Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Economics: I thought through the entire campaign that the Democrats' focus on the economy was misplaced. First, security was clearly the prevailing issue, no matter what pundits and polls said. Second, I think America felt that the economy was doing just fine, thanks. It turns out that consumer confidence was up in November, fortuitously timed to the midterms. The market has been consistently up, and the Dow is flirting with 9000 again. As that article also mentions, this market trend coincides nicely with an uptick in consumer spending and durable goods orders, both leading indicators, and a downturn in unemployment - which was not high by historic standards anyway. All this in the face of a four day weekend, which usually scares off investors - they don't want to take major new positions just before the market takes an extended break. Are we out of the woods? Not necessarily. Anything can happen - that's life. But the Democrats' blather about the crappy "Bush economy" is proving to be simply wishful thinking.
VAT, Take II: If I take your meaning, a VAT (at least as a sole means of revenue) functions more like a luxury surtax than a progressive tax - everyone pays the base tax on necessities, but the wealthier pay an additional amount on their (obviously higher) discretionary spending. Am I right? Okay. Suppose I could show that the numbers would run about the same, flat tax vs. VAT. That is, the dollar amount that Earner X pays would be roughly the same under both plans. (I have no doubt that the number crunchers could set this up to work.) At that point, the only legal way to avoid paying your "fair share" would be to live below your means, which is unlikely. In addition, there would be pressure not to live above your means either. I'm not sure, then, what the objection is, unless it's a philosophical one. (And, my support of consumption taxes aside, the philosophical objections to them can be pretty convincing.)
Hot dogs and DVDs: Okay, I'm going to get all economist on your ass. Let's deal strictly with the "bundle of necessities" that economists commonly use in these types of analyses. Assume everyone needs a certain amount of basics to get by (i.e. toothpaste, bread, milk, etc.), and that while any given product will have several band choices, and hence, price choices (this is the good ol' U.S. of A. afterall), the basis impact is still greater on those who make less. Now, is it an incredible burden? Probably not. But that's why given a bundle of tax choices, I'd prefer a flat tax, or even a less draconian progressive tax, to the value added tax. You also have issues with medicines and other products which one can't argue you can do without.
You weren't supposed to find anything...: The lead investigators at the Los Alamos National Laboratory were fired apparently for doing their job too well. This is sort of akin to Arthur Andersen auditing the companies it was also providing consulting services to. The point is only to have the appearance of actually doing something. One of the investigators is quoted as saying: "Instead of being praised for what we did, we were constantly reminded that we were working for UC (University of California, which operates the lab for the Department of Energy) and that our goal should be protecting UC's (management) contract." Comforting.
Re Whither Taxes: The disproportionate effect assumes that everyone buys one hot dog. The $175,000 earner will buy a lot more hot dogs (or will buy, in addition, DVDs, cars, houses, pet chow, foie gras, etc.) than the $17,500 earner. I accept the point, though. The problem with "progressive" taxation is the definition of progressive. By my definithion, as above, a VAT is progressive, as is a flat tax. The current progressive-marginal-rate scheme is not progressive but punitive. Thus, any meaningful tax reform plan can be called a sop to the rich, since the "rich" pay nearly all of the taxes. The only exception is the tax credit, which I dislike on philosophical grounds. Attempts to influence behavior through taxation are awfully at odds with the spirit of the Constitution, whether by giving a tax credit for driving a hybrid automobile, or by taxing a behavior such as smoking or driving a gas guzzler (or dying, for that matter).
Whither Taxes: I'm for cutting out corporate taxes assuming you lop off the subsidies and "corporate welfare." I'm against consumption taxes, or value-added taxes. They're popular in Europe because they go to extraordinary lengths to hide their income, but they are very disproportionate in their impact. To wit, a $1.00 hotdog costs the same for everyone, but for the person who makes $17,500 a year, it's much larger impact on him than she who makes $175,000 a year. This only works of course if you buy into the idea that taxes should be progressive at all.
Institutionalized: Yes, for God's sake, let's save the wonderful institution of marriage. If we let gays get married, people might start to lose their respect for marriages and start getting divorces! I can see no valid reason why the government should care who you marry (well, let's assume it should keep you from marrying non-humans and children).
Civil Unions: Kurtz says, "Right now, proponents treat the gay-marriage debate as a question of civil rights. But the real issue is what effect gay marriage will have on the institution of marriage itself." Well, no, actually. That's not the real issue. And Kurtz knows this, too. At least I hope he does, since the real issue is a very conservative one. The real issue is, "What business is it of the government?" The government should act as a repository of records on marriage, nothing more. I'm not in favor of a gay marriage law, I'm in favor of the government staying the hell out of the whole enchilada. Would you let the government have a say in the sex of your child (even, as in China, indirectly)? Why, then, do they deserve that say in the sex of your spouse?
For Balance: From the political to the social, I also owe NR a rip on the gay marriage debate. Here's the usually sharp Stan Kurtz's latest broadside. He hammers Al and Tipper's Joined at the Heart over the story of a well-to-do gay couple adopting the child of their housekeeper, who cannot afford the child:
The Gores find this story inspiring. Yet it's possible to respect and empathize with the Logans [the gay couple], while still doubting that their story is a positive development. While the Bush administration is sponsoring programs that try to get poor women, like the Logan's nanny, to wait until marriage to have children, the Gores are not attracted to traditionalist solutions. Instead, the Gores seem to be saying, "Have the child on your own. If it's tough to raise him, you can always give him to a wealthy gay couple for adoption."
Obviously this is not what the Gores are saying, and Kurtz is playing dumb for the sake of argument to say so. (Plus, if it were a straight couple, Kurtz would no doubt be delighted at the alternative to abortion.) Now, what the Gores are saying is that there are plenty of loving gay couples out there who would take wonderful care of kids who would be otherwise neglected, abused, or raised in rotton circumstances. Gay civil unions would help make that a reality by taking away some of the legal garbage that traditional families (and traditional adoptive families) never have to worry about.
Still More: National Review's Nordlinger says goodbye to Phil Gramm, as Congess loses its biggest opponent to the tax code.
More Taxes: We've discussed some of this before, but speaking of tax policy and the market (and of your point on pro-business deductions), two changes I'd like to see are:

1. A consumption tax. This puts the power in the taxpayers' hands. It is automatically progressive, and it deprives the IRS of its power, which is mainly based on you telling them everything you did with your money in the past year. Economic freedom in its essence requires no less.

2. A repeal of the corporate tax, but with an end to all subsidies. Speaking of market efficiencies, this one seems like a no brainer. It takes away some (but not all) of the need for businesses to create accounting lies and spin. It pays for itself through lower prices (particularly if we move to a consumption tax) and the automatic pork-cutting that would be the corporate cost for this pro-business policy.
Death by Taxes: I like the social science behind that Slate piece: take the sure deductions now over the possible future benefits. I don't agree with it, since I view this as a matter of principle rather than politics. I'm one of the people who would probably see little or no benefit from a flat tax. And part of the reason the GOP is realizing the flat tax is a hard sell is that people like me (middle class people who vote) want a tax system that is good for them, not one that is fair, efficient, or pro-growth. (Speaking of pro-growth, yesterday's WSJ has an editorial on the revenue boom in Russia - likely a result of a 13% flat tax.) This is exactly what Slate is getting at: The GOP has realized that they win on the simple tax relief message, not necessarily on the flat tax message.
The Onion Peels Again: The U.S. Army's Very Special Forces. The image of the plane is what does it.
Death and Taxes: Interesting article from Slate on the GOP's abandonment of the flat tax. I'm not about to go toe-to-toe with a Cato Institute devotee, but this article boils the issue down to a simple choice. Either you want deductions (and instant gratification) or you want the flat tax and its incumbent (one theorizes) long term benefits in savings and investment. What I never considered before is that big business will give up its deductions when you pry them out of their cold, dead hands, and that is why the GOP isn't pushing this forward. Good stuff.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Tarnished Prestige: Yes, by all accounts, the damage could have been greatly mitigated had the ship been brought into a port so that they could contain, drain and explain. However, no one was offering their docks, and no politician was going to make the decision. Moreover, it appears that there was only one company in the area that could have addressed the spill in a timely fashion. Finally, (and this isn't so much Euro-bashing as bashing universally), the rules on phasing out the single-hullers are so lax that it will still be a number of years before they're all gone. In any event, it was a typical European response. They can rail against our dependence on oil, but when push comes to shove, they weren't willing to lift a finger to ameliorate what became an environmental disaster. You know they're hoping for a drunk captain. One problem is that they can't tell who really owns the ship, much less who will assume responsibility.
Journalism: Last night, a story on NPR caught my ear. The story itself was about latino students in Georgia. That wasn't the tricky bit. The tricky bit was that both the interviewer and one of the interviewees implied that a local poultry processing plant is hiring undocumented workers. A careful reading (hearing?) might lead one to believe that both were even implying that the company was actively abetting the influx of such workers. Now, I'm not a specialist in journalistic ethics - but isn't that the part of a story where you let the company in question comment on the accusation?
More good advice: Saletan follows up (see this earlier piece on how to keep Saddam in line) with a list of excuses Saddam will use to flout the new resolution. Again, he's spot-on. I think the UN will be unlikely to avoid falling for at least one of the tricks Saletan names. Especially this one:
2. We're bound by the resolution's principles, not its rules. The resolution opens with nods to "international peace and security" and "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq." It then lays down specific demands. The principles are easier to fudge and exploit than the demands are, so Iraq says it will follow the former rather than the latter. The demands stated in the resolution's fourth paragraph don't serve "the declared goals of the Security Council," according to the letter, and the demands stated in the fifth and seventh paragraphs could be used for "purposes not related to the declared aims of the council's resolutions." Furthermore, says the letter, the resolution imposes "obligations" on the United Nations, including "respecting Iraq's sovereignty and security, and respecting its national interests."
This will keep the Security Council chasing its tail, at least until the window for war has passed for this year.
The WSJ had a great front-page story on the Prestige oil spill yesterday. Remember how America got such a black eye from the Valdez spill? Remember how the Europeans have for years played up their "clean, green" attitude while hammering us for denying the ridiculous Kyoto protocol? Tragic, but ironic, what happened two weeks ago:
But sealing the badly damaged ship's fate, Spain refused to let a salvage team bring the Prestige into the bay or to tow it through Spanish waters to a port in Gibraltar. Portugal wouldn't allow the tanker within its territorial waters, either. Both countries dispatched navy warships to enforce their decisions, keeping the crippled Prestige in the roughest channels of the Atlantic Ocean.
Inevitably, the rough waters tore the ship apart. Neither country wanted to assist the troubled ship in any significant way, obviously fearing that they would end up "owning" the result. Instead of a minor oil leak from a fractured hull, we get a full hull breach and the massive spill that followed. How European.
Can't load this page...: Frustrated by bad urls and out-dated links? Wouldn't this error message at least be comforting because it's true?
George Will, talking about Saudi Arabia this morning on Imus, said (roughly), "It's not a country; it's a family with a flag." Nice.
Sour-Grapes-in-Chief: He doesn't get to be president. Then, at a time when every conservative and his dog has a bestseller, he can't get arrested with his book. Al Gore is looking more and more like Charlie Brown these days. Even funnier is the spin from his camp. Former flack (and moronic flack at that) Chris Lehane, asked why nobody is buying the Gore's book, tells Lloyd Grove (link via Drudge):
As long as Justice Scalia -- Judge Grinch -- does not have the Supreme Court rule that the Gores' book cannot be a stocking stuffer for the holidays, I am sure it will do well. Also, Bush should like the Gore picture book -- with all the photos, it is right up his alley, while the Woodward book seems to be a little long and dense for his type of a read.
Current spokesweasel Jano Cabrera essentially agreed with Lehane. This is why Gore doesn't get to be anything of consequence. He's tone deaf, his flacks are tone deaf, and they're politically stupid, nasty, and belittling in the bargain (but on Gore's orders, no doubt). Let's say you wanted to a) sell your book to the American people, and b) sell yourself to the American people two years from now. What sorts of things would you avoid doing? For one, I'd avoid making fun of a president who is popular, respected, and (if midterms are any indication) pretty good at turning out massive support.

Monday, November 25, 2002

The Axis of Banal Predictability: Here, via the Corner, is Jacques Chirac. Glad he's keeping up on important matters of global concern. Well, what else would you expect from the president of France, for chrissake? The only thing that could top this would be a shot of Bill Clinton, at some or other "for the children" meeting of unofficial or disgraced international policy-muckers, leafing through Maxim while someone at the podium cites infant mortality numbers.
Great point about Europe's backyard. But reversing the idea is enlightening as well. The French, who have consistently dragged their feet on Iraq, have more of an economic interest there than we do. If Serbia were sitting on top of a bunch of black gold, and had the oil money to also be an importer of European goods, the French might have held NATO back in the same way. Funny that the peace crowd at home cries, "Not another war for oil!" Perhaps the dissidents (i.e., hawks) in France should say, "Not another phony peace for oil..."
Imperative Liberal Morals: The funny part about war "protests" is that those protesting are the ones who will never end up going to war (i.e. women, AARP beneficiaries, and mop-haired young lads who will be on first train to Canada when the bombing begins). I'm not sure what this says, but it says plenty. Serbia only got the attention it did because the Europeans found this mess in their backyard, and couldn't easily ignore it as they are wont to do. Secondly, there was no history with Serbia like there is with Iraq. Desert Storm was our last "war", as opposed to Serbia which was more akin to "policing activities." Even though we kicked ass, and only the bad guys were getting killed, most people envision this time being somehow different with a loss of life on the Vietnam scale. I think that has more to do with the protests than any "moral imperative."
Denial: The most interesting unspoken point of this article is that the U.S. central bank has been the most active in the economy while the Euros fiddle. When Germany can't meet the requirements of the E.U. economic standards, abandon all hope. Not that Germany is the model of capitalist thought (try to fire someone in a German corporation [assuming he or she is not on vacation]), it's just that it was such a powerhouse when the E.U. was formulated and had the biggest headstart (okay, you could argue that little issue of absorbing East Germany had its impact). In any event, note that there's no talk of re-working their economic systems. Rather, the self-imposed requirements of E.U. membership were obviously too harsh. This is akin to blaming talk radio for your having lost a recent mid-term election.
The Liberal Moral Imperative: They were out marching in the town square where I live this weekend - they being the anti-war left. At the risk of sounding platitudinous, war is an issue reasonable people can disagree on. But nobody I've seen marching around is being reasonable. The civil rights movement (i.e., the last time the liberal cause had the moral high ground) has become the paradigm of modern sloganeering. Several good folks out there have been over this a number of times, so I won't belabor it, but what about Serbia? The UN, of course, condemned the NATO campaign (since nobody was bombing Israel, they had to condemn it) to "save the Kosovo Albanians" from Slobbo (to crib from the NY Post). I don't remember any marchers then. Well, except me. I didn't actually march (I had a job), but I thought there was no reason to violate the sovereignty of Serbia. Milosevic had no serious weapons; his "ethnic cleansing" turned out to be minor when compared to Saddam's awful pogroms against the Kurdish minority; there was little chance of the conflict moving outside a limited territory -- yet Milosevic was a war criminal who was unfit to rule his country. With Saddam, that all turns around. Yes, he does have a history of weapons acquisition; yes, he did lead brutal campaigns against the Kurds; and yes, he is horsing around in The Big Powder Keg area of the world. But ... what?

Reasonable people can disagree, but hypocrites don't count.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Brutha America: Okay, I stopped reading comic books at least 10 years ago, but still, when I heard about this. I have to admit to being a bit shocked. But then, I was psyched. What a great way to shake up a 40+ year franchise and make it relevant again. The negative reactions to this development have mostly come from comic purists (whoever they may be) and simple racists. I hope it "turns this mutha out."
The Name is Bond... I was batty for the James Bond movies as a kid. And, let's face it, movies like "Moonraker" and "The Spy Who Loved Me" were greasy kids' stuff in a big way. As I got older, I read the Fleming books and found the Connery Bond closer to the spirit of Fleming's character. (Roger Moore was cool and suave, yes, but the Bond of the books is a cruel and coldhearted son of a bitch.) Unfortunately, the earlier movies now suffer from the fact that the later ones mined them for formula. If you've seen all the later movies, then a classic like "Dr. No" will simply seem familiar, but in a cheesy, low-budget way (especially the now-standard "destroying the bad guy's lair" denouement). Shame, really, because the first few films were truly innovative and fun. Long ago, I hated seeing Brosnan passed over for Timothy Dalton. By the time Brosnan got the gig, I was too old and too fed up to care anymore. (Okay, I saw the first Brosnan outing. It was awful.) Ironically, Brosnan was in the best spy flick in ages, "The Tailor of Panama," between his Bond work. "Tailor," with it's cruel and self-serving anti-hero spy, is a successor to the Bond tradition of, say, "Thunderball," wherein the now hackneyed Bond humor is original, quite barbed, and thoroughly black. (He makes several of the famous Bond puns - the ones nowadays usually made over the "dryness" of a martini - in comparatively cruel circumstances, usually involving the brutal death of an enemy.) Ye gods! Look at how long this has gotten. Apologies to those not already in Bondage.
Poor, poor, pitiful me: No, no, I'm not referring to my own poor existence (this time), but merely quoting one of the most quotable song-writers of our time. As those who care know, Warren Zevon is on his way out. Too much hard-living, apparently.
Stiffening the GOP Spine: Randy Barnett, another fellow from the esteemed Cato Institute, backs me up on the GOP losing economic conservatives. He looks harder at the principia of the issue, but it sells to voters in the policy.
Certainly Don't Die Today If You Can At All Help It: First the New Yorker (link no longer available it seems) and now the Standard. Trashing what has become of Bond (movie) series is very au courant. "Die Another Day" is getting split reviews, but the question I have is: Were the Bond movies ever very good? I think this article delves into this somewhat by praising the first 3 installments, but it also seems to admit that the movies have never been about good cinema. People go for the babes, the baubels, and the Bond. That said, the explosions are growing tiresome. We've been over this before. Maybe they should just cut to the chase and make Vin Diesel the next Bond.
More on '04: Yes, the GOP is going to run to the center over the next year, in order to have items to tout in 2004, and also to steal some Dem thunder. But does that hurt the GOP, too? See Radley's take here on Democrats versus pseudo-Democrat-Republicans. The GOP has a historic opportunity waiting to be pissed away, now that it controls Congress, and they seem poised to piss it away. Heading for the center is the CW move, but it will depress base turnout. A lot of fairly conservative folks, who mainly don't give a crap about abortion, feel it's time to address Social Security and other budget-busting entitlements looming ahead, apply meaningful tax code reform, and dismantle the bureaucracy that eats such a large portion of those taxes. They won't be sated by minor policy tweaks, targeted tax credits, and increased entitlement spending. It comes down to the same question I ask people who moan about Bush's "right-wing" agenda: Can you name a policy supported by Bush that could not be supported safely by a good chunk of the DLC? I sure can't, to my great dismay.
Huuuuuu are you?:

By James Sherman

(We take you now to the Oval Office.)

George: Condi! Nice to see you. What's happening?

Condi: Sir, I have the report here about the new leader of China.

George: Great. Lay it on me.

Condi: Hu is the new leader of China.

George: That's what I want to know.

Condi: That's what I'm telling you.

George: That's what I'm asking you. Who is the new leader of China?

Condi: Yes.

George: I mean the fellow's name.

Condi: Hu.

George: The guy in China.

Condi: Hu.

George: The new leader of China.

Condi: Hu.

George: The Chinaman!

Condi: Hu is leading China.

George: Now whaddya' asking me for?

Condi: I'm telling you Hu is leading China.

George: Well, I'm asking you. Who is leading China?

Condi: That's the man's name.

George: That's who's name?

Condi: Yes.

George: Will you or will you not tell me the name of the new leader of China?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir? Yassir Arafat is in China? I thought he was in the Middle East.

Condi: That's correct.

George: Then who is in China?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir is in China?

Condi: No, sir.

George: Then who is?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir?

Condi: No, sir.

George: Look, Condi. I need to know the name of the new leader of China. Get me the
Secretary General of the U.N. on the phone.

Condi: Kofi?

George: No, thanks.

Condi: You want Kofi?

George: No.

Condi: You don't want Kofi.

George: No. But now that you mention it, I could use a glass of milk. And then get
me the U.N.

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Not Yassir! The guy at the U.N.

Condi: Kofi?

George: Milk! Will you please make the call?

Condi: And call who?

George: Who is the guy at the U.N?

Condi: Hu is the guy in China.

George: Will you stay out of China?!

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: And stay out of the Middle East! Just get me the guy at the U.N.

Condi: Kofi.

George: All right! With cream and two sugars. Now get on the phone.

(Condi picks up the phone.)

Condi: Rice, here.

George: Rice? Good idea. And a couple of egg rolls, too. Maybe we should send some
to the guy in China. And the Middle East. Can you get Chinese food in the Middle
Gore in Oh-Four: Rush Limbaugh had the same point to make about Gore and his alleged heart's desire for a state-wide recount. Try 3 or 4 counties in S. Fla. Another point Rush made (no not that Rush) Gore and the Dems in general is that until a candidate comes forward the GOP can monopolize the national debate for the next sixteen months. Moreover, and hold onto your hats, first up on the agenda in '03: healthcare for needy seniors and "right-sizing" the federal workforce. Won't look good for Dems to be seen fighting against elderly healthcare. The workforce issue they can take on (unions won't like it), but the Dems need an issue fast. Oh, and before you get worked up, I only listened to Rush between segments on NPR - the enemy you know is better than the enemy you don't.
Q: How do you know Al Gore is running for President? A: He starts making stuff up again. Gore says all he wanted in Florida was a statewide recount. Call your lawyers, Al. George Will has the goods.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

This is capitalism??: Actually, it's not. The Connie posts its latest missive in the tale of woes to come out of Japan and its decade-long fall into the abyss. Remember when we were all panicking over Japan buying up all the ground in the United States, not to mention our movie studios and technology companies? I'm not sure why we thought a country the size of New Jersey could muster the capital to do all this, but in any event, they couldn't...and didn't. It's now so bad, it is widely believed that some of the banks are going to be nationalized. What it all boils down to is that we fell for one of the biggest ponzi schemes ever. Essentially, the Japanese got rich through wild, mad land speculation which led to parcels being turned and churned in mere days between 2, 3 even 4 sets of hands, with the banks nodding all the way. Well, eventually, the last guy in realizes he's screwed, and fails. The bank is then left with a debt of X and a parcel of land worth Y. Now insert 100 MM Yen for "X", and 20 MM Yen for "Y", and multiply this by as many transactions as there were in that time, and you can see the problem. Of course, the banks were in bed with the corporate cartels that artificially kept employment high, while neglecting shareholders and bottom-line fundamentals. In short, they weren't master capitalists. More like master...well, anyway. It's hard to remember the hysteria that provoked Michael Crichton to write "Rising Sun."
Broken Clocks: Here's a good point from the left on war talk. I don't often find myself praising Joe Conason, but he's right that conservative dissenters on Iraq aren't subject to the same vitriol as southpaw dissenters. The payoff:
Perhaps the most prominent conservative dissenter is Robert Novak, dark prince of the hard right, who voices serious misgivings about the war so many of his fellow conservatives are so eager to begin … Yet he enjoys complete immunity, for a simple, cynical reason. "War" is a political weapon that Republicans have been using against Democrats since Karl Rove openly declared this strategy last winter.
Of course, Conason ignores the larger point, namely that GOP dissenters like Novak are staking out their windward positions based on conviction. (They stand to gain little from dissent; and Novak would surely rather die than shill for the Dems.) On the other hand, many Democrats are just as "openly" approaching the war issue with a moist finger in the breeze.
More Havel: The Czech President also takes on, by implication, the Iraq situation. (Again, bear in mind that we're talking about Europeans, after all.) This excerpt, regarding the Bush Doctrine, is particularly strong:
I have usually leaned toward the opinion that evil should be combated rather in its germinal stages than in its expanded forms, and also toward the belief that human life, human freedom and human dignity represent higher values than State sovereignty. This leaning, perhaps, gives me the right to raise this serious and complex issue.
From here he waffles a bit, but he is brave enough to bring up Munich as a lost opportunity to smother evil in its crib. Was that a message to Gerhard Schroeder, who has been more French than the French on Iraq?
Backhanded Compliment: Vaclav Havel's NATO speech is here. It's worth the reading. And he rolls out a defense of America's projection of power that goes like this:
Europe should perhaps remind itself, more than it has before, that the two greatest wars in the world's history to date grew on its soil from conflicts between European countries; and, that on both occasions it was the United States, which had no part in the outbreak of those conflicts, that eventually made the decisive contribution to the victory of the forces of freedom and justice. And more than that: Who knows whether Western Europe would have been able to hold its ground during the Cold War and withstand the Stalinist, or the Soviet or the Communist, expansion if it had not been backed by the immense potential of strength brought in by the United States … Looking back at all we have been through during the twentieth century … Europeans should be more conscious of the roots and the type of the American responsibility and, if necessary, show a certain amount of understanding for the occasional insensitivity, clumsiness or self-importance that may come with this responsibility.
Disappointed? Folks, this "you don't sweat much for a fat person" compliment is as good as it gets coming from a European head of state.
What is it about wackos and hygiene?: The Howard Hughes/Saddam comparison deserves to be brought to light. What's interesting is that these gentlemen, leaving all other issues aside, all share fanatical hygiene hang-ups. Hughes thought staying in a lightless, airless, foodless environment was apt to make him MORE healthy. Saddam seems to need to bathe 2-3-4 times a day. Different drug, same addiction. Hmmm, anyone else have these issues? Say, Michael Jackson? Now he's got his kid wearing veils to "protect against kidnapping." This from the guy who wears surgical masks and gloves as a matter of course. Anyway, that's your tipping point. When you obsess over hygiene, it's time to call for the men in the white coats.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Snow Bowl? Stephen Hayes suggests that the NFL live up to its tough image and quit restricting the Super Bowl to warmer climes or domes. Criminy! What's next, being allowed to tackle a quarterback? Hayes rightly cites the '67 "Ice Bowl" in Green Bay as precedent for edge-of-the-seat football. Growing up as a Steeler fan, I loved the snow games, particularly when the Oilers came to town.

This link came courtesy of a reader who laments the status quo:
Should the Super Bowl be played in "the elements"? Absolutely. It would rejuvenate a game that has become better known for Doritos commercials and N'Sync than for good old fashioned "smash mouth football." Where are today's Steel Curtain, Purple People Eaters, and Hogs? They manage to play in all kinds of weather from November through the playoffs, but the toughest of the tough, the conference champs, can't play in less than ideal weather. C'mon, people. Baseball players, the most pampered of all, play the World Series in cold weather, usually in NYC. The Cubs, Tigers, and Sox (Red and White), would all proudly host 3 or 4 series games, if they could get there. Let's see it happen.
The Standard, Weakly: Yes, there's less whining than expected in the Weekly Standard's piece on Libertarian spoilers in the midterm election, but it's the same old nonetheless. One paragraph begins with this transparency: " Although both Republicans and Libertarians support lower taxes, smaller government, and a free-market economy ..." Hmmm. That description of Republicans sounds so ... 1994. On the cusp of the great failure of Keynesian policy, Nixon famously declared, "We're all Keynesians now." Likewise, we're all Democrats -- er, compassionate conservatives -- now.
Good advice: Saletan offers 10 rules for success in Iraq. He makes the rules look pretty obvious, mainly by citing how we've broken them (or allowed Saddam to) in the past 11 years. Rule 10 is particularly important, given the typically fatuous media groupthink that we're making "progress":
10. Don't separate diplomacy from force. When the Security Council passed its resolution, pundits and foreign leaders congratulated Secretary of State Colin Powell for leading the administration's diplomacy camp to victory over its war camp. But if the hawks hadn't been noisily preparing for war, the diplomats wouldn't have obtained the resolution. If Iraq cooperates with the inspectors in the weeks ahead, people will say that it shows military power isn't necessary. In fact, it will show the opposite.
Good stuff.
That New York Times Editorial: Here's a summary that doesn't require you to give the NYT your demographics. Is it really "brazen discriminat[ion]" that Augusta, home of the Masters, does not allow women to be members? (Never mind. Enough bloggers out there can argue the Constitution better than I, and the Times actually admits to Augusta's freedom to associate, though with the implied suggestion that the Times be arbiter of which exercises of that freedom are "particularly regressive.") The truly sad part is the attempt to guilt Tiger into playing the race game, rather than the golf game. Rare kudos to Jesse Jackson for observing that the NYT is unfairly focusing on Woods. Of course, Jackson spoils it by making the obscene suggestion that Tiger is "too much a beneficiary of our struggles to be neutral." Get that, Tiger? The color of your skin makes you beholden to Jackson's "movement" of race baiters. Tiger didn't become the best golfer in the world through some affirmative action program, or a protest to allow this or that group into a private club. He became the best through sheer determination, hard work, and self-reliance. He's beholden to nobody, least of all to racial shell-game artists like Jesse.
Offensive speech: Listening to NPR this morning, I heard the end of a story about Harvard's flirtation with a "speech code" to restrict speech that might be deemed offensive. Whatever that means. (Luckily, I didn't have to scream at the radio: Dershowitz was one of the interviewees, and he quickly eviscerated the pro-code argument.)

What astounded me, though, was what a proponent of the code said (I'll have to paraphrase, since the transcript isn't online yet) when asked what sort of speech would be banned: Well, she said, I guess we'll know it when we see it.

Dorothy Rabinowitz shudders. Mr. Justice Stewart, somewhere, nods.

Update: The Boston Globe's coverage includes some choice bits of the Dershowitz dissent.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

More Prescience: The Weekly Standard weighs in on Saddam's lunacy with this piece, a review of a Saddam documentary by French filmmaker Joel Soler. The payoff statement is this: "Saddam, it turns out, is a gold-plated weirdo of the Howard Hughesian stripe." It seems to me that I've heard this analysis somewhere before.
Gays in the Military: Sully takes on the military mindset. I'm so glad to read this, since it is something I've thought for a while: When someone from the military argues (usually as a last resort) for "don't ask, don't tell," they often end with a statement like this (from a letter to Sully from a Navy E-5): "Openly gay personnel would have a negative effect on good order and discipline and some of them would get HURT." I'm embarrassed to hear this kind of reasoning, this kind of abdication of responsibility, even from an enlisted sailor (but certainly you'll hear it from officers, too): We just can't be trusted to behave like the gentlemen soldiers and sailors we're expected to be if you put some gays in with us.

Seems to me that this mindset explicitly admits that the problem of "order and discipline" comes not from having gays in the military, but from having bigots there. What's the appropriate response? My suggestion: "You know what, sailor? This is the United States Navy you're talking about; it's not some goddamn sailing club for you and your friends, and it's surely not a democracy. Nobody asked with whom you will and will not consider serving honorably. If your president asks you to eat, shower, and fight next to a bearded lady, you'll damn well do it and like it."
Paging Mickey Kaus: Can I get a Series SkipperTM here, please? As with Bob Woodward's earlier Ten Days in September, his current series on the Afghanistan campaign and the Iraq buildup is "revealing" mainly to those inclined to think the worst of Bush. Okay, I like to make fun of Bush as much as the next guy, but guess what? He's not really that dumb. And no, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Perle aren't pulling his strings, as Maureen Dowd would have you believe. I can see the wealthy, whitebread liberals in Potomac opening their WaPo and gaping: Gosh, Liz, did ya know Bush is actually allowed to speak in Cheney's meetings? For the rest of us, though, it's not a surprise that Bush is a shrewd, in-control executive and cinc.
Sorry to see this: William Langewiesche's "American Ground" series in the Atlantic was fascinating, and the epitome of reportorial spirit. He really did get the story of the "unbuilding" of the WTC pile by going in with the various teams while the remains were still smoking. Unfortunately, he uncovered some controversy at the same time: that some evidence indicates that firemen looted the site. Let it be said, too, that Langewiesche covers this speculation with taste and class, without a hint of tabloid tattling. Regardless, the fire union's kill-the-messenger response is entirely out of proportion, leading me to think that they were drinking the kool-aid on the fireman-hero hype. Langewiesche's story appears well researched, documented, and meticulous to this reader (go here and scroll about halfway down to read Langewiesche comments upon his methods). Yes, firefighters are brave men and women worthy of our thanks and respect. They may, however, also prove to be human, just like the rest of us.

Monday, November 18, 2002

Re: Back to Pelosi: Hmmm. I'm in agreement that the analogy is inapt. For one thing, Pat Robertson, repellent as he is, is not the GOP house leader. For another, Pelosi - like it or not - can't be in this to lead. She has to win. Harold Ford, in his brief run against Pelosi for the minority leader spot, recognized this and promised to step down from the post if he failed to lead the Dems to recapture the house in 2004. Want to lay odds on whether Pelosi would do that?
Back to Pelosi: The argument that she's going to take the Dems on a magic carpet ride towards Canadian socialism is akin to the fear of the Religious Right that gay parents rear gay kids. Okay, it's not a great analogy, but I like to throw stones at Pat Robertson, et al. She knows that she'll never be effective if she doesn't have a power base, and to do that she has to develop enough support to lead. Okay this is obvious, but look at Gephardt. Where did he ever take the party with his "leadership" (as mild as it was spectrum-wise)?
"Zell's Gotta Jump": A reader writes, regarding this op-ed piece by conservative Democrat Senator Zell Miller of Georgia:
It's just a matter of time, if he really means what he says. The Democratic party will never come around to him. They just blew one chance by elevating Pelosi. If Trent Lott has any sense he'll offer the fattest committee chairmanship he can for Zell to go Republican. If he does it, all I can say is "Welcome Home."
Indeed. As long as we're being optimists, keep a chairmanship warm for John Breaux.
Good Cop/Bad Cop Socialist-speak: The link to the North Korean news agency is a treasure trove! The good news for the world is that fewer and fewer countries still get away with this sort of blather:
Pyongyang, November 16 (KCNA) -- Guy Dupre, secretary general of the International Liaison Committee for Reunification and Peace in Korea, on Nov. 9 published an article titled "U.S. loudmouthed 'nuclear threat' from DPRK and the nature of nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula." In the article he recalled that the special envoy of the U.S. President groundlessly accused the DPRK of having a nuclear weapons program posing a threat to the world while visiting Pyongyang early in October.
He went on:
The U.S. has systematically violated its commitments under the 1994 DPRK-U.S. Agreed Framework (AF) which calls for settling the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula and normalizing the bilateral relations for durable peace on the peninsula.
After singling out the DPRK as a target of its preemptive nuclear attack the U.S. has increasingly threatened it with nukes and unilaterally demanded it accept nuclear inspection. By doing so, the U.S. sought to convince the world community of its misinformation that the DPRK is violating the AF. [Emphasis added.]
Did you make your way through that? As of Saturday, the state run news agency of North Korea, a country that has in essence admitted to violating the 1994 "framework," is still officially denying it.
Handwringing: A great point about the general European view of American-style engagement. But nuclear capability is still a galvanizing force. Look at South Korea - certainly, as I mentioned below, in North Korea's nuclear penumbra. They joined the U.S. in cutting oil shipments to Pyongyang. A few months ago South Korea was channeling France in its denunciation of American truculence. Now they're willing to risk further alienation of their northern counterpart by joining our hard line. Imagine, for example, the new flexibility in the French position if the Basque announced nuclear capability.
Sizing up Pelosi: The New Republic does the best job yet in taking the measure of the new minority leader. The CW is of two minds on Pelosi. Obviously, she's quite liberal, which reflects the dominant belief (by party insiders, at least) that the Dems have to go left. On the other hand, a growing dissent, which found its outlet in Pelosi's challenger Martin Frost (and later Harold Ford), says that the loss in the midterms reflects a loss of the political center. The official message:
"She has got her beliefs," says [Pelosi's] communications director, Brendan Daly. "But we are here to win, and she understands that to do that you need to be in the middle."
TNR's Michael Crowley is rightly skeptical, saying: "For now, we'll just have to take his word for it."
Under: "Too Much Information": Isotope-sniffing; engaged containment -- enough with Clinton's peccadillos already! More worrisome: if it took us this long just to go back to inspect Iraq, imagine how much hand-wringing France, Germany et al. will do over a nuclear-capable regime? Unfortunately, the rules do change with nukes, and our failure to "contain" aside, we need a real plan to implement. Clearly, starving them out isn't bothering "Dear Leader", so we're left with what exactly? More resolutions are needed. Me first: I promise to stop sniffing isotopes.
You say plutonium, I say uranium... What we need to remember is that North Korea (a country poor, desparate, and loony enough to use nuclear blackmail) is thought to also have the most potent delivery capability of any of the rogue states. (How come they're never lovable rogues, the type ladies say Bill Clinton is?) Of course, they haven't exactly been eager for us to come in and poke around to verify this. At any rate, our best guess of their ballistic missile range is Japan and beyond, with some pessimists saying that California is within their range already. Clearly, the success of our policy of "engaged containment" in N. Korea is something to remember as Saddam prepares to make a fool of the latest UN isotope-sniffing regime.
Maybe I do, maybe I don't: N. Korea says they'll stand down if the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy. Not that we have's just uranium. And we don't have a nuke...or we do. Anyway, give us some food and some hair gel.
Dick Cheney, Note to Self - Doh!: That stem-cell stuff ain't looking so bad now. "Get myself a new ticker. Show them Dems some real moxie. Get that kid out of O-Office. Should be mine, you know. Undisclosed location, my hardened arteries!"
SNL Cont.: There's no question that SNL was in the midst of one of its decennial renaissances in the early nineties. It had all of the big names when they still had their fastballs. Carvey, Hartman, even Nealon was good at times back then. When you look at them now (Hartman being the obvious case) you shudder. Carvey is doing movies with $10MM budgets and his stand-up is about growing old and having kids; Hartman...tragic, just tragic - probably the most talented of the bunch; Kind of like the NYPD Blue syndrome. Every single person (and I mean every) that has left that show has fallen on his/her face, or simply vanished. Caruso is back, but only by virtue of doing the same character, but while he wears pastels and lives on a boat with an alligator. Hmmm, do I have that right?
Reich for entitlement reform? I didn't think Robert Reich was offering much protein in last week's Slate debate (Joe Klein was eating his paleoliberal lunch), but I was jolted awake by his Friday post. He cuts right to the chase.

Over the next two decades, the Greatest Generation's elderly will be replaced by old boomers, who'll be the largest, noisiest, and most demanding political constituency in American history—you and I among them. Tens of millions of boomer bodies all will be corroding. If you think prescription drug coverage is a big deal now, wait until medical science promises boomers we can look young and have sex like rabbits and party until we drop. Across the land there'll be outcroppings of "Med-Meds" for boomer geezers—think of Club Meds combined with medical facilities. Snorkeling all morning; extra oxygen in the afternoon. Worse yet, most boomers haven't saved a dime for retirement. All the equity's in their homes. And home prices will take a dive when the boomers all want to sell.

In other words, brace yourself. We'll be lucky if the Dems, as well as Republicans, don't sell out completely to aging boomers.

Thanks, Bob. I couldn't have said it better.
That SNL sketch: I'm still chuckling over that transcript. I hadn't thought of it in years. Some great lines in there, like Dick Gephardt saying, "The fact is, I couldn't beat David Duke in Harlem." And Tipper Gore's reason why Al shouldn't be nominated: "When I think of a future with my husband as President, frankly, I'm scared." So am I.
Gyres: Recent poll of DNC members shows the 2004 nomination is anyone's game. Yes, Gore has a clear plurality, but only at 35%, and nearly half think he shouldn't run at all. Again, nearly half think it doesn't matter, believing their nominee will be simply cannon fodder for George W. Bush's machine. It's funny. Take the W. out of Bush's name and it's 1991 all over again, when you couldn't give away the Democratic nomination with some gum and baseball cards. Remember the SNL sketch of all the Dem frontrunners explaining why they would be more likely to lose, and thus should not be nominated? (Mario Cuomo: "I have mob ties!" Lloyd Bentsen: "I'm no Jack Kennedy!") But who was missing from the sketch? A certain Arkansan governor with the biggest liability of them all. I never trusted Bill Clinton, and I don't think he was much of a president. Credit where it's due, though: he took a losing horse and rode it to a win. Something for the Dems to consider...

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Yeah, but you should see the Albanians!: Hate your European neighbor? Here's why.
More JFK: I don't mean to imply that the Kennedy family withheld the truth for national security reasons. No doubt that they felt the whole truth would kill his chances against Nixon. And it might have. Take a glance at the article; it reads like the medical report on an invalid. He had Catholic Last Rites on at least two occasions, not including those he was doubtless given at Parkland in Dallas.
JFK's Health: I've just finished the cover story in this month's Atlantic Monthly (sorry, no link available) about how terribly sick Jack Kennedy was all his life. From Addison's disease to incredible back pain to recurring, life-threatening infections, he never seems to have had a moment without intense suffering. Something tells me that this kind of sickness could no longer be kept from the public. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It's nice to be informed, but to what extent is the president's health a distraction ... to us? Kennedy handled Kruschev with aplomb, but how far might ol' Nikita have pushed it if he knew how sick and weak Kennedy was?

Friday, November 15, 2002

Coupez ton nez...: Interesting angle from The Economist concerning France's inability to decide who she wants to be (arrogant nationalist, arrogant peacemaker, or arrogant ... ummm). This seems to presuppose that France has ever had a cohesive worldview. Just keep your hands off the baguette prices and don't try too hard to tax their income, and I've found them to be a pretty contented lot.
Scared Yet?: Thanks to The Agitator for the link. Your Government now wants Total Information Awareness.
Born Again: Ah. No doubt a window into John Ashcroft's private life. I'll never forgive you for being the catalyst of these thoughts I'm having now.
I was reading in some hipster men's magazine last month about the alternate reality the born-again contingent has created. To wit: for every "secular" pastime, good or service, there is a "separate but equal" spiritual companion that the "good chrisitan" should choose. This spanned the gamut from movies to books to music to artwork. Well now, it's cars too! They should get labels: "Messiah Approved." I think these people work on a points system whereby the more WWJD-goods you use/buy, the higher up you go. I'm intrigued.
Dry Eyes: Living in the People's Republic of Massachusetts, I'm prepared for the inevitable marches around the town square, now that we've cut off the charity oil shipments to North Korea. Pyongyang shoulders the blame on this one. Too much of our foreign policy is an insulting update of the white man's burden. They made a deal; they violated that deal; they take the consequences. I'm very sorry that people may go cold and hungry this winter in North Korea. I'd love to see them get a new government for Christmas.
Idyllic Islam: You're right, Bush risks little in saying what everyone knows. Certainly, slapping the Christian Right on a non-issue only serves to score some points. Now, let's seem him take on Reed et al. on a real issue. Oh wait, he never will. Next up: "Bush Declares: 'Baseball Games Too Slow.'" National Review applauds his courage.
Souljah Moment? With the midterms over, Bush has a little breathing room with his base. So explicitly whacking Robertson and Falwell over their comments on Islam and Mohammed isn't as bold as it seems. In addition, the religious right is to the GOP's base what the unions are to the Dem base: something of a vestigial tail. Bush risks far less by taking issue than by standing pat.
Healthcare...Healthcare!?!?: If this doesn't show how out-of-touch Gore is, nothing will. They guy gets roughed up by the Supremes in '00, so he grows a beard and decides to walk the earth. Okay, I can give him that. But, for the past two years, he has essentially been off-message on everything that resonates with the American Public since 9/11. NOW, he decides to jump into the game with nationalized, single-payer healthcare. Hello? Even for a big-government fan like me, this doesn't sell. I agree that Hil aint' the answer in '04 as she lacks the gravitas right now, but ye gods, isn't ANYONE advising Gore?
Hillary! Kaus advises that Gore's move to the left on health care is a boon to Hillary, allowing her to exorcise some of her health care demons by appearing moderate in contrast. The CW, though, is Gore in '04, Hill in '08 (which leads one to the very interesting picture of Hillary pulling the lever for W. in '04). Kaus, of course, is right. But there's more to it. Hillary still has four years to reinvent herself as a "stateswoman" in the Senate, then two more (an incomplete term, a high profile non-profit position, or a Lieberman-style fallback seat are possibilities) for good measure. Her challenge is a big one -- she has to push down her negatives in the polls, or she's faced with having to run such a vanilla presidential race that it would make Liddy Dole look like a wonk. Gore, in contrast, essentially needs to start running today, and thus is faced the task with distinguishing himself quickly. So Gore has less time, but he has a lot less to live down.
Wacko Jacko No Show: No Lo Contendr[o]?: People are shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you, over MJ's failure to appear at his second day in court. When Michael Jackson begins acting erratically, there is simply no hope for the rest of us.
Klein and Reich: Joe Klein has been an eye-opener in Slate this week, giving Bob Reich plenty to mull. Take a look at Klein's latest here. Who says the Dems are dead ducks? I disagree with him, but that's not the issue. It's still a plan that will attract broader support than the watery soup they tried to serve up this fall.