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118 posts from August 2004

August 31, 2004

I'm with stupid

Like the Bushes, the Beyersteins have an idiolect. One of our favorite proprietary terms is "fardo", which means "vicarious embarrassment for someone who is too stupid or too insensitive to feel embarrassed for themselves." The agony of watching Jenna and Barbara Bush introducing their father at the RNC can only be described as fardo in stereo. Linking Barbara Bush Sr. and Sex in the City is never, ever a good idea. Not even in jest. I hope everyone in America winced at that line about giving foreign policy advice to "Condi." When a a twin lapsed into a pseudo-black patois, I just about crawled under the coffee table.

Amy Sullivan ably aggregates opinion at Washington Monthly:

Even Conservatives Hated Them....The verdict from the Fox News crew on Jenna, Barbara, and Laura is not good.

Bill Kristol: "The last half hour did not help, as far as I can tell, Bush's campaign for reelection."

Mort Kondracke: "Those two girls were ditzes. I'm surprised they were allowed on the program."

Fred Barnes: "I think she [Laura] had no place up there or the daughters either....Their mother said they'll be pursuing their own careers. I would advise them to look in some field other than comedy."

Bill Frist, coroporate criminal

Tonight at the RNC Bill Frist referred to his dad as "family doctor from Tennessee."

Nathan Newman explains what a self-servingly elliptical description that is. Newman wrote in 2002:

Frist is literally the child of corporate medical fraud and union-busting. While he bills himself as a heart surgeon, his relevant position was as member of the family which founded what became the massive HCA/Columbia health care hospital chain. Bill Frist's personal stake in the family fortune is unknown exactly (in the tens of millions), but his brother's share according to Forbes is $950 million. See this older article about the family's role in HCA and GOP politics.

And how did HCA/Columbia get rich? Raiding nonprofit hospitals, dumping the poor previously served and turning them into profit mills for the family bottom line. See here. Oh yeah, and massive fraud against the Medicare system, a fact that led to a $745 million criminal fine against the company back in 2000. (See the update below for late-breaking news of a new massive settlement by HCA for fraud).

What was the nature of the fraud? The worst possible in corrupting the patient-client relationship to the point of endangering lives. Marc Gardner was a vice-president at HCA/Columbia where he says he "committed felonies every day."

Frist and his "family doc" dad got rich stealing from the public purse. Frist now has the nerve to lecture America about his lifelong commitment to public service. He told us how he insisted that the Senate replace the "William Frist" nameplate on his office door with a plaque reading "Bill Frist, MD"

You can't be pro-patient and pro-corporate lawyer, Frist claims. No, you can't be pro-patient and pro-Frist.

Addenda: Slacktivist has updated the dirt on Ol' Doc Frist et fils. Hat tip to Ted of Crooked Timber.

Defending Cash's legacy from the GOP


More photographs of the Cash demonstration at Sotheby's.

An unexpectedly large crowd turned out to protest the Tennessee GOP delegation at Sotheby's. Lamar Alexander and Bill Frist tried to appropriate Johnny Cash's legacy, but New Yorkers weren't about to let them do it.

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was in attendance. Majikthise gave interviews to Triumph, AP, and the Nation.

Novak conflict of interest over "Unfit for Command"

Novak failed to disclose personal connection to "Unfit for Command" [NYT permalink]:

Among the stoutest defenders of "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," the best-selling book arguing that Mr. Kerry lied about his record of service in Vietnam, is the columnist Robert Novak.

In his syndicated columns and on the CNN program "Crossfire," Mr. Novak has lauded the book and referred to veterans who criticize Mr. Kerry - most notably John E. O'Neill, the book's co-author - as "real patriots."

Unmentioned in Mr. Novak's columns and television appearances, however, is a personal connection he has to the book: his son, Alex Novak, is the director of marketing for its publisher, the conservative publishing house Regnery.

In a telephone interview, Robert Novak said he saw no need to disclose the link.

"I don't think it's relevant," he said.

"I'm just functioning as a columnist with a point of view, and a strong point of view," he added.

250 GOP delegates sport "purple heart" bandaids

Republican delegate distributes "purple heart" bandaids at RNC. [Miami Herald, via AP]

RNC chairman Ed Gillespie got tough and made Morton Blackwell promise not to do it again tomorrow night. Blackwell remains unrepentant:

Blackwell, who gave out almost 250 of the bandages, said Vietnam veterans have every right to be angry about anti-war comments Kerry made after returning to this country.

[Via No Capital.]

You may prefer to ignore the man behind the bandaid. But those of you with prurient streak may wish to know more about this sticky little character. Here's a fun fact about Morton C. Blackwell from his own website:

Mr. Blackwell is something of a specialist in matters relating to the rules of the Republican Party.

He served on rules committees of the state Republican parties in Louisiana and in Virginia. He serves now on the RNC’s Standing Committee on Rules and has attended every meeting of the Republican National Conventions’ Rules Committees since 1972.

Addendum: Thomas H. Corey, National President, Vietnam Veterans of America denounces the 'Purple Heart' Band-Aids a Mockery of Service, via Olliver Willis, and Ted Crooked Timber.

Bush lies about which mistakes were made

I haven't heard anyone challenge George Bush's claim that we won the war in Iraq much faster than anyone expected. In fact, it took several weeks longer than Rumsfeld promised. Remember the week when everyone started complaining about "quagmire". Then the troops entered Baghdad and the entire regime crumbled and they had no plan to secure the peace.

The truth is that the Republicans "miscalculation" wasn't underestimating the speed of victory. Their fatal miscalculation was to overestimate the receptivity of the Iraqi people. It wasn't as if the US would have been any better prepared to rebuild Iraq if they'd had an extra six weeks of fighting.

The neocons promised that Iraq was ripe for democracy. Somehow, they expected that Iraqis would greet the Americans with flowers. The Americans didn't budget men or money to rebuild Iraq because they didn't think they'd need to. They hoped to occupy it, turn it over to private interests, install a friendly government, and leave. They weren't nearly prepared to stop the looting, to deal with the sectarian divisions, or even to secure the outlying areas of the country. They weren't prepared to secure the borders, leading to a huge influx of foreign fighters who are now killing our troops. They weren't even prepared for the decrepit state of Iraq's oil industry, which they had hoped would bankroll their imperialist adventures.

August 30, 2004

Guiliani and Sinatra at the RNC

Thad insists that Rudy Giuliani gave a good speech tonight. He maintains that although the content was a little surreal, but the delivery was very polished. Thad's being way too generous. The delivery sucked. It probably sounded better than it looked. Nobody's going to call Giuliani robotic because he's a Republican and he talked about 9/11, but that's how it came across. He cycled through hand gestures with an eerily authoritarian tempo. He'd pick one and repeat exactly for 12 or 15 cylces. He started with finger-wagging, segued to hand chopping, following by some sweeping, then some Clinton/Edwards-style thumbs up. Coming from Giuliani, it's more of an "up yours" gesture.

On to the content. Giuliani told us a charming anecdote about the Commander in Chief. Post 9/11, the President was tickled pink when a Real Live New York Construction Worker (a Big, Beefy Man with Big Opinons) clasped the President's hand and made some unprintable comments ("in his own language") about what the President ought to do to terrorists.

The former mayor also claimed that we liberated Iraq because i) Saddam Hussein was a weapon of mass destruction (Thad wins a beer just for that.) ii) We wanted to give the Iraqis "a chance" for representative government, iii) We needed to get rid of Saddam in order to win the war on terror. He also cautioned that that there wasn't going to be an actual end to the war on terror, except that we'd know it was over when representative regimes continued to progress and terrorist attacks stopped sometime in the distant future. Another beer worthy comment was the claim that free people always triumph over oppression--the story of the Old Testament, in Giuliani's opinion. I think that threw the crowd a little.

Then they played some old footage of Sinatra Singing New York, New York. I thought it was an odd choice because it's a song about how pathetic Red America is compared to Blue America. ("These little town blues...)

Big tent

Matt Yglesias on modern political protests:

At root the issue is that large contemporary protests have become these carnival-like escapades. It is accepted -- and, indeed, encouraged -- for as many people as possible to show up, whether or not they agree with the United For Peace and Justice platform, know what the UFPJ platform is, or even know what UFPJ is. As a result, it's hard to know what protest attendance signifies.

Matt says this like it's a bad thing. That's a framing error. The RNC protests are a triumph by a diverse coalition united in their opposition to the Bush administration.

United for Peace and Justice chose the tagline The World Says No to the Bush Agenda. UPJ was the largest and best organized of many groups protesting this weekend.

Pundits have been doing a lot of back-of-the-envelope demographics on the protests. The exact ratio of street theatrics to earnest sloganeering and stolid citizenry is irrelevant.

There is a common denominator: all of the protesters are fervently anti-Bush. At first I bristled at that description, but, upon reflection, it's fair and accurate. It doesn't really matter whether the half million people united for peace and justice shared a single conception of peace and justice, let alone that advocated by the leaders of United For Peace and Justice. All these votes count the same. There's plenty to dislike about this administration.

The Republicans figured out how to get small-c conservatives fall in with evangelicals and big business. The Democratic base has a lot more in common than opposite number. If nothing else, the RNC demonstrations should show the Democrats that must cultivate analogous alliances.

Billionaires for Bush make the LA Times

Watch the video: Dynastic Duo sings. Thankfully, the sound is turned way down.

Regression equations underwhelm at Olympics

Last week when I was hatin' on Ray Fair's election equation, skeptics told me to just wait and see how well regression equations would predict the Olympic medal counts.

I don't know how well Fair's Olympic model did this year. However, two other high profile models delivered a mediocre performance. Both models correctly predicted that developing countries would win a larger share of medals than at previous Olympic games. However, neither model came close to pegging the exact ratios for Athens 2004. See Daniel Gross' latest Moneybox column in Slate for details: Medal Miscount.

Last week some readers accused me of dismissing regression equations out of hand. In fact, I don't. The past is often a good predictor of the future. Fair's models describe interesting relationships. The election equation confirms the intuitive hypothesis that voters prefer incumbents during good economic times. The model is a concise way of describing historical patterns, it's just not an appropriate tool for making precise forecasts about the upcoming election.

If the future is often like the past, why should we doubt that this election will be a lot like previous elections? Well, as a great man once said, things are more like they are now than they've ever been. We know that this election is atypical in many respects. The model will only work if voters assign a historically average weight to economic conditions. This year voters are preoccupied with unusual non-economic issues like the war in Iraq.

Fair's model assumes that voters who feel good about the incumbent's economic record are likely to reelect him. The model only works if voters' sense economic well being is closely related the subset of economic variables specified by the equation: present economic growth and inflation, and history of growth during the incumbent's last term.

These variables may not correlate as closely with the average person's sense of economic well being as they once did. Economic growth is usually associated with job creation and rising standards of living. However, Bush's so-called jobless recovery has created an unusually small number of jobs. The jobs that have been created have been predominantly bad jobs with low pay, poor job security and few benefits. The number of Americans living in poverty has risen for three years in a row. The facts on the ground suggests that voters won't go into the voting booth feeling good about the incumbent and the economy.

To recap, regression equations have their place, but they are more suited to describing major trends over long periods. They aren't necessarily useful for forecasting complex outcomes with great precision. If we had nothing else to go on, we might be justified in relying on a regression model to predict medal shares, or election results. Luckily, we can do better. For example, I suspect that medal results for from the last series of world championships would have predicted the 2004 medal counts better than the regression equations. Likewise, public opinion polls are imperfect, but at least provide a snapshot of political opinion within a known margin of uncertainty. At least there's some direct causal relationship between political opinion today and voting behavior in November.

An aside: Fair fans point out that the equation as currently specified would have predicted 18 out of the last 22 elections. But the model as currently specified doesn't have a track record. The election equation gets re-calibrated after each contest. Fair doesn't say how accurate each incarnation of the equation was in predicting that year's election.

[Addendum: Newmark's Door tabulates the 2004 medal count, the predicted medal count of Bernard and Busse, and the 2000 medal count.]