Thursday, March 28, 2002

There's been a lot of talk in the blogsphere recently about bias in the press, and measures thereof --- particularly how it can be demonstrated with numerological games about how often people can be described as "left-wing" vs. "right-wing". So, for example, you might have thought from its Moonie ownership and overt, hard-right-wing editorial line that the Washington Times is a right-leaning newspaper, but that would be naive --- the Daily Howler shows (using one Young Republican's chosen metrics, subsequently endorsed by Andrew Sullivan) that the paper is actually biased to the left. Who knew?

Some cynics might suggest instead that this may demonstrate the methodology as a whole is, perhaps, flawed. Which is not to say that the media is entirely free of bias.

Take the Washington Post, for example --- a classic example of the mainstream, liberal, biased media. Or at least, the mainstream, biased media. Take their coverage of the Whitewater investigation, in which, as Avedon Carol notes, the Post never seemed to criticize Ken Starr. At all. It seems Starr, while on the bench, had saved the Post from a million-dollar libel judgment. Which may have something to do with Sally Quinn brushing off clear evidence of Starr's illegal leaks by saying

Starr is not seen by many Washington insiders as an out-of-control prudish crusader. Starr is a Washington insider, too. He has lived and worked here for years. He had a reputation as a fair and honest judge. He has many friends in both parties. Their wives are friendly with one another and their children go to the same schools. He is seen as someone who is operating under a legal statute.

Quinn's husband, Ben Bradlee, put the matter even more plainly:

He's a man for whom The Washington Post has this tremendous respect because he finally got rid of a $2 million libel suit against the Post, and as far as I'm concerned he can do no wrong.

Which may not be exactly the bias that conservatives are complaining about, but that's not to deny the validity of their main point --- in this case, the Post sure does seem to have been overtly biased.

(Bradlee and Quinn posts, and more, are quoted by Carol from an article by Todd Gitlin).

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Ernest Hemingway to the contrary, the rich are different. And back once again to show how different is Lisa Kerkorian, ex-wife of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, in a marriage which strangely featured a prenuptial agreement which guaranteed a divorce, on specified terms, within a month. When we last left her, she was suing for over $300,000 a month in child support for her daughter, Kira, who has expenses including over $100,000 a month in travel expenses, tens of thousands of dollars in restaurant bills, and high entertainment costs. Pretty swank for a four-year-old.

The theory behind the child-support suit was that Kira was Kirk's daughter; the money was to raise her "in the station of life and with the things and benefits befitting the daughter of Kirk Kerkorian." But in the most recent proceedings of the same lawsuit, Lisa is now claiming that Kira is not Kirk's daughter, and couldn't be --- Kirk, she now claims, is sterile, and the whole "Kirk's daughter" story, she now claims, was a plot they hatched together to make the billionaire seem more "cuddly", complete with faked DNA test. Why exactly she expects Kirk to pay child support for a child which, she now claims, is not his, is a question that I'll leave to those more versed in the law.

While I'm on the subject, New York's Mayor Bloomberg shows us another reason the rich are different --- they don't have to put up with incinerators in their neighborhoods:

Wading into dangerous political waters, he admitted publicly what most politicians only whisper in private: The rich have a lot more clout than the poor when it comes to blocking unwanted facilities.

"If you were to put an incinerator on Park Avenue, you would drive away the revenue base that supports this city," Bloomberg, who lives in a townhouse on the Upper East Side, told a reporter who asked if he'd welcome such a plant near Gracie Mansion.

"The fact of the matter is that where you tend to site things - unfortunately - it tends to be in areas that are also in proximity to people who are just starting their ways up the economic ladder," he said.

People, that is, who aren't as far up the economic ladder as Kira Kerkorian, who at the age of four, could have had $50,000 a month, or $600,000 a year, in child support (the figure in Lisa's divorce settlement, which she could have had for the asking). Which, like the incincerator, is once again a useful gut check on the glories of American egalitarianism.

(Links via Grim Amusements and Random Walks).

In today's Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that those who want to send in the Green Berets, Delta Force, and the SEALS to get rid of Saddam Hussein are overlooking a yet more fearsome quiver in our arrow: American lawyers.

I'm not sure who he's trying to insult with this piece, the lawyers or the guys with the guns...

The apostasy of Joseph Stiglitz continues. Stiglitz is the former head economist for the World Bank, fired in 1999 for relatively mild public dissent from its policies. (As an indication of the view of the economics profession as a whole on Stiglitz' merit as an economist, he was subsequently awarded a Nobel prize for economics). These days, he's not so mild, says Greg Palast:

Each nation's economy is individually analyzed, then, says Stiglitz, the Bank hands every minister the exact same four-step program.

Step 1 is Privatization -- which Stiglitz said could more accurately be called "Briberization". Rather than object to the sell-offs of state industries, he said national leaders -- using the World Bank's demands to silence local critics -- happily flogged their electricity and water companies. "You could see their eyes widen" at the prospect of 10 per cent commissions paid to Swiss bank accounts for simply shaving a few billion off the sale price of national assets.

And the US government knew it, charges Stiglitz, at least in the case of the biggest "briberization" of all, the 1995 Russian sell-off. "The US Treasury view was this was great as we wanted Yeltsin re-elected. We don't care if it's a corrupt election. We want the money to go to Yeltzin" via kick-backs for his campaign.

Stiglitz is no conspiracy nutter ranting about Black Helicopters. The man was inside the game, a member of Bill Clinton's cabinet as chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers.

Step two is capital market liberalization which, time and again, has done little more than drain the country's capital reserves; when they draw down to nothing, that leads to step three, drastic price hikes, and "The IMF Riot":

The IMF riot is painfully predictable. When a nation is "down and out, [the IMF] takes advantage and squeezes the last pound of blood out of them. They turn up the heat until, finally, the whole cauldron blows up" -- as when the IMF eliminated food and fuel subsidies for the poor in Indonesia in 1998. Indonesia exploded into riots, but there are other examples -- the Bolivian riots over water prices in April 2000 and, in February 2001, the riots in Ecuador over the rise in domestic gas prices imposed by the World Bank. You'd almost get the impression that the riot is written into the plan.

And it is. Stiglitz did not know about the documents the BBC and the Observer obtained from inside the World Bank, stamped over with those pesky warnings "confidential", "restricted", "not to be disclosed". Let's get back to the "Interim Country Assistance Strategy" for Ecuador. In it the Bank several times states -- with cold accuracy -- that they expected their plans to spark "social unrest", to use their bureaucratic term for a nation in flames.

That's not surprising. The secret report notes that the plan to make the US dollar Ecuador's currency has pushed 51 per cent of the population below the poverty line. The World Bank "Assistance" plan simply calls for facing down civil strife and suffering with "political resolve" -- and still higher prices.

The victims could be forgiven for confusing this sort of liberalization with old-style colonial plunder, particularly since the notionally separate international institutions involved are in fact tightly linked:

By the way, don't be confused by the mix in this discussion of the IMF, World Bank and WTO. They are interchangeable masks of a single governance system. They have locked themselves together by what are unpleasantly called "triggers". Taking a World Bank loan for a school "triggers" a requirement to accept every "conditionality" -- they average 111 per nation -- laid down by both the World Bank and IMF. In fact, said Stiglitz, the IMF requires nations to accept trade policies more punitive than the official WTO rules.

It's been a staple of pro-war discourse the last few months that it isn't the poor from the third world who are rising against us --- it's the rich and the middle class. True, as far as it goes --- the poor themselves are too busy trying to find their next meal. But the existance of the destitute poor, and a misguided sympathy with them, is certainly a motivating factor.

This is something that the Arab governments understand --- the reason that Palestinians living in Arab lands are isolated in refugee camps, deprived of jobs and even the limited rights of a citizen in those countries, is precisely to preserve their destitution as a useful causus belli (as I've argued in the past at greater length).

And even if this sort of sponsored plunder doesn't lead directly to terrorism, the question of its basic morality is still there.

Monday, March 25, 2002

Brink Lindsey notes that the Bush administration's commitment to free trade principles seems to be mostly honored in the breach:

Steel, antidumping, agriculture and textiles -- in all of these areas the Bush administration has sided with protection-seeking U.S. industries in violation of its avowed free-trade principles. The perennial excuse is "political reality" -- the need to appease powerful interests in order to win congressional support for trade-opening deals.

While some amount of compromise is unavoidable, this administration has offered nothing but. Not once has it told a protectionist business lobby to take a hike. Not once has it advanced a proposal -- whether in the WTO, FTAA, or any other context -- to reform a major U.S. trade barrier. Not once has it spent a dime of the political capital that comes with an 80-plus percent approval rating to fight for the national interest in open markets against parochial interests in protectionism.

So, they say they favor "free trade", but they're not exactly in favor of eliminating the purest form of trade barrier, tariffs. What do they favor?

Well, perhaps elimination of some of the other things that are stigmatized as trade barriers in international trade agreements. Environmental regulations, for instance. As an example, a Candadian company is using NAFTA's Chapter 11 to try to get $1 billion in compensation from California, after the state banned MBTE, a gas additive which was showing up in drinking water. The case will be tried in a secret tribunal, with no public accountability; the citizens of California won't have access to the record of the proceedings even after the fact. The WTO treaties have similar provisions.

This view of Bush trade policy may not be flattering, but it does have the virtue of consistency --- lax regulations favor corporate fatcats, as do the tariffs.

More news from Boston: Government calls for hard choices, as Massachusetts, caught (like many states) in a budget crunch, is finding out. Given the state constitution's requirement for a balanced budget, what do you choose --- raise taxes or cut popular programs?

Mitt Romney shows his daring with his unique proposal, none of the above:

``All voters . . . care about great education, improving our environment, bringing more jobs to Massachusetts and balancing the budget without raising taxes . . . That being the case, I think I have a very strong proposition to take to the voters of Massachusetts,'' Romney said.

Just look at his rescue of the Olympics, which were going broke when he showed up, and went off without a hitch:

``We took things out that were waste, that were unnecessary, the folderol that wasn't essential to carrying out the mission of a great Olympics,'' Romney said. ``The same thing, I believe, can happen in government.''

Well, that, and convincing 24,000 people to work for free. To his credit, he was very convincing; his volunteer pitch gathered over 60,000 applicants. None of whom were represented by civil service unions...