Friday, February 27, 2004

I've got some questions about Theresa Heinz's WalMart holdings.

Supposedly she has over $1 million in stock in WalMart and received between $2500 and $5000 in dividends. Now, I'm not sure what date this is as of, but let's assume it's as of a quarterly reporting date between December 31, 2002 and December 31, 2003 (the stock prices on those dates didn't vary so much that it affects the conclusion). The stock price was somewhere in the ballpark of $50 -$53 a share for those dates. WalMart pays a quarterly dividend of 9 cents a share, a total of 36 cents a share.

For Heinz/Kerry (whose husband, by the way, served in Vietnam) to have over $1 million in stock means she was holdings at least 20,000 shares (based on $50 a share, the low end of the range). The greater her holdings over $1 million, the more shares she would have.

Taking the minimum number of shares she would have had, 20,000, and multiplying by 36 cents a share yields $7,200 in dividends - above what she reported in dividend income. Looking at the numbers a bit differently, to receive no more than $5000 in dividend income, at 36 cents a share, would mean she could have no more than 13,888 shares. And, for 13,888 shares to amount to more than $1 million would require a share price of at least $72 - a level never hit during 2003.

So, Theresa, what's going on?

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Today's WSJ (registration required) opinion page has a column from Karenna Gore Schiff, in which she rails against Ralph Nader - both for supposedly causing Gore the 2000 election and for running again in 2004. At the end of the column, she's identified solely as "director of community affairs for the Association to Benefit Children".

Is too much to ask that she also be identified as the daughter of the losing candidate? Am I wrong in thinking that not everybody who reads the column can connect the dots? Do the Journal editors assume that everybody would know what she meant when, in her column, she refers to her position as "head of youth outreach in "Gore 2000" campaign" as a position she says she got through "connections"?

Wouldn't it have helped readers to know that the author was not some disinterested party, but someone who is bitter about Bush depriving her dad and her of what they both felt was owed to them?

A while back, Josh Chafetz asked for an example of an argument against same-sex marriage that wasn't homophobic. Well, I believe I have an answer for Josh.

The opposition to same-sex marriage lies not in opposition to the same-sex part of the phrase, but rather in opposition to changing the definition of the word marriage.

At the heart of this opposition lies the belief that one can't, and thus shouldn't try to, change the definition of a word that for generations and generations and generations has meant one thing - the union of a man and woman - merely because some part of society would like a different definition. A word is as a word is. Words may fall out of favor, and cease to be used, but the underlying definition of that word doesn't change.

The same philosophy is shared by those who argue for using 'original intent' as the basis for interpreting the Constitution - interpret it as it was written, not as society might have liked it to have been written. And by those who argue against 'cleaning up' the text of books such as Huckleberry Finn - the book is as the book was written. If you change the words, it's no longer Huckleberry Finn, it's some other book.

I believe this explains why surveys consistently show far greater opposition to 'same-sex marriage' than to extending to homosexuals the benefits of marriage. It's not that the public wants to deny a homosexual the ability to visit his partner in the hospital. Nor does the public think it wrong that homosexual couples be able to carry one another on their respective health plans. It's simply the public's aversion to having the definition of a word changed.

And, to pre-empt criticism, none of the above is meant to suggest that some opposition to same-sex marriage isn't driven by anti-homosexual beliefs. There is. Just not necessarily all of it.


Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Yes, this is a spoof. By no means as good as others might have done, but, if I dare say so, not bad.

Oh, the games that liberals play.

Calling yet again for tax hikes to eliminate the budget deficit, Kevin Drum, cites today's Greenspan testimony, somehow concluding that Greenspan's comments supported Kevin's position that "Spending cuts won't do it. Economic growth won't do it. So what's left?".

Yet, Kevin's own clip of Greenspan's testimony shows that what Greenspan actually said was that (emphasis mine) the size of the deficit made it unlikely that spending cuts alone would be sufficient to accomplish the task and that it was unlikely that the United States could "grow its way" out of its budget deficits solely with an expanding economy.

Kevin, those words - alone and solely - do have meaning.

A question for professional economists.

Has a notice period, such as the WARN law, or what Kerry is proposing ever, ever been shown to reduce the number of jobs that would otherwise be lost?

That's not to say that employees wouldn't like getting such news earlier: more time to plan for what comes next, more time to engage in destructive behavior. I just wonder if such notices ever leads to any of the affected workers actually keeping their job. If not, then somebody ought to call Kerry to task - for either being stupid by believing that his proposal would actually cure the problem, or if he knows better, then for prescribing snake oil remedies to desperate people.

President Bush today called on John Kerry to stop attacking his economic patriotism. Bush was especially critical of what he referred to as "those Democrats who have never worked in the private sector attacking those of us who have".

In separate but related news, Federal Express announced plans that it would seek the contract to handle corporate shipping of American jobs overseas. Boeing immediately followed with its own announcement that it was planning to lease planes to FedEx for this purpose.

If Bush, as David Frum suggests, is "readying himself to attack Senator Kerry as a weak-willed opportunist", shall we expect to see Bush challenge Kerry along the lines of "Senator Kerry has said he is against same-sex marriage. Yet he voted against DOMA and says he is against a constitutional amendment. Senator Kerry, just what will you do, what will you do?"

Suggesting that the proposed constitutional amendment could be "much ado about nothing" Glenn Reynolds is not only attempting to perform the difficult trick of predicting how the Supreme Court will rule, the good professor is trying to do so with the equivalent of his eyes closed as there isn't yet a same-sex marriage case before the Court and, as many court-watchers have observed, much of how the Court rules depends on the particulars of the case that the Court does accept for review.

In writing that "states don't have to recognize each others' marriages under the Full Faith and Credit clause" and "the Defense of Marriage Act already provides the same thing", Glenn presumes that the Supreme Court will uphold the DOMA and uphold a states's refusal to recognize a same-sex marriage that was performed in another state. Yet there are many who believe the opposite to be true, that the Supreme Court - especially after their ruling in Lawrence - will rule against the DOMA, and against any state attempts to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

President Bush is making his own prediction about a future ruling (and obviously predicting the opposite outcome of what Glenn is predicting... Glenn, are you going to give odds?), and adding his own twist by proposing an amendment (remedial? pre-emptive? action) based on his assessment of how the Court will rule. Perhaps, having already been burned in trying to predict how the Supreme Court would rule (campaign finance, a law many feel he signed expecting the Court to rule against), he's just looking to get his ducks in a row early.

As for those who feel Bush should have waited until after the Court has ruled, I don't think Bush is jumping the gun too soon. I expect the matter to be before the Court very soon - perhaps just as long as it takes for a newly married couple to get their Social Security spousal filings rejected, or for one of the not-from-San Francisco marriages to get rejected by their home state. Given how long passing an amendment is likely to take, it makes sense to get the ball rolling now. Of course, if the Supreme Court doesn't rule as conservatives feel, then all of this discussion about amending the Constitution would indeed have been much ado about nothing - just as Glenn predicts.

Monday, February 23, 2004

So, where's John McCain?

Kerry's taken the position that his record is off limits to those who did not serve in Vietnam. While this is wrong, and certainly open to attack, a far better response would be to have McCain take the stage and attack Kerry for his post-72 positions.

Where are you, John? Is your dislike for Bush so strong that you'd run the risk of having Kerry in the White House?

Thursday, February 19, 2004

I think it's time to look at military options for dealing with Irans's nuclear weapons programs...

Whatever level of threat that Hussein represented, these guys exceed. They are proven to sponsor terrorism, against Israel and the United States. There's supposedly strong evidence that many of the attacks in Iraq are somehow tied to Iran. While Hussein's hatred of the United States was what I would call tactical in nature (we embarrassed him in 1991 and kept him from controlling the Middle East), the Iranians hatred of us is far more pathological in nature - it's not easily contained or deterred. Previous versions of the ruling regime were responsible for many acts of war against the United States - the hostages in 1979, the Beirut bombing and so on. While we were rightfully afraid of what Hussein might do if he in fact possessed chemical or biological weapons, we should be far more afraid of the consequences of the Iranians having nuclear weapons.

It should be a matter of national consensus that Iran NOT be allowed to develop the capacity for producing nuclear weapons. And anybody who feels otherwise should be disqualified from being President).

Assuming we are in agreement, I'm afraid that we have no non-military options for ensuring a nuclear-free Iran. Given the horrendous track record of the UN and the many international monitoring groups, it would be reckless to put faith in them - notwithstandingthe recent discovery. Nor should we expect France/Russia/Germany to step up with enough pressure (two reasons: one, they wouldn't do so, two, because I believe the Iranians would resist such pressure, even if it were to come).

This doesn't mean a full scale invasion. But there are likely to be other, less extensive options. I hope the Bush team is not so shell-shocked by the critical fallout from the Iraq adventure that they hold off doing what is necessary here.

In Slate, William Saletan makes an argument that Edwards might be the stronger candidate against Bush, in large part because Edwards is doing better than Kerry with GOP crossover voters.

Yet, but suppose that GOP crossover voters were picking Edwards as a way of keeping Kerry from closing things out ("hey, the polls are open, we might as well go down and vote.... now, who to vote for, who to vote for..."). Take away the GOP crossover support for Edwards and, instead of a close race, Kerry blows him away. Instead, the campaign goes on, Kerry has to spend some more time and money, and absorb a few more shots from the other contenders.

Looks like things are proceeding according to plan. Oops, I shouldn't have said that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

So Colin Powell has consultations with the French Foreign Minister on possible intervention in Haiti. How can it be, that the French are talking with us, given that we've so poisoned the relationship by our actions in Iraq? Also, according to the story, "U.S. Ambassador James Foley said Tuesday that Washington is ready to give $500,000 in humanitarian aid to Haiti through the United Nations". So much for our unwillingness to work with the UN, as has been claimed by the various Democratic candidates for President. Nor does it look like the US is acting unilaterally, does it? So much for the 'arrogant superpower' allegations.

I've started the clock on when the media will start running their "we were wrong" stories...




For anyone who hasn't yet made up their mind, I offer up a way of looking at the upcoming election that could/should resolve any indecision one might have about who to vote for. It's based on a pretty simple premise: if enough people and groups one doesn't like would rather have a certain candidate, then one ought to vote for the other guy.

Who would __fill in the blank__ rather have as President of the United States, Bush or Kerry?

Osama bin Laden and (what is left of) Al Queda?
The Iranian Mullahs?
The North Koreans?
The Hussein loyalists who kill our servicemen and blow up women and kids in the streets of Baghdad?
The French?
The Germans?
The Red Chinese?
Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad?
The remnants of the Taliban?

What about:

The Taiwanese?
The Iranian students seeking democracy (thanks to Oxblog for this one)?
The former members of the Soviet Bloc who are seeking democracy and free trade with the West?
Tony Blair (as if he'll tell)?
John Howard (Prime Minister of Australia, who is also unlikely to tell us)?
Alan Greenspan (not that he'll ever tell us)?

And, how about:

The editorial board of the NYT, WaPo and LAT?
Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman?
Michael Moore and Al Franken?
Norman Lear and Rob Reiner?
The faculty of Duke University (heck, the faculty of almost every university in America)?
Those who applauded Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction'?

And, finally:

The crowd at the Daytona 500?
The majority of people (in the US) who watched the Super Bowl on TV - because they like football?
The parents who want their kids to learn in school, not be used as pawns in political protests?
Those in America who care less about 'root causes' than they want to feel safe - in their homes, their offices, the streets?

I wonder if George Will is thinking of changing his mind that Gavin Newsom representsNo Left Turn, as Will wrote on January 25th.

Or does doing what Newsom is doing not count as hardcore liberalism?

Is there a bit of a legal oxymoron and/or inconsistency here? A California judge delays ruling on SF's issuing marriage licenses, claiming that opponents "had not given the city enough notice to obtain an emergency injunction". Yet, don't the circumstances that would lead a party to seek an emergency injunction foreclose giving the other time 'enough notice"? When anti-death penalty advocates seek emergency injunctions, are they told to go away because the other side hasn't been given 'enough notice'? When an abused spouse seeks emergency protection from the courts, is she told that no action can be taken until the other side has been given 'enough notice'? When an environmental group seeks an emergency order to stop someone who is alleged to be pouring chemicals into a creek, are they required to wait?

In this case there's an allegation that SF city officials are acting outside the law. There no argument that gay couples who have been already waiting for years to get 'married' would be irreparably harmed as a result of having to wait a while longer. On the other hand, there could be substantial turmoil resulting from people acting on what they believe to be valid licenses which later turn out to be invalid - grounds, it would seem, to hold off on issuing any more licenses until the matter was resolved. So what explains the lack of action on the part of the judge?

Could it be bias? A preformed opinion? Grounds for removal?

Just wondering....

According to this NYT story, Kerry said ""With Kerry, veterans will have a veteran in the White House who fights to make sure they get the benefits they deserve".

Hey John, do the benefits the military deserves include having the funds to maintain a military presence in Iraq? How about the Abrams tank? Does it include getting the highest quality intelligence from the CIA? I would think so; yet Kerry must not or else he wouldn't have voted against those very programs, would he?

If Cheney was really serious about pressing Congress to keep the tax cuts, I'd suggest mailing a postcard to voters letting them know (based on averages) how much of a tax cut they've received and how much they would lose should the Democrats succeed in keeping the cuts from becoming permanent. The impact of such a mailing could be tremendous. The GOP can easily pay for the costs, or perhaps there's a (conservative slanting) third party that would be interested in subsidizing the costs. In fact, if the GOP wasn't so easily swayed by Democratic rhetoric, they could have the US treasury include these numbers as part of an official mailing (although I think the impact would be lessened if these numbers were merely a part of some other communication, rather than the entire message).

It's long been the case that most voters vote their wallets. It's time the GOP let the voters know just how much of their wallet is at risk from Democratic policies and proposals...

Sunday, February 15, 2004

According to the Washington Post's own research, 2/3 of all voters believe questions about Bush's Guard service were "not a legitimate issue." Even a majority of Democrats - 56 percent - think that Bush's Vietnam-era history is irrelevant, as do 82% of Republicans and 66% of independents.

So then what can account for the prominent position given this story by the Washington Post? Today's (Feb 15) front page has Few Can Offer Confirmation Of Bush's Guard Service , followed by another three stories in the main section alone. Yesterday's front page had Many Gaps In Bush's Guard Records , with a handful of additional stories and mentions elsewhere in the paper. Going back even further, the Post has been all over this story.

How can the Post editorial team explain putting more coverage (and negative coverage, from Bush's perspective) on the front page and burying the story that reports the lack of interest on page A11? They even buried the survey results halfway through a story about Democrats' views on the wisdom of attacking Bush on this matter!

It sure looks like the Post editors are determined to force feed us this (non)story, regardless of the fact that we're not interested. Could this a case of that supposedly non-existent liberal media bias rearing its head?

UPDATE: Early posting mistakenly had "relevant" instead of "irrelevant" in the first paragraph. Very Sorry.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

If Clark did in fact say that "Kerry will implode over an intern issue.", then why the heck would Clark drop out of the race, instead of keeping the campaign going, biding his time and waiting for the news to hit - figuring that he, all American-soldier, would grab the votes of the anti-Dean, anti-Kerry?

Just wondering...

Or, maybe this is why Dean decided to stick around a while longer...

Shouldn't Kerry be naming names, if what he alleges happened in Vietnam were true?

According to Kerry's 1971 testimony before Congress, "war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, [are] not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command". Kerry went on to say that Americans had "raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam".

These charges were made by a highly decorated and thrice-wounded combat veteran - someone whose allegations shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. If they are true, it is our responsibility - even after 30+ years - to punish, where possible, those who committed these crimes. If not true, then a giant and vicious slander has been made against our military veterans. It is important that we know which is the case. For that reason, I call on John Kerry to step forward and provide additional information on this matter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Or maybe this is the reason Dean needs to stick around a lot longer. I wonder what effect this will have, if any, on how Democrats view Kerry's electability?

So, conservatives are stupid, according to Robert Brandon, chair of the philosophy department at Duke University, explaining why there are so few conservatives in academia.

Actually, that's the wrong way to look at the situation. The question is not why are there not more conservatives in academia. It's more relevant to ask: why are liberals under-represented outside the school system? Is it an indictment of their inability to survive in the business world? Is it proof of the old line "those who can, do... those who can't, teach"? What skill do members of academia - such as philosophy instructors - actually possess that allow them to survive outside the sheltered walls of the school system? Do they possess the skills of a trade? Or the skills to create and market a product or service? Can they handle the production pressures of a manufacturing operations? Do they have the ability to manage a functional area in a cost-efficient manner? What would they/could they do to earn a paycheck?

Is it really surprising that certain people, not having the skill sets to survive in the real world, would seek the safety of an artificial environment - whether that environment is academia, government work, or whatever? Not really. Nor is it surprising that these people would so ferociously defend their turf from intrusion, whether it be from conservatives, privatization, parental/trustee oversight. After all, they fear that should they lose control of their haven, that it's a real possibility that they would be forced out of the cocoon and have to go earn a paycheck. And that is frightening to a lot of people.

Note: there are some in academia and/or government service to which the above doesn't apply. The easy way to determine whether or not someone/some group falls into the above is to looking at the extent to which they defend their turf from outside pressures. The more ferocious the defense, the more likely they feel unable to compete outside their haven.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Did the White House actually claim there'd be an average of 2.6 million new U.S. jobs in 2004? If so, what are they smoking? And, if they didn't, what is CNN doing?

According to the Labor Department, 12/31/04 non-farm employment stood at just a shade over 130 million, with 112,100 new jobs being created in January. To have a 2004 average of 132.7 million jobs would require 460,000 new jobs to be created in February and every month through the end of the year. If by chance, employment gains in February, March and April weren't that high, running at, say, "only" 300,000, then we would need to see monthly gains of 600,000 for the balance of the year in order to hit that 132.7 million job average.

That ain't possible. Someone tell me that someone is using 'average' instead of 'total'. I'm not an economist, nor do I play one on TV, but that is riduculous - doesn't the White House know the difference in the two terms? Further ammunition? To end up with an average of 132.7 million jobs in 2004 would require a year end employment level of 135.3 million jobs - an increase of over 5 million new jobs from 12/31/03. If that were the case, why wouldn't the White House have trumpeted 5 million new jobs instead of the 3.2 average new jobs? Isn't 5 million better than 3.2 million?

If I'm right, someone ought to let the White House know. Otherwise, they should expect to see something like this on John Kerry's commercials this fall... "The White House promised an average of 3.2 million new jobs. Have they delivered? NO. Vote Kerry". Of course, if there's not a lot of job growth, Bush is done in any regard...

So it is going to be Bush -vs- Kerry....

With Bush, everybody got a tax cut.... with Kerry, most will receive a tax hike.

With Bush, Hussein is gone... with Kerry, we're not sure.

With Bush, our troops in Iraq will have the support they need to do the job... with Kerry, they'd feel as abandoned as did our troops in Vietnam.

With Bush, you get someone who's never once publicly blamed anyone for the intelligence gaps related to Iraqi WMDs - with Kerry, you get someone who blames everyone for his having been brainwashed on the matter.

With Bush, you get a vigorous pursuit of terrorists... with a Democrat in the White House, you get an occasional cruise missile.

With Bush, Israel gets the support it needs to fight terrorists... with Democrats in the White House, Israel gets pressured to make one-sided concessions to the PLO.

With Bush, you get calm, cool and collected... with Kerry, you get vitriol and bile. As well as pomposity and an exaggerated self of importance ("do you know who I am?").

With Bush, public education is held accountable for educating kids... with Democrats, the teacher's lobby is given money with which to push kids to attend pro-teacher rallies.

With Bush, you get someone who never received money for giving speeches while he held public office... with Kerry, you'll get someone who views the office as just one more revenue generating channel.

With Bush, you get someone who married for love... with Kerry, you get someone who's married (twice) for love... of money.

With Bush, you get someone who, while never seeing combat, does right by and is widely respected by the American military... with Kerry, you get someone who turned on his fellow soldiers (accusing them of committing war crimes) and used his military time as a stepping stone into office.

With Bush, you get someone who just ticks off liberals... with Kerry, you get a liberal.

With Bush, you'd get someone who Bill and Hillary would vote against... with Kerry, you get someone Bill and Hillary would be out campaigning for.

As someone who very much enjoyed The Who and who has to listen to way too much Linkin Park (my 11 year old daughter likes them and I can't hog the car radio - at least not all of the time), I feel obligated to respond to Tom Smith's criticism of the former and praise for the latter...

First, you can't take the Who's Smothers Brothers appearance as being representative of anything more than an example of their 'explosive' energy (if you don't know what I mean, you've got to see the video of their appearance). I'm not sure that it was even live (the video doesn't seem to track the audio). The song they played, "My Generation", was one of the group's early songs; while anthemic (my word), it's just not representative of or duplicated in their later and much better recordings. "Won't get fooled again" is near the top of almost every classic rock song survey. "Tommy" was made into a movie and a Broadway show. "Tommy", "Who's Next" and "Quadraphenia" were all great albums. They were once voted "Rock's loudest rock band". The group was inducted into the Rock of Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. In addition to decent lyrics, their music was a significant part of the song: much more than basic background instrumentation. John Entwhistle, their bassist, is recognized as one of rock's greatest bass players - on a number of Who songs, the bass actually took the lead. Both Pete Townsend and Keith Moon were also recognized as being among the best at their instruments. Who songs have been much covered by other bands (an entire CD of covers was recently released). They've been cited as inspiration by many more. The Who's appearance at the Madison Square Garden tribute to the heroes of 9/11 was by far the best received of any of the performers - it was great to see 30, 40, 50 year old guys, in their police uniforms and firefighter uniforms singing along and playing air guitar. Their songs have been used often in sound tracks and in commercials (the sell-outs). The death of Keith Moon, their original drummer, was one of the most shocking moments in rock and roll history, according to, I believe, VH1. To this day, I miss being too young to have seen them while they were still smashing their instruments while still playing - there's no way today's mosh pit rock bands can ever compete with that kind of energy.

Linkin Park, on the other hand, seems to have found a niche by melding singing and screaming. While an interesting approach, I doubt it's going to have the staying power or the influence on later bands as did the use of feedback, power chords and rumbling bass lines, all of which were pioneered/adopted/refined by the Who. Linkin Park's instrumentation is, to me, non-descript/unmemorable, with nothing to distinguish one song from another. Their instruments all blend together into one giant blur of a sound - no great guitar solos, drum solos, basslines, nothing. Aside from the combination of singing/screaming, there's no way to tell them apart from any number of other similarly styled groups. All in all, I believe they're a candidate to be seen on TV in 2014 on VH1's 'Whatever in the world happened to Linkin Park' (having wasted their limited royalties, they're now working at Tower Records (oops, my mistake, Tower went bankrupt and out of business in 2005).

Of course, none of the above is intended to claim that 70s and 80s rock is entitled to some kind of superhero status. Any decade in which Journey, Supertramp, Steely Dan, the Romantics and the like were touted as successes has much to apologize for. Nor am I claiming that no group today is putting out decent music. Linkin Park may not be putting out music that will stand the test of time, but that doesn't mean nobody is...

I'm thinking about the fickleness of voters, in particular about what might account for Bush's approval rating bouncing all over the place... it's up, it's down, it's up again, it's down again.

The reported swings don't make sense. For Bush to go from a 60% approval to a 48% approval means that one out of every five people who approved of Bush's performance has to have changed their mind. What could account for losing 20% of one's support in such a short time? And when you factor in the number of fanatical Bush supporters who will under no circumstances change their minds, the swing becomes even harder to understand. If, for example, this group represents 1/2 of the Bush support in the first poll, giving Bush a 30% floor of support, for him to fall from an overall rating of 60% down to 48% means that he would have had to have lost the support of 40% of the voters who are up for grabs. Huh? How?

Now, there might be operator error, in that the surveys are less reliable than they would have us think (even more than the plus/minus three points standard disclaimers). Maybe the surveys don't reach similar groups of voters from week to week or survey to survey; given the relatively small sample sizes, minor variations in the composition of the test group can yield major variances in reported results. I remember doing direct mail tests, where identical packages where mailed to supposedly identical lists - yet the response, which should have been identical varied by as much as 25%. If there is a glitch or flaw in the survey process, then there's no way to gauge from the polls what Bush's approval rating really is.

On the other hand, maybe the surveys are correct. Perhaps our collective likes and dislikes vary greatly from day to day and from week to week. If so, it doesn't look like it takes much to this is what is going on, I would hope the Bush campaign had some very smart people doing some analysis into trying to determine the common threads associated with the rises in performance approval and the drops in performance approval. Only by understanding the circumstances that accompany these swings can the Bush campaign team hope to use the fickleness of voters to their advantage.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

I'm just about finished doing my taxes... and found myself tagged by the AMT.

Which coincided with my reading this week's issue of Business Week. It's the subject of their cover story this week, in which they claim that over 3 million taxpayers are subject to it right now, and portraying it as 'the Ticking Time Bomb" that will hit 33 million taxpayers by the end of the decade.

I think the hysteria is way overdone.

The reality of the AMT - at least for the vast majority of people who pay it - is that it's just a floor that establishes, as the name says, a minimum amount of tax to be paid. The concept is simple: deductions can't be used to lower your 'effective' rate past a certain point. There's nothing wrong with this: nobody is 'entitled' to exclude from income all of the deductions they wish to take. As an aside, I wish every taxpayer in America had to pay something, even if it were just a nominal amount, in income taxes. Not because I like taxes, mind you, but because I think it's wrong to segregate Americans into taxpaying and a non-taxpaying groups.

Second, the AMT may be the answer to those who call for simplifying the tax code. Think about it: elimination of deductions for state taxes and certain other 'regular tax' deductions, and an AMT deduction that isn't affected by the number of kids you have. It's actually easier to figure out the AMT than one's regular taxes (although the way the forms are designed, you have to first figure out your regular tax, then calculate your AMT, if any). Less of a need for accountants, for keeping boxes of receipts, fewer forms to fill out each year.

And, in something that should appeal to conservatives, the AMT is basically a flat tax. It gets rid of a lot of the progressivity of the regular tax rates (there's only two rates: 26% and 28%, although there is a reduction of the AMT deduction as your income goes up).

True, the AMT takes away, for a number of people, much of the tax cut that they thought they were going to get. Maybe this is what Dean was talking about when he said the middle class didn't get a tax cut. But I doubt it. And, there are some aspects that I don't like: the self-employed don't get an AMT deduction for paying certain staff related expenses (not allowing the deduction means one is taxed on 'revenue', not 'income'. ISO paper gains are included in the AMT (how do you tax someone on income that exists only on paper?) But all in all, the AMT may actually be the way to go.

Friday, February 06, 2004

I just got back from seeing Miracle, the story of the 1980 gold medal winning US Olympic Hockey Team.

Seeing it reminded me of the time that lots of people started to again feel good about being Americans. It wasn't that we felt bad, mind you, it was that we just didn't feel good. In the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate, inflation and high interest rates, gas lines, hostages, Ford's caretakership and Carter's joke of a presidency, there wasn't a lot going on to remind us of just how great it was to be a citizen of this country.

The US hockey team reminded us. Being a recreational hockey player, albeit a not so good one, I was already interested in the game, but for the game's sake, rather than any grand patriotic symbolism. But, accustomed as I was to nobody in my circle of friends caring about hockey (to them, hockey was what kept me out to 3 in the morning and on crutches for most of the spring semester of my junior year in college), I was amazed when I'd hear strangers talking about the team, the game, and what it meant. Amazed to hear cries of "USA" coming from different apartments in the building in which I lived.

I don't think the team gets the credit they deserve for helping the US regain its confidence. Maybe the movie will help remedy that.

To segue along, then came Reagan. Picking up on the theme, he gave Americans hope. Hope that there was more to our country than seeing our President collapsing and being dragged along on a trail, of being attacked by a killer rabbit, that there was more than having to hear of the Soviet Union being our equal. Having just gotten out of school a year earlier, Reagan's message was just what my ears needed, and wanted, to hear. So much so, that on election night, I rigged two TVs in the living room, tuned to different stations, just so I wouldn't miss what was happening. And, apparently a lot of America was looking for the same thing (who knows what the Reagan-haters were thinking. And, yes, they existed).

Since then, it's been a pretty good ride. Some bumps, sure, but we've always been able to keep our pride and our focus. As my post below references, a lot of Canadians seem to be ticked off because we haven't made them feel better about themselves. You guys want to feel good? Get yourself a team that can win something and a Prime Minister who can accomplish things. Just stop whining - we don't care.

So, again, thanks to the US Hockey Team and thanks to Ronnie. We really appreciate you both.

As my favorite rock group once sang, "why should I care, why should I care" that Canada is in a snit over George Bush?

Yo, Canada, you're getting to where I'm thinking that you're just like Europe, only closer. You complain that "just 12 per cent of us feel Canada is better off since he took office". But since when were American Presidents elected to make Canadians feel better? Isn't that the job of Canadians? Have you abdicated even that basic responsibility of nationhood? You've long ago given up even maintaining the pretense of being able to defend your own country - I'd like 400 coach seats on the next available flight to Afghanistan, please? You've lost your dominance in hockey, I can't name one Canadian who's on any of the pop charts, your industry is next-to-non-existent, what's next?

You seem to resent that we've "gone security crazy." Well, let's see how you do after terrorists crash a plane into two of your 110-story buildings. Oh, that's right, you don't have any. Heck, what should we expect from a country whose citizens "identified same-sex marriage and proposals to relax marijuana laws as new wellsprings of national pride"? Go Canada. When you've got almost nothing, you've got almost nothing to lose.

Of course, some of the disdain Canadians have for Bush does run to some pretty serious issues, such as "the physicians (who asked that) please, someone, teach him how to pronounce nuclear". My goodness, have things gotten to the point where we're taking lessons in ennunciation from Canadians?

Thursday, February 05, 2004

As I've said before, I get so sad reading Alterman. Today is no different.

He starts with the latest attempt to smear Bush's reputation, and actually uses the word 'deserter'. Nobody other than Michael Moore is using that term; is that Alterman's role model in all of this? Not even Wesley Clark, who is trying to bash Bush, was willing to use that word. Alterman goes on to ask "why is the Boston Globe the only national SCLM (so called liberal media) newspaper to demonstrate any genuine interest in this question?". I don't know, is it because even the liberal media knows a non-issue when they see one?

He then moves on to accuse Senate GOP staffers of being criminals. I know, I know, he doesn't come out and say so directly, he hides behind the gimmick of putting his accusation in the form of a question ("Was Bush a Deserter?, "Are Republican Staffers Criminals?") - but that's just lame. As far as I knew, the kerfuffle is over whether Senate rules had been broken, I wasn't aware it amounted to a criminal matter - were charges filed? If I'm wrong, I stand corrected. But, if I'm right, then Alterman owes some people an apology... not that they'll ever see it from him. Of course, he's not talking about the substance of the memos, which would be far more serious breach of both Congressional and judicial rules than any so-called 'unauthorized' access of what were pretty much publicly available files. But that would mean critcizing Democrats and that's just not something he's willing to do. Why? Because to him, anything the Democrats do to hamstring Bush is OK.

He then moves on to repeat rumors that Cheney may be dropped from the ticket - rumors coming from Arianna Huffington, who the last time I checked, was so far from the "GOP inner circles" that there's no way any reasonable observer would think that anything she said on the matter was to be relied upon. But for Alterman, any chance to slam Cheney will suffice.

He moves on to take shots at the 2002 treatment of Max Cleland, who, as a brave military veteran who was wounded in combat, should never be accused of advocating policies that are detrimental to the well-being of the United States. Yet, interestingly enough the TNR Online column that Alterman links to actually says that "(in 2002) Cleland had joined his fellow Democrats in blocking the bill because Bush refused to give employees of the new department union-organizing rights. This was the issue Chambliss wielded most effectively against Cleland". To Alterman, that was just not fair. And, when the good voters of Georgia decided that, in a choice between a wounded combat veteran who was on the wrong side of the issues, that they would just as soon go with the other guy - well, that is just not right.

As an aside, I first enjoyed watching the steam come out of all the Bush haters. It was funny in a perverse way, watching them get all knotted up, imagining that they were lying awake at night, unable to sleep. How they would seek each other out (Moveon.org, anyone?), looking for the validation they so much needed to reassure themselves of their own elevated place in society. How they viewed anyone who didn't agree with them as being uninformed, greedy, immoral and beneath contempt. But, as the years have gone on, and the vast majority of Americans don't come to agree with them that Bush is the devil himself (poll after poll show that, no matter what people think of his policies, they tend to think highly of him personally), the haters have just gone over the top. It was once fun, now it's sad. Think of the wasted effort. Think of the good things they could be doing with their lives (yes, even liberals can contribute to society. Although, with Alterman, I'm not sure).

What an idiot! I've never liked Dean, but his statement that he drop out of the campaign he if doesn't win Wisconsin is terrible tactics.

He might be attempting to rally his troops, to get them so motivated, so afraid of what will happen if he doesn't win, that they'll push him over the top. But drawing lines in the sand is never a good idea unless one absolutely, positively has to draw one - and Dean doesn't. So, he doesn't win Wisconsin. Does he think he has a better chance of winning the nomination by dropping out or by staying in, waiting for something to come along to sour Democratic primary voters on Kerry?

So, the suspect in the Carlie Brucia case is not cooperating? Beat it out of him. He's been identified as the person seen leading her away. We have no reason to believe she's not still alive. Just as the Israelis have a policy that allows unconventional forms of interrogation to prevent imminent attack, just as that Army officer in Iraq used an unconventional form of interrogation to gain information about a planned ambush of his men, our society must be willing to to do the same when we're faced with situations such as this. C'mon guys, what are you waiting for? Isn't there one of you who is willing to do the right thing for this girl?

Julius Rosenberg gives away our secrets to our enemy and we execute him. Appropriate.

Jonathan Pollard gives away our secrets to an ally and we put him in jail for life. Appropriate.

A Pakistani gives away their secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya (enemies or not of Pakistan?) and Musharraf pardons him. Priceless.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Who knows, maybe this is the type of thing that Dean's been hanging around and hoping for. As I've said, a lot can happen before Kerry has the needed number of delegates all lined up.

I've noticed that the criteria for getting onto Alterman's list for a shadow cabinet seems to be whether one has been properly and sufficiently hostile to the current Administration. It sure looks like Alterman's litmus test is, in order, having attacked Bush personally, his policies and his Administration. And, not just reasoned attacks, mind you, but attacks using as rhetoric that is so hateful that it goes off the scale. This may have been done in humor, but I doubt it - what else can account for proposing Joseph Wilson to head the CIA, and Paul Krugman to head CEA? - and it just reminds us all that Alterman is so blinded by Bush-hatred (as are many of his nominees) that he has lost whatever balance he may have had in his life. We no longer read him to be informed, just to be amused. It's so sad.

Regarding those polls showing Bush losing to Kerry....

As far as I can tell, all of these polls are 'national' in nature. While most polling outfits attempt to get a geographic balance of some type (not too many NYers, not too many from LA), their results still represent the voting preferences of American voters as a whole.

But, as we saw in 2000, that's not relevant. Gore had 500,000 more votes than Bush but didn't win (interestingly, at least for me, Gore won California by a million, so Bush actually won the other 49 states quite easily). Gore lost because he didn't have the right mix of votes - the right number of people in the right number of states.

I don't believe any of these polls are structured to measure voter sentiment in each state and weight the results by electoral votes - which is the only way to truly gauge who's sitting pretty and who isn't.

Let's assume that everybody who voted Democrat (and for Nader) last time will vote for Kerry, and all the Bush voters will stay the course. Kerry would receive the most votes - using round numbers, by a half-million or so votes. These polls would have been proven technically accurate. And, with Bush being sworn in for a second term, they'd have been misleading at the same time.

Laziness on the part of the pollsters, or something more sinister???

Just wondering.

Another in a continuing series of advice postings for the Bush re-election campaign, should any of them be reading...

No matter who is challenging Bush, the election is going to come down to a small number of issues.

First, do the voters feel that Bush's anti-terrorism and military policies have made us safer? Do people sleep more soundly at night knowing that Bush is in office and that Hussein is gone, the Taliban is gone, that a whole bunch of potentially dangerous people are penned up at Guantanamo? Or are they staying up at night, worrying about whether their library records are being accessed by Ashcroft?

Second, do they agree that the tax cuts have had an overall positive effect on (1) their personal financial position and (2) the economy as a whole? Or are they so consumed with class hatred that they want the tax cuts rescinded, no matter how much it might cost them personally, or the economy as a whole?

Third, are they generally supportive of Bush's social positions? Are they in favor of or against gay marriage? Up or down on partial birth abortion? In favor of school choice/vouchers or not? Are bare breasts at the Super Bowl a good thing or not?

Finally, are they generally supportive of the programs that Bush is putting money into? Do they approve of a Medicare drug benefit? Of increasing money on public schools?

Let's also look at what the campaign should not be about.

It should not be about whether Iraq actually did or did not have WMDs - it's a diversion from the real issue, which is whether or not Americans are happy that Hussein is gone.

Nor should the campaign be about the deficit - that's a non-issue to most people, not something they focus on or believe to have much relevance to their pocketbooks.

Nor should the election be about whether our supposed allies in Europe have had their feelings hurt - while Bush's 'we will never ask permission' is a position with which most will agree, the whole issue is not key to most voters making up their minds.

For all of the above, it's critical that Bush frame the debate. If the campaign is waged on these basic themes, I feel he's a lock. If Kerry and his media supporters are able to frame the debate, by going off on mostly irrelevant tangents, Bush would be in trouble.

For that reason, it's imperative that Bush start spending campaign money now - to start positioning the above issues as being relevant to the campaign. Start reminding us of middle class Americans with more money in their pockets to spend of the things they want to buy. Remind us that the US is using the provisions of the Patriot Act in the search to find those who would do us harm before they get the chance to - and while there's certainly no guarantee of no attacks in the future, the Democrats would lead us to believe they could be more successful while taking away the tools.

Start the campaign now, before Kerry/Edwards/Dean/Clark have a chance to frame the debate first.

If the debate is over who had the more admirable service during the Vietnam War, then Kerry obviously comes out looking better. But that's not the debate to have, any more than it was when Dole ran against Clinton.

The debate should be who is right to lead our country now. And, in this debate, Kerry - with his flipflops, lack of consistency, lack of ability to articulate exactly what his position is, and the like - doesn't look so good.

And, let's not forget what I posted long ago (I'm too lazy to look up the link). While admirable, Kerry's service in Vietnam in no way entitles him to claim that he has the ability to lead this country. Paraphrasing what Wesley Clark was trying to say with his "Kerry was just a lieutenant" comment, there are plenty of people who do just fine in small group settings but are totally wrong for heading up anything larger. A police officer who shows bravery isn't necessarily cut out to be mayor. John Wayne was plenty brave on the screen. I wouldn't think of him to be President.

C'mon David, I can't let your claim that Clinton was responsible for eliminating the budget deficit go unchallenged.

Yes, there was a brief period in which we had an budget 'surplus' and that the forecasts were for additional 'surpluses'. And Clinton was President at that time. But letting it go at that is incomplete and misleading.

First, we did not in fact have a real surplus. Our supposed surplus existed only because we were borrowing from Social Security receipts. The rest of the budget was not in balance. It's just not right to define revenues as the combination of income and borrowings; by that definition, the Bush budget would be in balance as well (as would be everybody who maxes out on their credit cards in order to cover the gap between their income and their outlays).

Second, a significant part of federal tax receipts were attributable to the bubble effect of the stock market: capital gains taxes on these bubble gains and income taxes attributable to bubble-induced outlays (the income effect). To the extent that these revenues were not sustainable - which they were indeed not - it is wrong to include them as part of a supposedly balanced budget (an analogy is someone receiving an inheritance. It's money, it can be spent, but one shouldn't count on having a rich relative drop dead every year). These receipts should have been treated as one-time extraordinary receipts and not included in operating income. Furthermore, the markets had already peaked and started their decline by the time Clinton left office and no one should have expected the bubble revenues to have continued coming into the US Treasury. It was irresponsible for Clinton to present budgets that counted on these revenues continuing into the future. It's misleading for the media/Clinton defenders/Bush attackers to portray Bush as having inherited a budget surplus.

And finally, another factor in this supposed surplus was the reduction in both defense and welfare outlays. I'd argue that Clinton was irresponsible for the first and not responsible for the second (if it were up to him, there wouldn't have been any reform). It's just wrong to reward Clinton for these two aspects by giving him credit for reining in the budget deficit.

So, 'Clinton reined in the budget'. I don't think so.

Of course, none of the above is meant as a defense of the Bush budget. Can't do that.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Sorry it took to Tuesday to criticize Kevin Drum, this time for his statement that tax cuts have never boosted revenue. That statement is wrong, both in fact and in theory.

As for the theoretical side, it is a fact of multiplication that if you lower one side of an equation you end up with a lower total - but only if all other sides of the equation stay constant. But for a guy with a background in business to pretend that the result of economic decisions are static in nature is ridiculous. Basic economics teaches us of price elasticity: situations in which a price cut may result in higher overall sales volume (which leads to the joke that we'll lose a little on every sale but make it up in volume). Furthermore, there's almost never a situation where one can control JUST one variable; there are almost always ripple effects on other variables - some anticipated, others not - from changing a given variable. Because it's so hard to precisely associate cause and effect, most people in business end up looking at the final analysis: have I ended up with more or less of what I sought to acheive? In this case, it's impossible to deny that federal tax revenues are higher now and federal tax rates lower than they were before Reagan took office. Why is it so hard for liberals to acknowledge this (it's a rhetorical question, I know the answer). Could tax revenues be even higher if rates were higher? Perhaps. But one could also suggest that revenues would be higher if rates were even lower.

Also in looking at Kevin's posting of federal revenues for the past couple of years, I notice that federal revenues have been/projected to be basically flat, with a variance of only $70 billion from the high to low. Which to me actually looks like good news for defenders of the tax cut: Bush cut taxes and there's been basically no drop in revenues. Which might provide additional refutation of Kevin's assertion - why would it be impossible to raise revenues by cutting taxes if cutting taxes hasn't cut revenues? So, if there's a problem with the budget, it's that we're once again spending too much. Funny how Kevin doesn't really get all excited over that...

Continuing thoughts on Martha...

Over at ProfessorBainbridge.com, the good professor takes on some of the criticism that Martha was improperly singled out. In addition to his arguments, I would challenge Martha's defenders to provide factual proof of their claim - isn't that the standard in discrimination claims? Where are the smoking gun SEC/DOJ memos that reveal the bias in her prosecution? Where's the whistleblower, coming forward in outrage? Given that there are Democrats and women working in both the SEC and DOJ, would you expect them to all remain silent while the judicial process was being rigged for such partisan/sexist/anti-celebrity purposes? Surely, someone would have come forward.

Since the critics have failed to come up with such proof, I would (grudgingly, as I hate this approach) challenge them to provide statistical proof of the alleged discrimination. Have they established an appropriate control group and shown that celebrity women who are Democrats have a higher rate of being charged with securities fraud than those outside the control group? I don't think so.

Finally, I would challenge Martha's defenders to provide even anecdotal evidence of her being singled out. Produce the names of a non-female, non-Democrat, non-celebrity who could have been accused of THE SAME CRIME, yet weren't. Professor Heminway just comes up lame with her attempt to cast Ken Lay and Bush in this role. Neither of them were in similar situations as Martha (supposedly false statements issued with the alleged intent of propping up a third company's stock price). And, for what it's worth, Ken Lay is very much a target of the SEC and wasn't it a Democratic-controlled SEC and DOJ that failed to come up with grounds to charge Bush with anything more than a paperwork violation?

On a tangent, I'm looking down the slippery slope to where this case might lead (assuming of course she is found guilty). She's been charged with making false statements in order to keep the stock price from falling at a company in which she had a financial interest. Imagine a case where a CEO -with major stock options - denies having marital trouble when in fact he's in the middle of divorce proceedings, a case where the CEO denies having an addiction problem or a significant health problem, when in fact he's on his way to get treatment. What would prevent the SEC from going after the CEO, with the SEC claiming that these false statements were made with the intent of reassuring the markets? There's no third company here, as is the case with Martha, but the basic components are the same: false statements, a financial interest in a public company and an alleged attempt to prop up a stock price. Just wondering...

Monday, February 02, 2004

Another in a long line of supposedly smart people acting stupidly...

Paul Tagliabue, criticizes yesterday's halftime show. What were you thinking Paul, when you signed MTV (or allowed them) to do the halftime show? When's the last time MTV did ANYTHING that remotely resembles family entertainment? You obviously don't watch MTV, and understandably so; given this, why didn't it occur to you to check with someone who does?

To butcher a phrase, there are four types of Presidents. Those who have pursued the office in order to accomplish certain things, such as Reagan wanting to take on Communism and restore American pride and prestige in the world. Another group has pursued the office as part of their "when I grow up, I want to be President" dream - Bill Clinton and Kennedy fall into this category. The third group sought the Presidency because it represents the pinnacle of power - think Lyndon Johnson and Bush I; they start out relatively low on the political power ladder, constantly moving up and eventually getting close enough to grab the office. And the fourth group are the opportunists: they didn't necessarily grow up thinking about becoming President, nor did they seek the office out of a desire for power or for the bully pulpit they could use to further an agenda, but rather they took advantage of the situation when it presented itself. This group, not motivated by any particular philosophy, tends to be all over the place - playing to everybody in a not-so-subtle attempt to keep the office in which they surprisingly found themselves. And, this group, lacking any real agenda, tends to be the group that most often fails to capture the hearts and minds of the electorate, thus being the group that most often fails to take a second term.

I've long thought Bush II falls into the last category - I don't think he grew up thinking about the job (if he did, he really didn't act like a guy planning on becoming President) and he didn't seem to have a cause to champion, at least not pre-9/11. He wasn't even the Bush brother who was supposed to be there; he moved up in the media handicapping only when Jeb suffered an embarrasing close re-election a year earlier. And had Pataki not had the same thing happen to him in 98, Bush II might never have been.

I offer his latest budget as evidence. The budget is all over the place - there's no general theme, just a multitude of programs through which Bush is attempting to buy re-election. I wonder if it will work.

Contrary to what his critics are saying, Howard Dean should be in no hurry to drop out - even if he fails to win anything tomorrow. Even after tomorrow, just a fraction of the delegates up for grabs will have been parceled out. Kerry, even if he sweeps - which I doubt, will still be far short of the magic number he needs for the nomination. And, as Dean himself knows, much can change over the span of just a few weeks. Dean's betting on something turning up that will (once again) sour Democratic voters on John Kerry. Perhaps something along the lines of this.