Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bayh Won't Seek the Presidency

The Washington Post has the story.

And Philip Klein at the American Spectator gives an excellent thumbnail of what it means: Hillary and Obama are crowding out the competition, and candidates have concluded that you can't win by running to the right of Hillary.

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Hillary vs. Giuliani

It's starting early. And the current fight is over nuclear power. Giuliani is on the pro-side and Clinton the anti. I suspect that in 2008, the environment for nuclear power will be friendlier than at any time in decades. And pro-nuclear candidates may be more warmly received by the anti-global warming crowd.

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Keating for President

Former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating is reportedly considering a Presidential run. (Hat Tip: Glenn and Mortman) This isn't completely new; Novak wrote about it recently.

Keating is apparently motivated (at least partly) by the lack of a prominent 'Reagan-like conservative.'

So that makes Sam Brownback, Tommy Thompson, and Frank Keating (at least) exploring Presidential bids because of the lack of a viable 'Reagan-style' conservative.

This prompts two thoughts:

  1. How long before the Republican party stops trying to nominate Reagan; and,
  2. What are the chances that any of these candidates breaks into the top tier?

I love Ronald Reagan. Like many, I consider myself a 'Reagan Republican.' He still defines today's Republican party, and will probably continue to for many years. However, the Democrats spent decades trying to renominate FDR and it seems to me that it became a handicap for their candidates into the 1980s. In 2008, the GOP will have been looking for 'the next Reagan' for 20 years. When will we accept that the world looks dramatically different than it did in 1980, and even Ronald Reagan would not be Reagan if he ran today?

And with regard to the 'Reagan conservatives' in the 2008 field, I doubt that any has the name ID and the clout to contend at all. It seems the front-loading of the Presidential race continues, and it feels later in the race than it did at this time in 2002. It 'feels' late. And it seems unlikely that McCain, Giuliani, and Romney will all stumble - as would be necessary for one of these lesser-knowns to move up. I suspect that if any one of these candidates wants to take a step up, he will need to coalesce conservative backing behind him, as Novak reports McCain is doing.

Update: If you're looking for more on Tommy Thompson, who has created a Presidential exploratory committee, check here.

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Christmas Travel Tips

Here are a few sites to help you with your Christmas flights.

Seatguru helps identify the best and worst seats on a given plane. And check out the food possibilities here.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Night Videos

How about a cool song I heard this weekend:

Anticipating your question...

Am I the only fan of Fatboy Slim?

Or Billy Joel?

And maybe we'll go real Old School:

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Chappy Chanukah 5767!

"Baruch atah [adonai] eloheinu melech ha'olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik neir shel Chanukah."

"Blessed are You, our God, Lord of time and space, Who enriches our lives with holiness, commanding us to kindle the Chanukah lights."

Encouraging News on Tim Johnson

The Senator is reaching out to his wife, and is 'appropriately responsive' to word and touch.

Our prayers remain with him and his loved ones.

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War of the Worlds Redux

There's quite a kerfuffle in Belgium over a fake newscast regarding the country's split in two, and the flight of the royal family:

Suddenly and shockingly, Belgium came to an end. State television broke into regular programming late Wednesday with an urgent bulletin: The Dutch-speaking half of the country had declared independence and the king and queen had fled. Grainy pictures from the military airport showed dark silhouettes of a royal entourage boarding a plane.

Only after a half hour did the station flash the message: "This is fiction."

It was too late. Many Belgians had already fallen for the hoax.

Frantic viewers flooded the call center of the RTBF broadcaster that aired the stunt. Embassies called Belgian authorities to find out what was going on, while foreign journalists scrambled to get confirmation.

"Ambassadors who were worried asked what they had to tell their capitals," said Senate Chair Anne-Marie Lizin. "This fiction was seen as a reality and it created a catastrophic image of the country."

Obviously, this story cannot pass without a reference to the War of the Worlds scare of 1938.

On the brighter side, this is bound to make people more aware of Belgium. And how often is Belgium in the news?

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Dem Rules & the Pelosi Rebound

Tom Maguire covers the announcement of the creation of a House Select Committee on Intelligence. The Hill covers the new Democratic rules package (which I also posted on below), and clarifies that this select panel is intended to satisfy the promise to implement all the recommendations of the 9/11 commission.

The Hill also explains more about the House rules and I must say, they look pretty good:

The rules would ban lobbyists "or organizations that employ them from planning, organizing, requesting, arranging or participating in travel for members or staff," according to the document. The new rules do make an allowance for a one-day trip to attend a forum, participate in a panel or give a speech.

Members would also be prohibited from using official or campaign funds to pay for non-commercial, corporate jets. But the provision does not apply to charter plane services, the document adds.

In addition, Democrats would prohibit holding open votes for the purpose of "affecting the outcome." Republican leaders famously kept open a vote on including drug coverage for Medicare for two hours and 15 minutes until they finally convinced enough members to vote for the package.

Budget reforms stipulated in the new rules include mandatory disclosure of all earmarks and the requirement that members certify that spouses do not directly benefit from the added project. Budget Reconciliations will not be considered if they reduce the budget surplus or increase the deficit.

Also included in the planned rules package is implementation of pay-as-you-go budget rules, requiring that new tax cuts or entitlement spending be offset with corresponding spending cuts.

I've argued that in the event earmarks are not banned, Members of Congress should be required to disclose whom they know who would benefit from the earmark. But that notwithstanding, this is pretty good.

The New York Times reports that the Democrats also plan to 'integrate war spending into the federal budget.' This has major ramifications and will make things much tougher on the Democrats:

In interviews, the incoming Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees said they would demand a better accounting of the war’s cost and move toward integrating the spending into the regular federal budget, a signal of their intention to use the Congressional power of the purse more assertively to influence the White House’s management of the war.

The lawmakers, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Representative John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, said the administration’s approach of paying for extended military operations and related activities through a series of emergency requests had inhibited Congressional scrutiny of the spending and obscured the true price of the war.

“They have been playing hide-the-ball,” Mr. Conrad said, “and that does not serve the Congress well nor the country well, and we are not going to continue that practice.”

Mr. Spratt, who along with Mr. Conrad is examining how the Democratic Congress should funnel the war spending requests through the House and Senate, said, “We need to have a better breakout of the costs — period.” He is planning hearings for early next year on the subject even as the White House readies a new request for $120 billion or more to pay for the war through Sept. 30, in addition to the more than $70 billion in emergency appropriations already spent this year.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, spending on the military outside of the regular budget process, primarily for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has totaled more than $400 billion. For the 12 months ended Sept. 30, spending on the Iraq war alone ran at an average rate of $8 billion a month, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service.

The adoption of 'Pay-Go' will make it much harder to lower taxes or raise spending - since anything that increases the deficit must be offset elsewhere. Returning to a system where war spending is counted as part of the regular budget process means that Congress must automatically come up with $100-$200 billion in offsets, before any other new spending is considered. Even assuming that Democrats allow some tax cuts to expire after 2010, they will still need to find more revenues to allow any expansion of spending on their priorities.

And I would also add that Ms. Pelosi has had a good week or two: Democrats are suspending new earmarks for FY07, considering an independent ethics process, and creating a new House Intelligence panel that will allow them to claim victory on implementing the 9/11 recommendations. Those are all positive developments, and she has to receive some of the credit.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

House Dem Ethics Package Looking Good

I have to give credit where it's due. I've criticized Nancy Pelosi for her missteps since the election, but if the House Democratic rule package ends up being as the New York Times describes, I will have to eat my words and offer congratulations:

Besides the bipartisan group, Democrats are expected to propose a ban on gifts and meals from lobbyists and organizations that employ them; a prohibition on lobbyists and their employers from planning, organizing, requesting, financing, arranging or participating in travel for members or staff; and a bar to the use of official or campaign money to pay for using corporate jets.

The emerging rules would also require the disclosure of earmarks, the special provisions in bills that lawmakers use to direct dollars to specific projects or favored causes. Lawmakers would also have to certify that any request for such spending is not in their personal financial interest.

I think some of these are little more than public relations measures, but there's no need to quibble. Some of these moves are good; others sound good. I think the House may be going too far in limiting privately-funded travel, but I doubt it will damage the polity.

The encouraging sign for me is that Ms. Pelosi is considering the establishment of an outside ethics body to handle complaints about Members of Congress. She has reportedly discussed this with Minority Leader Boehner. It is something that the House has resisted vociferously, but they've shown little reason to have confidence that they can police their own. I think it would be a very smart move.

From the Times:

House Democrats are seriously exploring the creation of an independent ethics arm to enforce new rules on travel, lobbying, gifts and other issues that Democrats intend to put in place on taking power next month...

An independent Congressional watchdog, if approved, would be a major break with tradition. Some lawmakers say House and Senate members have sole responsibility for policing themselves when it comes to internal rules.

Some lawmakers have said an independent entity could be unconstitutional...

Yes - some lawmakers have said it could be unconstitutional, and some would have stood with Dennis Hastert defending crimes hidden in Congressional offices. Neither position is particularly wise.

My only admonition based on what's discussed here is that the American people won't have much more trust in former Members of Congress than in current Members of Congress. Ms. Pelosi might need to consider a different approach - perhaps one involving former judges, for example.

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Dems on Earmarks: Less than Meets the Eye?

The Hill reports that Republicans and activists are minimizing the significance of the move by Democrats to eliminate earmarks for the remaining fiscal year 2007 bills.

I think any progress is worth noting, and the Democrats certainly could have continued to use earmarks. However, I noted a few weeks ago that the idea of using a continuing resolution to fund all remaining government programs through the end of 2007 would be very tempting for Democrats. A major motivation is that there is not enough money in the remaining bills to satisfy all spending requests; that's why the GOP did not finish them. Adopting continuing resolutions allows Democrats to save a few billion, and simultaneously denying any earmark requests - which are very rarely (perhaps never) included in continuing resolutions.

Anyway, the Hill explains why this may be less than meets the eye:

David Williams, vice president for policy at the Citizens Against Government Waste, praised the yearlong continuing resolution that was passed last week. However, he too was hesitant to lavish too much praise on the move by Democrats.

"I think this is a great move, a yearlong CR … I hope it shows people that we don’t need a Teapot Museum," he said, referring to some of the pet projects that lawmakers commonly slip into large spending bills for their districts.

He expressed concern that the yearlong CR could result in members of Congress doubling up on projects in the next fiscal year and noted that he was aware the move was not made in the interest of fiscal responsibility.

"They have an agenda that they want to get to immediately when Congress comes back into session," Williams said. "Whatever the cynical reasons … it’s a positive step as long as they don’t double up in 2008.

Steve Ellis, Taxpayers for Common Sense’s vice president for programs, was also skeptical.

"February is a long way away," he said. "We will see what happens at the end of the day."

Hopefully this is is a sign of things to come, rather than a set-up for disappointment.

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Rangel: Democrats Wash Hands of Iraq

I'm trying to think of a better way to characterize Rangel's remarks. How does one capture his apparent belief that they have no responsibility whatsoever to address Iraq in any way:

So now that the Democrats have won control of Congress, what should they do about the war in Iraq?

“I never understand that question,” answered Charlie Rangel, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “You have a President that’s in deep shit. He got us into the war, and all the reasons he gave have been proven invalid, and the whole electorate was so pissed off that they got rid of anyone they could have, and then they ask, ‘What is the Democrats’ solution?’”

Am I being too harsh? I suppose a defender of Rangel would argue that since there's no solution to it, there's no reason to address it.

I imagine that the logical extension of this is that the Democrats should offer no criticism of the President regarding Iraq, nor attempt to interfere in any way with his prosecution of the remainder of the conflict.

Does Mr. Rangel not believe that the American people selected the Democrats to lead in Washington? If not, he better be prepared to surrender his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship.

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Why Was US Surveilling Princess Diana?

Of course; it's so clear now.

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Re: Tim Johnson & Senate Control

Our first reaction to news of Senator Tim Johnson being in critical condition is to hold him and his family in our prayers. We wish him a speedy recovery.

However, because people have asked, I provide a link to CQ's explanation of what happens in the Senate in different circumstances:

Johnson’s condition immediately raised questions about control of the Senate in the 110th Congress, which convenes Jan. 4. Democrats won a 51-49 edge in the November elections, but the Senate cannot function without the adoption of an organizing resolution.

That resolution is subject to filibuster, and if Republicans refused to adopt it on grounds that Johnson is incapacitated and incompetent to fulfill his duties, the chamber would be at a standstill. At the same time, only Johnson himself — or his family, acting under a power of attorney — could resign his seat, creating a vacancy that South Dakota’s Republican governor would fill. A Republican successor would create a 50-50 tie, giving the GOP operational control as a result of Vice President Dick Cheney’s tie-breaking vote.

If Johnson survives, the Democrats would still be in control by 50-49 until and unless he resigned...

Johnson does not need to be sworn in at the beginning of the 110th Congress because he is in the middle of his term.

Even if Johnson remains unable to attend to his regular Senate duties for a long period, he can still remain in office, according to Senate historian Richard Baker. There is no constitutional provision for the removal of incapacitated senators.

On the contrary, there is ample precedent for senators being absent for long periods due to health issues, including a former senator from South Dakota, who suffered a stroke in 1969. Republican Sen. Karl Earl Mundt (1948-1973) remained technically in office through the final years of his last term because he refused to resign.

In 1964, California Democrat Clair Engle (1959-1964), who had been absent from the Senate for months due to a brain tumor that had paralyzed him, was wheeled into the Senate on a gurney during the roll call vote on the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. Unable to speak, when his name was called, he lifted his arm and pointed to his eye, indicating an “aye” vote. He died in office.

More recently, in 1988, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., took a seven-month leave of absence to recover from brain surgery.

Baker said, given the history and tradition of the Senate, a senator remains a senator “as long as he’s alive and breathing.”

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Pelosi Takes Corruption Seriously

Nancy Pelosi has appointed the recently re-elected Bill Jefferson to the Small Business Committee. I love small business, but the Committee is somewhat less important than the Shower-Curtain Ring subcommittee of the Bathroom Accessories panel.

Jefferson clearly has no clout left - or Ms. Pelosi thinks that he won't be around long to complain.

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Peter Boyle (1935-2006)

Peter Boyle has passed.

Enjoy one of many funny scenes from Young Frankenstein.

And more:

Although young people will know him primarily as Frank from Everybody Loves Raymond, he's been doing great stuff for more than 30 years.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) Hospitalised for Apparent Stroke

Early reports were that he was conscious when taken away to hospital, but Rep. Herseth's demeanour at a hasty press availability suggests that there's cause for concern. Gov. Rounds (R) would appoint a successor, presumably tipping the balance in the Senate back to a Cheney-enabling 50-50 tie, should Sen. Johnson choose to retire or otherwise prove unable to serve, so everyone will be watching and many otherwise secular Democrats will be lighting candles tonight...


CNN now reports the successful conclusion of the surgery to arrest the haemorrhage, caused by a congenital arteriovenous malformation. The risk of death in cases of AVM haemorrhages is stated generally at about 10%, and the possibility of neurological damage from the haemorrhage or consequent clotting exists, but it would seem that the Senator has successfully passed the worst part of the crisis.

John Podhoretz Embraces the Rorschach Metaphor

Sen. Rorschach gets further analysis by the columnist from the NY Post.

Swift Raids Demonstrate Failure of Current Migrant Policy

The big news throughout the upper Midwest yesterday was the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on 6 Swift & Company meat processing plants.

In Marshalltown, IA, dozens of migrant workers were detained for documentation violations.

In Grand Island, NE, local law enforcement authorities were ordered not to cooperate in the interest of maintaining good relations with the immigrant community.

In Worthington, MN, as many as 400 people were detained.

In Greeley, CO, the Latino community began to attempt to organise a blockade of the facility, but were unable to block all gates to prevent the loaded buses from taking undocumented workers into custody.

In Cactus, TX, the long-winked at illegal population has so come to dominate the town that the raids had the effect of essentially shutting down the town.

This parallelled, only on a national level, the recent ICE raid of a Crider chicken processing plant back in September, and highlighted again the extent to which non-enforcement of immigration law has led to major demographic shifts affecting entire industries and communities.

Lussekattor for Everyone

by John Donne

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

NOTE: In the years immediately prior to the correction of the English calendar to incorporate the Gregorian reforms, Dec. 13 was the date of winter solstice. St. Lucy, patron of the blind, was an appropriate patron for such a dark day, and her association with light is still observed in the Scandinavian celebrations of Lucy's day.

Bonilla Goes Down, Rodriguez Up

Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX-23) was defeated in the court-ordered runoff yesterday by Democratic Congressman quondam/Congressman futuris Ciro Rodriguez.

While the defeat must partly be ascribed to Bonilla's inability to improve upon or even maintain his share of the vote from the Nov. 7 primary, the predominant reason for Bonilla's loss was the court-ordered redrawing of his district to increase Hispanic representation. Abigail Thernstrom at the time reviewed the incoherence of the Supreme Court's reasoning (or lack thereof) on the matter of minority civil rights expressed in terms of a court-guaranteed right to have the "correct" party represent them, even when, as in Bonilla's case the "wrong" party's standard bearer is a member of the putatively unrepresented minority.

Have to Share the Pain

Overheard by Mike D. while Christmas shopping in a Pentagon City bookstore: "I don't have time for books on tape because I listen to so many talk shows on public radio."

It's not the most pathetic thing I've ever heard, but it's close.

CAIR: We do more than just shake down airlines.

They also shill for the Syrians and advocate retreat in the Middle East.

I stumbled across tonight's C-Span broadcast of CAIR's panel discussion of Arab and Muslim reactions to the Iraq Survey Group Report. I missed the first half but my masochist side manifested itself and I forced myself to watch it through to the end, approximately forty minutes. It wasn't very impressive. The "panel" consisted of the CAIR Board Chairman, a University of Maryland Professor, Senator Larry Shaw of the North Carolina General Assembly, and the Syrian Ambassador. It was all fairly predictable. Shaw came across as an amatuerish lefty, criticizing the United States for thinking it "knows everything" and recommending we look to all of Iraq's neighbors for help. I think Shaw must be looking for some free publicity. According to Wikipedia, he was the highest-ranking Muslim elected official in the U.S. until Ellison was elected to Congress last month. The U of M professor wasn't too painful to listen to, but his points during the Q&A session were academic to the point of irrelevance. In any case, those two were just windowdressing for the Syrian Ambassador. He was nice enough to point out that Syria had been offering to help the US during the early days of the war. Unfortunately, they just had to give up because of the ideology of the Bush administration. Thankfully, they are still willing to help bring stability to Iraq if the United States engages them in a "sophisticated discussion." If we're just going to dictate to them, then there's no point in even talking. I wonder if holding them accountable for political assasinations in Lebanon counts as talking down to them?

In short, they hit all the mantras: the war is inciting terrorism, the U.S. mislead the world in its reasons for going to war, the U.S. can't win, etc. The CAIR folks even found time to squeeze in their standard rebuke on describing our enemies in terms of Islam.

All the while, the CAIR reps and the Syrian Ambassador sang the praises of the ISG report, explaining how it had opened debate and brought forth a discussion that, in our new political environment, could lead to change in Iraq policy. Unfortunately, nothing's perfect. During the Q&A, the CAIR Board Chairman made it clear that their one point of disagreement with the ISG was its recommendation to increase the number of personnel dedicated to training Iraqi forces. They don't think training the Iraqi military is going to help. Instead, CAIR wants to see an immediate withdrawal of American forces. At least they are honest.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kucinich Launches Campaign Sequel

The candidacy-as-publicity-stunt camp gets another tent pitched.

The malicious part of my nature wonders if Dennis doesn't do this just to meet other girls besides Margaret.

Five Macroeconomic Myths

Intersting piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Nobel Prize winning economist Ed Prescott. It's excerpted here. Prescott tackles 5 popular macroeconomic myths, one of which is the notion that our debt creates a burden on our grandchildren. First, the myths:

  • Monetary policy causes booms and busts;
  • GDP growth was extraordinary in the 1990s;
  • Americans don't save;
  • The U.S. government debt is big; and,
  • Government debt is a burden on our grandchildren.

The last two points are the most interesting to me, so I will excerpt the explanations:

Myth No. 4: The U.S. government debt is big. The key measure here is privately held interest-bearing federal government debt, which includes debt held by foreign central banks, and does not include debt held by the Fed or government debt held by the government. So let's turn to the historical data once again.

Privately held interest-bearing debt relative to income peaked during World War II, fell through the early 1970s, rose again through the early 1990s, and then fell again until 2003. Even though that number has been rising in recent years (except for the most recent one), it is still at levels similar to the early 1960s, and lower than levels in most of the 1980s and 1990s. This debt level was not alarming then, and it is not alarming now. From a historical perspective, the current U.S. government debt is not large.

Myth No. 5: Government debt is a burden on our grandchildren. There's no better way to get people worked up about something than to call on their sympathies for their beloved grandkids. The last thing that I want to do is to burden my own grandchildren with the sins of profligacy. But we should stop feeling guilty -- at least about government debt -- because we are in better shape than conventional wisdom suggests.

Theory and practice tell us that the optimal amount of public debt that maximizes the welfare of new generations of entrants into the workforce is two times gross national income, or GDP. This assumes 1% population growth, 2% productivity growth, 4% real after-tax return on investments, and that people work to age 63 and live to age 85. Currently, privately held public debt is about 0.3 times GDP, and if we include our Social Security obligations, it is 1.6 times GDP. In either case, we could argue that we have too little debt.

What's going on here? There are not enough productive assets -- tangible and intangible assets alike -- to meet the investment needs of our forthcoming retirees. The problem is that the rate of return on investment -- creating more productive assets -- decreases as the stock of these assets increases. An excessive stock of these productive assets leads to inefficiencies.

Total savings by everyone is equal to the sum of productive assets and government debt, and if there is an imbalance in this equation it does not mean we have too little or too many productive assets. The fix comes from getting the proper amount of government debt. When people did not enjoy long retirements and population growth was rapid, the optimal amount of government debt was zero. However, the world has changed, and we in fact require some government debt if we care about our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

If we should worry about our grandchildren, we shouldn't about the amount of debt we are leaving them. We may even have to increase that debt a bit to ensure that we are adequately prepared for our own retirements.

I think that there are political arguments for budget balancing, and there are prudential arguments - primarily that government budgets ought to operate like family budgets. But there are many economists who agree with Prescott's central point: that the debt (at least at current levels) does not constitute a burden on future generations.

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Barone on Federal Dairy Programs

After the Washington Post wrote the other day on the success of the dairy lobby in squelching competition in milk productions, Michael Barone provides a good history on how we arrived at the current system.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Senator Rorschach Hits the Hustings

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Concord Monitor (among others) cover Barack Obama's first trip to New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, Mark Blumenthal looks at a poll that shows why we call him Senator Rorschach:

When asked about Barack Obama, more than a third of Americans (38%) and more than a quarter of Democrats (28%) are unable to offer anything specific that comes to mind.

People like Barack Obama without regard to his positions, not because of his positions. Once they get to know what he stands for, his numbers will drop.

This isn't a knock on Obama, he has ridden his personal story and his engaging personality pretty successfully so far. But he will have to define himself before others do.

If you read the Post, it's clear how vague he is:

To the question everyone wanted answered -- Is he going to run? -- Obama was noncommittal. "I haven't made that determination. I'm still running things through the traps," he said. He added, "I want to take my time on it, not only to make sure the politics makes sense but that I feel I have something unique to offer that would help move the country forward."

But he closed his speech here early Sunday night with words that seemed to signal growing interest in a campaign. "America is ready to turn the page," he said. "America is ready for a new set of challenges. This is our time. A new generation is prepared to lead."

Aides said a final decision will come in January, while in the meantime the Obama team continues to prepare the machinery for a campaign if the senator concludes that the time is right. Pronouncing himself "suspicious of hype," Obama said he would not be driven into the race "simply because of the opportunity but because I think I will serve the country well by that..."

Obama's day in New Hampshire was remarkable as much for the scene and speculation he generated than for anything specific he had to say. Wearing a black jacket, gray slacks and an open-collar white shirt, Obama delivered low-key remarks, speaking personally about his background and the origins of his belief in a more hopeful politics, as well as giving general views on issues such as energy, health care and Iraq.

He promised a new politics, to replace the "24-hour, slash-and-burn, negative-ad bickering, small-minded politics that doesn't move us forward."

Asked what he believes is different about his politics than those of other candidates, he said, "I think what's worked for me has been the capacity to stay true to a set of progressive values but to be eclectic in terms of the tools to achieve those progressive values. To not be orthodox. To be willing to get good ideas from all quarters."

A guy who's suspicious of hype, and will only run if he has something unique to offer to move the country forward; who wants to end the era of negative 'slash & burn politics,' while taking good ideas from all quarters, and with orthodox thinking to temper progressive goals?

Now that's my kind of candidate!

Today's pleasant new face is tomorrow's empty suit. That's Obama's challenge right now.

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Treasuring the Myth of the Lost Cause

Ridicule of American southerners for the tendency to construct fantasy alternate histories in which their treasured social institutions somehow emerge intact from the contrary forces of natural law and human nature is both general and well-earned.

These Lost Cause fantasies, however pathetic, are at least grounded in some historical reality of the former existence of these institutions, however much they may have been idealised over time by their defenders and the distortions of third- and now fourth-hand recollections. How, then, are we to view the continuing alternative histories of the Left, both in the U.S. and around the world, of the socialist Brave New World which never was, both in the U.S. and around the world, but seemed so inevitable to them in years before the collapse of the Soviet Union?

A woman of my acquaintance has, for her entire adult life, been active in the formerly fashionable cause of the Spanish Refugee Aid Society (since absorbed into the International Rescue Committee), which has, since the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, been dedicated to the psychological and material support of the leftist and anarchist refugees fleeing Franco's victory. For the intervening 67 years, the society, under various names and sponsors, has supported these refugees without stint or reservation.

When I first learned of this activism in the early 1990's, I assumed that the society, must, by this point in history, be some sort of archival historical organisation, maintaining the records and the documents from that time; but in fact I was astonished to learn that the society still supported a significant number of now-senescent people who had been persistently unwilling or unable to integrate themselves not only into post-Franco Spain, but even into the various countries into which they had been settled in the 1940's. Sixty years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the cumulative power of the 1930's Leftist fantasy, propaganda both earnest and cynical, and outright wishful thinking on partisans of that conflict was so great that they, virtually without question, maintained the total support of virtually anyone who had a bad word to say about Franco and claimed to have been in Spain between 1936 and 1939.

It is with this understanding of the power of myth that we must view the media treatment of the death of Augusto Pinochet yesterday. The ugly facts of the disintegration of Chilean society under Leftist agitation in the early 1970's barely enters into public consciousness in the considerations of his life. Allende's connivance with Leftist militias and disregard for the Chilean courts is carefully screened from recall in any discussion of Pinochet's career and motivations.

The empirical collapse of the leftist utopian project embodied in the fall of Allende did not in any way diminish the psychological commitment of most leftists to their presumption of the inevitable success of any experiment to remanufacture humanity and society into a form more amenable to Leftist programmes resulting in the eventual implementation of the Leftist utopia. As the fading pathos of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Spanish Refugee Aid Society and the dogged defenders of the Allende legend all demonstrate, good ideas do not triumph over such bad ideas, they merely survive them.

Among such bad ideas entangled with the historical legacy of Pinochet we must include the notion that the CIA, fantastically incompetent in all its interactions with Castro, somehow masterminded the coup against the collapsing Allende government which brought Pinochet to power. The Leftist imagination, like that of many Confederate sympathisers, cannot comprehend the historical failure of their project without resort to ever-increasingly complex and ridiculous conspiracy theories in which the U.S. or U.S. corporations are necessarily the prime mover. The self-contradiction of a nearly omnipotent American military-industrial-soft-drink-manufacturing complex effortlessly orchestrating the overthrow of Allende while simultaneously stumbling about blindly in Cuba and Vietnam is never examined.

Let us also make note of the non-judgmental or even apologetic editorial slant offered by most media outlets to the celebrations of Pinochet's death now underway in Leftist circles for later comparison with the treatment of the celebrations in Miami of Fidel Castro's death which must soon follow.

I am willing to wager that most media outlets will not have a similarly insouciant cast to their coverage of any celebration of the Leftist dictator's death.

Money Edge Didn't Help GOP

During the campaign, I posted frequently on the question of whether the GOP's money edge would help it in a 'wave' election. I was rather skeptical of a prediction from Barron's that the GOP would hold both the House and Senate because of that money edge.

Well, Roll Call reports ($) that in the 29 House races where Democrats took over Republican seats, the GOP candidate outspent the Democratic candidate in 21:

According to newly released campaign finance reports, the victorious Democratic candidates were outspent by their Republican opponents in 21 of the 29 House districts where Democrats grabbed control on Election Day. In six of those districts, Republican incumbents spent more than double what their challengers did but still lost.

Twelve-term Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) was the vanquished Republican who spent the most on her losing effort this year, according to the reports filed late last week with the Federal Election Commission. Through Nov. 27, her campaign reported spending a little more than $5 million for the 2006 election cycle. Her challenger, Rep.-elect Chris Murphy (D), a 32-year-old state Senator, spent $2.4 million.

Next on the list of free-spending Republican losers: Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), who spent more than $4.6 million in his race with Rep.-elect Heath Shuler (D), and outgoing House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), who spent more than $4.5 million against Rep.-elect Jerry McNerney (D). Taylor spent about $3 million of his own money on his loss...

The victorious Democrats in previously held Republican districts who outspent their GOP opponents were: Rep.-elect Ron Klein, who spent an eye-popping $4 million to oust veteran Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.); Rep.-elect Steve Kagen, who spent $3.1 million — $2.5 million from his own pocket — to win the vacant 8th district seat in Wisconsin; Rep.-elect Ed Perlmutter, who spent more than $2.7 million to win Colorado’s open 7th district seat; Rep.-elect Gabrielle Giffords, who spent more than $2.2 million to win Arizona’s open 8th district; Rep.-elect Bruce Braley, who spent $2.2 million to win the vacant seat in Iowa’s 1st district; Rep.-elect Michael Arcuri, who spent $2.1 million to win the open seat in New York’s 24th district; Rep.-elect Brad Ellsworth, who spent almost $1.7 million to oust Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.); and Rep.-elect Paul Hodes, who spent $1.5 million to upset Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.).

The figures for Kagen, Perlmutter, Giffords and Braley include the money they spent to win competitive Democratic primaries this year.

The most expensive House race in the country appears to be the one that hasn’t been resolved yet — in Florida’s 13th district. Auto dealer Vern Buchanan (R), who is clinging to about a 300-vote lead over banker Christine Jennings (D), spent close to $8 million — including $5.4 million of his own money in loans and contributions. Jennings spent more than $2.6 million.

An edge in money is great, but when the tide is against you it doesn't do much good.

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Arcane Senate Tradition

While Mitch McConnell may have gained the title of Republican Leader, it comes at a cost. He has lost the desk of Henry Clay:

Bunning Inherits Clay’s Desk as McConnell Moves
December 11, 2006
By Bree Hocking,
Roll Call Staff

Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) promotion to the top Republican post in January will not be without its trade-offs.

He’ll be relinquishing his current Senate desk, once held by legendary 19th-century statesman and Sen. Henry Clay (Ky.), to move into the one traditionally used by the Republican leader.

The Clay Senate desk is one of three desks — the others being those once used by Sens. Daniel Webster (Mass.) and Jefferson Davis (Miss.) — that have been reserved by Senate resolutions for specific Members: the senior Senators from Kentucky, Mississippi and New Hampshire. (This is done even though Webster, a former New Hampshire Congressman, represented Massachusetts in the Senate.)

On Friday, however, McConnell and fellow Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R) introduced a resolution, which the Senate quickly approved, allowing for the Clay desk to be reassigned to the junior Senator from Kentucky if the Bluegrass State’s senior Senator becomes party leader.

Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell said he “would have been honored” to use the Clay desk for the remainder of his career but that the Republican leader’s desk was “equally steeped in tradition.” He said he had decided to “follow the custom” set by then-Republican leader Charles McNary (Ore.), who first began using the desk (located in the front center row) in 1937. It has been held by such prominent former leaders as Sens. Robert Taft (Ohio) and Everett Dirksen (Ill.).

McConnell authored the initial resolution in 1999 designating the Clay desk to the senior Senator from Kentucky (himself) and has occupied it since then.

Since the early 20th century, most Senators have signed their names in the desks they have used. The Clay desk bears his name, although the signature is not authentic.

During his time in Congress, Clay, who also served as Speaker, earned the moniker “The Great Compromiser” for his legislative acumen and for his ability to forge agreements between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions, said Associate Senate Historian Don Ritchie. Ritchie said Clay, who served as de facto leader of the Whigs, “sat way in the back next to the door” so he could “put his hand over his mouth” and whisper to entering Senators “which way they should vote.”

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Protectionism at Home

The Washington Post carries a useful reminder of just how socialized the US economy can be at times: particularly for dairy products.

In the summer of 2003, shoppers in Southern California began getting a break on the price of milk.

A maverick dairyman named Hein Hettinga started bottling his own milk and selling it for as much as 20 cents a gallon less than the competition, exercising his right to work outside the rigid system that has controlled U.S. milk production for almost 70 years. Soon the effects were rippling through the state, helping to hold down retail prices at supermarkets and warehouse stores.

That was when a coalition of giant milk companies and dairies, along with their congressional allies, decided to crush Hettinga's initiative. For three years, the milk lobby spent millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions and made deals with lawmakers, including incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Last March, Congress passed a law reshaping the Western milk market and essentially ending Hettinga's experiment -- all without a single congressional hearing...

Read the whole thing. And note that the 'pro-market' guy in the fight is Congressman Jerry Lewis - whom many conservatives criticize for the way he headed the Appropriations Committee. The anti-market forces include Arizona Senator Jon Kyl.

Sometimes where you stand depends on where you sit.

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USSR is Back with Fun for Masochists

Spend a night in a former Soviet prison in Latvia. Twenty-thousand others have already done it.

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