Political Animal

O’Reilly vs. Franken

O’REILLY VS. FRANKEN….Thanks to a comment from Linkmeister below, I just caught some CSPAN-2 coverage of a luncheon at the LA BookExpo featuring Bill O’Reilly, Al Franken, and Molly Ivins. Ivins and O’Reilly gave a presentation on their upcoming books, and then Franken got up and just tore into O’Reilly, telling a long story about how O’Reilly misrepresented an award he won and never corrected himself. O’Reilly just sat there fuming, and when Franken was done they started snarling at each other like a pair of wolves. Well worth the price of admission!

Franken sure is pissed these days. He’s still funny, of course, but he sounded dead serious most of the time, and he’s really, really tired of right wing demonizing of liberals. Plus he’s one of the few people who can hold his own against O’Reilly.

The comments to this post have sort of a real time commentary on the show if you want to read more. And if CSPAN repeats it (and they usually do), it’s well worth tuning into. Plenty of fireworks.

UPDATE: Right now (2 pm Pacific) they’re doing an interview and phone-in with Franken and Ivins. Tune in if you’re interested.

Income Inequality

INCOME INEQUALITY….David Adesnik pulls this quote out of a Business Week article:

From the ages of 18 to 65, the average male college grad earns $2.5 million over his lifetime, 90% more than his high school counterpart. That’s up from 40% more in 1979, the peak year for U.S. manufacturing.

This goes to the heart of whether you think increasing income inequality is a problem. I think it’s quite true that as our economy has become increasingly reliant on brainpower it has naturally rewarded smart college graduates far more than any other group. There are two basic reactions to this:

  • This is just the free market at work. People are paid what they’re worth, and smart people are worth a lot these days. That’s the way it goes.

  • This trend is likely to continue, and since not everyone can go to college we will eventually end up with an enormous class of ill-paid (or unemployed) workers who are going to be pretty pissed off about things.

The free market does indeed reward certain classes of people far more than others, and it’s not just the risk-taking entrepreneurs. The question is, do you think this trend toward increasing inequality should be allowed to play itself out naturally? Or do you think it’s going to lead to some pretty serious problems?

UPDATE: Dan Drezner’s take on income inequality is here. He gets the “income mobility” argument right, I think, but is much too sanguine about the health of the middle class. Sure, more kids are going to college, but that’s never going to be more than a minority of the population. And while resentment toward the rich may indeed be muted in America, will it stay that way if current trends continue? I have my doubts.

A Statistical Analysis of Bill O’Reilly

A STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF BILL O’REILLY….Here’s a peculiar coincidence: last night I happened to be thinking about Bill O’Reilly (yeah, yeah), and what I was thinking was that he was a fraud and a bully who barely lets his guests get a word in edgewise.

Now, this morning, via Virginia Postrel, I find that The Progressive Review has mathematical proof of this! Check it out.

Paul Wolfowitz and Vanity Fair

PAUL WOLFOWITZ AND VANITY FAIR….Compare and contrast. Here is how Deutsche Welle reported Paul Wolfowitz’s interview with Vanity Fair:

US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has admitted that the decision to wage war on Iraq was not based on the regime’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. Wolfowitz, an outspoken hawk in the Bush administration and a key architect of the Iraq campaign, said in a magazine interview that the weapons issue was agreed on simply for “bureaucratic reasons”. He told “Vanity Fair” that it was something everyone in the administration could agree upon. Wolfowitz indicated that the real reason was that a toppled Iraqi regime would allow the withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia thus removing them as terrorist targets. Seven weeks after the war, no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found in Iraq.

Is that what he really said? Yes and no. Here’s the relevant part of the interview:

Wolfowitz: There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed–but it’s huge–is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government. It’s been a huge recruiting device for al Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things.

I don’t want to speak in messianic terms. It’s not going to change things overnight, but it’s a huge improvement.

Q: Was that one of the arguments that was raised early on by you and others that Iraq actually does connect, not to connect the dots too much, but the relationship between Saudi Arabia, our troops being there, and bin Laden’s rage about that, which he’s built on so many years, also connects the World Trade Center attacks, that there’s a logic of motive or something like that? Or does that read too much into —

Wolfowitz: No, I think it happens to be correct. The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but….

There have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there’s a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two.

….The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it’s not a reason to put American kids’ lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it. That second issue about links to terrorism is the one about which there’s the most disagreement within the bureaucracy, even though I think everyone agrees that we killed 100 or so of an al Qaeda group in northern Iraq in this recent go-around, that we’ve arrested that al Qaeda guy in Baghdad who was connected to this guy Zarqawi whom Powell spoke about in his UN presentation.

Obviously, the German spin is pretty misleading. Wolfowitz didn’t say that the “real reason” for the invasion was removing troops from Saudi Arabia, nor did he say that WMD was just a pretext.

In fact, just the opposite. Wolfowitz did say that reason #3 was insufficient and reason #2 was too unsubstantiated to hang the case for invasion on. So for purposes of selling the war, they chose to emphasize WMD.

This is roughly how the U.S. media has portrayed it, so I don’t think Wolfowitz has been done any major disservice. In fact, if anything, I think it confirms the importance of WMD as a justification for war: Wolfowitz himself says the humanitarian argument is insufficient, and there are dozens of countries with terrorist ties as extensive as Iraq’s. It’s WMD and the willingness to use it that set Iraq apart.