Saddam, Not So Bad for a Bad Guy? - July 29, 2003

Times Watch for July 29, 2003

Saddam, Not So Bad for a Bad Guy?

In Nicholas Kristofs Tuesday column, Hearing Liberias Pleas, he argues for intervention in Liberia, as did the Times editorial page last week. Unlike the editorial, Kristof actually brings up his anti-war stand and addresses why he favors intervention in Liberia while being against it in Iraq: I argued against invading Iraq, but Liberia presents a much more compelling case for intervention. The difference is not that Saddam slaughtered at most 1 percent of his population over the last 14 years, while Liberian warfare has killed more than 6 percent of its population so far.

Thats misleading: Iraq is far more populous than Liberia. The 2000 population of Liberia was estimated at 3.1 million, according to the New York Times almanac, which set Iraqs population at 23.6 million. Its also creepy: Kristof says Saddam slaughtered at most 1 percent of his population, as if that makes him a not-so-bad bad guy. (By the way, thats still 200,000 people.)

Kristof also claims Liberia has an urgency to it that Iraq did not: people are being hacked apart daily in Liberia, and if we do nothing, the conflict may spread across West Africa. But in the sense of U.S. security, Liberia is rather less urgent than Iraq. Unlike Iraq, its never had a nuclear program and hasnt threatened its neighbors with weapons of mass destruction. But then, Kristof has never found such arguments credible.

For the rest of Nicholas Kristofs column, click here.


Injustice for a Taliban Fighter?

Tuesdays Page 2 news summary teases a story thats inside the paper: A Fathers Fight for Justice. Stirring sentiments, no doubt. So what injustice is this father fighting? Not much of one, it turns out. His son, Australian citizen David Hicks, was caught fighting with the Taliban in late 2001 and is now being held at Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba. His father is asking the U.S. not to try his son before a military tribunal but before a civilian court. The headline to the actual story is less exciting but more accurate: Father Asks To See Son Held by U.S.


More Bad Economic News From Gloomy Louie

Economics writer Louis Uchitelles latest gloomy piece, for Mondays front page, Red Ink In States Beginning To Hurt Economic Recovery, includes this sentence: In California alone, a tentative budget deal will presumably require the state to rid itself of at least $8 billion in current spending, with the cuts likely to fall most heavily on education and aid to the poor.

As journalist Mickey Kaus notes (page down to Monday): Since when do NYT reporters writing the day's front-page lead story get away with saying presumably instead of finding out what's actually? Kaus wisecracks: Gloomy Louie Uchitelle will paint the economy in any color as long as it's black.

It gets worse. The Sacramento Bee's Daniel Weintraub lambastes Uchitelles ignorance of the California economy, noting more than half of the reported spending reduction is actually a tax increase - the $4 billion tripling of the car tax." Weintraub says Uchitelles reporting assumes the simplistic notion that every dollar the state cuts from spending is a dollar somehow removed from the economy. Its just not so. Every dollar cut from state spending is a dollar left in the economy. There is a huge difference.

In fact, Uchitelles piece is a hodge-podge of conflicting statements and vague pronouncements. He claims states are cutting spending but is unable to provide figures, and basically admits defeat on the subject: The numbers are hard to add up, but even the most optimistic accounting has state spending slowing sharply while tax rates rise along with a variety of fees. The only bit of consistency is that the economic news is all bad.

Uchitelle is becoming the Times resident gloom-sayer. In a July 12 front-page story he wrote: Unemployment among blacks is rising at a faster pace than in any similar period since the mid-1970's, and the jobs lost have been mostly in manufacturing, where the pay for blacks has historically been higher than in many other fields. On Monday, he expands his reach to find bad news for everybody.

For the rest of Louis Uchitelles gloomy prognosis, click here.


The Moose Is Loose, Again

Donald McNeil Jr.s Tuesday story, From Eli Lilly to Front Line is about Randall Tobias, the retired pharmaceutical executive President Bush has nominated to oversee the spending of $15 billion to help people with AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. It also features a Times inside joke.

McNeil writes: Because one must point out the moose whenever it raises its head, it must be noted that he has just published a memoir and business advice book, Put the Moose on the Table. The moose is a business buzzword for a sound-management principle, that if there is a problem that everyone in the room knows about - the moose at the table - it must be discussed, not ignored. Some prominent executives, have been known to plop down a stuffed moose at meetings to encourage lively debate.

Dissecting that paragraph requires knowing some recent Times history. McNeil is probably referring to something Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. did during the papers unprecedented staff meeting at the height of the Jayson Blair controversy.

As the New York Daily News described it: In a surreal moment that reminded one staffer of Shari Lewis' old TV show, Sulzberger produced a stuffed toy moose that he sometimes trots out as a symbol of open communication. Its use struck some in the audience as a tone-deaf and patronizing gesture. Sulzberger handed the moose to Raines, who laid it aside. (Gawker has one possible explanation of the mooses origin.)

For the rest of McNeils story on Bushs AIDS in Africa nominee (and the moose), click here.