Monday, March 31, 2003
As you may know, Bush has proposed a 726 billion dollar tax cut over the next 10 years. The Senate has voted to reduce that to 350 billion dollars in order to help pay for the war, reduce the deficit and shore up the Social Security fund. Do you support or oppose this reduction in Bush's proposed tax cut?I'll leave the fairness of the poll in Eugene's capable hands. What struck me was one of the "pushes" in the question: using the money "saved" by reducing the tax package to "reduce the deficit" (i.e., treating tax policy like spending policy). The ultimate cause of the deficit is that the government spends more that it takes in. Imagine if I blew my salary on a trip to the islands, went into hock to pay for food for my family, went to my boss to ask for a raise to "reduce my deficit," and then (when he rightly refused) complained that he's heartlessly denying my children food. Well, as soon as there was a foreseeable surplus, back in the 90s, the government took a trip to the islands.
Newsweek: What do you think is going on with France?For those who think that the cold winds blowing from Paris are some new development, "Poppy" Bush seems to think it's old hat.
Bush: [Pause] They're French.
Newsweek: Any elaboration?
It’s “The Sorrow and the Pity” without the interviews, really. It makes you realize how much the Occupation corrupted the country and defiled the national consciousness. The French narration assures us that this is the version of real life that the Vichy government wanted the population to accept - it wasn’t the true nature of French life during the war. Perhaps. But those crowds that showed up to cheer Petain were quite large and enthusiastic. As were those who showed up to cheer DeGaulle when the war ended, of course.There is an element of French thinking that is habitually obtuse.
There were some interesting parallels to modern times - the collaborators all insisted that France had not just a role to play in the New Order of Europe, but a crucial role. A uniquely French role, carried out with French methods and French ideas and French ingenuity. (Specifics not available at press time.) There’s this desperate need to insist not only on France’s relevance in an era dominated by Germany, but France’s indispensability.
Friday, March 28, 2003
But McCain said that if he saw Mullin, head of the No. 3 U.S. air carrier, among other airline representatives visiting lawmakers' offices this week to plead industry poverty, he would tell him: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself."I'll be dipped in shit if these thieves get another bailout. As Chuck Grassley told the big carriers this week (paraphrase), "Southwest seems to be doing fine."
Having one or even two Justices like Scalia and Thomas [on the Supreme Court] might be legitimate because it provides the Court with a particular view of constitutional jurisprudence. But having four or five or nine Justices like them would skew the Court, veering it far from the core values most Americans believe in.Interestingly, Eugene Volokh testified at that hearing. Volokh:
The chief point I’d like to make today is that the Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence, including the views of the Court’s more conservative members, has been firmly within the mainstream of American constitutional thought. One may agree or disagree with this jurisprudence, but one has to acknowledge that it’s entirely mainstream.It's a great window into the Dems' strategy as formulated by Schumer. Be prepared to hear this argument against any Bush nominee: he or she is just not in the judicial "mainstream." That's fine. As I said, partisanship is an acceptable political strategy, though not without its risks.
But look, too, for the kind of subtle smearing Hentoff takes apart here. Schumer's attempt to pin the crypto-racist label on anyone outside the "mainstream" (as Schumer sees it) is the quieter, more sinister part of the strategy. That's the part that risks the backlash.
I’ve read, too, that we share a political heritage with the British, the heritage of democracy. This is also bunk. Now it is true that they have a citizen assembly in Britain that bears some superficial resemblance to our own. For example, their House of Lords is said to be roughly analogous to our Senate. Insofar as nothing really happens there, this is true. Plus, both are populated by old farts. But their old-fart house seems to be a sort of hall of fame for repeat winners of the upperclass twit of the year award. Ours, instead, is a menagerie of pumpkin-roller selectmen and huckleberry dog wardens who capture the Peter Principle like Sargent captured fading twilight. This difference can be shown by the hyphenation in names. They hyphenate the last name (e.g., Smith-Smythe) while we hyphenate the first (e.g., Billy-Bob).
The House of Commons is roughly like our House of Representatives: members represent the interests of regions of the country. However, given that England is smaller than North Carolina, and contains this many members of Commons, we can safely assume that being an MP (as they jauntily call members) is a bit like being a member of the town council in West Petunia, Massachusetts: everyone gets a chance sooner or later, and you just hope your turn doesn't coincide with the chairmanship of the 90-year-old retired bureaucrat who has memorized Roberts Rules of Order.
Another odd difference is the whole "Commons" thing. In America, we would react pretty harshly to being labeled "common." Oddly, in the land that pretty much invented class hatred, this seems to bother members of the House of Commons little or not at all.
Finally, there is the issue of royalty. I wonder what benefits a monarchy confers when the monarch wields the power of, say, Mamie Eisenhower. Really, what's the point of being King (or Queen, for that matter) now that the off-with-your-head routine is pretty clearly out of bounds? You've got to figure that either you're a monarch because god said so, or you're not. If god said so, that's dandy (who am I to quibble with god, plus the very monarchical off-with-your-head stuff is back on again). If not, why exactly is it that we're all supposed to treat you like it's the 1980s and you're Mike Ovitz? In the end, though, I suppose an impotent figurehead chosen by a lucky-sperm accident is no sillier than our method of relying on palsied pensioneers wheeling their medicare sleds around the streets of Florida to stab blindly at odd-shaped ballot sheets.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
More: George Will on the course of Moynihan's career: "Along the way he wrote more books than some of his colleagues read and became something that, like Atlantis, is rumored to have once existed but has not recently been seen -- the Democratic Party's mind."
More: Nordlinger had a funny column on this at National Review last year, and he was particularly cheesed off at media types talking about the Olympics in "Torino" (i.e., Turin). Plus, he (kind of) backs me up on Van Gogh, and he should know.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Democratic governments are often criticized for being inefficient. Hopelessly subservient to a capricious and ill-informed electorate, decision-makers must make ugly compromises and short-sighted policy. But the upshot is that democracies tend to put a premium on shared, high-quality information, honest analysis, and open internal debate--the absence of which, if Nazi Germany is any indication, can be disastrous. Instigating perpetual terror may be a good way to amass power, but it turns out to be a bad way to run a government.Thus, he speculates that Saddam, like Hitler, may only get news that reflects favorably on the bearer. Does Saddam, he asks, believe his own propaganda?
I disagree with Powell on a lot of things, but the man has gravitas to spare. Some people earn the right to be a comfortable dissenting voice in an administration (a role I imagine David Gergen played for Clinton, domestically).
Oil prices are going sky high and the market had its worse [sic] day in six months, during which time it had a lot of bad days.Let's start with oil. For the oil price news, he cites a Washington Post story, which has this to say:
The rebound in oil prices was fundamentally a backlash from the optimism of oil traders at the war's outset, analysts said. "People now perceive the war is not going as quickly as they thought," said Thomas J. Herlihy, a broker with Spectron Energy Inc. in New Caanan, Conn. Many large energy companies and financial firms stayed out of the oil market yesterday, he added. "You don't get a clear picture where the market wants to go."First of all, a sky-high crude price of $28 and change is a bit of a laugh when you consider that, not long ago, crude was pushing $40 a barrel -- and supposedly threatening to go higher if war broke out. Second, if even the analysts in the energy industry (quoted in the story he links) don't have a clear picture on what this means, what's the point of citing it?
Next, the market: Yeah, the Dow took a 300-point hit on Monday. So what? Does Alterman want to challenge my theory (expressed here and here) of our relative cluelessness on market moves? Even if you ask the traders themselves, you'll likely hear that they suspect Monday was a profit-taking day, which an up-80 Tuesday seemed to reinforce. Besides, the market took an 800-point leap the week before, when the guesses on war were no more certain than on Monday or Tuesday. What did that mean, Eric? This is simply gloomy-gus stuff, from a guy who really seems to enjoy the gloom. He can barely contain his bladder, apparently, that it's happening on Bush's watch. (Scroll down on his post for the hilarious and oh-so-original Give-Bush-a-Slick-Willy-Style-Nickname contest. First prize is a mention in Eric's blog -- wow! Who could resist?)
Remember reading about the Spanish-American War in 1898? Publishers like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer built a war constituency and circulation in symbiotic frenzy with headlines like ''The Country Thrilled with War Fever.'' According to legend, William Randolph Hearst sent a telegram to his reporter that said, ''You supply the pictures and I'll supply the war.''Let's play a bit of Occam's Razor here. You tell me which of the following scenarios is likely: First, Ellen Goodman doesn't realize that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their sound-alikes are not news outlets. She is unaware that they are commentary, that their purpose is to give an opinion, bias, partisanship, slant. Or, second, Goodman does in fact realize this, but she ignores it because she wants to rant against the right wing menace. So which do you suppose is correct? Is she a shrill harpy spreading her own "yellow journalism," or is she just plain ignorant?
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
"I was shocked really because he was one of the quietest ones in the neighborhood, he kept to himself and you wouldn't expect anything like that from him at all," said [neighbor] Heather Dill.Shouldn't that be the giveaway? Shouldn't the neighbors all say, "You know, come to think of it, he was quiet; he did keep to himself most of the time. Sounds like you got the right guy."
Local residents say the water plant was damaged during the thunderous ground assault. Not true, say U.S. forces. They say water feeding the plant comes from further north near the city of Basra, and the taps have been closed on the orders of President Saddam Hussein.Sounds like something Saddam would order. General Franks? A round of Dasani for all my friends...
"Saddam turned it off," said Major John Taylor, part of a team from the British Royal Engineers, specializing in civil infrastructure.
"The water plant has no military damage at all. Not a single bullet hole. The minute Umm Qasr was invaded the guys in Basra cut the supplies."
Monday, March 24, 2003
Side note: Crude prices continue to ride in the mid-20s. So why am I still paying $1.70 for regular? Yes, I understand that retail prices don't move as quickly as wholesale prices, but in a responsive market they should move almost as quickly.
Second, think of what bad news means for our side. We have reporters traveling with units ... are you hearing me? We let our press tag along, for god's sake. You can be damn sure that an Iraqi unit taking a shell up the ass from an Abrams tank is not appearing on Iraqi TV. Nobody from al Jazeera is standing up in press briefings and asking the Iraqi version of Tommy Franks, "How can you explain how crappy this has all gone?" or "Given that 8,000 Iraqi regulars just surrendered in Umm Qasar, don't you think it's time to reevaluate your battle plans?" In addition, we have few reporters on the ground in Baghdad, and they're likely restricted to their hotel balcony. All the good news from the bombing is locked up for at least a few more days. That being the case, the networks have to show something, and bad news will sell as well as good.
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Things looked pretty good for a few days there, but reality settled in quickly. There never will be a clean war, but goddamn was it nice to hope, for a moment, that the Baathist leadership was going to push Saddam out the front door and start rolling over like the French.
The POWs: God, this is all we need, those sympathizers over at al-Jazeera running Saddamite propaganda. I hope this won't cause some of our troops to seek a bit of payback. Listen: Dead Republican Guard troops won't cause me any loss of sleep, but let's be cricket about this. The nice thing is, we can play fair and still win.
In general, this is the worst thing I've ever seen. God forbid I ever have to see this up close. (And this is playground stuff, so far, compared to something like WWI.)
Friday, March 21, 2003
Thursday, March 20, 2003
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat sponsoring legislation to fit missile countermeasures on commercial aircraft, told the briefing that the cost would be about $1 million per plane with 6,800 aircraft in the U.S. fleet.If you have to ask, you can't afford it. There are two possibilities here. First, the anti-missile technology works well enough that would-be terrorists give up on shoulder-fired missiles and look for other ways to target commercial aircraft. This means paying 7 billion clams just to temporarily up the ante on the terrorists. Second, the technology might be, say, X% reliable. This means 7 billion clams and the terrorists can still succeed 100 - X times out of 100 attempts. Now it's not funny when you have to reduce human life to a number, but any policymaker with the IQ of rock salt is duty-bound to come up with an acceptable value for X before spending the money. (Those who don't meet the IQ qualification can stick with the "if we can, we should" justification. No math will be required.)
Another thought: Would putting these on commercial aircraft be cheaper?
In pursuit of such [oil] deals, Russia and France have persistently undermined sanctions and the effort to disarm Saddam and bring him into compliance with his own commitments by means short of war. "Politics is about interests. Politics is not about morals," Iraq's U.N. ambassador explained to the Washington Post a year ago. "If the French and others take a positive position in the Security Council, certainly they will get a benefit. This is the Iraqi policy."No wonder why the French want to worm their way back into Iraq after the shooting stops. Worth reading it all if you subscribe.
Thus the huge Majnoun and Nahr Umr fields were reserved for TotalFinaElf, partly owned by the French government. Not even Jacques Chirac can pretend that such concessions weren't France's reward for acquiescing in Iraq's diligent strategy to escape sanctions and resume its pursuit of exotic weapons.
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Zakaria is a great read, even if you disagree with him.
More: Michael Barone defends the administrations diplomatic efforts; concedes that they were, in some specifics, flawed; and concludes that it doesn't matter because France's security council vote was never really in play anyway.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Monday, March 17, 2003
Now, I tend toward a certain free-speech absolutism; that is, I think any doubt in a given situation must swing toward a presumption of legitimacy. However, the speech in this case makes for an interesting quandry. I am not of the opinion that Bush is a terrorist. I suppose this student is. (I am also not of the opinion that all anti-war protesters are "unpatriotic," although others do believe this. I've lately been told, though, that anti-war protesters think this epithet is grossly unfair.) Hmmm... Where does that leave us? Suppose the student wore a shirt that bore a picture of his principal, accompanied by the label "Pederast." That the student might actually hold this opinion seems irrelevant. Certainly, as the column points out, supposedly "liberal" administrators get their panties in a bunch when the free speech invades the zone of the politically correct.
I suppose I have to side with the free speechers on this one, though I lament that the parents allow their children to parade about with so little dignity. It's part of the complaint that I've voiced before that the rise of the "personal is political" ethos, and the resulting bumper-sticker culture, is really inimical to the idea of a civil society. It's a sign of those who are convinced, to the point of gross misperception, that their opinions on various political and social matters are of the deepest concern to their neighbors. It correlates highly with liberalism (i.e., showing your community how evolved you are, how correct your opinions are, how devoted you are to recycling); jingoism, in which it is usually voiced as a threat ("Don't tread ..." and all that); and religion (I need not lay out examples on this one). The connection is that all three are examples of people holding self-righteous beliefs, however irrational, that they seem to be repeating, mantra-like, as if determined to shout down any doubts that might creep into the fringes of their minds. I don't doubt that the desire to proselytize is at work here, though I suspect that the tendency to "spread the word" on any issue is based on a psychology that moves in deeper waters than the simple conviction of correctness.
There is a syndrome studied by one of my undergraduate teachers, Ronald Melzack, in which some people are born without the ability to feel pain, and first you might think, "Wow, what a great thing. You know, you'd stub your toe and you'd walk away without, you know, swearing and feeling the agony and so on."Franzen touches on this (albeit obliquely) in "The Corrections," and it's a part of the book I wish he had made more of. By the way, keep reading down for the Q&A after Pinker's presentation. Psychologist-turned-pundit Dr. Charles Krauthammer has the most interesting questions for Pinker.
In fact, this is a bad thing. The people with that syndrome generally die in their early 20s. The reason is that they don't have the feedback signals that tell them when they're damaging their body, and they suffer from massive inflammation of the joints simply from not shifting their weight when it gets uncomfortable, something that's second nature to the rest of us that feel pain.
That is going to be true of many of the negative psychological emotions that we feel. The ability to feel sad is the other side of the coin of the ability to feel love and commitment. If you didn't feel sad when you child died, could you have really loved your child? If you can't feel anxious, I'm sure I don't have to remind anyone in this room that anxiety gets us to do many things that otherwise we would not have done.
Friday, March 14, 2003
Instead of holding a vote, having it be badly defeated, and letting the French be able to claim that they did not veto because there was overwhelming opposition, we can now decide to not bring it to a vote after all, because of the clear fact that France would not permit it to pass, thus putting the French in the position of having sole responsibility for the lack of UNSC approval for the war we're going to fight anyway.Our turnaround on the "show the cards anyway" vote, coupled with the sudden French willingness to negotiate, may indicate that they've realized how badly they've overplayed things. All we (and, importantly, Blair) have to say is, "The French said they'd veto anything, so they've removed the UNSC as an option." Den Beste has more, much more, laid out in a sort of game theory. It's worth reading it all.
Thursday, March 13, 2003
Ever wonder why supply-side non-economists like Robert Novak and Fred Barnes hate Alan Greenspan so much? It's precisely because Greenspan was not complaisant at the end of the 1980s. Greenspan did not deal with the strong upward pressure on interest rates resulting from the Reagan deficits by turning on the faucet, expanding the money supply, and raising the rate of inflation. And they have never forgiven him for it.
Just shows, politicians hate it when others are right.
But [French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte] said France was prepared to contribute to a rebuilding effort that is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars over many years. "We don't see participation in Iraq's reconstruction as a privilege," said Mr. Levitte. "We see it as a moral duty."We'll take a share of the cheese, in other words, without helping to bell the cat. Sacre bleu! Rather bold, isn't it?
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Once parental responsibilities are parceled out to more than two people — even to someone living outside the household — it becomes that much easier for any one parent to shirk his or her responsibilities. The very notion that parents can be added and subtracted at will tends to cut against the feeling of special responsibility for a given child.This is an exercise in idiocy. Why the numerical barrier to shirking? Why is it when "parental responsibilities are parceled out to more than two people"? Who knows? Two apparently is the magic number. (I might suggest that this barrier is a fig leaf for family values; after all, taken to its logical conclusion, and without the false numericals, isn't it an argument for single motherhood, since it concentrates the responsibility and encourages the mother not to shirk?)
He follows with the fear that this three-parent family would open the legal door to polygamy (The Mormons are coming! The Mormons are coming!) and, thus, this startling news: "Marriage as an institution depends for its successful functioning upon the support and encouragement that the ethos of monogamy receives from society as a whole." That is, the only reason I haven't ditched my wife to live with a free love commune in Vermont is the "ethos of monogamy" in "society as a whole." (If he wasn't arguing right-wing doctrine, I'd swear that Kurtz had gone back to the left. This theory of societal pressure sounds pretty Marxist.) No argument remains too silly for the right on this subject.
Secondarily, as to the sanctimony, I agree that Mead is conceding the argument to the "save the children" types. This is about our national interests and security; the benefits to the Iraqis, while not insignificant and wonderful to ponder, are tangential.
It's funny, we're damned if we do, damned if we don't. On Iraq, we're being too "unilateral." On Korea, the world wants to know why the hell we're insisting on a multilateral solution. America may be inconsistent, but so are her critics.
As for our Churchill moment, it seems unfair to have to suffer it without Churchill.