Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

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Dan is a student at Georgetown University. He is currently trying to think of a new biography for this space.

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This blog translated:


Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

"There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." - Variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Marshall, Mark Twain and many other dead people.

Currently reading:

Songbook by Nick Hornby

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

You should read:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Bobos In Paradise by David Brooks

Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright

Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best

Books written or edited by my professors (well, only the good ones)

Nick Barr

The Economics of the Welfare State

The Welfare State As Piggy Bank

Chris Dougherty

Introduction to Econometrics

David Gewanter

The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (ed. with Frank Bidart)

In the Belly

The Sleep of Reason

Meredith McKittrick

To Dwell Secure

John McNeill

The Human Web (with William H. McNeill)

Something New Under the Sun

Max-Stephan Schulze

Western Europe: Economic and Social Change Since 1945

Greater Blogtopia

Abu Aardvark
Across the Atlantic
Asparagus Pee
Bohemian Mama
Brazos de Dios Cantina Carl with a K
Chip Taylor
Conceptual Guerilla
D-Squared Digest
Dilettante's Guide to Life
Egotistical Whining
Enemy of the People
Equilibrismi ridanciani Fester's Place
Fleeting Impulse
Funny Farm
Grammar Police
Head Heeb
I Know What I Know Interesting by Association
Impolite Company
Internet Activism
Jacqueline Passey
John Hoke
John Lemon
John Scalzi
Kick the Leftist
Kids Korner
Kieran Healy
Liquid List
Loopy Librarian
Mark Maynard
Martin Stabe
More White Teeth
No More Mr. Nice Blog Notes on the Atrocities
Open Source Politics
Passenger Pachyderms
Peevish...I'm Just Saying
Politics and Policy
Quantum Skyline
Radical Review
Random Points
Risa Wechsler

Sha Ka Ree
Sick of Bush
Signifying Nothing
Something's Got to Break
Talking Dog
Tom Runnacles
Truth is a Blog
Vaguely Right
Vast Left Wing Conspiracy
Vulgar Boatman
We Report... You Deride

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Boot Bush! Donate to the DNC today

2004 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac

"Everything to Everyone" by Barenaked Ladies

"In Between Evolution" by The Tragically Hip

"Phantom Planet" by Phantom Planet

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

"One Plus One Is One" by Badly Drawn Boy

"Sultans of Swing" by the Dire Straits

"Best of the Talking Heads" by the Talking Heads

How Shareholder Reforms Can Pay Foreign Policy Dividends, James Shinn, ed.

Weaving the Net, James Shinn, ed.

Fires Across the Water, James Shinn, ed.

Panasonic ES8017SC Men's Triple Blade Pro Curve Rechargeable Linear Shaver

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Friday, January 31, 2003
Britain is great, don't get me wrong about that.

But why is it that the entire transportation network collapses (and my electricity too) whenever the weather gets worse than rain?

UPDATE: Two inches of snow, and it's taken two days to get things back to a reasonable state. Lovely.

Thursday, January 30, 2003
Kevin Drum of CalPundit has put up a good explanation of why we shouldn't be panicking over a rift in relations between the U.S. and Europe.

His second point, though, is a little off, I think (it doesn't detract from the whole, anyway). As Eric Alterman recently pointed out, a lot of what's being voiced (aside from the odd graffiti comparing the U.S. with the Nazis) is anti-Bush, not anti-American. And for that matter, a lot of what's being voiced is coming out of a bunch of overpaid professional whiners who write columns for the major newspapers. Ascribing what Americans read in European newspapers - which is one of the easiest ways for Americans to survey opinion outside of the U.S. - falls well short of presenting the whole picture. The traditional obstinence of the French government aside, most of the European countries currently voicing objections to war in Iraq would probably look a lot more favorably on it if Bill Clinton or Colin Powell (who has been all but canonized by the British press lately as St. Colin of the State Department) were in charge.

Tom DeLay is in favor of quotas, apparently.

No, really.

This is the "New Europe" comment in the Times, written by Jose Maria Aznar, the Prime Minister of Spain, and signed by José Manuel Durão Barroso, the Prime Minister of Portugal, Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain, Václav Havel, the outgoing President of the Czech Republic, Peter Medgyessy, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Leszek Miller, the Prime Minister of Poland and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and the Prime Minister of Denmark.

I believe that this qualifies as a raspberry directed at France and Germany.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003
The House of Lords has been undergoing sporadic reforms over the last century or so, stripped of almost all power but its right to exist. As it currently stands, the hereditary peers (members of the inherited aristocracy) have been ousted, and what remains is mostly life peers and certain members of the church. There is an ongoing debate on what should replace the current makeup of the body. It is clear that the current system cannot last, but what should replace it is far from certain. Further reforms on the power of the House of Lords seems unlikely at the moment, since the chamber already has next to no power.

Of the three possible choices - a wholly elected chamber, a chamber wholly appointed by the Prime Minister, or a mixture of the two - none seems relatively popular. A wholly elected chamber raises the question of who would run in the elections, and, for that matter, whether people would even bother to vote. It might risk turning the chamber into even more of a farce than it currently is. A wholly appointed chamber - which Tony Blair is said by some to favor - could easily be packed by political appointees that would tilt the chamber too far in a partisan direction for years to come. It would also turn the Lords into a rubber stamp on the acts passed by the Commons (which, well, it already is). And nobody seems particularly attracted to the mixed system, which wouldn't do much to combat the problems of either system. It also might serve to perpetuate divisions between the elected and appointed members.

It's fairly surprising that there doesn't seem to have been much thought paid to the possibility of a more innovative form for the Lords (abolition seems unlikely, since it would leave the Commons completely unchecked). A truly mixed system, rather than dividing the chamber between appointed and elected members, would allow the Prime Minister to appoint candidates whom the populace could be able to vote yes or no on (should they vote no, the seat would be left open until the next election). The body would have to have a set limit of members (the current Lords, being wholly appointed, does not). It could be for lifetime appointments, but more ideally would be, say 15 persons per year (barring extra appointments due to deaths, early retirements, or rejections during the previous year) for 15 year terms. A system like the Canadian Senate also could be instituted, where a separate person from the Prime Minister (in the case of Canada, the Governor General, who represents the Queen) appoints members to indefinite terms (with mandatory retirement at age 75) on the advice of the Prime Minister. Then again, the Canadian Senate doesn't do much of anything, so it may not be a particularly good example. Conceivably, a system could also be engineered whereupon all former Cabinet ministers, or former members of the Commons, could be appointed to the Lords upon retiring (voluntarily or due to election losses) to the Lords. This would keep the Lords in a fairly balanced position as far as its partisan leanings, and would encourage its advisory role by ensuring that is full of capable and knowledgeable people. It would, however, be somewhat undemocratic.

Worth reading in today's newspapers:

The New York Times is advising a vote against Estrada. Surprising (though it won't do much, if anything, since I'm sure every Senator made up their minds either way about this a while ago)


Tom Friedman is usually a very interesting writer. This column, though, suffers from Safire Syndrome - writing in the format of an anonymous letter or memo writer. It doesn't reveal anything that couldn't be revealed in normal prose, except for the inflated ego of the columnist.


How to mismanage the economy and screw your children and children's children, simplified (sort of).


Mayor Anthony "Fat Tony" Williams is a nice guy, and he has done a great job for DC, but he is a truly awful politician. You would've thought he would have figured out a few things about running a campaign after the signature debacle.


Yes, Virginia, there are some good Republicans (except for that damn death penalty thing)


The State of the Union as entertainment . Well, it's certainly different than every other analysis we'll see.


Anne Applebaum compares "Old Europe" with "New Europe." It ain't that simple, but it's increasingly looking as if Germany (because of Schroeder) and France (because it's France) are getting marginalized both inside and outside of Europe.


Robert Samuelson takes a non-partisan look at the Bush economic plans. And finds that they're crap. A lot of what's frustrating with the Bush economic plan is that one of the surest ways to screw up the economy is to make economic strategies partisan. It just won't work, and yet they keep announcing benefits for the rich, programs that will increase the deficit and actually cut the legs out from investment in the long run, believing that this will somehow help their political fortunes. Ugh.

Anyone reading this and planning to spend an extended amount of time in Britain, here's a little advice: DO NOT BANK WITH NATWEST. They're ragingly incompentent. Everything I've tried to do more complicated than withdrawing money from a cash machine has required multiple trips to the branch to sort it out. And for that matter, it took them two months to get me a working ATM card that wouldn't get swallowed by the machine every time I tried to withdraw money.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003
About the increasingly infamous London Congestion Charge ...

It starts 20 days from now, and is currently riling a lot of people in London (as it has been for the last few months). Under the scheme, anyone who drives into central London, starting on February 17th, will be charged £5 ($8.20). The charge is intended to lessen congestion within central London, which currently moves at a crawl. Anyone who drives in will have their license plate recorded by cameras set around the edge of the zone and within it, and will have to pay on the day of entry, by any one of a number of methods. The charge only applies between 7 AM and 6:30 PM, Monday to Friday. Similar programs have been created elsewhere, though never on a scale anywhere near this one. Whether it will actually work won't be known until it starts up 20 days from now.

To be clear, there are a number of exceptions. All buses, emergency vehicles, motorcycles, licensed cabs, cars that work for certain accredited organizations (mostly towing and mechanics services, actually), large vans, 'green' cars (those with hybrid/natural gas/electric/etc. engines) and disabled persons will be excluded from the charge. People living within the zone will only be charged 50p ($0.82) per entry.

That said, there are a lot of people here who are very pissed off. Some of the complaints are real, while others are not. A lot of hatred gets directed at Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, who has backed the scheme, because he's quite far left on the political spectrum (his nickname, acquired during the Thatcher years, is "Red Ken"), and some people on the right-wing (most of whom work at the Daily Telegraph or the Evening Standard) are opposed to everything that Livingstone does, including breathing and eating.

The charge, at £5, is a little extravagant, until you consider that parking and gasoline in London are already extravagantly expensive. Even public parking costs a few quid per hour, and there are very few spots. Gasoline costs about 75p per liter (sorry, litre) - which is about $4.65 per US gallon (a British gallon is equal to 1.2 US gallons). A full tank of gas can cost about £46 ($75). Anyone who can afford to drive in to central London already has a lot of money to spend. This is also pretty evident in the cars that can be seen driving around central London on any given day. There are a lot of BMWs, Mercedes and Jaguars (not too many Rovers, though) and most of the Fords, Vauxhalls, and Peugeots are relatively new. This is particularly true compared to every other European city I've been to in the last few months.

One particularly logic-less screed complained about how there were so many women who were currently driving into the city, who worked at odd hours, either starting too early in the morning or getting off too late at night (the Tube and most of the buses are shut between midnight and 6 AM). These women would no longer be able to drive, and would be forced to take minicabs (unlicensed cabs) home because the famous black cabs are insanely expensive. There has been a spate of sexual assaults by minicab drivers in recent months. As a result, the writer argued that Mayor Livingstone was putting women at risk of being assaulted by installing the program. This is, of course, fairly ludicrous. I guess that the number of women who can currently afford to drive and park in the central area, but work such odd hours and can't afford black cabs would be a number not much larger than I can count on both hands.

A lot of people are arguing against the congestion charging on grounds of inconvenience. It is sure to move traffic jams and overcrowded parking from the charging zone to the area just beyond the charging zone (which, incidentally, is where I live). Others are arguing against the inconvenience of paying for the charge, since the charge has to be paid by 10 PM on the day that the driver has entered the zone. Payments can be sent in by phone, mail, online, by mobile phone text message, and in certain shops. That a person has to pay each day is going to be a pain in the ass certainly. There is a program called Fast Track that is designed to speed up payment at each point of use so that you don't have to enter in the information about your car each day, but it's not actually creating any other methods of payment. This is one area in which the critics have it right. Given the huge cost of the scheme, it shouldn't be that much more expensive to allow people to pay via personal debit accounts ahead of time rather than registering for specific days, create something similar to EasyPass or bill regular users at their home address, rather than requiring them to pay each and every day. After that day, fines kick in, and quickly escalate (beyond a certain point, the car may be towed and impounded until the charges are paid).

Most of the individuals who drive into the zone on a regular basis can afford to do so. There is also going to be a large burden placed on small businesses, however. Larger businesses can afford most of the charges, and some have converted their vehicles to 'green' engines, which is clearly beneficial. Smaller businesses that rely on using vans and trucks to deliver their workers and products (these include catering services, plumbers, electricians, and many others) are going to be faced with charges of up to £25 ($41) per week per vehicle, which adds up quickly, and is going to have to be paid for by the consumers eventually.

Some people are threatening non-compliance, by not paying the charge and fines. How widespread it will get is not yet clear. The last time that a similarly unpopular scheme was implemented, Margaret Thatcher's infamous "Poll Tax" (a flat head tax for local government that everyone had to pay, regardless of income), non-compliance ranged around 20-30%, and the tax had to be scrapped (although not until after Thatcher had lost her job as Prime Minister). Whether anyone decides to take up their battle cries and actually start dismantling the cameras that record the license plates isn't yet certain. Any such action probably won't be widespread, particularly at first. There's not nearly the same tradition of civil disobedience here as in America. Also, people are watched here on closed-circuit TV cameras pretty much everywhere you go (a little Big-Brotherish, although most of the cameras are unmanned and only used after the fact). The installation of the cameras has also led to some civil liberties complaints, but these aren't particularly widespread, given the wide acceptance of the CCTV cameras already.

There have also been complaints about the fact that people who stop using their cars are going to start using public transport (mostly the Tube and the buses), which are already quite overcrowded during rush hour in most areas. Much of the Tube is badly in need of renovation. This complaint is fairly overblown in that the vast majority of workers in Central London already use public transport (it's some number close to 90%), so the increase will be relatively small. Also, at least ideally, some of the money raised by the congestion charging will be directed to paying for improving public transport.

There are some benefits, to be certain. Basically these include less congestion in the city, allowing for faster movement within it and less pollution due to slowed vehicles, and also a greater use of vehicles with 'green' engines.

Of course, the whole thing doesn't matter if they flip the switch on February 17th and the damn thing doesn't work ...

The LSE (and a bunch of other schools) will be going on a one-day strike next Tuesday. No word yet on whether all of my classes will be cancelled (lectures definitely will be cancelled, but I'm not sure about the class discussions, which are taught by graduate students instead of professors).

I love it here.

And can't they do this more often?

Kazaa is suing the record and movie industries.

Can I, like, file an amicus brief? Or am I, y'know, completely unqualified?

I'm not sure that Sharman Networks, the owner of Kazaa, can viably sue them on the basis that "they don't understand the digital age." The monopoly claims, however, are more serious. I would wonder, though - on the basis of what little I know about the legal system - if they lack the standing to proceed (a suit by an actual user of Kazaa and purchaser of CD's and DVD's would seem to have standing instead).

The question, is, also, if the music and movie industries are monopolies, and whether those monopolies are natural monopolies (in which generally arises because there are greater profit margins when a company is larger than for a smaller company - this is also known as an economy of scale - and is generally not illegal), and if so, whether it has been earning monopoly profits (raising prices simply to raise their profits, and not because of any actual increase in costs). There is no reason to punish a monopoly that does not earn monopoly profits.

It seems to me that movies are probably natural monopolies - smaller, independent studios clearly have a much harder time paying for the production of a movie than larger studios. Although it would require a closer look at the books that I have access to, I would be surprised if movie studios are earning monopoly profits, since there's a need to balance out the profits of blockbuster successes and movies that fail miserably. The music industry is almost certainly not a natural monopoly - the cost of producing a CD, ignoring other costs such as administration and marketing, is relatively small and not much different from the cost of a blank CD that anyone with a burner can use. Given the resulting huge markup on CD's, there would seem to be a significant case to be argued that the music industry is extracting monopoly profits from consumers. There have already been a number of studies that have shown the large profit margins earned by the music industry on each CD (it is the marginal profit that matters, not the overall profit level of the corporation, which may be affected by a number of other factors and creative accounting) and at least one lawsuit.

The next question is then, if the music industry is a monopoly, is a competitive music industry feasible?


Ideally, a performer would earn the same royalty from any CD, set either by the performer or a flat rate set by an independent body for the entire industry. Individual record labels could then decide if they believe it to be profitable to put out copies of the CD. Any label that wanted to put out any CD could do so, so long as the performer agrees (which is probably necessary for copyright reasons - although it should be required that the performer would have to demonstrate a reason to reject a label seeking permission to sell the CD) and is paid the royalty. Different labels could then put out the same album by the same artist, should they believe it to be profitable. Should this occur, it would end up causing labels to compete against each other rather than holding monopolies on slightly differentiated products as they currently do. This would bring prices down, and increase sales (and possibly profits). Studio and production costs wold be paid by the artist, and built into the royalty, which is admittedly a little problematic, since it would encourage the production of cheaper sounding albums. Marketing and administration costs would be built into the markup between the royalty and the final price, as currently occurs. This would create a number of possibilities for collusion and the formation of cartels among the labels, although it would be fairly transparent should they do so, particularly if a flat rate royalty is used. It would require a lot of policing and the construction of some bureaucracy and technology to do this. Which, in turn, would also end up getting built into the costs of CD's, and probably eat into the savings a little bit. Overall, it would create a semi-competitive market where there currently is none.

It's still not a perfect system - but I think it's a hell of a lot better than what currently exists.

Monday, January 27, 2003
Just curious: Who came up with the term astroturf (fake letters, not fake grass)?

Philip Morris has changed their name to "Altria Group."

I guess they figure that being associated with cigarettes is becoming problematic. So they'll also change the name of those to "Happy fun sticks."

Do they really think that people are that stupid?

(and just for the record, 'Philip Morris' owns Kraft, which isn't, um, evil).

Eric Alterman (of Altercation) has a good article over at the Nation explaining that Americans shouldn't be looking at the European attitude as necessarily anti-American, but often anti-Bush.

Which is almost totally true, I swear it.

This is really repugnant. It's nothing more than grandstanding of the worst kind by the French diplomats.

It would be a hell of a lot easier to take French concerns over Iraq seriously (like those put forward by Germany, for instance) if they weren't constantly putting forward this idiotic nationalistic stance that seems to be the diplomatic equivalent of a five-year-old's tantrum when he feels he's not getting enough attention. This is simply atrocious.

One of the good things about being in Britain is that there are plenty of things on TV besides the State of the Union speech. In fact, it's not even on the telly (that it doesn't start until 1 AM here may have something to do with that).

One of my yearly pet peeves is that all of the major channels show the speech. I mean, really, what if I wanted to watch a rerun of the usual crap? It's not like there's been a State of the Union speech that has contained anything remotely interesting since Clinton unveiled his health care plan. Which is why there isn't anything interesting in it anymore. It's just the same laundry list of tax cuts and new spending that gets announced every year.

Friday, January 24, 2003
Apparently five Moroccan men have been found in Italy with explosives and a map of London.

They were considered armed and touristy.

OK, so I realize it may actually be a little more serious than that.

Nicholas Kristof thinks that Bush's assault on Michigan's affirmative action program reeks of hypocrisy.

Thursday, January 23, 2003
God, no.

It's a testament to the sorry state of the Ohio Democratic Party that Jerry Springer thinks he's the best shot that they have to unseat Voinovich ... and he might be right.

Springer was once actually a real politician. He was a city councillor in Cincinnati, when he was caught in a prostitution scandal, because he had paid with a personal check. It wasn't exactly the brightest thing to do. He resigned his seat, and was later elected mayor of the city. They weren't exactly the brightest voters, either.

At least the CNN article didn't mention that.

Oh, well. That's one seat that the Democrats don't stand a chance of picking up. Is it too early to start the Jane Campbell in 2006 bandwagon yet?

There's more on the Gaudi design for the World Trade Center area. There's a better picture in the AP article than was in the New York Times article a couple of days ago. If you want an idea of what La Sagrada Familia, his masterpiece that's still under construction - he died in 1926 - looks like, go here.

A while ago, I posted this:

"The Ross Perot Theory" (also known as the Political Mendoza Line) - Roughly 20% of any sizeable population is likely to be made up of idiots, bigots, morons, the ignorant, or people otherwise susceptible to supporting the ideas of those people. This can explain the support for Ross Perot in 1992, the support for Jean-Marie Le Pen in the recent French presidential elections.

Juding by the response to the recent Bush economic plan, I may have been off, by, say 15% or so (if you want a blow-by-blow, economic jargon-laden, explanation of how it won't work, it's here).

Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Hey, maybe it won't rain tomorrow.

Nah ...

About the fire strikes...

It remains suprisingly popular here (surpising, at least, to me). The firefighters are clearly underpaid, earning about an average of about £21000 (about $33000). This isn't actually the government's fault, at least not entirely. Some years ago, their wage increases were tied to the wages of a certain sector of labor that has largely disappeared from the economy, by agreement of the government and the union. As the result, the wage increases of the firefighters have lagged well behind inflation in recent years. The firefighters are asking for an unconditonal raise to £30000 (roughly $47000), which is 40%. As many members of Tony Blair's government have pointed out, such a raise would be highly inflationary, the government doesn't have that kind of money to throw around, and any raise would probably lead other unions to strike for similar raises.

If they weren't asking for so damned much, it would be easier to be a lot more sympathetic. The government has been offering between 10-16% raises, to about £25000 (about $39000). The government also wants to tie the raises to various closures of redundant fire stations (job losses would largely be limited to not replacing retirees over the next few years), increased productivity, making firefighters learn first aid (many do it anyway, but amazingly, the unions have resisted this), and changing the work schedule. Changing the work schedule is particularly important because firefighters currently only work 2 days and 2 nights out of an 8-day period. This is about the same percentage of time as someone working a 40-hour week works in any week, but because there are few fires at night, working at night mostly means the firefighters sleep at the station. So the government wants to restructure the work-week for firefighters so that they'll have more day shifts and less night shifts. The union actually resists this as well, though it may seem quite reasonable, because under the current schedule, many firefighters are actually able to hold down other part-time jobs.

As a result, the unions have now held a 24-hour strike this week, and a 48-hour strike and a one week strike in the last couple of months. More strikes are planned. During strikes, instead of the firefighters being called to put out a fire, the army is called. This is a bit problematic, because, besides issues of training, the fire engines used by the army are called "Green Goddesses." Unlike the modern fire engines used by the Fire Service (which the army has, to date, refused to seize from behind picket lines), the Green Goddesses were mostly built between the late 1940's and early 1960's. A few were actually used to put out fires during the Blitz, I've heard. The Green Goddesses are slow, unmaneuverable, and carry less people and water than the engines normally used by the fire service.

The strike is currently popular with the public, although not extremely so. The poll numbers also drop significantly if the country goes to war with Iraq, because it is felt that the army should not be stretched during wartime into putting out fires. This may become an interesting problem, since the head of the Fire Brigades Union, Andy Gilchrist, is from the extreme leftist wing of the Labour Party (after one particularly unproductive meeting over the strikes, he threatened to replace "New Labour" - that is, the centrist faction of the party headed by Tony Blair - with "Real Labour" - that is, put the leftists back in charge of the party. To put it nicely ... fat chance). Since Gilchrist certainly opposes the war - it would be extremely out of character if he didn't - he might actually feel motivated to hold more strikes during the war. Although that would be suicide for the popular opinion as to the union.

Portraying Frist as Batman is funny, though the article is surpisingly badly written (it's basically two separate ideas very loosely tied together).

Maureen Dowd takes a while to get to the point in this op-ed, but it's a good point.

When I got to the LSE this morning, the various groups opposing a war in Iraq had put up a number of posters (and were later handing out flyers) on how they were planning organize student protests, and a sit-down strike to shut down the school whenever the war begins.

So, basically, I am now in favor of war, and it can't come fast enough. I could really use the break.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003
Apparently Matt Drudge only cares about the publicizing of lurid facts about other people, not himself. (via Scoobie Davis)

The Post is onboard in opposing the Eldred case decision. They don't have any ideas about doing anything about it now. If you want an actual idea of something that ought to be done in response, see the proposed Eric Eldred Act.

Sometimes, he gets a little angry. But this Krugman op-ed is right on target. Mostly because the whole thing is true, stranger than fiction as it may be.

I think that this is a good plan for redeveloping Ground Zero. I know it seems a little farfetched, but if you've ever seen the still unfinished La Sagrada Familia - they've been working on it for a hundred years and it'll probably take another century or so to complete ... at least - or any of Gaudi's other buildings in Barcelona, you'll understand why I like it.

The bad news: As of 9 AM today, the firefighters in Britain are going on another strike, this one for 24 hours (they went on a couple of two-day strikes and a week-long strike last month).

The good news: Should there be a fire, the army will be called in instead.

No, really.

Monday, January 20, 2003
I'm buried in work (not my fault - I got an assignment thrown at me at the last minute) so blogging will be limited over the next couple of days. Not that anyone will probably notice, I've been a little erratic about posting lately.

Lucas has been fired. Thank god. He's a nice guy, I'm sure, and I don't for one discount what he's gone through in life, but he's not much of a coach.

At least it can't get any worse from here ... I think.

Breaking ranks like this announcement from Colin Powell is usually not appreciated by the Bush administration. It should be interesting to see if anything comes from this.

Oh, and about what he said, it makes sense.

OK, so someone came up with a brilliant idea as to how to deal with the damnable decision handed down in the Eldred case: the proposed Eric Eldred Act. (Via Polygon, the Dancing Bear).

The bill would put a small (they call it "tiny") tax on copyrighted works. The tax, in addition to covering the administrative costs of the scheme, would serve as a way to see if copyrights are being used. The owner of the copyright can pay the tax and thus extend the copyright. Should the tax not be paid for three consecutive years, the work would go into the public domain. Thus, the big corporations like Disney and the record companies could protect Mickey Mouse and old Gershwin recordings, but for works that there is no real reason to keep copyrights on so long after they were published, release into the public domain will become simple and easy.

It makes perfect sense (which is why, I fear, it will never happen).

Friday, January 17, 2003
E.J. Dionne isn't attacking Bush head-on, but he makes a lot of good points nonetheless.

Bill Gates Sr. comes across as a decent and smart guy who's willing to stand up, say what he believes in and fight for it. He managed to screw up his kid pretty severely, though.

So, I guess there's two ways of looking at this:

1. The Bush administration considers affirmative action to be a threat to national security.

2. This starts to explain why the Bush administration has been screwing around on North Korea and other national security problems lately. Maybe the people there need to get back to doing their own jobs.

Worth reading in today's Times: Krugman on Bush's inane economic policies (points deducted for being too cute with a metaphor) and Turow on the death penalty.

Thursday, January 16, 2003
The good news: The Cavs can't lose tonight.

The better news: The Cavs aren't playing tonight.

Amtrak is threatening another shutdown (though not imminently).

Here's an idea: How about we actually properly fund Amtrak?

Amtrak has finally gotten the idea right and have started cutting prices so that many of the fares are actually competitive with the airlines (though still a lot slower). The trains are an essential part of the transport network in some areas of the country, relieving stress on airplanes and roads. And besides that, there's a hell of a lot more leg room than on a damned plane. If they put a little money into running and upgrading the system, so that it might be the equal of the British system (um, maybe that's not a good idea ... I've had trains delayed so far because concerns of bridge failure and cows that wandered on the tracks ... how about Germany or Italy?)

Not a junket, I'm sure.

There's an interesting link over at Tapped. Oh, and there's this quote in the middle of it:

"... among people born before 1910, 61 percent of the men and just 12 percent of the women reported having had sex before marriage."

Wow, those were some sluts they had back then.

Howard Fineman thinks that Frist may be in trouble as Majority Leader already. He also thinks that Bush wants to remind Frist who's boss, and that's the reason for renominating Pickering and putting together what no one outside of the White House thinks is a reasonable economic plan. Riiight.

Anyway, I'm not exactly sure what to think of this. I'd like to think it's true, but Fineman's writing is usually so full of shit, and so full of himself (as it is here, casually dropping in the middle of an article that he recently lunched with Frist) that everything he writes needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Or about a pound of salt.

Empty chemical warheads have been found in Iraq.

The invasion should commence in, oh, about 15 minutes, I'd guess.

The Instapundit (writing under the pseudonym of Glenn Reynolds over at MSNBC) has an interesting piece suggesting that the Eldred case (about the Bono Act) will eventually come back to haunt the strict constructionists. I'm inclined to disagree, since the current Supreme Court justices only seem inclined to give a damn about history and precedent when it suits them. Rehnquist and Scalia, in particular, seem to me to be more fairly qualified as partisans than ideologues.

Atrios has some interesting points about the similarities between affirmative action and legacies in college admissions. Believe me, I'd really have loved to have been a legacy at an Ivy. Of course, one of my grandfathers hauled scrap metal for a living (one of George Bush's grandfathers, on the other hand, helped finance the armament of Nazi Germany).

Oh, and another thing. A Republican representative, Frank Wolf, has been publicly seeking more aid for Ethiopia, which is heading towards a famine that no one seems to be noticing. Including within the Bush administration. I'd like to know for political reason they're letting people starve. Or maybe it's just plain old incompetence.

Anyone who's gotten the opinion that, from the last few days of posts, I've got it in for every Republican has it wrong. Bob Ehrlich is everything that the Republican party should be, as far as I'm concerned. But maybe that's because he was elected in a state with twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans. And the guy he's following, Parris Glendening, was everything that a Democrat should not be (an incompetent philandering egotist, to be precise).

"Now Bush is going down the same path Clinton did -- only on crutches." - Richard Cohen, on the Bush administration's incompetence in dealing with North Korea.

More here and here about Doug White, the apparently anti-Semitic (and maybe racist, given the quote from Rhine McLin) Republican Ohio Senate Majority Leader. (via Talking Points Memo).

There's a nice little article in the Times about the InstaPundit. This might be enough to get him over the idea that Howell Raines is out to destroy mankind.

So let me see if I can get this straight:

When Democrats attack President Bush's economic plan for giving tax breaks to the rich at the expense of the poor, it's class warfare.

When President Bush apparently argues that there's nothing wrong with wealthy children of alumni getting breaks in university admission, but not aiding the poor and minorities in the same process against others who are advantaged in the process (better access to better education, etc.), it's not class welfare.

It makes sense, no?

Once again, Safire thinks he knows everything and all of the world's problems could be solved if everyone just shut up and listened to him. Herbert on the other hand, just explains how the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and doesn't even start thinking about how to fix things.

In other words, there's absolutely nothing different in these two columns than anything else that these two guys ever write.

The Times weighs in on the copyright case.

I suppose we'll just have to hope (and, um, start working) that this case will eventually be overturned. I'm not exactly optimistic about it happening any time soon (the Supreme Court is usually reticent to overturn precedent, especially recently reached precedent).

Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Funny, no?

Every now and then, the White House press will ask an intelligent question. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Basically, the release of this brief makes it look is as if the Republican party may not be racist, but Republicans are. Which, you'd think, isn't exactly the message that they would want to be sending out given the recent debacle with Lott. Apparently Bush thinks the program is "fundamentally flawed." I'd say his brain is "fundamentally flawed." (a cheap shot, but a fun one to take nonetheless).

Nice of him to release it on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, too (not the holiday, but the actual birthday).

This stinks. It's not much of a surprise, but it still stinks.

If anyone wants to know why we need campaign finance reform badly, the Bono Act is a perfect example of how things can go wrong in the current system.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Sometimes it's a little scary when The Onion starts reporting the truth.

Twice in one issue, actually.

A few quick notes about Germany and the Euro:

The German economy: It's bad, but it's not awful yet. I'm not sure that the deflation that everyone is calling for is likely to appear. First, getting rid of escalator clauses in contracts (pre-specified wage increases) takes a few years, and is probably only starting in earnest now. Second, oil prices are going up because of the problems in Iraq. Since basically any kind of production requires energy, rising energy prices are likely to create some price rises (to be clear, keeping prices stable in the long run is impossible nowadays, so a small amount of inflation can be considered healthy, and is certainly far better than deflation). Of course, the same two factors were occuring about a dozen years ago in Japan as they began the deflationary spiral that's still ongoing today. Unfortunately, Schroeder's hands are somewhat tied. The Growth and Stability Pact requirements, among other things, limit the deficits that any country can go into to 3% of GDP in order to keep inflation low and to keep the economies of the different European countries from fluctuating relative to each other. Thus, Schroeder is forced to tax his way out of a recession. Mind you, this is straight out of classical economics, which was by and large abandoned around the time that Keynes wrote his General Theory (1936, to be precise). Unfortunately, right now he doesn't have much choice. In an ideal world, the Euro Zone would have some sort of rainy day fund, like what many U.S. states have, in order to keep countries within the rules. Unfortunately, the feasibility of such a scheme seems unlikely, and a fund would take years to build up, anyway, and wouldn't help now. Admnistering such a fund would be a nightmare, and a rainy day fund could easily become a slush fund (believe me, I'd love having a few dozen billion Euros to play around with on the market. Requiring individual countries to maintain such funds might be a little more feasible, but still very, very difficult. And not an immediate aid.

Schroeder's real problem (and the Instapundit's too, for that matter), is France. Schroeder has no political capital left to play around with in Europe at the moment. Unfortunately, at the moment, the politics of the EU are largely controlled by the triumvirate of Great Britain, Germany and France. France is the greatest recipient of farm subsidies from the hugely expensive Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); Germany is the largest contributor (Great Britain would be contributing at a similar level but for a rebate that Margaret Thatcher argued for). It would be helpful if the EU were a little more democratic at the top - if there were more countries that could make a significant difference there, but of the only two other sizeable EU countries, Spain is still a few years away - the economy is only now catching up to the rest of Europe after the Franco years and the government is very decentralized - and Italian governments have a hard enough time lasting more than a few months, so foreign policy is often not at the top of the agenda. Schroeder has lately been siding with Jacques Chirac, the French President and the only person left on earth who still thinks that France is a world power, on CAP and other issues. This means that the CAP is likely to continue being an enormous drain on the German fiscal balance for at least the next decade or so. Were the CAP gotten rid of, the German fiscal picture would look a lot prettier, and a decent amount of space would be freed up for the German government to spend what deficits it is allowed on getting the economy going again. Schroeder needs to reconcile with Blair, and fast, if he's going to have any hope on reneging on his commitments to the French.

German politics: Well, yes, Schroeder is in a lot of trouble. I'm not familiar enough with the German political scene to say whether or not the government will actually last. Schroeder has vastly angered the people by continuing to raise taxes during a sluggish economy, leaving no money to go around, only months after narrowly winning re-election. One way of keeping the government from falling that might be too smart by half would be to put the current Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, in the Chancellorship. Fischer is enormously popular, and historically a lot more pragmatic than his boss. There's only one gigantic impediment: Fischer is a member of the Green Party, the junior coalition parter of Schroeder's Social Democratic Party.

The Euro: With Tony Blair aiming for a referendum in the UK on entry into the Euro Zone some time in the next ... decade or so, this isn't good for his prospects. Many people are looking at the Euro and seeing the problems that Germany is having. Realistically, this shouldn't be considered much of a failure. The truth is, although Germany is the largest country and largest economy in the Euro Zone, were any of the large countries in economic trouble, be it Germany, France, Italy or Spain, there would be a tendency to see its problems as represenative of the Euro. It's not. Other countries - Spain is one example - are doing better. In the long run, anyway, the transaction costs that used to plague intra-European transactions due to commissions and middlemen on exchange rates are gone. Yes, the Growth and Stability Pact needs to be reformed, but instituting a new central bank is almost always problematic. It took the Fed about 20 years to figure out what it was doing (and it was working until Greenspan got too confident and Bush decided he knew what he was doing).

Am I the only one who finds it funny that, the more Avril Lavigne gets marketed as the anti-Britney, the more she becomes a Britney clone - that is, she becomes all marketing with little regard for actual talent (well, at least she can play an instrument) and nothing to say that hasn't been said a million times before?

A rerun, adjusted:

Excluding the 1970’s from consideration – the oil crises were caused externally and wreaked havoc with the economy – the last Democratic president to lead the U.S. into a recession was Harry Truman. Given the last Republican president to serve a full term and not lead the U.S. into a recession was Rutherford Hayes.

So basically, Republicans claim to return money to the voters by lowering taxes, but end up costing them more money by lowering their income.

And yes, I know that this ignores the whole "Congress passes the budget" thing.

Update (beware, may contain economic jargon): First of all, it's a correlation, and there's no actual proof of any direct relationship between the two that I can dig up on short notice.

That said, there's a reasonable explanation for this. Republicans are, and have been, likelier to favor tax cuts (though this is not always a clear distinction), and thus put the government at further risk of structural deficits (though too much spending can do the same thing, though usually more in the short-term). When the government runs deficits, as it tends to do after tax cuts (conservatives will hem and haw about how lowering taxes raises tax revenues by heating up the economy, but it doesn't seem to work that way ... Reagan's tax cuts aren't are reliable comparison because they were tied to a badly needed simplification of the tax code that closed many loopholes - that is, the government was spending an enormous amount on military and welfare spending in addition to the tax cuts), then the Fed often has to increase its borrowing by selling new bonds through open market operations. This tends to draw investment away from the private sector, where it is possible to put investment to productive ends (the interest on a bond doesn't directly produce anything tangible). This will shrink the money supply and raise the interest rate, right at the time that an expansionary monetary policy is needed. For someone avowedly so determined to avoid being a one-term President like his father, Bush is sure as hell doing his best to promote the same economic troubles that did in his father.

I'm beginning to wish that Mark Hatfield had voted for the Balanced Budget Amendment (actually, the amendment would've been bad, since it would've prevented deficit spending for programs that the government can fund and actually do create jobs and aid the economy ... it also would have been a real headache during times of national security concerns, etc., but at least I wouldn't have to keep explaining why Bush's economic policy is such utter crap).

Bad news: The firemen may be going on strike again.
Good news: If there's a fire, they'll just call in the army instead.

Courting Disaster pointed out yesterday that it seems a lot of Republicans aren't supporting Bush's new tax plan. Which is a good thing, since it won't work.

I never much liked Voinovich as a person. He spent eight years as governor, and I can't think of one thing he did for the state. As best I can tell, he sat around and twiddled his thumbs. And he always came across as something of a mean, cranky bastard. That said, he did a lot of good as mayor of Cleveland. He replaced Dennis Kucinich (who's now in the House and pondering a quixotic run for President) who had put the city into default, which was the wrong thing to do but done for the right reasons (the banks had all but openly conspired against the city ... and if you don't believe me, you can read the Congressional inquiry into it) and basically managed to start to rebuild the city and attract business to the area by ... not being Dennis Kucinich. And for that matter, as a senator, he's been strong about keeping the fiscal health of the country in order, no matter what. He may be conservative as hell and a cranky bastard, but at least we know he's fighting for what he believes in. I'll take an ideologue over a partisan any day.

"I knew they were gonna beat us" - Head Coach John Lucas after yet another Cavs loss.

That's a rather bad sign.

The Ohio Senate Majority Leader, a Republican, has apologized for saying "we need to Jew them down." Mind you, he said this only "after he realized that some in the audience found it offensive." (via MWO).

I find this a little troubling.

Monday, January 13, 2003
Things I've learned on my winter break:

1. There is, in fact, a difference between good flan and bad flan.
2. When in Prague in the freezing cold winter, make sure to wear at least two layers of pants, then repeatedly tell everyone you're traveling with that it's really not that cold.
3. There is only one open restaurant in the whole of Naples.
4. Spanish baggage handlers have sticky fingers.
5. You have to pay extra for leg room on Air Europa.
6. The rain in Spain falls not in the plain, but mainly in Bilbao.
7. The sun sets damned early in Britain during the winter.
8. Want to know how to spot Americans in Europe? It's actually quite simple. They're the ones who aren't holding a cigarette, cigar, or pipe in their hands.

One other thing: the new term started today at the LSE. Courses are year-long, but some of them change the lecturers at mid-year. One of my classes got a new lecturer, unfortunately, replacing a really funny and insightful prof. Anyway, the new prof came in today and started writing the outline on the board.

He mispelled "leisure."

He spelled it "liesure."

I'm not sure yet exactly what this means, but I know it's not a good sign.

Also worth reading in the Post today.

Raspberry has it right (for everyone who's been bashing the Post's op-ed page over the last couple of months ... yeah, a lot of them are hacks, but it's not quite at the throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater point yet).

Oh, and about the savings of $44,500 that Bush would get from the proposed tax cut, that's about one and a half times what the average American currently makes in a year. Hell, I'd like to make that much right now for what I do (it would just cover my tuition and school costs).

British people can be stubborn sometimes. To a fault. And then some.

Sunday, January 12, 2003
Things I don't understand about London, #3:

OK, so everyone here drinks tea. A lot of it. I've got no problems with that. In fact, I'm fairly partial to it.

But how come you can't get a decent iced tea here if your life depended on it? I mean, you would have thought that people would have taken to it fairly quickly. But all you can get here is an awful version of Lipton in a half-liter/litre bottle that tastes like lemonade with brown food coloring (which is what I'm fairly certain it is). If you ask for an iced tea in many restaurants here, the waitress will look at you as if you've just ordered a glass of the chef's urine. I don't get it.

This is a move that was definitely not in the playbook.

By the way, classes start back up again tomorrow, so I doubt I'll be maintaining quite the large amount of blogging that I've achieved over the few days at a time that I've been in London for the last few weeks. We'll see ...

An interesting thought, while I'm thinking about Ohio (I grew up there). There's going to be an interesting case that's going to come up in a few years to see if the Republican party has actually decided to move away from the Southern Strategy of playing to racists, neo-Confederates and people longing for the days of segregation - by dumping Trent Lott - or is just pretending to do so - as the recent renomination of Perjurin' Charlie Pickering seems to show. Anyway, on to the details ...

The current governor is Bob Taft. A relative non-entity, and something of a moderate by Ohio standards (which basically means that he's not drooling at the thought of making abortion illegal and repealing all gun control, as some members of the legislature would like to do). Taft was just re-elected, mostly because the Democrats couldn't put up an effective candidate against him. The current Secretary of State is Kenneth Blackwell, who is a black Republican. Blackwell had to be talked out of running for governor in 1998 by the party, and is expected to run for the governorship in 2006.

Now here's where it gets a little interesting. The state has been trending Republican in recent years (other than the State Supreme Court, no Democrat has been elected to statewide office since 1992). This has to do with a number of things, including the southern half of the state - basically everything south of Columbus - trending Republican, and declining voter turnout in the urban centers of the northern part of the state. The southern half of the state, though, seems more conservative than Republican (I think). And there are some people down there, who still fit the bill of the racists, neo-Confederates, etc., that the Republican party has depended on in recent years. This includes much of the Cincinnati police force, which has developed a habit of using black people as target practice in recent years. So what happens in 2006 is going to be something of a watershed. This is because the Republican party basically has two choices. It can seek to nominate Blackwell, and do away with it's use of the Southern Strategy in Ohio, but risking putting the governorship in play (that, admittedly, depends on who the Democrats get to run - they haven't been able to recruit an effective person known statewide to run for office in, well, as long as I can remember, certainly contributing to their decline). Or, they could recruit someone to run against Blackwell, which would more or less be an open admission that racists are welcome to make themselves at home in the Republican Party. It makes for an interesting choice, anyway, although it's a few years off.

So Pete Townshend has said that he's not a pedophile (or, in British, a paedophile). This whole uproar will probably turn on how often he actually logged on. If he did it once or twice, his claim of just investigating things is probably true. If he did it repeatedly, then things are quite different.

Anyway, the fact that he was 'investigating' is rather stupid. That he paid for it with a credit card is extremely stupid (evidently all the drinking and drugs killed off a few too many brain cells). Actually, it would be up there in the ranks of extremely stupid acts along with Jerry Springer, while a Cincinnati city councillor (he actually later went on to become mayor ... no, really), paying for a prostitute with a private check.

A minor anal retentive point:

A number of articles about Gov. Ryan's emptying of the Illinois death row have cited Gov. Toney Anaya's commutation of everyone on the New Mexico death row at the end of his term in 1986 as the most recent similar case. The AP article is one example. CNN had an article up that also said the same thing. It's not exactly true. In 1989, when leaving office, Gov. Richard Celeste of Ohio commuted the sentences of four men and four women on death row. He didn't empty out the whole death row, but did commute the eight sentences to life in prison. He didn't issue a total commutation order for legal reasons (the governor in Ohio needs some form of a recommendation from a clemency commission, as I understand it) and political reasons (as it was, the act was nearly overturned and hobbled the state Democratic committee, contributing to the fact that it hasn't won a statewide office outside of the State Supreme Court since 1992).

David Brooks is quoting Jennifer Lopez in the New York Times. It ain't pretty.

About David Brooks: Brooks is not one of those quack conservatives more interested in getting their face on TV more than presenting decent ideas (i.e., the Bob Novak/George Will school of punditry). Although he is a senior editor for the Weekly Standard, Bobos in Paradise was actually an interesting and provocative book. Sometimes he can oversell his points, though. And I don't get what referring to Jennifer Lopez as a "sociologist" was about, except possibly as a very brief ego trip.

About Jennifer Lopez: She can't sing. Not even close. Get over it.

Let me see if I can get this straight ... George Will is comparing Bob Graham with Bill Clinton, favorably.

Between this and Broder's column today, the Post is really confusing me. Sometimes I wonder if they're switching the bylines of the writers, just to mess with us.

Correct and incorrect. It's just that simple.

Actually, no, it's not. But it's not that far off.

This is a little interesting.

Q: You must know Saddam?
A: I know him well.

Q: Is he rational?
A: I don’t think so.

The subject of the interview is Muammar Qaddafi.

There's a detailed rundown of the ins and outs of the various Democratic presidential candidates over at The Nation. (via MyDD)

New addition to the bloglist: Polygon, the Dancing Bear

Saturday, January 11, 2003
Whatever else is said about Gov. Ryan's actions, it has to be clear that this is the right thing.

And as to those cranky people who complain about the will of the juries being overridden, etc., let me explain: our government is based on something called checks and balances. This is one way how they work (they actually do work, although you wouldn't always know it from looking at much of what Congress does).

London Pro and Con, #2:

British airports

Pro: British airports have more shops than many malls, a definite aid for killing time.
Con: The first time I flew out of Stansted, I actually had trouble finding my gate between the stores. And at many of the airports, the result of building so many shops is that it's necessary to take a 10-20 minute walk to get to your gate. And the people at customs don't exactly inspire confidence (when I first arrived in Britain, all I was asked was "are you coming to study here?" Nothing, say, along the lines of "where are you studying?" or "what are you studying?"). They also work rather amazingly slowly. Waits in customs of a half-hour seem to be normal ... which is usually not quite enough time for your luggage to be retrieved.
The Verdict: Shopping while walking is okay. Until I miss a flight. Then I'll be pissed. And the customs people need help.

Now, on to the Bush 'economic' 'stimulus'. Bush's plan stinks. It gives breaks to the rich and doesn't seem likely to do much to actually help the economy. Anyway, on to the actual points of the plan:

Ending the dividend tax (cost: $300 billion) - Much as Republicans a couple of years ago decided to rename the estate tax - which only affects a tiny, very rich, segment of the population - as the death tax, so the dividend tax has been deemed a form of double taxation. Mind you, plenty of things are taxed in different areas of the tax code. Income that has income tax paid upon it also ends up being charged tax on sales taxes in most states. Duties known as sin taxes are often charged on cigarettes and alcohol, capital gains are taxed, and I could list a number of other similar charges. There's nothing inherently wrong about it. Regardless of the propaganda shenanigans, elimination of the dividend tax just isn't likely to do much in the way of economic stimulus. Dividends are generally paid out at a rate that is a tiny fraction of the share price. As a result, to have enough dividends that the tax is actually large enough to say, pay for the cost of a nice dinner, even, one has to hold an enormous amount of stock, and, thus, be very rich. Higher dividends are paid out by preferred stock, which pays out high set dividends, has differing voting power relative to regular stock, and usually has higher prices. It is usually held by the rich or by institutions seeking to use it as a hedge against uncertainty. The only thing that the elimination of the dividend tax will do is spur slightly increased investment in the stock market, possibly re-inflating the stock market bubble somewhat. This is actually harmful, since it is unrealistic in the long run. Moreover, since stock sales are only transfer payments (nothing is actually produced when a share is bought or sold, except at the initial public offering, by the sale and purchase of stock), the best that this might do is a slight improvement in consumer confidence due to seeing recovering stock prices. In terms of actual production, it won't do anything noticeable. If you're counting, that's $300 billion down the hole. This does nothing for the lower and middle classes, who, due to lower income and asset levels, need relief more. Moreover, the rich, are less likely to spend an additional dollar of income (that is, they have a higher marginal propensity to save). Basically, it would be far more effective to simply take the $300 million, divide it up into parcels of $300, and give it to the 10 million poorest Americans. And while I'm on the tax cut issue, this won't do anything until 2004, when people actually start having more money at their disposal (some limited borrowing can exist in anticipation of this).
Making tax rate reductions passed last year immediate instead of phasing them in - There are slightly higher costs to phasing these in earlier, but this might actually be beneficial. Where these tax cuts are permanent, this is a very harmful thing, since it creates yearly government deficits, which will cause the government to issue more bonds, and compete with private debt issues, driving private investment out of the economy (actually, this is the exact opposite of what the Bush plan aims to do, but then, they're not that bright, I guess). Where the tax reductions are temporary, this is probably beneficial, since the tax cuts are going to come eventually, they might as well be started now, since they're needed now. Again, this won't do anything until 2004.
Personal $3000 're-employment' accounts - This could be highly useful, or it could be a complete load of crap. It depends on the details of the system, which I haven't seen yet. Providing money for child care, job training, relocation, transportation and other job-search costs should be beneficial, but how beneficial is uncertain.
Accelerated reduction of the marriage penalty and an increase in the child tax credit - Hey, this is actually good for the middle class. What gives?
Allowing small-business owners to write off new equipment quicker - I'm not sure how much of an effect this will really have. It shouldn't cost much, but it may not do much either.
Extension of expired unemployment benefits - It's shameful that they were allowed to lapse in the first place. There are many people who badly need this.

There you have it. As you can see, eliminating the dividend tax (or, sorry, the Charles Schwab tax) is costly, and completely useless. Other than that, the Bush plan contains some marginally good ideas that are probably at least unlikely to cause significant harm in the worst case scenario. Now, on to the Democrats' plan:

Refundible tax credits of $300 per person and $600 per couple - Very progressive, and far more beneficial to the lower and middle classes, who actually need the help (lower income and asset levels left them more exposed to the recession). It would be costly, but would do well to give the economy a kick-start.
Allowing small businesses to write off certain costs - Can't hurt, but it probably won't do much either.
Restructuring bonus depreciations - Okay, I don't really understand what this is intended to do. So I'll just move on.
Cash grants to the state for homeland defense (cost: $10 billion) - Many of the states are facing severe fiscal crises, and need help from the federal goverment to pay for their national security obligations. Makes sense.
New highway funding as grants, not matching funds (cost: $5 billion) - Go drive through pretty much any northeastern city, and you'll realize why this is needed. And why $5 billion is a drop in the bucket for fixing these problems.
One-time increase in medicare funding (cost: $10 billion) - Again, many states need help to get through fiscal crises.
One-time grants to help the unemployed (cost: $6 billion) - This just makes sense, no two ways about it.

The Democratic plan actually costs slightly more in 2003 ($136 billion versus $100 billion), when the stimulus is actually needed. This is unlike the Republican plan, the bulk of which will not be phased in over a couple of years, and will have enormous costs over the long run. Each plan has its various pros and cons, but it seems obvious to me that the Democratic plan does more for the economy at a far smaller cost than the Republican plan. To be clear I'm not entirely certain how effective the Democratic plan. I'm only certain that it won't hurt the economy. It seems to have been born out of opposition to the Republicans and other political motives, and not from purely economic concerns. The Republican plan, on the other hand, at best would be slightly helpful. At worst, it could do serious harm to the government's balance sheet and the economy overall.

Read this.

Today's top story over at Media Whores Online (one word, two words or three, I'm not sure?) is that apparently Pickering has committed perjury multiple times. In most circumstances, this would mean removal from a judgeship. With the Bush administration, it apparently means a promotion.

Never mind the fact that this guy makes Lott look like a civil rights activits by comparison.

Okay, so now there's the possible Republican vice-presidential candidates. Bush and his people aren't going to push Cheney out, that much is certain. Nor is Cheney likely to want to leave. But if he has another serious heart attack, I would expect him to stand down from running for re-election. In that case, possible replacements ...

Bill Frist - What happens here depends completely on how he does as Majority Leader during the next year and a half. This is far too hazy to reasonably predict.
Condoleeza Rice - The popular outsider's name. But there are a number of problems. For one thing, last I checked, she's doesn't have much experience in anything outside of national security and foreign policy. Her nomination would also be a direct repudiation of the 'southern strategy' that the Republicans have used so effectively over the last 30 years. It would put much of the south in play, if not handing it over to the Democrats entirely (this somewhat dempends on who the Democratic presidential nominee is, probably).
Colin Powell - Powell, having established himself more publically in the Gulf War and as Secretary of State. His nomination would not carry the same rejection of the 'southern strategy' that a nomination of Rice would, as a result. He's a viable possibility, but has proven reticent in the past (his wife is particularly publicity-shy). He also comes across as too moderate (and too independent) for much of the Republican party, I suspect.
Dennis Hastert - No.
John McCain - I think we could sooner expect a Bush/Nader ticket.
George Voinovich - An interesting possibility. Voinovich is a loyal Republican, and has served the party well in recent decades in Ohio. He has been something of a budget hawk in recent years, preaching fiscal responsibility even as the Bush administration failed to practice it (I believe he did vote for the tax cuts, though). He's something of a pleasant non-entity, much as Bush tries to present himself. Many of the other Republican senators have to be excluded at the moment. Some, like Stevens or Hatch, are too old. Others, such as Sessions or McConnell, are basically too southern right now, in the wake of Trent Lott's downfall (Sessions also has a checkered history on racial issues, similar to Lott).
Rick Santorum - Another pleasant non-entity, though somewhat to the right of Voinovich.
Bob Ehrlich - Start thinking outside of the box. Recently elected to the governorship of Maryland (the first Republican to hold the office since Spiro Agnew). A relatively moderate Republican, he has a history of winning upset elections. He's smart, and not afraid to work with both sides. He may be too moderate to get the nod, though.
Jeb Bush - How incestuous.
Bill Owens - The solidly conservative governor of Colorado, he doesn't come across terribly well on television, seeming something like the robo-candidate. He was also wearing way too much eye-shadow the last time I saw him on CNN. No, really.
Rudy Giuliani - He received enormous plaudits from all sides after September 11th. He was, until then, though, perpetually shooting himself in the foot by running his mouth, a trait highly unlikely to endear him to the president (just ask the recently former Treasury Secretary). Before September 11th, he had managed to piss off just about every single group in New York at one time or another (no easy task). He's also far too moderate for the party faithful. Some have even suggested he run for the presidency as a Democrat (don't expect it to happen).
George Pataki - He's certainly got the ambition. But he's also slid all over the political spectrum in recent years, and is currently too near to the middle for many Republicans. I really can't think of many people who would be attracted to a Pataki candicacy. He has primarily won elections by defining himself as not his opponent.
Tom Ridge - Sooner or later, the president is going to have to find something for him to do.
Tommy Thompson, John Rowland or John Engler - None of them should be ruled out, but none of them would be the first person that the Bush administration would look to either.
Anyone from the House - OK, so my mind is spinning at the thought of listing various House members. I can't really think of anyone in the House likely to attract much interest, barring wholly unforseen possibilities.

So I figure it's about time for me to assess the various hopefuls for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, as only I can (yeah, right).

John Edwards - Apparently he cares about "regular people." A lot. It'd be nice if anyone knew what he stood for, besides that. In the meanwhile, he comes across as something of an empty suit in an empty suit (although he was obviously bright enough to do extremely well as a trial lawyer). And I'm not buying the whole 'matinee idol' thing. For one thing, he doesn't strike me as the type to have women swooning - nor has that seemed to affect voting patterns much in the past. Until then, he's just a troubling strike out into Dan Quayle territory (in 1988, seeking to balance out the aging George Bush on the ticket, the Republicans added the otherwise unqualified Dan Quayle, hoping that women would throw themselves at the boyish senator). He would also be a much more impressive candidate if he had at least done something substantial in the Senate ... say, get re-elected.
John Kerry - He seems a little more polished than Edwards, and is likely to come across well to voters in person. And he's got that Vietnam vet story/anti-Vietnam war protester story, too. He's been moving to the center in recent months to try and drop any associations with Massachussets (which, last I checked, has had a Republican governor since about 1990) and any associations with Dukakis and Teddy Kennedy. One has to wonder, though, if it can stick. He's not likely to play well in the south, I suspect.
Joe Lieberman - I can't think of anyone within the party who really wants him right now. He's in the conservative wing of the party, which is mostly southern. His support there, though, is limited by his religion. In any other year, he would have to be strongly considered given the last campaign. But with the current foreign policy issues, not many in the party are likely to want him as the nominee.
Dick Gephardt - God, no. About the only thing sure about Gephardt is that he's an unreconstructed populist with no eyebrows (not literally). Other than that, just about everything about him has changed since his last run for president in 1988. He probably sees this as his last shot. Populism, though, seems to be a better strategy in smaller elections. I can't think of any presidential candidate on a serious populist platform that hasn't gotten blown out of the water in the last century (William Jennings Bryan and Goldwater are the only two that come to mind, and they both lost in landslides - Jennings Bryan managed to do so multiple times)
Al Sharpton - God, no. He's about as polarizing a figure in America today as they come, and is probably only likely to create greater friction within the party. He has made some legitimate points about the need for the Democratic party to stop taking black voters for granted (for one thing, it probably leads to lower turnout in black communities, I would think), but fixing this would probably be better served by the candidacy of almost any other black person this side of J.C. Watts, Clarence Thomas and Alan Keyes. The good news is that he's likely to get trounced in the primaries, and even he knows this.
Howard Dean - Seems perfect. Which is why he doesn't stand a chance, I guess. Dean comes across well to voters, striking the right balance in terms of liberal social policy, conservative economic policy, and wanting clean government, much as McCain did. And his previous work as a doctor should resonate well with voters (just ask Sen. Dr. Frist). His "A" rating from the NRA will not make some Democrats happy, but this should be negated by his health care successes and the civil unions bill in Vermont. It should also help deal with gaining traction among white southern Democrats. Unfortunately, he needs money and airtime to gain publicity right now. Lots of it.
Bob Graham - Intriguing. He's still sitting on the fence as to running, and risks waiting too long if this goes on past the spring. He's strong on national security issues, moreso than just about any other Democrat. He's also immensely popular in Florida, a key state for the Democrats in winning the presidency (though relatively less important in winning the nomination. He's not likely to attract any specific constituency , but may gain the 'other' vote as a result. If he decides not to run, or if he is unsuccessful in getting the nomination, he should be seriously considered as a possible vice presidential candidate, as he was in 2000.
Chris Dodd - Like Graham, he doesn't seem to have much of a natural constituency. He'd probably be better focusing his sights on dislodging Daschle as the Democratic leader in the Senate in 2004, and, depending on how that goes, run in 2008. He's also too short (shorter candidates for the presidency historically are less likely to get elected)
Joe Biden - Another guy without a national constituency. I just don't see it happening.
Gary Hart - Actually slightly intriguing. His extramarital dalliances seem positively minor compared to Clinton's acts (and he's actually still married to his first wife, for that matter). And his name has largely been rehabilitated by putting his name on a commission co-chaired by Warren Rudman. But resucitating a dead political career isn't easy. He'd attract an eclectic mix of political veterans and youngsters to the campaign. Of course, he's still coy about whether he'll even run. Like Graham, if he waits too long, he's done, regardless of whether he gets in or not in the end.
Hillary Clinton - Not running, thankfully. Actually, I don't have anything against her or her politics, but she has gained so many enemies by now that the Democrats could probably get a more favorable result by bringing back Mondale again.
Wesley Clark - The ultimate outsider candidate. I don't see it happening, though. The only two military leaders to end up in the presidency without any political careers were Zachary Taylor (remember him?) and Dwight Eisenhower. Both were national war heroes who had the party coalesce around them. Not to diminish Clark's achievements, but I can't think of anything that would tag him as a war hero. And the party seems unlikely to coalesce around him, which is a necessity for gaining the nomination, since he has no political experience and associates to draw upon for the campaign. He may be considered for the vice-presidency as well, but that still might be a stretch (though it would be an interesting contrast to Bush - who evaded the draft via bogus National Guard service - and Cheney - who had legitimate deferments). He would probably be more likely considered for a cabinet seat, although that's wishful thinking, and way too far off to consider.

Friday, January 10, 2003
London Pro and Con, #1:


Pro: Contrary to popular stereotypes, British people do know what toothpaste is (orthodontics are still another matter)
Con: Public bathrooms are never clean anywhere, but British public bathrooms seem as if the custodians left to fight in World War II, and haven't been cleaned since. Some of the toilets at the LSE actually have the old-style chain handles that have to be pulled down from the ceiling.
The Verdict: Some improvements are needed, but Britain is still miles ahead of the rest of Europe.

Somebody needs to tell Krugman that the public needs his column more than he needs a vacation right now.

Thursday, January 09, 2003
I'm starting to pick up a few hits to the site, just a few a day.

Which, admittedly, comes as a total suprise. I haven't done any publicity, and haven't told anyone about it. I just had a little time on my hand, since I knew I wanted to do this, so I figured I'd put the html up, and get around to real posting after my vacation. And start getting people to link to the site then. Anyway, if someone has a little time and can e-mail me with where they found the website (and tell me if I've been linked to, as I'm happy to make it reciprocal). The address is I'm a little curious as to how this has happened.


I'm not denying that this might not be very useful.

But I'd like to know just what kind of weirdo had the idea to test this in the first place?

I'm back. Just very, very briefly.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003
I'm gone again. I'll be back in about a week, and probably won't be blogging much in the interim (there may be a little bit this time, but I dunno).

There are two possibilities to this, as I see it.

1. Bush somehow misspoke. This is the more likely possibility.
2. Bush actually has come to believe that there is a possibility of Iraq attacking the US, unprovoked, in which case he's either insane or dumber than I previously thought. There's probably a more realistic chance of an unprovoked invasion by Canada right now.

I've recently happened upon a happy coincidence of the following sort:

1. I collect pennies (I've got a 5-gallon jar that I've been filling up since I was 3 years old, and I figure it'll take me about another 50 years to fill it).
2. I hate my bank (NatWest took two months to get me a working ATM card)
3. I hate 2p coins. These are British coins worth 2 pence that I've been accumulating, since I never remember to spend them. Adjusting to using 1 and 2 pound coins in place of dollar bills, and 20p and 50p coins in place of quarters is quite easy. But getting rid of 2p coins is nearly impossible.

So I've decided to save up the 2p coins that I get in change from time to time, wait until I get a big round number of them, take them in to my bank, and demand they have them changed into pennies.

Genius, no?

MyDD has a copy of the recent approval ratings of Bush (Time hasn't published them online, but they showed up in a recent edition). And Blogger won't let me post photos, as far as I can tell ...

Forget the recent spike in the disapproval rating and the drop in the approval rating. The notable thing about what the poll shows is that, over the course of his term, Bush has had continuously dropping approval ratings and rising disapproval ratings. The only exception to this is the massive spike in the following September 11th. This hardly excuses the Democrats for their failures in November - in fact it is all the more damning - but it shows that, barring a change in the direction of the policies of Bush administration (not bloody likely), they're likely to be heading for a problematic couple of years. Basically, Bush's policies aren't popular, and while externally caused acts affect the levels of success of any president, this one doesn't seem to be helping himself at all.

If the trend continues unabated (not likely - any war in Iraq will cause another spike, though I'd think that it won't be as large as that after September 11th), the two lines would seem to cross around the middle of 2003. This is, admittedly, a completely scientific prediction that is being applied to a wholly unscientific situation (and I'm working off the screen, not a printout, which makes it all the less accurate).