January 29, 2003
THE DANGER OF PORK
THE DANGER OF PORK: Bush's budget increases spending by 4 percent. I don't know if this is "about two percent too much," as Stephen Moore says, but it's certainly pushing the edge of prudence. There will be a large deficit-- economic conditions along with the war make it inevitable. If the deficit gets too big, it begins to present a danger, not so much, as Robert Rubin believes, because of the effect on interest rates (many factors affect interest rates, and the Fed has pushed them down to a historic low), but because of the "crowding out" effect. As Milton Friedman has pointed out,
I do not know whether the tax cuts will or will not stimulate the economy in the short run. They put money in the pockets of taxpayers to spend; but simultaneously they take money out of the pockets of the investors who buy the government securities that finance the tax cut, money which would otherwise presumably have been spent on private investment projects. The net effect on total spending could go either way.In other words, holding the line on the budget could be critical to economic growth; if the government issues too much debt, it will crowd out investment in the private sector. Congressional Republicans are most willing to sell out their principles when they're larding up budgets with pork; thinking about the danger of a too-large deficit is not particularly comforting.
STATE OF THE UNION
STATE OF THE UNION: All told, a strong performance. From the early reports, I worried that there would be too much of a domestic policy laundry list and not enough time on the case for Iraq, but the structure of the speech ended up working well. Starting with the tax plan was probably wise, as economic woes are in the front of many people's minds, and ending with foreign policy, the most important job of the President, was a good strategy.
The middle of the speech, largely a return to the campaign themes of Compassionate Conservatism, was, in the very best sense, Clintonian: Bush grabbed a number of issues where the Democrats have a traditional advantage (education, health care, the environment) and partially neutralized them. The proposal for hydrogen fuel-cell research, in particular, is a masterstroke. An administration frequently alleged to be owned by Big Oil looks to be going further than anyone else to reduce our dependence on petroleum.
I was particularly happy to hear that Social Security reform is still a stated goal of the administration. Even more important were the encouraging words for democratic revolutionaries in Iran. Bush should be saying things like this more than just once a year.
Complaints: I disagree with the administration on the efficacy of the drug war, turning religious charities into government programs, and criminalizing cloning research, though I can't really expect them to downplay their favorite initiatives just to please me personally. But the one thing I really wonder about is the time spent on AIDS in Africa.
This is a very important issue, and might even be worth a full-length speech on some other occasion. I suppose it adds to the U.S.'s credibility in saying we want to liberate, not conquer, when Bush highlights the American humanitarian agenda. But the State of the Union is generally a time for the President to tell Americans what he's doing for us, and talking at such length about sending our money overseas strikes an odd note.
In cataloging Iraq's sins and re-framing the issue with the burden of proof placed squarely on Iraq, Bush is making up for a lot of lost time convincing and preparing the public. I think he did a pretty good job.
Finally, I want to mention Bush's discussion of North Korea, wherein the administration has made its biggest foreign policy mistakes. As Jonah Goldberg has said, "it's a position a week, because we're in a weak position." In tone, Bush seemed to take a hard line, but emphasized working with our regional allies and pointedly did not speak ill of negotiation, which will probably be a way of running out the clock; right now we're in a race to deploy a missile defense system (which Bush mentioned elsewhere in the speech), and this will dramatically change the rules with North Korea.
THE DEMOCRATIC RESPONSE: Gary who? Governor Locke of Washington looked like he had smeared charcoal marks for eyebrows and talked like a PBS educational series. I'd be surprised if many people listened to his entire speech, but if they did they probably wondered if this is really the best the Dems could do. It's delightful that we are now fighting not over whether to cut taxes, but how to do so, and the Democrats, with their more modest plan, aren't looking like they'll win this argument. They like to point out that the President's plan benefits the upper class more than theirs; they don't like to go into specifics, the way the President did, on what their plan means for modest-income Americans, largely because it would prove inferior.
Locke was at his most off-key discussing conservation. He accused the president of want to drill in Alaska instead of (rather than in addition to) pursuing conservation, immediately after the president had proposed a big chunk of money for hydrogen fuel-cells. The Dems looked totally unprepared for this.
KENNEDY'S TRIAL BALLOON: The report came in right after the speech that Ted Kennedy is planning on calling for a second vote on the Iraq war authorization. This is obviously a test of how well the public received Bush's case against Saddam, and if the polls come back in Bush's favor, Kennedy may back off. It may be wise for the Republicans to press the issue, and make the Democrats regret bringing it up; they can probably still pass it, and it may even be filibuster-proof (i.e., have more than 60 votes). Democrats have little to gain by going on the record again about the war.
(Note: the above was composed last night immediately after the speeches. I'm leaving the three items in one time-stamped post, Andrew Sullivan-style, to preserve continuity.)
January 28, 2003
MAILBAG: Wednesday I mentioned the email I got from Sunshine Voelker. I requested, and just received, her permissing to post it publicly, so you can read it on the Letters Page now. It's an eye-opener.
January 27, 2003
SUPER BOWL ADS
SUPER BOWL ADS: They're the only reason I watch the game, really, so having my ad-enjoying time interrupted by the half-truths and distortions of the Office of National Drug Control Policy greatly annoys me. The newest messages seem to be that smoking pot equals teen pregnancy; driving under the influence often involves marijuana; and, in two seperate spots, some "your drug money killed us" stuff from ghosts. (You can watch them all here.)
The first claim is almost too silly for words; it's an awfully long leap from "marijuana impairs your judgement" to a pregnant daughter in a white upper-middle-class two-parent family as portrayed in the commercial. (It would be a leap in a comparable black family, too, since the social stats on intact black families are nearly as good as those for intact white families, but the family in the ad is white, and the ONDCP's ad agency knew exactly what prejudices it was playing on when it made them that way.)
You can substitute "alcohol" for marijuana in the impaired-judgement warning, of course, though maybe it's meant as a teens-should-say-no message rather than an argument for prohibition. The driving-high scaremongering is worse, though, because it disingenuously says that "in roadside tests, one in three reckless drivers tested for drugs tested positive for marijuana," so it is therefore true that marijuana is "more dangerous than we thought." Really? The only people tested for drugs at the roadside are people acting like they're on drugs, and marijuana is the most popular illeagal drug in part because it's the least harmful. The proportion of the self-selected group is probably even higher, as people high on marijuana are probably recognized as high especially often, partially because of the smell and the effect on the eyes and partially because-- since it is so common-- most people, even cops who do nothing but traffic stops in the sleepiest of towns, can recognize someone on weed, while the same isn't true of some hard drugs. And alcohol is not only, of course, involved in a lot of reckless driving, it's also involved in a lot of the reckless driving that involves marijuana; many of those "one in three" were drunk as well as high. In fact, driving drunk, with its dangerous over-compensation, is in many ways more dangerous than driving with the slowed reaction-time associated with marijauna. A high driver will have a lot of trouble avoiding an accident if any treacherous situation arises, but a drunk driver will cause an accident all by himself by hitting the gas pedal too hard or turning too sharply. If this isn't a good argument for alcohol prohibition, it isn't a good argument for marijuana prohibition, either.
A comparison to alcohol is also apropos in the case of the "drug money supports terrible things" line. Al Capone did a lot of murdering, but since alcohol became a legitimate business, I'll bet your local liquor store has been really good about not killing people. This, of course, is an argument against prohibition, and the ONDCP's hubris in hammering away at this "what drug money does" subject is breathtaking.
Super Bowl ad time costs about $2.1 million for a 30 second spot; the ONDCP, a government agency supported by taxpayers, therefore spent eight million, four hundred thousand (that's 8,400,000) of our hard-earned dollars in one evening. If drug warriors insist on propagating this nonsense, can they at least do it without my money?
January 24, 2003
January 22, 2003
THE POWER OF GOOGLE
THE POWER OF GOOGLE: I got a nice email the other day from Sunshine Voelker, the union-resisting City of Evanston employee that I mentioned last week; her father apparently searched for references to his daughter in the press, found this site, and forwarded it to her. She thanked me for my comments and said she hopes I'll keep following the issue. I'll certainly try.
DISAPPEARING DERB: As Gene Healy, Jesse Walker, and Andrew Sullivan have noted, the post in the Corner by John Derbyshire mentioned below disappeared after Andrew Sullivan linked to it. It read: "A friend in DC emails to tell me that there are 100,000 antiwar protestors on the Mall. I am reminded of watching the New York St. Patrick's Day parade once with a friend of Ulster Unionist sympathies. As the massed ranks of Irish marched past, my friend sighed and said: 'The things you see when you don't have a gun!'"
Healy thinks this is "unbelieveably lame," mainly because he's dovish on Iraq; if they don't mind talking seriously about killing Iraqis, his reasoning seems to go, they shouldn't mind jokes about killing the Paddies. Please. A website's editors have every right to edit its content as they see fit-- in this case, that would be as Catholic-friendly pro-war editors see fit, not as Gene Healy sees fit. Derbyshire himself has written:
I do have some opinions that aren't very respectable — on race, for example, and homosexuality. On the whole NRO is easy-going about that sort of thing, which is one reason I like to write for them. There are boundaries, though. We are involved in politics; and politics, as Jonah observes, is about persuading people. I try my best not to send in stuff that I know the editors won't use — this is my living, and I'm not into wasting time — but sometimes I get it wrong. Then some polite exchanges take place, along the lines of: "The piece is fine, but we don't feel comfortable with that paragraph." Most often I yield on these things. I believe in the totalitarian-despotism model of magazine editorship — that is, I don't see why an editor should run something he doesn't like. I sure won't, when I'm editor of National Review. Very occasionally the editors will turn down a whole piece (this hasn't happened for at least a year). On about the same frequency, I will feel that the changes they insist on have gutted the piece to the point where I pull it myself.So this is pretty normal for Derbyshire. Just because a Corner post has seen the light of day doesn't mean they're obliged to keep it on their website, anymore than they would be with a piece spiked in the traditional, private manner.
January 19, 2003
CRYSTAL BALL: Andrew Sullivan will soon link to this post by John Derbyshire, continuing the chroncles of Derb's ventures outside the bounds of polite discourse. In this edition, Derb fantasizes about killing anti-war protestors (which is extreme, but perhaps forgiveable as a joke) by approvingly citing a joke by a "friend of Ulster Unionist sympathies" about killing Irish Catholics (which is a little creepy).
I have some confidence in this prediction, as I emailed Andrew the link as a nominee for the Derbyshire Award, AndrewSullivan.com's eponymous prize for rightwing extremism, and I just got a thank you back.
UPDATE: I told you so (ninth item).
AND SOON I'LL POST SOMETHING...
AND SOON I'LL POST SOMETHING HERE, TOO: I've got an item on Carol Moseley-Braun at PSR.
January 16, 2003
PLAGUE SPREADING: I've got more on the city council vs. U.S. foreign policy nonsense over at the Political State Report. It's spreading to Chicago.
January 14, 2003
SMALL TYRANNIES: The antiwar resolution wasn't the only thing of interest at last night's Evanston City Council meeting. The Daily Northwestern write-up mentions the city workers' union issue; it says "about 10 employees and residents" spoke on the movement by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to unionize all remaining non-union city employees. I'm pretty sure it was more than that; my recollection was that the Mayor said 16 people were speaking on the non-agenda item (it wasn't up for a vote; the City Manager was simply reporting on the progress of the deal that night); only a few were gone by the time their names were called. (It's possible I misheard the Mayor, of course, and I wasn't taking notes.)
Against the throng of workers pushing voluntary recognition of the union without a vote of employees, two brave souls objected. One city employee, Sunshine Voelker, said the union leaders had used misleading statements to convince employees; a union leader had said that someone from the city was threatening to cut X number of jobs, when in fact-- Ms. Voelker had been in the meeting in question-- what had really been said was that they needed to cut Y number of dollars from the budget, which equalled X number of jobs, so they'd better trim the fat to avoid firing people. It's no surprise that the union bosses are dishonest charlatans, no doubt operating under the belief that city workers are best served by lies to promote the greater good.
Racial demagoguery, too, was the order of the evening; the AFSCME representatives waxed sanctimoniously about how "it was AFSCME in Memphis" at the garbage strike where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. What this had to do with Evanston workers 35 years later was never quite clear; many of the pro-union workers happened to be black, but invoking King's memory every time black people are affected seems, shall we say, a rather roundabout way to achieve the dream of a colorblind society.
The Daily Northwestern, by the way, quotes Voelker as saying "If the union is passed, the city is a closed shop," but doesn't explain what that means. News reporters are supposed to explain jargon when it pops up; this might be an oversight on the part of a reporter so comfortable with union debates she thinks everyone understands them, but from the context I'd say it's a better bet that the reporter doesn't really understand the term, perhaps thinking its a hyperbole for the productivity the city stands to lose. (It means that no non-union workers will be allowed to work for the city, and thus city workers will have to pay union dues whether they like it or not.) Okay, so it's a college paper and it isn't nice to pick on them, but I do hope someone points it out; at The Ithacan, our faculty advisor would do a (woefully little-read) mark-up of every issue.
The small tyranny of the closed shop (which looks to be coming sooner or later, vote or no vote) was coupled with the smaller tyranny of a bicycle helmet ordinance aimed at kids under 18, which a few doctors and busybodies had come to advocate during the citizens' comment time. Alderman Stephen B. Engelman made a libertarian case against the government substituting for parents (you can imagine the way that one of the busybodies looked at me when I clapped for it), and several others questioned the ordinance's wisdom, especially its design-- it requires that if a child is ticketed, he (or his parents) would have to display a helmet (to prove "compliance," i.e. ownership of a helmet) before an adjudicator at 1:30 in the afternoon on a weekday. Alderman Edmund Moran wondered aloud about state consitutional issues (the Illinois State Supreme Court has struck down a helmet law), and Alderman Joe Kent questioned whether police stopping children and ticketing them would foster a good police-community relationship. Amusingly, only Engelman voted against the ordinance, proving once again how difficult it is to keep politicians from doing things, especially things that are For The ChildrenTM.
BERKLEY OF THE MIDWAY
BERKLEY OF THE MIDWAY: Last night David Weigel IM'd me with a link to this story. The Evanston City Council was voting on an antiwar resolution, and Dave wanted to cover it for the Northwestern Chronicle, the conservative weekly of which he's the editor-in-chief.
A synergy of interests emerged: Dave had only his bicycle for transportation on a cold Chicagoland night, and I had both a car and a serious case of cabin fever. Accepting any excuse to get outside, I drove down to Evanston from my current sojourn in Highland Park. (Here's a map to aid non-locals.)
At the meeting, naturally, were the antiwar activists, among them a pair of useful idiots fresh from a tour in Baghdad. They left long before the council actually discussed the resolution; their 8-1 victory was a fait accompli. The dissenting Alderman, Edmund Moran, gave an impassioned speech on the threat to our civilization, focusing on his respect for the armed forces. The Daily Northwestern reported on the meeting here, and as I write this Dave is working on the Chronicle's version, for which he interviewed Ald. Moran.
Ray Fassel of Los Angeles, who responded to my OpinionJournal report from Evanston in November of 2001, had a good point; Evanston is looking more like Berkley of the Midway all the time.
(To correct a common source of confusion: no, I've never attended Northwestern University; I was invited to do a couple pieces for the Chron, which you'll find to your left, when I was living in Evanston last year.)
January 12, 2003
BLOGGIN' AROUND: I will now be posting about Illinois politics at the Political State Report. Over there my own views on issues will be secondary to political analysis-- the opposite of the way it works on this site. My first post, you guessed it, is about George Ryan and the death penalty; specifically, an analysis of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times editorials regarding Ryan's blanket clemency.
Oh, and if you found this site through polstate.com: Welcome, and enjoy.
NOT THAT INNOCENT
NOT THAT INNOCENT: Following up on the post below, George Ryan claims he was right to empty death row because the system is so flawed that the innocent are being convicted left and right. This is a lie by any reasonable standard; as Ramesh Ponnuru has pointed out, many "exonerated" killers who leave death row are not "innocent" in the normal sense of the word, but are legally "not guilty" thanks to various technicalities. According to a study reported in USA Today, "at least 68 of the 102 ex-death row inmates on the 'innocents' list [vaunted by death penalty foes] don't belong there."
On a lighter note, here for your amusement is a sophisticated exegesis of the Britney Spears song whence we learn that Britney, like most convicts, is "not that innocent."
TRAVESTY: I don't think it is much of an exageration to say that outgoing Illinois Governor George Ryan is an evil person. I would say on a human-decency scale, he falls below both Clintons. That he was the first American Governor to do a photo-op with Castro is entirely appropriate.
Ryan may think that emptying death row is somehow a penance for his various misdeeds. (N.B.: Mark Brown's reference to "the Willis family, what's left of it" refers to six children who burned to death in an accident involving an unqualified trucker who got his license during the licenses-for-bribes scandal when Ryan was the Secretary of State, which is the office where driver's licenses are handled in Illinois.) In fact, the corruption and scandals and the anti-death penalty activism are all very much of a piece. To the victim's families, Ryan says, we don't care about your son, your daughter, your mother, your father; their extinguished lives are less important than the lives of their murderers.
Ryan is expected to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his callous and capricious subversion of the rule of law. If he wins, he'll be very much at home alongside another friend of Castro's, Laureate Jimmy Carter, and a friend of Carter's, Laureate Yasser Arafat.
January 10, 2003
RUN, BOB, RUN
RUN, BOB, RUN: The fifth letter here suggests that Bob Graham could never get the Democratic nomination for President, because he can't gain liberal support; they're still mad at him for endorsing Reagan in 1984. They'd reject a guy who's that popular in Florida over a 19-year-old snub of Walter Mondale? I thought Republicans were supposed to be the Stupid Party.
Regardless, Graham should run anyway, for the good of the country. His take on foreign policy-- see Michael Crowley's profile for background-- is unique and needs to be heard more widely on the national stage. Middle East policy wonks are observing an increase in the threat posed by Hezbollah; it has many of the advantages of a small state-- an army, de facto control over territory from which to operate-- without any of the restraint that comes from sovereignty. Michael Ledeen fears that Hezbollah, along with Islamic Jihad and Hamas, may attack our troops in the region, which is exactly what Graham warned of when he voted against the Iraq war resolution for being too weak-- he said the president needed authorization to attack terrorists in the region in order to successfully fight Iraq.
The fight against terror groups in the Iraqi theater may happen anyway; there's not necessarily a need for explicit Congressional approval in order to fight terror groups as part of the Iraq war, if they inject themselves into the conflict. (One hopes that military planners have a contingency for that already.) Maybe the Bush administration sees disadvantages to talking in public about this threat; perhaps they feel it would be undiplomatic to look too pro-Israel in front of the Arabs and the Eurocrats, or maybe they're afraid of provoking attacks that aren't a fait accompli. But it would be tremendously healthy for the country to hear warnings about this threat from someone. Since the aforementioned disadvantages lie in international exposure to this kind of talk, the ideal person to discuss this would get decent national exposure, but not much international exposure. Who better than a Democratic primary candidate?
Bob Graham, your country needs you-- even if your party doesn't want you.
January 06, 2003
THAT VOODOO THAT NEOLIBS DO
THAT VOODOO THAT NEOLIBS DO: Mickey Kaus is right to say, in his New Year's Day post, that Virginia Postrel's column on tax policy is quite useful. But his reaction to it-- namely to the permanent income hypothesis-- is a bit bizarre. This hypothesis holds that people and businesses act according to what they believe their long-term revenues will be; thus short-term Keynesian demand-side initiatives aren't very effective. This has empirical support; for example, the $300 tax rebates from 2001 appear to have gone mostly toward personal debt, and consumers spent far less than the neo-Keynesians predicted. (Bush's then-economic advisor Larry Lindsey, by the way, is most assuredly a neo-Keynesian in temperment, despite occassional dabbling in supply-side ideas; his professed synthesis is questionable at best.)
Since the permanent income hypothesis implies that the government's long-term ability to steer economic growth is severely limited, Kaus asks, "shouldn't we resist the 'permanent income hypothesis'?" Huh? That seems a bit like saying "the sky would be prettier if it were green-- let's pretend it is!"
Perhaps this mode of thought-- call it a willful blind spot-- explains why The New Republic, bastion of a center-left ideology fairly close to Kaus's, studiously ignores the permanent income hypothesis; they believe that a payroll tax holiday will provide "bang for our buck" by spurring low-income workers to spend, spend, spend, giving little thought to their more-highly-taxed future.
Is this the neoliberal approach to economic theory-- to ignore any doubts of the government's magical potency? Why isn't that what's generally meant by "voodoo economics?"
NO NEW MACROS
NO NEW MACROS: When I first glanced at this post of Andrew Sullivan's, I mis-read the beginning as "'A NEW MACRO': Paul Krugman just..." As in, Krugman's F1 key would, in lieu of "tax cuts for the rich," generate some other phrase. No such luck.
January 02, 2003
ALL GOOD THINGS...
ALL GOOD THINGS...: Dave informs me that his blog is fixed; go there for his latest posts. I did enjoy this little collaborative experiment, though; should the chance to do something similar come, I'll certainly jump at it.
SATIRE TAKES A HIT (by David Weigel
January 01, 2003
ATTACK OF THE CLONES
ATTACK OF THE CLONES: When I heard about Eve, I sort of hoped to learn that this clone story wasn't a hoax; it would just be hilarious if the first successful clone was made by a UFO cult. But Ron Bailey gives me pause with the observation that "If Eve is in fact a clone and she is healthy, she and the Raelians are incredibly lucky or they are concealing a lot of lost and defective fetuses." His suggestion of a temporary ban sounds like a good idea to me, especially since it would quiet the anti-cloners, at least a little. Of course I, like Alan Greenspan, think everything should have a sunset clause.
Naturally, Virginia Postrel has more on cloning, and naturally, it's good stuff; scroll down to "CLONE WARS."
DODGY DRAFT: Rep. Charlie Rangel is proposing a draft. Read Sgt. Stryker's post, now. Everyone's favorite military-blogger touches on a few reasons why this is a deeply evil idea. If extrodinary circumstances required many more warm bodies on a battlefield than is currently forseeable, only then would we even consider a draft. Rangel simply wants Americans to feel the pain of disagreeing with him (he's antiwar, naturally). A draft would weaken our military prowess and put Americans in more danger. It shouldn't surprise anyone that this doesn't bother Charlie.