Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Thomas Frampton Comes Alive

You can find Yale Student Thomas Frampton, complete with picture, and turgidly inanely quote selected from Proudhon, right here. Is he guilty of being anything other than a narcissistic Yalie with a bad haircut?*

Yes, he is! He rushed VP Cheney, and then assaulted Secret Service officers.

A selection from the self-selected motivational quote, which was even more accurate than the young Frampton could have known:

"...to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality."

Well, Tommy, if you get fraudulent credentials, steal a "volunteer" t-shirt, and then start squealing invective and run toward the Vice President in front of one of the greatest concentrations of security in history, then yes, those things will happen to you. You should have read your own fatuous little motto, dude!

You can find other examples of Frampton's sublimation of his guilt over academic inadequacy here and here. And (good lord) here. Don't they have to go to CLASS at Yale? Do you FEEEEEEL like I do?

*No, that is not redundant. Not all Yalies have bad haircuts.

Fiddling, Fiddling....While Carville Burns

What is John Kerry doing? Sure, this week he has to lay low, but he had a month between conventions. He spent it defending his record (all seven months of it) in Vietnam.

He is sinking in the polls.

The animals are out in NY, making the Repubs look rational.

And people who should be singing Kerry's praises are scratching their bald heads. And again. And again.

Excerpt from WaPo on Aug 30:

Carville's Complaint
By Howard KurtzWashington Post Staff WriterMonday,
August 30, 2004; 8:52 AM
NEW YORK--James Carville is off the reservation.
With the Republicans having taken over this city for a week, you'd think the Ragin' Cajun, one of the masterminds of Bill Clinton's nomination at Madison Square Garden 12 years ago, would be sticking to the Democratic script. A hardy band of Dems, like the Republicans in Boston, is here to stick some pins in the Bush balloon.

As the cohost of CNN's "Crossfire," Carville is no longer a party hack. But he raises money for the Democrats, gives high-level advice and is a certified insider.

So it was surprising to hear him declare at a Time Warner party last night that the Kerry-Edwards message is muddled. That there's no bark, no bite to what the candidates are saying. That the Democratic campaign is too timid when it comes to attacking the Bush-Cheney team. That too many people are in charge, so no one's in charge. "They're a perpetual committee listening to a perpetual focus group, and it's got to change," he says.

The campaign was particularly derelict, says Carville, when it comes to deploying John Edwards. "He's a racehorse, and you've got to get him on the track."

On the day the Census Bureau announced an increase in poverty and millions more Americans lacking health insurance, "the event they did was credit card debt," he says derisively. "Because someone in a focus group must have said something."

What the Kerry operation sorely lacks, Carville says, "is someone who can drive a communications message." This has created a "vacuum" at the heart of the campaign.

Carville has made this argument to the Kerry leadership and believes a change will take place by the time the senator hits the trail again on Thursday. "I know that what they're doing now ain't gonna stand."

The Louisianan has his own candidate for message meister--could it be Joe Lockhart, who gave up a CNBC gig to join the Kerry team?--but wouldn't tip his hand. He says he's talking about someone to win the news cycle, not a high-level shakeup. We'll see if he's right.

(Thanks to SdM for the tip)

Monday, August 30, 2004

Is Youth Wasted on the Young?

"In Presidential election years between 1972 and 2000, the national youth voter turnout rate declined by 13 percentage points (among 18-24 year old voters)."
"In 2000, 42% of 18-24 year old citizens voted; 70% of citizens 25 and older voted." (

The archetypal voter is old, rich, white, has kids (maybe adult kids, but has kids), has lived in the same city, and possibly same house (which they own, or have a mortgage on), for five years, and is well-educated.

Young people move around a lot, whether going to college or just looking for jobs. So, they tend to put off registration, particularly in states without "Motor Voter" registration. But even if they register, they are less likely to vote. Some of this can be explained by the fact that they make lower incomes, and are more likely to rent. So it is easy to confuse "young" with "moves a lot, has low income, and rents".
Controlling for those things, young people STILL vote less. (Can the kids be charted?)

The young are more likely to want to make their own choices, and reject the alternatives that the established parties offer ("I don't drive my father's Buick, and I don't vote for my father's party"). But this changes fairly quickly. Most voters end up pretty close to their parents, in terms of partisan affiliation.

So, does any of this matter, in this election?

Two schools of thought: (a) war and appearance of corruption of political system (the Michael Moore conspiracy theory of government) will turn young citizens off, or (b) war, possible draft, and experience of young people directly with government functioning badly will make them take an interest.

Predictions are tough, but I lean toward (b): I think turnout among the young will go up this election. But that would require that registration starts taking place NOW. Democrats don't seem to be working on this much, and since new youth voters are likely to vote Dem the Repubs have little reason to pursue youth turnout drives. (But see this chat with the Repub Youth Director).

And, there's always this. Oh, sweet mercy. It's a thing o'beauty: Huge men in tights, telling me to vote or they will sweat on me. I think K. Grease will need to be alone for a few minutes now.

I went down to the demonstration, to get my fair share of abuse

For the Naively Indignant and Chuckleheaded: A big week!
You should start this cheesy MIDI, for background, before reading further....
(Full lyrics at bottom, so you can do Kerry-OKee)

PROTEST EVENTS AT Rep Nat Convention (From WNYC list)
Friday, August 27th
* Christian Defense Coalition, 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., prayer vigil on 7th Avenue in front of Madison Square Garden. The Coalition has also scheduled a demonstration at Church Street between Liberty and Vesey Streets, on Sunday, August 29th.
Saturday, August 28th
* Planned Parenthood, march from Camden Plaza across Brooklyn Bridge to south end of City Hall Park for a demonstration, 11:00 a.m. to 2 p.m.
* Middle East Peace Coalition, Union Square Park, Southeast Triangle, demonstration, 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
* Green Party, Washington Square Park, Noon to 6:00 p.m.
* American Friends Service Committee, Central Park-Cherry Hill, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
* Falun Gong, Park Avenue from 44th Street to 59th Street, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Sunday, August 29th
* United for Peace & Justice, undetermined.
* Code Pink Women for Peace, Union Square Park * South Side, 9:00 a.m. to Noon.
* Not In Our Name, Union Square Park * North Side, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
* Christian Defense Coalition, Church Street between Liberty and Vesey Streets, 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
* Falun Gong, West Side of Park Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
* Falun Gong, 8th Avenue and 30th Street, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Monday, August 30th
* Disabled American Veterans, rally at main demonstration area, 8th Avenue and 30th Street, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m
* NYC AIDS Housing Network and Hip Hop Summit Action Network, march and rally from 15th Street at Union Square to 8th Avenue, north to 31st Street, Noon to 6 p.m.
* NYC Atheists, 8th Avenue and 30th Street, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Tuesday, August 31st
* NY Metro Area Postal Unions, main demonstration area at 8th Avenue and 30th Street, 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Wednesday, September 1st
* NYC Central Labor Council, 8th Avenue and 30th Street, rally, 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
* American Friends Service Committee, Union Square Park, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
* "The Line," individuals from a coalition of arts and labor organizations standing on sidewalks along Broadway from Wall Street area to West 30th Street holding "pink slips." They plan not to interfere with vehicular or pedestrian traffic, 5:00 p.m.
* National Organization of Women, rally, East Meadow, Central Park, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
* Grassroots Coalition of Media Organizations, 52nd Street between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue; south to 50th Street rally spot; march to 48th and 6th Avenue, 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Thursday, September 2nd
* Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Union Square Park, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
* Westboro Baptist Church, vicinity of 30th Street and 8th Avenue, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
* One People's Project, Tompkins Square Park, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
* IAC/Answer Coalition, 30th Street and 8th Avenue, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

LYRICS--Can't Always Get

I saw her today at a reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she would meet her connection
At her feet was her footloose man

No, you can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
And if you try sometime you find
You get what you need

I saw her today at the reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she was gonna meet her connection
At her feet was her footloose man

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

Oh yeah, hey hey hey, oh...

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, "We're gonna vent our frustration
If we don't we're gonna blow a 50-amp fuse"
Sing it to me now...

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need
Oh baby, yeah, yeah!

I went down to the Chelsea drugstore
To get your prescription filled
I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy
And man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda
My favorite flavor, cherry red
I sung my song to Mr. Jimmy
Yeah, and he said one word to me, and that was "dead"
I said to him

You can't always get what you want, no!
You can't always get what you want (tell ya baby)
You can't always get what you want (no)
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need
Oh yes! Woo!

You get what you need--yeah, oh baby!
Oh yeah!

I saw her today at the reception
In her glass was a bleeding man
She was practiced at the art of deception
Well I could tell by her blood-stained hands

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need

You can't always get what you want (no, no baby)
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need, ah yes...

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Convention Metablog

Was it Will Rogers who said, "I never metablog I didn't like"?*

This is a metablog, a listing of blogs that are covering the Republican Convention. Quite a week. George Bush is going to have to run a bit more like a challenger, at least for a while.

At least his opponent, the already self-inaugurated King John I, is making it easy by refusing to take any campaign positions or talk about anything except his war record, which encompassed only a few months and ended more than 30 years ago. Has Kerry done anything since?

(Comparatively) Neutral

Of course, you could also go straight to the major media web pages. But why would you do that?


  • Main Convention Web Site
  • Bush's own blog (maybe he'll get a salad dressing next?) . Well, they used his name, anyway. I doubt he posts stuff to it, himself. He's not that big a reader.
  • List of Pro-Bush blogs


  • Kicking Ass: Democratic Blog
  • Talk Left: Fuzzy, angry people wearing pink glasses
  • The New Republic Convention Blog
  • Gadflyer: General "Progressive" Blog, but with Rep Nat Conv posts. Some of my favorite people, though of course their political views are quite wrong.

I'll add to these when I can. Have fun! This may well be the silliest week of politics you'll see for a long time. Anytime you have Republicans and a microphone, there is a chance for excellent comedy.

*No, he said "I never met a man I didn't like."

Saturday, August 28, 2004


I was on the NEXT BIG THING today, Dean Olsher's radio show out of WNYC FM in New York.
Check the archived page here. I was in the segment on Political Parties: Who Needs Them?

Great fun. I got to say, "Democracy is overrated." How often do you get to say that? Actually, I get to say it all the time. But today there were some people listening...

The Key Battleground State is: Nevada?

Holy Kapowski, Batman! Who would have thought that the Prez election of 2004 would come down to a question of who could pander more to the citizens of Nevada over a policy that should have been settled years ago?

But, that is what is happening. The current situation (interactive map, with polls, just click on states) shows Kerry with a 270 - 259 lead over Bush in the Electoral College. Ohio has swerved toward the Bush column, though of course that race is hardly over. And Florida looks as if it could easily be Bush country again.

Nevada, however, is listed in the Kerry column. How come? Easy: Yucca Mountain. I wrote before about Kerry's grotesque pander on the high-level radioactive waste site, but I didn't expect the state to be so central to the outcome.

Here's the deal: Right now, Colorado is too close to call, and that is 9 Electoral College votes. Nevada is another 5. If Bush takes Colorado, and steals Nevada from Kerry's column, where it is now, that would change the standings to Bush 273, Kerry 265.

So, a prediction (dangerous; political scientists are better at predicting the past): during the Republican Convention next week, in New York, the Bushies will make some very specifically unspecific promises about Yucca Mountain. When it comes down to a simple policy shift that would endanger the saftety of tens of thousands of Americans, but will win the election, I expect Bush to pander, too.

What does that mean? Instead of a safe, centralized storage facility, we will have hundreds of separate "disposal sites," all with highly dangerous material stored at or near the surface, with little or no protection from terrorist attack. All this because seven people and a cow in Nevada want to keep their state clean for gambling, prostitution, and Sans-a-Belt stretch pants.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Politics of Self-Destruction

Here is an analysis of Presidential voting based on suicide rates, by Michael Craig Miller in the Boston Globe.

WHEN DEMOCRATS and Republicans decided where to hold their national conventions, they probably didn't know that Massachusetts and New York have the lowest suicide rates in the nation, about 6.5 per 100,000 people per year. The national average is 10.7, and states with the biggest problem are in the 19 to 20 range.

Suicide rates in the United States generally rise as you go south and west. Earlier this year, I got interested in the exceptions to that rule, so I decided to create a map. States with lower than average suicide rates I colored blue; the rest I colored red.

And there it was: an approximation of the year 2000 presidential election map.

But...where's the actual map? Couldn't find it. If he's right, it would look like this map of the 2000 election, with Repub states red and Dem states blue. Of course, I expect Miller could be wrong: if Bush wins, I have a lot of liberal friends who have promised to kill themselves.

Here is a current map, a little optimistically tilted toward Bush (They give W both Florida and Ohio!). Have fun, Dems, but don't hurt yourselves!
(Thanks to JAR for the tip)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Who's Yer Daddy? Bill Clinton?

According to a Forbes study, yes. (As you can tell from the picture below, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, just like Freud said).

The Presidents who presided over the periods that also saw the most robust economies (I'm choosing my words carefully) are, according to the study:

1. Clinton
2. Johnson
3. Kennedy
4. Reagan
5. Ford

The other rankings, and the study, can be found here.

There are three things to be said about this.

1. The categories are rankings, and only go back to Eisenhower. Adding rankings is pretty sketchy, since you are treating them as if the categories are equally weighted, and the ordinal rankings would have to be ratio scale cardinal numbers to make this realistic.

2. If we go back as far as Roosevelt, and according to my own quick back of the envelope calculations, Roosevelt would have been the worst Prez of the 11, by quite a bit. Since FDR is supposed to have been an economic genius by his admirers, this might raise some questions. The "greatness" of President should be measured by value-added, compared against the counter-factual--"How would the economy have performed if the OTHER GUY had won?"

3. The very idea that a President can reliably influence even at the margin, much less control, economic events in his term(s) is crazy. Fiscal policy affects performance with Friedman's "long and variable lags", if it has any measurable effect. (Yes, Milton Friedman was talking about monetary policy. But the point applies with equal force to fiscal and tax policy). Russell Roberts does a very nice job of laying out the key issues.

(Thanks to SdM for the tip. And thanks to Anon for fixing the brain damage).

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Ted Sampley and the Politics of Hero Destruction

So, now John Kerry's war record, his portrayal as a hero, is the subject of a Republican attack. Fair enough, in a way, since Kerry did make his war record exhibit #1 as evidence he was qualified to lead the U.S. in wartime. And Ted Sampley has played a key role in this attack.

The actual content of the attack on Kerry is very questionable. Personal sniping, dicey facts, questioning Kerry's character...well, you can see the ad yourself. I don't often agree with Susan Estrich, but she is by and large correct in this analysis. (I have never used "Susan Estrich" and "analysis" in the same sentence before, and promise not to do it again.)

The thing that is ironic is that very nearly the same sort of attack was carried out against....President George Bush. No, not W; to have your war record criticized, you have to have a war record. I am talking about George H. W. Bush, #41, Bush pere, whatever you want to call him. The similarities, and the differences, between these two incidents, are interesting.

The comparison of war records was important, in 1992, because the roles were reversed: the candidate named Bush was a "war hero", and the opponent (Clinton) was the draft dodger. The Democratic press was in a full snit that anyone might question Clinton:

A few people may be concerned about Clinton's patriotism, just as some are undoubtedly concerned about his use of marijuana. It now appears that the governor was first evasive, then dishonest about his drug use, that he may have been less than straightforward in his responses concerning his extramarital liaisons, that he lied to and manipulated people to dodge the draft, and that he continues to dodge questions about that issue. It is less any single one of these questions that causes concern about Clinton than the pattern of dishonest and disingenuous conduct exhibited by this entire collection of questions. I f, however, the issue were Clinton's patriotism, as the editorial suggests, it would be ludicrous to compare the record of President Bush to Clinton. If Bush's father [Prescott] got special treatment for [G.H.W.] Bush, his father did a poor job of it; at 18, George Bush was shot down in the Pacific. Clinton, when three or four years older, was busy figuring out whom he could manipulate to pull strings for him to help him avoid service. Clinton asks us to join him in a new covenant. It is fair to ask, when entering a covenant, whether the record of the person with whom you are covenanting suggests that he keeps his promises. The record of Clinton, and particularly his record regarding the draft, strongly suggests the contrary, implying that he is not worthy of our trust. Paul Ground Ballwin The 1992 presidential campaign is taking on more of a negative tone, especially on the GOP side. It appears to me that about all President Bush can talk about is the military status of Gov. Bill Clinton. Many people who are talking and wondering about it did the same thing that Clinton did, which was legal. Many men went to Canada to avoid serving. Vietnam was a totally unnecessary, immoral war from the start; one in which our country was not in danger or threatened. I, too, served proudly in World War II, but I would have done anything I could to keep my sons out of Vietnam. So would many of Bush's so-called advisers. I'm sure many of them used their influence to keep their sons out of Vietnam but don't have the guts to admit it. Why doesn't Bush stop trying to dig up dirt and face up to present realities? Bush and the GOP said they were not going to conduct a sleazy campaign and immediately after the Houston convention, they started attacking Hillary Clinton and the military record of Bill Clinton. (Editorial, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sept. 26, 1992; emphasis added).

So, the Democrats seemed to think (at one point, at least) that one should not exploit the legitimate choice of a father to keep a son out of Viet Nam.

The facts of G.H.W.B. in WWII are not in dispute.

"Bush's story has never been as widely known as John F. Kennedy's and, up to now at least, hasn't been so blatantly exploited for political purposes; indeed Bush's relative modesty about his wartime exploits is one of the more attractive aspects of a political persona that otherwise leaves much to be desired. But now, for whatever reason, Bush has cooperated with Joe Hyams in the making of "Flight of the Avenger," a piece of pulp nonfiction that, though not wholly without value, rarely rises above the level of cheap melodrama. This is too bad, because what Bush accomplished deserves a better telling. Barely 20 years of age, he was a lieutenant (j.g.) in the Navy who had survived all the rigors of pilot training -- described herein with considerable detail, much of it interesting -- and had been assigned to fly an Avenger, "the biggest single-engine carrier-based plane in the Navy." On Sept. 2, 1944, with a crew of two, he made a successful attack on a Japanese radio tower transmitter on Chichi Jima, not far from Iwo Jima, but his plane was shot down; the other crew members were lost, but Bush managed to stay afloat in his life raft and was rescued by an American submarine about three hours later.That's it: no heroics, just an airman doing his job precisely as he'd been trained and managing to come out of it alive. Like others who have undergone similar trials, Bush emerged from it with a "very deep and profound gratitude and a sense of wonder ... Why had I been spared, and what did God have in store for me?" but -- also like other veterans of war -- he tried not to make too much of what he had done." (Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley's Review of Flight of the Avenger, March 6, 1991; emphasis added).

What was the reaction of the Dems to H.W.'s war record as a "hero"? The Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to Bush is pretty similar to a Silver Star (John Kerry's most significant medal). Are the two cases comparable? Because if the Dems controlled themselves, and avoided attacking H.W., that would be an indictment of the lack of self-control the Republicans have showed in allowing the swift boat ad to show and fester.

The answer is "no", however. The Democrats, or at least some of them, went after G.H.W. Bush pretty hard. The best summary I could find of the alternate set of "facts" alleged by the attackers (including people who had served with H.W. as meat puppets to spout the line that Bush pere was in fact a coward) was written as a retrospective, a few years later, after H.W. had parachuted again. (He just did it another time, as you may remember). The following is from a 1997 piece by Ted Sampley. (Interestingly, Sampley is one of the co-founders of Viet Nam Vets Against John Kerry. What is this guy's problem?) For the 1988 interview that first injected the accusations into the public eye, click here.

After 44 years of silence, Mierzejewski, who also was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, told the New York Post that Bush had abandoned his crew to death when there was another choice.

He said he was approximately 100 feet in front of Bush's plane as the turret gunner for Squadron Commander Douglas Melvin's plane, "so close he could see in the cockpit" of Bush's bomber. Mierzejewski's close wartime buddy was one of the two crew members in Bush's plane.

According to Mierzejewski, the squadron was in a tight-formation bombing raid against a Japanese radio installation on an island reported to be heavily fortified. He saw "a puff of smoke" come from Bush's plane which quickly disappeared and was certain only one man parachuted from the plane and that it was Bush, the pilot.

Mierzejewski said the Avenger torpedo bomber was engineered so that it could successfully crash land on water and that Bush doomed his own crew by bailing out and leaving the bomber out of control.

Other World War II veterans also expressed concern about Bush parachuting out of the aircraft. "He had a moral obligation to put that plane in the water in an emergency landing," Robert Flood, a former B-17 bombardier told the press. "He violated the primary rule for a captain of a multi-crew aircraft: The pilot never leaves the airplane with anybody in it."

Pete Brandon, a Marine Corps Avenger pilot, who also served in the South Pacific, said an Avenger pilot had two choices: Set the plane down in the water or hold it steady until the two crewmen could prepare to jump.

"In an Avenger, only the pilot wore a parachute," Brandon said. "The two crewmen wore harnesses. If the order came to bail out, they had to take chest parachutes from a shelf and strap them on - and bail out. The Avenger was very unstable. The pilot had to be at the controls the whole time or it would go right over on its back."

Steve Hart, then Vice President Press Secretary, described Mierzejewski's account as absurd. Hart said, "The Vice President has told us time and time again what happened that day. To suggest that the account is inaccurate is absurd."

What is absurd is the conflicting or missing reports of exactly what happened to Bush's two crew members. According to the Post, the intelligence report on the loss of Bush's plane in September, 1944 notes that it had become "standard doctrine" for VT 51, Bush's bomber squadron, "to make bombing runs on targets near water so as to retire over the water. This puts pilot and crew in position for water rescue in event of forced landing . . . "

The same document reports, without attribution, that "smoke and flame" engulfed Bush's engine, and that "Bush and one other person were seen to bail out. The chute of the other person who bailed out did not open."

The report was signed by Melvin and an intelligence officer, Lt. Martin E. Kilpatrick. Contrary to normal military procedure, the report was not dated and Navy archives were unable to supply a subsequently completed report. Gunner Lawrence Mueller, who lives in Milwaukee, flew on the ChiChi Jima mission.

When asked who had the best view, he replied unhesitatingly: "The turret gunner in Melvin's plane." Mueller's recollections, jogged by a log book that he kept, support Mierzejewski's account. And it was noted that Bush's plane was the only one from the squadron that did not return. Mueller told the Post, "No parachute was sighted except Bush's when the plane went down."

He also said no one mentioned a fire engulfing Bush's plane or he would have noted it in the log book. The Finback, the sub which picked up Bush from his raft in the water, made no report of a fire on Bush's plane, but did comment on his crew: "Bush stated that he failed to see his crew's parachutes and believed they had jumped when the plane was still over ChiChi Jima, or they had gone down with the plane."

About six hours later, the Finback picked up another pilot, James W. Beckman, from the USS Enterprise, who stated that it was known that only one man had parachuted from Bush's plane. "This decided us to discontinue any further search of that area . . ." Although the heart of Bush's story about the incident remains the same, Mierzejewski is adamant Bush's account is not the truth and blames Bush for the abandonment and deaths of both men.

"I think he could have saved those lives, if they were alive. I don't know that they were, but at least they had a chance if he had attempted a water landing," Mierzejewski said....

...As for [Bush's fitness to lead], there were two men who knew Bush very well and could have spoken about his loyalty to the men and women in uniform.

Unfortunately, very few people have ever heard of them and neither Radioman 2nd Class John Delaney or Gunner Lt. Junior Grade William White are able to speak. They are on the bottom of the Pacific off the coast of a tiny island where their pilot, Navy Lt. George Bush, sent them when he made his first parachute jump.

I think the differences between the two cases are more interesting than the similarities. The attacks on H.W. were not centrally orchestrated, had no relation to the Democratic National Committee or the Clinton campaign, and did not become a prominent part of the campaign. The reason the character assassination attacks on Bush's war record did not become central to the campaign? Several prominent Democrats stepped up and denounced the Mierzejewski story, saying that to suggest that H.W.'s war record was cowardly. The implication that Bush did not deserve the DFC or his other medals, earned in other engagements with the enemy, were flat wrong. The controversy died qiuckly, except for the lunatic fringe on the left.

Where are the prominent Republicans, the ones who could denounce the swift boat ad and end this ad hominem assault on Kerry's honor? The only person who has spoken out is John McCain, and he might as well have been spitting into the wind.

As a recent (but now ex-) Republican myself, let me say this to the younger Bush: Tell your hired thugs to pull the swift boat ad. Stop questioning Kerry's war record. Run a campaign that won't sicken moderates. Even if the ad, and accompanying sleaze attack, manage to work by getting you reelected this time, the damage to republic will be irreparable. At best, these ads and Kerry's answers (including hiding the rest of his war records) will prevent the public from trusting either one of you.

What is now obvious, and I am not sure why no one in the media has pointed this out, is that Ted Sampley is a professional character assassin. There is no ideological reason I can think of that would lead to blatantly absurd attacks on G.H.W. Bush and John Kerry. Sampley just doesn't want people to be able to use their war records. Tune Sampley out, please.

UPDATE: Two excerpts of Republicans weighing in, for and against the Kerry character attack campaign, from the WaPo today, same article:

1. "Yesterday, former senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), whose right arm was disabled during World War II, attacked Kerry, agreeing with critics. "One day he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons," Dole said on CNN's "Late Edition." "The next day he's standing there, 'I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran.' Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn't the only one in Vietnam."
Dole, the GOP's 1996 nominee, also questioned Kerry's commendations. "Three Purple Hearts and never bled that I know of," Dole said of the medal one gets for a combat injury. "I mean, they're all superficial wounds. And as far as I know, he's never spent one day in the hospital. I don't think he draws any disability pay. He doesn't have any disability. And boasting about three Purple Hearts when you think of some of the people who really got shot up in Vietnam."
Dole erroneously stated, "He got two in one day, I think." Kerry's Purple Hearts were received for different injuries over his four-month tour in Vietnam, during which he also received a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said, "It's unfortunate that senator Dole is making statements that U.S. Navy records prove false."

2. "The [Kerry] campaign got some unexpected help from Wisconsin state Rep. Terry M. Musser, a Vietnam veteran and co-chairman of Wisconsin Veterans for Bush. Musser lambasted the Bush-Cheney campaign in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel over Republican attacks on Kerry's military record. "I think it's
un-American to be attacking someone's service record. Period," Musser said
in a Washington Post telephone interview. "The president has an
opportunity here to stand up and demand that the attacks be stopped." (Thanks to SdM for the tip)

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Waldman Gets Called a Gad-Liar

I have a couple of friends on the staff of the Gadflyer, one of them a PhD student of mine from years past. Pretty good stuff, some of it funny on purpose, some by accident.

Quite a bit of funny stuff in the post (by Paul Waldman) on his appearance on O'Reilly, on Fox. Some of it funny by accident. He makes the usual argument about people on the right being "well-funded" (I have heard that so many times, when I make a radio or other appearance: "Who is paying you?" Liberals can't believe anyone with an IQ over 50 could actually disagree with them, so they assume that bribery must be involved. I'm not saying I wouldn't take the money. But no one has offered. I keep checking the phone: yep, dial tone. But still no calls).

Then, Paul tops his previous comic efforts with this howler:

"Much has been made of liberals' anger at President Bush, and that anger is certainly real. But if Bush loses in November, that anger will dissipate. You'll be able to find liberals angry about one issue or another at one time or another, but you won't find them simmering with a generalized fury. But many conservatives remain angry, even at the height of their power. They'll be angry if Bush loses, and they'll be angry if he wins."

Excuse me? Paulie, lad, if Bush wins, you know it can only be because he stole the election. The only possible bases for disagreement with the well-funded (hee-har!) liberal support network for John Kerry and Johnnie Edhairs are (1) confusion and stupidity of the electorate or (2) corruption and cupidity of the Republican party and its supporters.

Now, this (1) and (2) argument is absurd, but I have heard exactly these claims, in only slightly varying forms, from dozens of my colleagues on the left. They like to be mad; it reminds them of their youth when they were protesting and felt vital and alive and thin enough that they could still see their private parts (frankly, I doubt that Michael Moore can even reach his). If Bush wins, they will be furious.

Should I really conclude from the uniformity of the liberal response to Bush that there is a "well-funded" conspiracy where people on the left are having secret meetings, and getting paid by George Soros or any of the other monstrously wealthy supporters of the left (like, say, John Kerry?)?

No, I think there are some real disagreements here, and reasonable people should try to think about that. Paul gives the people on the left a pass, and he shouldn't.

But to be fair (and I hate doing that), the point of the article is about the anger on the right. And that is where Paul ends up winning the argument, as far as I'm concerned. His account of what happened after the O'Reilly show is disturbing, but insightful. I have had some pretty bad encounters on talk shows, but nothing like the one Paul describes. It appears that the very possibility of disagreement is infuriating to many people. Those of us on the right need to acknowledge we have a problem.

I just wish Paul Waldman would fess up that a lot of his people are religious zealots, too, attending the church of Burning Bush.

Low Stakes Poker

Will the congressional Republicans up for reelection start to distance themselves from the administration? I keep getting this question from reporters.

I have trouble with the premise, frankly. I think all the reporters’ friends dislike Bush so much that they think everyone else must, too. Recent polls (see pollingreport.com) have varying leads for Kerry or Bush, depending on how they treat “likely” voters. (The problem is that people lie: “Yes, I’m going to vote” or “Yes, I voted last time”). But the election isn’t over. The Repubs are going to get a lot of sympathy at their convention. It is going to look like the Bronx Zoo opened its doors and let the wild animals run loose. Interviews with liberal street protesters who want to return mankind to the time before we used gasoline, electricity and possibly even the wheel will make the Repubs look pretty calm and rational.

Besides, I would read the poll numbers differently. Bush has had the worst six months of any Prez since Nixon, and his negatives have not gone up that significantly in the past year, in most states. His problem is that independents have started to swing toward disapproval, though only by a narrow margin. (source)
"Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?"
Percentages--ALL VOTERS--
--Approve: 46 --Disapprove: 45 --Have been living in cave: 9
Approve: 85 DisApp: 11 Cave: 4
Approve: 15 DisApp: 77 Cave: 8
Approve: 41 DisApp: 44 Undecided: 15

Why is Kerry treading water, if Bush is doing such a bad job? The answer is that Mr. “I’m JFK, and I served in a PT…er…Swift Boat” is missing his opportunity, by running like an incumbent. The only message Kerry has is (1) I was in Viet Nam, and (2) contentless optimism ("don't be a hater!"). Kerry is NOT an incumbent. He may screw this up. I have talked to several well-connected Democraticos lately, and they just shake their heads at Kerry’s “strategy.” Sure, it could work, but Kerry should have won this on the merits over the past month.

But, okay, suppose. Suppose Bush really does start to sink in the polls. (It is true that his negatives are very high. Negatives are a measure of the susceptibility of voters to negative advertising, and Bush is obviously susceptible, even for people who haven’t made up their minds. The rule of thumb is that a candidate becomes literally unelectable if their negatives go much above 45%. By many recent measures, Bush is at or near this “threshold of political death”).

The Republican members of Congress can’t bail out. In for a penny, in for a pound. The control of the Oval Office, and control of the Senate, are tightly connected. Bush showed that in 2002, when he pulled a rabbit out of hat and the Repubs gained seats in a race where everyone (yes, including K. Grease) predicted early on they would lose them.

I would say the change is this: The race was Bush's to lose. Now it is Kerry's to lose. But Kerry is not winning it. Inexplicable. Why don't they jump on it? Kerry seems to think that if he just avoids mistakes he will win. I think it is much closer than that, and Kerry is taking a huge risk.

So, for the GOP in House and Senate, it's like a poker hand where no one is betting. They might fold if the stakes went up, but since no one is raising the ante, why not stay in the hand and see what cards turn up? If the other side keeps checking, you might as well stay in the game.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Flapping the Taliban Wing

It is barely possible I went a little over the top. This is rare, usually happening only when I am awake.

On a radio show yesterday, I mentioned that the attack ads and moral certainty in some of the Republican primary run-offs in NC were a little distressing. I can’t quote exactly what I said, but it was something like: “This ascendancy of the religious right in politics is new, and disturbing. If the Republicans can’t control their ‘Taliban wing’, they may start to lose moderate voters.”

Some emails I have since received (and others sent to the show’s host) have been a bit miffed. One fellow suggested that the comparison of North Carolina campaign operatives (who are, after all, loyal American citizens) to the Taliban was less than felicitous. In fact, he suggested I do something that is not only anatomically unlikely, but would be profoundly undignified.

(If it matters, by the way, I was raised Presbyterian and now attend a Catholic church with my wife and family. My sons are both raised Catholic, and take Communion).

On thinking it over, my email interlocutors may have a point, but I do not recant. The idea of government in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, or in any Sharia state, or for that matter in any theocracy, is very different from a democracy. The general will is found, in a theocracy, by reading and interpreting sacred texts. The application of the (usually ancient) texts to current situations is analogical, with disputes decided by narrowly but deeply trained theologians. They act more like judges, interpreting and extending the law, than like a legislature (which, in a Sharia state, is a weak figurehead body). The citizens, public opinion…that all counts zippo, nada.

In a democracy, by contrast, one has to make arguments, to convince people. The general will is discovered by counting votes, either in direct votes such as referenda or in a representative body (i.e., a republican form of government). It is possible that general will (if it exists) is more clearly embodied in the constitution than in any law, but even then most would agree that the law should be responsive to changes in the views of the public. Given our system, it takes much more than a majority to change the law, since the House and Senate have such different bases of power and the President has to sign the legislation.

But more and more, the Republicans are consulting ancient texts, and insisting that the dictates of those ancient texts now be enacted into law. This seems odd, since Jesus said there should be but one law: love one another.

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Galatians 5:14 King James Version)

But our new Christian theocrats consult instead the Old Testament, and find restrictions on homosexuality (so laws should ban gay marriage) and find theological definitions of life (which mean that even nonbelievers cannot get access to birth control or abortions) (This is why people want the Ten Commandments, not a cross, in the courthouses).

The line between religious beliefs and policy is a difficult one. The U.S. has long been an anomaly: A mostly secular nation with many citizens with very strong religious beliefs. We have been committed to separation of church and state because our sectarian diversity prevented any one group from achieving ascendancy. (Just as Madison predicted in Federalist #10). That meant that our religious leaders, for the most part, were dedicated to a transcendent principle: one must not use religious texts as shut-up arguments for policy. You have to make arguments that even non-believers find persuasive, and the basis for law is the will of the people.

So, I persist: If Republicans want to win converts, not just a Pyrrhic election or two, they are going to have to stop flapping their Taliban wing.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Embarrassing Admissions

Duke keeps getting in trouble for "letting" in children of wealthy alumni. For some reason, this makes people furious. Me, I like the idea of tradition, and if you know the kid loves the school that ought to be a plus.

But my colleague (in state, if not institution) and fellow blogger Craig Newmark found an another argument that is interesting in this article....

Soil-ed Green: I voted FOR it before I voted AGAINST it

"We were presuming at that point in time, though, that they were going to do a safe analysis," Kerry said. "My opposition has been on the basis of the analysis that has come back."

Second-guessing on Iraq? Nope, playing the same song, different words, on Yucca Mountain. See this article by Jonah Goldberg, at TownHall, for background.

I have some sympathy with the argument that Kerry, and for that matter Edwards, make about voting for permitting the Prez to take military action, and then criticizing him for using it. They really may have expected him to do things differently.

But now that Kerry is pulling the same garbage on nuclear waste disposal, it makes me see red. Listen to this, from Goldberg:

"Now, I've been to Yucca Mountain and interviewed the scientists there and read quite a few of the studies. And, frankly, I have no idea what Kerry is talking about. Yucca Mountain is indisputably the safest conceivable installation for nuclear waste in America - and, quite probably, on the planet... "

"Anyway, I could go on, but the science on this issue is so settled that no one really disputes it. That's one reason why we've heard so much hyperbole in recent years about how dangerous it would be to transport the waste to Yucca Mountain. Once the waste is there, it's not going to bother anybody."

That's really what is going on here. Putting the stuff in the Nevada desert solves the problem of nuclear waste disposal. That is the LAST thing that anti-nuke activists actually want. They love the fact that, as Goldberg puts it, nuclear waste "is currently strewn across the country like socks and beer cans in a frat house."

Why? Isn't it terribly unsafe that way, spread in literally dozens of different facilities, each requiring redundant storage, monitoring, and armed protection? Doesn't that multiply exponentially the risks to the public?

Of course. That's the point. The anti-nukies want people so afraid of the nuclear bogeyman that we will all vote to end the nuclear power program. Michael Moore accuses the Bushies of using scare tactics, but Sierra Club, the Green Party, and "Enviro-Nazis United to End the Use of the Wheel and Return Man to the Stone Age" all depend on scaring citizens for their contributions. Direct mail solicitations tell entirely fanciful, fully fabricated scare stories about "Mobile Chernobyls" and other demogoguery, when in fact opening Yucca would make most of us much safer.

And Kerry is pandering to these people, with his now standard story: "Sure, I voted for it, but I who knew that I could more votes by denying it later? Since I can get votes, I'll just lie!" Kerry knows perfectly well that science and rational policy require Yucca to be opened up soon.

Makes me see red, to see Kerry pretend to be Green.

(thanks to NP, for the tip)

Still the Thing Itself

It has happened, again. Bureaucrats shut down a lemonade stand. How can they do that? Wrong question: Fact is, the youngsters are breaking the law. The answer is not to give the bureaucrats discretion to ignore stupid laws.. The answer is to get rid of stupid laws, to reduce the bureaucrats’ actual authority in the first place. Life-arrangers shouldn’t be granted authority over small businesses. The power to regulate is the power to destroy.

A loyal reader recently suggested that Walter Peck, EPA movie fall guy, should be the poster boy for this post (sorry). And that’s right. Remember Walter Peck (played well by William Atherton) in GHOSTBUSTERS? There were two memorable exchanges.

1. Peck comes in, with police, and a court order. The court order is cease and desist, for operating an unlicensed facility. He looks around, gloating: “Shut this down, shut it ALL down.” The containment field is shut down, the spook trap explodes, and ghoulies are released into the city.

2. The exchange in the Mayor’s office:

Egon: "We were doing fine until Dickless here shut off the power!"
Peck: "Mr. Mayor, these men are con artists!"
Mayor: "Is this true?"
Venkman: "Yes, it's true. This man has no dick."

That’s what it comes down to. We blame government for hiring jerks like Walter Peck at the EPA. But all he was trying to do was enforce the law. He really did have the best interests of New York, and the U.S., in mind, because he was trying to do his job, having sworn to uphold the law. Why do we all laugh at a hapless bureaucrat trying to enforce stupid, repressive laws, but never connect our scorn to the laws themselves, or the government that needs such repressive machinery to survive. I don’t get it. Congress is the one doing the damage, demogogue-ing and passing new, repressive laws with vague provisions that people like Walter Peck are trying to enforce. We are the dickless ones for putting up with it.

At the end of GHOSTBUSTERS, Walter Peck gets hit by the goo(re) of the Stay-puft man’s explosion. What they actually used was shaving cream, fifty gallons of it. The poor actor had a hard time getting out of the slick, choking foam. And, that’s the last we see of this evil force. Ha ha, bad guy got his. But all the laws are still the same. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

France Drops Out

Interesting point of view, from the NYTimes story yesterday..

But the author of the article gets the lead wrong. The story here is not that some young people in France are rejecting the Anglo-Saxon work ethic. The story is that lots of people in France are rejecting the legacy of socialist ideals of forced equality of mediocrity, and the invidious class structure it always creates. Socialism cannot reward merit, because it operates on the conceit that effort, creativity, and character either don’t really exist or are morally arbitrary characteristics.

Listen to this, from the linked article:

Part of the problem, according to Ms. Maier, is that French companies are frozen by strict social norms.
"Everything depends on what school you went to and what diploma you have," she said, arguing that advancement is slow and comes less from ambition than from endurance. "French corporations," she says, "are not meritocracies."
Workers remain at their jobs until retirement, stymieing the promotion of those below them, she argues, yet a system of patronage and stiff legal protections make it difficult for employers to fire anyone. Years of such stagnation in France's hierarchy-obsessed society have produced elaborate rituals to keep people busy. "Work is organized a little like the court of Louis XIV, very complicated and very ritualized so that people feel they are working effectively when they are not," she said.
Her solution? Rather than keep up what she sees as an exhausting charade, people who dislike what they do should, as she puts it, discreetly disengage. If done correctly - and her book gives a few tips, such as looking busy by always carrying a stack of files - few co-workers will notice, and those who do will be too worried about rocking the boat to complain. Given the difficulty of firing employees, she says, frustrated superiors are more likely to move such subversive workers up than out.

Only a reporter from the Times-Izvestia could think that this is a description of Anglo-Saxon work rules. The description is actually the logical consequence of what most liberals claim they want: a "fair" system, where hard work is either ignored or punished.

[Except the very last part of her quote, of course, where she rediscovered the “Dilbert Principle”: Move the least competent people into management, where they can do the least harm. That is very Anglo-Saxon. American universities certainly do it. How else could K. Grease have become a department chair at the World Wrestling University? (as the Nature Boy, Ric Flair, would say: “WWUUUUUUUUUUU!”)]

Not a Dime’s Worth of Difference

For those who, like Ralph Nader, think that there is no difference between the major party candidates, consider the regulatory process, which largely operates under the media radar, but affects all of us. Interesting in-depth story in the WaPo today.

In the past 3 1/2 years, OSHA, the branch of the Labor Department in charge of workers' well-being, has eliminated nearly five times as many pending standards as it has completed. It has not started any major new health or safety rules, setting Bush apart from the previous three presidents, including Ronald Reagan.

It seems an easy bet that John Kerry, if elected, would have plenty of new regulations for us. You may think that is good, or bad, but it represents an enormous difference. As for me, I am going to send another contribution to Ralph Nader’s campaign. Given the way that the economy is sputtering, the forces of anti-regulation need all the help they can get, and (strangely) Nader is the best friend of regulatory rollback right now. You go, Ralph!.

This reminds me of my first “professional” job, at the Federal Trade Commission in the first Reagan Administration (1984). In the afternoon, we would take a break from our exhausting day of blocking asinine regulations, and go have a big frozen yogurt at a place right beside the entrance to the Washington School for Secretaries. Sitting there having a yogurt, watching dozens of attractive women walk by, we would sometimes say to each other, “You know, this is criminal. We are just stealing our money.”

But then one of us would state the standard defense, one all of us believed fervently: “Not true! If it weren’t for us, occupying these crucial desks, they might very hire someone who would write new regulations! We are doing God’s work here, gentlemen! We are constipating the intestines of the cow of regulation!”

And then we would all click our foam yogurt cups, and argue about where we would go for happy hour that night. Now, those were the days.

Friday, August 13, 2004

All's Fair in Politics

All’s Fair in Politics

Economist Ray Fair’s very simple model on presidential elections has some interesting things to say about the upcoming election. Given the macro-economic and macro-political factors that have mattered in the past, George W. Bush should win between 57% and 58% of the popular vote, according to the model. Any way that this happens implies a large Electoral College victory for Bush.

Here is the main estimation equation:
VOTE = 55.57 + .691*GROWTH - .775*INFLATION + .837*GOODNEWS
You can simulate results by playing with your own assumed values here.

A note on the past: Fair’s model predicted that Gore would win the 2000 election….and since “win” is defined in terms of popular vote, he was right! The prediction was that the Dem candidate takes 50.8% of the two party vote. The actual number received by Gore was 50.3%; pretty impressive. (This factored in “no personality” for Gore, which usually means “not an incumbent” but since Gore actually had no personality was even more correct than usual)

I Wish Tiebout Could See This

Tiebout sorting”, named after Charles Tiebout (1924-1968) is one of the ways that public economists have described the effects of differences in levels of public expenditure and variations in policy in a federal system. The essence of the model is the claim that people will move to find their optimal mix of goods and amenities.

But who would have expected this?

South Carolina is becoming a magnet for conservative Christian religious groups.

New Hampshire may be the Tiebout equilibrium destination for Libertarians.

Does this mean that Bill Clinton is going to move to the Virgin Islands?

(thanks to KLH for the tip...)

"UN Resolution" is an oxymoron

For those who thought sanctions on Iraq were "working," more confirmation in the NYTimes today that the UN bureaucrats supposed to be in charge were just running around giggling and giving each other wedgies.

I have a picture, a K. Grease exclusive, of the UN meeting to discuss making the sanctions on Iraq more defective:

Seriously, here is an actual quote from Jar-Jar....um...from the article in the Times:

"Everybody said it was a terrible shame and against international law, but there was really no enthusiasm to tackle it," said Peter van Walsum, a Dutch diplomat who headed the Iraq sanctions committee in 1999 and 2000, recalling the discussions of illegal oil surcharges. "We never had clear decisions on anything. So we just in effect condoned things."

This is a general description of the UN procedure, on everything: (1) That's a shame. (2) No enthusiasm to tackle it. (3) No clear decisions. (4) Condone. (5) Blame, after the fact, anyone who does do anything. (To be fair, they often skip steps (1) and (2)).

(Extra credit if you remember what Senator Binks was saying in the scene above....No? "Dis is nutsen!" You go, Jar-Jar!) (Photo Credit)

Thursday, August 12, 2004

A Very Private Affair


Governor McGreevey, of NJ, admitted to having "had an extramarital homosexual affair."

Sign of the times? Was the problem really that it was "extramarital?"

Gay marriage is not legal in NJ; it HAD to have been extramarital.

Holy City of Najaf

One reason for the war in Iraq (one that I found plausible enough to remain agnostic about the whole thing) was the argument that we needed to get out of Saudi Arabia, which is the traditional guardian of the two holiest sites in Islam. Osama bin Laden specifically invoked the "crusader infidels occupying the holy land argument" a couple of times in explaining why he organized al Queada and attacked the U.S. in the first place.

And, since much of the reason we had so many troops in Saudi-land was the aggression of Iraq in 1990-1, the war served two important real politik purposes: we gained a strategic foothold for troop bases that were NOT in Saudi Arabia, and we ended the largest demonstrated strategic threat to stability by destroying Saddam's large and powerful army.

Suppose for a moment that argument convinced you (it is a decent argument, not a slam dunk, but not obviously absurd). THEN WHAT THE HELL ARE WE DOING NOW?

UPDATE: al-Sadr wounded?

The Shia were supposed to be the ones who would welcome us into Iraq with open arms, because they had been brutally oppressed by Saddam. (They had been brutally betrayed by the U.S. after the Gulf War, though, so it was always a little hard to believe that). But, okay, they gave us some trouble.

One possibility is that there are so many "holy cities of Islam" that you can't swing a cat without defiling a holy site, and to some extent that's true. Furthermore, one could argue that "holy sites of Islam" spring up like mushrooms, for strategic reasons (Jerusalem became a lot more holy to Islam after the Jews took it).

But...c'mon. That's quibbling. The big plan for us to pacify southern Iraq is now this:


And this is supposed to make happy the Islamic "extremists" who were angry we were occupying holy sites?

The problem the administration has is that they have now resoundingly contradicted by their own actions every rationale for the war that they gave in their own words. Today and tomorrow, if this battle continues, the blood of more than 1,000 more martyrs (in Shia eyes) will stain the very sands that soaked up the blood of Ali. If you are a terrorist recruiter, you just can't write a better script than that.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I think I'll go for a walk

It's hard to know what to say about this.

But it happened near where I grew up.

Go outside, now, all of you, and turn off the computer.

If Wishes were Batteries...or Ice

States have some ridiculous laws on the books, but some of the most interesting, popular, and ridiculous are those on price regulation.

At bottom, they come down to this: Wouldn’t it be better if there were no scarcity? (Maybe; I’m not convinced), but why stop there? Gravity and friction both bug me, too.

Today Florida opened a “report your neighbor” hot line, for price gougers. But Anti-gouging laws reduce quantities available in emergencies, such as hurricanes or other natural disasters.

(K. Grease's own state, NC, has an egregious version). If there is not enough ice or batteries at high prices, how will there be enough at artificially low prices? (Walter Williams, John Hood, and Arnold Kling, on same) (see, for a little different view, Tyler Cowen)

Anti-scalping laws have created an entire industry focused on the secondary black market.

Why can’t we just all get along…with markets?

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

"I did NOT have sex with that stockbroker!"

Did my occasional radio appearance with the witty, over-caffeinated Winnipeg radio CJOB host Charles Adler, who has had his own problems with Canada's increasingly aggressive and self-righteous thought police and university nannies.

He asked a great question: why was Martha Stewart jailed on a rather vague stock fraud charge, when Sven Robinson, liberal MP, skated out the courthouse door after "pocketing" a $47,000 ring at an auction, right in front of security cameras?

Charles had started thinking of this after seeing David Frum's story, "Canada's Culture of Impunity," in the subscription-only National Post.

I think that the answer is this: Sven did the "full Swaggart" (like the full Monte, but baring your soul rather than your willie), mea-culpa-ing and abasing himself. "Yes, I did it, it was wrong, I am lower than a snake's belly, it was a cry for help."

Martha, on the other hand, said "Bite me, all of you! I didn't do it, and the people who came after me were all cowards and haters!"

Which leads me to think that only Bill Clinton can look us all right in the eye, and say (nearly in tears): "I did not have sex with ___FILL IN LIE HERE___", and have us still respect him in the morning. For anyone else, better to apologize and get it over with.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

The Economics of Wage Labor


An amazing study was released August 2 by the UCal-Berkeley Labor Center. The conclusion? Wal-mart costs California $86 million a year. The nefarious company does this by cruelly (wait for it) employing 44,000 Californians as workers. Worse, the study points out ominously, Wal-mart actually has plans to hire even more Californians soon. Egads! They must be stopped.

Here’s an excerpt from the report: "When workers do not earn enough to support themselves and their families through their own jobs, they rely on public safety net programs to make ends meet."

Sounds right. One could quibble with the idea of “make ends meet,” of course. It seems to be based on a Marxian idea of subsistence (to “make ends meet,” I need new $150 sneakers, a plasma TV, and a nice car), and has all the problems of a labor theory of value

But let that go. The amazing part of the study is the conclusion drawn by the study’s authors from the sentence I first quoted: Employment policies at Wal-mart, the nation's largest employer, cost California taxpayers approximately $86 million a year in public assistance to company workers. Huh?

The study authors treat the entire amount of public assistance to Wal-mart workers as a cost to the state. But since Wal-mart workers are at the bottom of the economic ladder, why doesn’t it make at least as much sense to add up all the wage payments by Wal-mart to the workers, and count those as a saving to the state?

The question is: what would these workers be doing without their Wal-mart jobs? I would confidently assert a lot of them would be unemployed. Then, the full cost of their subsistence would be borne by the state, whereas now most is offset by Wal-mart wages. The study assumes, bizarrely, that if Wal-Mart would just fire these workers they would be employed in high wage jobs paying full subsistence wages, and the state would pay them nothing. (To be fair to them, the authors say they don’t assume this. To be fair to logic, no other assumption generates the study’s supposed “results”).

Those study authors could be right. Maybe, since knowledge of basic economics is not required, all the Wal-Mart workers could get hired at Berkeley.

UPDATE: See The Liberal Order

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Laura Bush as a Psychological Study...or a Liberal Mole?

What an interesting person Laura Bush is.

A lot of people are fascinated. She is a central figure in the egregious screed, "Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy," by Tony Kushner. As described in the NYTimes article ("The Dead and Dostoyevsky, in a War With Bush," August 4, 2004, by Randy Kennedy"), we see several things. Consider this passage from the NYTimes story:

It might not have swayed many swing voters: a playlet in which a man portrays Laura Bush, talking passionately about Dostoyevsky and moral relativity to the ghosts of Iraqi children, cursing occasionally and revealing at one point that she sometimes calls her husband "the Chimp." ("You know, those ears," the character of the first lady says, smiling impishly.)

But at a benefit performance Monday night at the American Airlines Theater, this extended scene by the playwright Tony Kushner served as the backdrop for a kind of joyous cultural pep rally for those who want to see Mr. Bush turned out of office.

The scene, from a planned longer work to be called "Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy," was also part of a continuing effort by the liberal activist online group MoveOn.org to try to harness the arts more firmly to its political cause and to mend what the group sees as a rift between populist politics and popular culture....

...In the first scene, which has been published and read at other anti-Bush, antiwar events around the country, John Cameron Mitchell portrayed Mrs. Bush, and Patricia Clarkson an angel who is presiding over Mrs. Bush's reading to the children's ghosts.

But in the next scene Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Clarkson switched chairs, with Mr. Mitchell portraying Mr. Kushner himself as he speaks with a character who is supposed to be the "real" Laura Bush. Played by Ms. Clarkson, Mrs. Bush is angry at her portrayal in the preceding "skit" by the playwright. In an obvious reference to the evening itself, Mr. Kushner has the "real" Mrs. Bush criticize the use of art for low purposes like politics.

In the question-and-answer session, a man in the audience asked Mr. Kushner whether he had difficulty writing such a politically engaged work when he knew it would expound "ideas that this room certainly already believes."

Mr. Kushner said he did, but added that he believed the work was not just straightforward polemic and that it asked larger, more difficult philosophical questions about suffering and responsibility. He also explained that he simply found Mrs. Bush a compelling character. He said he was fascinated that she was "a librarian and a very big reader," but that she had decided to marry a man who had obviously inherited his family's "language-processing problem," a remark that drew huge laughs from the crowd.

He said he decided to write the scene especially after the first lady had mentioned in an interview that her favorite piece of fiction was the Grand Inquisitor scene in "The Brothers Karamazov," one of the more ambiguous in literature. (Mrs. Bush has said, however, that she does not consider it ambiguous but finds it to be about Christ and to be reassuring.)

Well. The reason this play address "larger, more difficult philosophical questions" is that the playwright also makes jokes about the President's locution. I guess a polemic would simply say, "I hate the President." But a play that treats large philosophical issues would apparently say, "I hate the President because he talks funny. I know all of you already hate him, too, or you wouldn't be here. Let's laugh."

Seems to me a more interesting point is made by Michael Bronski, in the Boston Pheonix. This is a much more sympathetic and nuanced, though still savage, treatment of the first lady. For example, Bronski elaborates Ms. Bush's view of the Grand Inquisitor in a much fairer, and more interesting, and to my mind more damaging way.

Laura Bush is an interesting character. The reality show she is acting in in the White House is the one thoughtful people might focus on.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Random Election Thoughts

1. I thought Kerry and co. did a good job when the donkeys convened. Now, hard to say that they did. David Broder seems to have got it right, first. Consider this excerpt from the end of the article, "Punting of First Down," Wapo, Aug 4.

Normally the challenger to an incumbent president has two main tasks to perform during convention week. The first is to present a fuller picture of himself, one that is more comfortable to the voter. The other is to lay down in strong terms the case why the man in office should be replaced.
Kerry and other speakers fixated on one brief shining moment in his pre-political career: his valiant service as a Navy officer in Vietnam. It became the all-purpose metaphor -- "I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty." But it never really merged with the story of his later life, and the American people are plenty smart enough to remember that throughout the 1990s, Democrats insisted that Bill Clinton's avoidance of military service during Vietnam was no disqualification for his serving as commander in chief.
Left largely unanswered -- or only vaguely outlined -- was the question of what Kerry had done with his life in the decades since he came home from Vietnam, particularly in his 20 years of Senate service. President Bush immediately pounced on the omission, suggesting in his very first speech since Kerry's nomination that the senator has few "results" for which he can claim credit as a legislator. The charge is unfair, but Kerry left himself wide open to it.
As for indicting the incumbent administration, Kerry and other speakers soft-pedaled their criticism -- or couched it in cliched terms. And they left unanswered what might be the single biggest question on the minds of undecided voters: What exactly would Kerry do differently to bring the bloodshed in Iraq to an end and secure a stable democracy there? The answer, apparently, is to ask allies for more help, but that calls for a leap of faith. It is not a political strategy.
Iraq was the almost unmentionable subject in Boston, and voters may well have felt cheated.
What the Democrats did do was to challenge Bush directly on two of his assets -- his reputation as a strong leader and a man with strong values. Kerry said -- and others affirmed -- that he too is strong of character and strong of will. It is unusual, to say the least, to build a challenger's campaign on the incumbent's main strengths, but that is what the Kerry team has done.
It does not appear to have worked this past week, and now the news focus shifts to the Olympics, the Republican convention and the continuing threat of terrorism. It will be weeks before Kerry has another such opportunity.

2. If the Dems think that military service is key to serving, why didn't Bill Clinton just concede to Bob Dole in 1996? Charles Krauthamer ("Muffing the Bounce," Wapo, Aug 6) may have gone a bit over the top on this, but he probably gets it right.

No bounce for Kerry. The Democrats and their pollsters will tell you this is because the electorate has already made up its mind. But if that is the case, why are they campaigning? Why have a convention in the first place? In reality, at least 10 percent of the population is undecided, and John Kerry's convention appears to have gotten none of them.
The other explanation is stylistic. Kerry rushed his speech, stepping on his applause lines. Then there was the sweat on his brow and chin, not quite Nixonian lip sweat, but enough to distract.
Hardly. The explanation that respects the intelligence of the American people is that Kerry had nothing to say. Well, one thing: Vietnam. His entire speech, the entire convention, was a celebration of his military service. The salute. The band of brothers. The Swift boat metaphors. The attribution of everything -- from religious values to foreign policy wisdom -- to Kerry's five-month stint in Vietnam 35 years ago.
The problem is that the association of fitness for the presidency with military experience does not withstand five minutes of reflection. If that were the case, Abraham Lincoln would have failed as commander in chief in the Civil War, and Franklin Roosevelt would have failed in World War II. By that logic, Ulysses S. Grant should have been -- as Douglas MacArthur would have been -- a great president.
And, for that matter, Bob Dole. The most cynical moment of the four days was provided, naturally, by Bill Clinton when he implicitly reproached himself for having sat out the Vietnam War, a smug self-congratulatory way of attacking President Bush and Vice President Cheney for doing the same. It was sheer Clintonian shamelessness. After all, in the 1992 campaign, he adamantly denied that he dodged the draft. And according to what Clinton says now about the centrality of military service, the 1996 election should have logically and honorably gone to Dole, the Max Cleland of his time.
The whole claim is, of course, ex post facto disingenuousness. For all his fawning imitation of John F. Kennedy, Kerry missed the central irony: Who was it that sent Kerry and the others into the disastrous Vietnam War if not Kennedy (Navy and Marine Corps Medal), Lyndon Johnson (Silver Star) and an entire political establishment that had served in World War II and Korea?
Yes, Vietnam service gives Kerry a credential for high office. But beyond that, what is there? His biography, as presented to the world, was this: He was born, went to Vietnam and is now running for president. Just about his entire adult life is a 30-year void. The hagiographic film at the convention omitted his first entry into politics (his failed run for Congress in 1972, an attempt to cash in immediately on his Vietnam/antiwar service). There was no mention of the fact that his first elected office was as Michael Dukakis's lieutenant governor. And practically nothing was said about his 20 years of deeply unmemorable service in the Senate.

Heres the problem, if Kerry really wants to emphasize Vietnam:

Let's get out of Iraq. Fire up the Hueys.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


St. Petersburg, Fla. laptop maker Jabil Circuit Inc. was awarded $8.9 million in a lawsuit it had filed against a supplier of special hinge grease that destroyed the plastic in the Jabil computers. Reell Precision Manufacturing Corp. of St. Paul, Minn. supplied the grease to lubricate the hinges it manufactured for Jabil, which had a contract to make AN700 laptops for Epson Corp. When the machines left Jabil's plants they were fine, but engineers found they developed cracks around the hinges, often before they'd even been used by consumers. Jabil replaced the plastic in thousands of machines, only to have the cracks mysteriously reappear. Although another Reell client, KeyTronic Corp. of Spokane, Wash. had had the same experience with the killer grease two years earlier, Reell never told Jabil, and it took engineers there 18 months to figure out the cause of the problem. (St. Petersburg Times 29 Jul 98)


Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Change in Header

Yes, I took off the "Sed Victa Catoni" bit in the title.

There is only so much space in the header.

And, I figured the picture that took its place is MUCH more interesting. Obscure to hoi polloi, beloved to the cognescenti.

The body language of the twosome is interesting indeed, for those of us who know them.

Is There Hope for Russia?

Things seem to be picking up for Russia, heart of the former Soviet Union and the world’s only third-world superpower. This year, using a purchasing power parity basis, Russian GDP stands at $1.287 trillion, or 11th largest in the world. Their real growth rate in 2003 was 7.3%. The growth rate has averaged 6.5% per year over the past five years, after the 1998 crisis.

Since 2000, demand by consumers and investors have been consistently strong. Real fixed capital investments have gained more than 10% per year, on average, over the last four years. Real personal and family incomes have seen increases that average more than 12%.
Financially, Russia has also moved a long way toward putting its house in order. Its foreign debt has declined from 90% of GDP during the 1998 crisis to around 28%. (The “foreign debt as percent of GDP” figure for the U.S. is 23%, and climbing fast). (data source)

Much of this boomlet is due to increased oil prices, of course. Recently oil has been trading at more than $40/barrel, with the end of July seeing prices of nearly $45. Russia has significant exports, making it the world’s second largest exporter of crude (after the Saudis). These oil export earnings have meant that Russia has increased its foreign reserves from only $12 billion to some $80 billion. Given how soft the ruble has been (often, it has been a non-traded currency), these foreign reserves go a long way toward establishing Russia as a legitimate global economy.

So….what is the problem? There are three problems: oil prices, credible commitments to guarantee private investments, and the survival of democratic institutions.

Oil prices: Petroleum giant Yukos, and its embattled former CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, both face legal problems for tax evasion and fraud. Yukos pumps about a fifth of Russian oil exports, or 1.7 million barrels per day. This is a short-term problem, because it drives up oil prices in the near term, but few believe the effect will last more than a month or two. Higher oil prices are more of a problem for the U.S. than for Russia, of course, since increased prices and the extremely low short-run elasticity of demand for petroleum products mean Russia will lose little in terms of revenue, and may well gain in terms of profits.

Credible Commitments: The “crime” of Khodorkovsky, and Yukos, was non-payment of taxes. But no Russian companies, or citizens, pay taxes. The rates are confiscatory, and the authorities openly wink when they make tax collection demands. What Khodorkovsky really did was openly support, both personally and financially, the political opposition to Putin’s increasingly repressive government.

Don’t get me wrong: Khodorkovsky has engaged in practices that most of us would call corrupt, and his initial seizing of oil assets marked him as one of Russia’s notorious “Oligarchs.” The Oligarchs are a type of Robber Baron but without the warm and fuzzy side displayed by John D. Rockefeller in establishing Standard Oil.

The best way to describe why this is a problem is to quote from David Storobin’s July 21, 2004 post on The Eurasian Politician, which is the best and most succinct summary I’ve seen:

In 2000, Vladimir Putin came to power and offered a sort of amnesty program where the Oligarchs were forgiven their "sins" if they ended their corrupt practices and stopped meddling in political affairs. The compromise made a lot of sense to those familiar with Russia. Communism corrupted the nation beyond what is imaginable in the West. One could not do anything – buy a refrigerator, take a test in school, go on vacation – without paying a bribe. Naturally, to be able to pay bribes, one had to have income other than your regular monthly pay – which was not even enough to buy food, much less pay for housing, clothes and other expenses. It was simply impossible to prosecute the whole nation and it was clearly better to break with the past, so long as people did not commit unlawful acts in the future.

Yet, almost immediately, Putin went after the Oligarchs who threatened him politically. His enforcement of law was very selective, punishing only those he was afraid of.
First came Vladimir Gusinsky, the owner of a major media conglomerate Media-Most, who opposed Putin during the 2000 elections. Putin simply took over Media-Most and Gusinsky was forced to flee Russia.

Next came Boris Berezovsky, who actually helped Putin in 2000, but was seen as a king-maker, and thus, too powerful for the Russian President. He was followed by a number of less high-profile businessmen, including Platon Lebedev – Khodorkovsky's right-hand man. Finally, Khodorkovsky was arrested and his company assets frozen.
Meanwhile, the Russian government took over all major TV channels and almost all independent media of any significance, leaving only a few minor stations and newspapers, many of which support Putin anyway.

In an attempt to gain even more power, the President went after the weak opposition parties and by 2003, Yabloko, SPS and the Fatherland found themselves outside the Duma. Fatherland was a moderate party, while Yabloko and SPS were American-style parties that supported capitalism and human rights. Part of Putin's strategy in sidelining these parties was to intimidate and destroy anyone – including Khodorkovsky – who helps the opposition.

As Russia's wealthiest man with a fortune of $8 billion, Khodorkovsky had the means to politically harm Putin today and replace him in the future, even hinting his (Khodorkovsky's) desire to be elected President some day. That could not be tolerated by the current Russian President – a career KGB officer. What Vladimir Putin wanted was to become such a strong President that nobody would be able to stand up to him and he'll be able to push through the program that he thinks will save Russia.

From the start, Putin understood that private ownership of major business and the profits that result from it, major media and opposition can all limit his power. By offering a "compromise" in 2000, he lulled businessmen into hibernation, while "picking them off" one by one, and taking over their money and media ownerships.

By 2003, Russia had become a "managed democracy" where elections were held, but the media was controlled by the government, opposition was threatened, and the only people who could challenge the President – the wealthy elites – were on the run outside the country or in jails.

When Khodorkovsky was arrested, he was a model of a businessman. More than anyone else, he had taken the "Putin Compromise" to heart and ended his corrupt practices. Yukos subscribed to American-style accounting – the most intense and accurate way to calculate corporate activities; he kept only one set of accounting records; his employees were well paid and he gave a tremendous amount of money to charity.

I’ll come back to Storobin in a minute, but the point is now clearly made: The only way to attract foreign investment is to make a credible commitment not to expropriate assets. This points up the classic time consistency problem in economics: “Time consistency is a phenomenon that occurs when it is not in the best interest of a player to carry out a threat or promise that was initially designed to influence the other player’s actions.” (Economics, Stiglitz-Walsh) In our case here, the government promises investors it won’t steal their assets, or extort payments that reduce the value of those assets.

At the time the promises are made, the government means these promises. It really wants to attract outside investment, and everyone is better off if the deal can be struck: I promise not to steal your stuff, and you buy a lot of stuff and set it up in my country in a way that it can’t be cheaply or easily removed.

But once the “stuff” (factories, complex systems of wiring and pipes, large machines) is in place, the temptation to steal becomes overwhelming. Worse, in a democracy with no history of rule of property law, a President cannot bind future leaders, and his promise is worthless.

The result can be a complete market failure: investments that would be very profitable, and would make money for all concerned, don’t happen because the promises of the government are not credible.

Russia has invested nearly 15 years in trying to make the “we won’t steal your stuff” promise credible. Now, one could argue that all the stuff was stolen to begin with, by the Oligarchs. But it is important that the government be seen not to be the most dangerous source of theft, because the government has the tanks and the troops. Private investors might be willing to take their chances on fighting back private theft, if the government backs them up. But if Putin’s government is the one taking assets, foreign investment will dry up completely.

Survival of Democratic Institutions: David Storobin continues, in his July 21, 2004 post.

[Khodorkovsky’s] arrest signaled to the world that Russia is turning autocratic. After all, why didn't Putin go after less reformed businessmen? Why Khodorkovsky, the most honest major businessman in Russia today? And why was it done right before the elections?

Immediately $8 billion were taken out of Russia in the last quarter of 2003, compared to $100 million in the first quarter. This also reduced the power of the business class in favor of Putin, who swept the elections in March 2004 with a spectacular victory over sub-par opposition.

It would be wrong to say that Russia is no longer a democracy. It does hold elections with opposition. But what Putin's Russia lacks is equality under the law, total and complete individual and property rights, as well as free and independent media and opposition that is not harassed and assaulted by the government.

In the wake of the 2004 elections and Khodorkovsky's arrest, the Putin Administration is omnipotent. There is nobody to stand up to Putin -- every other businessman and opposition member is threatened to wind up in the same jail as Khodorkovsky. If Russia's wealthiest and most reformed businessman may be imprisoned and have his property confiscated (which will almost definitely happen in the near future), why not anyone else? Why not everyone else?

This is the most interesting problem, because it is uniquely Russian. It has become common to cluck and shake one’s head at the problem Russia has had creating democratic institutions. The failure is sometimes explained as “cultural”: The Russians simply don’t want democracy, because that is not their nature. They choose the strong man over freedom, order and security over the divisions democracies create.

In light of this claim, one might begin to suspect that “Russia is becoming an autocracy” might actually be what the Russian people want. But an interesting, and (I think) very important article in the New Republic (May 31, “Velvet Glove: Why Russians Want Democracy”) calls this claim very much into question. Since the piece is open only to subscribers, let me paraphrase some parts.

First, the democratic impulse is extremely strong in Russia, particularly among urban youth and elites of all ages. They enjoy, and have come to expect, democracy, and they are angry that Putin’s government is choking off democratic institutions.

Second, poll results indicate that Russians are far more concerned about human rights, financial security, and peace then the anti-democratic shibboleths, order and stability. These were unstructured choices, mind you: “Here are 24 things you might care about; rank them.”
Gessen issues a scathing indictment of the economic authorities, from the U.S. and other nations, who arrogantly and stupidly miscalculated the effects of economic reforms on fledgling political institutions. Derogatory names, such as dermokratiya (crapocracy would be one way to translate this) for the system of government, and demshiza (demoschizoids) for those who advocated democracy, permeated the Putin campaign. In short, according to Gessen, the West was complicit in creating a set of circumstances where Putin’s cronies ran not just against Yeltsin, but against the very institutions of democracy that Yeltsin had tried crudely to put in place.

So, those who think Russians don’t want democracy confuse cause and effect. To the extent that Putin was able to associate the economic disasters and disintermediation of the late 1990’s with “dermokratiya”, he was able to tar those particular advocates of democracy as ridiculous failures. But democracy itself is still the core value (again, according to poll results) of nearly ¾ of all Russian citizens. Putin’s actions are not subtle, but they are not what Russian’s want.
Gessen finishes with a call to arms. “If foreign observers respond to the ongoing destruction of Russia’s democratic institutions by reassuring themselves that Russians didn’t want democracy in the first place, they will be betraying the Russian people’s valiant, if unsuccessful, years-long struggle finally to live in a democracy.”