Thursday, April 28, 2011

WaPo Uses Anonymous WH Briefer to Get Crucial Info: Personnel Shuffle will Provide "Strongest Possible Team" (!!!)

Just how entrenched is the culture of using anonymous sources willy-nilly at the Washington Post?

Check out the lead story in today's print edition, about the shuffle of Panetta, Petraeus and other top officials. From paragraphs 4 and 5:
It is “the strongest possible team to exercise our strategies and policies,” said an official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, adding: “I stress the word ‘team.’”

Obama, the official said, “has laid out [the changes] in a way that we believe will provide for a seamless transition in each of these positions.”
I mean, really. Talk about super-secret information that can only be provided to readers via anonymity!

And this wasn't by some newby writer, either; the article is by Karen DeYoung, a top Post veteran who carries an Associate Editor title. And it wasn't some story buried deep inside; it was the lead story (which is to say, screened by top editors).

Did many other top outlets print this dreck? A search for "strongest possible team" shows a few outlets that did: AFP, The Hill - twice, UPI and the New York Post. That's it. All of the top US papers other than the Washington Post had the dignity not to print it.

Andy Alexander, the Post's past Ombudsman, summed up the situation in 2009 like this: "The Post's sourcing rules are fine. The problem is compliance."

The Post's policies say that "we must strive to tell our readers as much as we can about why our unnamed sources deserve our confidence." The policies also say granting anonymity "should not be done casually or automatically" and "merely asking should not be sufficient to become anonymous in our stories." They say that if sources won't go on the record, "the reporter should consider seeking the information elsewhere."

What's it going to take for the Post to change its ways? This isn't about a few bad apples; this is about a mindset that goes to the top, where editors let a story like this through. Will that ever change?

Read this.

No, really. The piece is Policy in an age of post-truth politics, up today from David Roberts. It wonderfully captures so much of how politics works today and how the Administration is so out of touch with the basics of the process.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

One more thing on the Wallace-Wells piece on Krugman

From the article:
I brought up the work of the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, now with the Obama administration, who has studied the radicalizing effects of ideological isolation—the idea, born from studies of three-judge panels, that if you are not in regular conversation with people who differ from you, you can become far more extreme. It is a very Obama idea, and I asked Krugman if he ever worried that he might succumb to that tendency. “It could happen,” he says. “But I work a lot from data; that’s enough of an anchor. I have a good sense when a claim has gone too far.”
Of course, this came after the article told us about Krugman being in contact with Summers, for example, so I'm not sure why it's necessarily relevant.

In general, I do imagine there's some truth to the research Sunstein is talking about there. I think it shouldn't be ignored.

But you also have to look at the flip side, the other extreme. And that's being in the Beltway echo chamber. That people in the DC establishment have contact with others in the DC establishment, including those with somewhat differing views, isn't something necessarily to be celebrated; rather, it's how the Conventional Wisdom is set. And the CW is not carefully crafted smart thinking; more often it's stupid.

To recap: yes, if someone was isolated from contact from people with different opinions, that's bad. But being around people with different opinions should not be some glorious end-goal, and there are plenty examples of it having bad results.

White House incompetence, part 489

From Ezra Klein last week:
The Bush tax cuts and the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit and our various wars — none of which have been paid for, and all of which are ongoing — are major contributors to our mounting debt, and all were passed by Republican majorities. The debt ceiling had to be raised seven times during the Bush years...
Have you heard that soundbite a million times, over and over again, with the information firmly stuck in your head? No? Then that means the White House and congressional Democrats aren't doing their job well. They aren't.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Paul Krugman profile

From NY Magazine, by Ben Wallace-Wells.
When I first tried to reach Joseph Stiglitz, he was in Mauritius, meeting with a head of state; when I first contacted Jeffrey Sachs, he was traveling through Senegal; and when I first called Krugman, he was schlepping home on New Jersey Transit.
Much of the piece seemed awfully harsh to me, but I did think it was very interesting.

Update: Ok, after thinking about it a bit more, I'm liking the article less. I think it's interesting but the parts that it gets wrong seem pretty major. The White House meeting story -- somehow this is supposed to help the thesis that Krugman is solitary. Yet 5 out of 6 of the economists at the meeting -- including Krugman -- were arguing the same thing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Eggplants in the news

So as you may know there are no eggplants, and haven't been for a couple months. Well, there are some, but they are wicked expensive, and they are mostly from Holland. Here's a primer and an update on the situation, from about a week ago, from the Press Enterprise of Riverside, CA:

"This is the worst time of the year for something like this to happen. It is Lent and people who don't eat meat, eat eggplant as a substitute," observed Douglas Schaefer, president and owner of EJ Produce, a Phoenix-based supplier of fruits and vegetables to restaurants and retailers.

The disappearance of eggplant from many menus and retail shelves was caused by an early February freeze in Mexico, which is the largest supplier of the dark purple vegetable to the United States this time of year. The devastation in Mexico followed a winter freeze in Florida, which also lost much of its eggplant crop.


But soon scrimping on eggplant won't be necessary. That's because the shortage of the vegetable is temporary and will be alleviated when the California eggplant harvest begins a few weeks from now in the Coachella Valley.

While the Coachella Valley also was hit by winter frost this year, the freeze occurred early in the eggplant growing season so farmers had time to replant if necessary, said John Burton, a general manger with Peter Rabbit Farms in Coachella.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

DC Update

Obviously it's been an incredibly frustrating week for DC itself.

The political consequences of US Democrats turning against us are relatively few. Abortion in DC (or other issues) are just something to be bargained away. I wish I had made it to the rally Monday evening. Here's the video of our mayor being arrested alongside several of the city councilors.

More from the Post and DCist.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Greenpeace annual seafood survey is out

Summary here and full report here, with the scores on page 7.

Safeway edges out Target and Wegmans, with Whole Foods, Stop&Shop/Giant, and Harris Teeter not too far behind. Costco and TJ's not doing so great.

Overall the industry has improved somewhat, but it's still not a great picture.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

NYT fronts Facebook

Police Lesson: Social Network Tools Have 2 Edges

As usual, I'd say the article has some value, but not front page value. There's kind of a lot going on in the world right now.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Bikers are all rich white folks. Not.

Based on a study using the best available data (which I'll recognize may not be perfect), it seems that:
1) white people remain somewhat overrepresented; but 2) bicycling appears to be trending toward racial parity.
Contrary to popular convention, the biggest share of bicyclists isn't yuppies, it's low income people. In fact, the lowest-earning quarter of Americans make nearly one-third of all bike trips.
More details here.

The Colombia trade deal

The White House moved ahead with a Colombia free trade deal today. Expected, but awful. Now it's in Congress's hands.

Says AFL-CIO: “If 51 CEOs had been murdered in Colombia last year, this deal would be on a very slow track." More from their statement:

We appreciate the efforts of the Obama Administration to negotiate a separate Action Plan with the Colombian government to address some of the concerns we have raised over many years with respect to human and labor rights for workers, murders of trade unionists, and impunity for the perpetrators of violence. We understand that the proposed Action Plan lays out some important benchmarks in terms of increasing the level of protection for workers, addressing some flaws in the labor code, and improving enforcement of labor laws.

However, the Action Plan does not go nearly far enough in laying out concrete benchmarks for progress in the areas of violence and impunity, nor does it address many of the ways in which Colombian labor law falls short of international standards. There is no guarantee that the terms of it will in fact lead to a reduction in violence, and no backup plan to delay implementation if the violence and impunity continue. Furthermore, the Action Plan is a stand-alone agreement, not connected to the benefits conferred in the trade agreement. Once the trade agreement is ratified by Congress and implemented, the U.S. government will have no leverage whatsoever to enforce its terms in the event that the terms are not implemented as agreed.

The Colombian government has failed in enforcing the rule of law and protecting the safety of its citizens as they exercise their internationally recognized human rights to form unions and bargain collectively. These problems are deeply ingrained and longstanding, and they cannot be solved by commitments on a piece of paper. Concrete progress on the ground with respect to violence, impunity, and labor law reform needs to be demonstrated over a sustained period of time.

Colombia remains the most deadly nation in the world in which to be a trade unionist. In the past 25 years, more than 2,850 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia. Last year alone, 51 trade unionists were murdered, an increase over 2009. Six trade unionists have been murdered so far this year, including two in the past week. The conviction rate for union murders and other violence is in the single digits, and even where prosecutions have occurred, many perpetrators have been charged in absentia and are still on the loose. Union density in Colombia is below 5 percent, and even fewer workers can exercise their right to bargain collectively. We have no doubt that if 51 CEOs had been murdered in Colombia last year, this deal would be on a very slow track indeed.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


From Dahlia Lithwick:
Say what you want about how Congress forced Obama's hand today by making it all but impossible to try the 9/11 conspirators in regular Article II courts. The only lesson learned is that Obama's hand can be forced. That there is no principle he can't be bullied into abandoning. In the future, when seeking to pass laws that treat different people differently for purely political reasons, Congress need only fear-monger and fabricate to get the president to cave. Nobody claims that this was a legal decision. It was a political triumph or loss, depending on your viewpoint. The rule of law is an afterthought, either way.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Black unemployment up, despite overall US job gains

Details via Dean Baker.