Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A Word or Two for Ideological Purists

William Watkins at Southern Appeal has a post in which he quotes from James Bovard's The Bush Betrayal. Watkins says of Bush:
No matter what his failings, so the argument goes, surely he is better than Kerry. Perhaps he is better than Kerry, but ought not we have higher standards than this? If John Kerry is the measuring stick, then I would venture that there are a large number of rascals who would be better leaders than him. But if we measure Bush by a legitimate standard, then we see much is lacking Here is a taste of Bovard's indictment....[long quotations here]...So this is the man who is about to lead what used to be the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility. What a shame.
The quotations are about the Medicare prescription plan, a farm bill with "generous" benefits, steel tariffs, foreign aid, and education spending. William characterizes some of those measures as "vote-buying"; hell, they're all vote-buying.

Now let's talk about why the glass is half-full, not half-empty. What Bush gave with prescriptions he will try to take back (and then some) through partial privatization of Social Security. Farm subsidies are a bi-partisan addiction; find a president who can resist them and you'll find a nation in which the electoral college has been abolished and most farm products are imported. Bush's overall stance on trade is good, why get upset by a blatantly political and short-lived bit of protectionism? Almost everyone's against foreign aid, but it's almost inconsequential and it might actually pay long-term dividends in the war on terror. A successful push for vouchers -- a key item on the Republican agenda -- will have a much greater positive effect on education than the feeble negative effect of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Bovard and Watkins seem to live in the perfect world of perfectly rational, non-political politicians. It doesn't exist. Kerry is the standard to which Bush should be compared -- this year. And defeating Kerry must be number two on Bush's agenda -- this year. Number one, of course, is fighting the war on terror, which Watkins doesn't mention. I hope he doesn't think that's unimportant.

Next year, if Bush has been re-elected, Bovard and Watkins can rightly complain if Bush continues to disappoint them. But before they complain they should consider Bush's entire record, including -- most importantly -- his performance in the war on terror. If that doesn't satisfy them they should do more than complain; they should actively support the nomination of a better Republican candidate in 2008.

But they should never lose sight of the fact that the real world of presidential politics -- as opposed to their ideal world of ideological perfection -- will almost always produce a choice between the greater evil and the lesser evil. The last time it produced a clear choice between evil and good was in 1964. And look what happened then: Voters mistook good for evil and evil for good, and evil ensued, both at home and abroad.

Would Bovard and Watkins prefer the unelected Goldwater or the elected Bush? I'm sorry to say that's the sort of choice the real world usually offers, my friends.

Cold Mountain, the Movie

I finally saw the movie based on Charles Frazier's best-selling novel, Cold Mountain. The movie is good, but disappointing. The novel draws its power from Inman's long, perilous journey home to Cold Mountain, North Carolina, in the aftermath of the bloody battle of Petersburg (Virginia), where he almost perished. In the novel, Inman's journey is intercut with the tribulations of Ada, with whom Inman had fallen in love before going to war, and Ruby, a mountain woman who "learns" Ada how to run her farm without a man. The story of Ada and Ruby, though suspenseful and fascinating in its own right, serves mainly to make Inman's journey seem longer and more suspenseful. Inman's tragic end, the emotional climax of the novel, follows his return and blissful reunion with Ada.

The movie spends too much time on Ada and Ruby, shortchanging the epic nature of Inman's journey. The interaction of Jude Law (Inman) and Nicole Kidman (Ada) fails to match the attraction that leaps from the pages of Frazier's novel. Perhaps it's the script, perhaps it's the direction, and perhaps it's the actors. I think it's the actors: Frazier's Inman could have been played perfectly by a young Gary Cooper -- strong and silent, in contrast to Law's rather short and loquacious version. Frazier's Ada could have been played perfectly by a young Vivien Leigh -- who, in fact, played Ada's prototype in Gone with the Wind.

Having said that, I must defend Renée Zellweger's Ruby. Zellweger did not overplay the role, regardless of what some critics say. Those critics must never have met an up-country native of the Appalachians. Zellweger's Ruby is a perfect characterization, in accent, attitude, and manner -- rude, crude, suspicious of outsiders, and aggressively defensive. Zellweger deserves her Oscar.

The movie version of Cold Mountain deserves a viewing, but don't expect more than 152 minutes of entertainment. You won't remember it as one of the greatest movies ever made -- not by a long shot.

How's That for Credibility?

John O'Neill, a key member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, recently gave a revealing interview to the L.A. Times. A key paragraph says this about O'Neill:
He portrayed himself as a political independent — a Reagan Democrat, he said, if he had to have a label. Although he typically supports GOP candidates, he says, he voted for Democrat Al Gore in 2000. And although the "Swifties" have agreed to focus on Kerry and not to discuss President Bush, O'Neill made it clear he is no great fan of the president, whom he has described to several friends as an "empty suit."
O'Neill may not represent all the SwiftVets -- or even a small fraction of them -- on that score, but it makes his anti-Kerry passion all the more convincing. The Vets, as a group, seem genuinely motivated by their justifiable hatred of Kerry's perfidy and lack of moral character. Karl Rove couldn't have invented them if he'd tried.

(Thanks to One Hand Clapping and Michelle Malkin for the tip.)

In the "It Could Be Worse" Department

UPDATED BELOW

Yesterday I attacked FCC commissioner Michael Copps, in particular, and the federal government, in general, for paternalistically and unnecessarily regulating the airwaves. Thanks to a tip from the proprietor of Occam's Carbuncle, a Canadian blog, I've learned how much worse it is in Canada. As he says:
Copps would feel right at home in Canada, where our FCC equivalent, the CRTC, routinely sticks its nose in where it doesn't belong. One of our better blogs, Trudeaupia, has been all over this issue.
(CRTC stands for Canadian Radio-television Communications Commission or, in French, Conseil de la radiodiffusion et des télécommunications canadiennes.) Anyway, here's the issue, in the words of CRTC:
In a decision issued today,...CRTC...denies the application...for the renewal of the broadcasting licence for the French-language commercial radio station CHOI-FM Québec....

The Commission considered that offensive comments made by the hosts over the station’s airwaves tended or were likely to expose individuals or groups of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of mental disability, race, ethnic origin, religion, colour or sex. The Commission also considered, among other things, that the station’s hosts were relentless in their use of the public airwaves to insult and ridicule people....
According to CBC Montreal, reporting on August 26:
A federal court has made it official—CHOI-FM can continue broadcasting after its licence expires at the end of this month.

The controversial radio station has reached an agreement with the CRTC to keep broadcasting until a final decision comes down about the fate of the station....
Trudeaupia is skeptical: "Or is this just a delaying action until the protest dies down, then they'll abruptly close it?"

So, it could be worse here in the U.S. of A. First, we could have to say everything twice: once in English, again in French. Second, we could have to put up with limitations on freedom of speech that dwarf the infamy of McCain-Feingold.

UPDATE:
How could I forget that other bastion of freedom in the English-speaking world, our "mother country"? Well, here's Eugene Volokh at The Volokh Conspiracy to remind me (quoting from Bloomberg.com):
Ford Motor Co., the world's second biggest carmaker, has had a television commercial for its Land Rover brand banned by the U.K. communications regulator after it was judged to "normalize" the use of guns.

The advertisement, which featured a woman brandishing a gun later revealed to be a starting pistol, breached the Advertising Standards Code and must not be shown again, Ofcom said in an e-mailed statement. The regulator received 348 complaints against the ad, many concerned that the commercial glamorized guns and made it "appear that guns are fun and cool."...

Ofcom said glamorization is "part and parcel" of the advertising process but this commercial "normalized" gun ownership in a domestic setting. The pistol, fired by the woman into the air as a man got into his car, was used in "an apparent casual manner and just for fun," Ofcom said....
George Orwell, wherever you are, call home.

Broder Boots Another One

David Broder of The Washington Post, called by some the "dean" of Washington pundits, is true to form in this wrong-headed column:
Policing Political Ads

By David S. Broder
Sunday, August 29, 2004; Page B07

...With total reported political contributions for this cycle already past the $1 billion mark -- and the heaviest ad buys still to come -- the character of the perpetual debate about campaign financing has begun to shift. Instead of focusing on who is giving how much, the argument now seems to be about who has the right to join in the spending spree....

With record sums available to both sides -- either through their official committees or through the independent groups supporting them -- the real issue is not one of finance but of accountability....

The institutions and individuals with a stake in the presidential election are far more numerous than two parties and two candidates. All sorts of other groups -- from left and right, from environmentalists to anti-abortionists -- have much riding on the outcome. By what logic are they to be prohibited from running their ads?...

The reality is that, in a nation with our Constitution's guarantee of free speech and a government whose decisions affect every aspect of life, the flow of money from the private sector into the political world will be almost impossible to control.

What can be disciplined is the tendency of these ads to exaggerate, distort or flat-out lie. And the candidates who benefit from the ads are the ones who have the first responsibility -- along with the media -- to police them. The candidates ought to be judged by their willingness to tell their supporters when they have crossed the line.
The headline is scary, but it belies the message. Broder was doing well until the last paragraph. Then he booted it.

The only "policing" that's needed is the policing that citizens do in the privacy of their own minds. It's impossible to take at face value a candidate's disavowal or repudiation of ads attacking his opponent. Is the candidate being sincere or merely observing the niceties of political decorum? In the end, citizens are left to make up their own minds about the validity of third-party attack ads, just as they are left to make up their own minds about the validity of candidates' ads.

But Broder is just being Broder, a paternalistic Washington insider who doesn't trust "the masses" to think for themselves.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Where the French Went Wrong

A review of Gertrude Himmelfarb's The Roads to Modernity says it well:
...Now comes distinguished historian Gertrude Himmelfarb (married to Irving Kristol, widely regarded as the godfather of the neoconservative movement) to add some intellectual heft to the right's Francophobia.

Himmelfarb's basic contention, one she supports with great passion and wide-ranging scholarship, is that the great 18th century French Enlightenment has been vastly overrated and that the British and American Enlightenments have been comparatively underrated. Her goal in writing this book is to "reclaim the Enlightenment...from the French who have dominated and usurped it" and restore it to the British and Americans.

So who stole the Enlightenment and gave credit for it to the French? Himmelfarb never says so directly, but one can venture a guess: liberals in academia. Her critique of the French Enlightenment is twofold: First, the French philosophes, from Rousseau to Voltaire to Diderot and the rest, were anti-religious, and second, they were elitists who scorned the common people. The French so worshiped reason that they denied the value of faith, thus cutting themselves off from the multitudes.

The great Voltaire, Himmelfarb points out, opposed education for the children of farmers on the grounds that they were mired in religious superstition and thus largely unredeemable. This kind of elitist thinking, Himmelfarb tells us repeatedly, pervaded the French Enlightenment. So did totalitarian impulses, impulses embodied in the French Revolution and "the Terror." Himmelfarb spends much space describing Rousseau's concept of the "general will" and how it influenced Robespierre and hence "the Terror."...
Exactly. Rousseau, the godfather of communism, believed that individuals had surrendered their will to the state by entering into an imaginary social contract (somewhat like John Rawls's imaginary "veil of ignorance"). And it was all downhill from there. Now we have Rousseau's descendants -- modern-day Democrats -- who want to regulate our lives for our own good. That includes, of course, denying a good education to poor children in the name of "public" education.

This Isn't News

This has been blogged before, but it bears repeating:
Reuters Editor's Email 'Sad But Revealing,' Pro-Life Group Says

(CNSNews.com) - A Reuters news service editor sent an e-mail to a pro-life group last week, criticizing the group's stance on abortion as well as its support of the Bush administration....

According to the National Right to Life Committee, the email came "out of the blue" from Todd Eastham, a news editor for Reuters. Eastham was responding to a press release that the National Right to Life Committee sent to hundreds of news outlets after a federal judge in New York struck down a ban on partial birth abortion.

Eastham's email read as follows: "What's your plan for parenting & educating all the unwanted children you people want to bring into the world? Who will pay for policing our streets & maintaining the prisons needed to contain them when you, their parents & the system fail them? Oh, sorry. All that money has been earmarked to pay off the Bush deficit. Give me a frigging break, will you?"

Douglas Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee's legislative director, called it "sad but revealing to see an editor for a major news service so casually and gratuitously express such blatant hostility to both the Bush administration and to the right to life of unborn children....

At the bottom of Eastham's email is a statement that reads: "Any views expressed in this message are those of the individual sender, except where the sender specifically states them to be the views of Reuters Ltd."

That "boilerplate material" invites Eastham's readers to visit the Reuters website, Johnson noted. Johnson said he did visit the website, where he found a Reuters' editorial policy, which said, "Reuters journalists do not offer their own opinions or views."...
Normally they slip their opinions and views into the articles they write for Reuters, but with no more subtlety than Eastham's email.

Entertain Me!

Michael J. Copps, a Democrat member of the Federal Communications Commission, believes
our broadcast media owe us more coverage of an event that remains an important component of the presidential campaign. Yet tonight, if people around the country tune in to the commercial broadcast TV networks, most will not see any live convention coverage. That's not right.

Let's remember that American citizens own the public airwaves, not TV executives. We give broadcasters the right to use these airwaves for free in exchange for their agreement to broadcast in the public interest. They earn huge profits using this public resource. During this campaign season broadcasters will receive nearly $1.5 billion from political advertising.
Where to begin? Let's start with fundamentals and go from there:

1. American citizens don't own the public airwaves. The federal government, acting through the FCC, regulates the airwaves in the mistaken belief that chaos would ensue if the airwaves weren't regulated. If the FCC didn't regulate the electromagnetic media, the users of the media would regulate themselves, just as surfers regulate themselves.

2. How much money broadcasters make is therefore none of the FCC's business.

3. What broadcasters broadcast is therefore none of the FCC's business.

4. Broadcasters should broadcast in order to maximize their profits. A concept that happens (through the magic of the "invisible hand") to serve the interests of consumers.

If Copps thinks that people who watch political conventions actually learn anything they can't learn by watching or listening to news programs, reading newspapers and magazines, surfing the web, and -- best of all -- reading political blogs of all persuasions, then Copps is a fool. But we already knew that, didn't we, when he said that a convention is an "event that remains an important component of the presidential campaign." That's true only in the sense that a convention affords a major party the opportunity to grab some free advertising for its candidate.

Copps is more than a fool, however; he's a paternalistic fool. He's itching to force broadcasters to cover conventions because watching them would be good for us, the unwashed masses who, obviously, don't know where to turn for our political news.

Well, Copps's term as commissioner expires June 30, 2005. So, if Bush wins re-election, Copps won't be around the FCC much longer.

Lame Protest of the Day

Here's a member of "Billionaires for Bush" mocking Republicans for their purported monopoly on rich adherents:



Of course, there are some real billionaires for Kerry (including George Soros, Ted Turner, and Warren Buffet), and a bunch of Hollywood fat-cats who aren't living on food stamps. In fact, most of the wealthiest zip codes in the nation are Democrat bastions. It just proves, once again, that you don't need a lot of sense to make a lot of cents.

Skimming the Post

Today's washingtonpost.com has two great headlines. First we find that "Edwards Says Kerry Plans to Confront Iran on Weapons". Okay, so why is Edwards saying this instead of Kerry? Would it be too confrontational if Kerry says it? But it gets worse, because the Kedwards approach to confrontation boils down to this:
A John F. Kerry administration would propose to Iran that the Islamic state be allowed to keep its nuclear power plants in exchange for giving up the right to retain the nuclear fuel that could be used for bomb-making, Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards said in an interview yesterday.

Edwards said that if Iran failed to take what he called a "great bargain," it would essentially confirm that it is building nuclear weapons under the cover of a supposedly peaceful nuclear power initiative. He said that, if elected, Kerry would ensure that European allies were prepared to join the United States in levying heavy sanctions if Iran rejected the proposal....
Heavy sanctions? Wow! I suppose France would vow never to repeal its headscarf ban.

Then there's this headline, which in light of recent polling trends seems to be post-mature (pun intended): "Series of Misjudgments Cost President His Lead".

Some days it doesn't pay to get the paper out of bed.

Very Politically Incorrect

A study cited here suggests that women don't compete well against men. If that's true, it may have something to do with the effects of stress on cognition, as indicated by a test of female rats reported here.

All I'm doing is reporting the results of scientific experiments. Don't shoot me.

The Crystal Ball Is Cloudy

The usually sensible Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, publishes his prognostications on a website called Sabato's Crystal Ball. This morning he talks about the likelihood of a Bush "bounce" from the GOP convention. He says, in part:
At best, President Bush faces an extremely difficult battle for reelection. First, as we have noted many times, no president but Truman who has done this poorly in the public polls of an election year has in the end been reelected. Could Bush be the second Truman? It's possible, just as it is very possible he's the second Ford (1976), Carter (1980), or Bush I (1992).

In addition, as the NBC/Wall Street Journal's latest survey--and many others--strongly imply, the remaining undecideds are heavily female and anti-Bush, at least at this point....
The remaining undecideds are heavily (care to rephrase that?) female and anti-Bush? If that's true, then Bush does have a chance. All the anti-Bush females I know have already made up their minds to vote for Kerry. Actually they had already made up their minds to vote for Bush's opponent on January 20, 2001.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Does the CPI Overstate Inflation? And Who Cares?

UPDATED

Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, in recent testimony before Congress, suggested several ways to deal with the impending deficit in Social Security receipts*. One of those ways is to index Social Security payments to a "true" cost-of-living index. According to Greenspan, who is picking up on the findings of the "Boskin report" -- a study done for the Senate Finance Committee in 1996 -- the CPI systematically overstates increases in the cost of living.

How is that? Quoting from the executive summary of the Boskin report:
There are several categories or types of potential bias in using changes in the CPI as a measure of the change in the cost of living. 1) Substitution bias occurs because a fixed market basket fails to reflect the fact that consumers substitute relatively less for more expensive goods when relative prices change. 2) Outlet substitution bias occurs when shifts to lower price outlets are not properly handled. 3) Quality change bias occurs when improvements in the quality of products, such as greater energy efficiency or less need for repair, are measured inaccurately or not at all. 4) New product bias occurs when new products are not introduced in the market basket, or included only with a long lag.
I agree that the second, third, and fourth biases are a problem. But I disagree with respect to the substitution bias. Why? Let's start with this excerpt of part IV of the report:
The "pure" substitution bias is the easiest to illustrate. Consider a very stylized example, where we would like to compare an initial "base" period 1 and a subsequent period 2. For simplicity, consider a hypothetical situation where there are only two commodities: beef and chicken. In period 1, the prices per pound of beef and chicken are equal, at $1, and so are the quantities consumed, at 1 lb. Total expenditure is therefore $2. In period 2, beef is twice as expensive as chicken ($1.60 vs. $0.80 per pound), and much more chicken (2 lb.) than beef (0.8 lb.) is consumed, as the consumer substitutes the relatively less expensive chicken for beef. Total expenditure in period 2 is $2.88.

The simplest comparison is to ask "How much more must I spend in my current situation (period 2) to purchase the same quantities that I purchased initially (in period 1)?"22 This is the question asked by the CPI. The price index for period 2 relative to period 1 uses the initial period 1 basket of consumption as the weights in the computation. To buy 1 lb. of beef and 1 lb. of chicken in period 2 costs $2.40. The price index for period 2 relative to period 1 is 1.20 (2.40/2.00), that is a 20 % increase.

Intuitively, it is easy to understand why such a computation imparts an upward (substitution) bias to the measure of the change in the true cost of living. It assumes the consumer does not substitute (cheaper) chicken for beef. In the real world, as in the hypothetical example, consumers change their spending patterns in response to changes in relative prices and, hence, partially insulate themselves from price movements.
Okay, consumers tend to substitute cheaper products for more expensive products as relative prices change. So what? The consumer was happy with 1 pound of beef and 1 pound of chicken before the price of beef went up relative to the price of chicken. Now the consumer will have to spend 20 percent more to be just as happy as she was before. That's a good measure of the increase in her cost of living. Or to put it another way, she would have to spend 20 percent more in order to maintain a constant standard of living.

It's true that tastes change with time, which is why the Bureau of Labor Statistics occasionally changes the "market basket" of goods and services it uses in computing the CPI. But, in the short run, the consumer is definitely worse off when prices rise, because she has to buy less of something she likes and more of something she likes less. In that respect, the CPI gets it right.

Aside from the substitution effect, how much does the CPI really overstate the cost of living? Table 3 in part VI of the report summarizes the effects of the various types of bias. As of 1996 -- taking into account recent and prospective changes in the computation of the CPI -- the report estimated that the CPI would overstate increases in the cost of living by 1.1 percentage points a year. But 0.4 percentage points of that total is accounted for by substitution bias. That leaves about 0.7 percentage points for other types of bias, which can add up over the years. In 10 years, for example, an overstatement of 0.7 percent in the CPI would cause Social Security benefits to rise 7 percent more than necessary in order to maintain a constant standard of living.

Bottom line: Greenspan may be right to urge the adoption of a more realistic cost-of-living index for Social Security, but that index won't be realistic if it doesn't handle the substitution bias correctly.

UPDATE:
A working paper by Robert Gordon (a co-author of the Boskin report), published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in June 2000, says that changes to the method of calculating CPI made in the wake of the Boskin report have reduced the CPI's overstatement of the cost of living from 1.1 percentage points to 0.65 percentage point. The changes, however, include corrections for the "bias" due to the substitution effect, which isn't really a bias, as I argue above.

A note on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, dated 02/20/02, discusses the creation of a new index called the Chained Consumer Price Index (C-CPI), which supplements but does not supplant the CPI. The C-CPI attempts to correct for the substitution effect across item categories (e.g., if the price of cigarettes goes up, consumers buy more bread). The same note says that the basic CPI was adjusted in 1999 to capture the effects of substitution within product categories (e.g., if the price of bourbon goes up, consumers buy more beer). So, in spite of all logic (or at least my logic), the CPI and its companion index have eliminated the so-called substitution bias.

Those are the key points I have been able to glean by searching the BLS website and by Googling. The business of computing price indices is exceedingly murky and complex. It's safe to say that price indices are approximations wrapped in estimates surrounded by great statistical uncertainties. Changes in the CPI could well overstate (or understate) changes in the cost of living by 100 percent and we'd never know the difference. Anyway, as the BLS wisely says somewhere on its site (or perhaps it was in the Boskin report), the cost of living is a personal thing that can't really be captured by an index.

I'm sorry I started this. I'll never write on the subject again -- I think.
__________
*Of course, the real solution to the impending deficit in Social Security receipts is to privatize Social Security. But that's another argument, which I've already made here.

A Historian Who Needs a History Lesson

UPDATED BELOW

Niall Ferguson, professor of history at Harvard and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, writes in OpinionJournal at WSJ.com that Bush's defeat would be good for the GOP. He supports this bold thesis by dredging one (just one) example from history:
Many [British] Conservatives today would now agree that it would have been far better for their party if [Prime Minister John] Major had lost the election of 1992. For one thing, the government deserved to lose. The decision to take the United Kingdom into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism had plunged the British economy into a severe recession, characterized by a painful housing market bust. For another, the Labour candidate for the premiership, Neil Kinnock, had all the hallmarks of a one-term prime minister. It was Mr. Kinnock's weakness as a candidate that enabled Mr. Major to scrape home with a tiny majority of 21 out of 651 seats in the Commons. Had Mr. Kinnock won, the exchange rate crisis of September 1992 would have engulfed an inexperienced Labour government, and the Conservatives, having replaced Mr. Major with a more credible leader, could have looked forward to an early return to office.
I won't go into the parallels Ferguson draws between Major's next five years in office and what he expects of a second Bush term. Let's just say that his assessment is about as good as that of the average anti-Bush protester who's blocking traffic in Manhattan.

Ferguson -- a Glaswegian by birth -- must have a weak grasp of American political history. Parties in this country hold onto power by holding onto it, not by abdicating it. Thus the Jeffersonian Republican dynasty of 1801-25, the new Republican dynasty of 1861-85, the Democrat hegemony of 1933-69 (broken only by Ike's winning popularity), and the Republican hegemony of 1969-2005 (interrupted only by Carter's one-term debacle and Clinton's Perot-assisted two terms).

I'm being a bit unfair to Ferguson, because he isn't suggesting that Bush throw the election. He simply thinks that Republicans might be better off, in the long run, if Bush loses. But regaining power once it's lost can be a hard thing to do. Losing tends to breed losing, here as well as in Britain. If Republicans are, at bottom, different than Democrats -- and if they are likely to stay different -- there's a good reason many of us fear a Democrat dynasty. And, given the way of American politics, a Democrat dynasty might flow from a Kerry victory. Look how far down the road to socialism we marched during the Democrat hegemony of 1933-69.

Are such bad things bound to happen in a second Bush term that Republicanism will vanish into the same black hole as the British Conservative Party? I look at it this way: If Bush has made mistakes he has undoubtedly learned from them. Kerry, on the other hand, is a bundle of mistakes waiting to be opened.

Here's to the continuation of Republican control of the White House -- and Congress.

UPDATE:
Ramesh Ponnuru of The Corner at NRO agrees with me (though I don't think he's read this post):
Ferguson says that a second term of hawkishness, big spending, and social conservatism will further divide the party rather than unify it. He also makes a comparison to 1956. Eisenhower had pursued regime change in the Middle East in his first term; he won re-election and had a disastrous second term; that led to the Democrats' owning the 1960s.

We are supposed to believe that the party will be more unified if it has no leader. Maybe, but it's not the way to bet. The Eisenhower comparison is a total failure. Ferguson's own recitation of Eisenhower's foreign-policy record undermines his claim that "President Bush can be relied upon to press on with a foreign policy based on pre-emptive military force"--on his telling, Eisenhower had switched gears by the end of his first term. (Ferguson blasts him for "incoherence," without noticing he's making his own argument incoherent.)

And Eisenhower's second term wasn't the prelude to a Democratic majority--it was an interruption of a Democratic majority. The Democrats had won the five presidential elections before Eisenhower, and won the two following him. Eisenhower's massive popularity allowed the Republicans to hold on to national power during a time of Democratic ascendancy. Cutting the Eisenhower interregnum short would not have improved Republicans' prospects in the following decade. It's bad enough when predictions about the future are far-fetched; predictions about the past should be more solid.

It's Make-or-Break for Democrats

Economist.com characterizes the GOP's situation as "make or break":
Make or break in Manhattan
Aug 27th 2004
From The Economist Global Agenda

The “Grand Old Party” will make its case for re-electing George Bush at a convention in New York next week. The tone will be inclusive, but Mr Bush’s proposals for a second term could look like a continuation of his polarising first four years....
So, it's "make or break"? I guess the vaunted Economist can't afford to subscribe to polls or doesn't know how to call them up on the web.

As for those "polarising first four years" (I love those English spellings): Do you mean the four years that began with honked-off Democrats crying about the election that Gore almost stole? Democrats only got more honked-off as Bush finessed them on taxes, the war in Iraq, and (most recently) campaign-finance reform. If this be polarization, let's have four more years of it.

Higher Math at Reuters

Paul at Wizbang quotes Reuters:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. economy slowed more sharply in the second quarter than first thought as oil prices rose and the trade gap swelled, the government said on Friday in a report that confirmed momentum faltered in the spring.

U.S. gross domestic product -- which measures total output within the nation's borders -- expanded at a 2.8 percent annual rate...
Paul says, "I need someone to 'splain this one to me."

My answer: Reuters is simply showing off its advanced knowledge of mathematics. In calculus, the rate of change of a quantity is the first derivative -- that's the growth rate -- which in this case is positive. If, however, the growth rate drops, then the change in the growth rate -- the second derivative -- is negative. Thus, a rigorous organization like Reuters, which is full of "advanced" thinkers, is correct in saying that the U.S. economy slowed, if by "slowed" Reuters is referring to the second derivative. Got it? I'm sure Reuters doesn't.

Dealing with "Middle-Class Squeeze"

Arnold Kling writes about "Understanding 'Middle-Class Squeeze'" at Tech Central Station. He debunks the notion of "middle-class squeeze" and concludes with these observations:
[P]oliticians who take on middle-class squeeze...as [a] public policy [issue] may be causing harm. Sending out a message that government is the solution may serve to weaken the cause-effect connections that people need to make in order to solve what are fundamentally personal problems. The damage caused by exacerbating the cause-effect disconnect that weakens personal willpower may far exceed the benefits of whatever actual remedy the government is able to deliver.
Well, let's suppose that politicians are unable to resist dealing with "middle-class squeeze" -- just as many of the middle class are unable to resist McMansions and fattening foods. What to do?

To the extent that there is such a thing as middle-class squeeze, it reflects a lack of fiscal discipline, which means that the middle class (on the whole) is spending more and saving less. If that's the case, a public-policy solution would be to (1) increase taxes on consumption (perhaps by levying a national sales tax, including a sales tax on homes), (2) eliminate income tax deductions for property taxes and mortgage interest (for starters), and (3) reduce taxes that discourage saving (perhaps by eliminating all taxes on capital gains and interest).

That combination of actions -- which could easily be made revenue-neutral -- would have the effect of raising investment, thereby increasing productivity and real incomes. At the same time, by encouraging Americans to save at a higher rate, Americans would become less dependent on Social Security as a source of retirement income, which is another way of dealing with the coming "crisis" in Social Security.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Republican Advantage in Presidential Elections

Republican presidential candidates must work harder for their electoral votes than their Democrat opponents, yet they have a statistically significant advantage over those same opponents. What do I mean by "work harder", what is the statistically significant advantage, and what are its implications for future elections?

Working Harder -- A Result of Long-Term Political Realignment
From the election of 1880 -- the first post-Reconstruction election -- through the election of 1928, the percentage of electoral votes cast for the Republican candidate was usually the same as, or greater than, the percentage of States won by the Republican candidate. That relationship reflected the tendency of Republicans to win the more-populous States of the Northeast and Upper Midwest, whereas Democrats could only count on the less-populous States of the South.

After the aberrant election years of 1932-1948 (spanning the Great Depression, World War II, and the Dixiecrats), the relationship shifted, and the realignment of party allegiances began. Eisenhower made inroads into the "Solid South" in 1952, and greater inroads in 1956, while holding onto traditional Republican States. Then, as the Northeast and Upper Midwest began increasingly to vote for Democrats, the South began increasingly to vote for Republicans. This realignment was complete by the election of 1980, when the Democrat (Carter) won only one Southern State -- his home State of Georgia.

Although the population of the Southern States has grown faster than the population of the States in the Upper Midwest and Northeast, the net result of realignment, thus far, has been to the disadvantage of Republican candidates. That is, since realignment Republicans must win a higher percentage of States than they did before realignment in order to win a given number of electoral votes. That relationship will change, of course, as realignment persists and the South continues to outstrip the North in population growth. But it holds for now, even in the aftermath of the 2000 census.

The Statistical Advantage
Republican presidential candidates, in spite of their geographic disadvantage, have held a significant statistical advantage over Democrats since the 1950s. Perhaps it began with Eisenhower, survived the Goldwater debacle and Nixon's disgrace, was renewed by Reagan, and wasn't diminished by Clinton's ephemeral and largely partisan appeal. Whatever the explanation, the share of Republican presidential candidates has been out of proportion to their share of the popular vote, which means that they have tended to do better than Democrats in populous swing states.

The effect of this phenomenon is shown by a statistical analysis of the percentage of electoral vote going to the winner of elections from 1956 through 2000. The best regression equation has only two significant explanatory variables: percentage of two-party popular vote and Republican Party affiliation.

Implications
If Republicans can hold onto their solid base of States in the South, Southwest, the Plains, and the Rocky Mountains -- and if they do not destroy the trust in presidential Republicanism that seems to be the legacy of Eisenhower and Reagan -- they can win the White House more often than not for decades to come. That's not a guarantee, because those are big "ifs".

Friday, August 27, 2004

Professor Krugman Flunks Economics

Paul Krugman, NYT columnist and ersatz professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University, writes today about "America's Failing Health". Herewith, some excerpts and commentary by yours truly:
Working Americans have two great concerns: the growing difficulty of getting health insurance, and the continuing difficulty they have in finding jobs. These concerns may have a common cause: soaring insurance premiums. [Let's see how he pulls this one off.]

In most advanced countries, the government provides everyone with health insurance. [The "government" means taxpayers, of course. I love the way these well-educated left-wing economists ignore the truth when it suits them. Of course, we know he's about to slam the U.S. for not being as "advanced" (i.e., socialistic) as other Western democracies. And sure enough...] In America, however, the government offers insurance only if you're elderly (Medicare) or poor (Medicaid). Otherwise, you're expected to get private health insurance, usually through your job....

Some employers have dropped their health plans. Others have maintained benefits for current workers, but are finding ways to avoid paying benefits to new hires - for example, by using temporary workers. And some businesses, while continuing to provide health benefits, are refusing to hire more workers. [Written in a tone that suggests there's a social law that says businesses must "pay for" health insurance, and that they must hire workers they can't afford.]

In other words, rising health care costs aren't just causing a rapid rise in the ranks of the uninsured (confirmed by yesterday's Census Bureau report); they're also, because of their link to employment, a major reason why this economic recovery has generated fewer jobs than any previous economic expansion. [Wait a minute, prof, when employers don't subsidize health insurance premiums, they're able to hire more employees and/or pay current employees more. Businesses simply do employees a favor by creating group plans, which pool risks and therefore yield lower premiums than individual policies. In the alternative, employers would offer higher salaries and let employees fend for themselves.]

Clearly, health care reform is an urgent social and economic issue. But who has the right answer? [The market has the right answer. So what you're about to say is irrelevant, but let's plough on, anyway.]

The 2004 Economic Report of the President told us what George Bush's economists think, though we're unlikely to hear anything as blunt at next week's convention. According to the report, health costs are too high because people have too much insurance and purchase too much medical care. [True, that's exactly right, it's called "moral hazard" -- a concept that Prof. Krugman seems not to know or care about. But there's more to it than that, as I'll explain at the end.] What we need, then, are policies, like tax-advantaged health savings accounts tied to plans with high deductibles, that induce people to pay more of their medical expenses out of pocket. (Cynics would say that this is just a rationale for yet another tax shelter for the wealthy, but the economists who wrote the report are probably sincere.) [Well, I'm sure that the economists who wrote the report appreciate your insincere endorsement of their sincerity -- as if they care. Though how tax-advantaged health savings accounts are a tax shelter for "the wealthy" (those filthy people who earn a living) is beyond me.]

John Kerry's economic advisers have a very different analysis: they believe that health costs are too high because private insurance companies have excessive overhead, mainly because they are trying to avoid covering high-risk patients. [If that's true -- and it's not, Bush's economists are right -- the answer is to induce more competition in the health insurance business, which I'll come to.] What we need, according to this view, is for the government to assume more of the risk, for example by picking up catastrophic health costs, thereby reducing the incentive for socially wasteful spending, and making employment-based insurance easier to get. [In other words, "government" (i.e., taxpayers) would foot the bill. But because taxpayers wouldn't foot the bill directly, they'd be inclined to undergo unnecessary medical treatments (it doesn't take much these days to get into the "catastrophic" range) Then we'd be right back where we were, except that medical costs would be even higher.]

A smart economist can come up with theoretical justifications for either argument. The evidence suggests, however, that the Kerry position is much closer to the truth. [Only the kind of evidence Krugman would believe.]

The fact is that the mainly private U.S. health care system spends far more than the mainly public health care systems of other advanced countries, but gets worse results. In 2001, we spent $4,887 on health care per capita, compared with $2,792 in Canada and $2,561 in France. Yet the U.S. does worse than either country by any measure of health care success you care to name - life expectancy, infant mortality, whatever....[The relevant measure is the effectiveness of particular treatments -- things like life expectancy, infant mortality, and whatever are explained by demographic factors, dietary habits, and "whatever". With respect to the effectiveness of particular treatments, guess what? The U.S. leads them all. Read about it here.]

And the U.S. system does have very high overhead: private insurers and H.M.O.'s spend much more on administrative expenses, as opposed to actual medical treatment, than public agencies at home or abroad. [So what? Results count, not phony cost comparisons. Public agencies get a free ride on a lot of their administrative expenses. And you may have noticed that health care delivered by public agencies is distinctly second-rate.]

Does this mean that the American way is wrong, and that we should switch to a Canadian-style single-payer system? [Ah yes, the famous Canadian system that has Canadians flocking to the U.S. for treatment.] Well, yes. Put it this way: in Canada, respectable business executives are ardent defenders of "socialized medicine." [That's because they prefer not to compete for employees by offering health-care plans, so they let the taxpayers foot the bill.] Two years ago the Conference Board of Canada - a who's who of the nation's corporate elite - issued a report urging fellow Canadians to bear in mind not just the "symbolic value" of universal health care, but its "economic contribution to the competitiveness of Canadian businesses." [Right, Canadian taxpayers pay to make Canadian businesses more competitive. And Krugman thinks U.S. businesses are rapacious.]
That's enough of that. Now, let's talk about why the cost of health care is rising in the U.S. and what to do about it. The cost of health care is rising in part because demand is rising, mainly because of rising incomes, access to employer-subsidized insurance, and rising numbers of Medicare beneficiaries. The supply of health care isn't rising as fast because of government regulation (e.g., medical licensing and FDA approval of drugs), which is endorsed by those who are being regulated. Then, there is regulation of the insurance industry, which inhibits entry and competition among insurers. (Insurers, by the way, are able to negotiate with health-care providers and drug companies to get lower prices for their insureds, a fact that Krugman chooses to overlook in his effort to paint insurance companies as evil entities.) Deregulation -- or less stringent regulation -- is part of the solution. (I've written before that this is not a high-risk solution. See here, here, and here.)

The rest of the solution is to keep government out of the act. The market -- especially a less-regulated market -- will provide health insurance that's tailored to consumers' needs. As employers scale back or drop their insurance plans, employees will seek insurance elsewhere. A competitive market will provide it. A competitive market will even offer insurance for the hard-to-insure, either through tailored policies or ad-hoc groups of hard-to-insure consumers -- groups that insurance companies will compete to create.

But all of that seems to be beyond the comprehension of Paul Krugman, ersatz economist and strident socialist.

Election Projections Explained

REVISED, 09/21/04

In Method 1, I assign all of a State's electoral votes to the expected winner in that State, according to TradeSports.com. A price of greater than 50 indicates a Bush win; a price of less than 50 indicates a Kerry win. (A winning bet of $50 on Bush at a price of 50 returns $100, for a $50 profit; a winning bet of $60 on Bush at a price of 60 also returns $100, for a $40 profit; a losing bet on Bush at a price of 60 pays off those who bet on Kerry; and so on.) If the price is exactly $50, I record the electoral votes as a tossup and don't allocate them to either candidate.

In Method 2, I allocate all of a State's electoral votes to Bush if the TradeSports.com price is 55 or greater, and all of a State's electoral votes to Kerry if the Tradesports.com price is 45 or less. For prices between 45 and 55, I allocate a State's electoral votes according to Method 2.

Method 3 translates the expected share of two-party popular vote into electoral votes, based on a statistical relationship for presidential elections from 1956 through 2000. I use the current results of the popular vote-share market at Iowa Electronic Markets to estimate the leader's share of the two-party vote. I use that share in the following regression equation:
Fraction of electoral vote going to the leader in popular votes =
- 9.166 (a constant term)
+ 32.201 x the leader's fraction of the 2-party popular vote
- 25.742 x the square of the leader's fraction of the 2-party popular vote
+ 0.067 (if the leader is Republican, otherwise 0).
The r-squared of the equation is 0.948; the standard error of the estimate is 0.047 (that's 4.7 percent); and the t-stats on the coefficient and three variables are -3.175, 3.083, -2.738, and 2.379, respectively.
In summary, Method 1 follows the winner-take-all rules of electoral voting where, with the unimportant exceptions of Maine and Nebraska, each State casts its votes en bloc. Method 2 gives a "safe" or "fairly safe" State to the likely winner in that State, but for "tight" races (i.e., races where the price is less than 55 but greater than 45) it allocates votes by the expected-value method. Method 3 translates the leader's expected popular-vote share into expected electoral votes, based on a statistical analysis of the last 12 presidential elections.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Inflaming the Base

This site is trying to pretend it's for GWB. But it's so obviously phony that only those who are truly stupid or psychotically anti-Bush could believe it's a pro-Bush site. In his zeal to ban smear ads (or is he really just engaging in another clever campaign ploy?), Bush shouldn't attack this site. He should spread the word about it. It will inflame his base to new heights of enthusiasm for his re-election.

Some Lessons from War

Peace Pledge Union Online has a slightly out-of-date (09/06/03) catalog of major wars and armed conflicts around the world. As of a year ago, the wars and armed conflicts listed below were in progress (country, year of onset, characterization of conflict). My interpretation follows the list.
Africa
Algeria 1992 civil war and civilian unrest
Burundi 1988 ethnic conflict continuing despite peace process
Congo-Brazzaville 1997 ethnic violence and aftermath
Congo-DR 1998 civil war, some moves towards peace
Kenya 1990 ethnic violence
Liberia 2000 rebel insurgency and cross-border conflicts
Nigeria 1997 recurrent ethnic, religious and political conflict
Somalia 1988 civil war and factional struggles
Sudan 1984 civil war
Uganda 1990 rebel/ethnic violence

America (i.e., the American continents)
Colombia 1986 civil war
Peru 1983 civil war declining

Asia
South Asia
Afghanistan 1978 civil war; recurrent international involvement
India 1947 recurrent territorial dispute in Kashmir
Kashmir 1947 recurrent territorial dispute
Pakistan 1947 recurrent territorial dispute in Kashmir
Sri Lanka 1984 civil war

Southeast Asia
Burma 1948 political and ethnic struggle
Indonesia (West Papua) 1969 independence struggle
Philippines 1971 civil/sectarian war

Europe
Russia 1999 renewed separatist war
Yugoslavia/Kosovo 1999 ethnic/separatist violence/NATO war aftermath

Middle East
Iraq 1990 interstate war; ethnic conflict
Israel 1982 interstate war; political/ethnic violence
A few of the conflicts may have abated in the last year, but several have intensified, and there are some new ones. But those changes don't affect the moral I draw when I think about the list in the context of history:

1. Most wars and armed conflicts have nothing to do with the United States. The U.S. is not now -- nor has it ever been -- the leading cause of violence in the world. The U.S. didn't start World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the War in Vietnam, or the Gulf War of 1990-91. Nor did the U.S. start the present war in Iraq -- but that's another discussion.

2. American might has, since 1945, sheltered the world from a massive war.

3. Armed conflict becomes less likely when representative government prevails, because it promotes the rule of law, which permits free markets to flourish (even allowing for the inevitable degree of regulation that attends representative government). The resulting prospect of stability and prosperity makes religious, tribal, and sectional rivalries less important in the scheme of life. Even the notable exception of Israel vs. Palestine proves the rule, for it is as much as anything else a war waged by a poor, despotic entity (Palestine) against a free and relatively prosperous one (Israel).

I do not mean to say that all conflict can be averted by the spread of representative government, the rule of law, and free markets. There are zealots in the world, and they will remain zealots regardless of democracy and prosperity -- sometimes out of spite. The war on terror is a war against implacable zealots who care not for democracy, and we must fight those zealots by all means. But the spread of representative government, the rule of law, and prosperity eventually will diminish the zealots' ability to elicit financial support and enlist suicide-fodder.

I am not calling for a "crusade" to bring representative government and free markets to all corners of the Earth. But -- in addition to doing what we must do militarily to clean out the nest of vipers in the Middle East -- we should use peaceful influence to promote the rule of law and the development of free markets whenever and wherever we can. To the extent that we can do those things, the world will be a more peaceful and prosperous place -- for Americans as well as others.

Judicial Legislation -- Example 9,999,999

Think what you will about the issue of abortion, but how can anyone say that this isn't a judicial usurpation of legislative prerogative?
Judge Stops Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

By LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK - In a highly anticipated ruling, a federal judge found the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act unconstitutional Thursday because it does not include a health exception.

U.S. District Judge Richard C. Casey in Manhattan said the Supreme Court has made it clear that a law that prohibits the performance of a particular abortion procedure must include an exception to preserve a woman's life and health....

The law, signed in November, represented the first substantial federal legislation limiting a woman's right to choose an abortion. Abortion rights activists said it conflicted with three decades of Supreme Court precedent.

It banned a procedure that is known to doctors as intact dilation and extraction, but is called "partial-birth abortion" by abortion foes. During the procedure, the fetus is partially removed from the womb, and its skull is punctured or crushed.

The judge challenged the conclusion by Congress that there is no significant body of medical opinion that the procedure has safety advantages for women...[emphasis added].
I would recant my position on judicial supremacy (here and here), if the alternative weren't legal chaos. On the other hand, rulings like Judge Casey's suggest that chaos is at hand.

This Is Getting out of Hand

I thought Bush's condemnation of ads by 527 groups was a clever political ploy. After all, the SwiftVets shoe-string operation has hurt Kerry a lot more than Soros-Hollywood liberal backed outfits like MoveOn.org have hurt Bush. But now we read this:
Bush, McCain Discuss Ads by Outside Groups

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - President Bush wants to work with Republican Sen. John McCain to go to court against political ads by "shadowy" outside groups, the White House said Thursday amid growing pressure on the president to denounce attacks on John Kerry's war record.

"We want to pursue court action," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to New Mexico. "The president said if the court action doesn't work, that he would be willing to pursue legislative action with Sen. McCain on that."
Say it ain't so, George.

Patriotism in Song

As I posted a few days ago, patriotism is defined as "love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it," according to TheFreeDictionary.com. I accept that definition as a starting point, but I want to take a harder look at patriotism. Why should an American, to be precise, love his or her country? And why and how might an American sacrifice for the sake of America?

The most familiar verses of America's popular anthems express love of country in a variety of ways. There's the hippy-dippy sentiment of "This Land Is Your Land":
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me
Nothing there, unless you're a welfare-state liberal who likes scenery.

Let's try the first verse of "America the Beautiful":
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties above thy fruited plain!
America, America, god shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea
It's "This Land Is Your Land" without the socialism.

"God Bless America" -- composed in the years before World War II -- begins to get it right:
While the storm clouds gather far across the
Sea, let us swear allegiance to a land that's free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, as we
Raise our voices in a solemn prayer.

God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam.
God bless America, my home sweet home.
God bless America, my home sweet home.
Now we have "the land that's free" as well as beautiful.

The first verse of "America" gets to the heart of the matter by focusing on liberty and its deep roots in America:
My country ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the Pilgrims’ pride,
From ev’ry mountain side,
Let freedom ring.
And the "Star Spangled Banner" reminds us that war is sometimes the price of liberty:
Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
It's hard to sing, and it lacks the lyrical beauty of its competitors, but the "Star Spangled Banner" still says it best: America is the beacon of liberty, and Americans so cherish liberty that millions of them have been willing to go to war for its sake.

In my next post on this subject I'll look at sacrifice for liberty's sake. It won't be all about going to war.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Face of America

I'm reminded of something unpleasant in my past by this post at The American Thinker:
PC discrimination in the U.K.

Like the United States, Great Britain is in the throes of multiculturalism and political correctness. The latest evidence comes from racial discrimination complaints filed by London police. Half of them have been filed by Caucasian officers, alleging they are being unfairly passed over, as the police rushes to make itself "look like" the population it serves.

In order to achieve the desired racialist outcome, it is contended that 80% of the new hires will have to be non-white. That sort of nonsense is what happens when population demographics change rapidly, and it is assumed that all institutions should automatically reflect the new racial profile.
I once worked for a CEO who was a blatant Democrat; he carried his political prejudices in his briefcase. He insisted that the workforce at our tax-funded think-tank should reflect "the face of America." No amount of logic could persuade him that we owed it to taxpayers to fill jobs with the best available candidates rather than satisfy his pseudo-egalitarian urges. (I say pseudo-egalitarian because upon becoming CEO one of his first acts was to double the already ample size of the CEO's office.) In particular, no amount of logic could persuade him that unless we drastically reduced the quality of our professional staff (traditionally freighted with Ph.D.s), we would never achieve anything resembling "the face of America" among the professionals upon whom our reputation depended. We had these conversations with predictable regularity, and they always ended in a stalemate.

Luckily, our think-tank was merely in the business of producing analysis of doubtful usefulness and influence. Police forces and armies, on the other hand, have real work to do. It's scary when that work is undermined by political correctness.

Favorite Posts: Affirmative Action and Race

Blindsided by the Truth

In the preceding post I got carried away with my critique of Jeff Jarvis's post about presidential character. Actually, there's a classic book on the subject, Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House, by James David Barber. I haven't read it in years, but I recall finding it quite insightful -- well, as insightful as hindsight can be. Barber makes a good case for the influence of a president's character on his execution of the office.

Anyway, I think Jarvis may have had another point, to which I do subscribe. That is, most of the yelling and screaming that's associated with political campaigns these days simply does no good. The yellers and screamers are simply convincing themselves, and those who already agree with them, that they're right. Their main accomplishment is to provide blog-fodder for their political allies and opponents.

Yelling and screaming doesn't change anyone's mind. Being yelled and screamed at only makes you hate your political opponents and their politics all the more. Yet, some people do change their minds, in time. Why is that?

It's said that people tend to become more politically conservative (or libertarian) with age. If that is so, it's because age is a proxy for experience. Many people learn, from experience, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, that the law of unintended consequences often prevails, that there is no such thing as a free lunch (unless you happen to belong to the right interest group), and that negotiating for peace is a fool's undertaking.

Experience blindsides people with the truth. Of course, not everyone is susceptible to the truth. Those who have taken a firm, "principled" stand in favor of government intervention in our lives and economic institutions are unlikely to back down from that stand. They have too much ego at stake.

But "average" people -- John and Jane Public -- can and do learn from experience. That is why I have hope for the future of freedom in the U.S. and for our ultimate victory over Islamism.

Is Character Really an Issue?

That's the question asked and answered by Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine. Here's much of what he has to say (my comments are bracketed and bolded):
It's accepted wisdom that character is an issue in elections, especially Presidential elections. Let's examine that assumption.

Sure, if you know with good evidence that a candidate is a lying, thieving, stealing, sliming, philadering, cheating, insane idiot and louse -- well, then, yes, character is an issue. [In other words, character can never be an issue with Jarvis. Why did he bother to write the rest of this post?]

But when is any human being really so one-dimensionally flawed (and when -- since 1933 -- are every one of his backers so hypnotized or stupid or corrupt to allow him to get this far in life)? [Hey, Jeff, people like to be on the winning side. A lot of them don't care what it takes to win. Take Hillary Clinton, for instance. She put up with a guy who hit eight out of nine on your list, above. I don't think Bill's insane, but I think he's got the rest of the bases covered.]

Now I know what some of you are going to say: Aha! You have a problem with character because Kerry's character is being attacked and you're likely to vote for him; how friggin' convenient for you!...[No, I don't think that. I follow your blog, and I'd say that you're more likely to vote for Bush than for Kerry. But I still disagree with you about the character issue.]

I find that I have many problems with character as a campaign issue:

1. Character is not a measure of competence. And what I really want in a President is competence. [To what end? To micromanage the economy? Competence at what? Competence, as a word in itself, is meaningless.] Jimmy Carter had character....[Yeah, the character of a sanctimonious, lip-pursing deacon that he is. I saw that in 1976, that's why I voted against him.] Bill Clinton ended up with a cracked character [To say the least.] but I say he was a good President....[You may say that; I won't. Clinton was too busy triangulating, ingratiating himself to domestic interest groups, and trying to create a paper legacy for himself to pay attention to what was going on in the world. Look what it got us: 9/11. Yes, I know that you barely survived it. But you're not the only one and the fact of your near-death doesn't give you a monopoly on wisdom.]

2. Character is used mostly as an excuse for good old-fashioned political mudslinging....[True. But not exclusively true, as you admit when you say "mostly."]

3. Character is the argument that will never end. If you don't like the candidate, you'll say he has crappy character. If you like the candidate, you'll defend his character and say that the other side is just a bunch of character assassins. Wheels spin, mud spurts, and we don't get anywhere. It's mean-spirited. It's unproductive. [Actually, I started out not liking Kerry for entirely different reasons. I knew nothing of his character until he began with the flip-flops. The more I learn, the more convinced I am that Kerry's character makes him unfit to be a president in whom I would repose confidence. How is that mean-spirited or unproductive.]

4. Character cannot truly be measured until it is tested....[Kerry's character has been tested, amply, since he declared himself as a presidential candidate last year. He has flipped, he has flopped, he has evaded the truth about himself, and he has been hypocritical in the nth degree about the use of character assassination. How's that for starters?]

5. Character is a distraction from the issues that really matter, the issues a President can influence that, in turn, affect our lives....[The best thing a president can do is to honor his oath of office and uphold the Constitution. Kerry's character flaws suggest that he will do neither; he will simply do what is politically expedient (much like Clinton) and, in the process, he will drag the country further down the slope of socialism. And, does he really have what it takes to deal with terrorism, or will he be too politically correct and hung up on multilateralism. Based on his character, I fear the latter.]

6. Character is a proxy for morality and morality is a proxy for religion and religion mixed with government always scares me. [It ain't necessarily so. See my preceding comment.]

None of this is to say that we will not or should not vote on character. [Well, then, why did you bother to write this post?] At the end of the day, unless a candidate has a stand or stands we simply abhor, each of us will inevitably end up judging whether to vote for candidates based on whether we trust or admire or like them. That's as it should be.

But when we start arguing over such intangible and personal criteria -- when we start yelling at other people that they should or should not trust or admire or like someone the way we do -- then the argument reaches often absurd and usually useless depths. [Who's to say what's relevant or irrelevant in politics? You? McCain and Feingold and the Supreme Court? Where do you come off trying to tell us what's important and what's not important? Sure, some of the stuff people are yelling about is absurd. Sure, there's lots of scurrilous crap floating around in the blogosphere. So what? That's politics in the U.S. as it has been practiced since the election of 1800. Worry about something that really matters -- like John Kerry's character.]

A Victory Blog

Here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

An Addendum about Classical Music

My litany of off-putting things about most "classical" music written after 1900 should have included dissonance, atonality, and downright dreariness. Music can be serious, but it needn't be boring or depressing or just plain unlistenable. But a trip through the list of 20th century composers turns up relatively few who wrote much music that's endurable. Among the many 20th century specialists in sheer boredom or cacophony are John Adams, Béla Bartók, Alban Berg, Pierre Boulez, John Cage, George Crumb, György Ligeti, Olivier Messiaen, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, and Anton Webern.

If you want to hear how a true master delivers somberness and dissonance, all the while keeping the listener engaged, listen to Ludwig van Beethoven's Grosse Fugue, op. 133. Click here and scroll down to track 7 to hear the first minute of Beethoven's 16-minute masterpiece. Beethoven composed the piece in 1825-26. One hundred seventy-eight years have passed and no one has come close to matching its effervescent blend of inventiveness, sobriety, and esprit.

The Only Vote That Counts

As of the moment, if you believe polls, Kerry will collect more popular votes than Bush, even in a three-way race with Nader. But it's close, and the election is more than two months away.

Well, suppose Kerry does "win" the popular vote, at the national level. So what? Why should anyone pay attention to that vote? The only vote that matters is the electoral vote.

Repeat after me...

Why Kerry's War Record Means So Much to Democrats

Democrats are mostly against all wars and have been since the venture in Vietnam went sour (here in America, not there in Vietnam). Democrats flocked to Kerry when it seemed that his war record -- coupled with his sort-of, sometimes opposition to the war in Iraq -- would legitimate their knee-jerk antiwar stance.

When you live by a candidate's war record, you die by the candidate's war record. Kerry's candidacy is beginning to die the death of a thousand swift cuts.

Krugman, Fisked

I've written a few things about Paul Krugman, a self-promoting economist of middling talent who has taken up a second career as a shill for the Democrat Party on the op-ed page of The New York Times. Krugman's nemesis in the blogosphere is Donald L. Luskin, proprietor of The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid. Luskin has just delivered a ferociously accurate Fisking of Krugman. Read it.

McGovern(ment) to Earth



George McGovernment,* speaking from somewhere in space, has transmitted these thoughts to breathlessly waiting Earthlings:
"Liberals are lambasted," he said. "Some people don't even want to say the word."

He said conservatism and liberalism have always had their place in U.S. history and both should continue to be at the cornerstone of American politics.
It's true that "liberals" don't even want to say the word; they've switched to "progressives", for all the good it will do them.

So conservatism is okay? What kind of "progressive" are you, McGovernment? But what about libertarianism? Probably never heard of it.
__________
* One of my children -- who have always been wise beyond their years -- gave McGovern this more appropriate surname sometime in the 1970s.

Democracy, Is It for the Masses?

That's the subtext of a piece in The New Yorker, with the title "The Unpolitical Animal", by Louis Menand. Some excerpts:
Skepticism about the competence of the masses to govern themselves is as old as mass self-government. Even so, when that competence began to be measured statistically, around the end of the Second World War, the numbers startled almost everyone. The data were interpreted most powerfully by the political scientist Philip Converse, in an article on "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics," published in 1964. Forty years later, Converse’s conclusions are still the bones at which the science of voting behavior picks.

Converse claimed that only around ten per cent of the public has what can be called, even generously, a political belief system. He named these people "ideologies," by which he meant not that they are fanatics but that they have a reasonable grasp of "what goes with what" -— of how a set of opinions adds up to a coherent political philosophy....

Just because someone's opinions don’t square with what a political scientist recognizes as a political ideology doesn’t mean that those opinions aren’t coherent by the lights of some more personal system of beliefs. But Converse found reason to doubt this possibility....

All political systems make their claim to legitimacy by some theory, whether it's the divine right of kings or the iron law of history. Divine rights and iron laws are not subject to empirical confirmation, which is one reason that democracy's claims have always seemed superior. What polls and surveys suggest, though, is that the belief that elections express the true preferences of the people may be nearly as imaginary. When you move downward through what Converse called the public's "belief strata," candidates are quickly separated from ideology and issues, and they become attached, in voters' minds, to idiosyncratic clusters of ideas and attitudes.

In the face of this evidence, three theories have arisen. The first is that electoral outcomes, as far as "the will of the people" is concerned, are essentially arbitrary. The fraction of the electorate that responds to substantive political arguments is hugely outweighed by the fraction that responds to slogans, misinformation, "fire alarms" (sensational news), "October surprises" (last-minute sensational news), random personal associations, and "gotchas."...

A second theory is that although people may not be working with a full deck of information and beliefs, their preferences are dictated by something, and that something is élite opinion....

The third theory of democratic politics is the theory that the cues to which most voters respond are, in fact, adequate bases on which to form political preferences. People use shortcuts—the social-scientific term is "heuristics" -— to reach judgments about political candidates, and, on the whole, these shortcuts are as good as the long and winding road of reading party platforms, listening to candidate debates, and all the other elements of civic duty....

The principal shortcut that people use in deciding which candidates to vote for is, of course, the political party. The party is the ultimate Uncle Charlie in American politics. Even élite voters use it when they are confronted, in the voting booth, with candidates whose names they have never seen before....

Of course, if Converse is correct, and most voters really don’t have meaningful political beliefs, even ideological "closeness" is an artifact of survey anxiety, of people’s felt need, when they are asked for an opinion, to have one. This absence of "real opinions" is not from lack of brains; it’s from lack of interest....
And whence the lack of interest?

First, the rise of the professional political class and its support system of allied interest groups has taken most decisions out of the hands of the typical voter. It's like the workplace: most of the work gets done by a minority of workers. Why take an interest when what you do matters little to the outcome?

Second, the rise of the professional political class and its support system of allied interest groups has dragged government into matters in which government shouldn't be involved, such as social security and redistributive taxation. Such issues are too complex for most professional politicians and academicians, the majority of whom are mindlessly predisposed toward tinkering with the economy. So, it's really a matter of blind elites trying to lead blind masses.

No wonder voters take shortcuts. It enables them to spend more time on things they can do something about: making a living, raising a family, and having fun.

More on the Debate about Judicial Supremacy

The debate about judicial supremacy continues. Well, William Watkins at Southern Appeal is keeping it alive. His latest post is here. He rebuts the notion that Marbury v. Madison (1803) settled the matter in favor of the U.S. Supreme Court. Watkins refers to an earlier post in which he discusses Larry Kramer's book, The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review:
Perhaps the hardest part for lawyers in understanding Kramer's argument is our legal education. We are taught that the Framers intended the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of the Constitution and that in Marbury John Marshall enshrined this principle forever. This is the "first principle" from which we begin. Kramer challenges this and distinguishes fundamental law from ordinary law. He argues that fundamental law (i.e., the Constitution) was never understood to be subject to the same judicial authority as ordinary law. To a modern lawyer this sounds like heresy, but Kramer assembles impressive evidence to support his position.

So, what is the solution? Kramer makes this suggestion:
To control the Supreme Court, we must first lay claim to the Constitution ourselves. That means publicly repudiating justices who say that they, not we, possess the ultimate authority to interpret the Constitution. It means publicly reprimanding politicians who insist that "as Americans" we should submissively yield to whatever the Supreme Court decides. It means refusing to be deflected by arguments that constitutional law is too complex or difficult for ordinary citizens. Constitutional law is indeed complex, because legitimating judicial authority has offered the legal system an excuse to emphasize technical requirements of precedent and formal argument that necessarily complicated matters. But this complexity was created by the Court for the Court and is itself a product of judicializing constitutional law. In reclaiming the Constitution we reclaim the Constitution's legacy as, in Franklin D. Roosevelt's words, "a layman's instrument of government" and not "a lawyer's contract." Above all, it means insisting that the Supreme Court is our servant and not our master: a servant whose seriousness and knowledge deserves much deference but who is ultimately supposed to yield to our judgments about what the Constitution means and not the reverse.
It reads like a passage from the script for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It also reads like a recipe for anarchy. There's no doubt that the Supreme Court has badly twisted the Constitution. But think of where we might be if very many people were to take Kramer seriously. It makes me shudder.

As I have written before, the logic of judicial supremacy is irrefutable -- like it or not:
1. Congress enacts laws for whatever reasons it will. Members of Congress may have stirring debates about the constitutionality of a particular law, but in the end Congress will do what it will do. It's true that Congress should enact only constitutional laws, but that's like saying children who live in a match factory shouldn't play with matches.

2. If the executive doesn't like a particular law for any reason (one of which may be his opinion that the law is unconstitutional) he may veto the law. If his veto is overridden, the law is the law.

3. In the absence of a specific judicial decision nullifying a specific law, the executive is bound to enforce that law. That is what the Constitution contemplates: The legislature legislates and the executive executes. There's nothing mysterious or arcane about that.

4. If a party with standing challenges a law, it's up to the courts to decide whether or not it's a constitutional law. As it says in Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution:
The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States....
Which means, as far as I'm concerned, that the executive must defer to judicial decisions about the application of a specific law.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Kerry and Vietnam

He was for it before he was against it before he was for it.

Making Sense about Classical Music

ArtsJournal.com recently ran a 10-day blog, "Critical Conversation: Classical Music Critics on the Future of Music". It "tackled the question what/where/are the Big Ideas in classical music?" The blog "involved 13 prominent American music critics."

One of the critics, Greg Sandow of the Wall Street Journal, is also a composer. Sandow's home page is here. It includes a link to a page about his "Quartet for Anne" (his wife). You can hear it performed by the Fine Arts Quartet by clicking here. (It's only about five and a half minutes long.) If this is the new direction of classical music, I'm all for it. It's a hauntingly lovely piece reminiscent of Antonín Dvořák's work.

As I've written before and will write again, Dvořák was one of the last great composers of the golden era of classical music, which began around 1700 and came to an end around 1900. What happened after that? Another participant in the blog, Kyle Gann of the Village Voice, had a few useful insights:
Throughout the 20th century, each new movement represented an advance in complexity and abstraction over the last. Serialism brought that process to a dead end....

[O]ne thing that composers of my generation have almost universally lost patience with is the presumption of historical inevitability. The idea that 12-tone music was the inevitable music of the future and that anyone who didn't learn to write it was "useless" (Pierre Boulez’s word) left a bitter taste in our mouths. [Just as Boulez's so-called music left a bitter taste in audiences' mouths: ED]
But Gann and most of the other bloggers are hung up on compositional techniques; fusions with pop, rock, and jazz; experimentation with electronic music; the role of gender; the role of political ideas; the influence of Chinese composers; and on and on. All of which misses the point.

What happened around 1900 is that classical music became -- and still is, for the most part -- an "inside game" for composers and music critics. So-called serious composers (barring Gershwin and a few other holdouts) began treating music as a pure exercise in notational innovation, as a technical challenge to performers, and as a way of "daring" audiences to be "open minded" (i.e., to tolerate nonsense). But the result isn't music, it's self-indulgent crap (there's no other word for it).

Thus I return to Greg Sandow, who is on the trail of the "next big idea" in a post headed "Truly big classical ideas":
A new Big Idea would be very welcome, at least to me -- a reintroduction of performer freedom, but to what now would be considered a drastic degree. You can find examples of this in old recordings, especially by singers. Look at Ivan Kozlovsky, one of the two star tenors at the Bolshoi Opera during Stalin's rule. To judge from films and recordings, he's clearly one of the greatest tenors who ever lived, measured simply by technique, breath control, range (all the way up to an F above high C, with Cs and C sharps thrown out like thrilling candy), phrasing, and expression....

But what makes him most unusual -- and, to many people, quite improper -- is that he sang at least some of the time like a pop singer, using lots of falsetto, almost crooning at times, and above all taking any liberty he pleased, slowing down and speeding up as the mood suited him. To my ears, he's mesmerizing when he does that. You can't (to bastardize an old cliche) take your ears off him. And when he does it in the Duke's opening solo in the duet with Gilda from Rigoletto, he nails the Duke's character as no other singer I've ever heard could do. You don't just theorize that the Duke is attractive to women; you feel it, and want to surrender to him yourself. Or, perhaps, run away, which is exactly the kind of dual reaction a man like that would really get....

[Kozlovsky is] in part just a sentimental entertainer. But what sentiment, and what entertainment! And what perfect singing. When he croons "O Mimi tu piu non torni"..., some people might roll their eyes at the way he slows down at the peak of the phrase, but you can't ignore his genuine feeling, or his perfect control as he slowly dreams his voice into the lightest of pianissimos.

Singing like that would be absolutely forbidden in opera today. No teacher, no coach, and no conductor would let any singer try it. And yet, if someone stepped out on the stage of the Met singing that way, the audience would go insane. The applause wouldn't end. And opera would come back to life.
When I follow Sandow's point to its logical conclusion, here's where I arrive: Classical music, on the whole, would come back to life if more composers were to reject self-indulgence and write music for the enjoyment of peformers and audiences.

The Meaning of Patriotism: An Introduction

It's "love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it," according to TheFreeDictionary.com. Before I looked up the definition, I was going to define patriotism merely as "love of country." The part about "willingness to sacrifice for it" raises the stakes; it suggests that love of country must be backed by deeds, not just mouthed in words.

Far better than the dictionary definition of patriotism is a NYT op-ed by a U.S. Marine serving in Iraq. Key excerpts:
Now we are on the verge of victory or defeat in Iraq. Success depends not only on battlefield superiority, but also on the trust and confidence of the American people. I've read some articles recently that call for cutting back our military presence in Iraq and moving our troops to the peripheries of most cities. Such advice is well-intentioned but wrong - it would soon lead to a total withdrawal. Our goal needs to be a safe Iraq, free of militias and terrorists; if we simply pull back and run, then the region will pose an even greater threat than it did before the invasion. I also fear if we do not win this battle here and now, my 7-year-old son might find himself here in 10 or 11 years, fighting the same enemies and their sons.

When critics of the war say their advocacy is on behalf of those of us risking our lives here, it's a type of false patriotism. I believe that when Americans say they "support our troops," it should include supporting our mission, not just sending us care packages. They don't have to believe in the cause as I do; but they should not denigrate it. That only aids the enemy in defeating us strategically.

Michael Moore recently asked Bill O'Reilly if he would sacrifice his son for Falluja. A clever rhetorical device, but it's the wrong question: this war is about Des Moines, not Falluja. This country is breeding and attracting militants who are all eager to grab box cutters, dirty bombs, suicide vests or biological weapons, and then come fight us in Chicago, Santa Monica or Long Island. Falluja, in fact, was very close to becoming a city our forces could have controlled, and then given new schools and sewers and hospitals, before we pulled back in the spring. Now, essentially ignored, it has become a Taliban-like state of Islamic extremism, a terrorist safe haven. We must not let the same fate befall Najaf or Ramadi or the rest of Iraq.

No, I would not sacrifice myself, my parents would not sacrifice me, and President Bush would not sacrifice a single marine or soldier simply for Falluja. Rather, that symbolic city is but one step toward a free and democratic Iraq, which is one step closer to a more safe and secure America.

I miss my family, my friends and my country, but right now there is nowhere else I'd rather be. I am a United States Marine.

Glen G. Butler is a major in the Marines.