Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day 2006

We should not let our response to the AIDS epidemic be determined by our responses to the moral fatuities of many AIDS activists. Cutting through the moral vanity of those who cloak their defences of the Sexual Revolution in purported concern for its stigmatised victims (although we don't see 1/10th of the attention and energy devoted, say, to World Malaria Day), nonetheless there remain millions of people worldwide affected by this disease who need help.

The epidemiologically sensible desire to destigmatise victims of the disease must be kept conceptually distinct from the widespread desire to destigmatise antisocial behaviour such as sexual promsicuity, prostitution and patronage of prostitutes (despite the general tendency in the AIDS community to embrace the euphemism of "commercial sex work"--as though most women condemned to prostitution worldwide had just made a nontraditional career choice of their pure free will).

The fact that so many AIDS activists one encounters in the developed world are themselves primarily cheerleaders for the Sexual Revolution scared into activism by the threat to their own hedonism should not blind us to the fact that suffering caused by this epidemic is part and parcel of a constellation of antisocial and unsustainable sexual and gender attitudes, and that this suffering should therefore be confronted as strongly as those damaging attitudes which help cause it, of which the Sexual Revolution is only the modernist, industrialised variant.

Weak Dollar is Good News!

At least, the weak dollar is good news if you're one of those that thinks the trade deficit is a terrible thing:

The dollar suffered sharp falls on Thursday, hit by reports of weak US business activity and a benign inflation picture.

The euro rose 0.7 per cent against the dollar to $1.3247 by late afternoon in New York after data from Chicago purchasing managers indicated that business activity in the Midwest unexpectedly fell last month.

Sterling rose to its highest level against the dollar since its ejection from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in September 1992 as UK house prices continued to show rapid growth. The pound rose to $1.9699 before edging back to $1.9658, almost 1 per cent up on the day. The yen also gained, up 0.5 per cent against the dollar to Y115.77.

At its root, the trade deficit means that Americans are consuming more than we produce. We're borrowing from abroad in order to enhance consumption now. Eventually the bill has to get paid. And a weak dollar is one way that happens. It makes imports more expensive and exports cheaper. So Americans can no longer afford the cars, and toys, and electronics items, and vacations abroad that we have enjoyed during the period of a strong dollar.

Personally, I don't particularly think that's a good thing. I think that such periods are unfortunate. This is especially true because they have a disproportionate impact on the poor, who devote a large portion of their income to necessities and not luxuries. But the weakening dollar is clearly something that Democrats and their labor union allies like.

It's clear that trade is not a topic either well understood or clearly portrayed in the media. With unemployment at historic lows, people still seem to believe that a significant trade deficit is costing a tremendous number of jobs. Not only is this untrue, but it makes no sense.

We'd be well-served by better reporting on international trade.

Back to the top.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Ugly Truth about Liberal Compassion

Who Gives and Who Doesn't?

This has been a more-or-less open secret for years. "Arthur Brooks, the author of "Who Really Cares," says that 'when you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about 30 percent more." He adds, "And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.'"

Japan: Capable of Nuclear Weapons

Everyone knows of course, that Japan would be capable of producing nuclear weapons in short order if it desired to do so. North Korea may be giving them the motivation.

Captain Ed covers it.

Back to the top.

Frist Pulls Plug on Campaign

If ever a tone-deaf politician entertained delusions of grandeur, Sen. Frist's fancying of himself as a Presidential contender must enter high in the list. Frist, who climbed as far up the greasy pole as he did only as a consequence of the tedious Trent Lott's self-immolation on the pyre of the Lost Cause (which immolation Frist may have abetted), terminated his risible campaign for the Presidency in 2008 officially yesterday. It is difficult to see what legislative achievements he ever promoted that he saw as the springboard which would launch him into credible contention. His legislative agenda seemed devoid of any conservative governing philosophy to advance his case with primary voters, and his public appearances were of such uniformly tepid tenor that his name recognition with the general public rarely broke single digits.

It is fitting that he ended his campaign with the same clumsy attempt to identify with Christian conservatives that characterised his expedient 11th hour intervention in the Terri Schiavo fiasco while simultaneously greasing the skids for federal funding of stem cell research, quoting Ecclesiastes (via the Byrds, probably) that "for everything there is a season, and for me, for now, this season of being an elected official has come to a close."

In his defence, Philo-Junius would lay even odds that Sen. Frist could correctly identify whether that quote came from the Old or New Testament (unlike some notable Democrats), but the Frist style of attempting to cobble together socially conservative soundbites continues, as does that of Sen. McCain, to sound like something being read out of a foreign-language phrasebook.

Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave...

Donald Luskin suggests that advocates of Social Security reform should not be panicking, and thinking that the White House is getting ready to sell out.

But it does sound too cute by half.

And for what it's worth, while I have been a believer in the possibility of Social Security reform in 2007, time's a wastin. Bush will need to work with either Charlie Rangel and Max Baucus, or with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, on a plan to 'save Social Security.' That work has to begin soon, because it's unlikely anything will get done in 2008, and there is a lot of work to be done for action in 2007.

Update: The chances for 'saving Social Security' took a hit when Democrats slammed the President for his nomination of Andrew Biggs to serve as Deputy Administrator of SSA. Quoting from Roll Call (subscription required):

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare called on incoming Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to block President Bush’s nomination of Andrew Biggs to become the next deputy administrator of the Social Security Administration should he renew the nomination in January, charging that his advocacy for the privatization of the popular entitlement and hostility toward other New Deal-era programs makes him a politically polarizing figure.

Former Rep. Barbara Kennelly (D-Conn.), who now heads the liberal National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, slammed Biggs’ nomination as a partisan move.

“It's outrageous that at the same time the President promises bipartisanship, he nominates to the number two position in the Social Security Administration a privatization partisan who’s suggested sending Social Security ‘to the slaughterhouse,’” Kennelly said in a statement.

"When we want so much to work together on Social Security, it's disturbing to see a nominee with such a strong history of promoting privatization, so long after that scheme has been soundly rejected by the American people," said a Baucus aide Wednesday. "In considering this nomination, Senator Baucus' first question will have to be whether Mr. Biggs is ready to move past failed proposals and move forward with more constructive ideas."

However, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a critic of Biggs and the White House’s privatization plans, denounced the nomination. “If this is President Bush’s way of reaching out to Democrats on a key issue, then we are in for a long two years. When the President nominates someone who wants to kill Social Security to the No. 2 position in the agency, it suggests that the administration learned nothing from the elections,” Lautenberg said.

It might be a long two years.

Back to the top.

Being Dallas Clark

This is a funny story.

A commercial for EA Sports's Madden 07 featured Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts getting embarrassed on the (electronic) playing field. When Clark registered his displeasure, someone (EA?) produced an alternate version.

The comparison of the two is pretty amusing.

Back to the top.

Fair Trade Foolishness

Great piece by Robert Samuelson in today's Washington Post:

Just last week Democratic congressional leaders signaled that they may oppose new trade agreements with Colombia and Peru. Who, if anyone, would benefit is unclear. As The Post reported, the agreements' darkened prospects have already led to layoffs in Colombia. In the United States, manufacturers believe the agreements would expand their exports. Peru's tariffs average about 10 percent, Colombia's about 11 percent, says Frank Vargo of the National Association of Manufacturers. Most of these would go to zero under the agreements.

We are dealing with something new here. It transcends traditional protectionism, which tries to shield specific industries and workers from imports. It's trade obstructionism: a reflexive reaction against almost any trade agreement. The idea is that much trade is inherently "unfair." Multinational companies use it to ship U.S. jobs abroad; other countries compete unfairly with low wages and substandard labor practices. (Indeed, lax labor standards are cited to oppose the Peruvian and Colombian agreements.) Vast U.S. trade deficits measure the destructiveness. If trade is so unfair, why encourage more of it?

Much of this indictment is wrong or wildly exaggerated. For example, American trade deficits haven't destroyed U.S. job creation by sending work abroad. Consider: From 1980 to 2006, the trade deficit jumped from $19 billion to an estimated $786 billion, or from less than 1 percent of gross domestic product to about 6 percent. Still, employment in the same period rose from 99 million to 145 million. Job creation defies the trade deficits, whose causes lie largely beyond our control and have little to do with "unfair" trade practices.

The antipathy to expanded trade is hard to understand - particularly given the enormous expansion of wealth in the United States since we began dramatically reducing trade barriers after World War II. But if hostility to trade is hard to figure, it is particularly hard to understand why Democrats oppose measures that primarily enhance exports - which at the very least fits with what they have historically claimed was the good thing about trade.

Hat Tip: NAM blog.

Back to the top.

Where's Tom?

First-man-out-of-the-gate Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa officially launches his contrarian campaign for the Presidency (or, more honestly, the Vice Presidency) today. His home-state Democratic Party organ, the Des Moines Register, writes him off with a patronising piece of editorialisation and analysis dressed up as a news story covering the launch. The Register probably is still holding a candle for Swift Boat/Juke Box hero John Kerry, but they also seem to have caught the Rorschach fever for Barack Obama.

Gov. Vilsack's upcoming peregrinations do draw attention to the rapidly-setting Democratic primary schedule, which Influence Peddler operatives will be following closely:

22-Jan-08New Hampshire22
29-Jan-08South Carolina45
12-Feb-08District of Columbia15
? Mar-08American Samoa3
? Mar-08Democrats Abroad7
? Mar-08Guam3
? Mar-08Michigan128
? Mar-08Minnesota72
? Mar-08North Dakota13
? Mar-08Virgin Islands3
? Mar-08Wyoming13
4-Mar-08New York233
4-Mar-08Rhode Island22
? Apr-08Alaska13
6-May-08North Carolina91
13-May-08West Virginia26
3-Jun-08New Jersey107
3-Jun-08New Mexico26
3-Jun-08South Dakota14
TBDPuerto Rico51

Democrats Breaking Campaign Promises

The decision of the House Democratic leadership to go back on a key campaign promise is just run-of-the-mill hypocrisy - common enough in Washington. It's pretty certain that they recognized all along that just because a commission issues recommendations, doesn't necessarily mean they ought to be adopted in full:

It was a solemn pledge, repeated by Democratic leaders and candidates over and over: If elected to the majority in Congress, Democrats would implement all of the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that examined the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But with control of Congress now secured, Democratic leaders have decided for now against implementing the one measure that would affect them most directly: a wholesale reorganization of Congress to improve oversight and funding of the nation's intelligence agencies. Instead, Democratic leaders may create a panel to look at the issue and produce recommendations, according to congressional aides and lawmakers.

Because plans for implementing the commission's recommendations are still fluid, Democratic officials would not speak for the record. But aides on the House and Senate appropriations, armed services and intelligence committees confirmed this week that a reorganization of Congress would not be part of the package of homeland-security changes up for passage in the "first 100 hours" of the Democratic Congress.

"I don't think that suggestion is going anywhere," said Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), the chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee and a close ally of the incoming subcommittee chairman, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.). "That is not going to be their party position."

The Democrats gave us the first inkling that they wouldn't carry through on this promise just two days after the election. That was right around the time I warned House Democrats that changing the institution is harder than it looks, and any changes must come quickly.

Beyond what it means for national security - a topic I will leave to those who know more about it than I - this is a clear warning sign for Democratic reform efforts. Changing the institution is hard. It requires commitment from the leadership and many in the Congress. If the Democrats cannot reform committee jurisdictions to improve oversight, cannot enact term limits for committee chairmen, and go around calling ethics reform 'crap,' it's a sure sign that there are plenty of folks who prefer business as usual.

This is no surprise. There are more than 80 House Democrats who waited 12 years from the last majority to this one. There's a reason they stayed around. They liked things the way they were back then, and they are trying to turn back the clock.

I bet there will soon be a challenge to the ethics reform proposals that Pelosi has promised. And her demonstrated weakness as a leader will make it harder to corral those who head off the reservation.

Back to the top.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Beware Falling Meteors...

So warns Gregg Easterbrook of ESPN and the Brookings Insitution:

News from Nearby Space:
Meanwhile the more researchers learn about asteroid and comet strikes on Earth, these events seem much more common than previously assumed -- which is definitely not good news. Last summer, TMQ laid out the disturbing evidence that space-rock strikes powerful enough to cause mass extinctions were not confined to the primordial mists: Something gigantic smashed into the Earth about 10,000 years ago, and there might have been a severe comet or meteorite strike as recently as the year 535. Recently researcher Dallas Abbott of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University has found indications that a huge comet or asteroid fell into the Indian Ocean about 4,800 years ago, causing global tsunamis.

Abbott's work is especially important because she is studying the oceans, not land. Most of what's known about past space-object strikes comes from the study of land craters. But three-quarters of Earth's surface is water; Abbott reasoned that three-quarters of space objects must crash into the seas. Her work suggests a lot of comets and large rocks have hit the seas, many recently in geologic terms. As recently as a decade ago, most scientists assumed that space-rock strikes powerful enough to cause general devastation happen only every million years or so. Now it looks like they are far more frequent. If a rock comparable to the one that struck the Indian Ocean 4,800 years ago struck today in Kansas, half the population of the United States might die. And as TMQ endlessly points out, what is NASA doing about this? Absolutely nothing.

NASA continues to waste about 10 billion of your tax dollars annually on a space station project that had no scientific value, existing solely to justify money for aerospace contractors and staff budgets at NASA manned-flight centers. NASA plans to waste 200-500 billion of your tax dollars on return-to-the-Moon missions that don't even have a theoretical justification -- the sole purpose of return-to-the-Moon is money for NASA insiders. Yet if a comet or large meteor was spotted heading toward our world, NASA could do nothing. And NASA isn't even researching possible anti-space-rock technology. No agency of your government wastes taxpayers' money more cynically or systematically than the National Aeronautics and Space Agency. If a big space object strikes the Earth, sending humanity's survivors back into the Dark Ages, our descendents will consider the present Washington government history's worst collections of fools for doing nothing while there was time.

It seems I may have been premature when I warned that it was alarmist to start a ruckus about the meteor threat.

Back to the top.

Final Thought on Alcee Hastings

Will this be Nancy Pelosi's 'Sister Souljah' moment? I see parallels.

Will the Congressional Black Caucus be seriously alienated from Pelosi, while Pelosi benefits with 'moderates,' and commentators who oppose corrupt criminals in positions of power? Pelosi has gotten credit (sometimes begrudging) from many, and there are likely to be plenty of House Democrats who will be thankful that she protected them from the Hastings headache.

It might be that she took action soon enough for this event to be an asset for her, rather than a problem.

Back to the top.

Democrats Ditching Reform

As far as I can see, no attention at all has been given to the fact that on the first day of the new Congress, House Democrats will be ditching an important reform adopted by Republicans on the first day they took over in 1995: term limits for Committee Chairmen.

The Contract With America recognized that the public interest isn't served by allowing Congressional Committee chairs to take and keep power as long as they want. Entrenched Committee chairs bring entrenched lobbyists and views, and stifle the ability of the 'new blood' in the institution to effect change. They promote Congressional corruption by telling chairmen they don't need to worry about the views of their committee members or colleagues, and by telling lobbyists that if they can get on the 'good side' of the chair, they can count on his or her help for years.

How popular were term limits for Committee chairs when they were adopted? The House voted in favor by a margin of 355-74.

There are lots of current House Democrats who voted in favor of term limits for Committee chairs when they were adopted on January 4, 1995. Will Henry Waxman, Anna Eshoo, John Tanner, Bart Stupak, or any of the others who voted in favor, speak out against undoing that reform when the House first meets in January? As far as I can see, John Dingell is the only incoming Chairman who would be affected.

Still, I wouldn't bet on it.

Back to the top.

Bush Open to Bad Social Security Deal

Tim Chapman and Andrew Roth have the news.

'Saving' Social Security by raising taxes, cutting benefits, and not investing retirement funds in the private sector would be a lose-lose situation for the GOP. It would prolong the life of a program that doesn't work and that denies people the benefit of investment in the private sector - which offers returns. (Note: they're not 'higher' returns, because all 'returns' on Social Security revenues merely come from other taxpayers - not from the allocation of the funds to investments that produce growth).

While I think the idea of private accounts is the right way to go, I might be open to another method of investing in the private sector. After all, state retirement funds seem to do OK. To me that might be an acceptable compromise.

But to forego investment in the private sector would be foolish and wasteful.

Politically, this would be a terrible situation for the GOP. Congressional Republicans would either have to endorse the Democratic approach to Social Security reform, or be painted as trying to block the efforts to 'save' the program - an effort which even their own President supports. Politically, there is no upside. It would mean Bush making a bad deal to put luster on his resume at the expense of Congressional Republicans, who actually have to run again.

If the Congressional GOP leadership wants to prove that they deserve their jobs, they will shoot this down right away.

Back to the top.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dick Tracy, Call Your Office

A wearable wristwatch television.

With one of those, I could finally see the game.

But how long must I wait until it's two-way?

Hat Tip: the Blogfather.

Back to the top.

No Love for Free Trade

Club for Growth notes a great speech by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson regarding the benefits of free trade:

Protectionist policies do not work and the collateral damage from these policies is high. Jobs saved in the short term are offset by more job losses and a lower standard of living in years to come...

We cannot allow protectionist elements to stifle our growth, limit our opportunities, and dictate the terms of our engagement with the world. Giving in to protectionist sentiment would send a terrible signal. We would be telling developing nations that while we have benefited from increased trade, we aren't going to allow them the same opportunity to develop. We would effectively be relegating countless people to the status of a perpetual underclass, with little income and few opportunities for advancement. That is not only bad policy, it is morally wrong.

This is all true - and important. More's the pity that this administration - like all the administrations going back to Reagan at least - don't really believe it. Or at least, they act as if they don't.

Adam Smith said: Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.

That's pretty clear, and it is the intellectual foundation for open markets. The elimination of taxes on trade enhances the power of the consumer to choose his or her best option. It lowers prices and improves quality through competition. The elimination of taxes on trade is in and of itself a good thing; it should not be 'traded' for 'concessions' from other trading partners. It should be adopted in its own right as the proper policy.

Of course, no one believes this anymore. For decades opinion leaders have failed to make the case for cheap, high-quality imports. Rather, places like Wal-Mart are mocked. Companies move production abroad because import restrictions make it too difficult to bring necessary inputs here. And how did President Bush attempt to push back against this philosophy? He supported curbs on steel imports, quotas on textiles, managed trade in a host of areas, and god-awful farm supports that make a mockery of free-market rhetoric.

This is not to pick on George Bush. He did what any President would have done - and what all recent Presidents have done. He bent to constituencies that don't believe in free trade, knowing that consumers would not reward him if he stood with them, or punish him if he did not.

Pete DuPont asks why Democrats fight free trade. That's a fair question. But my question is why Republicans fight it. The Doha Round of trade talks was dead when Republicans ran Congress, partly because farm interests were too strong to allow more dramatic concessions on subsidies. When the talks went into hiatus, it immediately emboldened those farm interests to demand more in the next Farm Bill.

And where were Republican free traders? Most are cowed, realizing that consumers don't understand when their ox is being gored.

For too long arguments for free trade have been built on the notion that they are a necessary evil; that we must open our market so that others open theirs, and allow our exports to create jobs at home. Exports are good and the wealth they create is good. But more important is the ability of our consumers to take advantage of the best the world has to offer - regardless of whether other countries give their consumers the same power.

Washington has seen a gradual weakening of support for free trade. It has more support among Republicans, but even the Republicans don't generally support real free trade. The trade agenda will be threatened as long as trade proponents cede half the playing field. They must stress the value of imports, as well as exports.

Back to the top.

Pelosi Reads the Handwriting on the Wall?

It looks like Alcee Hastings won't be the next chair of the Intelligence Committee.

This ought to staunch the bleeding, at least. If Pelosi is the primary mover behind this - and has scheduled the meeting to break the bad news to Hastings - she will come off looking stronger. If it turns out that Hastings saw the handwriting on the wall and went to Pelosi, it will probably be another embarrassment. And either way, she apparently faces trouble from the Congressional Black Caucus.

This was the right decision on policy, of course. It's unfortunate this runaway train ran so far down the tracks, though.

Update: Looking around, it appears that Fox News had the scoop on this one. Apparently Jane Harman is still out of the running.

The potential choice of Sanford Bishop would certainly look like a good one. And while I'm unaware of any House rule that would constitute a serious obstacle to serving both on Appropriations and as chair of Intelligence, it would be unusual for a Member to hold two such influential positions. If Pelosi sees Bishop as the right person to solve this mess though, there probably won't be much serious objection among House Democrats, who have to want to see this controversy behind them.

Update II: Congress Daily reports that the meeting has happened, and Hastings did not emerge in a great mood. There's also a mention of Stephanie Tubbs-Jones as a potential candidate for Chair:

...Speaker-elect Pelosi met today with Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, amid speculation that she will turn down his bid to chair the Intelligence panel. After the meeting, Hastings declined to answer repeated questions about the meeting and deferred all comment to a statement that would be issued later today. "When I issue the press release, you'll know," Hastings said. "You will get it when you get it."
Current Intelligence ranking member Jane Harman of California has the support of the moderate-to-conservative Blue Dog Coalition but has a chilly relationship with Pelosi and is likely to be passed over. Hastings has been lobbying for the position, sending lawmakers a letter last week outlining his qualifications for the post and addressing the fact that he was removed from a federal judgeship following a bribery probe in the late 1980s. While he has the backing of Congressional Black Caucus members, his judicial impeachment raises problems for Pelosi, who made ethics a main issue of the fall campaign. Ethics ranking member Howard Berman of California has announced he will not chair the panel next year but it remains to be seen if Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, who is next in line, will receive the spot.

Update III: Hastings's statement is as funny as it is pompous. From Congress Daily:

After meeting with House Speaker-elect Pelosi this afternoon, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., issued a statement confirming he will not serve as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "I have been informed by the speaker-elect that I will not serve as the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the 110th Congress," he said. "I am obviously disappointed with this decision." Hastings won election to Congress in 1992, after having been impeached and removed from office as a federal judge. He concluded his statement by saying, "Sorry, haters, God is not finished with me yet."

Guess we'll have to find someone else to hate.

Back to the top.

CQ Analyst Engages in Silly Speculation on Cheney

ThinkProgress catches 'CQ analyst' and general talking head Craig Crawford in some silly speculation about Dick Cheney's future. This isn't a particular slam against Crawford; if you go on Chris Matthews's show you are inherently doing something silly. So Crawford was just acting the part:

CRAWFORD: Again, I gotta ask, where does that leave Dick Cheney if the neocons are heading for the hills. Where does he end up in this administration?

MATTHEWS: I know what he does. He moves out to the eastern shore of Maryland and waits there like [indecipherable] with a gun. And he waits until the next administration comes into office. If it’s a Republican administration — like McCain — he has a lot of influence. If it’s a Democratic administration, he starts coming on programs like this. He won’t be on this show, but like this.

CRAWFORD: I still wonder if he stays in this administration for the full term here. I really wonder if Rumsfeld’s leaving is just the beginning.

MATTHEWS: Well, who is showing up with the Ryder truck at his home. Who’s gonna get him out?

CRAWFORD: He has to make the choice himself. He can’t be fired, technically, under the Constitution.

MATTHEWS: Why would he leave?

HARWOOD: As Bill Clinton once said, the Constitution makes him relevant for at least the two years. I don’t think he will go anywhere.

CRAWFORD: My point is I don’t know why he’d want to stick around.

MATTHEWS: He has assumed an awful lot of authority under this President.

CRAWFORD: I know, and that authority is waning, if not gone. And my point is why would he want to stick around in this environment? He might just choose to leave.

MATTHEWS: Let me check this. I rarely do this on the show. Are you teasing? Are you — do you actually think there’s a reasonable plausible case for this Vice President to give up all the power he enjoys as the President’s first counsel?

CRAWFORD: Not if he doesn’t enjoy it anymore. I mean all I’m seeing is the man getting isolated more and more. This seems to be his most vulnerable position in the entire Bush administration.

The silly thing here is not to speculate that Cheney might leave the administration; it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. The silly part is the entire framework of the question.

Cheney is not going to leave because he is or is not relevant and influential. Is there any question but that he will do whatever George Bush wants of him - stay, or go?

One of the unique things about Cheney is that he is a Vice President who has no interest in running for President. He is probably the only Vice President of whom that has ever been true. ANY other Republican that Bush nominated to replace Cheney as VP would be a presumed contender for the Republican nomination in 2008. He or she would be the perceived 'Bush pick' as his successor, with all the advantages and disadvantages that confers. To date, Bush has shown no intention of wanting to give anyone a 'leg-up' on the Presidency.

Furthermore, what would the Senate process for considering his replacement look like? Do you think that the dozen Senators considering Presidential runs would give Condoleezza Rice, or Rudy Giuliani, or Tommy Thompson, or even John McCain an easy time? They would make the process difficult, and would try to ensure that the new Veep got embarrassed - or worse - during the process. How would that affect Bush's efforts to ensure he has a legacy?

The question is not 'is Cheney bored,' or whatever Crawford construes it to be. It is 'has Bush changed his mind about annointing a successor.' If so, then Cheney will resign. If not, he will stay Vice President.

Cheney serves at the pleasure of the President, and if he's grown utterly bored and feels irrelevant, he can effectively retire from the Vice Presidency without the inconvenience of a succession fight. He can go off to Jackson Hole, or Texas, or the Eastern Shore, or wherever - and he can have the traditional role of all previous Vice Presidents - none. Or funeral attender, maybe.

To act as if Cheney serves on a whim, or that he is easily replaced, is silly.

Back to the top.

The Perfect Gift...

for the dummy on your list.

Wait, I'll be kind - for the person who has everything.

A DVD Rewinder:

Come to think of it, I think my grandfather asked for one of these...

Back to the top.

Long Knives out for Harman

Not content with embarrassing themselves by even considering Alcee Hastings for the Chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, Democrats are now letting the other shoe drop by taking Jane Harman to the woodshed for stating things that everyone agreed at the time.

TPMMuckraker has a nice round-up. Ironically, on the left column of that piece you can see highlighted a current LATimes article:

Elected as a war critic, he was part of prewar errors
Chris Carney, who worked at the Pentagon, still believes there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Wonder what the penalty is among Democrats for a rank-and-filer to believe the truth?

And not to beat a dead horse that is dreadfully close to coming entirely to pieces, but this calls into question Nancy Pelosi's leadership abilities. Or, perhaps it just confirms why her leadership ability is no longer an open question, but rather is generally regarded as somewhere around Mike Dukakis's.

To wit: if Ms. Pelosi continues to leave it an open question who will chair the Intelligence Committee, will it give bloggers and columnists good reason to scrutinize (and attack) all the contenders? You say Sanford Bishop ought to be chair? Sounds good - but let's look at what he's had to say about Iraq. Or let's look at the earmarks he's sponsored.

There are lots of people to attack, if Ms. Pelosi lets this play itself out long enough.

Back to the top.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Vilsack/Obama: Two Men Go into the Cornfield...

...One Man Comes out

It is one of the imponderable mysteries of Creation that some men will overcome the greatest adversity over years of effort through grit, talent and determination to rise to the highest levels of achievement, to contend even for the greatest honours of a nation...

and then get bigfooted in the flagship Democratic paper in his state with a thinly-concealed piece of pleading for the handsome newcomer to come on in.

Question: Where does Obama stand on federal ethanol policy?

Democrats Look to France for Economics Lessons

The New York Times reports that 'Rubinomics' is no longer the unchallenged economic philosophy of the incoming Democratic leadership. Rather, 'populism' is in vogue. It's both interesting and instructive that the new Democratic leaders are trying to replace an economic program with a political philosophy most closely associated with the late 19th century:

...Overcoming protests from labor unions, a traditional constituency, the Clinton administration vigorously supported free trade agreements like Nafta and agreed to China’s admission into the World Trade Organization. If there was damage to workers, then the Clinton camp proposed dealing with it after it occurred — through wage insurance, for example, or worker retraining and other safety-net measures.

This approach coincided with a period of economic prosperity, low unemployment and falling deficits. Over time, this combination — called Rubinomics after the Clinton administration’s Treasury secretary, Robert E. Rubin — became the Democratic establishment’s accepted model for the future.

Not anymore. With the Democrats having won a majority in Congress, and disquiet over globalization growing, a party faction that has been powerless — the economic populists — is emerging and strongly promoting an alternative to Rubinomics.

The populists argue that the national income has flowed disproportionately into corporate coffers and the nation’s wealthiest households, and that the imbalance has grown worse in recent years. They want to rethink America’s role in the global economy. They would intervene in markets and regulate them much more than the Rubinites would. For a start, they would declare a moratorium on new trade agreements until clauses were included that would, for example, restrict layoffs and protect incomes.

“We are at a point where the Reagan era might finally be over, including the eight years of Bill Clinton,” said Jeff Faux, a fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research group partly financed by the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “The historic juncture here is whether the Democrats can come up with policies that get to the level of the problem...”

Economic populists in and out of Congress are organizing to push their proposals, coalescing around the Economic Policy Institute. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. is a very visible member of this coalition. Unions have gained political influence because of their get-out-the vote role in battleground states like Ohio, where Democrats made substantial gains in the midterm election.

“We feel we have a stronger voice now in the deliberations of the Democratic Party,” said Ronald Blackwell, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s chief economist.

Just as the populists have organized, tentatively calling their group Shared Prosperity, so has the Democratic establishment. Its counterpart is “the Hamilton Project,” formed last spring to elaborate policies in anticipation of a Democratic Congress and, in 2008, a Democratic victor in the presidential election. Mr. Orszag, who was a senior economist in the Clinton administration, directs the project. The financing comes from wealthy Democrats, among them Mr. Rubin.

As the two groups face off, Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, contends that the populists are pushing much harder than the Rubinites for government-subsidized universal health care. They also favor expanding Social Security to offset the decline in pension coverage in the private sector...

Read the whole piece, for a great look at a significant fight in the Democratic party. It's fascinating to me that the Left is continuing to fight against Clintonomics by calling it an extension of Reagan's economic policies. If that were the case, what was the big fight over in 1992? Didn't Clinton say something about 'change,' and doing something new with the economy?

But I digress.

The real excitement here is that labor unions and others are now pushing the Democratic party to promote policies that have consistently led to poor income growth, poor job creation, and economic stagnation. Do they not know that other countries have experimented with higher taxes, increased government benefits, expanded regulation, bans on firing employees, and protectionism? The record has not been all that great.

If Democrats abandon the formula that won Bill Clinton the support of the middle-of-the-road voter, in favor of the populist, protectionist snake-oil that has been rejected every time it's tried, their majority will be brief indeed.

Funny, that's a phrase that's getting repeated quite a bit, what with Murtha, the draft, insults to the military, and all sorts of things the Democrats are talking about since the election.

Back to the top.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Emanuel Pushes Congressional Reform

Bob Novak always has stuff worth reading.

This weekend he notes that Rahm Emanuel is encouraging his Democratic colleagues to take congressional reform seriously. He apparently calls it 'the key to future electoral success:'

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, newly elected chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has sent colleagues a one-page memo emphasizing ''real lobbying and ethics reform'' as the key to his party's future electoral success.

Emanuel, architect of taking over the House as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, in the memo cited eight extra seats won by Democrats in Republican districts because of scandals. That included the defeat of Representatives John Sweeney (N.Y.); Richard Pombo (Calif.); Curt Weldon (Pa.); Don Sherwood (Pa.), and Charles Taylor (N.C.), plus Republicans in seats formerly held by Representatives Tom DeLay (Texas); Mark Foley (Fla.), and Bob Ney (Ohio). A ninth scandal-blemished Republican targeted by Emanuel, Rep. John Doolittle of California, escaped with a four-point victory.

Emanuel intends to push reforms restricting earmarks, gifts and travel. ''Failure to deliver on this promise,'' said his memo, ''would be devastating to our standing with the public and certainly jeopardize some of our marginal seats.''

I would argue that real reform is no guarantor of electoral success for the Democrats. Rather, I suspect it's closer to being 'necessary, but not sufficient.'

Voters discount past achievements relatively quickly. If Democrats deliver on the reforms that Emanuel calls for, it will be a feather in their collective cap and it will make a nice talking point in 2008. But their success or failure will be judged more by whether they achieve anything, and whether they curb their left-wing tendencies. Insulting the military, reinstating the draft, and raising taxes are a formula for abject humiliation - regardless of congressional reform.

But on the other hand, voters don't expect a whole lot of the Democrats in these next two years. With an opposition President, legislative victories are likely to be minor. If all they can point to is a minimum wage increase, and they are attacked by Republicans for ineffectiveness and failure to deliver on reform, they may find themselves in the same position as the GOP a few months ago: wishing they had taken the reform issue seriously.

Back to the top.