TALE OF TWO TEXANS. Inspired by this mash note from Time 's Blog Of The Year, I remembered that one of the finest moments in Spike Lee 's masterful HBO documentary on Hurricane Katrina came when Douglas Brinkley -- who's much more shrill, and gratifyingly so, as a talking head here than he's ever been on Jim Lehrer 's show -- recalls the visit that President Lyndon Johnson made to New Orleans the day after Hurricane Betsy made landfall in 1965. Even considering the inevitable Lyndonisms -- "This is your president. I'm here to help you!" -- it didn't make for a very flattering presidential comparison last year, when David Remnick summoned it up, or today, for that matter. Anyway, here's a link to show you what a real president does, and how a real Texan behaves. --Charles P. Pierce

    FREE ADVICE. Far be it from me to give advice to the good folks at the Republican National Committee, and they're certainly entitled to risk death and dismemberment in the dungeons of Grand Vizer Kos . But, given the great vehicle that the Internets are for helping us celebrate anniversaries, do the ambitious little GOP drones really want to get snarky over the next couple of weeks on the subject of someone's relaxing vacations ? Just sayin'. --Charles P. Pierce
  • Really Bad Immigration Bill Numbers at the Washington Post (corrected version)

    I wrote a short note a couple of days ago about an article in the Washington Post on the immigration bill passed by the Senate. I wrote that the article used an estimate from CBO that was based on an error in the bill's wording that would almost surely be corrected before the final passage. After someone sent me a note, I reread the CBO report and I realized that the article had correctly reported the spending in the bill, as projected by CBO. However, it had neglected to mention the increase in tax revenue that CBO projected based on the corrected wording. The headline and the article itself referred to $126 billion in spending over 10 years (0.4 percent of projected spending). This figure is correct. However, the net cost of the bill, after taking into account the projected increase in tax revenue, is $83 billion over ten years, or 0.2 percent of projected spending. The article should have focused on the net cost, but I should have gotten my numbers right. --Dean Baker
  • Bad Housing Market News: The Surprise that Surprises

    House prices have stayed even with the overall inflation rate from 1950-1995. Since 1995 they have risen by more than 50 percent in real terms. There has been no remotely comparable increase in rents. As a result, home building has been hugely outpacing the rate of household formation and vacancy rates are at record levels. Given this information, economists should see a bubble in the housing market and expect prices to plummet. Instead, when they see bad news on sales, they are surprised . The news should be, "why are economists surprised by the collapse of a housing bubble?" Of course, the news five years ago should have been "why are economists surprised by the collapse of a stock bubble?" Unfortunately, the media never wrote that story five years ago, and they seem determined not to write the story about surprised economists this time either. --Dean Baker

    RACE IN REPUBLICAN RACES. Raw Story reporter Brian Beutler has catalogued a surprising number of racist remarks from Republican candidates this year and noted the national party's response -- or lack thereof. Unlike Macacagate , most of these examples have not garnered national media attention. (The heated GOP primary race to fill Katherine Harris 's House seat, for example, pits a candidate who issued an official statement noting Muslims' history of terrorism against a candidate who offered the choice nugget, "I know from experience that blacks are not the greatest swimmers, or may not even know how to swim.�) The frame of Beutler's piece seems to be his assertion in the opening graf that: "Republican leadership is keeping its distance from statements by lesser-known candidates that may be perceived as racially insensitive." But the evidence later in his piece only demonstrates that the RNC and NRCC haven't come out in support of these statements, not that they've repudiated them...

    WHY INEQUALITY MATTERS. My friend Will Wilkinson is puzzled over the excess concern liberal economists express over inequality. He gets why they'd care about each individual's well-being, but not why they'd worry about the gap between Tom and Bobby , assuming both of them have enough. I'm no liberal economist, but I sometimes play one on the blogs, so let me take a crack at it. What concerns liberal economists is the relative apportionment of income. Inequality is something of a proxy for this. Take the so-called Krugman calculation which, in the early '90s, showed that 70 percent of the post-1973 rise in incomes had gone to the wealthiest 1 percent. As he put it , "when incomes at the top of the scale are rising faster than the average, incomes farther down must correspondingly grow less rapidly than the average. In an arithmetic sense, we can say that most of the growth in productivity was "siphoned off" to high-income brackets, leaving little room for income growth lower down. "...

    BUSH V. GORE. Great presidents educate the public, and what's most distressing about the Bush era is that the president has so horribly mis-educated the public on the two biggest public policy decisions of his presidency: taxes and Iraq. On the first count we were told by Bush during the 2000 campaign and many times subsequently that, despite massive debt, annual surpluses were a problem for the public and the economy. (This is akin to telling a person with $10,000 in credit card debt that it would be a bad idea if, finding extra income at the end of the month, he should spend it rather than apply it to his credit debt.) On the second count, I simply don't have enough space to review all of the mid-education at work on Saddam Hussein as a threat, Saddam as an al Qaeda ally, the need and ability to democratize Iraq, etc, etc. The irony of the Bush presidency/ Al Gore non-presidency is that, during Bush's reign, Gore has succeeded rather well in educating the public about his own pet...

    DIPLOMACY FOR BEGINNERS. John Judis has a nice piece about the history and sorry track record of conservatives' odd aversion to diplomacy and liberals' tragic failure to adequately resist it. The upshot is that, specific issues and countries aside, the whole assumption that there's anything to be gained by either de facto or de jure denying diplomatic recognition to other countries is wrong. Having ambassadors in each others' countries and regular talks between officials about matters of common concern is just what countries that aren't actively at war with each other do. The idea that talking to Syria -- not necessarily agreeing with Syria about anything, but just talking so as to explore the possibility of agreement or at least understand what we're disagreeing about -- would meaningfully set back the cause of Middle Eastern democracy is daft. --Matthew Yglesias

    NEOCONSERVATISM: DEMOCRACY OR HEGEMONY? Reading Shadi Hamid new article reminds me that I really think liberals ought to stop saying that the Bush administration's foreign policy -- or that of the neoconservative faction within the Republican Party -- has ever really had anything to do with democracy. In particular, framing the foreign policy debate as one in which liberals and neoconservatives agree about democracy, but disagree about methods , while realists disagree with liberals and neocons alike on this topic is, I think, highly misleading. Neoconservatism is an ideology about American hegemony and the need to defend, entrench, and expand it through constant forceful action. Somewhat ironically, all this used to be better undertood. In the waning days of the first Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz , working for then-SecDef Dick Cheney wrote a controversial Defense Planning Guidance. As Patrick Tyler reported at the time for The New York Times ("U.S. Strategy Plan Calls for...

    STRAIGHT HOGWASH. John McCain stopped by the studios of Meet The Press last Sunday, where he was greeted by David Gregory , who is somewhat less of a regular on MTP than the senator is. The conversation got around to the NSA wiretapping decision last week, and the Straight Talker went right to the manure wagon . In fact, "most constitutional scholars" don't believe anything like what the senator attributes to them. Some believe Judge Taylor 's decision to be flawed in its argumentation, and some of them believe its rhetoric to be impolite. (Not me, God knows.) Glenn Greenwald has done a good job correcting the most obvious misinformation coming from the most fervent of these folks. But on the fundamental question of whether or not the president of the United States has the inherent authority to order wiretaps on American citizens without probable cause or a warrant, and in defiance of settled federal law on the subject in the form of the FISA statute, there are an awful lot of...