Saturday, May 31, 2003

According to Josh Chafetz...BY THE WAY, I just need to get something off my chest. I would've posted this earlier, but I was on my blogcation: Damn that tax cut was stupid. Starving the federal government of revenue when the states are already in financial crisis (and therefore cutting services) and when we're supposed to be making serious commitments to rebuilding in Afghanistan and Iraq is stupid, stupid, stupid. Are there no deficit hawks in the Administration?

Okay, that's off my chest. It wasn't much, as rants go, largely because my expertise in economics is almost nonexistent. But more conservatives need to be getting pissed off about this."

Well, here are some reasons why at least one conservative isn't getting pissed off:

First of all, it leaves more money in the hands of the people who earn it. As someone who believes the federal government should have a limited presence in our lives and who also believes that the federal government takes way too much out of the collective wallets of the American people, this cut - any cut - is to be applauded.

Nor am I getting bent out of shape about "starving the federal government...when the states are ...in financial crisis (and therefore cutting services)". First of all, not every state is in crisis (I believe Colorado, for one, is doing fine). The states that are in trouble got themselves in trouble, let themselves get out of it. Even if the federal government was awash in surpluses, I would oppose sending money to the states. Having federal taxes higher than they would otherwise need to be in order to give money to the states is a pretty inefficient way of doing things. The purpose of federal taxation is to fund the services that need to/should be provided by the federal government - there's no reason why someone in Tennessee should be taxed in order to send money to California. Gray Davis is an idiot - yet California voters chose him. Let them bear the responsibility for their votes.

Josh seems to be a smart guy - why doesn't his rant address the increases in federal spending? He does cite spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, but he should know that the relatively low amount of spending on these two areas doesn't come close to being the reason the budget is in deficit mode for the foreseeable future. Does he really believe that every dollar of spending on the part of both the federal and state governments absolutely positively needs to be spent? I know it's only small change but aren't there a few college professors whose salary he could envision cutting? The money that allows Mary Frances Berry to take to the soapbox? One or two (dozen) of the many taxpayer-paid tributes to Robert Byrd?

I'm also not falling for the 'cutting services' Chicken Little argument. Cutting visible services (police, firefighters, and the like) is the time-honored (and, unfortunately, often effective) ploy that city and state governments use to dramaticize the budget cuts they don't want to make. I once read that over half of the employees of the NYC school system were neither teachers, principals nor custodians. Yet, every time the school system claimed that it was short of money, the teachers took the hit - it wasn't the 50%+ of system employees who the kids never saw during the day. We tazpayers need to call our leaders to account and refuse to let them play the 'cutting critical services' card. Let Pataki and Bloomberg piss off their state and city unions by making real cuts in their respective bloated bureaucracies.

Even if all of the proposed government spending was indeed necessary (which, for those who skipped the above paragraph, it isn't), there are two ways of funding such spending: through taxes assessed on taxpayers now or through borrowings (taxes later). Josh doesn't offer up the reason why he seemingly prefers to fund government spending through taxes now. I prefer borrowing (note: this is true only for government spending. Except for my mortgage, I'm free of debt. And, no, I'm not being inconsistent - there's a world of difference between me and the federal government).

Finally, Josh doesn't address the stimulative effects of this (or any) tax cut. Sure, from a pure economic viewpoint there may be 'better' taxes to cut. Given my druthers, I would have structured the tax cut differently (I don't put cutting the dividend tax at the top of my list). But that doesn't mean that this cut won't have stimulative effects - does Josh believe that the economy can't use a little extra in the fuel tank? And, for those who will attempt to downplay this by claiming that these cuts are going to be saved, not spent - you're kidding, right? We Americans as a group don't save - why should we be expected to start now?

Hey Josh, there's better things for conservatives to get pissed off about than this....

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

On the other hand, what I think will hurt Bush is another (successful) terrorist attack on American soil, given that the Bush Administration has stopped portraying the war on terror as a war in which we will incur casualties - both abroad and at home.

Not doing so leaves a vacuum that the Democrats will seek to exploit when such an attack does eventually take place. (I wonder if there are actually Bush-haters who are hoping for such an event - provided, of course, that the attack takes place outside of their neighborhood, or at the least, when they're not home?) The average American is very much unlike the Israelis who unfortunately have learned that attacks will take place, no matter what precautions one might take. Not having been prepared to the likelihood of a successful future attack, Americans may be receptive to Democratic attacks on Bush. The Adminstration can't wait until after an attack to talk about the impossibility of batting 1.000 - not a good idea, too many people will interpret it as nothing more than CYA on the part of the Administration - especially with Democrats flooding the airwaves to decry Bush for his failure. And, for good measure, they'll blame the attack on Bush being otherwise occupied with Iraq, passing a tax cut for the rich, trying to push right wing ideologues onto the federal bench and/or destroying the environment - "if only Bush had been less involved with ___fill in the blank____, then he could have prevented this tragedy from taking place". In this way, they'll look to hit the double - make Bush look bad in the area he is supposedly the strongest at the same time they force Bush to put aside all else in order to (re)focus his energies on fighting terror.

The Administration did a great job of getting this point across with regards to Iraq, constantly making the view that while they were confident of eventual victory, they were ready and prepared for the occasional setback. Why aren't they doing the same here?

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

The NYT seems to think the current state of affairs in Iraq is going to hurt Bush.

I disagree. I don't particularly care - nor do I think most Americans care - what the state of affairs is in Iraq, so long as the people there are not engaged in planning, launching, financing, supporting or otherwise being involved in attacks on Americans. Much as the Times disapproved (and still disapproves), Bush set out to remove a threat and succeeded in doing so. That is what people are going to remember come next November, not what happened to Iraq post-conflict, not how much looting there may or may not have been, or how long it took to get the power back on in Baghdad. Only the NYT could think - or is it hope? - that the American people would view some degree of anarchy, confusion and chaos in Iraq to be a bigger concern/danger to America than having Hussein still in power.

But then comes along Andrew Sullivan who thinks the current disarray in Iraq portends badly for the war on terror. Well, maybe, maybe not. As I said above, there's admittedly some upheaval in Iraq, although no one is quite sure how much or how extensive. Yet I fail to see how this is going to hurt the fight against terror - so long as the Iraqis are fighting with themselves, they're not launching attacks against the US. The longer it takes Iraq to become a functioning society, the longer American troops are there. But where Sullivan must see danger, I see opportunity. He sees threats against our troops and resentment against America. I see our troops able to move immediately against possible threats, whether in Iraq or any neighboring country. He sees resentment against the US because the lights don't work. I see people who realize that not having lights is an inconvenience, but know that being under constant threat of death from Hussein is a problem.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Sure seems as if people (golfers) have nothing better to do than argue about Annika Sorenstam playing an event on the PGA Tour...

Getting my own couple of cents in, I think we need to keep in mind that Annika is not playing on the PGA Tour - she was offered a sponsor's exemption. She hasn't qualified for this tournament through any of the usual methods: a high spot on last year's money list, finishing high on one of the minor league circuits, or anything like that. We need to remember the difference between the small number of tournament slots given by the sponsors of any given event and the much larger number of spots reserved for players who have 'played' their way in.

Sponsors have always been able to do with these slots as they desire. If one wanted to pull a Bill Veeck (getting a midget to play major league baseball) in order to put fans in the gallery, one pretty much could. Give the sponsors of the Colonial credit: they saw an opportunity to goose interest in their tournament and they jumped at it. And the last time I looked, Annika is no Eddie Stanky (fair disclosure: I think the sponsors should have given me the slot. All of my golf dreams have me capitalizing on such an invitation to springboard into the Masters, onto the Ryder Cup team and over to Jack's house for dinner - quite a challenge for an 18 handicap!).

Anyway, while players getting a sponsor exemption do play with the big boys, may reap the benefits of a good finish (see dream above for example), let's be clear: they're not part of the Tour. Absent a finish that, given the fact they are in need of an exemption, they seem to be incapable of having, their continued playing time is based solely on entertainment value, nostaglia (entertainment for old golfers), school ties, or something similar.

So it is with Ms. Sorenstam. She's there to deliver entertainment value to the sponsor. In return, she gets to try out her game against the best golfers in the world. Sure sounds like a sweet deal for both sides....

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

With the blogosphere full of discussions on the upcoming Supreme Court review of Texas' anti-sodomy laws, it sure seems that an argument of many anti-anti-sodomy law types Deroy Murdock on NRO is that such laws would invariably be unenforced. They raise the spectre of police breaking down doors or the possibility of violators doing jail time as a means of making the public uncomfortable with such enforcement - thus leading to their claim that society shouldn't have laws on the books it isn't going to enforce.

Me thinks that is a bit of a shaky house of cards. Why do they all seem to assume that incarceration is the only, let alone the likely, way for society to express its dislike/distaste? I drive faster than the speed limit, I don't go to jail. I throw litter out my car window, I don't go to jail. There's plenty that I do (or, to be more accurate, things I could do) that don't/won't land me in jail. There's no reason to think that society, through various state legislatures, assuming of course the courts stay out of the matter, wouldn't decide that homosexual sodomy, or heterosexual sodomy for that matter, are more akin to traffice violations than bank robbery - punishable by a fine, for example.

Likewise, why the assumption that having these laws on the books would invariably lead to SWAT teams knocking down doors in search of violators? It sure seems as a state that had the right to ban such behavior could certainly restrict its police force(s) from using force to enter one's residence. While I can't think of any off the top of my head, I'm sure there are plenty of activities that society has deemed improper that aren't necessarily accompanied by the threat to send in the troops - and, if there aren't any, I don't know why my earlier argument couldn't hold true here as well... the state doesn't have to come in with guns blazing.

So the Democrats in Texas have walked out preventing a vote from taking place....

Just as with the Senate Democratic-led filibuster over judicial nominations, here's another case where Democrats, not having neither the votes nor popular support, resort to disruptive tactics.

Whatever happened to the idea of making your case, having the vote and then, should the vote not go your way, honorably moving on? Sure seems as if the Democrats are acting like a bunch of spoiled brats, unable or unwilling to comprehend that they can't always get things to go their way.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Thinking about how none of the various proposals for dealing with health care costs, insurance and the like are ever going to work....

What we have is really four dynamics: the first is the ever-increasing ability of science to determine what ails us, the second is the medical field's growing ability to solve what ails us, and the third and fourth I'll get to later. Less is unknown these days - neither the reason for any given illness or injury, nor the way of making the illness or injury go away.

This knowledge on the part of the doctor and patient runs into the third dynamic - Americans want everything and want it now. We want to know why we hurt - so there's more testing, fewer doctors unable to explain, resorting to shrugging their shoulders. And, once we know why we hurt, we want the hurt to go away - more drugs, more treatments, more surgery, no more being sent home untreated. All of which continues to add costs to the total. And, as science continues to understand even even more about illness and disease and medicine discovers even more cures for what science discovers, the costs of diagnosis and treatment will only continue to rise.

Keeping health costs under control means telling someone no. It may be saying no to determining what is causing someone to be sick - 'yes, there may be a reason for your discomfort, but we're not going to order the tests". It may be saying no to treating their illness - "yes, there are things that we can do, but we're not going to do any of them". Which runs into the fourth dynamic - we as a society hate, may in fact be unable, to say " we're sorry, but no". We don't even say it when someone's troubles are their own fault - whether it be someone suffering from the effects of smoking, eating too much, not exercising, engaging in reckless activities, even when their injuries are self-inflicted. And, we certainly don't say it when the situation is supposedly beyond the control of the individual (assuming there are truly such situations).

So long as this is the situation, then the level of spending isn't going to be under control any time soon.

Thinking about Jayson Blair, the NYT's critics, and to the anti-critics Calpundit who point out the white journalists who have screwed up....

The issue should not be whether whites have screwed up - the answer is certainly yes. Nor should the issue be whether black journalists screw up more than whites - I doubt it, but this is a hunch and not based on any objective measure (a nice thing about print journalism is there's usually only a name - which let the reader, if they even care, create a mental image of the reporter). What the NYT (and its critics) ought to be looking at is whether the NYT has two standards for dealing with applicants with less than stellar records who turn into employees with shoddy work habits who have the potential of embarrasing the paper.

From what I have read, Blair did nothing to warrant either his initial hiring at the NYT or his subsequent elevation in rank. He didn't have a (legitimate) body of work that gave him credibility, either as an undergraduate or in his entry level role(s) at the NYT. He certainly seemed to have the support of upper management - but if this support wasn't because of his great work, and it wasn't because Blair was related to someone important (think Chelsea Clinton and her new job), and it wasn't because the Ambassador to the UN was recommending him (think Richardson and Lewinsky), then what was it based on?

Can the NYT point to others in its employ who have the same type of record as does Blair - who aren't black? If yes, then the critics ought to shut up. If not.....

Monday, May 05, 2003

Someone once told me to always think how I could explain things to my mother if what I was doing was ever brought to her attention. If I couldn't defend what I was doing to her, it was best to not do it in the first place. The reverse held true as well: if I could explain it to Mom, then it was OK.

Since Bennett is supposed to be a smart guy, one should be safe in assuming that (1) he knew what he was doing, (2) he was comfortable with what he was doing - both the gambling in general as well as the specific amounts of money that he was risking/losing, (3) he would have thought about the possibility that someone could publicize his actions, and, if that happened, then (4) he would have had no problem standing up and defending his actions.

Which makes Bennett's recent comment so bothersome. He sure seems to be admitting that he has done something wrong. But what?

And, if he hasn't done anything wrong, then why the promise to not gamble again? He should rise up and defend his actions! It's as if he is trying to buy off his critics, by offering up a sacrifice. What he's doing is being a wimp. And, with wimps everywhere, his concession isn't going to be enough - the wolves smell his fear and will keep attacking until he's finished. Especially since the wolves (liberals, in this case) see him as a very large (pun intended) target. FoxNews better start looking for someone to take his place as a commentator.

Not what I would have expected from a smart guy....

I think everybody's harping on Bennett for the wrong thing...

It's not the gambling itself that we should be criticizing, because we, as a society, don't disapprove of gambling - in fact, we actually celebrate gamblers (at least successful ones). Go past the fact that casino and lottery gambling is often state sanctioned. Ignore the gambling that people often do on such events as the local bar's Super Bowl pool, the Final Four brackets at the office, the $5 nassau on the golf course. Look instead at the fact that so much of what we do on a daily basis is really gambling. We don't always call it gambling, but gambling it is nonetheless. Investing in the stock market? You're gambling (that the stock you bought goes up). Buying a house? Gambling again (at least to the extent that your mortgage payment exceeds the rental value of the property). Going to college? Gambling. In each of these examples, as with the hundreds of additional examples, perfectly sane and moral people put their money to risk in the hope that they will yield a net return on (and of) their investment. We don't criticize people who invest in the stock market - so why should we criticize someone who chooses a different forum on which to risk money? Bill Gates is lauded today in large part because of his successful gambling - first to leave school early to pursue a business opportunity, then with numerous wagers he made about how to best position his company.

Nor should we be upset because of the amount of money Bennett supposedly lost on gambling, echoing somewhat a point Jonah Goldberg makes. Assuming Bennett's gambling was legal, and assuming his family is not on the streets because of his losses (whatever they may be), Bennett's gambling represents an activity that he chose to spend money on. I choose to spend money in a fruitless (so far) attempt to improve my golf game. Perhaps not as much as Bennett spent in casinos, but, then again, maybe he had a better chance of winning that I do improving my swing. I wouldn't have chosen to spend my money as he did, but that is one of the great things about this country - after taking care of one's responsibilities to family, one ought to be able to do with one's money as one sees fit.

What we should be upset with Bennett is why a supposedly sharp guy could and would think that he could win at a casino. I'm sure he knows the odds. I can't imagine that he thought he had a system for winning - nobody does. I should clarify that last comment - lots of people have a system, and lots of them think their systems work, but nobody actually does.

Friday, May 02, 2003

I heard something on the radio today that was just amazing....

It seems Baltimore just conducted a canvas of its homeless - supposedly a requirement associated with the $24 million Baltimore receives each year for administering programs for the homeless. Well, according to the guys on the radio, the canvas turned up a whopping 2,500 homeless people.

Which means that the city could give each and every one of their homeless a $500 monthly check to pay for rent - certainly more than one needs for a cozy efficiency somewhere - and save $9 million a year in the process.

Of course, should the city start passing out $500 checks, I'm sure there would be more people waiting in line for a check. Well, instead of passing out checks, the city could make available a small efficiency apartment to each of the homeless. Since private landlords are certainly willing to rent apartments for $500 a month, the city ought to be able to provide a similar apartment to people down on their luck at a cost to the city of less than $500 a month. Wait a minute, the city already does that: it's called public housing. But then why does the city spend so much more than $500 per rental unit? Just wondering.....

I heard a great line today on TV - a talking head from Fox News, I believe.

The gist of it was that Bush was pushing his tax cut as being necessary to helping all of the veterans of Gulf II find employment. The specifics were something along the lines of "these veterans who are returning from battle need jobs - and for that, they will need someone to hire them".

Capitalizing on this theme, Bush (and the rest of the GOP) should push the tax cut as the only action that the federal government can take right now that will actually lead to job creation for these returning veterans (as well as for others in society who may need one). The tagline: "These people fought for all of us - it's time for us to do what is right for them by making sure that each and every one of them who wants a job will be able to have someone willing to give them one".

NONE of the other plans focus on actually creating the environment for creating jobs - they're not even packaged as such. Kennedy's plan for a huge prescription drug plan for seniors and the poor will not create jobs - except maybe in Washington for the bureaucrats who will be hired to adminster the program. Neither will Gephart's plan to cancel previous passed tax cuts and use the money instead to guarantee everybody health insurance - in fact, since the (fear of) loss of one's health insurance is usually driven by pessimism about their ability to keep their job, improving the stability of the underlying economy will do far more to alleviate worker concern than will Gephart's plan. The tagline rebuttal to Gephart: "no thanks, I'd rather have a job than have health insurance while unemployed". Voinovich's thoughts about keeping the money in Washington (I know this is a bit of a oxymoron) by cutting the size of the tax cut won't lead to businesses increasing their hiring plans.

So, once again the GOP finds itself with a winning hand - let's see how badly they play it this time....