Saturday, February 10, 2007

Minimum Wage Destroys Jobs; Creates Unintended Beneficiaries?

Wow. A minimum wage increase:

  1. causes employers to lay off workers;
  2. those workers are mostly teens and other new entrants to the workforce; and,
  3. salaries for non-minimum wage workers rise as employers maintain pay scales.
Who would ever have predicted that?

On a more serious note, one wonders if fact number three above might be a motivation for some to support minimum wage increases. After all, opponents endlessly made the argument that a minimum wage increase would benefit - and hurt - teens almost entirely. After all, they comprise most minimum wage employees. However, I don't recall hearing anyone assert that raising the minimum wage would force employers to raise wages for more experienced employees as well, to maintain a gap between those sets of workers.

New wage boost puts squeeze on teenage workers across Arizona
Employers are cutting back hours, laying off young staffers

...Some Valley employers, especially those in the food industry, say payroll budgets have risen so much that they're cutting hours, instituting hiring freezes and laying off employees.

And teens are among the first workers to go.

Companies maintain the new wage was raised to $6.75 per hour from $5.15 per hour to help the breadwinners in working-poor families. Teens typically have other means of support.

Mark Messner, owner of Pepi's Pizza in south Phoenix, estimates he has employed more than 2,000 high school students since 1990. But he plans to lay off three teenage workers and decrease hours worked by others. Of his 25-person workforce, roughly 75 percent are in high school.

"I've had to go to some of my kids and say, 'Look, my payroll just increased 13 percent,' " he said. " 'Sorry, I don't have any hours for you...'

The Employment Policies Institute in Washington, which opposed the recent increases, cited 2003 data by Federal Reserve economists showing a 10 percent increase caused a 2 percent to 3 percent decrease in employment.

It also cited comments by noted economist Milton Friedman, who maintained that high teen unemployment rates were largely the result of minimum-wage laws.

"After a wage hike, employers seek to take fewer chances on individuals with little education or experience," one institute researcher told lawmakers in 2004.

Tom Kelly, owner of Mary Coyle Ol' Fashion Ice Cream Parlor in Phoenix, voted for the minimum-wage increase. But he said, "The new law has impacted us quite a bit."

It added about $2,000 per month in expenses. The store, which employs mostly teen workers, has cut back on hours and has not replaced a couple of workers who quit.

Kelly raised the wages of workers who already made above minimum wage to ensure pay scales stayed even. As a result, "we have to be a lot more efficient" and must increase menu prices, he said...

Opponents, however, said there was little talk about teenage workers. "Everyone wanted to focus on the other aspects of the minimum-wage campaign," said Michelle Bolton, Arizona state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

An Employment Policies Institute study determined that 30.1 percent of affected workers in Arizona fell between the ages of 16 and 19.

"Workers affected by the minimum-wage increase are less likely to be supporting a family than the typical Arizona worker," it stated. "For example, 30.4 percent of the workers are living with their parent or parents, while only 7.6 percent of all Arizona workers are in this category..."

Novel Prize Winner Gives Secret to Home-Buying Happiness

Chicago economist Luis Rayo teams with Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker to produce 'the secret.' What is it? Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses, and focus on what you want:

How does this square with choosing a house that will make us happy? Rayo suggests a house with enough space to meet your needs while accommodating a practical, relaxing lifestyle. Everyone's situation is different, but as you make the decision, he said, be honest about your motivation.

Will the added square feet in the big, new house make you more comfortable?

If the goal is to impress your peers and friends, "You'll lose the race of winning and you'll be stressed," he said. Is your kitchen a place to hang out and be comfortable or will it be, as Rayo put it, a "slick intimidation statement about my wealth?" Will the $50,000 array of solar panels on your new roof that will generate all your household electricity needs "bring a sense of personal satisfaction or give you bragging rights?"

The latter are "not a sustainable source of happiness," Rayo said. "When consumption extends beyond your needs and the goal is to impress others, you should be suspicious; it will not lead to happiness."

But make sure to get the biggest HD TV you can find.

Hat Tip: Greg Mankiw

Tim Johnson Working from Hospital

Good news.

Free IHOP Pancakes

IHOP gives free pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (February 20) in support of Children's Miracle Network.

Please make a donation.

Racial Discrimination Allegations in the NFL

The NFL is the most successful sports league in the United States and everything it touches appears to turn to gold. But now a former senior league official is set to rain on the parade. He is alleging that he was fired because he's white:

A former supervisor of NFL officials sued the league in federal court yesterday, claiming he was unfairly fired after some referees lodged false complaints that he was racially biased.

Earnie Frantz, who was head linesman in the NFL from 1981 to 2001, said he was fired as associate supervisor of officiating in the spring of 2005.

In a lawsuit filed in Manhattan, Frantz said that while performing his duties of grading officials' performance after each week of play, he became a target of complaints by "a vocal component of the minority officiating crew," who complained that he was racially biased and graded minorities more harshly than whites. "In terminating Mr. Frantz's employment, the NFL bowed to the pressure of the minority members of the officiating crews whom he supervised," the suit said.

Frantz, who is white, claimed in the suit that he was essentially fired "because of the color of his skin."

Given how skillfully run the NFL is, one has to guess that this case will be settled before it attracts too much attention. Still, given that it was only 5 years ago that the league adopted the 'Rooney Rule,' it's interesting to see it alleged that the pendulum has effectively swung the other way,

Giuliani the Federalist

Glenn links to an Althouse post regarding Giuliani's views on abortion.

Judging by the emphasis Giuliani has put so far on strict constructionist judges, and on allowing states and localities to figure out what's best for them on (for example) gun regulation, it seems to me that federalism is going to be a core part of his campaign - whether he uses that word specifically, or not.

Among other things, it might be his best way to sell his ideology to social conservatives. If he cannot promise them that he'll support an aggressive pro-life agenda, at least he can say that he'll appoint strict constructionists, and he'll support the right of states to work out their approaches to questions that the Supreme Court rules are within their purview. Given a formulation like this, pro-lifers are likely to read between the lines a return to the pre-Roe abortion regime. (It can happen either through Roe being overturned, or it being left to stand in name only).

Glenn wonders whether Giuliani would take the view that 'a proper reading of Congress's enumerated powers doesn't allow for federal regulation of abortion.' It seems to me that Giuliani went a long way to addressing that when he said he would support parental notification and bans on partial birth abortion. In his interview on Hannity & Colmes (lengthy excerpt here), he technically did not say that he supported them at the federal level. However, the context of the interview (I think) gives a presumption that that's what he was talking about.

I talked about this at some length here. In retrospect, I have to note that I made a big leap there; I read into Giuliani's comments the expectation that Roe v. Wade would be overturned. I see now that he wasn't saying that - but as I said above, I think Giuliani wants social conservatives to read it the way I did.

And as I've noted, Giuliani can probably survive the primary without flip-flopping on guns if he says that it's always been his view that that is a state (and/or local) issue. If President Giuliani opposes at the federal level the gun regulation that Mayor Giuliani supported at the city level, he can probably win the nomination. Once again, federalism is more than a philosophy; it is a strategy.

Watching History Happen

I suppose that anyone who lives long enough gets to see history happen. But it's neat (for me, personally) to have lived long enough to see Ronald Reagan's Presidency, recognize his contribution to the end of the Cold War, and see a generation arise on the other side of the former Iron Curtain that wants to pay tribute:

Opponents of Poland's former communist regime reportedly want to pay a posthumous homage to US President Ronald Reagan by erecting his statue in the place of a Soviet-era monument.

In an open letter to the mayor of the southwestern city of Katowice, the former anti-regime activists said that the staunchly anti-communist Reagan had been a "symbol of liberty," the Polish news agency PAP reported.

As a result, they said, he deserved to become the centrepiece of the city's Freedom Square, replacing a monument to the Soviet troops who drove out the occupying Nazis in 1945.

They also said that they wanted the site to be rebaptised "Ronald Reagan Freedom Square."

City hall spokesman Waldemar Bojarun said that Katowice's councillors would consider the issue...

I've posted a picture of the 'Glass Fountain' in Katowice's Freedom Square. A statue of Reagan would look good there.

Novak Shows Republicans Still Don't Get It

Read today's Novak for a tangible demonstration of the value of Bill Clinton to the Hillary campaign, as well as some other interesting items. I'll highlight two.

First, Minority Leader John Boehner demonstrates that House Republicans still don't get it. He recently addressed the Republican conference and vouched for the ethical behavior of two California Republicans being investigated for their behavior related to earmarks:

House Minority Leader John Boehner, addressing Tuesday's closed-door conference of Republican House members, gave a clean bill of health to two California colleagues under federal investigation: Reps. Jerry Lewis and Gary Miller.

If he were not convinced of Lewis's integrity, Boehner told the conference, he would not have approved his continuation as top Republican on the Appropriations Committee. Lewis is being investigated for helping a lobbyist direct millions of dollars in earmarks for clients.

Lewis did not address the conference, but Miller pleaded innocent of wrongdoing in California land transactions. That won Miller a standing ovation, but a few colleagues noted the resemblance to a similar speech to the conference last year by then Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. On Jan. 19, Ney was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.

Messrs. Lewis and Miller may well have done nothing illegal. But in both cases, their advocacy of specific earmarks benefited them personally, or close personal friends and associates. While that is accepted practice in Washington, voters no longer accept it. Even if investigators find nothing that rises to the level of a criminal offense, voters thing it stinks. And it makes it much more difficult for Republicans to claim the mantle of reformists - which is a critical for a comeback at the ballot box. And surprisingly, it is the House Republicans who are having a much harder time at this. The aggressiveness of folks like Tom Cuburn and Jim DeMint, combined with Harry Reid's tone-deaf management, has enabled Senate Republicans to keep the Democratic majority on the defensive.

Item two - Republican retirements:

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) staff is contacting GOP House members to get an idea of how many intend to retire and give the Democrats soft targets in 2008.

The NRCC survey follows a report in the Roll Call newspaper that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is monitoring more than two dozen House Republicans who are candidates for retirement.

No House Republican has yet announced retirement, and the only GOP senator so far to call it quits is Wayne Allard of Colorado. However, more retirements from both houses are expected as Republicans chafe under life in the minority. No Democratic resignations have been announced, and none are expected from the House. All Democratic senators up for re-election in 2008 have announced they are running again, with the exception of Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa (who says he has not yet decided).

Naturally, a low number of retirements will help GOP efforts to retake the House. One big problem here is that Democrats are the party of government. All things being equal, they're more likely to stay in office. A good demonstration of that is the fact that even though the Democrats were in the minority from 1995-2007, there are now significantly more Democrats from that last Democratic majority in the House than there are Republicans.

In other words, there were more Democrats willing to spend 12 years in the minority than there were Republicans willing to spend 12 years in the majority. That doesn't happen by accident.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Washington Post Blew it in Slam on Bush Pentagon


Amazing that major media outlets make mistakes of this magnitude - and the effect always seems to be to further a pre-existing narrative.

Note too, the succinct and pithy commentary by John Hinderaker:

We are living in a topsy-turvy world in which 1) it is acknowledged that the CIA's performance in the months leading up the Iraq War was dreadful, but 2) it is also claimed that disagreeing with the CIA's assessments was somehow "improper."

Glenn Reynolds is Almost Sexy

Ace of Spades - in an incredibly tasteless post about Amanda Marcotte - commented on a website that allows you to identify celebrities whom you resemble.

I can't say I think much of it. It said I look like Placido Domingo, and anyone who knows me will tell you I'm more of a Raul Julia.

But plug in the faces of some better-known people and you get more interesting results. Like our friend Glenn Reynolds, here:

This was a surprise because some of these people - obviously - are a given. I mean, you say the name 'Glenn Reynolds,' and I think Torvalds, Major, Grant and Neill. But Mary Kate? Well. Now I think I'll read his stuff a little more closely.

Update: The results for Mary Katharine Ham seems to make more sense:

And for the benefit of those who know me, here's my result:

So that's me: a cross between Placido Domingo and James Cagney, with some Arvydas Sabonis thrown in. Yech.

IM-Speak Subverting English

People have had lots of ideas of how English would change in the future. From those who dreamed (or still dream) that we would all speak Esperanto, to those who feared Newspeak, Cityspeak, or some amalgam of Russian and English - they're all wrong.

It's IM-speak that seems to be overtaking English:

ORLANDO, Florida (AP) -- Middle school teacher Julia Austin is noticing a new generation of errors creeping into her pupils' essays.

Sure, they still commit the classic blunders -- like the commonly used "ain't." But an increasing number of Austin's eighth-graders also submit classwork containing "b4," "ur," "2" and "wata" -- words that may confuse adults but are part of the teens' everyday lives.

This "instant messaging-speak" or "IM-speak" emerged more than a decade ago. Used in e-mails and cell phone text messages, most teens are familiar with this tech talk and use it to flirt, plan dates and gossip.

But junior high and high school teachers nationwide say they see a troubling trend: The words have become so commonplace in children's social lives that the techno spellings are finding their way into essays and other writing assignments.

"The IM-speak is so prevalent now," said Austin, a language arts teacher at Stonewall Jackson Middle School in Orlando. "I'm always having to instruct my students against using it..."

Some educators, like David Warlick, 54, of Raleigh, North Carolina, see the young burgeoning band of instant messengers as a phenomenon that should be celebrated. Teachers should credit their students with inventing a new language ideal for communicating in a high-tech world, said Warlick, who has authored three books on technology in the classroom.

And most avoid those pitfalls once they enter college, said Larry Beason, director of freshman composition at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Ala.

"Some of the same kids that I teach now were probably guilty of techno spellings in high school," Beason said. "But most students realize that they need to put their adolescent spellings behind them by the time they get to college.

I for one, welcome our more efficient tech-speak overlords.

Fortress of Solitude Currently Under Construction

This is perhaps the greatest waste of $3 million I have ever heard of. What is the likelihood that a global catastrophe - including, but not limited to, global warming - will wipe out almost all of the world's crops, but not mankind?

An Arctic "doomsday vault" aimed at providing mankind with food in case of a global catastrophe will be designed to sustain the effects of climate change, the project's builders said as they unveiled the architectural plans.

The top-security repository, carved into the permafrost of a mountain in the remote Svalbard archipelago near the North Pole, will preserve some three million batches of seeds from all known varieties of the planet's crops.

The hope is that the vault will make it possible to re-establish crops obliterated by major disasters.

The seed samples, such as wheat and potatoes, will be stored in two chambers located deep inside a mountain, accessed by a 120-meter (395-foot) tunnel. The tunnel and vaults will be excavated by boring and blasting techniques and the rock walls sprayed with concrete.

The seeds will be maintained at a temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 Fahrenheit).

The vault is situated about 130 meters (426 feet) above current sea level. It would not flood if Greenland's ice sheet melts, which some estimate would increase sea levels by seven meters (23 feet).

It is also expected to be safe if the ices of Antarctica completely melt, which experts say could increase sea levels by 61 meters (200 feet).

Are you relieved to know that if sea levels rise 200 feet, there'll still be someplace we can go to get seeds?

And what if the current period of global warming is followed by global cooling - as it has been for, you know - ever. Will we be able to get to the seeds under what might by then be an imposing sheet of ice?

Update: AFP covers this as well.

Taxes More Progressive Than Ever

Check out Say Anything:

As reported by Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, the richer half of the American population pays almost 97% of income taxes. And most of that — 54% — is paid by those in the top 5%. Those ranked in the top 1% — the richest of the rich — pay more than 34% of all personal income taxes collected by Uncle Sam.

What’s more, the Congressional Budget Office last month found that the after-tax income of those “superrich” actually declined after the Bush tax cuts — by 8.3% from 2000 to 2004.

Hand in hand with these trends, about 14 million Americans at lower incomes have been removed from the federal income tax rolls since 2000 because of the earned income tax credit and the per-child tax credit.

“John Edwards actually got it right,” Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge told IBD. “There are two Americas: a taxpaying America and a non-taxpaying America.” That means the recent increases in tax burden are actually understated for those still paying income taxes.

Will this be reason enough for Congress not to 'fix' the tax structure? Not likely.

How Giuliani Will Win

Time magazine examines the most over-examined question in politics today: how will Giuliani win conservative support. And they too, compare and contrast the approaches of Giuliani and Bush on abortion:

But Giuliani is starting to show how he plans to blunt those attacks--by disagreeing with himself, if only a little bit. He isn't abandoning his liberal social positions, the way his rival Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor, has, but he is undercutting them by talking up conservative nuances and qualifiers that weren't always on display when he was mayor of New York City. He's not interested in waging a culture war; in fact, he's paving over the battle lines in the hope that his leadership in another war--the war on terrorism--will carry him to the nomination.

In an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, for example, Giuliani said, "I hate ... abortion ... However, I believe in a woman's right to choose." He then went on to say he would nominate Supreme Court Justices "very similar to, if not exactly the same as," conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito--in other words, he would be the most antiabortion "pro-choice" President in history. As for Roe v. Wade, "That's up to the court to decide." It's a mirror image of George W. Bush's formulation in 2000, when the candidate tried to reassure moderates by signaling that he opposed Roe but wouldn't actually try to overturn it. This time the candidate supports the intent of Roe but would choose Justices likely to limit or overthrow it. Talk about disagreeing with yourself.

Time also brings up a meme about Giuliani - that his popularity in NY was in the dumps prior to 9/11:

So maybe G.O.P. primary voters are prepared to see beyond the litmus tests. They may also eventually get to see the cranky, autocratic side of Giuliani--the side that New Yorkers grew weary of in the days before 9/11. That would be the Giuliani who ran his own talented police commissioner and three schools chancellors out of town and refused to meet with any number of African-American leaders, even after New York City cops fired 41 shots at an innocent, unarmed African immigrant named Amadou Diallo.

Be sure to check Tom Bevan at RCP for the reality-check:

So how much truth is there to the claim that Giuliani was a bum on 9/10? Not much, though I guess that depends on what criteria you use - not to mention taking into account the ideological make up of the registered voters of both parties in New York City responding to surveys. A general answer is that before 9/11 Rudy was pretty darn well-respected, though not necessarily so well liked.

Six days before September 11, Quinnipiac recorded Rudy's job approval rating among 303 New York City likely Democratic primary voters at 42% approve and 49% disapprove.

Six weeks earlier, on July 25, 2001, Quinnipiac released a more detailed tab of Rudy's approval rating among a larger sample of 913 New York City registered voters:

Quinnipiac notes that Rudy's 50-40 job rating had been "unchanged for months." His favorable/unfavorable rating among all voters in the survey, however, was 39% favorable, 36% unfavorable, and 23% mixed opinion...

On one hand, discussion of what New York City voters thought about Giuliani prior to 9/11 is irrelevant in trying to speculate how folks in Iowa or New Hampshire will view him as a post 9/11 presidential candidate. On the other hand, despite ideological differences there is some universality to human nature, and history does often provide clues to the future.

Furthermore, in some ways this quick look back at Giuliani's past bolsters his over all case to both Republicans and to the country at large which is, in a nutshell: "you don't have to like me or even necessarily agree with me, but I'm a sonofabitch who gets things done." Then again, despite his status as a 9/11 icon Rudy's past does make you question, as a prominent Democratic strategist said to me the other day, whether Giuliani's tough, pugilistic, New Yorker attitude is going to wear well over a long campaign with caucus goers in a place like Iowa.

I think the 'tough, pugilistic' thing is overstated. While Giuliani may not remind anyone of Bill Clinton, I think voters are likely to respond to a plain-speaking baseball fan. In fact, primary voters may wind up pleasantly surprised.

Kerry to Spend Millions to Seem Like He's Trying to End War

According to Political Insider:

The word on Capitol Hill is that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) is embarking on a major national campaign to end the Iraq war and has pledged to spend a considerable amount of his campaign war chest on the effort. On Sunday morning, Kerry will appear on This Week with George Stephanopoulos to kick off the campaign which seeks to have all American troops home within a year.

So how much money does Kerry have?

According to CNN, Kerry has a total of $7.4 million saved in his 2004 presidential primary account and his Senate campaign account. He also has $5 million saved away in a special account reserved for legal and accounting costs related to his 2004 general election campaign. However, federal law "is not clear as to how much of this amount could be used for a future bid for federal office, or in what capacity the funds could be spent."

A question: what exactly does Kerry expect to do with this money, to end the war? Bush is President. He will be the President until January, 2009. Does Kerry really think it's possible to win a two-thirds majority in both Houses to cut off funds for troops in the field?

Even Kerry is not that stupid.

The only point to this is to make the fringe love him more - presumably to ensure their support when he runs for President in 2012. But marginalizing yourself politically is a strange way to get elected.

Tony Snow: Vulcan Wanna-Be

Howard Mortman lifts this neat excerpt from yesterday's White House press briefing:

Q Just going back to the Pelosi story for a moment, just to clarify, is there no message coordination between you guys and the RNC?

MR. SNOW: There is from time to time, yes. But in this particular case, we’ve got a clear view.

Q Would it be correct to put it –

MR. SNOW: Would –

Q No, would it be — it just seems that you’re at such odds on this. Would it be correct to say that –

MR. SNOW: Well, why don’t you — why don’t you call the RNC and ask what the view is.

Q Oh, absolutely.

MR. SNOW: Okay.

Q But as the President’s spokesman, are you unhappy about this, disappointed that it’s come out this way?

MR. SNOW: I emote constantly about it, but I won’t share that. That’s private.

And to think that some people talk about running Tony for office! Don't they realize that in the post-Clinton era, you need to share your feelings?

Japan Looking at Major Defense Upgrade

In the wake of the nuclear tests by North Korea, and the more general growing concern about instability in the region, a lot of attention has been focussed on the possibility of Japan developing nuclear weapons. While worthy of a tremendous amount of attention, there is an equally significant story getting none: the possibility that Japan may soon be the one and only US ally allowed to purchase and operate the world's most advanced fighter plane - the F-22:

There have been a couple stories in the media lately about the possible sale of F-22s to Japan. The story goes something like this: "China has started developing more advanced fighter jets in a bid to match the state-of-the-art F-22 U.S. combat aircraft, sparking a regional arms race . . . Taiwan plans to acquire 60 F-16 C/Ds from the United States [those plans are currently "frozen"] while Japan is prepared to buy a number of F-22s . . . "

The F-22 is hands-down the most advanced fighter in the world, despite a few early problems the Air Force is still working out. But the plane is so expensive, and the technology so sensitive, that exporting it was never seriously considered. However, if they were to be sold, Japan, with its massive defense budget, its close proximity to China, Russia, and North Korea, and its cozy relationship with the United States, is, in the opinion of Loren Thompson, "the only plausible recipient."

Thompson said the sale was still "pure speculation," but with the F-22 scheduled for it's first overseas deployment to Japan's Kadena Air Base in just a few days, the Japanese will have a chance to see the plane up-close for the first time. There are a number of reasons why the Japanese would be interested in purchasing the aircraft according to Thompson. Foremost among them, according to a Pentagon study Thompson had seen, it would cost the Chinese approximately $300 billion to build an air defense network capable of thwarting the stealthy, supersonic fighter. At that price, the F-22 would serve the Japanese as a very "significant deterrent." Furthermore, Thompson said that while only Russia, and to a far lesser extent China, are capable of fielding a fighter that would be competitive with the F-22, the threat from North Korea might lead to a number of scenarios where a stealthy, supersonic aircraft would be of great value to the Japanese.

Undoubtedly, China would not be thrilled if Japan suddenly had one of the world's best fighter fleets, and was able to operate over North Korea.

Read the whole article, over at the Weekly Standard. The photo is theirs. Strategy Page has also written on this a few times.

Brain Scan Can Determine Your Intentions

A joint study by British and German researchers has developed a brain scan that can predict, with 70% accuracy, how you will resolve a given question:

The research builds on a series of recent studies in which brain imaging has been used to identify tell-tale activity linked to lying, violent behaviour and racial prejudice.

The latest work reveals the dramatic pace at which neuroscience is progressing, prompting the researchers to call for an urgent debate into the ethical issues surrounding future uses for the technology. If brain-reading can be refined, it could quickly be adopted to assist interrogations of criminals and terrorists, and even usher in a "Minority Report" era (as portrayed in the Steven Spielberg science fiction film of that name), where judgments are handed down before the law is broken on the strength of an incriminating brain scan...

During the study, the researchers asked volunteers to decide whether to add or subtract two numbers they were later shown on a screen.

Before the numbers flashed up, they were given a brain scan using a technique called functional magnetic imaging resonance. The researchers then used a software that had been designed to spot subtle differences in brain activity to predict the person's intentions with 70% accuracy.

The study revealed signatures of activity in a marble-sized part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex that changed when a person intended to add the numbers or subtract them.

Because brains differ so much, the scientists need a good idea of what a person's brain activity looks like when they are thinking something to be able to spot it in a scan, but researchers are already devising ways of deducing what patterns are associated with different thoughts...

"A lot of neuroscientists in the field are very cautious and say we can't talk about reading individuals' minds, and right now that is very true, but we're moving ahead so rapidly, it's not going to be that long before we will be able to tell whether someone's making up a story, or whether someone intended to do a crime with a certain degree of certainty."

The technology could also drive advances in brain-controlled computers and machinery to boost the quality of life for disabled people. Being able to read thoughts as they arise in a person's mind could lead to computers that allow people to operate email and the internet using thought alone, and write with word processors that can predict which word or sentence you want to type . The technology is also expected to lead to improvements in thought-controlled wheelchairs and artificial limbs that respond when a person imagines moving.

"You can imagine how tedious it is if you want to write a letter by using a cursor to pick out letters on a screen," said Prof Haynes. "It would be much better if you thought, 'I want to reply to this email', or, 'I'm thinking this word', and the computer can read that and understand what you want to do."

One hopes that it is these latter applications - enabling those with limited communication skills to better reach out to the world - that get developed first. Let's wait a little while before we start preventing crimes.

WSJ Focuses on Earmarks

Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal reports on how Democrats are continuing to earmark federal dollars, in conflict with their promises. The piece points up the importance of the efforts by Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, and other Senate Republicans to convince the Bush administration to cease cooperating with the Appropriations Committees on this effort:

That put the new House appropriations chief, Wisconsin's David Obey--a spender for our time--in the distasteful position of having to live up to his party's election promises to fix the earmark boondoggle. He begrudgingly promised a "moratorium." And last week, when Mr. Obey celebrated the passage of his $464 billion 2007 spending bill, he bragged that Democrats had fulfilled their promise and "stripped all earmarks from the measure."

"This decision doesn't come without pain," intoned Mr. Obey. "Many worthwhile earmarks are not funded in this measure, but we had to take this step to clear the decks, clean up the process and start over."

The key language here is "not funded in this measure," and it explains why Mr. Obey is still smiling through his pain. Congressional members, led by appropriators and an army of staff, have already figured out a new way to keep their favors in the money, and it might as well be called 1-800-EARMARKS (which unfortunately is already taken). All across Washington, members are at this moment phoning budget officers at federal agencies--Interior, Defense, HUD, you name it--privately demanding that earmarks in previous legislation be fully renewed again this year. There might not be a single official earmark in the 2007 spending bill, but thousands are in the works all the same.

And getting far less scrutiny than before--if that's even possible. Under this new regime, members don't even have to go to the trouble of slipping an earmark into a committee report, where it might later (once the voting is over) come in for criticism. All the profligates need now to keep the money flowing is a quiet office and a cellphone. ..

The administration has taken some steps to follow up on its earmark demands. In January, Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman sent a memo to every department and agency announcing new earmark requirements. From now on, the government will be required to identify and catalog earmarks in most spending bills, including earmarks hidden in committee reports. The memo also provided agencies with a tight definition of just what counts as an earmark, to make it harder for Congress to disguise its pork under another name.

That's useful for upcoming spending debates, but it doesn't shut down the current dial-a-thon. In last week's Energy Department memo, Mr. Kupfer noted that Mr. Obey's 2007 spending bill does not include earmarks, and that the agency is also not legally bound to honor prior projects. He directs the staff to carefully review any requests to renew earmarks and then decrees that "only those with meritorious proposals or programs that effectively support and advance the Department's missions and objectives . . . should receive FY 2007 funding." This is probably easier said than done, but it's a start. No word yet if other agencies are following suit.

As I noted yesterday, if the administration refuses to cooperate on earmarking, it will set off a war with the Appropriations Committees.

Longtime readers will recall that I first talked about this style of earmarking many months ago.

Is Rosie O'Donnell the Center of the Universe?

On the day that she says she's sick of seeing Anna Nicole Smith on television, Anna Nicole Smith dies. Donald Trump better watch out.

And if you listen to the clip long enough, you'll also hear Joy Behar say that Republicans are not responsible for all the ill in the world.

Dems Push to Limit Foreign Investment

The other day I criticized the efforts of Duncan Hunter and others to unnecessarily limit foreign investment in the US. This is one case where his approach would be worse than that of Congressional Democrats:

House Democrats are moving quickly to approve legislation in response to last year’s controversy surrounding a United Arab Emirates-based company’s attempted takeover of several U.S. shipping ports, but may be headed for a clash with a Republican presidential candidate and Senate Democrats.

Leaders of key House and Senate committees are expected to forge ahead with rival bills similar to those approved last year when both chambers were under Republican control.

Congress was unable then to reconcile differences over how to update rules governing the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), an interagency panel led by the Treasury Department that reviews foreign investment deals for national-security threats. CFIUS approved Dubai Ports World’s acquisition of a British company that operated several U.S. ports, sparking vibrant debate one year ago this month.

Privately, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has told supporters of the House bill that his goal would be to move legislation to the House floor immediately following the President’s Day recess, according to business sources. This would allow House Democrats to say they had moved legislation responding to the Dubai Ports deal early in their majority tenure.

Frank currently is working on a manager’s amendment to bipartisan legislation approved unanimously by the House in 2006 and reintroduced in January by Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), two business sources said.

On the floor, the bill is expected to be considered under an open rule that would allow amendments, and Frank has indicated some misgivings regarding amendments from the Republican side. For example, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a presidential candidate and vocal critic of the Dubai deal, voted for last year’s House bill under some pressure from leadership. He might be more inclined to offer amendments while pursuing a presidential bid, particularly with Democrats running the House, one lobbyist said...

In the Senate, Democratic presidential candidate and Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) told The Hill he intends to move a bill quickly. He also suggested it would look similar to the legislation approved by the Senate in 2006 that was opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, Organization for International Investment and other groups representing U.S. multinationals.

Dodd, whose presidential campaign is seen by business as a potentially complicating factor in the debate, said his committee would consider modifying last year’s bill, but said it may make more sense to consider changes during a conference with the House...

There should be a review process to ensure that foreign investments and acquisitions do not compromise national security. But if Congress goes overboard, those job-creating investments will go elsewhere. For example, once China's CNOOC failed in its attempt to purchase Unocal, it purchased Nigeria's Apko oil field, and has looked to acquire petroleum interests in Equatorial Guinea and Kenya, as well as other African nations. I suspect that US security concerns would be better addressed by having Cnooc invest in US assets, rather than in regions where we have limited access and influence.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hooray for Private Sector Spaceflight

Bigelow Aerospace provides a video of earth rotating, as seen from the satellite Genesis I. Other videos are online here. Unfamiliar with Genesis I? Learn more here:

Genesis I

Launched on July 12, 2006, from the ISC Kosmotras Space and Missile Complex in the Orenburg region of Russia, Genesis I ushered in a new era of private space vehicles. The spacecraft was designed to enter space and expand to increase its volume. A one-third scale model of the eventual modules, Genesis I contained various items, photos, and a NASA experiment. Shortly after launch, Genesis I expanded successfully and sent back extensive data and images to the North Las Vegas, Nevada, Mission Control Center.

And if you want to see Genesis when it passes overhead - or if you want to see the International Space Station, or the Hubble Space Telescope, be sure to check out Heavens Above. It will tell you when one of those passes over your latitude and longitude, and where to look for it.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Harry Mitchell is a Freshman Democrat Representative from Arizona. Apparently while everyone else noticed that his fellow Freshman Steve Kagen had cut-and-pasted the webpage of Republican Jeff Fortenberry, Mitchell's staff did not. As a result, they failed to clean up the cut and paste job they had done with Fortenberry's site. And so Mitchell's site still bears Fortenberry's name today.

I've included a screen capture, since I know they'll figure this out before long. Note the entries under 'Flag Requests,' and 'Internship Opportunities.'

Hard to find good help these days!

Budget Surplus Much Earlier than Expected?

RCP's Brian Wesbury (Chief Economist for Chicago's First Trust Advisors) projects a budget surplus in fiscal year 2009:

When January budget data comes out this week, our models predict that tax revenues continued to surge and the federal budget will show a surplus of more than $40 billion.

This would pull the budget deficit on a 12-month moving average basis below $200 billion for the first time since September 2002 - a massive reduction from the peak deficit of $455 billion in the 12-months ending April 2004.

Tax revenues were $2.479 trillion in the 12 months ending in January 2007, a $255 billion increase from the 12 months ending in January 2006. Tax revenues have surged for almost three consecutive years now, ever since the tax cuts of 2003 stimulated a strong economic recovery.

But putting points on the scoreboard is not a guarantee of victory. The defense has to play well too. And for the budget this means spending restraint. Federal spending was $2.667 trillion in the 12 months ending January 2007, a $134 billion increase from the 12 months ending in January 2006.

On a 12-month versus 12-month basis, federal revenues increased 11.5%, while federal spending increased just 5.3%. This is great news. As long as spending growth remains in check, the budget deficit will continue to decline.

In fact, our models expect average tax revenue growth of 9% over the next three years and spending growth of between 4% and 5%. This will generate a well below consensus deficit in FY07 of just $115 billion. Next year in FY08, we forecast a deficit of only $35 billion. On a 12-month basis, we suspect that the budget will move into balance early in FY2009, well before the Office of Management and Budget or the Congressional Budget Office expect.

All of this is fabulous news for the markets. With gridlock holding spending back and the economy continuing to generate spectacular revenue growth, earlier than expected budget surpluses will significantly reduce the odds of tax hikes.

If the economy really is this strong, it will create an interesting political dynamic. First off, it will save the bacon of Congressional Democrats, who have promised to 'solve' the problem of the alternative minimum tax, increase spending on domestic priorities, address defense 'readiness' issues, bring war spending back 'on budget,' and balance the budget before long.

Since Democratic control of Congress gives the press an incentive to talk about good economic news again, it might set up a mirror-image of the political climate from say, 1996-2000. At that time, voters didn't want to tamper with a formula in Washington that was leading to good economic times. A Republican Congress was re-elected several times, and Clinton had broad support. Gore was nearly elected to succeed him.

If 2008 sees stories about the improved economic climate and reduced deficit - with credit implicitly or explicitly to divided government - the Democratic Congress and the GOP's Presidential candidate might well be the beneficiaries. In 2000, voters gave majority votes to Al Gore, a Republican House, and a Republican Senate. In 2008, they might be inclined to vote for a Republican President, Democratic House, and Democratic Senate.

Catholic Church Warming to Evolution

So it is reported at the Corner. Comment, Philo?

DeMint & Coburn: WH Picks a Fight on Earmarks

Roll Call reports that Jim DeMint & Tom Coburn have been pressing the White House to continue the fight against Congressional earmarks. And if OMB Chief Rob Portman can be taken at his word, the White House is picking a huge fight with Congress:

Senate Republican budget hawks are urging President Bush to use an executive order or presidential signing statement to block some of their fellow lawmakers from adding earmarks or pet projects to the fiscal 2007 continuing resolution...

In a Feb. 7 letter to Bush, the group of fiscal conservatives led by GOP Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) urged Bush to make good on his State of the Union pledge to oppose earmarks.

Noting that Bush “articulated a forceful policy to reform non-legislative earmarks” in future appropriations bills, the letter calls on the “administration [to] take an equally strong stance with regard to [the CR], to clarify that agencies of your administration will not be bound or give any preference to earmarks contained in committee reports or in direct communications from Members of Congress or their staff.”

The group has asked Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman in private meetings to urge Bush to use either an executive order or signing statement to explicitly prohibit agency officials from using funds in the CR to pay for these projects and programs unless they are in the national interest, an aide to one of the lawmakers said...

DeMint told reporters Wednesday that he and other conservatives have become increasingly concerned with the likelihood that Members will use their influence with federal agencies to “back-fund” earmarks included either in committee reports last year or multiyear earmarks that were included in the fiscal 2005 or fiscal 2006 spending bills.

DeMint said discussions with Portman and other administration officials led the group to “feel confident they will not honor nonauthorized earmarks.” But the conservative lawmakers also are asking for direct involvement from the White House to make clear that the administration’s policy is to oppose earmarks in general, he said...

An aide to Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) dismissed the bid, noting Byrd and House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) wrote the CR to eliminate earmarks and that they expected no funds to be used for them. “Sen. Byrd and Congressman Obey made it clear ... that there are to be no earmarks in this legislation,” the aide said, adding that there is “no expectation that earmarks from previous years will continue” under the bill...

Many have made the point that earmarks in committee reports do not have the force of law, therefore the administration is not legally bound to observe them. That is correct. The unwritten corollary however, is that they are bound by 'gentleman's agreement.' Congress and the White House have treated them as if they were law, and if the White House is audacious enough to end that policy, it will not go down well.

If you thought Congress got into a snit when the Justice Department raided Bill Jefferson's office, wait until you see the reaction when they pick on something important!

If the OMB really intends to stop cooperating with Congress on earmarks, I'll be impressed.

Limbaugh: Grossman Targeted Because He's White

I'm not sure I get this. Grossman had a bad Super Bowl - after having had a bad series of games prior. Clearly, he had some good games this season. But he did lead all NFL quarterbacks in poor games as well. Rush Limbaugh however, thinks it's racial:

LIMBAUGH: And before we go to the break here, folks, I've got to get something off my chest. You know, the game was the game. And the game was what it was. But I - I can't handle anymore press criticism of Rex Grossman. They're writing his name W-R-E-C-K-S. They're just -- worst quarterback ever to play in the Super Bowl. And it's been like this since the Green Bay game -- actually since the Arizona game, a little crescendo of it in the Green Bay game, the last game of the season for the Bears. And it's just unrelenting! It's just -- they're focusing on this guy like they don't focus on anybody! And I tell you, I know what it is. The media, the sports media, has got social concerns that they are first and foremost interested in, and they're dumping on this guy -- Rex Grossman -- for one reason, folks, and that's because he is a white quarterback...

LIMBAUGH: It's, yeah, they're just all over this guy. They can't wait for this guy to fail. They are hoping he fails.

CALLER: Yes, they're terrible.

LIMBAUGH: They're talking about before the game, they're talking about him as the worst quarterback ever to play in the Super Bowl and they're asking [Bears head coach] Lovie Smith all during the week, "When are you going to bench the guy, Lovie? At what point in the game?" And that's the only time Lovie Smith apparently lost his cool a little bit during the week with, with media sessions. You know what this is: The media - you, you know the social things. I don't need to go into this.

CALLER: Well --

LIMBAUGH: They, they just want this guy not to do well 'cause he's a white quarterback.

CALLER: Even during the game last night. Before, before they went on the air they were all saying who they were going to pick and why and everything and when the, you know, the - they made their first runback with the score - then they started turning the tables on everything. It's like, "Now, wait a minute. I heard what you said before the game started." You know? Now they're changing tunes because --

LIMBAUGH: Well, because they're -- no -- they were all acting surprised. Everybody was acting, "Whoa. Grossman can actually complete a pass. Why nobody thought this would happen. Let's stop everything and give him the MVP now. He actually completed a pass." But he came through for them in the end. All those fumbles. The wounded-duck interceptions. He gave them the copy they wanted to write today all last week.

CALLER: Well --

LIMBAUGH: They were hoping to write that Grossman was an embarrassment and that Lovie Smith needs to seriously bring in somebody to compete with him next training camp. I can, look it, I feel for the guy. He's, apparently, bores, bears up under it rather well or has borne up under it rather well or so his teammates say and so forth. But the guy's been targeted for destruction.

I think Limbaugh's off-base here. Grossman had an up-and-down season, which is not all that unusual for a young, first-year starter. But the nature of sports radio, sports television, and internet sports is to over-analyze, overstate, over-hype, and over-criticize. If Grossman is being 'targeted for destruction,' it's because his poor play in the most important games of the season put him right in the crosshairs.

Audio is here.

John Kerry: Spammer

I'd rather get mail from a Nigerian banker who's figured out how to claim millions from the account of some poor soul who died without heir.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

O, Brave New World...

Sharp Electronics has developed 'Two-Way Television,' that displays one program for viewers on the left end of the sofa, one for viewers on the right. No more fighting for the remote:

When people make foolish arguments that this generation doesn't live as well as their parents, remember: our parents were stuck watching one program at a time. They'd have given their eyeteeth to see Leave it to Beaver AND Father Knows Best simultaneously.

Prayers for Congressman Charlie Norwood

His condition does not sound good:

Republican Rep. Charlie Norwood of Georgia will forgo surgery for metastatic lung cancer and will enter hospice care in his hometown of Augusta, according to a statement released Wednesday afternoon by Norwood’s congressional office.

The statement said that Norwood “has declined further treatment at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and will return to his Augusta home,” where he will receive 24-hour nursing care.

Norwood was diagnosed with a form of the disease known as non-small cell lung cancer shortly after his easy victory for a seventh House term last November in Georgia’s 10th District. Subsequent examinations showed the cancer has spread to other parts of his body.

After undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Inova Fairfax and Inova Mount Vernon hospitals in the Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital, the 65-year-old Norwood was transferred last week to the Georgetown hospital in Washington. He was evaluated there for “Cyberknife” laser surgery as a possible means of treating a tumor located in his liver.

He and his family have been fighting his health problems for some time now, with the relatively recent diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer only the latest blow. As he goes to be close to home, our prayers are with the Congressman and his family. He has provided devoted service to his constituents since his election.

Romney Defines His Economic Views

In a speech at the Detroit Economic Club. Here are the highlights:

MAKING THE 2001 AND 2003 TAX CUTS PERMANENT: "Which course is better for America? A European model of high taxes and regulations? Or, low taxes and free trade - the Ronald Reagan model? That's the choice the next President will make. Some are already fighting to implement a massive tax increase. Instead, we should make the tax cuts permanent."

REFORMING THE TAX CODE: "However, making the tax cuts permanent is only the first step. We also need reform of the tax code that moves towards a tax system that encourages growth, fairness, and simplicity."

TAX FREE SAVINGS: Governor Romney Proposes Allowing People To Save Tax Free. "It is time to make saving easy in America. I believe people should be allowed to earn interest, dividends and capital gains up to a certain amount a year, tax free and without restrictions on how or when their savings and investments are spent. As an example, let's say we chose $5,000 for joint filers as the annual tax free figure for dividends, interest and capital gains. This would help middle class families to be able to save and to invest - and spend their savings the American way: any way they want."

FISCAL DISCIPLINE: Unless Given The Line-Item Veto, Governor Romney Would Veto Any Appropriations Bills If They Exceed Spending Targets. "I have a fairly simple idea for keeping spending in check. Give Congress a spending target and then insist that it is met. If Congress does not meet the spending targets, then its appropriations bills should be vetoed. I regularly exercised my veto power while governor. The alternative is for the Congress to vest the President with a power held in some form by 43 governors, including this Governor - the line-item veto."

REGULATORY RELIEF: Governor Romney Would Reinstitute A Regulatory Relief Board To Cut Back Regulations That Choke Off Growth. "Our regulatory burden is also overbearing. I'd re-institute a regulatory relief board to cut back the regulation weeds that choke off growth. One that deserves pruning is Sarbanes Oxley - it's driving away IPO's, depressing jobs, and requiring billions of unnecessary cost. Executives who violate the law should go to jail, but the entire economy shouldn't have pay an inordinate price for the sins of the few bad actors."

NATIONAL TORT REFORM: Governor Romney Believes America Needs National Tort Reform, Not Reform State-By-State. "Another burden on our economic future is our out-of-control tort system. Last year, U.S. corporations spent more money on tort claims than they did on R&D. If innovation is the key to our long term leadership, then some tort lawyers are cashing out our country's future. I spoke with one member of the plaintiff's bar the other day. He said that the tort lawyers are ok with state reform, but not national reform. You know what state level tort reform means - it means that as long as there is one lawsuit-friendly state, they can sue almost any major, deep-pocketed company in America. No thanks, America needs national tort reform."

FUEL EFFICIENCY: Governor Romney Would Evaluate Reforms To CAFE Standards To Develop A Better Way To Get Higher Fleet Mileage Without Market Distortions. "What does this mean for Detroit? Well, it means that the automotive fleet will have to become more fuel efficient. CAFE improved mileage initially, but the consumer has gotten around it over the last couple of decades. CAFE has some real problems. It distorts the market. It penalizes the domestic automakers. It can ignore technical realities. So before I would change the CAFE standards, I want to sit down with every major knowledgeable party and evaluate each of the alternatives. A good number have been proposed; let's decide which is the best course by looking at the data and analysis, rather than by playing to the TV cameras Let's not forget that a far more fuel efficient fleet must be part of our energy future. The issue is which is the least distorting way to achieve it."

This is a strong economic plan, designed to maximize appeal to fiscal conservatives. Let's leave aside for the moment that a lot of this has been proposed before, but has been blocked by Democrats. It still contains many good ideas.

Pat Toomey of Club for Growth had this to say:

The Club’s President, Pat Toomey, highlighted Governor Romney’s call for permanent tax cuts, tax reform, spending discipline, regulatory relief starting with the reform of Sarbanes-Oxley, and tort reform as “solidly pro-growth.”

“Governor Romney outlined today an economic platform that is, generally speaking, very pro-growth despite the surprising limit he suggests for tax-free savings,” Toomey said. “As the governor develops the specifics of his economic policies, we hope he will boldly build upon the limited government, free-market policies he discussed today.”

“The other presidential candidates should follow Governor Romney’s lead and propose similar, if not more extensive, measures to protect American taxpayers and promote continued economic expansion.”

The last point brings to mind a potential benefit of starting the campaign earlier than ever: it gives the candidates months and months to compete on who can deliver a better economic plan. If Giuliani and McCain have to come up with plans that are as good or better than this, then we all benefit.

Other Presidential Candidates: Duncan Hunter

With conservatives feeling disappointed at the lack of 'good choices' for President this year, attention has turned from the perceived Big 3 on the Republican side to other possibilities. One name that has come up is Duncan Hunter. Today for example, Captain Ed described him thus:

That's why we see people supporting Duncan Hunter as an alternative to Rudy: respected, sincere, intelligent, and reliably conservative on the issues most dear to the conservative causes. And Hunter is running, although without the star power and the fundraising capabilities of Giuliani. We haven't elected a president directly out of the House in long memory, and usually those campaigns are little more than vanity tours (Bob Dornan comes to mind here). However, Hunter is much more thoughtful and credible than most, and if he could find a way to break into the top tier, he probably would garner the base support that would undo the triumvirate of Rudy, Romney, and McCain. Mike Huckabee might be another such candidate.

Hunter is an admirable guy, who has been a conservative stalwart in the House, but he has a comparable problem to Giuliani. He attracts the support of several parts of the conservative base, but probably can't unify it. In the case of Hunter, his fatal weakness will be his inability to win the support of open-market supporters - from the Wall Street Journal to the Club for Growth.

While Hunter has generally favored low taxes and balanced budgets, he's consistently opposed free trade and supported managed trade. On foreign policy, he's a lot closer to Lou Dobbs than to George Bush. He voted against NAFTA, CAFTA, and membership in the World Trade Organization. He cosponsored legislation disapproving the proposed purchase of Unocal by CNOOC. He was a leader in the move to block Dubai Ports World from becoming the manager of a number of US ports, and he was a lead backer of legislation to make it harder for foreign companies to invest in the US. The Wall Street Journal criticized him on this effort, in an editorial entitled 'The New Protectionists.'

Most recently, Hunter has pushed for the US to find China guilty of currency manipulation, and slap tariffs on imported Chinese goods. In fact, his first Presidential campaign ad focuses on China's 'cheating' on trade:

Hunter sounds good, but his economic nationalism ignores the fact that no nation benefits more from free and open trade than the United States. With regard to China specifically, American consumers benefit from having the option to purchase Chinese goods. The Cato Institute has been highly critical of Hunter's approach to China trade.

Check out the Club for Growth's unflattering assessment of Hunter's voting record as well:

Since Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is apparently going to explore the possibility of running for president in 2008, I thought I'd dig up some of his roll call votes. Like most Republicans, he's strong on tax cuts, but he's been part of the big government spending spree of the last 6 years. He also has a protectionist streak in him. Here are some of the more troubling votes:

YES on No Child Left Behind

YES on Sarbanes-Oxley

YES on the 2003 Medicare Drug Benefit


YES on 2005 Highway Bill

YES on the 527 bill (like most Republicans, he flip-flopped, having first voted NO on McCain-Feingold)

Hunter also went 0 for 19 on the Flake anti-pork amendments.

Despite being a member of the Republican Study Committee, Hunter frequently votes NO on their fiscally conservative annual budgets (2006, 2005, 2003...)

We gave him a 49% on the 2005 Club for Growth scorecard. That places him 187th within the House GOP conference, out of roughly 230 members.

National Taxpayers Union shows a more telling trend. He was strong in the early 1990s, getting "B's" and one "A", but as time went by, like most politicians, his score dropped. For the past few years, he's been getting "C's".

If Hunter gets some traction and cracks the top tier of contenders, his dubious record on open markets will get more unwelcome attention. And since he can't unify the conservatives any more than Giuliani can, there's no way he can make it to 'contender' status.

Cool Pic of the Day

AP says:

Drivers along U.S. 19 near Rivesville, W.Va. get a colorful ice display thanks to Rich DeMary, 43, who mixed food coloring into gallon jugs of water, then poured them over icicles hanging off the rocks, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007. DeMary, who lives in the small Marion County town, says he's been doing this for about eight years, just to brighten the day of passers-by. He created this display last week.

On Philo's Side

Yesterday Philo and I exchanged perspectives about Giuliani's views on abortion. Viewing the glass as a half-full (or perhaps merely identifying myself as one of those conservatives who want to like Giuliani), I noted that given the limited victories of the pro-life movement in recent years, Giuliani could turn out to be no worse than Reagan or either of the Bushes on pro-life issues.

In Philo's defense however, let me point to a few things. First is this quote from Giuliani from Hannity & Colmes, during the debate over the confirmation of John Roberts:

COLMES: Now, Roe vs. Wade -- You are pro-choice. How important is it to you as a pro-choice Republican to have a pro-choice on the court as someone...

GIULIANI: That is not the critical factor. And what's important to me is to have a very intelligent, very honest, very good lawyer on the court. And he fits that category, in the same way Justice Ginsburg fit that category.

I mean, she was — she maybe came at it from a very different political background, very qualified lawyer, very smart person. Lots of Republicans supported her. I expect, and listening to Senator Nelson, I expect that John Roberts will get support from a lot of Democrats.

Some have asserted that the quote raises questions about whether Giuliani might nominate someone like Ginsburg. I don't read that here; it seems Giuliani is merely applying the same criteria as an overwhelming majority of Republican Senators who voted to confirm Ginsburg. However, the criticism is there. The Giuliani camp asserts that this attack is unfair, and that Giuliani is a supporter of the 'Ginsburg standard.'

And readers may also be interested in the reaction of some prominent social conservatives to his entry into the race. That reaction isn't universal of course; I noted a little while ago that Ralph Reed seems warm to Mr. Giuliani.

I suspect that this will be an ongoing conversation for many months.

Tommy Thompson Finally Gets Some Love

Political Insider notes the appeal of the candidate I have said could play a more prominent role before this is over: Tommy Thompson:

Former Governor Tommy Thompson (R-WI). I know, he has no money, no name ID, and is not a national figure. But let me remind you of what sets him apart:

1) Executive experience - He was Governor for 14 years -- that's winning four separate elections) and Wisconsin is a swing state and borders two other swing states, Iowa and Michigan.

2) Health care expert - At Secretary of HHS for the first George W. Bush term, he has been at the forefront of a wide range of medical issues, including pandemic flu preparedness, medical diplomacy, digitalization of medical records, including Verichips, and the prescription drug benefit. As Governor he started Badgercare in Wisconsin, which became a model for other states, to help people without employer-offered health insurance who made too much money to qualify for Medicare. Health Care is always an issue which the Democrats dominate, but in this case Thompson could neutralize them.

3) Personal story - He was born to humble roots in Elroy, Wisconsin, and is the perfect example of local boy makes good. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Wisconsin and was a state representative, along with being a lawyer. He tells a great story about his wife surviving breast cancer and becoming a strong advocate on women's health issues. His daughter had breast cancer also, at a young age, and the drugs made her unable to bear children. So she had an egg frozen and his grandbaby was born healthy, beating the odds.

4) Commitment to Iowa - Thompson has said he will spend at least one day a week the rest of the year in Iowa. He isn't in limited within his schedule by being in public office currently, so he can campaign full-time. He has hired Steve Grubbs (former IA GOP Chair) and Brian Dumas (Iowa campaign veteran) to set up his field operation.

6) True conservative - He is a fiscal and social conservative and was on the short list for Vice President for Bob Dole in 1996.

I can see Thompson overtaking Huckabee and Brownback for many of these reasons, but fundraising will be his biggest issue. He will have to do well in the debates, gain momentum, and get lucky. But if he finishes second or third in Iowa, he could get "Big Mo" and then you're on your way.

I simply do not understand why Republican voters are not talking about Thompson more. He is worth a look.

If Republican voters are looking for a 'real conservative' as an alternative to Giuliani, McCain and Romney, then Thompson is the man to look at. Apart from the fact that he is one of the few true 'Reaganites' in the race, he's had unmatched political success in a major swing state at the heart of a swing region.

If Giuliani is the nominee, I suspect he will have to nominate a soutern conservative. But if the nominee is McCain or Romney, Thompson might be an extremely attractive choice for VP.

Cool 'Weapon' of the Day

The ESG Flying Wing, or Gryphon. TMQ summarizes:

Actual Rocket Man In Planning Stages: A German engineering firm called ESG has designed this powered flying wing for paratroopers. In theory a special forces paratrooper using the wing, which has tiny jet motors, could jump from a carrier aircraft and sail more than 100 miles with a combination of gliding and powered flight; smallness and shape make the flying wing invisible to radar. Of course, after a dramatic 100-mile flight abroad the stealth wing, the special forces soldier would arrive at the target – with a pistol and a signal flare, which is about all the device can carry. Don't you just sense generals are right now looking at this picture and saying, "I so don't know what this is for, but I want it."

The Unsinkable Hillary Clinton

Jim Geraghty takes apart the 'Hillary is unbeatable' claim:

I may be completely wrong. I don't doubt that Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and that Democrats start this cycle with an advantage. I don't doubt that come Election Day 2008, the country will be ready for a new direction, and they will be very tempted to see the Democratic nominee as the better choice for a new direction.

But I'm going to echo the thoughts of a smart Republican strategist-type who said not long ago that the country would have to be "dragged kicking and screaming into a Hillary Clinton presidency." The country has seen furious partisan passions raging since... impeachment? The 1992 campaign? I mean, think about it - the tooth-and-claw 2000 campaign, the Florida recount, the Jeffords switch, 9/11, the neck-and-neck 2002 campaign, the Florida recount, the long and angry 2004 campaign, and then last year's long, angry, mudslinging, expensive, noisy midterm elections. A Hillary Clinton presidency means, in all likelihood, that the Republican base will be as angry and loud and outraged as the Democratic base has been these past six years and change. Another four to eight years for this exhausting, disillusioning scream-a-thon.

Americans are tired of it. Politics are not supposed to take up so much of our attention and energy. Our political leaders are supposed to be competent and a little bit boring. Thus the boomlets of enthusiasm for Obama, and to a lesser extent, McCain and Giuliani - they all come across as guys you can respect, even if you don't always agree with them.

A President Hillary comes with a significant amount of baggage - not least of which is named Bill - and I think that when the campaign begins in earnest, a lot of voters are going to look at her and ask, "Am I ready for another four years of this?"

In speculating on the potential entry of Al Gore into the race, I noted that such an event might make the challenge easier for Obama or Edwards. It would allow them to more explicitly make the argument that it was unwise for Democrats to promise a return to the Clinton years. Hillary will inherit as much of her husband's baggage as she does his assets - perhaps more.

Scopes Trial Goes Multinational

Kenya is now home to a fight between evangelical Christians and scientists. This concerns whether it's appropriate to display fossilized human remains without a disclaimer that evolution is only a theory:

Deep in the dusty, unlit corridors of Kenya's national museum, locked away in a plain-looking cabinet, is one of mankind's oldest relics: Turkana Boy, as he is known, the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human ever found.

But his first public display later this year is at the heart of a growing storm -- one pitting scientists against Kenya's powerful and popular evangelical Christian movement. The debate over evolution vs. creationism -- once largely confined to the United States -- has arrived in a country known as the cradle of mankind.

"I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it," says Bishop Boniface Adoyo, head of Kenya's 35 evangelical denominations, which he claims have 10 million followers. "These sorts of silly views are killing our faith."

He's calling on his flock to boycott the exhibition and has demanded the museum relegate the fossil collection to a back room -- along with some kind of notice saying evolution is not a fact but merely one of a number of theories.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Giuliani's Greatest Trick

Amidst the kerfuffle about Giuliani's entry into the race, and his views on social issues, there is one thing missing.

I noted some time ago that Giuliani's appearance in drag would prove fodder for campaign commercials. One thing that also should is his appearance with then-Senator Al D'Amato, dressed as Hells Angels, fresh from a drug buy in Washington Heights in 1986. Anyone who remembers the photo will smile at the mention.

Do a 'Google' search for the photo on the web, and it's impossible to find. Anyone know where it is? I fear that Giuliani has demonstrated his immense reach by wiping out this fantastic photo.

Giuliani Cont'd.

I think the difference, if any, between Scalia on the one hand and Roberts and Alito on the other will become clearer in just a few weeks once the Supreme Court rules on Gonzales v Carhart.

I confess I am not optimistic in re Gonzales v Carhart: at best I expect a sui generis ruling which will somehow hold that the finding within the law in question--that partial-birth abortion is not medically necessary--will serve as the bypass around the "health of the mother on the broadest conceivable terms" consideration required by Doe v Bolton.

This, however, would in fact serve to concentrate power in the federal judiciary, as the O'Connor doctrine of "I-know-it-when-I-see-it" on unjust racial preferences has, by requiring every state law on the matter to survive the arbitrary and capricious sensibilities, divorced from any predictable or concrete principle, of the 9 current members of the Supreme Court. This judgment-by-whim is the exact opposite of jurisprudence and makes a mockery of our claim to be a state governed by laws and not men.

Leaving the particulars of Gonzales v Carhart, the entire collapse of sexual and family jurisprudence of the last 40 years has created a huge vacuum in the social order of the country which various politicians have attempted and are attempting to fill by sheer force of personality and emotional posturing rather than rational moral analysis. If abortion must be safe and legal, why is it necessary that it be rare? It is true that Giuliani's positions on the legal standing of various sexual questions reflect the incoherence of the American public at large on these issues quite well, and are therefore no threat by themselves to his political prospects.

However, to run in the Republican primary Giuliani will have to reach an accomodation with those who support the traditional (i.e., pre-1960's) understanding of the nature and importance of family law within the constitutions of the various states. Giuliani seems to want to do this mostly by refusing to consider the underlying questions, except in a few cases (such as domestic partnerships) where he is in fact willing to use the power of the government to push the nontraditional understanding. This will remain a persistent vulnerability throughout the primaries, but not perhaps a fatal one, given his other strengths. Merely acknowledging that he can win is different from agreeing that his position is correct, coherent or politically viable over the long term on this issue, though.

More generally, I don't take comfort from the proposition that, since the traditionalist wing of the party has received mere lip service on most aspects of the abortion issue , that wing of the party should therefore embrace a candidate who won't even offer lip service. The bottom line is that there is nothing Giuliani has proposed to do to advance the concerns of those within the party concerned about these issues.

Maybe this is all a clever ploy by a cunning crypto-Catholic seeking to subvert the Sexual Revolution from within, but those of us outside the purported conspiracy have yet to see any spark of activity from his camp in support of those concerns.

As the Editor says, Giuliani has not disqualified himself to the Republican primary voters who care about these issues, but given the publicity surrounding this announcement in a completely friendly venue, Giuliani's incoherence spoke volumes.

Giuliani & Abortion

Philo -

First off, while you are right that Sean Hannity injected the name 'Scalia' into the discussion during the interview last night, it is one that Giuliani has mentioned before as his idea of a good justice. For example, he told the South Carolina GOP the other day that he thought Scalia was the right pick for Chief Justice. And while I cannot find a specific cite, it is reported that he has said before that as President, he would pick justices in the 'Scalia mold.'

With regard to abortion more broadly, my comments were essentially on Giuliani's explanation of his views and how they are likely to be received politically. I think that all things being equal, he can probably win the nomination and Presidency while espousing the view that regulation of abortion is a state matter, but that he may support some federal restrictions (eg, partial-birth abortion). There's a logical inconsistency there of course, but politics and the crafting of public policy is rife with such inconsistencies.

Now to the substance of the question.

Leaving all other questions aside for a moment, I want a President who will help enact policies that dramatically reduce abortions. Experience shows that electing Presidents who identify themselves as pro-lifers has accomplished little in this regard. Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43 were all elected as pro-lifers. Yet the only tangible result has been a Supreme Court more willing to contemplate restrictions - an important victory, but a relatively small one. With this track record, a President Giuliani would need do little more than nominate strict constructionist judges to do as well as (or better than) Reagan and his successors. Indeed, considering that Souter, Kennedy, and O'Connor are among the nominees of those Presidents, you could argue that the bar for justices is pretty low.

Is Giuliani likely to clear this hurdle? Well, one day after he declared, the jury is (unsurprisingly) still out. I think it very likely that his statement on the Partial Birth Abortion ban is a misspeak; that he expects the ban to be upheld, and thinks it ought to be. With regard to an exception for the life of the mother, I see no reason to think he meant other than what he said. Clearly, such an exception could be crafted too broadly for my taste, but he did not state support for an exception for the health of the mother. If he had, I would regard it as a 'red flag.'

And as far as his unwillingness to say that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, I wish that he had stated such a view. However, there could be several reasons for that. It might be because he thinks it correctly decided (unlikely), or because he thinks it was wrongly decided but supports the abortion-on-demand regime as it exists (I hope not). It could also be because he regards such an unequivocal statement as politically unwise - not an uncommon view.

Is this initial statement sloppy, inconsistent, and otherwise less than ideal? Clearly. Will I continue to watch closely what the Mayor says on the subject? Absolutely. But I don't see any 'deal breakers' in here. And looking at the glass half full, I see no reason that he cannot be at least 'as good' on abortion as other recent Republican Presidents have been. Heck, only Nixon could go to China. Maybe it will take a 'moderate' Republican to accomplish things that conservatives could not, for fear of being portrayed as extremists.

Humvee Driving in Baghdad

I don't know if this video has already been widely seen. Some talk about it as if it's been out there for a while. Since I haven't linked it yet, I will. It's fascinating.

It's just a few minutes of the driver's view of a Humvee navigating Baghdad traffic. To reduce risk of attacks (which would obviously harm civilians as well as soldiers) the humvee bumps cars that don't clear out of the way. Apparently some on the Left regard this as proof that we're a negative force in Iraq.

Content warning: one expletive at the end.

Hat Tip: Dad

McCain the Fiscal Conservative

Novak notes that John McCain was the original crusader against earmarks, and now has added support for tax cuts:

McCain's economic policy chairman is Douglas J. Holtz-Eakin, former head of the Congressional Budget Office. The senator has reached out to California financier Gerald Parsky, a former assistant Treasury secretary described by McCain as "very important to me." That was also how he labelled supply-side pioneer Laffer, who has been counseling him the past year. McCain's longtime political ally, former Sen. Phil Gramm, advises him frequently. While McCain conceded disagreement among them, "the people that advise me, I guarantee, are very conservative economists."

It is difficult to measure how much transformation of McCain from taxer to tax-cutter has contributed to his fading popularity among Washington's media elite, but the romance is gone. The change, however, has not boosted McCain's stock in Congress, particularly the House. Conservatives justifiably complain about his positions on global warming and campaign finance.

But McCain was fighting congressional earmarks before it was popular, and that has antagonized Republicans in Congress. So do comments like the ones he made to me that Republicans "have spent more and increased the size of government more than at any time since the Great Society." Passing the litmus test on taxes will not make McCain popular with the House GOP elite.

Dems Go Left on Trade

Mankiw covers it.

Houston, We Have a Problem

While the Editor seems to think Giuliani creditably threaded the needle of reconciling his position on abortion with the pro-life sentiments of the party rank and file via an embrace of federalism in the abstract, I don't see any statement which gives me such confidence.

First of all, we have the problem of Giuliani's entrenched position in favour of the abortion license. One might say, "I hate broccoli, but I respect the rights of others to choose it," and it will be understood that one's hatred is a minor thing, more a figure of speech. So what political outcomes can those of us who hate abortion and think it an unacceptable abomination akin to murder expect? Rudy's inability to say out loud that Roe was a judicial error coupled with his bland acceptance of it as precedent despite the fact that "[t]here are questions about the way it was decided and some of the basis for it" indicate that in fact he is quite comfortable with the status quo, which due to Doe v Bolton effectively enshrine a total license of any woman not only to terminate her pregnancy (which can be terminated by caesarian any time after 26 weeks thereby making almost all abortions after that time medically unnecessary) but also to be guaranteed a dead baby.

Giuliani offers no reason to think that he supports judicial reform to allow state legislatures make truly federalist and substantive changes. It was Hannity, not Giuliani who suggested that Giuliani would seek justices in the mold of Scalia. Giuliani rather mentioned Roberts and Alito as his models, two justices who have yet to make a ruling on abortion. The most Giuliani would say about Scalia is that he thought Scalia was a great judge, but that "you are never going to get someone exactly the same." To me this sounds basically like "he's fine where he is, but I'd rather talk about someone else."

In short, I don't believe that Giuliani has framed a coherent position on abortion. Many of his statements here don't parse grammatically, and the others lapse into passive voice. When asked about partial-birth abortion, his response literally is "I think it will be upheld." Literally, we should read this as an endorsement of the process in context of the question asked, but his subsequent statement makes it seem that he's referring to the federal law against it, which is currently being contested.

Similarly, when he says "I think it should be [upheld--the ban, we're seemingly to understand, but again, in context, literally partial-birth abortion itself]. I think that's going to be upheld. as long as there's provision for the life of the mother then that's something that should be done."The controversial part about all recent attempts to limit abortion has not been exceptions for the life of the mother, but rather the health of the mother, which Doe v Bolton defined in the broadest conceivable terms including mental health, so that any woman who claims that she will be depressed by not getting an abortion can therefore not be denied one at any point during the pregnancy.

Giuliani's statements on this subject are the twisted evasions of a tortured conscience, I think. Giuliani has offered no planks of his administrative platform on this issue, and has given no indication that he would support judicial action to allow states to legislate freely on the issue. All we're left with is Giuliani's sadly well-documented personal libertinism coupled incoherently with a distaste for its logically inevitable consequences.

In such cases devoid of enunciated principles we can expect only for individuals to pursue their own immediate interests, which in Giuliani's case does not seem to include any inclination to involve himself in the issue.