|View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Friday, December 19, 2003
Red Sox Come Up Short Again
The Red Sox wanted to trade Manny Ramirez to Texas for Alex Rodriguez. Both players have enormous contracts, but A-Rod's is a 10-year, $250 million deal. The Red Sox won't pay that, so they worked out a deal with A-Rod to restructure his contract. The deal was agreeable to both player and team. The Players' Associate nixed the deal, because they didn't like the give-backs.
Can somebody please explain to me how on earth the Players' Association gets to veto a deal that doesn't violate league minimums? The Rangers made a terrible mistake hamstringing themselves with this contract. Numbers like that won't show up again for another 15, 20 years. If A-Rod wants to take a pay cut to get a ring, it's not like he's undercutting the market. What business is it of Don Fehr's?
Budget Woes Continued
In what's shaping up to be the big Colorado political story of 2004, the state is trying to do something about its budget problems before the next recession. We may have sailed between the Scylla of TABOR and the Charybdis of Amendment 23 this time, but the point of the Odyssey is that Odysseus is the only one that makes it back.
Amendment 23 requires state spending on education to rise by inflation +1% every year until 2010. TABOR requires that the state balance its books from year to year, can't raise taxes without asking the people about it, and that the amount of spending can only rise by the population change + inflation, from the previous year. The Gallagher Amendment keeps the percentage of total property taxes paid individuals, instead of businesses, at 45%. Since more people move into an area than businesses, the individual property tax rate tends to fall.
So here's the problem. Amendment 23 means that an ever-growing dollar amount needs to be spent on public education. (For some obscure reason, judges don't appear to consider this a violation of local control...) TABOR keeps spending well in check, but it also has a downward ratchet from recessions. Rather than using a given year as a baseline, it uses last year, which means that absent high inflation, you can't ever make up lost ground. And the Gallagher Amendment tends to reduce the per-person amount of property tax collected.
This means that the amount of money left over for discretionary spending keeps falling. The college presidents are going nuts, since their tuitions count against TABOR. They've not done anything to structurally reduce spending (aside from a few well-publicized layoffs; I don't see the administration or tenured faculty offering to take pay cuts or go to fewer well-catered conferences to save the jobs of those staff they profess to love). And they see that they're going to have to compete fiercely for a shrinking pie.
This doesn't mean the problem isn't real. It is. State Treasurer Mike Coffman is trying to get everyone to give a little. The voters rejected a change to Gallagher, but they may not have grasped the full import. The Democrats want to gut TABOR, seeing it as a the tether that it is. Coffman is willing to set a given year as the baseline, getting rid of the downward ratchet. At the same time, the Coalition for Children, or whatever, is threatening to lie down in front of bulldozers or something to keep that extra +1% in Amendment 23. Coffman is proposing killing the 1%. His proposals seem reasonable enough to me.
At the same time, there's talk of a "rainy-day" fund, which sounds a lot like a scam to me. Rainy-day funds, in the hands of elected officials with constituencies to please, tend to get used up in a light drizzle. The only reason we didn't run through it a year ago was because it wasn't there. Once that cushion exists, bet on committees saying to themselves that, "well, there's always that rainy-day fund."
Pretty much any change is going to have to go to the voters, since these provisions are all written into the state constitution.
The big disappointment here has been Governor Owens. He owes a lot of his popularity to TABOR, which predates him by years. Because of it, raising taxes was never really an option, and Colorado managed to avoid a lot of the fiscal problems faced by other states. Having weathered the storm, he's not come forward with any real proposals short of securitizing the tobacco settlement money, and putting it in, you guessed it, a Rainy Day Fund. This is Owens's big chance to show leadership and broker a deal putting his successor in better shape, and he's been all but AWOL on it. Some local Republicans, wishing to preserve his viability for the 2008 Presidential race, are willing to make excuses for him. I say that if he can't show leadership now, he's got no shot at being President, anyway. And this is the job he's got now.
Why do you care, especially if you don't live in Colorado? Because this story is likely you state's story, too, only with higher taxes now. California Democrats just pushed Arnold away from any actual spending or taxing restraints. Your state probably raised taxes in the middle of a recession or an incipient recovery to make ends meet. Given that, TABOR has started to sound real good to a lot of people living elsewhere, and if we lose faith in it here, you'll never see it in your state.
And you won't even have the option of moving here to enjoy it.
Not Very Presidential
Now, Howard Dean is running against the Washington Post. And he's sounding less pacifist and more, well, weird.
So now he wants to continue the war? I thought he wanted to get us out of Iraq sooner than possible. What I think now is that Saddam's capture has sucked the wind out of America's discomfort about being there, and running against the larger war no longer looks like a winner. The Democrats, and Dean himself, are doing everything they can to make the war a non-issue, since their real strength is domestic policy and the welfare state. I haven't heard any of the other Democrats declare victory. They're just all trying to find some way to neutralize an issue that none of them, with the exception of Joe Lieberman, really gives a damn about.
Sorry, Howard. Maybe the reason the Clintons hate you so much is that you're trying out their style. But you have neither the charm nor the national complacency to pull it off. You may yet get the nomination, but a liberal trying to run against the Post would be like Tom DeLay claiming that Fox News was sabotaging his agenda.
So Much for the Big Fist Theory
When Israelis reacted to Arafat's declaration of war by electing Ariel Sharon, Leon Wieseltier famously called Sharon "nothing but a big fist," while still defending the Israelis' choice of him to lead them through this time. Now, by declaring his intention to take the first steps to imposing a unilateral settlement, Sharon has shown a subtlety denied of him by his critics.
Sharon can't afford to offend the US, of course, so he needs to cloak these moves in the guise of "implementing the road map," and denying that the fence will be the permanent border. There probably will be adjustments. But the inexorable logic of the fence is that Israel can't spend time or lives defending those Jews on the other side. Deacon at Powerline considers this "something for nothing." Sharon's too good for that. The implied threat is that everything behind the fence is defensible, and if you don't cooperate, we'll just hold onto it, forever if need be. Any honest appriasal would, by those criteria, make the fence the permanent border. After all, it does seem to be working, which it why the Islamofascists are screaming so loudly about it.
The other thing this does is relieve Israel of the burden of providing security to the Palestinian population centers. So far, the PA has refused to confront Hamas and Islamic Jihad, instead allowing them to do their fighting, while ceding more and more popular support to them. Either the pathological society that the Palestinians have become rights itself, or it devours itself. But Israel can't determine that, and with the fence, it can finally, relatively safely, get mostly out of the way.
A Little More Humiliation
Bret Stephens of the Jerusalem Post explains why Tom Friedman got it half-right when he talks of the importance of honor to the Arabs. While Friedman argues that we need to pay homage to that principle, Stephens thinks it's our job to break it. Charles Krauthammer makes a similar, but slightly different, point in this morning's Post. He seems to be saying that Hussein's humiliation works within that "culture of honor" to destroy both his personal myth and that of Baathism.
I think they're both right. It's much easier to destroy a man, or even a movement, within a political and social culture, than it is to radically change that culture. But the first step in doing so is thoroughly discrediting the products of that culture.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Littwin and the Iraqis
Jared has a fine take-down of Mike Littwin's latest this morning. Littwin's basic thesis is that the Iraqis aren't celebating more because we're doing the work of scrubbing the Baathists, not them. That when Ceaucescu went down, at least it was to Romanians, but when a foreigner does the work, it the "us" in "us vs. them" includes the dictator. There's some evidence for this, although citing the Los Angeles Times rather than this Washington Post report calls into question his taste in newspapers.
I confess to understanding the Sunnis on this point. It's the same reason people went crying through the streets rather than celebrating when Stalin died. The man failed in just about every mission he set for Soviet society, and his failures resulted in the occupation of Central and Eastern Europe than eventually fractured his country. The fear of the unknown is often worse than the terror of the known.
There's another point here, too. The Iraqis may be embarassed that Saddam looked more like the Cowardly Lion than the Lion of Baghdad. But when the guys crawls out of his hole looking like he's been collecting cans and bottles for the deposit money, your second or third thought may be, "shoot, I could take that guy." And you'll be embarassed that you didn't. There's a notion in Judaism that when you're judged, you're shown your "evil inclination," the force behind the little red devil on your right shoulder whispering, "go ahead, do it." The righteous will see it as a mountain, and ask themselves, "how could I have overcome that?" The, um, not-so-righteous will see it as a hair, and ask themselves, "how could I have not overcome that?" I think there's a little of that in the Iraqi reaction, too.
Littwin and the Democrats
Price: Well, don't bother, Sefton. I don't like you, I never did, and I never will.
Sefton: A lot of people say that, and the first thing you know it, they get married, and live happily ever after.
The other bit of Littwin's column involves his complaints about the trailing Democrats attacking Howard Dean's foreign policy positions and experience. Littwin's in a snit because:
No, Mike, their slogan is that it's more important that they beat Dean, because Dean can't beat Bush. That's what the whole primary nomination process is about, I've heard those ads, and they're legitimate critiques, certainly far more on the up-and-up than the NAACP suggesting that Bush was driving the truck that dragged James Byrd to death. They're reasoned appeals to Democrats not to nominate a guy who'll take the party's snowmobile into a tree.
I don't know what Littwin's worried about. That the intramurals will get so rough that the winner won't be able to lead the varsity? It seems to me that Al Gore was nominated real good, even though he didn't get elected. And John McCain managed a serious run at the nomination, enough to give Governor Bush a scare. Bush's father famously called Reagan's economy-reviving tax plan "voodoo economics," and they did marry and live happily ever after, though once the separation was final Bush pere reverted to his old ways. Coronations are better for sitting Presidents, since a real internal challenge means his own party's not happy with his on-the-job performance. Parties take a little longer to decide on challengers, and a good race toughens 'em up a little. And then they can bring the also-ran on board to "broaden their appeal" and "reach out to the other factions."
The nominating process is about finding someone who can a) win, and b) represents the party's ideals, and c) can lead once he wins. Sometimes you have to compromise on b) to get a). Sometimes you end up ditching a) to get b), just ask the California Republicans. But it's perfectly legitimate to run ads reminding primary voters that the guy they're considering getting married to has some deficiencies in a) and c), and is he really all that much b), after all? Remember, this year's process is so front-loaded that the game will likely be over by March. If the Democrats go ahead and hand Dean the first round, there's not gonna be a second round for second thoughts.
Which brings us to the dynamics of caucuses and primaries. About which I know almost nothing. Deacon and Trunk over at Powerline has posted a couple of articles about the alternatives to Dean, and the chances that he'll be stopped. Peter Schramm over at No Left Turns is arguing that Clark's the guy to do it. (He also finds it interesting that Sharpton is ahead of Kerry and Edwards, but that doesn't surprise me. It's almost certainly entirely the black vote. Sharpton ran for office, what, three times in New York? And he always ended up with the same percentages, and it was always the same voters. The fact that he's picking the same faces out of a larger crowd shouldn't surprise anyone. Disappoint, disturb, and dismay them, yes. But not surprise.)
I know this much. If Clark somehow turns into Frank Reich and gets the nomination, his only card is his foreign policy "experience." Aside from the part of alienating every military officer who'll talk about him, that rests on his role in Kosovo. The Balkans, as Tina Brown, plumping for Hillary, points out, is full of unpronounceable places and people. Expect the debate moderators or Clark himself to bring those up, just to get Bush to try. Expect the papers the next day to lead with whatever happens.
WSJ on the Sleuths
The Wall Street Journal has a great piece today on the two junior military intelligence analysts who got Saddam. Lt. Angela Santana, 31, and Cpl. Harold Engstrom, 36, of Alpha Company, 104th Military Intelligence Battalion, did the detective work to hunt him down. Remember how some New York cop looked through every New Jersey parking ticket to help nail Son of Sam?
The chart showing the names and their connections was incredibly complicated, showing the family, tribal, and organizational connections among the subjects. The two analysts weren't trained for any of this, yet managed to pull together enough to see that:
In one of those twists that makes you proud, Cpl. Engstrom joined the Army after September 11, to help do something. Not only did the attacks make us willing, they made us able. I seem to remember a lot of naysayers saying that we were babes in the woods, too naive to penetrate anything as dense and difficult as Iraqi society. These two had been on the job for less than two years. Nothing in their training, not their language skills, not their analytical training, not their societal or cultural background, prepared them for this. They made it work, anyway.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
The Economic Picture
The Wall Street Journal has a page showing the main economic indices, with links to the most recent government report for that statistic. We tend, as news consumers, to get these numbers piecemeal. Unless you really make a point of following this stuff, the reporting is just too granular, and comes freighted with the interpretations built in. Not only can't you put a picture together, you don't even know where the edge pieces are.
What's going on, I think, is that the two statistics measure different things. Consumer confidence measures an abstraction. "How do you feel about the future of the economy?" or even "How do you feel about your personal financial future?" are abstractions, and closely related to each other. People will form their opinions about the economy based on news reports. These reports have been continuously, relentlessly gloomy, even as the charts show more or less continuous improvement. So if someone asks about the future of the economy, people will respond with their mood based on the adverbs used to describe the charts. Here's the methodology.
Actual spending, though, is a concrete action, and you only spend money you have (or, if you're foolish, you think you will have). So that continues to increase, even as people abstactly worry about the economy. In fact, unemployment, although it certainly hit me personally, never got that high for the economy as a whole, although whenever that number's going up, jobs are hard to find. This corroborates the data. People were worried about the abstract "state of the economy." but since most of them hadn't lost their jobs, they tended to keep spending.
The only way to pay for these deficits is with dollars that foreigners buy. But direct foreign investment has been falling the last half of this year. As a result, we sell the dollar more cheaply, offering more of them to foreigners. That's why the dollar has been falling. One way of attracting more foreign capital is to raise interest rates. If people in Japan see that they'll get a better return on their dollars, they'll buy more of them. At this point, though, the Fed is committed to low interest rates, so the dollar will probably keep getting weaker. This makes imports more expensive, which could fuel inflation. I have to believe that if the US economy continues to grow at anything like 4-5%, it'll be an attractive place for foreign capital.
And unlike China, you can actually believe our numbers.
One hundred years ago today, the Wright brothers flew. Underdogs in a race to powered, heavier-than-air flight, they won. Rand Simberg over at NRO has a fine layman's description of how all the pieces came together. Although he misses a key technical point, which we'll get to later.
I'm the proud holder of a Private Pilot's license, issued by your FAA. William Langewiesche wrote an article for the Atlantic, reprinted in 1998 after JFK, Jr.'s death, called "The Turn," explaining some basic aerodynamics. That article is one of the main reasons I started flying. The whole operation not only made sense, it sounded attainable, which it was. And is.
Langewiesche knows what he's talking about. His father was Wolfgang Langewiesche, who wrote Stick and Rudder, one of the classics of flight instruction. For those of you not inclined to climb into a single-engine Cessna, Stick and Rudder is the next-best thing. A Cessna 172 is basically the same thing that was flying in the 1930s. The landing gear is different, the avionics are better, but the controls and the aerodynamics are almost exactly the same.
It was Wolfgang who made that point about the Wright Brothers. When turning the plane, the pilot has control over how much to bank the plane and how much to turn the nose. To keep the plane, and the pilot, from sliding all over the place, the turn has to be coordinated, those two control have to be made in tandem. The Wrights linked the two inputs so their turns were always coordinated. Today's pilots have to manage them separately. This might seem to be extra work, but trust me, it's invaluable in a cross-wind landing.
I love flying because you see the world differently from 500 or 1000 ft. up. You see more than you do from ground level, and you see more than you do from 30,000 ft., too. There's nothing quite like seeing your own neighborhood, or city, or house, from 50 or 75 stories up. City planning either makes sense, or it doesn't. Traffic patterns make sense. Get out over the plains and follow that survey line as it turns from road to fence, to path, to divider between fields. I have circled over Devil's Tower, flown directly over the Black Hills, and then seen Mt. Rushmore from the air. And I have flown over Hayden Pass, above the mountain-tops but also between them. (Just stay clear of the Military Operations Area.)
Flying in a small plane is a transcendent experience. If you've got $100, go down to your small airport - Centennial or Jefferson County, near Denver - and tell one of the flight school pilots you want a tour.
Axis of Weevils
We need a name for the steady drip-drip-drip of Democrats, some of them quite liberal otherwise, who are taking a responsible position on the war. So far, we've got Roger L. Simon, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Rep. Gephardt, Sen. Zell Miller, and now Orson Scott Card. I like, "Axis of Weevils."
When I was growing up, the term for a right-leaning Democrat, usually from the South, was "Boll Weevil." He could be counted on to give something like the Reagan tax cuts a fair shot. They competed with the left-leaning Republicans, usually Northern, called, "Gypsy Moths." I suppose the idea was that each was a pestilence to his party's leadership.
if anyone fits the bill it's Sen. Miller, but you don't hear the terms so much any more. Part of the reason is that the species themselves are rarer, although the Republicans are certainly more competitive in the northeast that the Democrats are in the South.
Kol Hakavod, Jared!
Just in case you were wondering, Jared, over at the Exultate, was the sneaky Smeagol who tipped off Medved about the Sean Astin's efforts on behalf of the US military. Astin's a good guy, and it's probably a good thing for Viggo Mortensen that most of the filming was done before September 11.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Last Word on Saddam
Monday, December 15, 2003
Grand Poobah of the Bologsphere, Hugh Hewitt, was in town over the weekend for a Young Life fundraiser/Christmas party.
UPDATE: The Mangled Cat is propsing giving Hugh a new title...
The Company You Keep
Imam Kazerooni, it would appear, is allowing these people to sell a tape of one of his lectures. These charmers create Islamic software, but are also working on a fairly extensive "Boycott Israel" Campaign, one extensive enough to include most of the Fortune 500. It's a comprehensive campaign, and we would strongly encourage you to patronize any and all of the targeted companies.
They also have pictures of lots of Islamofascist, anti-Israel, anti-American rallies and protests:
At the same, they do produce actual Islamic-oriented software. This kids game is guaranteed to produce hours of fun and a lifetime of bigotry and hatred:
While this shot from an "Art of the Islamic Revolution" CD is just the thing to whip out in your indignation at having your patriotism questioned:
I'm sure that Imam Kazerooni would be appalled, just appalled, to see his Koran tapes being distributed by these people. Never mind that the link from his mosque leads directly to the site.
Local Iraqis Celebrate
The Denver Post has a nice article about the reactions of local Iraqis to the news that the witch is dead. For some reason, they seem to equate justice more with results that with process.
Axis of Weasels' Guest Fifth Columnist
Ibrahim Kazerooni, Imam of the larger mosque in Denver, and refugee from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, has thrown his support behind Saddam's backers as only the enemy of his enemies could do. Kazerooni's considered a moderate, which means he isn't calling for the all-out destruction of the country that saved both him and his homeland from the freakish monster now in custody, and starring on the late-night talk show monologues. No, he just wants us to turn everything over to the UN, after apologizing to them.
Kazerooni is a Shiite. This isn't a problem in and of itself, of course. Lots of people, including all the pro-American Iranians demonstrating in the streets, are Shiite. But in an Iraq where the Shiite clergy is currently trying to rig the process so they get to start out with all the goodies, one has to wonder a little about the code words this Shiite cleric is using.
By dismissing smart political theater as mere stuntsmanship, Kazerooni downplays the symbolic aspects of this struggle. One doubts that they'd bother him so much if they weren't so effective. Apologize to the UN? What, is he nuts? Every sin he accuses us of is one we'd accuse the UN and our so-called allies of. What's more, we were right, and they, simply, were wrong.
Finally, he wants the UN to run the economic and political reconstructiong efforts because we lack credibility with the Iraqis on the street. Exactly whom does he really think will have more credibility: those who tried to keep Saddam in power, or those who now have him in prison?
Muslims Promote Tolerance
For themselves. Look, they're right. Most American Muslims are good citizens, like you and me. One of my profs this coming quarter is an Iranian who's been in the states for years; very pro-American, would like nothing better than for the mullahs to be swinging from lampposts. That's they're best advertising: walking the talk. Not sitting there playing the crimeless victims, beating us over the head, telling us how bad we ought to feel for worrying that some of them might be hostile.
There are about 4 million Muslims in the US. In a country with over 290 million people of other religious faiths, almost all of which have suffered some ill-treatment by Muslims abroad, there have been a handful of violent incidents, and a handful more of graffiti or vandalism. In France, a country with a few million Muslim immigrants, there have been hundreds of violent anti-Semitic attacks, against the persons, possessions, and synagogues of the Jews there. You do the math.
To Guy Cannon, and his Damascus Road Blog, to the Rocky Mountain Alliance. Now blogging regularly, Guy takes a look at things from the northwest suburbs, a place called Arvada. Close enough to Boulder to keep an eye on it for us, but not so close that he'll need regular detoxification or a chem suit.
As we've said before, it's not a closed club. Come on in, the water's fine.
Visiting Iraqis React
The Rocky Mountain News reports on the reactions of the visiting Baghdad City Council members to Saddam's apprehension:
These guys are the real McCoy. They're not longstanding exiles. They're not Americans. They're not interlopers, and they're not former Ba'athists. They can't be accused of not knowing the situation on the ground. They manage to get through the whole article without using the word "but," and they take a thoroughly optimistic view of the situtation. Then again, they can't afford not to. If you can cut and run whenever you like, or if you think your country's security doesn't depend on success, you can be as negative as you like.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Iraqis in Denver
It turns out that several members of the Baghdad City Council are in Denver, as part of a USAID pilot program, to learn how government Not-From-The-Barrel-Of-A-Gun works. They'll be here for the week.
Let's just hope nobody tells them about this. (Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader Required.)
Human Rights Watch, Don't Call Us, We'll Call You
Human Rights Watch is concerned that Saddam get a real trial, not a show trial. While they concur that the man was a monster, apparently they trust neither the US nor the Iraqis to deal with this man without their expert assistance. Does the arrogance of these people know no bounds?
We'll Always Have Paris
Not the Founding Fathers
Fox News is reporting the collapse of the EU Constitution talks. One of the sticking points is the sharing of power among large and small states. France and Germany want the large countries to have power; Spain and Poland want a more even distribution. Now, we solved this problem with a bicameral legislature. But, of course, Europe doesn't have anything to learn from us about these things.
OK, I know the big news of the day, and we'll get to that shortly. But at the moment, CSPAN II is airing a tape of Diane Rehm's public radio interview with Jimmy "Mr. Peanut" Carter about his new novel. (Diane Rehm is the host on whose show Howard Dean all but accused President Bush of having been warned by the Saudis about 9-11.) The novel is set during the colonial period, and a caller just asked about the status of slaves during the Revolution, when the British encouraged them to flee in order to destabilize the states and the Revolution.
Our ex-President just said that the "Governor of Virginia actually free several hundred slaves, to form units to help fight against the Revolution. Unfortunately, that effort was aborted when the soldiers in those units contracted smallpox."
Yes, that's right ladies and gentlemen. "Unfortunately" soldiers fighting for the British died. I give you our 39th President. Do with him what you will.