Thursday, September 28, 2006

Say it ain't so: Starbucks charged in unfair coffee competition

The utterly unctuous Starbucks, the place where they burn their beans and charge high prices, is facing an anti-trust battle. If the plaintiff is to be believed, they we can pretty much toss out Starbucks commitment "fair trade" baloney. Wouldn't you think that competition is as important as making sure a Central American farmer gets a "fair" prices for his products. What's Starbucks afraid of?

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The owner of a small coffee company sued Starbucks Corp. (SBUX.O: Quote, Profile, Research) on Monday, claiming the coffee shop's anti-competitive business practices put her store out of business.

The suit, which seeks class action status, was filed in Seattle federal court by Penny Stafford, the owner of Belvi Coffee and Tea Exchange Inc.

According to court papers, Starbucks violated federal antitrust laws by leasing prime commercial real estate at above-market prices in return for the exclusive right to sell espresso drinks or specialty coffee in those locations.

A Starbucks spokeswoman said the Seattle-based company was not aware of the complaint and could not provide further comment.

The suit alleges that Belvi Coffee and Tea's efforts to enter such buildings in Seattle and Bellevue, Washington were blocked by Starbucks "through unlawful use and abuse of its monopoly power."

Starbucks is the world's largest coffee shop chain, with more than 12,000 locations in 37 countries. The lawsuit alleges the chain "possesses monopoly power" because it has "at least" a 73 percent market share of the U.S. coffee shop industry.

Is he ready for prime tax time?

Deval Patrick is smooth but he really doesn't have a tax plan, except perhaps to raise them. Mr. Patrick how do you plan to cut property taxes? Will you protect Proposition 2 1/2?

BOSTON --While lamenting $985 million in fee and tax hikes he said the Romney-Healey administration proposed or used to close a state budget deficit in 2003, Deval Patrick refused Wednesday to outline how he would have eliminated the $3 billion cash shortfall.

The Democratic gubernatorial nominee instead insisted his solutions for coping with such a cyclical economic phenomenon were not as important as lifting the veil on what he calls the administration's "fiscal shell game."

Patrick said Gov. Mitt Romney and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, who herself is now the Republican gubernatorial nominee, portray themselves as conservative fiscal stewards, yet property taxes have gone up $1.8 billion while they have been in office, and various fees and taxes have also increased.

Healey wants to roll back to the state income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 5 percent, a reduction Patrick says the state, municipalities and homeowners cannot afford.

"My point is that if we are going to talk about an income tax rollback, let's start telling the truth, and this administration didn't tell the truth," Patrick said during a news conference called to draw attention to his housing proposals.

"It continues to talk about how it's a champion of income tax cuts when, in fact, it's been responsible for sharply higher fees and taxes at the state level and at the local level, and if we're going to do this going forward, what people can count of from me is that I will tell the truth."

Asked to define the economic "truth" he would have conveyed to state residents in 2003, when the deficit was pegged at between $2 billion and $3 billion, Patrick replied: "I'm not talking about going back. I'm talking about today."

He then walked away from the microphones assembled outside his campaign headquarters

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hit and run punditry on the first postprimary debate

I thought Republican Kerry Healey met her goals in drawing differences between her and her major opponent, Democrat Deval Patrick. I agree with Howie Carr that Grace Ross is a perpetual deadspot. I found Christy Mihos to be overbearing and bitter. I'm giving the first debate verdict to Healey.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Just finished reading: An assault on theism

If you have any belief in God, Sam Harris is about to disabuse you of it. I spent part of my Saturday afternoon reading this brief, deadly assault on religious belief at the local library which just received a copy. Not even liberal theologians are spared. It's a tough polemic that is hard to beat.

This is a must read book for believers and atheists alike. For believers, Letter makes them think hard about first principles and strategies for public morality. For atheists, the book is reminder about implications of the authoritarianism of science and any whether atheists are committed to a pluralistic society that protects freedom of religion.

More on this later.

Meanwhile, writing in the LA Times, Harris takes a shot at liberal denial about the Islamic threat to the West. Will liberals get it? They better since civilization is at stake.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Two asses get their just desserts

Lewis Lapham ruined Harpers sucking on the tit of the MacArthur Foundation. With his new book he's ruining his reputation. Why bother reading it? Hasn't this been done before? He suffers from Bush Derangement Sydrome. He's an ass, really. I'm not above name calling nor is the puffed up, arrogant twit Lapham. Sidney Blumenthal comes in for a bit of deserved harsh criticism. The Clinton suck-up is a disgrace to opinion journalism. Boy was he wrong on Wilson to whom he dedicates this his new book. Pleasant surprise to see these books reviewed critically in the New York Times.

Bernard Lewis spells out the problem

Excellent essay (delivered originally as a speech). Lots of good points but this one stuck out.
What happened on 9/11 was seen by its perpetrators and sponsors as the culmination of the previous phase and the inauguration of the next phase--taking the war into the enemy camp to achieve final victory. The response to 9/11 came as a nasty surprise. They were expecting more of the same--bleating and apologies--instead of which they got a vigorous reaction, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. And as they used to say in Moscow: It is no accident, comrades, that there has been no successful attack in the United States since then. But if one follows the discourse, one can see that the debate in this country since then has caused many of the perpetrators and sponsors to return to their previous diagnosis. Because remember, they have no experience, and therefore no understanding, of the free debate of an open society. What we see as free debate, they see as weakness, fear and division. Thus they prepare for the final victory, the final triumph and the final Jihad.

Calling for the end of the Manny show! No more dogging it?

I'm pretty agnostic on Manny Ramirez. He's a great hitter but not a complete ballplayer. He doesn't aggravate me nor do I think he'll be as memorable player given the legacies of of Williams and Yaz. There's reason to believe that he really doesn't give it his best every day and that he takes himself out of lineups unnecessarily. Is he hurt? Both he and the team say so. But Gordon Edes is tired of Manny's dogging it.

So why hasn't anyone called out Ramírez? Sox management, bedazzled by his performance when he does play and afraid they'll lose him forever if they do raise objections to his behavior (see Tampa Bay last July), instead cover for him, and in so doing diminish Francona every time he does so, compromising principles that have guided him through a lifetime in baseball. His teammates? You have to distinguish what is said about him publicly and to him behind closed doors. There have been teammates who have challenged Ramírez in the clubhouse, and his response has been studied indifference. As one player told me, what's the point of calling him out publicly? What would get accomplished? Embarrass him? Please.

This is a pretty tough column to read if you are on the "let-Manny-be-Manny" squad.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bad economic reporting? We link you decide!

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution, one of my favorite blogs (not just econ blogs) thinks he's found an example of bad economic reporting. It seems that one Washington Post reporter, writing about Wal-Mart's decision to undermine co-payments by selling "nearly 300 generic drugs for $4 per prescription" is bad news even though as Alex points out the consumer benefits immensely. Alex let's her have it. But is he being fair?

Kathleen Day's article in the Washington Post on Wal-Mart's plan to offer a $4 price for many generic pharmaceuticals is a classic example, practically a caricature, of anti-market, anti-big-business bias. Here with emphases added are some choice quotes from the front page article:

Retailing giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc., known for forcing prices down to dominate nearly every market it enters, said yesterday that it would sell nearly 300 generic drugs for $4 per prescription...

Using its might as the nation's largest retailer and its legendary ability to force suppliers to cut prices to the bone, the company will begin the $4 price program in its 65 stores in the Tampa area today... ...the program has the potential to transform the $230 billion prescription-drug business the way Wal-Mart has transformed other industries, including groceries and toys, where its aggressive pricing has forced some competitors out of business and allowed it to dominate entire categories of merchandise.

In the entire article there is not a single positive mention from the reporter of consumer benefits or Wal-Mart productivity. It's not until inside the fold that you even get a hint of consumer benefits and then it's in the context of an absurdly biased attack on Wal-Mart.
More on this later.

Tom Edsall is a good reporter even if he's a liberal

Tom Edsall, recently retired from the Washington Post and now with the New Republic, is a good writer. He has a new book out I haven't read, Building Red America. Several years ago I did read his book on race Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics and it was kind of a primer for Bill Clinton as he prepared for his Sister Souljah moment. Reading the transcript of Hugh Hewitt's recent interview I can't help but feel admiration for Edsall, even though I think some of his analysis often misses the mark. What impresses me is that he's a lot more candid about his bias that most reporters. Plus he's certainly illminating. His pessimism is reason for conservative optimism.

Read the whole transcript.

I do think that Hugh was a bit rough on Edsall who took it in stride.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Adjusted for inflation, that glass is still a little more than half full

There's always trouble with prosperity. And it takes a political economist (usually left-liberal) to make the most cheerful innovations of life, let's say dismal. Here's a running discussion on the Consumer Price Index and its failure to capture the ubiquity of technology.

And this, to me, is the area where the CPI overstates inflation most dramatically. When a good goes from being non-existent to existent, how do you capture the impact that has on inflation or consumer prices? Basically, prices have dropped from infinity (it's out of reach to even the most willing to pay consumer, even if he could offer the wealth of the entire world) to something that costs $50-$100 at BestBuy.

All of the things Jane mentioned that would prevent her from going back in time are things which came into existence quite recently. It's hard to take dour, left-wing academics seriously when the moan about how little things have improved for the common man while they pull links, citations, and documents from all over the planet electronically, and then post their thoughts to an audience of thousands, again all over the planet, without leaving their desks, with a technology that's cheap as chips today, and could not be found anywhere a decade ago. The truth is we live in an age of Wonders.

Meanwhile, Brink Lindsey takes one of those academics, Jacob Hacker to task in a review of the latter's book, The Great Risk Shift:

No matter how the doom-and-gloomers torture the data, the fact is that Americans have made huge strides in material welfare over the past generation. And with greater wealth, as well as improved access to consumer credit and home equity loans, they are much better prepared to deal with the downside of increased economic dynamism.

Well, what do you expect of economists?

Via the Volokh Conspiracy. Harvey Mansfield one of Harvard's great treasures has this to say about the practitioners of the dismal science.

The building where I used to work was shared with economists, who, living the sort of life they describe, had no incentive to flush and sometimes failed to do so.

What stinkers!!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Are you better off now than you were 25 years ago?

An interesting discussion on progress, the ubiquity of technology and whether or not we are living the good life today.

If you have the time read the comments too.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Pink Floyd only imagined one; Reagan helped tear one down.

Yet another crank in the BushHitler wall. From Drudge

ROGER WATERS [PINK FLOYD] CONCERT TOUR HITS NORTH AMERICA AND NYC WITH FLYING PIGS, URGING DEM VOTES IN ELECTION, 'IMPEACH BUSH' WRITTEN ON REAR OF PIG FLOATING OVER AUDIENCE... One concertgoer writes: 'Seeing Bush's name written across the pig's arse made me howl'... The pig had graffiti. 'New Yorkers/Don't be led to the slaughter/Vote November 7'... another attendee played off the hit 'Another Brick in the Wall': ''We don't need no thought control,' even from Mr. Waters'... Another sends a review: 'I attended the Roger Waters 9/15 show at Jones Beach, Wantagh, NY. At one point during the show Waters juxtaposed pictures of the President, Karl Rove, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher with pictures of Osama bin Laden, Mao Zedong, Stalin, and other world tyrants. Rogers asked whether 'these people [Arabs] are really are enemies'. This took place during his anti-Bush/Blair song 'Leaving Beirut' in which he claimed 'that Texas education must have really f*cked you up' and asked why Tony the 'US poodle/pawn' is a warmongerer'

What does Roger Waters really know? Fallacies about moral equivalence that's about it Mao killed millions. Are Bush, Blair and Thatcher in the same league? Pink Floyd fans must be really stupid if this goes unanswered. Roger Waters never tore down the Berlin Wall. He's a jerk really. By the way which one's Pink?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A "new day" for the Bruins

Sorry Mr. Jacobs but I'll believe you when I see real progress.

WILMINGTON, Mass. --Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs proclaimed "a new
day" for the Original Six franchise on Friday, saying the job of ending the team's 34-year Stanley Cup drought now falls to general manager Peter Chiarelli and his hand-picked coaches and players.

"It's Peter's team and his organization," Jacobs told reporters at the team's media day, one day after veterans reported to training camp. "He should have the right to run it his way."

The Bruins haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1972, hitting a low point last season when they missed the playoffs and traded away soon-to-be league MVP Joe Thornton.

Out went the general manager, the coach, and many of the players that presided over the team's last-place finish, as well as the longtime face of the front office, Harry Sinden, who last month resigned as president after 17 years to become an adviser to Jacobs.

Bruins fans have been abused for far too long.

All rage all the time, so much for dialogue, open debate and free speech

You can't reason with some quarters of Islam ever. They don't understand free speech or honest debate. How can you have a dialogue with these people? Every criticism seems to turn into rage. Of course the quisling New York Times is gushing forth urging the Pope to apologize profusely. Does Al-Q ever apologize? Does the Party of God every apologize?

Tigerhawk spreads his wisdom.

For my part, I am sick of "Muslim rage." Whether inspired by the pope or Danish cartoonists or the clumsy use of the word "crusade" by a Western politician, there is simply no defense for the behavior of these imams and their followers. It is barbaric, and everybody who is not barbaric or an unreconstructed apologist for barbarians knows it. The Muslims who commit arson and mayhem in response to some Westerner speaking his opinion -- and the pope, as leader of the Roman church, is exactly that -- have chosen to act as enemies of reason, peace, and everything that is good in the world.

And by the way fuck the New York Times. They wouldn't have the balls to stand behind Orianna Fallaci who understood that the fight against Islamofascism is a fight for survival fo the West. Boy do we need her now!

Glenn Reynolds is right: "'Baptist rage' certainly wouldn't get this kind of slack from the Times."

Friday, September 15, 2006

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Unsettling the "Richard Clarke Show"

If after the final chapter is written about the Iraq War, could it be determined that Hitchens was one of the few who had it right?

TONY JONES: That's alright, as long as you can hear me. Is it clear now, do you think, that history will primarily judge President Bush's reaction to September 11 by his decision to go to war with Iraq and the linkage he made between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: It?s not the linkage that he made it's the linkage that Saddam Hussein made. The Iraqi regime was the only one in the region to applaud the attacks and it was the only one when every other country, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, were expelling al-Qaeda sympathisers, to start welcoming them onto its soil, particularly in the shape of the notorious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I think that I heard someone say this, actually it was the President, I'm sorry, on your show just a moment ago: the removal of the Taliban was in reprisal for the last attack. The removal of Saddam Hussein was for the next attack so that it wouldn't come. And yes, I'm certain the President will be remembered principally for ridding the Middle East - along with Australian and British support - of the worst dictator the region has ever known and the most dangerous one.

TONY JONES: At least one key witness to the events, within the White House, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the former counter-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, says that advisers in the White House were bent on attacking Iraq in retaliation, whether or not Saddam Hussein had anything to do with al-Qaeda?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, there is a pre-existing quarrel with Saddam Hussein as you know on other matters, including his support for international terrorism. If you remember, the man who was responsible for the hijack of the Achille Lauro the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, the so-called Abu Abbas, the late, when he was captured, had to be released by the Italian police because he was travelling on a diplomatic passport. Do you want to know which country issued him with a diplomatic passport? This wouldn't be the only time that Iraq had given official State support to activity like that. It was unsleepingly pursuing nuclear materials in places like Niger as we can now, I think, adequately demonstrate. It was a permanent threat to its neighbours and a latent threat to all of us. The Senate had passed 98 votes to nil, the Iraq liberation act at the urging of President Clinton and vice-president Gore in 1998. So there was a pre-existing commitment to the removal of Saddam Hussein, which meshed, in my opinion, much better than most people believe with the provocation of September 11. After all, the last time the World Trade Centre was attacked, the man who mixed the chemicals for it, Mr Yassin, went straight from New Jersey, after he'd been interrogated and released, to Baghdad, where he still is, and lived in the intervening time under Saddam Hussein's protection. It's really all a question of whether you would, or would not, give the Saddam Hussein regime the benefit of any doubt, or the presumption of any innocence. If I phrase it like that, I think you might find it difficult to say yes you would.

TONY JONES: Isn't it more important, though, to create or to make a link between September 11 and Saddam Hussein, if you are going to invade the country virtually as a direct result of that?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Yes, well I mean, I think the links were pretty adequately demonstrated.

TONY JONES: Not according to Richard Clarke, for example, who makes the claim that the President himself, only 24 hours after the attacks, came to him urging him to find the evidence that Iraq was involved with the September 11 attacks and he couldn't find that evidence?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: I've read that too. I wouldn't myself have tasked Mr Clarke with that, nor would I have trusted the CIA to get that right, even a tiny thing like that, because they've always got everything else wrong. The CIA continues to say there can't have been a connection, because if one was ever proved - and there's a great deal of evidence for it - they would look stupid. Because they always said, not just that it wasn't there. Do observe this distinction. They said it couldn't be there. They said, by definition, Saddam Hussein could not help Islamic terrorists because his regime was supposedly secular. Now that to anyone who knows anything about Iraq is sheer fatuity. There is an overarching analysis as well that, to some extent, puts these matters of linkage in perspective. When one examined the situation, and realised that al-Qaeda and its co-thinkers have been incubated by what was, in effect, a political slum in the Middle East, which we've been letting rot and decay for far too long and, therefore, it would be a good thing to begin some slum clearance in the region. This meant turning the Pakistani Government from a sympathiser of the Taliban to at least, neutrality. It meant taking away their Afghan colony from them. That's what they've been treating Afghanistan as being. It meant warning the Saudi Arabians we knew what they were doing; it meant undercutting their oil monopoly, by trying to liberate the oil fields of Iraq. And it meant removing the most outstanding supporter of terrorism and jihadism in the region, who was a man with whom we in any case had a political rendezvous. A man who should have been removed from power in 1991. So if you could get over your obsession with this idea that there were invented linkages, you would see there is a broader intersection of argument that favours regime change in the Middle East.

TONY JONES: I understand Christopher Hitchens...

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Excuse me, they would have made maintenance of the status quo much more dangerous.

TONY JONES: I understand what you're saying but the claim of Richard Clarke and others.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Which you really obviously won't let go of, will you? Richard Clarke knows...

TONY JONES: I want to follow down the path of the logic that he sets out and the final piece of logic that he sets out is that the war in Iraq was a diversion from what the real war on terrorism should have been, which was to hunt down Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and deal with him. Now that argument still resonates today in American politics, doesn't it?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Certainly does. It most certainly does. It remains the most outstanding failure. We've caught or killed or neutralised a number of bin Laden's lieutenants and we've killed a man who, in my judgment, much more dangerous than him. Mr al-Zarqawi, one of his clones, and, it could be argued, one of his rivals. But the survival of Osama bin Laden even as a figure, even if he's only now somewhat symbolic, is, of course, fantastically important. Mr Clarke was...

TONY JONES: Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you, go ahead.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Mr Clarke, I should add, since this is apparently the 'Richard Clarke Show' was the leading ornament of the Clinton Administration that utterly failed to confront bin Laden at all. Mr Clarke was also the man who said when his government, his president, ordered the bombing of Sudan without even calling for an inspection of the relevant sites, or consulting the UN in the least, probably hitting the wrong factory, chemical factory, but the pretext for that, if you remember, is that Osama bin Laden owned that factory and that it was mixing chemical weaponry for Saddam Hussein. So Mr Clarke made the Saddam-bin Laden connection before anybody else did. I'm afraid to say, since you keep asking my opinion of him, I think what he says now is the result of partisanship. He would not be making these criticisms if he was on the inside and I think it's shabby that people will put their party first on these occasions. But Mr Clarke is the source of a lot of useful information. And if what he says, or alleges, is true about the Saddam-al-Qaeda connection then it would be impeachably delinquent of any government attacked on American soil with such massive force, not to ask is there a Saddam Hussein role in this? Because the likelihood that there could be would have to be very high? To say let's not think about Saddam, which is the only alternative, would be absolutely pathetic.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Say it ain't so: "'Fair'" coffee workers paid below minimum wage"

Fair Trade coffee can't provide a living wage. Don't let this ruin your faith in the "integrity" of the fair trade movement.

"Ethical" coffee is being produced in Peru, the world?s top exporter of Fairtrade coffee, by labourers paid less than the legal minimum wage. Industry insiders have also told the FT of non-certified coffee being marked and exported as Fairtrade, and of certified coffee being illegally planted in protected rainforest.

This casts doubt on the certification process used by Fairtrade and similar marks that require producers to pay the minimum wage.

It also raises questions about the assurances certifiers give consumers about how premium-priced fair trade coffee is produced.

As the board member of one Peruvian Fairtrade-certified coffee producer told the FT: "No certifier can guarantee they will purchase 100 per cent of a co-operative?s
production, so how can they guarantee that every bag will be produced according
to their standards?"

Though certified coffee makes up less than 2 per cent of the global coffee trade it has become increasingly mainstream as large retailers such as Starbucks and McDonalds adopt it.

The FT visited five Peruvian smallholdings, all of which have Fairtrade certification.
Each farm hires 12-20 casual coffee pickers during the harvest season. All house and feed their workers, which allows them to deduct 30 per cent from their wages.

After that reduction from the legal daily minimum wage for casual agricultural workers of 16 soles ($5), farm owners are still obliged to pay at least 11.20 soles a day. In four of the five farms visited by the FT, pickers received 10 soles a day, while the other farm paid workers 12 soles a day.

Luuk Zonneveld, managing director of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, the Bonn-based body that sets fair trade standards, told the FT that the certification system "is not fool- and leak-proof" but said the problem should be put in context.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Are you ready for the coming recession?

Clive Crook says get ready for the recession when we'll be reminded how good we have it now.

The Republicans are bracing themselves for some awful election results in November. Iraq is hurting them badly, they acknowledge, and so is "economic insecurity." Has it occurred to them, or to the Democrats for that matter, that at some point between now and the next presidential election the economic insecurities of 2006 might seem like very small stuff?
Not the kind of stuff that wants to make me sing "Happy Days are Here Again!"

Thursday, September 07, 2006

People in the Great White North seem to be in the dark

News Item: "New poll says most Canadians blame U.S. for 9/11 attacks"

Is the fact that Canadians, who seem these days to be more open to hosting Sharia law, worth discussing?

David Broder says it all on Rove-Plame. But will Sid Vicious and Little Sid apologize?

The bottom feeders of American journalism, hyperliberals Sidney Blumentahl and Joe Conason, also known as "Little Sid," will probably never apologize. But boy do they look stupid. Let me say this, you can judge the Bush crowd by their dismal enemies in the press.

Sidney Blumenthal, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and now a columnist for several publications, has just published a book titled, "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime." It is a collection of his columns for Salon, including one originally published on July 14, 2005, titled "Rove's War."

It was occasioned by the disclosure of a memo from Time magazine's Matt Cooper, saying that Rove had confirmed to him the identity of Valerie Plame. To Blumenthal, that was proof that this "was political payback against Wilson by a White House that wanted to shift the public focus from the Iraq War to Wilson's motives."

Then Blumenthal went off on a rant: "While the White House stonewalls, Rove has license to run his own damage control operation. His surrogates argue that if Rove did anything, it wasn't a crime. . . . Rove is fighting his war as though it will be settled in a court of Washington pundits.

Brandishing his formidable political weapons, he seeks to demonstrate his prowess once again. His corps of agents raises a din in which their voices drown out individual dissidents. His frantic massing of forces dominates the capital by winning the communications battle. Indeed, Rove may succeed momentarily in quelling the storm. But the stillness may be illusory. Before the prosecutor, Rove's arsenal is useless."

In fact, the prosecutor concluded that there was no crime; hence, no indictment. And we now know that the original "leak," in casual conversations with reporters Novak and Bob Woodward, came not from the conspiracy theorists' target in the White House but from the deputy secretary of state at the time, Richard Armitage, an esteemed member of the Washington establishment and no pal of Rove or President Bush.

Blumenthal's example is far from unique. Newsweek, in a July 25, 2005, cover story on Rove, after dutifully noting that Rove's lawyer said the prosecutor had told him that Rove was not a target of the investigation, added: "But this isn't just about the
Facts, it's about what Rove's foes regard as a higher Truth: That he is a one-man epicenter of a narrative of Evil."

And in the American Prospect's cover story for August 2005, Joe Conason wrote that Rove "is a powerful bully. Fear of retribution has stifled those who might have revealed his secrets. He has enjoyed the impunity of a malefactor who could always claim, however implausibly, deniability -- until now."

These and other publications owe Karl Rove an apology. And all of journalism needs to relearn the lesson: Can the conspiracy theories and stick to the facts.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Somewhere in New York a village is missing its rock critic

The Village Voice has fired Robert Christgau. Slate has the goods and high praise.
With Pauline Kael, Christgau is arguably one of the two most important American mass-culture critics of the second half of the 20th century?yet he's devoted the majority of his working life to fashioning 100-word blurbs with letter grades. He's a public intellectual who unwittingly invented the reviews section of Entertainment Weekly

Don't bother us, we're dummies at work in a dynamic economy

Robert Samuelson is always required reading.

The American learning system has, I think, two big virtues.

First, it provides second chances. It tries to teach people when they're motivated to learn -- which isn't always when they're in high school or starting college. People become motivated later for many reasons, including maturity, marriage, mortgages and crummy jobs. These people aren't shut out. They can mix work, school and training. A third of community college students are over 30. For those going to traditional colleges, there's huge flexibility to change and find a better fit. A fifth of those who start four-year colleges and get degrees finish at a different school, reports Clifford Adelman of the Department of Education.

Second, it's job-oriented. Community colleges provide training for local firms and offer courses to satisfy market needs. Degrees in geographic information systems (the use of global positioning satellites) are new. There's been an explosion in master's degrees -- most of them work-oriented. From 1971 to 2004, MBAs are up 426 percent; public administration degrees, 262 percent; and health degrees, 743 percent. About a quarter of college graduates now get a master's. Many self-help books are for work -- say, "Excel for Dummies.''

Up to a point, you can complain that this system is hugely wasteful. We're often teaching kids in college what they should have learned in high school -- and in graduate school what they might have learned in college. Some of the enthusiasm for more degrees is crass credentialism. Some trade schools prey cynically on students' hopes and spawn disappointment. But these legitimate objections miss the larger point: The American learning system accommodates people's ambitions and energies when they emerge.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Why I love WEEI's Larry Johnson

Sports talker and man of the cloth Larry Johnson is a courageous man and a lot of fun to listen to.

He is also a great artist.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Post-Plame-Wilson: The gig is up for the New York Times

A trip down memory lane indeed. Someone needs to de-louse the New York Times.

I could go on. The stories were endless, and they were no doubt gobbled up by readers who love to hate Bush. All of this was, of course, made possible by the editors of the New York Times, whose views were not exactly top secret. For example, here is a quote from one of their own editorials entitled "Remember that Mushroom Cloud?"

The indictment of Lewis Libby on charges of lying to a grand jury about the outing of Valerie Wilson has focused attention on the lengths to which the Bush administration went in 2003 to try to distract the public from this central fact: American soldiers found a lot of things in Iraq, including a well-armed insurgency their bosses never anticipated, but they did not find weapons of mass destruction.

Finally, in this recent gem of ironic indignation, the editors of the New York Times endorsed Ned Lamont, in part because of what Joe Lieberman didn't do:

He has shown no interest in prodding his Republican friends into investigating how the administration misled the nation about Iraq?s weapons. You mean like Joe Wilson did? And like YOU did? Over and over again?

Yet, now that the fantasy has gone up in a puff of smoke, the latest article in the New York Times can think of new questions only for Patrick Fitzgerald. Well, I have a new question for the editors: In light of your apparent eagerness to maliciously and fallaciously savage the reputation of your own president during a time of war, what does this whole sordid affair say about you?

It seems like a fair question to me, and I am sure that an honest answer will shed light on the paper's eagerness to expose other administration "scandals" (like the NSA wiretapping program and the CIA's program to monitor the financial transactions of terrorists).

The head Al-Q in charge for America; Pay heed liberals!

Home grown and self-exiled. Let's hope this traitor meets his maker soon.

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - An American thought to be an al-Qaida activist appeared in a videotape with the terror group's deputy leader Saturday and called on his countrymen to convert to Islam and for U.S. soldiers to switch sides in the Iraq and Afghan wars.

The 48-minute video, posted on an Islamic militant Web site, had footage of al-Qaida's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, and of Adam Yehiye Gadahn, a 28-year-old American who the FBI believes attended al-Qaida training camps in Pakistan and served as an al-Qaida translator.

It was the second time Gadahn appeared in the same video with al-Zawahri. In a July 7 video marking the one-year anniversary of the terror attack on London commuters, Gadahn appeared briefly, saying no Muslim should "shed tears" for Westerners killed by al-Qaida attacks.

But Saturday's video - and the length of Gadahn's speech - suggested al-Qaida has found in him someone it believes can communicate effectively with Americans.

What a bastard!

What's more interesting is that he can "communicate with Americans". Wasn't that a job reserved for Robert Fisk and George Galloway or Sy Hirsh? According to the Counterterrorism blog's Walid Phares, who parses the latest, Azzam knows who his friends are.

6) The ?friends? of al Qaeda?

?Azzam? names ?sympathetic? personalities for whom he has messages for action; He asks journalist Seymour Hirsh to ?reveal more? than what was published in a New Yorker article on the War: Obviously an open call by al Qaeda to M Hirsch to resume the attack against the US War on Terror. Then ?Azzam? turn to two British journalists and thank them for their ?admiration and respect for Islam? encourage them to do the final step: Convert. He names British MP George Galloway and journalist Robert Fisk. But more troubling in Gadahn?s tape was his direct call to Jihadists within the US Armed forces to work patiently till the time comes and they should continue to aggregate while escaping the surveillance of their military authorities. This theme, which I covered briefly in Future Jihad, is of great concern to US national security. The ?Azzam? speech brings further concerns as to the credibility of this threat.

Can't say that we are surprised.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

"The Scream" is back where it belongs; and a Boston side story

One of the world's most famous paintings has been recovered.

Oslo - Two stolen masterpieces by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch appeared only to have sustained minor damage after their theft from a museum in August 2004, museum officials said Friday.

Two armed men ripped the famous paintings - Madonna and a version of The Scream - off the museum walls and fled in a stolen car.

Oslo police announced Thursday they had retrieved the works that were stolen from the Munch Museum, where security has since been improved.

Acting museum director Ingebjorg Ydstie said experts had determined the works were authentic and were now safely back in the museum's care.

'Two small holes in Madonna' had been detected, she said while The Scream, which was painted on cardboard, had been 'damaged in one corner,' likely when it was dropped on the floor.

Experts would study the paintings in detail, but an ordinary museum visitor would perhaps not be able to detect the damage.

While art experts welcomed the safe return of the works announced Thursday, speculation continued over whether police had been tipped off by the alleged ringleader of a April 2004 bank robbery in the coastal city of Stavanger, in which a policeman was killed.

The 31-year-old David Toska, sentenced to 19 years, has according to recent media reports offered to help retrieve the paintings in return for a reduced sentence and better terms in prison including more visitation rights with his girlfriend.

The opposition Progress Party urged Justice Minister Knut Storberget to clarify if a deal had been made.

Norwegian media have speculated that the Munch paintings were stolen to divert police resources from the bank robbery probe.

Oslo police said that no ransom was paid, and no new arrests had been made. In May, a Norwegian court sentenced three men to jail terms ranging from four to eight years for their role in the theft.

Meanwhile, Forbes recalls another famous art heist involving men behind bars; that of the Isaballa Gardner Museum in 1990.

Then there's America's greatest art mystery, still unsolved. At 1:24 a.m. on the morning after St. Patrick's Day, 1990, two men in police uniforms knocked on a side door of Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, mentioning a "disturbance" on the grounds. The guards let them in and were swiftly handcuffed and locked in a cellar. The work the thieves made off with included "The Concert" by Vermeer, "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee"--which is Rembrandt's only marine painting--"Chez Tortoni" by Manet, five pieces by Degas and some miscellanea that includes a Chinese bronze beaker and a fitment from a Napoleonic flagstaff. Untouched were the Renaissance paintings, including Titian's "Europa," which is arguably the most valuable piece in the collection.

The current dollar figure attached to the stolen work is $300 million. In 1997, with the investigation moribund, the museum raised the reward from $1 million to $5 million. Tipsters understandably emerged, among them a Boston antiques dealer, William P. Youngworth III. He was a shady character but gained attention by telling Tom Mashberg, a reporter for The Boston Herald, that he and a colorful character named Myles Connor could get the art returned. His price: immunity for himself, the release of Connor from jail and, naturally, the reward.

Connor was behind bars at the time of the Gardner heist--for another art heist--but claimed he could locate the art if released. Credibility soon began to leak. Then Mashberg got a telephone call that led to a nocturnal drive to a warehouse, where he was shown--by torchlight--what may or may not have been Rembrandt's "Storm on the Sea of Galilee." He was later given some paint chips, supposedly from that painting.

Doubts sprang up, as the chips were not from the Rembrandt. The U.S. attorney demanded that one of the paintings be returned as proof that the works were on hand. This didn't happen.

Negotiations petered out. Connor is now out of jail, but the art is still missing.

Twists and turns like this make the recovery of "The Scream" all the more exciting. Painted in 1893, it is said to be worth around $74.5 million and was uninsured because the museum felt it was priceless. An interesting strategy, given its history. Not only is it one of the world's best-known paintings, it is also one of the most stolen. In 1994, one version of the iconic Expressionist painting was also stolen from the Norwegian National Gallery--and later recovered.

This is just too rich to pass up

Yes indeed "hypocrisy thy name is Democrat."

We have heard plenty of outrage from Congressional Democrats this year over the length of time since the last minimum-wage hike. Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer have railed about how minimum-wage workers have not had a raise in seven years, somehow neglecting to mention that the minimum wage is a transitional wage only and that raises come as part of a performance reward system when one stays at a job.

Then what of this?

A group that raises money for Democratic Congressional candidates uses a canvassing company that pays some workers submimium wage, in apparent violation of Wisconsin state law, to talk about the need to raise the federal minimum wage, Isthmus newspaper has learned. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), based in Washington, D.C., has hired Grassroots Campaigns, a Boston-based for-profit company with operations in 18 U.S. cities, to conduct canvassing on its behalf. The DCCC's "New Direction for American" agenda, which
provides the talkiing points canvassers are taught to use to solicit contributions, includes a call to "Raise the minimum wage."

Read the whole damning thing. Working at WalMart is a better deal, I guess.

Hat tip to Instapundit and Captain's Quarters.

Friday, September 01, 2006

More on the Wilsons, the power couple that fizzled

The Washington Post weighs in.

It follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House -- that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame's identity to ruin her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson -- is untrue. The partisan clamor that followed the raising of that allegation by Mr. Wilson in the summer of 2003 led to the appointment of a special prosecutor, a costly and prolonged investigation, and the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury. All of that might have been avoided had Mr. Armitage's identity been known three years ago.