back buttons don't work when they reach this page. Most attribute the malfunction to an evil Microsoft scheme to keep readers trapped in Slate by disabling their browser functions. Unfortunately, it's not Slate's fault, or Microsoft's. The problem is the way I've set up kausfiles: As I understand it, when you type in www.kausfiles.com you go to my server in Reno Nevada, which then instantaneously transfers you to Slate's servers. When you click your back button, you go back to my server in Reno ... which instantaneously transfers you back to Slate's server again -- and so on, in an endless loop. There are at least three solutions, however:

1) Hit the back button quickly two or three times and you will get back to wherever you were prior to your visit to Reno, Nevada -- and you'll do it before my server has time to refer you to Slate again. (Sounds implausible, but it works -- try it.)

2) Instead of clicking on http://www.kausfiles.com  you could set your browser to go directly to the Slate URL that my Reno server sends you to, which is


3) Access kausfiles through Slate's table of contents at www.slate.com

I apologize for the inconvenience. I want to make sure people will always be able to get here by typing www.kausfiles.com -- and this back-button tsuris seems to be the price of that assurance. (If somebody has a better idea, please let me know.) ... P.S.: I'm also "efforting" restoring the links. "Efforting" is a newsweekly term that, if I remember right, translates roughly as, "I've done jack about this but I'll get around to it."  ... Update: Readers M.B. and S.R. sensibly suggest Solution #4, which is to use the little downwards arrow to the right of the "back" button (on IE), which produces a drop-down list from which you can choose an earlier location to go to ... Reader Barry M. says  it is too Microsoft's fault, because it doesn't happen on Mozilla! ... 1:20 A.M.


Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Instapundit rightly flagsDave Winer's advice to newspapers on how they can use blogs to revitalize local news coverage. Winer's pitch makes great journalistic sense -- dozens of pro and amateur bloggers linking to each other can dredge up more information and insight than the best "metro" page. It even makes good business sense until the part at the end where he exhorts newspapers to make money by charging "local businesses to place their weblogs on your network." Why would a blog work for a local business as advertising? What's a "business" anyway? Couldn't a local businessman just start a non-business blog and, in passing, plug his wares the way most bloggers plug their books? 5:20 P.M.

A late hit in the dot-connecting blame game. In his contribution to the Foreign Affairs book How Did This Happen?, Gregg Easterbrook writes:

The 1997 presidential commission chaired by [Vice President] Gore recommended a system of computerized "pre-screening" of passengers for security risk -- a form of profiling. But the Gore commission also insisted that "no profile should contain or be based on ... race, religion, [or] national origin." A prototype system called CAPPS, for Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening, was put into effect and was running on September 11. ... But CAPPS has been scrupulously constructed to ask nothing about race, religion, or national origin (the Justice Department reviewed CAPPS to ensure that the system has zero racial or ethnic component) ...

I knew it was all Gore's fault! ... Except, of course, that the Gore commission's policy before 9/11 was the same as Bush transportation secretary Norman Mineta's policy after 9/11. ... Still, don't you think that knowing DOJ was on guard against any ethnic profiling might have made the FBI justifiably nervous about combing flight schools for Arabs? ...Reinforcement for Stuart Taylor's argument  that the law, and the legal culture -- not incompetence -- led to the dot-disconnect.. ... And don't forget that 1997 meeting President Clinton and Gore staged in the Oval Office with nine critics of affirmative action, includng Abigail Thernstrom. Clinton tested their adherence to the principle of color-blindness with the following hypothetical:

CLINTON -- [O]ver half of the cocaine in the country comes across the Mexican border. So, all right, fast forward. What do you do if you're a local police officer with a drug problem? That's what this whole profiling is about -- [inaudible] people who are Hispanic if they're driving through town.... If you were running a police force, and you were trying to figure out how to deal with the drug problem, and you had a lot of people who were coming through your town on an interstate, and you had a limited amount of resources, and you couldn't stop every car, which cars would you stop?

MS. THERNSTROM -- Every third car and come up with some of the criminals that way. I mean, I think police departments have to be held to the same standard that I want to see employers and universities and everybody else. I don't think we can make exceptions.

I remember wondering at the time if Thernstrom hadn't clung to principle at the expense of common sense. ... I suppose if even anti-liberals were adamantly opposing profiling, it's unfair to blame that opposition on liberals. On the other hand, Thernstrom's response shows the extent to which hair-trigger opposition to profiling had become part of the general legal culture, pre-9/11, in which the FBI had to operate. Nobody was going to come forward, even from the right, to defend them if they got caught in a flight-school profiling scandal. ... 2.25 AM


Tuesday, June 11, 2002

We're all moderates now ... compared with Nathan Lewin, a respected Washington defense lawyer who calls for the execution of families of suicide bombers. ... Instant reaction: 1) Lewin's logic -- that you need something more than the threat of capital punishment to deter a suicide bomber -- makes sense, but aren't there other less ... well, immoral possibilities? Alan Dershowitz has proposed leveling the villages of "martyrs" (while giving the inhabitants time to leave) which Lewin rejects as "the proverbial use of aspirin to treat brain cancer." ("Civil liberties lawyers ain't what they used to be," as a friend of kf writes.) What's wrong with wiping out the organizations and governments the killers represent, as opposed to their "immediate" families? ("You're the stepson? Stay here while I consult the regulations.")  2) Why wouldn't the families just flee in advance of any "martyrdom." 3) Here's a policy designed to maximize the number of people who, in the long term, are pissed off at us. This long-term "blowback" may matter more for the U.S., which isn't already surrounded by mortal enemies, than Israel. Which brings us to ... 4) Lewin seems to assume his proposal is equally applicable to the American and Israeli situation. But, if anything, it shows the dangers of conflating the American and Israeli predicaments. Most obviously, the Israelis are more desperate, and Israel supporters are willing to consider measures that the U.S. doesn't need to consider (yet) in its fight against Al Qaeda. 5) Where is Swift when you need him? (Particularly ripe for parody is Lewin's attempt to distinguish his proposal from Hitler's similar policies: "This is no easy ethical question, but it is not as one-sided as may initially appear.") ... Other anti-Lewin reactions, including condemnations and the threatened rending of garments, are recorded here. ..


Monday, June 10, 2002

It's odd to see the estimable Thomas B. Edsall  of WaPo--a fellow Dem who likes to bash Dems -- make a basic logical error in his story on Public Citizens's useful survey  of  "Section 527" committees, which will still be able to raise and spend "soft money" even after the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law takes effect.  It doesn't follow, just because currently  most of the big 527s are liberal , that

groups associated with the Democratic Party and liberal causes are likely to be the short-term beneficiaries of the new law that prohibits the parties themselves and members of Congress from raising soft money ...

Once 527s become one of the last remaining conduits for soft money, you can expect all sorts of new groups to start them up, and all sorts of new donors to start contributing. It won't take long to get the word out -- certainly it will happen in time for the next election. Who knows if the newcomers will be liberal or conservative? Not Public Citizen. Not me. Not Edsall. ... You could argue that conservatives, having failed to fully exploit the 527 loophole, have the most to gain. But that would be fallacious too!  ... Note that the fallacy Edsall indulges in -- reification is the fancy word for it -- helped give us the dreaded "political action committees," or PACs. In the 1970s, because there had been few business PACs in the past, unions and Democrats went along with a reform law that enhanced PACs' importance. Corporations didn't have PACs, so helping PACS wouldn't help corporations, right? But, funny thing, once PACs became major fundraising conduits, businesses started forming hundreds of them, until the corporate PACs swamped the union PACs. ... P.S.: You sense Edsall knows his "liberals will benefit" angle is bogus, because he tries vainly to cover himself with fudgewords like "suggest" and "short-term." ..P.P.S: Note the fund-raising succeess of the centrist Dem "New Democrat Network." This only reinforces the idea that Bill Clinton could be a post-presidential power-broker  if he chose to head up the NDN, or an organization like it.  ... Update: Alert (if somewhat paranoid) kf reader "J" of Washington, D.C. e-mails:

When the vote on McCain-Feingold was about to come up, Tom Edsall wrote a story saying it would help Republicans because they raised more hard money. [This is true--ed.] He didn't mention that the soft money ban would close the looming $100 million soft money gap between Dems and Reps in 2003-4. He was looking to fool a few Republicans into voting for McCain-Feingold. Now the FEC is starting to write the regs for the new law, and Edsall brings out an (illogical) article saying liberals will do well outside the new law. Does he hope [Federal Election Commissioners] Mason, Smith or the new guy will vote for tighter regs to punish the liberals. ...

Suddenly it all makes sense! ... But, wait a minute, then why did the conservative Washington Times take basically the same bogus line (at least in its lede)?...  I yield to no one in my paranoia about liberal agenda-pushing by reporters, but Edsall doesn't seem like that type. (He's no Nina Bernstein, or even Robert Pear.) My guess is he was just trying to pay the rent by milking a story out of the Public Citizen report. ....

Stunning stat of the week: More conservatives than liberals listen to NPR and watch PBS' "News Hour," according to a  Pew survey  covered in  the Washington Times  (second item). No wonder the conservatives are always so pissed off! .... Obvious methodological flaw: Few people self-describe themselves as "liberals" these days. Still ... How the Wash Times misreports the study: Jennifer Harper writes that "72 percent of conservatives listen to Rush Limbaugh," when the survey  pretty clearly says that 72 percent of Limbaugh's listeners are conservatives, a less stunning stat. ....

Isn't Giuliani obviously a better candidate for Secretary of Homeland (new word, please!) Security than Tom Ridge? Even the NYT's  Joyce Purnick, who seems to viscerally loathe Giuliani, can't help but make the case for him despite her best efforts not to.  ...

More greenhouse gassing: Marc Ambinder of ABC's "The Note" has some good detail  on conservatives upset by Bush's global warming ambiguity. ... He suggests Bush may seek refuge by arguing humans are causing "greenhouse gases" to rise, but that this may not necessarily cause global warming. Very Clintonian! But it's hard to see how this gets Bush off the hook, since the report produced by his EPA, as Ambinder himself notes, "lays the blame for global warming (not just greenhouse gases) on human industrial production." ... P.S.: When the leader of a big liberal interest group makes a stink about a Democratic president caving in to the right, I instinctively suspect that the leader just wants to raise the profile of his interest group. So why don't I think the same thing about Myron Ebell, lobbyist for the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, who is making a big stink about Bush's "reversal" on global warming? The answer is probably that one should suspect Ebell of the same thing. ...

Improbable cause: A May 31 Jonathan Turley column  comes to the same conclusion Stuart Taylor later came to -- that Coleen Rowley was wrong and the FBI didn't have enough to meet the "probable cause" standard for searching Zacarias Moussaoui's laptop. Unlike Taylor, though, Turley thinks this outcome is just fine! ..

Recession from secession: Joel Kotkin, who seemed very sympathetic to L.A.'s various secession movements a month ago in the WSJ, has now (with Fred Siegel) come out for a judicious compromise  --  keep Los Angeles whole but install a borough system. ... Kotkin and Siegel are smart and sensible anlaysts, but their piece (which ran in the LATisn't close to convincing.  Instead, it more or less makes a case for the proposed secession of the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood. For example, Kotkin and Siegel say "Los Angeles' government has a reputation as one of the least efficient and most expensive in the nation" -- but "secession advocates have not made a convincing case for a new city other than to cite the failures of the old." Aren't the failures of the old city a pretty damn good reason for people in the Valley to want a new one? ... Meanwhile, their proposed borough system sounds like a nightmarish hodgepodge of ambiguous power lines. Citizens are supposed to look to their local "little city halls" for "basic services" -- but the most basic services (police, fire, and water) would still be "controlled from downtown."  A downtown council of borough presidents would also have "final zoning authority." Would any developer abandon his plans just because a borough council voted him down? Wouldn't he appeal to the downton council, rendering the borough's decision advisory? ... Kotkin and Siegel also admit that "New York's borough system has atrophied over the years" ... So why do Kotkin and Siegel actually oppose secession? It's hard to tell. There may be good arguments, involving the loss of tax revenues by the central city and the inevitable break-off of L.A.s West Side, which would leave a relatively poor rump consisting of downtown L.A. and it's poorer surroundings. But Kotkin and Siegel don't make these arguments. Indeed, Kotkin has criticized those who do.... Did the LAT's editors just assume that their readers think secession is a bad idea? ....