View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Friday, January 31, 2003
At the democratic retreat, Tom Daschle limited himself to a few lame, recycled jokes about Trent Lott. Fine, if you can't beat the guy in front of you, you can always live off of past glories.

But Bill Clinton was vintage. He said that "Lott was probably just trying to make an old man feel good," but that (paraphrasing) "Republic guilt over race had been building, and they just offered up Lott as a sacrifical lamb."

Isn't that Bill all over? Concede the point you've already won (Lott's gone), and use it to paint all Republicans as racists.

Won't work this time, Bill.

One of Mr. Jensen's main points was that he did not feel threatened by Saddam Hussein. That it was inconceivable that Hussein would use WMDs against the United States.

I reminded him that one September 10th, September 11th was unthinkable.

This elicited a thoughtful look, and no meaningful response.

The Daniels College of Business, where I am currently earning my MBA, is named for Bill Daniels, who made billions of dollars in cable. He was very concerned with ethics and the teaching of business ethics, and has left virtually all of his money to the school and to his foundation. This is not, as near as I can tell, terribly unusual for men of great wealth.

Monday night, in our Career, Communication, and Leadership class, we'll be hearing a panel discussion about Bill Daniels named "Capitalist With a Conscience." What on God's Green Earth is that supposed to mean?

Capitalism is the only economic system that produces enough wealth to both feed and defend its people. If socialists had a conscience, they wouldn't be free riding right now on our military. Communists, by definition, have no conscience.

I know we're concerned with ethics, but that's different from assuming that there's something about being in business that needs to be defended. I don't want to read too much into this, but in ethics class, I also got the sense that the school believes that Business has something to apologize for.

As far as I can see, whoever named this thing is the one who needs to apologize.

Thursday, January 30, 2003
Being out of work does funny things. I was looking through the lists of used books stores, and one of them wanted some help. This wouldn't have been a career move, but it might have fun. So I went down to ask about it. The owner as sitting at a table, talking to his friend. Although the position had been filled, he did introduce me to his friend, none other than the former international editor for the Rocky Mountain News, Holger Jensen. He now writes for the European Press Network, sort of a wire service for columnists and editorialists.

Mr. Jensen is the former editor because he repeated a report than painted Ariel Sharon as a Jewish racist, advocating forcible relocation of the Palestinians. Mr. Sharon made no such comments, and the author of the original interview stated that his subject, while anonymous, was not Mr. Sharon. Mr. Jensen never bothered to find this out, and the paper allowed him to publish a mea culpa before firing him. In any case, his columns leading up to his firing last April were increasingly critical of Israel. Jerusalem could do no right, Ramallah could do no wrong. I'm not sure if the Rocky still has them on line, but they should be available in Lexis-Nexis.

Naturally, he takes a very European view of the Middle East. But he remains opposed to Israel, although he denies it. I'll go into more detail in another posting.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003
You heard it here first. The US will announce a deadline, and the Iraqis will offer some "concessions," even "sweeping concessions," to use a phrase that Dan Rather and the New York Times will use, in an effort to avoid war. Avoid war for now, on our terms, which won't be said. God only knows what effect this will have on the timetable.

Tomorrow's Washington Post, has an article about Iraqis waiting for a war that they supposedly don't believe will happen. The writer seems to make the mistake, to paraphrase P. J. O'Rourke, of believing the publicly stated opinions of people in a country where it's illegal to hold certain opinions. But when it moves from man-on-the-street to man-in-the-bunker, the article reveals a disturbing disconnection from reality on the part of the Iraqi decision-making apparatus.

The Iraqis-in-waiting seem to believe any number of untrue things, sometimes simultaneously. They believe that "the world" will stop the US. They believe that they can "ride out" the war. They believe that the anti-war protests are more than a collection of gullible college professors and no-so-gullible communists. They believe that the anti-war protests matter. They believe that the Security Council matters. They believe that the French matter. If they try hard, they can even believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Towards the bottom of the article, hidden, no doubt, below the fold and tucked in between ads for mattresses and hair care products, Mr. Chandrasekaran gets to the point. The Iraqis don't like Hussein, don't want to fight for him, don't want to see their country destroyed for him. The Iraqi leadership is deluding itself into playing the wrong game.

The Indispensible MEMRI has posted Mullah Khamenei's response to the street demonstrations sweeping the country from beneath his feet. Its headline:

Those Who Spread Slogans of Reform, Liberty, Democracy, and Human Rights... Are Fighting Islam

You Don't Say.

Powerline notes an article at NRO about the left's second disastrous Israeli election in a row. There has always been an element within Jewish society, including within Israel itself, that opposes the notion of a Jewish state, and fetishizes Jewish powerlessness. Yoram Hazony's The Jewish State and Efraim Karsh's Fabricating Israeli History deal with the history of this movement, and its intellectual dishonesty, respectively. I've mentioned them before, but they're both fine books, although Karsh's is a little polemical at moments.

Iraq is "poised" (as though this were the talent portion of a beauty pageant) to take the chair of the UN Disarmament Conference. Richard Boucher, in a rare moment of outrage directed at someone other than the press corps, called this "unacceptable." Now that Colin Powell is moving into support for the United States, Boucher can say this sort of thing without fear of having to eat alone at the State Department cafeteria. On one hand, this could be conceived as offensive. On the other hand, who knows more than Iraq about disarmament and how countries might seek to avoid it?

My favorite line in the story:

However, Boucher said the United States may have no options in allowing the conference to be headed by Iraq. The leadership rotates monthly in an alphabetical order, and there is no way to remove Iraq from the alphabet or the lineup.

The best way to avoid this obvious conflict of interest is to change who gets to appoint the representative. Maybe by the time Iraq takes over, they'll actually be in compliance.

The first, most obvious reminder is of Libya running the UN Human Right Commission, but the UN has been doing this sort of thing for decades. They hold a conference on population control in Egypt, a conference on Women's Rights in China, Home of the Forced Abortion (no word on whether they charge for the needle), and a conference on AIDS in South Africa, where the leader of the country stands in noble opposition to every shred of medical knowledge on the subject. Is there a UN High Commissioner for Irony?

Tuesday, January 28, 2003
This is a media situation where lessmay be more. The headlines will read that Sharon won because the people like his policies. That's overstating it a little - the carrot it nicer, but has failed over and over. The further analysis in the papers will Labor under the delusion that it's because the loyal (or in the case of Peres, disloyal) opposition has failed to provide an alternative. The Post claims that Labor lost its way by not opposing Sharon more forcefully. They have the same prescription for the Democrats in the US Senate - oppose the executive more forcefully. This solutions is as wrong there as it is here. It will only further marginalize the party, split it, and pave the way for its successor(s).

Likud has won at the polls, and Labor, according to the Jerusalem Post,is in danger of slipping to the #3 party behind Shinui. Shinui is secularist, but apparently not as hateful as Meretz.

The Washington Post article repeats all of the old bromides within the first few paragraphs: Likud is "hard-line," Sharon's "harsh military crackdown on Palestinians," Labor, which calls for unilateral surrender,and completely beholden to the universal labor union, Histradrut, is "center-left," and, of course, "Sharon's tough military policies [are] aimed at destroying the Palestinian Authority." In reality, Likud is centrist, Sharon has been harsh to terrorists, not Palestinians in general, Labor left the center a long time ago, and Sharon could have destroyed the PA months ago if he had wanted to. He seems to be taking the "mend it, don't end it" line with the PA, and realizes that, in George Will's words, the West Bank is in dire need of de-nazification.

The article gives lip-service to the notion that Sharon, one of the last of the original generation of Zionists from 1948, would rather work with Labor than with the Orthodox parties. It then goes on for three paragraphs claiming that Labor, like the Democrats, suffer from not proposing an alternative. Perhaps because when your country is under assault, there is no reasonable alternative. The Post does mention that people don't trust Labor to negotiate successfully, and that even many traditional Labor voters have a Nixon-goes-to-China attitude; they remember that it took Begin to get Sadat to Camp David. The problem is not, as Labor would have it, that people think Labor compromised its principles in the last unity government; it's that Foreign Minister Peres, but taking every opportunity to publicly sabotage Prime Minister Sharon, showed that Labor still hasn't figured out that Arafat is evil.

Personally, I'd like to see Labor split. It would marginalize the irresponsible wing of the party, leaving them out of the government, while giving the Scoop Jackson Laborites the chance to form a responsible party, or rescue Labor's name.

John Irving, for whom I've never cared very much, has a smart, well-informed, well-written op-ed piece about Title IX in this morning's New York Times. He uses the example of men's wrestling, which he has personal experience with, and spices it up with anecdotal evidence. He also calls the radical feminists' bluff, showing how they argue almost entirely by assertion, and then oppose the surveys that might prove them wrong.

Monday, January 27, 2003
While I was out at the OLE weekend, where they make you climb poles, walk tightropes, and get lost in the woods, two small planes collided over northwest Denver. All aboard both planes died, although, thankfully, nobody on the ground was killed. What's truly horrible is that this was an eminently avoidable crash.

The Denver Post has done a fine job covering the crash, and their reporters had the sense to look at the aeronautical charts for Denver. The Piper, the southbound plane, was not in the suggested airlane. This was not illegal, just very unwise. In fact, he was flying head-on into oncoming traffic.

I had this happen to me once last Spring when I was flying some visiting friends over Denver. I had requested flight following from Denver Center, and since it was a Sunday, and traffic was light, they were able to help. I started to get a little nervous when they said that I had "southbound traffic at my altitude, at 12 o'clock." The guy was flying in my lane, in the wrong direction, at the wrong altitude. He was flying perfectly legally, and could have gotten all of us killed, had I not gotten warning from ATC. Either he misread the chart, or just didn't care.

While I understand that some people like to get out of their suggested lanes to avoid traffic, I think these lanes ought to be manadatory. If you've got a choice between traveling with traffic and traveling head-on against it, I don't think you've got much of a choice at all. It's easier to see traffic, and you've got eons more time to pick it up. If this requires the creation of some other class of airspace, so be it. On the whole, fast-moving Moonies will have to slow down for slower Cessnas, or pick a different altitude. At least they'll live to fly next Sunday.

Thursday, January 23, 2003
More Mark Steyn. His Spectator column argues the case for real regime change, not just swapping out one Iraqi despot for another, and for doing so quickly. The longer we wait, the bolder our internal and external enemies become, and the harder it gets to actually do anything.

Mark Steyn's most recent National Post column rebuts the notion that Canada will ever be allowed to confederate with the US. According to Steyn, its Liberal government has exacerbated the differences between us and them over its term in office, and that Canada increasingly represents the European model of democracy, not the Anglospheric one. Any Canadian provinces to become states would, with the exception of Alberta, vote Democratic, which means that the Republicans would never let it happen. Maybe, he reasons, BC and Alberta could get in, since each party would get two Senators and the US would round out to be contiguous with Alaska.

He addresses the currency issue, too. Canada could make the dollar its currency, but it won't save any NHL franchises. The problem isn't a loss of faith in its currency; the loonie is slowly eroding against the greenback, not in freefall as in Argentina or El Salvador when they pegged their currencies to the dollar. The problem is in the way the economy is run, which over taxes, stifles wealth creation, and exports entertainers. Changing from one stable currency to another won't help.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003
In discussing the changing nature of organizations, we came up with the idea that they are more fluid and have less predictable rules than they used to. One corollary from this is that, even at lower levels, organizations and even individuals need to have a greater range of capabilites with less specialization. It seems to me that this mitigates one of the great causes of civilization's success: specialization in what you do well.

The second part of the class is dealing with networking. The definition that the guy from the Saeman Center came up with is:
A process of developing and utilizing contacts to share information effectively and discover/create opportunities that is mutually beneficial.

The syllable-to-word ratio is worth of the Federal Government. The sad part is that this guy is responsible for helping us improve our communication skills.

In 21st Century Professional, a leadership and career development course, we were given an article by DU's Chancellor Ritchie. In it, he encourages people to explore their ethical and community values by discussing them with their religious and spiritual community. This was a welcome development, although hardly the radical one that the professor presented it as. Perhaps it's somewhat disheartening that he was able to treat it as new and innovative to realize that many of our core community and ethical values are informed by religion. But I was pleased to see it mentioned, and pleased to see the professor encourage the idea.

Bill Mauldin died. I am too young to remember much of Vietnam, much less World War II, but his Up Front was one of the first books I read about the war that wasn't about battles or moving lines, but about the life of the average soldier. He helped me understand the resilience that the US soliders showed during the war. He explained that most enlisted men didn't resent officers for being officers, but did resent officers who didn't take care of them, and respected those who did. And how the most important this was to stay alive, and the best way to do that was to get the damn thing over with as quickly as possible.

The book was littered with his cartoons, and I can still remember the best of them, even without having seen the book for years. US soldiers were strictly forbidden from looting, but every once in a while, couldn't resist the temptation to supplement their rations with a cow that "happened to be in the way when th' gun just went off." The one that illustrated how the next line back was the "rear eschelon." There was one he alone loved, of a cavalry officer shooting his wrecked jeep, that eventually got turned into a visual in M*A*S*H. While the AP was filing glowing dispatches about upbeat, victorious soldiers, Mauldin was reminding the brass that these guys were suffering, and just wanted to get home, and could you hurry it up, please?

I saw Adaptation over the weekend, and at first, I agreed completely with your assessment of the film: great premise, great acting, weak ending. But then, I saw that the weak, or rather, conventional, ending, was on purpose - it was the part of the film that Charley's brother helped to write. That's why is was full of sex, guns, car chases, people learning life lessons - all the stuff Charley said explicitly at the beginning of the movie that he didn't want in there. It starts right after he sees Susan Orlean in the elevator and can't talk to her. He's gone as far as he can go, is completely stuck, and calls his brother for help. That's when he gets unstuck, at the price of making the film conventional and formulaic.

Charley and Douglas (who doesn't exist in real life, by the way) are living the movie they're writing. Not to get too deep, and I have no idea if this is what they meant,but we all write our own movies. In another age, they said that we all write our own books. But who has time to read, nowadays?

I quote Charles Krauthammer, from a January 11, 1991 column:

This is ambivalence cubed. As late as October 1941, 74 percent of Americans opposed declaring war on Germany, but 70 percent said yes when asked whether it was more important to defeat Hitler than to stay out of the war.

The polls today, like the polls of 50 years ago, show that when it comes to war, Americans want what every rational person wants: the impossible. Stay out of war -- and achieve our vital objectives. The only problem is that these goals may be mutually exclusive. It is then, when their incompatibility becomes undeniable, that public ambivalence becomes manifest.

It is then that political leadership becomes manifest too. On war in the Gulf, public opinion is torn. It issues no mandate either for war or for peace. In this condition of anguish and ambivalence, when no easy political road map is at hand, the courage to choose is the mark of leadership. The president has shown it. Congress, which has yet to, now has its turn.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003
The Washington Post has a poll claiming to show that support for an Iraqi war is slipping or weak at best, and that the nation is deeply divided over the question. A quick look at previous polls shows some similarities to 1991, and shows that the Post's poll analysis has not significantly improved. It also suggests that, once the war actually begins, it will enjoy widespread support, even from those who now are voicing doubts.

In a January 14, 1991 Washington Post article, Richard Morin notes the extreme sensitivity of support for the war on the way the question is asked. Americans, even then, were looking for alternatives to a war (and this was in reference to polls taken 3 or 4 days before the bombing actually began). When given an alternative, about 15% fewer respondents voiced support for the war. Also, a poll published on January 14, 2 days before the counter-offensive started, 80% supported the Congressional resolution authorizing use of force, but about 2/3 supported an international conference, and another look at the Israel-Palestinian issue in return for Saddam's withdrawel from Kuwait. Even then, the Arabs were blaming Israel for their own internecine conflict.

After the war started, the whole thing swung around, support for the war stayed over 80% for the duration, and the quick victory brought Bush I 90% approval ratings, which he proceeded to squander.

It's pretty clear by now that MLK Day has become the National Liberal Cause Holiday. I'm fine with MLK Day itself, I suppose, although I can't say the forced grouping of Washington's and Lincoln's Birthdays together in the bland Presidents' Day appeals very much to me. But a day meant for civil rights is increasingly being hijacked by trendy liberal ideas, who now use any excuse to invoke Dr. King's name on their behalf. His belief in non-violence is used to discredit national self-defense. And Mike Littwin, in the Rocky Mountain News, writes a column in which he ties gun control to MLK. I know De. King was killed by a gun - a high-powered rifle, though, not a handgun.

Why is this attempt to attach any and all left-wing political beliefs to Dr. King an less offensive than department store sales on Washington's Birthday?

Sen. Edward Kennedy continues his march to irrelevance with a speech to the National Press Club attacking the idea of going to war with Iraq. This just when the President is trying to put things together for the final push. I don't know what his specific motives are, although I assume he's sincere about opposing the use of force in the interests of national defense by a Republican president. There were those of us who thought that the passage of a Congressional Resolution actually meant something, and so far, it doesn't seem as though any Democrats who voted for that resolution have backed off from it. Certainly his remarks are more likely to be felt overseas than at home, which is also telling.

Sunday, January 19, 2003
The New York Times Magazine, apparently tired of trying to rehabilitate Saddam Hussein, has moved on to Moammar Quaddafi. (Link Requires Registration.) I hadn't realized that leopards were indigenous to Libya, but the Times evidently believes it has found one whose spots have changed. Some of us remain unconvinced.

In the first page, Scott Anderson mentions, so he can say that he mentioned, Lockerbie. He doesn't mention the German disco attack. Qaddafi's past is "checkered," as though he had been the basis for The Grifters; maybe his role model was Cary Grant in Suspicion. Such a charming rogue, that Qaddafi, the "Jack Kennedy of the Sahara," and "a still-athletic build" with "androgynous good looks" who, "from certain angles, bears an eerie resemblance to that other aging former bad-boy celebrity, Mick Jagger." Ooooooh! He's a celebrity? And I thought the Times saved that sort of drooling for Castro. Of course, we find out later, he has "outlasted 6 American Presidents," so maybe he has learned a thing or two about elections from Castro - namely the danger of holding them at all, lest you lose, or have to look like you're trying just a little too hard to win.

Mr. Anderson believes that the Benghazi Bomber has done an "about-face" with regards to Israel. Here's his about-face:

''It is no longer acceptable or reasonable to say that the Jews should be thrown into the sea,'' he explains. ''Even if you could do it, it's not acceptable. The solution is to join the two -- Israelis and Palestinians -- into one state, because once a state like this is established, then the interests of both sides are fulfilled.'' He pauses, gives a slight shrug. ''They can call it Israetine.''

"It's too bad we can't drown the Jews in their own blood, since the world won't stand for that sort of thing; no, let's just drown them in Arabs." No doubt he has the perfect governmental model for them, as well. This passes for his "new spirit of moderation." Forgive me for not feeling comforted.

It goes on. His 10-acre bunker, a "city unto itself" is "surprisingly modest" for a tinpot Third-World dictator who can't export the only thing his country has of any value. Apparently it's not only his persona that's "extremely guarded," it's his person. Like Hussein, he's "reclusive," not surprising for someone who's afraid that one of his 5,000,000 subject might get a clear shot at him.

Anderson feels that a lot can be learned from the way Qaddafi treated Silvio Berlusconi, and the way he treated a local beauty pageant contestant from the United States. (Evidently, either no Libyan journalist had the temerity to write something about Muhammed eyeing the harem, or the local Muslims couldn't find any local Chrstians to blame the thing on. As I said, Libya is a secular country.) Berlusconi is trying to keep a democratic Italy from being held hostage by oil, for reparations for an occupation that ended 60 years ago. The American would-be beauty queen just cried in shame when Qadaafi started describing the 1986 raid on his headquarters, in response for the murder of American soldiers in Germany, there to keep her free, of course. Belusconi got bupkus, while Qaddafi snubbed him for the chance to flirt with the babes. (The British babe, by the way compared the setting to something "from the Arabian Nights." She won; very lucky for her she wasn't given an actual basis for comparison.)

There's more of course. An unnamed European diplomat thinks we aren't being pragmatic enough. Pan-Arabism having proved as bankrupt as any other Arab ideology of the last, oh, 400 years, Qaddafi is now turning to Pan-Africanism. *Sigh* Such a shame his people feel more like Arabs than Africans - they just don't understand. And, of course, we need to "move on" from Lockerbie. The murder of college students and travellers on vacation is all part of that "checkered past." America needs to commute that death sentence they have out for him. George Ryan and Bill Clinton would understand perfectly, I'm sure.

The article is not entirely without value. We do find out that Qaddafi has built an essentially secular state, emancipated women, used his oil wealth for all the nice things that socialist dictators do like build schools and hospitals. We find that he does distrust the religious madmen running rampant in other parts of Islam, and that, like Hussien and Mubarak, has done his best to defang them. But couldn't he have done that without murdering vast swaths of political opposition? And couldn't we have learned that without all the celebrity-worship and self-delusional political analysis? Apparently, some papers just never learn.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Fairfax County Police, it seems, have been dragging patrons out of bars, and administering breathalyzer tests, and then arrest those who would be too drunk to drive. Bob Barr, more libertarian than many thought, had a Washington Times column denouncing this last week. I'm as upset about this as he is. Moreso.

Why do I care, other than the general issue of civil rights in America? Well, I used to live in Fairfax County, and I still own a rental property there. The condo is near a number of major highways and a number of nice bars. What Fairfax County hopes to accomplish with these raids, other than make the county an unappealing place to live, and drive down my property values, is beyond me. While I pay taxes to support this nonsense, I have no recourse within the political process. If someone filed a lawsuit, I might contribute to their attorneys, but so might anyone with similar concerns. And, as a good conservative, I'd rather see these things handled first by the political process and only as a last recourse by the courts.

So, a radical proposal: individuals should be allowed to vote in any jurisdiction in which they pay taxes in their own name. I would be able to vote for county supervisors, but not for state or federal offices, in this case. If, somehow, I ended up paying income taxes to Virginia, I'd be able to vote for statewide office, but not federal office. In no case would I get to vote for federal office in more than one jurisdiction, since I'm already represented there. (In fact, one could argue that having more that one representative in Congress would prove detrimental, allowing each to tell me to go to the other one with any problems.)

Back when property was a qualification for voting, this was the law in many places, and people could vote in more than one jurisdiction. This was before the franchise was extended, and residency replaced property as the main qualification for voting. Note that I'm not proposing that we allow multiple representation in the same body, more than one vote per person per jurisdiction, or any other sort of inequality in represenation. The system would remain egalitarian. But now, when Fairfax took their slice of my rental income, they'd know they'd have to respect my interests as well.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Molly Ivins is at it again. Her Sunday column refers to John Allan Paulos's Innumeracy, but her own economic illiteracy is jaw-dropping. She runs a bunch of numbers about how the people paying the most in taxes will - surprise! - benefit the most from the dividend tax cut. She accuses the Republicans of wanting "Enron Accounting," by wanting to make more reasonable estimates of future economic growth. She claims that tax cuts are the reason that states are having budget problems. She accuses the Wall Street Journal of "paranoid fantasies" for considering her hatefully class-warfare rhetoric to be, well, hateful class-warfare. And, of course, it's all a result of bad campaign finance laws. And I thought the high schools were supposed to have been better 40 years ago.

Let's start with the dividend tax cut. The point of this tax cut is to end the double-taxation of corporate profits. There are only two ways to do this: eliminate the corporate income tax, or eliminate the tax on dividends. I think we can be fairly certain that a plan to eliminate the corporate income tax would send poor Miss Ivins to the hospital, further taxing our already over-burdened health care system. Eliminating the dividend tax helps long-term investors interested in the health of the companies they're buying stock in. Day-traders who all thought they could game the system a few years ago won't see a dime from this (and shouldn't), since they rarely hold stocks long enough to qualify for dividends, anyway.

The reason for the dividend tax cut is to make dividends more attractive to investors, not to pump money into the system. While most investors may have their money in tax-exempt, or tax-deferred accounts, most money invested is taxable. Corporations are as likely to change their policies in response to a few heavy hitters as they are to appease the masses of investors. This will force companies to measure success by cash, which is real, rather than by balance sheets and income statements, which are not. Miss Ivins may not be old enough to remember the hundreds of companies that went bankrupt in the last 40 years with strong balance sheets. Investors do. And now, they will reward companies that actually make money. This will not stifle innovation; venture capital still exists. But it will mean that ongoing concerns will be held to a higher standard of performance.

As for the "Enron Accounting" that the Republicans supposedly want, this is a case of selective modelling. Let's use models for taxation, models for spending. models for the environment, models for the census. Let's use models to give more money to inner cities, models to show we're turning the planet into an oven, models to "prove" we're about to run out of money. But use a model to show the economic and revenue effects of tax cuts, and all of a sudden we're heading for Accounting Armageddon.

Let's be real. Economic processes are understood reasonably well, but that understanding is imperfect at best. I remember Omni magazine, when it could still tell science from science fiction, published what a number of a models predicted for the economy if Reagan's tax cuts were enacted. One of them got it right, the others were all too pessimistic. Environmental models, which purport to prove whatever they purport to prove this decade, model far fewer variables accurately, and leave out or guess at far more. But Democrats treat them like the backward villagers treat then infallible god in some third-season Star Trek episode. For some reason, Miss Ivins neglects to mention this in any of her global warming columns. By all means, model away!

The reason states are having budget problems is that they didn't model properly - for a recession. Sure, some of them cut taxes, and they saw the highest growth rates. Many others, like, oh, California, are looking at bankruptcy because they behaved like Anna Nicole with a blank check. "Ooooh, those light rail subsidies are just so cute!" They built long-term obligations out of a short-term boom. But without the tax cuts, they might not have had the boom in the first place.

And then, at the end, just when you thought the long nightmare had ended, comes the plug for campaign finance reform. This isn't even worth arguing any more, except that for Miss Ivins, what works for politicians (incentives to appease their big contributors) doesn't work for corporations (incentives to appease their big investors).

Maybe what we really need is another book, An Economist Reads Molly Ivins. Paul Krugman need not apply.

Monday, January 13, 2003
I was at home this morning, and caught the Independent Film Channel's Short Film reel that they show as filler every so often. The shorts can hold my attention, and I don't feel I'm missing anything by bolting in the middle. There was one film (by Monica Sharf, no relation) about a PI in New York who specializes in breaking up merchandise counterfeiting rings. Evidently, he does a lot of work in Chinatown, for some reason. Maybe Shaq can explain.

Anyway, he was discussing one guy in a red beret who seemed to own a street corner, not homeless, just always hanging out there, who tried to interfere with raids, sometimes forcefully. Once, he attacked the muscle, Andy, with pepper spray. Until Andy wrestled it away from him, shoved it up his nose, and emptied it into him. Since then, he's been pretty helpful.

This seems to confirm some basic truths about human nature. And ones that we should take to heart concerning our current war. Think of Saudi as the guy in the Red Beret.

Thursday, January 09, 2003
The Washington Post's Lead Editorial is another in a long line of disingenuous criticisms of Republican policies in general. Bush is a "wedge driver," not a "uniter," at least not the way the Post would like him to be. Again, one could just as easily criticize the Democrats for failing to unite behind his plan, or to meet him halfway, or whatever. The Post would be much more honest if it simply said it didn't like Bush's proposal, rather than faulting him for refusing the give the game away. Evidently, having principles is only a value-free admirable quality if they're liberal principles.

It would be more honest, of course, but also fatal, forcing the editorial writers to argue policy rather than politics. And this is a policy battle they have already lost. Polls show that the dividend tax cut is extremely popular, and would be good for the market, the economy, investors, and, oddly, businesses themselves. Dividends will be paid out of cash; stock appreciation can come about from paper profits. Businesses will need to reduce debt to have the cash on hand in order to pay the dividends. But they weren't borrowing and spending very much, to begin with.

The main effect is psychological: by making dividends more attractive to investors, it will also mean that companies that wish to finance themselves through debt will have to pay higher interest rates in order to attract lenders. This will force up bond interest rates (and force down bond prices; look for bond funds to take a hit as the market absorbs this information), and may force up other interest rates as well, which certainly won't do the economy any good. But that's a mid-term effect, and a natural result of a recovering economy, in any case. Note that this is not the classic interest rate argument that a deficit puts the Federal Government into competition for loans, forcing up rates. The government could be running surpluses, and it would have the same effect of making bonds less attractive.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003
The biggest problem with the Democrats' "Stimulus Package" is the very thing they're trying to use as a selling point: its temporariness. Essentially, it ends up amounting to a one-time check from the Federal to taxpayers. There's a peculiar rule that requires 60 votes to make tax cuts that extend beyond 10 years permanent. This is why the tax cuts of 2001 are slated to end in 2011. It's also why they will be far less effective than permanent tax cuts over the same period of time, even if those tax cuts were eventually repealed, especially towards the end of that time span.

The reason goes to the nature of economic decision-making. Business knows that these tax cuts are going away in 9 years. So they realize that consumers won't have as much on hand to spend in 2012. They won't make decisions that rely on that consumer spending. They'll tend to hoard cash now, knowing that it might not be there later. So while spending may increase somewhat, it'll always be with one eye on the clock, and the economy won't get the full benefit of the cash infusion. The same goes for consumers, only more directly, and more sharply, since consumers don't tend to plan as far ahead as business. Come 2010, all the Financial Talking Heads at CNBC will be advising consumers to beware next year's tax increase, and maybe sock away a little under the mattress Just In Case. Having the extra cash on hand may tend to soften a little the inevtiable recession that 2012's tax increase will bring. But it also means we'll be facing it without the growth that could have been, could have produced more tax revenue without raising rates, making the increase unnecessary in the first place.

The Democrats' proposal just makes this mistake all over again. We'll give consumers a little more cash now to build up their MasterCard balances, but we won't make any structural changes to the system. And the economy responds most fully to those structural changes.

The headline on FoxNews was "Newest Entries to Hall of Fame Murray and Carter." It took a second before I realized they meant Eddie, not Patty, and Gary, not Jimmy.

Friday, January 03, 2003
Reports out of Washington that the Bush Administration has asked Israel to stop selling advanced weaponry to China. This is probably a good thing. We don't need trouble with China at this point, as well, and ahything we can do to dimish their long-term threat is welcome. I wonder, however, if we're also preventing Europe from selling to them, or we plan to help a disasterous Israeli economy survive the loss of more exports.

I'm in Annapolis, as I type. There's a cute coffee-shop/overstock bookstore here by the state capitol and docks, and they have Net access for customers. Annapolis, for those of you who don't know, is a charming town, reminding me a lot of Williamsburg, Va., and Georgetown. The weather befits a seaside fishing village, but, of course, thing nautical here tend to be armed with more than harpoons.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003
A nice New Year's Eve. Trying to revive an idea from a couple of years ago, Denver put on a fireworks display downtown on the 16th Street Mall. They had suspended it in the wake of September 11, given that people might be a little bit nervous about explosives going off in the business district of a major metropolitan area. The fireworks were a little lame, to be honest, but one hopes they'll improve with time. We had a super vantage point at the end of the mall, and a number of other cameras were set up as well.

Immediately after the 10:00 fireworks ended (the show was repeated at 12:00), it started to snow, and they're expecting 1-3" by morning. This is a big deal, and a wonderous thing to have happen. We need the snow more than most years, and we're all hoping it's an omen for 2003. Mashiv Haruach uMarid HaSheleg.

Blogarama - The Blog Directory
help Israel
axis of weevils
contact us
site sections