Sunday, July 31, 2011

NYT with some good economic reporting

Binyamin Appelbaum and Catherine Rampell have a great article on the front page of Monday's Times, "From Big Spending to Big Cuts, All While the Economy Stalls." It looks at what the actual research says regarding cutting spending in an economy like ours. Nothing crazy or new or groundbreaking here, but it lays out nicely how this is not such a good idea.

The best part is where they get some Chicago economist talking about his theory that it's actually the opposite:
Some conservative economists argue that even the immediate impact of a deal could be positive. Classic economic theory holds that people respond to the growth of government by spending less of their own money, because they assume that taxes will increase. A reduction in the federal debt therefore should encourage people to spend more of their money.

“From an accounting point of view, it seems obvious that you would reduce G.D.P. if you cut government spending,” said Randall Kroszner, an economics professor at the University of Chicago and a former Fed governor appointed by Mr. Bush. “But the key is really the impact on consumption and investment. If you reduce government spending and if people think that reduces uncertainty about the tax burden down the line, they may be more comfortable with spending.”

Economists who have examined the historical record, however, say the evidence is clear that the immediate impact of spending cuts outweighs any short-term benefits to confidence.

“When you look at the history of these things, the finding is that we shouldn’t be kidding ourselves,” said Paolo Mauro, chief of the fiscal affairs department at the International Monetary Fund and the editor of a book of case studies, “Chipping Away at Public Debt.” “When you do fiscal adjustment in the near term, it does have an adverse impact on economic growth.”



WaPo asks: Did Obama maybe actually win this battle?

The Post has an article up a couple hours now trying to come up with a case that maybe Obama did alright ("Did Obama capitulate — or is this a cagey move?")

Not exactly the most impressive work from Peter Wallsten and David Nakamura. They even go for this:
And Obama, branded a socialist by many Republicans for his big-spending stimulus program and his health-care overhaul, can declare himself a deficit hawk as he courts the political middle.
He could indeed do that! Turns out, though, there aren't all that many independents who care that much about the deficit. Yes, over the last year, polls show people care somewhat more about the deficit (not surprising considering the power and money going into the issue, and constant barrage from the columnists). But it's still mostly folks on the right. The independents who are actually in play, there's not much evidence you'd win many of them over by being a deficit hawk. And there is evidence that you lose a lot of them by threatening social security.

The White House presumably does indeed really think they can win over some independents this way. And they can tell that to the Washington Post. But the Post should give us some basic reporting on what the evidence is that the White House's strategy has a chance for success.

The debt limit big picture

Greg Sargent on how the GOP is on the verge of a victory that is not just unbelievably huge, but unprecedented in manner.

Go Matt Damon

Here's Matt Damon's speech against testing yesterday at the teachers rally in DC. Kudos to Matt for not having a problem with criticizing the administration. Some other celebrities could use help on this front.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The long-term damage President Obama is doing to the country

As Ari Berman eloquently lays it out today, by trying to out-austerity the austerity-hawks, "President Obama has successfully used the bully pulpit to undermine the case for progressive governance."

It's tragic. A bigger point is that in weighing the Obama presidency -- discussing the good and the bad -- we shouldn't forget the long-term damage he is doing on many fronts in defining American debate and influencing public opinion.

He's throwing current and future progressive goals under the bus. That would be one thing if there were short-term gain; in this case, the Administration has only lost the short-term battle, not won, by trying to out austerity-hawk the austerity hawks.

The slightly revised happy meals

Michele Simon argues that the slightly-less-unhealthy Happy Meals are not in fact a small step in the right direction, but not a step in the right direction at all. Remember, McDonald's is only trying to remain in control of the process.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Saturday Night Special: Metro Quietly Announces Red Line Trains Will be 30 Minutes Apart This Saturday Night

Metro quietly announced Monday afternoon that it would be providing less service during a single tracking operation than it previously had when single tracking the exact same section of track. As a result, trains on the entire red line will be 30 minutes apart this Saturday evening, beginning at 9pm.

All weekend, trains will be single tracking between Van Ness and Friendship Heights, as well as between Takoma and Forest Glen. No surprise. But Metro's plan is:
Red Line trains will depart endpoint terminals about every 30 minutes. On Saturday and Sunday between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., additional Red Line trains will operate between Van Ness and Fort Totten, resulting in service about every 10 minutes between these stations.
That's a new system. On the weekend of June 17, Metro single tracked those same sections -- yet provided 24 minute headways for the outer section of the lines, and for the entire line after 9pm (with 12 minutes on the inner section, until 9pm). And Metro has done that arrangement other times the Takoma-Forest Glen stretch was single tracked, too. (Takoma-Forest Glen is longer, and thus harder to single track, than Van Ness to Friendship Heights).

This time, it will be 30 minutes, not 24.

There was a time when far fewer people rode the metro on the weekend. Today, Saturday nights are bustling. This weekend, Metro will ask us to walk up to a station, and perhaps see an empty arrival board -- leaving us not knowing if our train is coming in 21 minutes, 30 minutes, or more.

Metro could continue to operate some of the core-segment trains after 9pm, and provide a 15 minute service, with alternate trains going the full length of the line. In fact, 15 minutes is what the regular schedule calls for. Metro is choosing not to do it.

A lot of us have tried hard to give Metro the benefit of the doubt. Weekend construction is a necessary evil; semi-permanent manual operation of trains has led to horrible spacing messes. These problems are somewhat beyond Metro's control. Having trains 30 minutes apart, when they used to be 24 -- and then not providing 15 minute service in the core segment -- are not issues beyond Metro's control, though.

Metro is making it awfully hard for us to want to give it a chance on the weekend anymore.

The pending trade agreements

Dan Froomkin has a good rundown of where things stand on the Korea, Colombia and Panama trade deals ("Free Trade Deals: Lobbying Fever Foreshadows Winners, Losers.") Some small domestic manufacturers are lobbying against it (small business!), but don't have much clout compared to the multinationals. And though dozens of tea party types in congress had campaigned against such trade agreements, most of them have now been whipped into line.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The echolocation guy

From Men's Journal a few months ago, a long article about Daniel Kish, a blind man who navigates the world by making sounds and hearing what comes back -- bat style. There are various videos on youtube, too.

How bad are CAP's education politics?

Education is one of those issues where the political lines are all weird. Or, I might say, an issue where otherwise sensible people lose it.

The Center for American Progress is fairly progressive on most issues, but not so much on education. In fact on Wednesday they're going to be jointly issuing a report on education with the American Enterprise Institute. Not good.

NYTimes goes with style that terrorism by definition depends on whether Muslims involved

The NYT has this in the version of the Norway story online at the moment:
Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.

There was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible.
In previous cases the NYTimes has used "terrorist" and "terrorism" inconsistently. In this case, the article is outright saying that it doesn't consider the acts of a Norwegian right-wing dude -- capable of killing 80 people! -- as being "terrorist". But if an Islamic group is linked to the crime, than "terrorists" will indeed have been responsible.

Not a good day for the Times.

Lots more on this from Glenn Greenwald.

Friday, July 22, 2011

NYT names David Leonhardt DC bureau chief

Very cool. A good day.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The NYT Facebook / Israel / Palestine article

See first Ethan Bronner's article from the NYT a couple weeks ago, Virtual Bridge Allows Strangers in Mideast To Seem Less Strange, then Ali Abunimah's response, and then the back-and-forth Abunimah has posted.

The Times article reported on a Facebook page where Palestinian and Israeli youth are hanging out. I wouldn't have thought to make that much of it one way or the other.

Abunimah lays out an extensive case that the article misrepresents the basic facts. Bronner had written that the page had "22,500 active users" - 60 percent of whom are Arab. Abunimah went through the page, and argues that there are in fact only a handful of Arabs who have any sort of regular participation at all on the page. I haven't gone through it, but these seems fairly convincing, and a relevant indictment of the NYT article, because it's a pretty central point. (There's a lot more to the dispute, but this is one of the key points of contention).

Why is Abunimah arguing, I wondered at first, that Palestinian youth in fact aren't interested in peaceful chit-chat with Israeli youth? Because:
Moreover, while falsely presenting the project as popular with Palestinians and Arabs, Bronner ignores the vast body of Palestinian public opinion that opposes such projects for violating the Palestinian civil society call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
This is the part I have no sense of, and I'd be interested to hear from anyone who does. What's the polling data actually say? How homogenous or diverse is opinion among Palestinian youth these days, and what does it say? Regardless of their views on the state of the situation in general, what are their views toward Israeli civilians? If Palestinian youth do in fact overwhelmingly shun contact with Israelis, is it even largely because of the civil society call for a boycott, or not? (I don't know the answer to this stuff, or how clear an answer there is).

At this point, I'm thinking, the NYT article seems to be a bullshit piece, trying to make something of this Facebook page, when it really has few participants. I don't know what Palestinian youth actually think, but a handful of them participating in a Facebook page doesn't provide much information one way or another.

But the weird twist is that in the 10th paragraph of a 23 paragraph article, Bronner throws in this: “At a time when Arabs generally shun contact with Israelis...”

That's exactly the view that Abunimah has of the situation, and what he would have wanted the article to flesh out. But it's frustrating -- misleading -- that Bronner just slips it in, without getting into the larger point. He's admitting that his article is something of a "the general trend is X, but look, here's Y going on over here" piece.

Those kinds of articles can be interesting. They're certainly popular, and editors know it. But they can also be rather misleading. And it's especially a problem when point X has barely been examined and reported in the first place.


More on groceries stores and health

I mentioned earlier this week a study finding that access to grocery stores does not in fact improve health. But the evidence in the other direction, the one we thought was right, seems awfully strong too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

WaPo's quaint efforts to get with the social media times

From Ombudsman Patrick Pexton's column earlier this month on the Post and social media:
A sign of the times is that Vernon Loeb, Post Local editor, has begun mandatory social media training for the reporters and editors on the Metro staff.
Sign of the times? Seems more like a sign that the Post is at least a couple years behind the times.

About that NYT story about gentrification in DC

About that story in Monday's print edition, Adam Serwer responds: You Can't Talk About Race In D.C. Without Talking About Unemployment.


I don't know where the term "TBM" first came from, but as far as I know it's Cosi that popularized it (tomato, basil, mozzarella).

My question is, if you're doing it straight up (no sandwich), what should the order be?

A search on Google Images brings mixed results. In a lot of cases, it's presented as a plate with a full ring of TBM, so it's not clear which one is the 'bottom' and which the 'middle' and the 'top,' because it goes full circle.

But of the photos that just have individual stacks, it seems like it's popular to have tomato on the bottom, then mozzarella, then basil.

That's what I went with today (also: salt, pepper, EVOO) --

But I'm interested to hear if anyone has arguments in favor of other arrangements.

Addendum: TBM, of course, also means tunnel boring machine.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Grocery store access and obesity

From the LA Times:
Better access to supermarkets — long touted as a way to curb obesity in low-income neighborhoods — doesn't improve people's diets, according to new research. The study, which tracked thousands of people in several large cities for 15 years, found that people didn't eat more fruits and vegetables when they had supermarkets available in their neighborhoods.

Instead, income — and proximity to fast-food restaurants — were the strongest factors in food choice.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Better late than never?

Catching up with the 1990s?

A little searching turns up a recent article in Restaurant News about current trends in wraps, including pasta wraps from Fazoli's. Because spaghetti tacos were only the beginning, apparently.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

3D printing is here

Not just some future fantasy. It's expensive, and you can hardly make everything, and the materials are limited, and... But it's 3D PRINTING.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Nation breaks story on CIA sites in Somalia

The CIA has secret sites in Somalia, including a prison. Jeremy Scahill broke the story in The Nation.

Friday, July 08, 2011

CNN's American Muslim

CNN's descriptive term for Nidal Hasan, the murderer at Fort Hood? The "American Muslim."

Friday, July 01, 2011

That turned out not to be true

Hey remember that Atlantic cover article last year, "ISRAEL IS GETTING READY TO BOMB IRAN" by Jeffrey Goldberg? He wrote, among other things, that a "consensus emerged that there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July."

Well it's July 1!

Justin Elliott does the follow-up.