Sunday, September 23, 2007

Krugman on the Past

Paul Krugman refers to the period from about the 1940s to the 1970s as "Middle class America," and says: "It was a society without extremes of wealth or poverty, a society of broadly shared prosperity, ... ." Seriously, is this a joke? First of all, I don't think the millions of blacks in the South thought so highly of this period. It's certainly possible that Krugman is thinking only of how the white people in his neighborhood lived, but that's not representative of society as a whole. Second, more generally, how can he possibly say there were no extremes of wealth or poverty? He's using the statistics for the top 10% of income earners. But I'd like to see how the top 1%, 5% and bottom 1% and 5% fared. Given the dominance of manufacturing industry at this time, I have a hard time believing that the concentration of wealth and power was less than it is today.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

More from Howard Gardner

Out of concern with inequality, he says:

"The accumulation and cross-generational transmission of wealth in the United States has gone way too far. When a young hedge-fund manager can take home a sum reminiscent of the gross national product of a small country, something is askew. When a self-made entrepreneur can accumulate enough money to, in effect, purchase that country, something is totally out of whack. It’s impossible to deny that market fundamentalism has gone too far.

There are two modest and generous ways to change this situation. First, no single person should be allowed annually to take home more than 100 times as much money as the average worker in a society earns in a year. If the average worker makes $40,000, the top compensated individual may keep $4 million a year. Any income in excess of that amount must be contributed to a charity or returned to the government, either as a general gift, or targeted to a specific line item (ranging from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the National Endowment for the Arts).

Second, no individual should be allowed to accumulate an estate more than 50 times the allowed annual income. Thus, no person would be permitted to pass on to his or her beneficiaries more than $200 million. Anything in excess must be contributed to charity or donated to the government."

There are so many criticisms to be made here that I'm not sure where to start. I'll just focus on one. If we did this, I wonder how many days it would take for rich people to get their money (and themselves) out of the country? I'd say around .5 days at most.

A Harvard Professor Demonstrates His Brilliance

Howard Gardner says:

“The right wing isn’t just taking over the country, it’s shanghaiing all our values. If there’s a Republican administration after the next election, I would join in efforts for some sort of secession. It’s not the same country anymore.”

Democracy can be a real pain when you're in the minority, but this seems a bit extreme.

Shh, It's Cold

Why is it that when temperatures are colder than usual, the media never mentions how this relates to global warming:
Temperatures on the Atlantic coast have been on average two or three degrees Celsius below seasonal averages, said Jean-Marc Le Gallic from Meteo France.

No mention of global warming, though, just a description of how people are depressed as a result.

Now, if it was warmer than usual, no doubt this would be more evidence of global warming. But since it's colder, global warming is not mentioned.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Open and Transparent Government

I'm not sure what it's going to mean in practice, but I like Obama's latest:

To make the government more accountable, Obama said he would post all non-emergency bills online for five days before he signed them into law, allowing Americans a chance to weigh in on the legislation. In addition, he said he would post all meetings between lobbyists and government agencies online.

Obama said he would require Cabinet officials to speak to Americans via national broadband town-hall style meetings to discuss issues at their agencies. He also pledged to issue an executive order that information about the government's operations must be released to those seeking it unless it could harm a protected interest.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Questions for the Democrats on Immigration

Here are some questions on immigration for the Democratic Presidential candidates:

1) Should there be any limits on the number of people who can come live in the U.S. each year?

2) Should there be any limits on the number of people who can become American citizens each year?

3) If you think there should be limits under 1) or 2), how should those limits be determined?

4) If there are limits under 1), and people come to live in the U.S. in ways that evade those limits, what should happen to them? Should they be allowed to stay here?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Freedom from the Press

I just don't understand these sorts of decisions:

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling Tuesday lost a court fight in London to ban publication of a photograph of her young son.

Rowling, whose seventh and final Potter book was released worldwide last month to a frenzy of excitement and record sales, had argued at the High Court that her son David's right to privacy was invaded by the picture.

The photograph, showing Rowling and her husband Neil Murray with the child in a buggy, was taken by a picture agency photographer using a long-range lens in a street in her home city of Edinburgh in 2004.

The boy, now aged four, was 20 months old at the time. Rowling and Murray took action in the child's name against the agency, Big Pictures (UK) and Express Newspapers, seeking damages and an injunction banning further publication of the shot or any others of the boy.

But the court ruled that the law would not allow Rowling to carve out a press-free zone for her children and struck out proceedings against the photo agency. Express Newspapers had separately settled the claim.

Forget the law for a second. On policy grounds, does this make sense? Should the press have the right to publish pictures of a 20 month old kid who is not doing anything newsworthy? If so, why? Seems crazy to me.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Giuliani's Health Care Plan

I like the sound of this:

"Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani on Tuesday offered a consumer-oriented solution to the nation's health care woes that relies on giving individuals tax credits to purchase private insurance.

Critical to Giuliani's plan is a $15,000 tax deduction for families to buy private health insurance, instead of getting insurance through employers. Any leftover funds could be rolled over year-to-year for medical expenses."

Could this actually be passed by Congress if he were elected?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Meeting with Dictators

I'm not sure what all the fuss is about in relation to Obama's comments about meeting with evil dictators:
Barack Obama's offer to meet without precondition with leaders of renegade nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran touched off a war of words, with rival Hillary Rodham Clinton calling him naive and Obama linking her to President Bush's diplomacy.

I know the conventional wisdom is that you don't meet with them, but what does that accomplish exactly? I don't see the harm in meeting with, say, Castro, as it would provide a nice opportunity to tell him what an awful person he is.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

NHL Expansion: How about Milwaukee?

Not that I think the NHL needs to expand, but if they were to do so, why are they talking about Las Vegas and Kansas City? Why not Milwaukee, where people actually play and follow hockey?

Obama Steps In It

Apparently, Obama says we should teach sex education to kindergarteners:

ABC News' Teddy Davis and Lindsey Ellerson Report: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told Planned Parenthood Tuesday that sex education for kindergarteners, as long as it is "age-appropriate," is "the right thing to do."

"I remember Alan Keyes . . . I remember him using this in his campaign against me," Obama said in reference to the conservative firebrand who ran against him for the U.S. Senate in 2004. Sex education for kindergarteners had become an issue in his race against Keyes because of Obama’s work on the issue as chairman of the health committee in the Illinois state Senate. "'Barack Obama supports teaching sex education to kindergarteners,'" said Obama mimicking Keyes' distinctive style of speech. "Which -- I didn’t know what to tell him (laughter)."

"But it’s the right thing to do," Obama continued, "to provide age-appropriate sex education, science-based sex education in schools."

When Obama's campaign was asked by ABC News to explain what kind of sex education Obama considers "age appropriate" for kindergarteners, the Obama campaign pointed to an Oct. 6, 2004 story from the Daily Herald in which Obama had "moved to clarify" in his Senate campaign that he "does not support teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten. . . The legislation in question was a state Senate measure last year that aimed to update Illinois' sex education standards with 'medically accurate' information . . . 'Nobody's suggesting that kindergartners are going to be getting information about sex in the way that we think about it,' Obama said. 'If they ask a teacher 'where do babies come from,' that providing information that the fact is that it's not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing. Although again, that's going to be determined on a case by case basis by local communities and local school boards.'"

I don't know what he has in mind exactly, but he's going to have a lot of trouble extricating himself from this mess.

ADDED: Obama's side of things:

Obama spokesman Bill Burton tells First Read: "You can teach a kid about what's appropriate and not appropriate to protect them from predators out there." In addition, he issued a document showing that the Oregon Department of Education has guidelines for sex education for children in grades K-3 (which includes understanding the difference between a good touch and a bad touch), and that the
Sexuality Information And Education Council of the United States has curriculum for those in kindergarten.

OK, maybe I see what he's going for, although I'm still not a fan of it. But he really needs to be a lot more clear about what he's saying. You can't go out and talk about sex ed for 5 year olds without explaining exactly what you have in mind.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An Obama Court

Here's what Obama wants to see in a Supreme Court justice:

"We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges."

Oh, man, he is losing me here. I want the opposite: I want a callous misanthrope who cares only about the meaning of words. Leave the empathy to the legislature.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The School Desegregation Cases

I'm fairly happy with Justice Kennedy's opinion in the school desegregation cases. As I read it, he is saying that you can use race as a factor in deciding which students go to which school, but you have to be very careful not too overemphasize it and you must explore other options. On the facts here, these school districts were not careful enough. That seems right to me in a situation where merit was not involved, but rather a simple objective of keeping racial balance at the various schools in a district.

The U.S. Health Care System -- Not Really a Free Market

In this week's Economics Focus, the Economist explains:
TO MANY outside the United States, America's health-care system might seem an example of capitalism at its rawest. Europeans and Canadians enjoy universal health care and cheap drugs thanks to government-run systems, the argument goes, but the market-based approach taken by the world's richest nation leaves many millions uninsured and leads the rest to pay the highest drugs prices in the world. Such doubts are sure to be reinforced by this week's release of Michael Moore's “Sicko”, a much-trumpeted new film on health care that bashes the free-market Yankee model even as it praises the dirigiste alternative north of the border.

So is America's health system really red in tooth and claw? Hardly, according to a growing body of academic evidence. As a result of interference at the federal and state levels, health care is one of America's most heavily regulated industries. Indeed, its muddled approach to health-care regulation may act as a massive drag on the American economy—what one expert has called “a $169 billion hidden tax”.

I think it's good that the Economist is writing about this. There do seem to be many people who see private companies operating in the U.S. health care market and on this basis argue that it is the private-ness of the industry that makes it costly and ineffective. In reality, though, there is massive regulation in this area, and it is this regulation that is, arguably, the main problem. Take just two examples. First, health care benefits are tax-deductible, so big companies have an incentive to offer excessive health care packages, which, of course, are tied to employment with them. Second, health care insurance is regulated state-by-state, and thus moving states means you have to abandon your old plan and apply for a new one.

Updike on the Depression

I've just read John Updike's New Yorker review of Amity Shlaes' book on the depression. It was a bizarre review. Most of the review is spent summarizing the book's thesis, in essence that FDR's interventionist policies hurt more than helped, and we would have been better off with someone less interventionist. I was waiting for Updike's rebuttal, but it never really came. Instead, there was this:
My father had been reared a Republican, but he switched parties to vote for Roosevelt and never switched back. His memory of being abandoned by society and big business never left him and, for all his paternal kindness and humorousness, communicated itself to me, along with his preference for the political party that offered “the forgotten man” the better break. Roosevelt made such people feel less alone. The impression of recovery—the impression that a President was bending the old rules and, drawing upon his own courage and flamboyance in adversity and illness, stirring things up on behalf of the down-and-out—mattered more than any miscalculations in the moot mathematics of economics.

Let me try to understand. It's better to have someone who gives the impression of helping poor people than someone who actually helps poor people? Really?

He also says:
Business, of which Shlaes is so solicitous, is basically merciless, geared to maximize profit. Government is ultimately a human transaction, and Roosevelt put a cheerful, defiant, caring face on government at a time when faith in democracy was ebbing throughout the Western world.
I'm not sure what it means to say that government is a "human transaction," but as for the "faith in democracy" part, where exactly does FDR's court-packing plan (mentioned in the article) fit in?

Leegin (Mis-)Reporting

Writing about the Leegin decision, David Savage of the LA Times says:
The decision, coming on the last day of the court's term, was the 15th this year that benefits business and corporations by shielding them from lawsuits and legal claims.

Now, I don't know what the other 14 decisions he is referring to are, but does this decision really "benefit[] businesses and corporations"? Sure, it benefits some corporations, specifically producers. But it also hurts others, specifically retailers. Being very charitable in my criticism, I would say his characterization is a bit of a stretch.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Merit-Based Pay at the Law Firm

Howrey "is ditching its lockstep compensation for its associates. Traditionally, Big Law pays its associates based on seniority — $160,000 for first years, $170,000 for second years and so on. But beginning next year Howrey reportedly will introduce a merit-based system of advancement and compensation for associates."

Look, merit pay, for teachers, lawyers, whomever, is great in theory. But it's very hard in practice to make subtle distinctions in performance between people in these professions. It's not like baseball, where performance is fairly easy to measure. At Howrey, the result is likely to be that everyone who does not get the top salary will be pretty pissed, which means that most of the lawyers there will be even unhappier than usual.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Resale Price Maintenance: Per Se Rule Overturned

For a sophisticated analysis of today's Supreme Court decision overruling the per se illegality for resale price maintenance, see this post by Randy Picker. My less sophisticated take is: The new rule makes perfect sense because producers could set prices anyway if they distributed the products themselves.

Public School Funding

Here's something I don't understand. Why do we let the children of the very rich attend grade school for free? Granted, many of them go to private school, but I do know some well off people who went to public school. Why don't we make them pay the actual cost? Why subsidize (as per the last post) Warren Buffett's kids?

Tax Fairness

Greg Mankiw notes how Warren Buffett
slammed a system that allows the very rich to pay taxes at a lower rate than the middle class.

Buffett cited himself, the third-richest person in the world, as an example. Last year, Buffett said, he was taxed at 17.7 percent on his taxable income of more than $46 million. His receptionist was taxed at about 30 percent.

Mankiw points out in response:

You might wonder how Mr Buffett managed such a low tax rate. Most likely, it arose because corporate dividends and capital gains are taxed at only 15 percent. But the corporate income that funded those returns was already taxed at the corporate level, where the tax rate is 35 percent. Mr Buffett seems to be ignoring the first round of taxation.
I think that's a pretty good point. Here's another. Assuming that the receptionist has a very generous salary of 100,000 dollars a year, she would have paid 30K in taxes. By contrast, by my rough calculation Buffett paid 8,142,000 dollars. If that's not clear enough, let me spell it out: The rich pay most of our taxes.

Greg LeMond's Doping Crusade

I think it's great that Greg LeMond has been pushing so hard for today's cyclists to come clean about doping. However, what would be even better is if he would tell all about what drugs, if any, he took when he was cycling, and also what drugs he observed others taking. It would set a nice example. As it stands now, his view seems to be that he is exempt from scrutiny.

How to use Tim Wakefield

There are many great ways to use Tim Wakefield. The Red Sox have been lucky to have him all these years.

Here's one new way that just occurred to me (apologies to anyone else who has already suggested this). Have him pitch to the first 9 batters only, and do this every two or three games. Then bring in the normal starter in relief. This could be a great way to throw off every hitter's timing and swing for the rest of the game.

Catch 22

A Wisconsin professor calls Catch 22 the most overrated novel of the 20th century. I loved the book, so I feel compelled to respond to a couple of his points.

He says:
it consists of basically the same joke over and over again: military people are evil and stupid.

I didn't see it that way at all. Sure, the book was about military people, and most of them were stupid and some were evil. But I took the point to be not that "military people are evil and stupid," but rather that many people are evil and stupid and that if you put these people into the military they will continue to act that way, with potentially horrible consequences. So it's not an insult directed at military people, but a commentary on the inevitable consequences of placing ordinary people at war.

He also says:
Satire always has an intellectual point. The point here seems to be that war is a bad thing.
Again, that's not how I saw it. I thought his point was that from the individual low-ranking soldier's point of view, war is going to seem pretty awful. That doesn't mean that all wars are bad from a broader perspective. It just means that having to kill and possibly be killed is an awful experience.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fast, Unhealthy Food

The AP reports:
Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's are among the chains planning to defy New York City's new rule that they begin posting calories on menus Sunday.

While I'm generally skeptical of regulation, a simple rule like this one, which requires disclosure of information to consumers for health purposes, seems to impose only a small burden while creating an enormous benefit. I really hope that these kinds of rules spread around the country. On the other hand, the fast food joints do make a good point:
Fast food chains also say they have been unfairly singled because the new rule only applies to restaurants that serve standardized portions and offer nutritional information voluntarily.

There's a good argument for applying the rule across the board to everyone. To the argument that it's too much of a burden on smaller restaurants, I would say that the burden could be placed on the supplier to provide the information, and then the restuarant won't have much work to do.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Will Bloomberg Run?

Here's my take. All he has said that I've seen is "I'm not running." Seems clear to me he is not saying "I will not run." My guess: If Obama gets the nomination (or looks likes he will), Bloomberg will not run; if Hillary gets it (or looks like she will), Bloomberg will run. There's just no question that Hillary is flawed and beatable. If she's the Democratic nominee, there is an opening for an independent to jump in.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Other Side is Unreasonable

I posted before about how Al Gore says Republicans are "assaulting reason." But it's clear that it's not only the left that criticizes its opponents as "unreasonable." Bryan Caplan, a George Mason economics professor, has written "The Myth of the Rational Voter," in which part of his thesis is that voters are too dumb/uninformed to choose limited government/free market policies. I agree with his choice of policies, but I'm not convinced that the opponents are dumb. They may very well just want a different kind of society than I do.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Death Penalty Deterrence

Death penalty proponents are fighting back against the recent wave of anti-death penalty sentiment:
"Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it," said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. "The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect."

A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. "The results are robust, they don't really go away," he said. "I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) — what am I going to do, hide them?"

Statistical studies like his are among a dozen papers since 2001 that capital punishment has deterrent effects. They all explore the same basic theory — if the cost of something (be it the purchase of an apple or the act of killing someone) becomes too high, people will change their behavior (forego apples or shy from murder).

I agree with these conclusions, although my main deterrence argument is more general. Having a death penalty sends a general message to society that crime will not be tolerated, and thus reduces criminal behavior more broadly than just murder.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Obama in the Lead ...

... in one poll anyway. Hopefully more to follow.

Faith in the 2008 Campaign

It strikes me that the three leading Dems may be talking more about their faith than the three leading Republicans. Very strange turn of events.

Obama Signs on to the Fair Pay Act: Ugh

I want to support Barack Obama. I like him. I think he is very intelligent. He has a lot of charisma. But I worry about his economics. Now I have more reason for concern. Apparently, he has signed on to the Fair Pay Act, which aims to require equal salaries for people in "equivalent" jobs. The theory is that jobs that are disproportionately held by women pay less than jobs that are disproportionately held by men. I have no doubt this is true. Engineering jobs pay more than librarian positions, for example. But so what? From what I can tell, engineering jobs pay more because they require more skill. Maybe this is not a good example for the Fair Pay advocates' cause, but I'm not sure which positions they have in mind. Oh, OK, I'll do a little research. According to Tom Harkin, who introduced the bill, here's an example:
For example, social workers (a female-dominated field) are paid less than probation officers (a male-dominated field) even though both jobs require similar levels of skill, effort, and responsibility.
Wow, that's the example they came up with to make their case? With no further explanation of how these jobs are equivalent? At first glance, I would have to say that probation officers have things tougher, dealing with violent criminals and all.

Anyway, the point is, Obama's support for this kind of thing is making it hard for me to vote for him. I wish he'd talk to his economics advisors about this one.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Hillary is Just Unbearable

How on earth is Hillary Clinton leading in the polls? Here's what I'm worked up about:
Clinton stood by her actions in the aftermath of former President Clinton' admission that he had an affair, including presumably her decision to stay in the marriage.

"I am very grateful that I had a grounding in faith that gave me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right, regardless of what the world thought," Clinton said during a forum where the three leading Democratic presidential candidates talked about faith and values.

"I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without my faith," she said.

What an absolutely ridiculous poll-driven thing to say. Here's how I picture it happening. She and her advisers were sitting around talking about how to defend her decision not to leave Bill, and they hit upon the answer: Faith. It's perfect. It completely distracts from the issue AND it plays up her religious nature. Will anyone really buy this, though? Is "faith" an answer to why you did something stupid and unreasonable? And does anyone believe she actually has religious faith? I hope people start seeing through her soon.

Baseball and Race

Gary Sheffield's recent statements that MLB prefers Latin players over black players because Latinos are easier to "control" strikes me as absurd and downright silly. But it got me thinking about the various recent concern about the decline in the number of black players. I looked up the statistics, and here's what I see:

White 68%
African-American 18%
Latino 14%

White 59.5%
African-American 8.4%
Latino 29.4%
Asian 2.4%
Other 0.3%

Basically, there's a big drop in black and white players and a big rise in Latino players. (The number of black players does seem to have declined at a higher rate, though.) What, if anything, should be taken from this? There are certainly plenty of innocent explanations, such as MLB realizing there were many talented and Latino players out there and paying more attention to them; or Latinos now having a stronger interest in basesball than other groups. I'm not sure there is really much reason for concern based solely on these baseball statistics, though. If the decline in black participation were seen across all sports, I might be worried. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Fred Thompson: Worth a Look

I had never really seen what the fuss was about Fred Thompson, but now Greg Mankiw points out this great defense of federalism by Thompson. It definitely inspires me to look at him more closely. But will federalism really sell with the masses? I'd like to think so, but I'm not confident.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Online Dating Discrimination?

The popular online dating service eHarmony was sued on Thursday for refusing to offer its services to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
This strikes me as a silly lawsuit. What's wrong with a web site focusing on heterosexual dating? Surely there would be nothing wrong with a web site that only handled homosexual dating? Yes, it is discrimination, in a sense. But it does not seem like invidious discrimination. They think they have a special formula for heterosexual relationships, and they have no idea if it applies to gay relationships. If they were the only online dating service, perhaps I could see a problem. But they are not.

The Spelling Bee: Yawn (at Best)

I'm not very impressed with all of this spelling bee stuff. Wouldn't kids be better off reading a book than memorizing obscure words?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Al Gore and Reason

Al Gore has a new book in which he accuses the Bush administration of not using reason:
Mr. Gore’s central argument is that “reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions” and that the country’s public discourse has become “less focused and clear, less reasoned.” This “assault on reason,” he suggests, is personified by the way the Bush White House operates. Echoing many reporters and former administration insiders, Mr. Gore says that the administration tends to ignore expert advice (be it on troop levels, global warming or the deficit), to circumvent the usual policy-making machinery of analysis and debate, and frequently to suppress or disdain the best evidence available on a given subject so it can promote predetermined, ideologically driven policies.

It's hard to take this sort of argument seriously: "The other side is not being reasonable, but we are." Doesn't everybody say that? It just means that the two sides disagree, which is, of course, the reason there are two sides.

Seriously, how is this any different from what Republicans would say about Democrats? All Gore is doing is trying to reframe his political disagreement with Republicans into a statement that he is reasonable and they are not. It seems to me that reasonable people can disagree. Just because someone disagrees does not make them unreasonable.

Obama's Health Plan: The Right Solution

Barack Obama has suffered a lot of criticism recently for failing to offer much substance. Well, at least in health care, that criticism is no longer valid. The details of Obama's health plan are now out:
Under Obama's proposal, everyone would be able to obtain health insurance, and the Illinois senator would create a National Health Insurance Exchange to monitor insurance companies in offering the coverage. In essence, Obama's plan retains the private insurance system but injects additional money into the system to pay for the expanded coverage.

Those who can't afford coverage would get a subsidy on a sliding scale depending on their income, and virtually all businesses would have to share in the cost of coverage for their workers. The plan that would be offered would be similar to the one covering members of Congress.

I think he's gotten this one exactly right. There is concern about too many people being uninsured. But the idea of having government agencies run aspects of the health care system, like with the John Edwards plan, will never fly. Obama found the right balance, in my view, both in terms of politics and policy. It's what I thought he should have done and I'm glad he did it.

ADDED: Based on other explanations I've seen, I'm going to have to think about whether I've characterized the plan accurately. More later.

MORE: Having read Ezra Klein's explanations (here, here and here), I think I had it just about right, although of course it's a complicated plan with a lot of nuances. Overall, it seems like good politics and not bad policy.

It doesn't fix a lot of my biggest complaints about health care, though. For example, why can insurance companies negotiate with doctors to get lower prices than would an uninsured consumer? I've always wanted to try going with no insurance except for serious illness or injury, but the higher prices I would have to pay for basic care mean that it doesn't make sense.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Who's the Toughest?

Ann Althouse says:
Obama, I suspect, is simply weak on national security (which is why he was against the war all along).

This idea that Bush/Republicans are strong on national security is very strange. 9/11 happened on their watch, and almost 6 years later we still haven't gotten the guy who orchestrated it and Al Qaeda is as strong as ever. How exactly is that strong? As for Obama being weak, here's what he had to say recently: "It is time to end this war so that we can redeploy our forces to focus on the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and all those who plan to do us harm." To me, that sounds stronger than what we're doing now.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Steroids and Doping

As Major League Baseball considers Jason Giambi's latest semi-confession, and the cycling world witnesses a full confession by a former Tour de France champion at the same time they are transfixed by the Landis trial, it occurs to me that there is perhaps only one solution to the current state of affairs: the athletes need to police themselves. The owners/sponsors/organizers won't do it, because they worry about the economic harm they will suffer if they appear to admit any past wrongdoing. The sports unions won't do it because they are run by extremists who believe that any constraint on athletes, even on drug-taking, is bad. So it's up to the athletes. They need to agree among themselves, outside of their unions, not to take performance-enhancing drugs, and to report on anyone who is doing so. It's for their health and for the integrity of their sport. Is there anyone bold enough to take the first step?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ron Paul Takes it to Giuliani

I'm glad to see that Ron Paul is not backing down in the face of criticism:
Longshot Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (news, bio, voting record) on Thursday gave front-runner Rudy Giuliani a list of foreign-policy books to back up his contention that attacks by Islamic militants are fueled by the U.S. presence in the Middle East.

I doubt I agree with all/most/many of Ron Paul's views, but Giuliani's claim that we were attacked because of our freedoms is one of the dumbest things to come out of the mouth of one of the serious Presidential candidates. People on all sides really need to challenge him on this.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Giambi's Comments

The recent Jason Giambi remarks about steriod use and the need for MLB to offer an apology has me re-thinking some things I said a while back. I used to think the controversy would blow over in a couple years, and McGwire, Bonds et al. would get in the Hall of Fame. Now I'm not so sure. Without sincere apologies and explanations from these guys, they might not be forgiven.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dem Polls

The latest Iowa polls:
Edwards, who ran second in the 2004 Iowa caucuses and has worked hard to maintain his organization in the state, is at 29 percent. That's about where he has been for some time in Iowa, where caucus goers will do much to define the direction of the 2008 race as it hist full speed next January.

In second place is Illinois Senator Barack Obama with 23 percent.

Clinton musters a mere 21 percent -- down significantly from her position in several previous polls -- to secure the No. 3 position.

But nationally things are different:
Among Democrats Clinton has strengthened her status as front-runner, putting the brakes on a surge from rival Barack Obama, according to a Harris poll.

The poll found Clinton ahead by 13 points, 40 percent to 27 percent among Democratic voters nationwide. Her showing was better than a similar poll
in April which showed her leading Obama 37 to 32.

Three questions: (1) Does this mean anything at this point? (2) Who on earth supports Hillary Clinton? (3) And Why?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Giuliani's Perspective on Islamic Terrorism

Ann Althouse describes Rudy Giuliani as saying:
Giuliani says that what Paul said about 9/11 last night is something he'd have been surprised to hear anyone say even in the Democratic debate. Giuliani seemed to know that some people are talking about whether he characterized Paul's comment fairly last night when he lit into him, because he said he listened to it again and that there was "tremendous confusion in what [Paul] was saying." Paul said that because of our attacks on Saddam, al Qaeda wanted to kill us. That didn't make sense. Giuliani emphasized that he has been studying Islam and Islamic terrorism since the 1970s when he was in the Ford administration, and he knows that the reason they hate us is because of our freedom, notably our freedom of religion and the freedom for women.

Now, I'll grant him that our freedom of religion and freedom for women do not endear us to Islamic extremists. But does he really believe that's why 9/11 happened? It seems to me that the primary reasons were: (1) our constant meddling in the Middle East over the past few decades; (2) our support for currupt authoritatrian regimes in the Middle East; (3) our military presence over there; and (4) our support for Israel. None of this means that we "invited" the attacks or that we are somehow responsible. It just means that these are the reasons they attacked.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Do the Iraqis Want us There?

Sen. McConnell throws down the gauntlet:
Citing media reports, McConnell said some lawmakers in Iraq's parliament wanted a vote to ask the United States to leave.

"I want to assure you, if they vote to ask us to leave, we'll be glad to comply with their request," he said.

That's a bold statement. If the Iraqis actually do vote that way, are the Congressional Republicans ready to back him up?

He also says:
"What we are all discovering, however, it's very difficult to set up a functioning government in places like Iraq and Afghanistan."

Quite a discovery. Of course, quite a few people knew that before the invasions.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Giuliani Supports Abortion!

The New York Times reports:
After months of conflicting signals on abortion, Rudolph W. Giuliani is planning to offer a forthright affirmation of his support for abortion rights in public forums, television appearances and interviews in the coming days, despite the potential for bad consequences among some conservative voters already wary of his views, aides said yesterday.

I'm not sure why this is such a big deal. As the article later states, "In a New York Times/CBS News poll in March, 41 percent of Republicans thought abortions should be prohibited ... ." Presumably, then, 59 percent of Republicans would allow at least some abortions. As the only pro-choice Republican candidate, Giuliani might actually be in a pretty good position.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Obama's Wimpy Call for Better Fuel Economy

Obama's energy proposal:
In a frontal assault on the automobile industry, Sen. Barack Obama's call Monday for tougher fuel-economy standards and new financial incentives for hybrid cars would force a retooling of the way autos are built -- triggering a sometimes tepid response from business leaders in the Motor City.

The Illinois senator outlined a detailed energy proposal that echoes calls by other Democrats for higher fuel-efficiency standards and seeks to demonstrate he has environmental credentials as robust as those with longer voting records.


Obama, speaking to the Detroit Economic Club, said his proposals would cut the nation's oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels a day by 2020 and remove 50 million cars' worth of pollution from the air. He would achieve his goals in part by targeting a 4 percent annual increase -- approximately 1 mile per gallon each year -- in fuel standards.
This is a bit disappointing. Instead of a serious solution like a gas tax, Obama is asking for minimally higher fuel standards. It seems to me that one of the biggest reasons for the current state of affairs with the environment is liberals' refusal to propose real solutions.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sarkozy Wins!

Wow, I never thought I would read something like this:
Nicolas Sarkozy, a blunt and uncompromising pro-American conservative, was elected president of France Sunday with a mandate to chart a new course for an economically sluggish nation struggling to incorporate immigrants and their children.

Even French conservatives tend to be anti-America and anti-free market so this is really shocking. I wonder if this is an anomaly or part of a larger shift in European viewpoints.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Abortion: The Solution

David Brooks on abortion:
If we could get this issue away from the abortion professionals and their orthodoxies, we could reach a sensible solution: abortion would be legal, with parental consent for minors, during the first four or five months, and illegal except in extremely rare circumstances afterward.
Exactly right! My sense has always been that 60-65% of the American public supports this view. But somehow the 15-20% of extremists on each side control the debate. And, of course, the courts got involved, which mucked things up terribly.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Equal Pay for Equal Work

From the AP:

Women make only 80 percent of the salaries their male peers do one year after college; after 10 years in the work force, the gap between their pay widens further, according to a study released Monday.

The study, by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, found that 10 years after college, women earn only 69 percent of what men earn.

Even after controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors known to affect earnings, the study found that one-quarter of the pay gap remains unexplained. The group said that portion of the gap is "likely due to sex discrimination."

It's not clear exactly what this gap means, but let's be clear about what it does not mean. It does not mean that two first year associates, one female and one male, hired by the same firm to do the same job will make different amounts. They will, in fact, make the same salary.

As for what it does mean, my best guess is that women tend to take jobs that pay less than men. For example, there are more women who take elementary school teaching jobs and more men who become engineers. The article says that this is due "sex discrimination." That's probably not the best way to characterize it, however, as it seems to imply the cause is mainly the decisions of senior male hiring people. In truth, I think there's a broader issue of how society views the role of women and men that is the root cause.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Obama's Economics

The NY Times notes the following about Obama's chief economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee:
The two men met when Mr. Obama was teaching at the [U. of Chicago law school], and they both seem to favor achieving Democratic goals through market-oriented policies. As Mr. Goolsbee has written: “Moral exhortation doesn’t change people’s behavior. Prices do.”

I like the sound of that. A moderate Democrat on economic issues. That's what Obama needs to be.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Partial Birth Abortion Ban and the Comerce Clause

From today's Supreme Court opinion upholding the federal law that prohibits partial birth abortion, Justice Thomas said the following in dissent:
I also note that whether the Act constitutes a permissible exercise of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause is not before the Court. The parties did not raise or brief that issue; it is outside the question presented; and the lower courts did not address it.

Please, please, please, will somebody please challenge this law under the Commerce Clause? Justice Thomas is practically begging you to! It could bring some common sense back to the Commerce Clause doctrine! Or I suppose it could make things worse if they decide that the law has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. But even if they go that route, there is the advantage that they are exposed as idiots, for whatever that's worth.

Monday, April 09, 2007

"Obama to skip Fox-sponsored debate"

This is kind of lame, in my opinion. If he really wants to be different than the typical politician, he shouldn't go for cheap shots like bashing Fox. Sure, Fox is biased. But so is everyone else (maybe not to the same degree, but there are more of them).

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Obama's Health Care Pre-Plan

Obama on health care:

Obama said he's not wedded to any specific system, but he thinks the plan he'll eventually support will offer universal coverage and will squeeze efficiencies out of the health care system. It also will stress preventive programs, such as weight control.

"The status quo is unsustainable," Obama said. "Standing pat is not an option."

Obama said if he was starting from zero, he would likely support a single-payer system, similar to the government-run program in Canada. But he's leery of taking such a step because the United States already has a complex and established system of employer-based health coverage.

He said that the country is already moving toward a government-based health system.

"The government is already covering half the people," said Obama, noting that Medicare, Medicaid and veterans health systems cover a vast number of Americans.

To build a political consensus for a new system, Obama said he'll hold a series of similar meetings to gauge public sentiment. He plans to offer a health care proposal in a couple months, he said.

Some interesting statements. I'm not sure what to make of them. Saying he would support single-payer if starting from scratch might be his way of paying lip service to the extreme left view. The reference to "squeezing efficiencies" is a good sign that he will not go too far in expanding the government's role. It's still not really clear where he's going with this, though.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Mis-leading Headline of the Day

From Reuters:
"Three Yale students arrested for burning U.S. flag"

Wow, what a great free speech controversy, right! Um, maybe not. The article provides some context:

"Police said the three torched a flag hanging from the porch of a house in New Haven near the Ivy League school."

Monday, April 02, 2007

Obama on Yucca Moutnain

I'm a bit late in mentioning this, but here it is anyway:
Obama said he was opposed to plans to build a permanent nuclear waste repository
at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The senator suggested he
might support regional dump sites.

He "might" support "regional dump sites"? Seriously? Look, I can understand why people in and near Nevada don't want nuclear waste stored there. But we have to store it somewhere. If not Yucca mountain, then come up with another plan. You can't just reject Yucca and not offer an alternative.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Another Reason for Warming

More people, bigger cities:

Average temperatures across California rose slightly from 1950 to 2000, with the greatest warming coming in the state's big cities and mostly caused by urbanization -- not greenhouse gases -- authors of a study released on Wednesday said.

The study found that average temperatures in California rose nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly one degree Celsius) in the second half of the 20th century, led by large urban centers such as San Francisco and Southern California.

"Everybody's talking about the carbon coming out of the SUV exhaust or the coal plant, but in the past 50 years in California the bigger impact has been urbanization and suburbanization," said Bill Patzert of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of the study's authors.

"Exhaust from the SUV is just piling on," he said. "One is heating you from above, the other is heating you from below."

The New Equal Rights Amendments

Eugene Volokh posts about the revival of the ERA, and possible implications if it passes. Two problems he mentions are the fears that (1) passage would mean that women could not be excluded from combat and (2) separate girls sports teams would no longer be permitted.

See, this is why I get fed up with courts and lawyers. Any reasonable person can see that these two policies are, at most, minimally nefarious. They are not the reason for passing the ERA, and should not be implicated if it is passed. A general policy against gender discrimination can certainly accommodate well-meaning actions like these. But no, when courts and lawyers get involved, common sense goes out the window.

Look, men and women are physically different. There's nothing that can be done about that through government action. So just allow distinctions to be made where they make sense based on these differences. Sheesh. Courts should be able to deal with this, but if they can't, we can legislate something that will deal with the issues properly.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Leegin Case: Resale Price Maintenance

Here's my view on the Leegin case. Minimum prices through resale price maintenance should be subject to the rule of reason, rather than being considered per se illegal, because manufacturers can set whatever prices they choose if they establish their own distribution network. It doesn't make sense to allow the equivalent of RPM through one distribution arrangement but prohibit it through another.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Cult of No Personality

Paul Krugman refers to "the personality cult the GOP once built around President Bush." That has to be one of the stupidest things Krugman has ever said. I think the best that can be said about Bush is that people used to think he was an affable, harmless idiot, and better than Gore. A cult of personality around Bush? I don't think so.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fred Thompson on Warming

I really don't know much about Fred Thompson, but this was pretty amusing:
Some people think that our planet is suffering from a fever. Now scientists are telling us that Mars is experiencing its own planetary warming: Martian warming. It seems scientists have noticed recently that quite a few planets in our solar system seem to be heating up a bit, including Pluto.

NASA says the Martian South Pole’s “ice cap” has been shrinking for three summers in a row. Maybe Mars got its fever from earth. If so, I guess Jupiter’s caught the same cold, because it’s warming up too, like Pluto.

This has led some people, not necessarily scientists, to wonder if Mars and Jupiter, non-signatories to the Kyoto Treaty, are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle.

Silly, I know, but I wonder what all those planets, dwarf planets and moons in our solar system have in common. Hmmmm. Solar system. Hmmmm. Solar? I wonder. Nah, I guess we shouldn’t even be talking about this. The science is absolutely decided. There’s a consensus.

Ask Galileo.

Private vs. Public Health Insurance

Tyler Cowen has a good piece comparing America-style private health insurance with European-style public systems. One of his key points:
On average, European systems are relatively good for the young, who are generally healthy and need treatment for obvious accidents and emergencies, with transparent remedies. European systems are less effective for the elderly, the primary demanders of discretionary medical benefits

It would be nice if Paul Krugman would read the piece. Krugman's articles on health care to date don't really put much thought into the issue. I'd like to see him move beyond the "private is bad" mentality.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

School Rules

Apparently, it's school rules day. Earlier it was "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." Now it's wearing a Muslim veil. The UK government says it will "leave it up to individual head teachers to decide what pupils should and should not be allowed to wear in class." I think that makes sense. There has to be some limit to religious freedom in schools. (Presumably, we would not allow Christian Scientist children to refuse medicine when sick.) The veil is a difficult issue for which to balance all the factors, but I can see legitimate reasons for prohibiting it. Whether I would prohibit it myself as principal would depend on the specific school situation, though.

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

I've been struggling to figure out what I think about the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case. If the student in question had been in school, I think the principal would have been within her powers to suspend him. I would give school administrators wide latitude to restrict speech in schools. The main purpose of schools is education, and I think administrators should be able to ban anything that can be reasonably said to undermine the educational purpose.

However, the kid was not in school. He was across the street.

There was a connection to a school-sponsored event, though.

On the other hand, does "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" really undermine a school's educational purpose?

Usually I have strong feelings on these things. Here, though, I'm lost.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Obama in High School

I found this article about Obama's high school experience fascinating. I had assumed that he had been a motivated, overachieving, well-liked student. But instead, he was a bit lost, and while friendly with people, was not particularly popular or well-known. It's surprising that he did not have much direction back then, given how polished and confident he seems now.

The Economist

There is some discussion about this recent article which argues that the Economist is overrated. Let me weigh in with an opinion: The Economist is by far the best weekly newsmagazine around. The Economist is to Time as Time is to People. When I read Time, Newsweek, US News, etc., I come away feeling empty, having gained no new information or insights. By contrast, each week the Economist packs immense amounts of information and analysis into each issue. Sure, they have a particular worldview, and you have to recognize that everything is filtered through that. But so what? Everyone has a worldview. The Economist is just up-front about it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Global Warming Skeptics

From a U. of Alabama climatologist: " all we really know is that we are warmer now than we were during the last 400 years." I think that's a good way to sum things up.

The UK sees things differently, though, and is proposing domestic laws that mandate carbon emissions:
Milliband said failure to meet targets could land governments in court. Governments that fail to meet the stipulations of the bill will be subject to judicial review. It will be for the courts to decide what sanctions to apply," he said.

Honestly, I can't think of a better way to bog down the process of cleaning up the enivironment than getting the courts involved.

Now, if they really wanted to lower carbon emissions, they could spend lots of money replacing existing power plants with solar and wind power. But that would require action rather than vague promises to fix the problem later, which is much easier.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Obama's Parking Tickets

Apparently, Obama paid off some old parking tickets just before entering the Presidential race. Doesn't make him look great, but seems like pretty small potatoes. Personally, I might have just not paid them, then if it came out say I forgot and pay them at that point.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Obama's Investments

So far I'm not concerned about the Obama investment revelations. From what I gather, his broker bought the stocks without his knowledge, and as soon as Obama found out about it, he sold them (at a loss). There's no question that politicans should avoid holding individual stocks that their official actions could affect. Obama realized that and took the appropriate action.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Bill Richardson's "Credentials"

The AP writes:
A former congressman, U.N. ambassador and energy secretary, Richardson has arguably the best credentials of any contender.
What makes these the "best credentials"? He's been an elected politician and bureaucrat. So what? If you're looking for the "best" person, why look at people who have had those jobs? Why not a businessperson? A lawyer? A teacher?

Maureen Dowd on Obama

Maureen Dowd says the following about Obama:
I’m just not certain, having watched the fresh-faced senator shy away from fighting with the feral Hillary over her Hollywood turf, that he understands that a campaign is inherently a conflict.

The Democrats lost the last two excruciatingly close elections because Al Gore and John Kerry did not fight fiercely and cleverly enough.

This is why I like Obama and dis-like Maureen Dowd. It's all just a game to her. A battle. A competition. The issues are secondary. But I don't want to hear about the game, the battle, or the competition. I want to hear about the issues. We haven't had anyone in recent years who could bring them out. I'm hoping Obama can (even if I disagree with him).

Oh, and Gore and Kerry did not lose because of a failure to fight fiercely and cleverly. They lost because they could not connect with the people and could not articulate an appealing vision. They lost to George W. Bush -- that's embarassing.

(Actually, Gore lost because of Nader. But it shouldn't even have come to that. Gore should have trounced him).

More Alcohol and Health Nonsense

The latest "alcohol is good for you" study is out: "Older men who drink moderate amounts of alcohol may function better physically than either those who abstain completely or those who abuse alcohol, a new study suggests. " Here was the methodology:
Cawthon and colleagues compared functional limitations, physical performance and drinking history for 5,962 men aged 65 or older who were classified into 5 categories. Men who consumed 5 or more drinks on most days were classified as having a history of sustained excessive drinking, while those who responded positively to a questionnaire used to diagnose alcoholism were classified as problem drinkers.
Moderate drinkers were those who consumed between 7 and 20 drinks per week and heavy drinkers were men who consumed 21 or more drinks weekly. Abstainers made up the final group.
Once again, a useless study. They compare people who drink alcohol to whose who don't without distinguishing what the non-drinkers are drinking instead of alcohol. Most people drink soda. As a result, these kinds of studies simply show that drinking alcohol is less unhealthy than drinking soda. No surprise there. What they should do is compare alcohol drinkers to soy milk/water/juice drinkers.

Monday, February 26, 2007

ACLU Goes after Education

The ACLU is bringing suit against a county whose graduation rates are not high enough: "We want the courts to order the school board to improve those rates." Hey, while they're at it, why not ask the courts to order the school board to make the students smarter? And to have better attendance? Seriously, this seems like a waste of everyone's time and energy.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Obama's Economics

Thomas Sowell has a nice piece criticizing Obama's economic thinking as typically liberal. He mentions the following issues: support for unions, higher teacher pay, making college "affordable," and "alternative fuels." It's a useful critique. On the other hand, these are issues where even most Republicans take a farely liberal view in practice. There are very few doctrinaire free market conservatives in politics. So, I'm not sure Obama's support for these positions necessarily makes him unacceptable to me. The question is going to be exactly how liberal he is on each issue.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Romney's Mormon Burden Rises Again

The AP reports:
While Mitt Romney condemns polygamy and its prior practice by his Mormon church, the Republican presidential candidate's great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12.

Polygamy was not just a historical footnote, but a prominent element in the family tree of the former Massachusetts governor now seeking to become the first Mormon president.

Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, married his fifth wife in 1897. That was more than six years after Mormon leaders banned polygamy and more than three decades after a federal law barred the practice.

Seriously, his great-grandfather? How about checking on the all the other candidates' great-grandparents to see if there is some dirt? Did any of them support segregation? Oppose women's rights? Hate Jews? It wouldn't surprise me if at least some did. But are we going to hear about it? Doubtful. This story is inappropriate. It serves no purpose other than to make the "Mormons are weird" point.

The ACLU and Security

Someone has developed a new airport screening device that uses low-level radiation to look under your clothes (although not inside your body). This seems like a less intrusive way to search, I would think, which should make the ACLU-types happy. Ha, ha, just kidding. The ACLU is furious:
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union have raised ... objections, calling the X-ray scan a "virtual strip-search," and have urged Congress to prohibit its use for routine screening.

Yes, it's a "virtual" strip-search. Isn't that better than an actual strip-search, or a pat-down for that matter? Apparently the concern is that your naked body will be exposed to the screeners using the machine:
Security officials examining the head-to-toe images work in a closed booth, hidden from public view, security agency officials said.Special "privacy" software intentionally blurs the image, creating a chalky outline of a body that is clear enough to see a collarbone, bellybutton or weapon, but flattening revealing contours.

If it's between feeling me up and seeing a blurred image of my body, I'll take the image. As is often the case, I think the ACLU is way off-base here. The problem I have with them is that they seem to try to undermine existing security measures and prevent new ones without providing a constructive approach explaining what we should to do promote security. It's fine that they don't like what we're doing, but we have to do something, so they should tell us what they think we should do if they're that concerned.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Obama Rips Cheney

Obama tears into Cheney:
Obama, speaking at a massive outdoor rally in Austin, Texas, said British Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision this week to withdraw 1,600 troops is a recognition that Iraq's problems can't be solved militarily.

"Now if Tony Blair can understand that, then why can't George Bush and Dick Cheney understand that?" Obama asked thousands of supporters who gathered in the rain to hear him. "In fact, Dick Cheney said this is all part of the plan (and) it was a good thing that Tony Blair was withdrawing, even as the administration is preparing to put 20,000 more of our young men and women in.

"Now, keep in mind, this is the same guy that said we'd be greeted as liberators, the same guy that said that we're in the last throes. I'm sure he forecast sun today," Obama said to laughter from supporters holding campaign signs over their heads to keep dry. "When Dick Cheney says it's a good thing, you know that you've probably got some big problems."

Obama is seriously good. Did he improvise that "forecast sun" bit on the spur of the moment? Maybe his staff thought it up beforehand. Regardless, that was a nice bit of taking it to the Bush team.

Reich on the Importance of a Balanced Budget

In a nutshell, he says it's not important. Well, he actually goes further, saying it's a "stupid idea." He concludes:
No one in their right mind should worry about balancing this silly agglomeration. Hats off to politicians (like John Edwards) who recognize this. We should worry instead about putting aside enough to deal with past obligations, devoting no more than we can now afford to current needs, and making adequate future investments – even if we have to borrow in order to make them.

I didn't find his analysis very convincing. We don't "have to" borrow in order to make adequate future investments. The only reason we borrow is political expedience -- politicians prefer to avoid tax increases, so they borrow instead. But when you borrow, you have to pay back the money later (with interest), which increases the "past obligations" in future budgets and thus reduces your future ability to invest or meet current needs. Basically, you can either pay for things now or pay (more) for them later. There's no free lunch. The problem is, the politicians in power at any given moment want to spend a lot on programs they believe will get them votes, even if means borrowing. They're happy to leave it up to future politicians to clean up the mess.

There are definitely instances where current spending needs are so high that raising taxes is not an option because it would cripple the economy (e.g. a war). But that's pretty rare, and I think people arguing for deficit spending have a heavy burden to show that whatever pet program they're advocating merits adding to the deficit.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


The Obama-Clinton feud over David Geffen's criticisms of Hillary seems a bit overblown to me. Should Obama have denounced the comments of a financial backer of his? His response was to say he had no control over what Geffen says: "It's not clear to me why I'd be apologizing for someone else's remark." I suppose he could have added, "and I don't have any negative views of Hillary," which might have been a nice thing to do. But after Hillary spent last week not denouncing the South Carolina politician who said Obama could not be elected because he was black, Obama probably wasn't feeling very charitable.

XM-Sirius: Congressional Hearings

Congress will be holding hearings on the XM-Sirius merger:

The hearing will enable lawmakers "to probe whether this merger will enhance or diminish competition in the digital music distribution industry" and whether the "merger will lead to increased choices and lower prices for consumers," Conyers said in the statement.


The hearing will consider "whether satellite radio competes against terrestrial radio, the Internet or other emerging technologies," Smith said.

I like that last bit. Clearly, satellite radio competes against the listed items. Hopefully this will be a mostly positive hearing, laying the groundwork for approval. Even aside from my financial stake, I do worry that the existing duopoly industry structure is not financially viable.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An Atheist President? Not Any Time Soon

Outside the Beltway reports on a Gallup poll indicating that only 45% of Americans would vote for an atheist for President (compared to 55% who would vote for a homosexual). Three thoughts come to mind.

First, who are the 10% who would vote for a homosexual but not an atheist? Are there large numbers of gay, or gay-friendly, fundamentalists that I don't know about? Is this the Ted Haggard group?

Second, I wonder what the answers would have been if the pollsters had used the term "agnostic"? It may not trigger the same negative reactions that "atheist" does.

Third, why wouldn't people vote for an atheist? Is it a supposed lack of values? My hope is that if presented with an actual atheist who had good values, people might think differently. (E.g., if Ronald Reagan had suddenly declared in 1983, "hey, I'm an atheist.")

MORE: The poll itself has more info. Support from "liberals", "moderates" and "conservatives" (in that order):

homosexual 81 57 36
atheist 67 48 29

So, 33% of self-identified "liberals" would not vote for an atheist! I wonder what they think "liberal" means?

The poll also notes:
Only about one in five Americans said they would vote for an atheist when the item was first asked in the late 1950s, compared with 45% today. Just 26% said they would support a homosexual presidential candidate in 1978, compared with the current 55%.

Well, it's a good trend anyway. Pretty slow-moving, though.

ADDED: I also wonder how people would react to "deist." My sense is there are a lot of people out there who believe generally in God, but do not subscribe to a particular religion (at least not strongly).

The Proposed XM-Sirius Merger

I love the proposed XM-Sirius merger. But then, I'm biased: I own a little stock in both companies!

I think the antitrust issues can be overcome and the FCC/DOJ will sign off on the merger. Here are some reasons why.

First, satellite radio has a great deal of competition. There is traditional radio, which has increased its offerings through high-definition broadcasting. There are various internet radio and related offerings. And there is the iPod and similar devices, which allow consumers to carry with them huge quantities of music and thus making radio less important.

Second, both XM and Sirius are pretty fragile financially. If one were to go under, the industry would be down to one company anyway; and if both were to go under, there would be nothing. Might as well let them merge so as to ensure there is at least one healthy company.

Third, it will reduce costs tremendously, which should lower prices and improve quality.

And fourth, with this type of regulated industry, there is no real danger of the merged company raising prices too much even if it had the power to do so. If it did, the FCC could just step in. (And the FCC might very well make price increase limits a condition of approving the deal).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Obama / Warner ?

After Va. Governor Tim Kaine endorsed Obama, Obama mentioned Mark Warner. At that point:
The crowd of VIPs roared, and then began to chant: “VP! VP! VP!” Smiling, Obama only referred to his and Warner’s matching blue ties. “I want you to notice how we’re dressed tonight,” he said.

Warner for VP. I like that idea a lot. Warner is a centrist, pro-business Democrat (and pretty damn smart as well). That will certainly help Obama with those like me, who fear many Democrats are closet socialists. Think about it, Barack!

Elizabeth Edwards on Gay Marriage

After John Edwards says he is "not there yet" on gay marriage, George Stephanopoulos asks Elizabeth her view. She says: "Well, it's not particularly important whether I am, but I guess I come from a more eclectic background and so it's less problematic, I think, probably for me." I think this says a lot about how John Edwards' view will evolve if he is elected. He's not ready to commit right now, but he'll get talked into it as soon as it won't cost him votes.

Romney on Abortion

Mitt Romney talks about abortion with George Stephanopoulos:
Mitt Romney: My view is that we should let each state have its own responsibility for guiding its laws relating to abortion.


But I'd like to see the Supreme Court allow states to have greater leeway in defining their own laws.

Very nice answer. I like it.

But Stephanopoulos has a tough follow-up. Uh-oh:
Stephanopoulos: But if it's killing, why should states have leeway?

Romney replies:
Mitt Romney: You know, that's one of the great challenges that we have. There are a lot of things that are morally very difficult and, in some cases, repugnant that we let states decide. For instance, Nevada allows prostitution. I find that to be quite repugnant as a practice.

OK, that's not bad. Some moral choices are tough, so maybe it makes sense to let people in different places choose their own way.

But Stephanopoulos won't let up:
Stephanopoulos: But murder is illegal in every state.

Nice! Go for the jugular. At this point, Romney kind of falls apart:
Mitt Romney: And so we let states make some of these very difficult decisions. That's one of the difficulties here. Also, I feel a great empathy for women who have difficult decisions in this regard. I don't want to impose my view on the lives of women, and yet this is one of those points where mature men and women have to come together and say, "What's the right course?" And in my particular view, I believe in life, I believe in respecting life, and I believe that we should, as a series of states, allow states to make their own choice in this regard.

Eventually he just sums up with: "I'm saying that, in my view, we should let the states make that decision and I am in favor of life and in favor of choosing life."

That's about all he can do. He doesn't want to say "abortion is different than murder" and he doesn't want to say he's going to lead the drive against abortion state-by-state if the Court overturns Roe, so he's kind of stuck. Ultimately, I like where he comes out. It is a bit of a waffling, though. It's hard to know which will hurt/help him more: A stronger anti-abortion position or this kind of waffling.

McCain: Roe v. Wade Should Be Overturned

John McCain says:

"I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned,"
I think this is definitely good for the overall abortion debate, such as it is. Maybe now we can talk a bit about how abortion law should be made. As for McCain's political prospects, it might help with the religious conservatives, but hurt with moderates. He may have to explain a bit more, and his explanations will be key.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Andrew Sullivan on Mitt Romney

Andrew Sullivan quotes Mitt Romney as saying: "We need to have a person of faith lead the country." Sullivan then asks:

How is that not a religious test for the presidency?
Um, because it's a campaign slogan, not a government act. (I agree with Sullivan on the substantive point, though. I'm just nit-picking on the legal one.)

ADDED: Someone should ask Romney, "Why do we need to have a person of faith lead the country"? I'd like to hear his answer.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Views on Mormons: Not Good for Romney

I like Mitt Romney and I hope he does well. But there's no doubt his Mormonism is going to make things tough in this race. On top of the explicit bigotry, even an article that tries to take a detached view and examine public perceptions of Mormons shows how people have trouble getting over their anti-Mormon bias. The author writes:
But even the story about the church's founding is unusual to nonbelievers: God appeared to Joseph Smith and told him that all existing forms of Christianity were "an abomination" and then directed Smith to a hillside in upstate New York where, with the help of the angel Moroni, Smith recovered a set of golden tablets that revealed the real word of God. Smith had further revelations, which Mormons treat as scripture alongside the Bible, including that Jesus would eventually return to reign from Missouri. Smith was eventually killed by vigilantes.

The story is "unusual"? How is it any more "unusual" than the stories of the origin of other religions?

The author also mentions that the Mormon church used to be formally racist and a long, long time ago officially practiced polygamy. OK, sure, these are skeletons, but are they worse than what other religions have? Not to me.

If this is what people are writing in the Washington Post, I hate to hear what they are whispering in private.

More on a Multinational Force for Iraq

Niall Ferguson argues that to pull all troops out of Iraq (as Barack Obama has proposed) would be irresponsible, as the the country (and region) would likely fall further into civil war. He may be right about that result, I fear. But is continuing the status quo the only option? It seems to me that it might be better to change the makeup of the occupying forces (as I argued here). A U.S. military presence will always stir up Islamic militants. The solution may be to pull our troops out, then organize a multinational force which includes significant numbers of troops from the region (OK, not Israeli troops, but all the rest).

Global Warming Solved! Maybe!

From Instapundit, a scientist proposes putting lots of small silicon dioxide particles in the atmosphere so as to reflect sunlight and cool the planet. Will that work? I don't know, but let's keep it on file in case we need it.

Giuliani's Speaking Style

Watching Giuliani on Larry King some time last week, I was struck by how unpolished and unscripted some of his answers seemed. Now, it may be that this speaking style was by design and he gave the answers exactly as he prepared them. But it also may be that he is taking an approach in which he does not try to script all his talking points perfectly. Some of his off-the-cuff remarks seemed to indicate this (such as a joke to the effect that he thought he had married only male/female couples as Mayor, but he couldn't verify this completely). Regardless of why he was speaking this way, I wonder how this style will play. It definitely has some appeal to me, as I'm tired of listening to the standard smooth talk of politicians. But even to me it seemed something less than Presidential. So, I could appreciate it, but I wasn't sure it was for me. How will mass audiences take to it?

Memo to Republicans: Jeb Bush for VP!

Yesterday I suggested that Mitt Romney, if he gets the Republican nomination, should think about Jeb Bush as his VP. With another day to think about it, I like this idea even more. In fact, I think all the leading Republicans -- Giuliani and McCain, in addition to Romney -- should consider it. Bush would be a great asset in getting religious, national security, and business-minded voters. (Not to mention Florida voters.) He's really the best right wing candidate out there. Whether he'll do it remains to be seen, but it can't hurt to ask.

ADDED: Not surprisingly, it turns out I'm not the only one to think of this:

Friday, February 16, 2007

Jeb Bush for Romney?

It's being reported that Jeb Bush "privately is talking up the candidacy of Mitt Romney and steering some of his closest advisers to the campaign." If true, this is a big deal for Romney. Jeb Bush, in my view, will be the most popular and respected Republican nation-wide for years to come (McCain is loved by some but hated by others). He's got credibility with various right wing factions because of his family name and religious principles, but he does not have the baggage of having invaded Iraq.

I wonder if Jeb would accept a VP nomination? It sounds crazy, but it would be difficult to pass it up. He wouldn't get the blame if he lost, and it would help lay the groundwork for his own future run.

Banning Sex Toys

The ACSBlog reports:
the Eleventh Circuit held today that an Alabama law banning the sale of sex toys is not unconstitutional, on the grounds that Alabama has an interest in preserving "public morality" against the sale of such devices. The challenged law prohibits only the sale of devices "primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs." It does not forbid their use or possession.

This is a decision that seems like it should concern me, but it just doesn't. It's a stupid law, no doubt about that. But should courts prohibit legislatures from passing stupid laws? That seems like a difficult standard to enforce. The more likely approach is to develop new conceptions of "rights" to prevent specific laws from being passed. To me, that seems even more dangerious than the stupid laws themselves. At least I can vote out the legislators.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dowd Criticizes Obama

Maureen Dowd is somewhat critical of Barack Obama in her latest piece. (Kindly posted by a blogger here.) Among her complaints: he sounded "testy" and "irritated"; he didn't look in his "element"; there was "wariness" in his eyes; he "sounded self-consciously pristine at times, as if he was too refined for the muck of politics"; and he got "indignant" about pictures of him at the beach in Hawaii.

Well, it's a shame that Obama did not impress Dowd. People like her are an important part of the process and he'll need to find a way to get these folks to like him.

On the other hand, it's understandable that he would get annoyed at a never-ending string of questions that is completely lacking in substance (e.g. did you have a heater in your podium during the announcement speech?) It often seems like many reporters don't understand the issues very well, and therefore spend most of their time on personalities and similar topics (e.g. is Obama "black" enough?).

Obama's Name

Ann Coulter has been referring to Obama as "B. Hussein Obama."

You know, there are days when I think of myself as a conservative, at least a liberatian one. But people like Ann Coulter make me wonder whether I really want to be part of the group.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Obama on the Role of Government

Ezra Klein quotes Obama as follows:
When I meet with Obama in his office, it becomes clear that his study of foreign policy has only deepened his belief in the potential of American power. "In Africa, you often see that the difference between a village where everybody eats and a village where people starve is government," he tells me. "One has a functioning government, and the other does not. Which is why it bothers me when I hear Grover Norquist or someone say that government is the enemy. They don't understand the fundamental role that government plays."

I'm not sure the issue is quote so simple. In Zimbabwe, for example, there's a "functioning government" that is starving its people through its policies.

It's not surprising to hear Obama slam Norquist. That can only help with liberals. But I hope he can at least appreciate that government is not always the answer.

Prison Rape: A Solution

Ezra Klein is worried about prison rape. I am, too. I had an idea once for fixing it: Put cameras everywhere in prisons. That should make it possible to catch and punish most or all of the perpetrators. I saw similar proposals elsewhere on the web, so I'm not the only one to think of it.

The Impact of the Minimum Wage on Employment

The Free Exchange blog quotes an anecdote about the employment effects of a minimum wage increase:

This piece from the Arizona Republic surprises me by filling out its column inches with anecdotes about the negative effects of Arizona's higher minimum wage:

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.' "

That is the one good thing about this latest increase. It will give us lots of opportunities to collect data on examples like this one.

Emboldening Terrorists

John Yoo argues: "If we falter now, it would be read as a "defeat" and embolden more terrorist attacks on us." It seems to me what was really emboldening was the Iraq invasion. It's now clear that if you attack America we'll get distracted and go after someone else.

"Wasting" of Military Lives

Michelle Malkin criticizes Obama for saying this:

OBAMA: We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged and to which we have now spent $400 billion and has seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.
She says that Obama argued that "each and every member of the military who volunteered to serve and died in Iraq wasted his/her life."

I think she's mis-characterizing his statement, though. He's not arguing that they wasted their lives by joining the military. He's arguing that Bush wasted their lives by sending them to Iraq.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Problem of "Big" Government

As summarized by Ethan Leib at Prawfsblawg:
Gar Alperovitz had a very provocative and thoughtful op-ed in yesterday's NYT. The central point was that this country is getting too big for centralized government and that it should come as no surprise that big states and regions are getting bolder in efforts at self-governance. California and its ambitions to address health care, trade, and global warming issues might be seen as exemplary.
I've had similar thoughts, but never tried to flesh them out. Makes sense instinctively, though.

Nothing Like the Sun

From what I've read, the sun is very hot. My observations of the sun confirm this. Generally speaking, I find that the temperature is warmer when the sun is up than when it is down. I have surmised from this that the sun is warming things up.

Thus, the following alternative theory of global warming strikes me as somewhat credible. In short, the argument is that the recent warmer temperatures are due to the sun:
the sun drives climate changes more emphatically than greenhouse gases do. After becoming much more active during the 20th century, the sun now stands at a high but roughly level state of activity. Solar physicists warn of possible global cooling, should the sun revert to the lazier mood it was in during the Little Ice Age 300 years ago.

Not being a scientist, I can't really evaluate this theory in a meaningful way. (I haven't noticed the sun being more "active" recently, but then I usually try not to look directly at it). But I will keep an eye on news reports on the subject.

Dahlia Lithwick Makes an Absurd Argument about the Death Penalty

Dahlia Lithwick argues that popular support for the death penalty has declined in recent years from very widespread support to merely substantial majority support (67%), but because the Supreme Court has not declared it unconstitutional in view of this decline, the Court is at odds with the views of the people. Well, she doesn't say it quite like that. Instead, she hedges a bit, and uses phrases like "there now seems to be a subtle hardening in favor of the death penalty" on the court. But to me the implication is that she thinks they should say it's unconstitutional.

So, first off, what on earth is she thinking saying that the Court is not following the people when 67% of people support it? Granted, support has declined, but it's still very high, probably higher than among the Justicies.

But more importantly, there's a big difference between people having doubts about the death penalty as a policy matter and it being unconstitutional. It can be a horrible policy but still be constitutional (or vice versa). There's not always going to be a connection between the two. The Court's job is to address constitutional issues, not make policy, right? I guess for some people these issues are one and the same, which is something that is depressing to be reminded of.

The Volokh conspirators dissect the issue here and here.

Obama's "Blackness" Again

The LA Times asks, "Would Obama be 'the black president'?"

My answer: Who cares, that's a stupid question.