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Tuesday, January 21, 2003

I Am Sure They Are Talking About Someone Else

This is not the Man Sans Q we know.

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TIME Magazine Has Bush Honoring Jefferson Davis

[And Do Check The Final Update, With The Final Nail]
From the original Time story: [Try this link: TIME 2, from DeLong]

Bush has revived a practice of paying homage to an even greater champion of the Confederacy—Jefferson Davis.

They continue:

Last Memorial Day, for the second year in a row, Bush's White House sent a floral wreath to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Six days later, as the United Daughters of the Confederacy celebrated Jefferson Davis' birthday there, Washington chapter president Vicki Heilig offered a "word of gratitude to George W. Bush" for "honoring" the Old South's dead. (Emphasis added).

Well, this is puzzling. Andrew Sullivan wonders, "AFTER THE LOTT DEBACLE: Why on earth is the Bush administration doing this? "

Josh Marshall asks us to mentally spin his greatest hit, titled, "Rove and Bush are two faced race-baiters", and then explores the personalities behind the outrage. And Atrios looks on approvingly. And let's bring Adam Magazine into the mix, with several posts - scroll down. And we should not overlook the Hauser Report, which gets to this eventually.

Now, I am just stuck at the starting gate, trying to figure out how TIME jumped from Memorial Day to Jefferson Davis's birthday. Here is more info about the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. And more info about Memorial Day.

The TIME story does not give us a lot of evidence to work with. Wreaths for the war dead do seem to fit with Memorial Day, as does the concept of post-Civil War national reconciliation. And Jefferson Davis has a nearby birthday. But what is the evidence that it is the White House that is making a linkage between the wreath and Jefferson Davis? For that matter, what is the evidence that the speaker actually quoted was making such a linkage?

Oh, I know you want more. In the history of Arlington National Cemetery to which I linked, the United Daughters of the Confederacy are mentioned as initiating a Confederate monument back in in 1906. And it was one of their speakers quoted in the TIME piece. So, here is their website, and their objectives. Interesting tidbit:

The Organization places wreaths annually at the statues of General Robert E. Lee on January 19th and President Jefferson Davis on June 3rd (the dates of their birth) in Statuary Hall, United States; at the Jefferson Davis Monument, Monument Avenue, Richmond, Virginia, for the Annual Massing of the Flags on June 3; at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, on November 11, Veterans' Day; and at the Confederate Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, on Memorial Day. Emphasis and links added.

So, this group has a wreath ceremony for Jefferson Davis on June 3, and a different wreath ceremony at a different place on Memorial Day to honor the war dead. And the White House sent its wreath for Memorial Day. Is TIME kidding?

OK, are the Daughters a crazed hate group? If they are, they seem to have a flair for understatement. In fact, this site describes them as "relatively mainstream", although it worries about the company they keep. But picking through the objectives of this group, we see they offer a number of academic awards. My favorites are:

Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine: The Jefferson Davis Award to an undergraduate excelling in Constitutional Law;

University of Virginia: The Jefferson Davis Award to a student for excellence in Constitutional Law.

OK, I have no hope for UVA, but Bowdoin? Way up there in Maine?

UPDATE: OK, the Confederacy is a lost cause, and good riddance. But am I headed for the "Department of Lost Causes" myself? Maureen Dowd gleefully recounts the TIME story in her column, which is soundly thrashed by the Man Sans Q. However, a flicker of hope! Ms Dowd says:

...as Time notes this week, he quietly reinstituted the practice — which lapsed under his father in 1990 — of sending a floral wreath on Memorial Day from the White House to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, where those nostalgic for the Old South celebrate Jefferson Davis.

Factually closer to the truth, and she does not exactly repeat the idea that the Bush White House thinks there is a link between the wreath and Jefferson Davis. Did she smell something fishy, but decide to nibble anyway? Next week, perhaps she will have a bitter column denouncing the fact that both George Bush and the head of the KKK watched the Super Bowl! Not together, of course, but still....

MORE UPDATES: Here is the text of a Son of Confederate Veterans speaking at a Jefferson Davis tribute, and the Daughters were there. Oh, man, the South had the true religion? I want someone to loose the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword.

FINAL UPDATE: What was TIME smoking? Was this story part of a subtle anti-drug, anti-alcohol campaign? Your magazine / Your magazine on drugs? The Ooold Crow links to the Washington Times and CNN, who agree - this Memorial Day wreath practice was not stopped by Bush I, was continued by Clinton, and signifies very little. And yes, MoDo probably should have made a few phone calls to verify this.

Our man in North Georgia has a bit of an honor roll...

CONT.: Props to Josh Marshall, who is kind enough not to wonder when TIME will get an editor. And I should stick up for Atrios myself - he linked to Marshall a few days back. I posted my doubts in his ephemeral comments, and he was back shortly with a "Good point."

CONT.: TIME retraction. Updated honor roll.

Hmm, let's print the retraction - who knows how long it will be there?

The following correction was issued by TIME on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2003

The article "Look Away, Dixieland" [Jan. 27] stated that President George W. Bush "quietly reinstated" a tradition of having the White House deliver a floral wreath to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery — a practice "that his father had halted in 1990." The story is wrong. First, the elder president Bush did not, as TIME reported, end the decades-old practice of the White House delivering a wreath to the Confederate Memorial; he changed the date on which the wreath is delivered from the day that some southern heritage groups commemorate Jefferson Davis's birthday to the federal Memorial Day holiday. Second, according to documents provided by the White House this week, the practice of delivering a wreath to the Confederate Memorial on Memorial Day continued under Bill Clinton as it does under George W. Bush.

AND MORE: The resourceful Brad DeLong not only excerpted just about the whole TIME - Bush - Jefferson Davis story, he set up a link that did not die.

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It's Official: Al Sharpton Files As A Candidate For The Presidency

Jimmy Breslin of Newsday warns the Dems not to underestimate Al:

When crowds find that Sharpton can be exciting, and that he produces laughter with quick observations, he will have his moments as a candidate. He can use the language with more speed and fervor than anybody around....

He also knows more in five minutes about hospitals, schools, ambulance responses, prison sentences for the poor, welfare, food stamps and going into the service to fight wars than the rest of these presidential candidates have learned in their lives.

I don't know how far he goes. But at the start, he will have some of them on the verge of throwing up after appearing with him.

And somebody in that crowd of candidates is going to learn something from being in with Sharpton.

And if someone asks Al about Tawana Brawley, as Tim Russert did last week?

"Yesterday, Sharpton was saying, "The next time anybody wants to know about Tawana Brawley, I'm going to ask them, 'Do you ask Teddy Kennedy about Chappaquiddick? Do you ask Hillary Clinton about her husband? Do you ask Clinton?'"

OK, a slightly different look at the re-invention of Al Sharpton from Clyde Haberman of the Times:

It is impossible to ignore Mr. Sharpton's attempts to recast himself as he steps onto a national stage....

He is also far more outspoken now about the need for many blacks to clean up their own acts. One new theme is a lament that "many of us have allowed decadence to be our culture." Yesterday, he complained to his almost entirely black audience about young blacks who put down scholastic achievement as "acting white."

"Like something's black about flunking," he said. "We've got to correct this misnomer that there's something hip and black about being down, about acting like a thug and acting like a hood, and calling women ho's. There's nothing black about that. We are not the children of hoodlums and thugs and drug dealers and drive-by shooters. We are the children of people who took nothing and made something happen, that took no and turned it into a yes."

Will this tonal change produce converts among those — blacks as well as whites — who see Mr. Sharpton as nothing but a huckster and a racial arsonist, who feel he has not fully atoned for sins like the Tawana Brawley farce or his inflammatory remarks about "white interlopers" in Harlem?

Probably not. But he is counting on people elsewhere in the United States to view him through a different prism than many in New York do.

Well, then, here is a voice from the hinterland - RockyMountainNews.com:

President Al Sharpton? Not likely
January 14, 2003

There have been more promising political resumes: 0-for-3 in his tries for office back home in New York; loser of a $65,000 defamation suit for his advocacy of a bogus rape victim; leader of a protest against a white-owned store where eight people died when it was firebombed; his organization evicted last year for nonpayment of rent; a 66 percent unfavorable rating among his party's leaders....

They do not endorse him.

UPDATE: WTF? Al Sharpton's candidacy is heating up. Catching fire, in fact. Well, it's only funny if no one gets hurt.

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Krugman Opposes The Proposed Bush Tax Cut

Tear out the front page! Well, no matter how much Krugman dislikes this tax cut, I am still not going to support it.

However, the interesting reporting on the tax cut is elsewhere in the Times. Floyd Norris tackles the complexities in eliminating the double taxation of dividends (following his earlier article). This article is clearly emphasizing the negatives, but the central point is clear - corporate tax returns are not filed until long after the fiscal year end (sort of like personal tax returns). If a corporation does not know what it paid in taxes, how can it be certain that its dividend is exempt? Hmm?

Well, for starters, many (some? most? a few?) corporations are consistently profitable and only pay out a small portion of their income as dividends. Assuming that retained earnings can be carried forward, the uncertainty over whether this type of corporation can declare an exempt dividend should be minimal.

Or, my own idea, the final rules could be written with a one year lag between taxes and dividends. [Mini-Update: Lucky guess. In a follow-up, Floyd Norris tells us that the lagged dividend solution will be proposed. Also, the deemed dividend is mandatory, but the capital gain step-up can also be used as a step-down. Clear?]

Now, here is an article highlighting one of the joys of a tax code laden with ornaments: "Bush Proposal May Cut Tax on S.U.V.'s for Business".

What happened?

"The tax code now caps deductions for most automobiles. But the largest vehicles — those that weigh more than 6,000 pounds fully loaded — are exempt because the relevant portion of the code was written in the 1980's, before the rise of the sport utility vehicle, and was intended to exempt big pickups needed on work sites. Now the tax incentives also give business owners not involved in hauling — doctors, real estate agents, accountants — more incentive to buy the biggest S.U.V.'s instead of smaller ones, or cars."

An Administration official admits that this merits a bit of reflection:

But a top budget official said today that the administration might be open to changes in the tax code that would bring cars more in line with big trucks.

"We have an open mind about whether the deduction for cars needs to be refined," said Dr. John Graham, the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget."

So, was this just an "oops", or part of an evil plan? With a tax code this complex, who even knows? But it is probably safer (and more fun) to assume the worst.

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Kaus Finds Greenhouse Gas In Bush's Briefs

The sad thing is, I'm serious.

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Friday, January 17, 2003

Enjoy The Holiday!

Carpe Skiem.

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Thursday, January 16, 2003

My Stint As Research Assistant For Tim Blair

From Tim Blair himself, commenting on a recent John Le Carre column:

How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America's anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history. But they swung it. A recent poll tells us that one in two Americans now believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre.

Haven't seen that poll. Sounds dubious, but let's reserve judgment. Are any readers able to help? [End Blair]

OK, from The Mirror in the UK:

TWO thirds of Americans don't want to wage war on Iraq without UN backing, a poll revealed yesterday.

But half mistakenly believe that Iraqis carried out the 9/11 attacks.

Larry Hugick, who led the survey, said: "We found that most Americans weren't happy to go to war without support.

"Half thought Iraqis were responsible for September 11, but they still did not back Bush's government going it alone."

And from the Philadelphia Inquirer, running a Knight-Ridder piece on what seems to be the survey in question:

Two-thirds of the respondents said they thought they had a good grasp of the issues surrounding the Iraqi crisis, but closer questioning revealed large gaps in that knowledge. For instance, half of those surveyed said one or more of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. In fact, none were.

Now, why do I think this is the same poll? Well, both cite 1,204 respondents, and both quote Bill Quarton, 52, of Ann Arbor, Mich. But maybe it was his lucky day.

So, from "at least one Iraqi hijacker", to "Iraqis were responsible" to "Saddam was responsible". Gee, I play "telephone" with my kids at the dinner table all the time, and it is not this much fun. Probably because they listen, and think.

UPDATE: This link suggests some other poll, cites "two-thirds" of respondents, and mentions the "Council on Foreign Relations". Here, in fact, is a poll summary, helpfully undated. I would check the PDF link, but Adobe is crashing my computer [I peeked - early Oct., 2002]. In any case, Le Carre definitely says "one in two", which tracks my theory.

NO GUTS, NO GLORY: The poll was conducted Oct 2-6, 2002. The fateful query: "based on what you’ve heard or read: Do you believe that Saddam Hussein helped the terrorists in the September 11 th attacks, or don’t you think he was involved?"; 66 percent say "helped the terrorists".

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Wednesday, January 15, 2003

I Guess The Times Can Get Away With This

In today's editorial on affirmative action and the Michigan case, the Times delivers this:

The exact basis of the administration's opposition is unclear. But it would not be surprising if its brief were to argue that diversity can be achieved without explicitly taking race into account. If it does, it may cite a program in Mr. Bush's home state that requires the University of Texas to accept the top 10 percent of students from each graduating high school class.

That approach is necessarily flawed since its success depends on perpetuating a system of largely segregated secondary schools.

Emphasis added. OK, let me be the first to ask - why? If public schools were more integrated, the Times seems to be saying that minority students would be under-represented in the top 10%. And that is because...

Guess 1: Although the school is integrated, the minorities will be found disproportionately at the lower end of the socio-economic range, and can't be expected to compete;

Guess 2: I'm out of guesses.

Well, Guess 1 may not be crazy, depending on how the school integration is achieved. However, if these students can not compete effectively at the high school level, one wonders whether they will be able to hold their own in college. If integration at the high school level fails, as the Times seems to presume it will, why will it succeed at the next level? Well, perhaps one does not wonder - I am not at all sure what the Times is saying here, but I am pretty sure I disagree with it.

UPDATE: OK, here is a Jack Balkin tidbit on the Ten Percent Solution:

The ten percent plan has its share of problems. First, it doesn't work in states that are not strongly de facto segregated in secondary education.

Here is a WaPo editorial from last fall:

The top-10 rule, if accompanied by aggressive recruiting and retention programs, will tend to promote diversity as long as America's public schools remain segregated.

Well, the WaPo editorial was annoying for other reasons. Let me strafe two excerpts:

Most striking, in this conservative state where affirmative action opponents won a first major victory, is that the goal of ethnic and racial diversity continues to be almost universally cherished.

I am surprised at their surprise. Plenty of (Most? Almost all?) quota opponents fully support real progress. But their surprise continues:

even John Cornyn, the Republican attorney general who is now running, with considerable help from President Bush, for the U.S. Senate, embraces diversity as a legitimate public goal.

Cornyn talks on the campaign trail about his opposition to affirmative action and his belief in "colorblind" standards. But in an interview he said he also supports the 10 percent rule as "one part of a plan to help put minorities into public universities." "I'm glad for that," Cornyn says. "Just in terms of the future of our state and potential workforce, and the human potential that would be lost if we didn't do it, I think it's critical."
[And Cornyn goes on to win the election, BTW]

And, last irritant, on the subject of more aggressive minority recruitment:

...the university, after the first disappointing year, designated 70 high schools that weren't sending students to campus and reached out to them with the Longhorn Scholars program -- offering free tuition, mentoring, advising, tutoring and other benefits.

Officially the program isn't affirmative action because, officials said, the 70 schools were chosen based on income; but nearly all of them have student bodies that are nearly all black and Hispanic.

Pause. Financial aid based on income? What will Texas come up with next?

MORE: This Harvard "Civil Rights Project" book is interesting. No I just need to read it.

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The Rave Act, Part Two

Was it the Ooold Crow, the InstaPundit, or a direct hit on TalkLeft? Doesn't matter - evidently, the "Rave Act" is back under Tom Daschle's banner.

TalkLeft is quoting someone here, but I will steal it:

If enacted, the provisions would amend the federal “crack house law” to make it easier for federal prosecutors to fine and imprison business owners that fail to stop drug offenses from occurring. Businessmen and women could be prosecuted even if they were not involved in drugs – and even if they took steps to stop drug use on their property. The provisions would also undermine public health, endanger youth, and stifle free speech.

Well, EPIC tracks privacy related bills in Congress, including this one, which is S.22.

And what is going on with the co-sponsors - lefty Hall of Fame, or what?

Sen Biden Jr., Joseph R. - 1/7/2003
Sen Boxer, Barbara - 1/9/2003
Sen Clinton, Hillary Rodham - 1/7/2003
Sen Corzine, Jon - 1/7/2003
Sen Dayton, Mark - 1/7/2003
Sen Durbin, Richard J. - 1/7/2003
Sen Kennedy, Edward M. - 1/7/2003
Sen Leahy, Patrick J. - 1/7/2003
Sen Murray, Patty - 1/7/2003
Sen Reed, Jack - 1/7/2003
Sen Schumer, Charles E. - 1/7/2003

OK, EPIC does not summarize the other provisions in the bill, so one presumes there to be a sensible explanation. One wonders what it might be.

UPDATE: Here is a link to a PDF file at Daschle's website. Go to Adobe pages 18 and 19. This has the titles for different sections of the S.22, but no details. The lefty appeal is more obvious reading this.

UPDATE 2: The Library of Congress now has posted the bill - Search the 108th Congress for "S.22". Then, my guess is to look down in Part 4 on Crack House Statute Amendments.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Matt Hoy: York Is On Fox

OK, pretty cryptic news for those of you not following the Pickering nomination. My thought: either the Pickering opponents are saving their ammo for a Senate hearing, or they are out of bullets. The NY Times has been silent since last week's flurry, so we presume that Sen. Schumer, Sen. Edwards, and the People for the American Way are not making any news on this.

Second thought: York has yet another piece on Pickering, and evidently has some huge files in front of himself on his desk. Some of his material is correspondence between Pickering and Orrin Hatch,so it has not received "adversarial review". However, when will it? The Times, the WaPo, TNR - all silent on Pickering.

This AP story and this Times story suggest that the 1994 cross-burning case will be a significant part of the Dem attack. Well, are the critics simply keeping us in suspense while York puts out his rebuttals, which seem to be based on the public record?

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Pickering's Prospects Put Pundits in Pickle

The Man Sans Q doesn't say that, but what he does say will surely annoy leftys.

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Waiting for 2004

The Brothers Judd are already amused.

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Monday, January 13, 2003

More Mickey On Pickering

Mickey links to an old NY Times piece, and suspects that what started out as a hatchet job morphed into "man bites dog" - "Blacks at Home Support a Judge Liberals Assail .

Well, this nomination tussle is not about Pickering being a racist, anyway:

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, which is leading the opposition to the appointment, said many of the judge's supporters in Laurel simply did not know the full details of his record.

"We don't dispute that he has support from a number of African- Americans at the local level, and we have never said he is a racist," Mr. Neas said. "He may be a decent person on a one-to-one basis, but that's not the issue. It's his actions as a public official that demonstrate insensitivity and hostility toward basic civil rights principles."

OK, he is not a racist, he is just insensitive and hostile to basic civil rights principles. Uh, whose principles? My confusion deepens. Or would, if I could take PFAW seriously. But I expect I will seriously save that quote.

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Cross Burning Cases

Well, we are verging on "All Pickering, all the time" here. The question before the house is, what does a normal sentence look like in a cross burning case? Obviously, the goal is to ascertain whether Pickering was too harsh, too lenient, or what. So, here we go, "google" at the ready.

Louisiana: Facing up to ten years, sentenced to... I don't know!

Ohio: facing up to 10 years, finally sentenced to two years, on what looks like a plea deal.

Robeline, LA: facing up to ten years, sentenced to to four months. This looks very much like a plea deal.

Texas: plea deals of thirteen to fifteen months. But scroll down, and apparently the hammer came down on one other defendants - The lead defendant, Matthew Marshall, received 10 years for using fire in the commission of a felony.

Well, now. Swan was apparently offered 1 1/12 years on a plea deal (WSJ), which is in the range what seem to be three plea deals here. But the lead conspirator in one case got ten years, with the arson charge added. Hey, but Swan wasn't the ringleader!

All right, there must be a hate crimes group that tracks these stats. Where?

And one of these links goes on to a database of DoJ press releases. But only for Western LA. Still...

OK, PDF files and the Adobe Acrobat that reads them are crashing my computer. But here is a group that tracks hate crimes, and they don't show any cross burnings since 1999. Can that be right?

And Yahoo offers some promising links.

OK, stream of consciousness blogging ends for the day. The Texas case seems to lean Pickering's way, but I am roughly as puzzled as before.

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Slow Train Comin' : The Times Profiles Al Sharpton

In their on-going series of profiles of Presidential candidates, Al Sharpton's time has come.

First, the flattering photo (thumbnail on left) gets a lot more space in my Dead Tree edition. His prospects:

Aides in competing presidential camps describe Mr. Sharpton's candidacy as little more than a distraction, a quest on the fringe that will ultimately have little bearing on the Democratic presidential competition.

Although the popular term for this is "denial", it is better known as "whistling past the graveyard".

Yet Democrats acquainted with Mr. Sharpton's style and skills suggest that might be a miscalculation. Many Democrats say he could prove to be a constant and potentially unwelcome complication for the other Democrats seeking to challenge President Bush.

For two decades, Mr. Sharpton has shown an unflagging talent for winning attention for himself and his causes. (He was on the NBC News program "Meet the Press" for 17 minutes this morning.) His wit, bluster and bravado make him endlessly quotable, bolstering his reputation as a ruthless political street fighter.

As the only black candidate in a crowded field, Mr. Sharpton said, he would do well in states with large black populations. In particular, he said, he might win the important South Carolina Democratic primary, an assertion that did not seem outlandish to other Democrats, who noted that 40 percent of the South Carolina Democratic electorate is black.

...Mr. Sharpton is putting the others on the spot by raising issues they have avoided: calling for all Confederate flags to be taken down in South Carolina and Mississippi, for example.

He tears into the credentials of his rivals with all the enthusiasm of a Republican, calling for the ouster of Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Party chairman, asserting that his party has abandoned its liberal roots and planning for a prominent speaking role at the Democratic convention in Boston in 2004.

...Referring to the other presidential contenders, Howard Wolfson, the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "These guys have no idea what they are in for."

Well, let's give them an idea:

Al on the DLC: "They never regained the Congress," Mr. Sharpton said. "So how long do you keep going over a new strategy that doesn't work? They are no longer the new Democrats. They are the old Democrats. We had another debacle in 2002, we're going to give them another shot? That's crazy."

Al on John Kerry: Mr. Sharpton noted the paucity of blacks among Massachusetts's elected officials, and said he read a newspaper article the other day about racial profiling there.

"Where is Kerry in his home state?" Mr. Sharpton asked. "If I'm going to be in the debates, he's going to have to talk about that."

Other rivals: Mr. Lieberman, he said, was "an opponent of affirmative action," a characterization that does not square with how Mr. Lieberman describes his own views on the subject. Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri "stood with the president on the war — and was part of the leadership that was absolutely defeated in 2002."

He saved his harshest words for Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, a trial lawyer who, Mr. Edwards's advisers argued, posed the greatest threat to Mr. Sharpton's hopes of a strong showing in the South.

"This guy got rich fighting for the regular guy," Mr. Sharpton said. "So I'm going to ask him at the debates: name one regular guy you fought for that you didn't get paid for. With a Sharpton-less race, he's gotten an easy ride."

His platform: The platform and the party's candidate, he said, should oppose a war in Iraq, the death penalty and the tax cuts pushed by President Bush, and should champion affirmative action. He said he would push for the ouster of Mr. McAuliffe as the party chairman, calling him a "nice man" who had failed.

Pretty mainstream stuff. OK, Bill and Al "supported" the death penalty, but that was then, and we all know political expedience when we see it. Let's get a principled Dem out there. And good luck to you.

UPDATE: Eric Alterman comments on Al. But I am not seeing a reaction otherwise in my quick lefty tour. C'mon, AL will get many more votes than Dean - face reality.

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Sunday, January 12, 2003

Seize The Moment

Mickey links to a John Ellis post of a "near-unbelievable" Boston Globe quote from a profile on Ted Kennedy:

If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.

Groan. As little as I like Fat Ted (and check his photo for another data point on obesity in America), this quote is waaay out of context. So, I will seize my once in a lifetime chance to rise in defense of Ted Kennedy, or the Globe, or whoever.

You pretty much have to read the whole article, but the author is working several recurring themes. One of these themes is, what might Teddy have accomplished if not for Mary Jo Kopechne, and what has he done in spite of it.

It makes a lot more sense if you read it. Creative excerpts:

He has epiphanies," a friend told author Adam Clymer, but that's the old mythology talking. On October 25, 1991, Kennedy gave a famous speech at the Kennedy School of Government in which he said, "I recognize my own shortcomings, the faults in the conduct of my private life." By then, the woman in the car had been dead for 22 years, dead because of a situation in which alcohol and recklessness were intimately involved, and if this was an epiphany, it was a damned slow one. What he was on the day of the speech was an almost 60-year-old divorced man who drank too much, an aging father and uncle who was the caretaker for a spectacular array of functional and dysfunctional children, and that was all he was, and the barstools are full of them.

Those men have "problems" to overcome. Kennedys have "epiphanies."

Snip (hey, works for Lileks)

And there he is, rid of most of that now, 70 years old and 40 years a senator, and he stands for all the curdled glory, but most of all, for himself: Legislative lion and failed dauphin; dark prince and heir apparent; Capitol Hill grind and Palm Beach sybarite, talisman, and bogeyman; Camelot and Dallas and Los Angeles and Chappaquiddick.


And what of the dead woman? On July 18, 1969, on the weekend that man first walked on the moon, a 28-year-old named Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in his automobile. Plutocrats' justice and an implausible (but effective) coverup ensued. And, ever since, she's always been there: during Watergate, when Barry Goldwater told Kennedy that even Richard Nixon didn't need lectures from him; in 1980, when his presidential campaign was shot down virtually at its launch; during the hearings into the confirmation of Clarence Thomas, when Kennedy's transgressions gagged him and made him the butt of all the jokes.

She's always there. Even if she doesn't fit in the narrative line, she is so much of the dark energy behind it. She denies to him forever the moral credibility that lay behind not merely all those rhetorical thunderclaps that came so easily in the New Frontier but also Robert Kennedy's anguished appeals to the country's better angels. He was forced from the rhetoric of moral outrage and into the incremental nitty-gritty of social justice. He learned to plod, because soaring made him look ridiculous. "It's really 3 yards and a cloud of dust with him," says his son Patrick.


And that's the key. That's how you survive what he's survived. That's how you move forward, one step after another, even though your name is Edward Moore Kennedy. You work, always, as though your name were Edward Moore. If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.

As I said, it works better in context.

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I'm Blaming It All On The Nights On Broadway

I honestly to God have one of their CDs in my car and listen to it regularly. My secret vice. And this is a bummer.

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Which Side Are They On?

Or, great moments in corporate self-awareness: the NY Times struggles to locate itself on the ideological spectrum while discussing the Nike free speech / commercial speech case which the US Supreme Court recently agreed to hear.

Mu summary of the case: a critic of Nike, perhaps an anti-globo funded in part by U.S. unions, can say anything they want about Nike, limited only by their imagination and laws about slander and libel. Fine, it's a free country with free speech rights.

But suppose Nike responds? Arguably this is commercial speech, intended only to promote their ability to sell footware. Commercial speech is more tightly regulated as to accuracy. Corporations can not present falsehoods in an advertisement. But can they shade or obscure the truth in an "advertorial"? How about in a message placed on their website? What about the CEO, speaking on behalf of (and paid by) his company? What free speech rights might a corporation have?

Interesting. So, the Supreme Court agrees to hear this, and, deep in the story, the Times tells us this:

There is a lively debate within the court over whether to elevate commercial speech to full First Amendment status. With Justice Clarence Thomas the leading exponent of this view, this is one First Amendment issue that does not follow ordinary liberal-conservative lines.

Well, that sounds right. Normally, liberals take an expansive view of free speech rights, as with McCain-Feingold, and view dimly any attempt to regulate corporations. Conservatives, on the other hand, routinely sacrifice free speech rights to other interests and are happy to regulate corporations. In Bizzarro World.

So what might the Times be getting at?

The New York Times Company was one of 32 publishing and broadcasting organizations filing a brief on behalf of Nike, which is represented by Prof. Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School and Walter Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general, among other lawyers.

Oh, my, the "Advertisor Protection Case" of 2003! And since the advertisors run their ads in the Times, their interest is clear. McCain-Feingold applied to television ads - totally different. But I guess in this case the Times figures that, since it supports Nike, it must be a liberal cause. Please.

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Obesity In America

NY Times Book Review on 'Fat Land'. Intriguing excerpt:

At least from a business perspective, the fattening of America may well have been a necessity. Food companies grow by selling us more of their products. The challenge they face is that the American population is growing much more slowly than the American food supply -- a prescription for falling rates of profit. Agribusiness now produces 3,800 calories of food a day for every American, 500 calories more than it produced 30 years ago. (And by the government's lights, at least a thousand more calories than most people need.) So what's a food company to do? The answer couldn't be simpler or more imperative: get each of us to eat more. A lot more.

Well, perhaps we could export more. But I will tag along regardless.

Some of the credit for creating this new environment belongs to an unheralded businessman by the name of David Wallerstein, the man Critser says introduced ''supersizing'' to America. Today Wallerstein is an executive with McDonald's, but back in the 1960's he worked for a chain of movie theaters, where he labored to expand sales of soda and popcorn -- the high-markup items that theaters depend on for their profitability. Wallerstein tried everything he could think of to goose sales -- two-for-one deals, matinee specials -- but found he couldn't induce customers to buy more than one soda and one bag of popcorn. Why? Because going for seconds makes people feel like pigs.

But Wallerstein discovered that people would spring for more popcorn and soda -- a lot more -- as long as it came in a single gigantic serving. Thus was born the Big Gulp and, in time, the Big Mac and jumbo fries. Though Ray Kroc himself took some convincing: the McDonald's founder had naively assumed that if people wanted more fries they'd buy another bag. He didn't appreciate how social taboos against gluttony (one of the seven deadly sins, after all) were holding us back. Wallerstein's dubious achievement was to devise the dietary equivalent of a papal dispensation: Supersize it!

Hey, cool! Now, I have seen the Subway's ads, so I know they are trying to create a niche for themselves as the healthy alternative. Too bad that every time I actually go to a Subway, the menu seems to be emphasizing dessiccated donkey dung. But I do eat less...

Finally, the reviewer is disappointed that the writer does not issue a clarion call for greater government involvement:

Indeed, the question of responsibility looms large in the growing debate over obesity, and it is here that Critser loses his footing a bit. While ''Fat Land'' does an excellent job connecting the dots between government and corporate policies and the fattening of America, by the end of the book the problem has largely, and somewhat inexplicably, been redefined in terms of personal responsibility. Critser expresses the hope that ''the food industry might . . . take it upon itself to do something'' like resize portions, but nothing that has come before gives us reason to think the industry would ever do any such thing.

Well, given the state involvement in Medicare and Medicaid, it is undeniable that there are public policy implications here. Hmm. If having a military draft to build our national character does not trouble some folks, how could they object to a mandatory quarterly weigh-in? Perhaps variable Medicare deductions based on weight and health-related stats, or a penalty on (future) Social Security payments for non-compliance. OK, it is a libertarian nightmare, but would folks object if a private insurer proposed something similar? NO, because they could choose to use a different insurer - faux comparison!

I'm guessing out loud here - I can't even imagine what sort of regs the reviewer has in mind, and he is not saying. "That bag of chips is to big, m'am - come with us."? Maximum serving sizes? Whatever.

OK, over to the ever-slender, yet intellectually supersized Jane Galt, who has been on diets for weeks now.

UPDATE: The Monday Times joins in: school lunches and school phys-ed! OK, if you are looking for logic...

And if you want everything you thought you knew about obesity and health thrown out the window, check out TNR with the puzzling links: "Weighting Game".

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Saturday, January 11, 2003

Well, Duh!

From the NY Times Corrections, Jan 11:

• A chart in Science Times on Dec. 31 with an article about possible adjustments to Einstein's theory of relativity misstated the value of Planck energy, which some theorists think should represent the maximum energy of an elementary particle. It is 1019 billion electron volts, not 1019 electron volts.

• An obituary on Thursday about Richard Mohr, a producer of opera records and Metropolitan Opera intermission broadcasts, misspelled the surname of an artist who recorded for him. It was the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, not Rubenstein.

The article also misspelled the name of an aria from "La Traviata" that the sopranos Licia Albanese, Dorothy Kirsten and Eleanor Steber sang together on one program. It is "Sempre libera," not "Libre."

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Now I Am Getting Annoyed [But Less So By The Last Update]

A blogger picked up by Atrios actually reads Mickey and follows the links. Why didn't I think of that?

From the WSJ:

...This race-baiting is all the more offensive because it is demonstrably false about Judge Pickering's career and a gross distortion of the 1995 case called U.S. v. Swan over which the judge presided. That case concerned three young white men who burned a cross in the yard of a mixed-race couple. If Mr. Schumer has a complaint it should be with the Clinton Justice Department, which was relaxed enough about the crime to offer the defendants plea bargains. Two--the ring-leader, who was a juvenile, and a low-IQ adult--accepted the offers and served no prison time.

The third defendant, Daniel Swan, rejected a deal that would have meant a year and a half in jail and decided to take his chances with a trial. He was convicted and, under the mandatory sentencing guidelines, received five to seven-and-a-half years. Judge Pickering got Swan's sentence reduced on the grounds that it was disproportionate to the other sentences and because Swan had no history of racial animus.

From Byron York at NRO:

Because the case involved a cross burning covered under the federal hate-crimes statute, local authorities immediately brought in investigators from the Clinton Justice Department's Office of Civil Rights. After the three suspects were arrested in late February, 1994, lawyers for the civil-rights office made the major decisions in prosecuting the case.

In a move that baffled and later angered Judge Pickering, Civil Rights Division prosecutors early on decided to make a plea bargain with two of the three suspects. The first, Mickey Thomas, had an unusually low IQ, and prosecutors decided to reduce charges against him based on that fact. The second bargain was with the 17-year-old. Civil Rights Division lawyers allowed both men to plead guilty to misdemeanors in the cross-burning case (the juvenile also pleaded guilty to felony charges in the shooting incident). The Civil Rights Division recommended no jail time for both men.

The situation was different for the third defendant, Daniel Swan, who, like the others, faced charges under the hate-crime statute. Unlike the others, however, Swan pleaded not guilty. The law requires that the government prove the accused acted out of racial animus, and Swan, whose defense consisted mainly of the contention that he was drunk on the night of the cross burning, maintained that he simply did not have the racial animus necessary to be guilty of a hate crime under federal law.

OK, a careful reading of York reveals that he never said Swan was not offered a plea deal. However, York is presenting a story, not testifying in a deposition. A bit more clarity, please.

I am familiar with the prosecutorial tactic of the "roll-up" - strike plea deals with the underlings, use their testimony to convict the biggies. I am also familiar with the idea that, if a defendant rejects the plea, he risks having the house drop on him at trial.

York should be a lot more clear about just what happened here. And the whole "racial animus" issue is tricky. But if Pickering's complaint is that, having turned down a plea deal for 1 1/2 years, Swan should have been sentenced to 2 1/2 years after conviction, well, that is not how it works on Law and Order.

Now, I am open to the possibility that many of these details were unknown to Pickering until the actual trial began. But at this point, York appears to be disingenuous at best.

UPDATE: It does not appear that Frist rallied to Pickering's defense on the Sunday talk shows, according to "PunditWatch". But here, he seems to be more effective.

And my man Al gets lots of airtime.

UPDATE: OK, let's add Crowley of TNR into the stew:

Two of the men made plea-bargain deals with the prosecutors, getting off with probation and brief house detention. The third man refused a plea bargain and went to trial. He was convicted. Under federal sentencing laws, that meant he received a prison term of seven to seven-and-a-half years.

Well, the WSJ says that Swan rejected a deal that would have meant a year and a half in jail, so it appears that there was a disparity in the initial plea deals offered to the three defendants. This is consistent with the view that the Feds were focussing on the "wrong ringleader". One wonders what Swan might have done if offerred probation and house detention, and why the Feds did not offer it to him.

That said, York points out that the Feds also got a felony plea from the juvenile for the shooting incident. What was the sentence for that?

UPDATE: Some potentially comparable cross burning cases I dug up are linked here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Are there no other journalists in the world? York again, responding to questions from fans and foes. Remind yourself to focus on fact, not spin, and you will find some nuggets here. E.g., there are several examples of cases where Pickering "departed downward" in his sentencing.

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Ready For Primetime?

I mentioned it in an update below, but this story may be headed for the mainstream. Nathan Newman found it, Atrios is flogging it:

It's become a mantra of the defenders of Charles Pickering that he "courageously" testified against a Klan leader back in the 1960s.

But this involved a town where WHITES were being attacked by the Klan as a series of bombings threatened the white establishment. And it was interlaced with violent labor struggle in the primary employer. See this article:...

OK, the article is from Feb 27, 2002, the last go-round with the Pickering brawl. If it was ignored then, there may be a reason. The final Senate commite vote was not until March 15, so timing was not the issue.

So, here we are. I don't have the impression that the source is totally objective, but it is a great starting point.

UPDATE: Here is the totally non-partisan Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on the same issue. Well, it seems that Republicans are making hay of this.

UPDATE 2: When in doubt, check Byron York on Pickering:

According to a letter written on Pickering's behalf by Charles Evers, brother of murdered civil-rights activist Medgar Evers, "In 1967, many locally elected prosecutors in Mississippi looked the other way when faced with allegations of violence against African-Americans and those who supported our struggle for equal treatment under the law. Judge Pickering was a locally elected prosecutor who took the stand that year and testified in the criminal trial against the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who was accused of firebombing a civil rights activist. Judge Pickering later lost his bid for reelection because he dared to defy the Klan, but he gained my respect and the respect of many others as a man who stands up for what is right."

The Klan case, although 35 years ago, stands out in many memories. "Pickering is not perfect — no one is — but he has courage," Johnny Magee, a black city councilman in Laurel, Mississippi, recently told Legal Times. "He was involved as a county prosecutor in fighting against the Ku Klux Klan and helped put Klansmen behind bars. That was something you just didn't do in Jones County in the 1960s."

UPDATE 3: OK, now I am stuck. How many trials was Bowers of the Klan in back in 1967? From this bio, he was tried in 1967 in the "Mississippi Burning" trial for the murder of three civil rights workers, and surely you remember Gene Hackman. Testifying in that trial would have been a big deal. But York, above, mentions "the criminal trial against the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who was accused of firebombing a civil rights activist".

Hmm. If I were boosting Pickering, I would surely have made a point of the "Mississippi Burning" trial. OTOH, how could one trial be dangerous and polarizing, and the other not? Presumably we should be checking the Dahmer trial, a firebombing-turned-murder which led to four trials in the 60's. Dates don't seem to match, though. Now I need help.

Regardless, the central theme of this criticism of Pickering seems to be "attacking the Klan took no guts". I am unconvinced.

MORE: How do you like this "stream of consciousness" blogging? If we can believe the socialists, Pickering testified in the Dahmer trial.

CHARLES EVERS: OK, I am saving a Charles Evers chat room transcript here. Evers switched to the Republican party in 1989. Interesting. Here, CLARENCE PAGE comments on Pickering.

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Friday, January 10, 2003

Pickering And Schumer

More on the brewing brouhaha from Mickey, the Man Sans Q, and Eric The Red Menace. Oh, let's put Atrios into the mix for some balance [and see my UPDATE], and throw in TalkLeft as well.

Now, I bet I have an opinion. Several, in fact.

First, as to Schumer - what spirit moves him? Perhaps after the NYC Mayoral debacle amongst Sharpton, Ferrer, and Green, Schumer is hoping to establish his "street cred" as a powerful voice for the constituency which might otherwise gravitate towards Al Sharpton and his preferred candidate. Schumer will be defending his Senate seat in 2004 and does not need a primary challenger to muddy the waters, especially since Rudy Giuliani is lurking as a possible opponent.

And Bush? Bush is firmly committed to a principle I exhort my NY Jets to follow this weekend: find a new way to lose. Hmm, there needs to be a more upbeat way to express that, but the idea is, if you are going to make mistakes, make new ones. A tiny detail illustrates the point: Bush I was criticized for glancing at his watch during a televised debate in 1992. In 2000, neither Bush nor Cheney wore their watches during the debates. [Check last paragraph]

Today's headlines provide a more obvious example - Bush I was criticized for having no economic plan. Well, the tax plan proposed by Bush II may not work, may be a disaster, and may be the wrong tax cut for the wrong reasons and the wrong people (or not), but it is unmistakably and inarguably a plan.

Similarly, Bush I was criticized for losing the enthusiasm of his base. Now we see Pickering renominated, and I take that as a clear sign that we will see the Administration opposing the Michigan plan in the Affirmative Action case before the Supreme Court.

This is easy - figure out what Bush I did wrong (time consuming, yes), then guess at what the opposite course would look like. E.Z.

And Pickering? C'mon, when was the last time I disagreed with Micky AND the Man? And I'm not starting now.

UPDATE: He got "big media" attention on the Lott case, and seems to be attempting to wrap his tentacles around Pickering. If something hops from the blogosphere to the mainstream, it will probably be here - keep an eye on Atrios, who has an interesting point on the "Pickering testified against the Klan" story. And props to Nathan Newman.

UPDATE 2: The Brothers Judd send us to this headline:

Bush May Enter Affirmative Action Case

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Krugman On Krugman

Krugman earnestly explains his comparison of Bush to Marcos. Rumble, elephants! Sullivan and Reynolds comment derisively. Most cuttingly, Volokh chews on Krugman's mention of "the Bush administration's creation of a cult of personality". [Update: Mickey joins the fun - fans of oral surgery wonder, is it safe?]

My question is much simpler - if Krugman has time to post his nightmare vision of Bush as Most Glorious and Exalted Celestial Ruler, might he not also find time to post a translation of the interview? Some of us might prefer to judge the interview for ourselves.

UPDATE: More on Krugman's mental health from Drezner. Now, as to some of P Krug's weirder comments, I am actually leaning towards a "Kidding!" defense. However, the biographical data he presents represents a serious overshare, as my kids would say, so I wonder: who is establishing a cult of personality now? And Drezner mentions "megalomaniacal paranoia" - well, I am not a health care professional either, but since Krugman is an only child who has never had kids of his own, he has been starring in "The Paul Krugman Show" his entire life. Does this make him a better candidate for the Drezner diagnosis?

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Forecast For The New Year

OK, it is a week late, but so many folks have asked me for my outlook on 2003 that a quick comment is appropriate. Stock market, politics, war? I have no idea. But it will be a great year - not good, but GREAT!

Why am I so sure? Tell me you are kidding. We have the Matrix sequel in May, Terminator 3 in July, and just before Christmas Aragorn, Legolas and the crew will open the final can of whup-ass on Saruman and Sauron. But the cake will be frosted in July, if there is justice in the world.

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Bob Graham For Something Or Other

Andrew Sullivan quotes a reader, who lets a bit of air out of the Bob Graham Presidential balloon with this news:

[Graham] will never get the Democratic nomination. You see, back in 1984, Bob Graham, then running for the Senate, endorsed Ronald Reagan for president. The "endorsement" actually took place during a televised debate between Graham and his opponent. He essentially repudiated the Walter Mondale candidacy, stating that "Ronald Reagan has been good for America." Florida Democrats have a long memory. Those in Hollywood and Manhattan have even longer memories."

Hmm. I can not "google" the truth of this. However, Graham was Governor in 1984, and ran for the Senate in 1986 against Republican Paula "Screaming Jay" Hawkins. [Note to self: that last link might be broken.]

So, we are puzzled about the Reagan endorsement, since Graham was not a candidate for anything in 1984. That said, Mondale apparently abandoned Florida, which Reagan carried with 65% of the vote, so who knows? And BTW, that is a fine looking map I link to. A short, successful war with Iraq, a rebounding economy, Condi picking up Republican votes with her Senate run in California, Senator Giuliani and the NYC convention helping in NY, and we may see it again in 2004. Sorry, audible dreaming.

Does anyone think Elian will be an issue? Back in 2000, when Graham was considered as a VP for Gore, the Boston Globe gave us this cryptic comment:

Florida Senator Bob Graham probably took himself out of business with his home-cooking performance during the Elian furor.

I do not know what that means. Anyway, The New Republic has an interesting piece on Graham.

UPDATE: A correction appears in Sullivan's letters, but not on his main page. Oh, if Howell Raines did this, we would see the steam!

UPDATE 2: My unlikely alliance with "Sullywatch". They have a truly committed reader who may have found the "endorsement" in question.

My two cents? Reuben Askew ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination against Mondale in 1984 and later joined the "Stop Mondale" movement. Mondale was also calling for higher taxes. Could Askew have made some "pro-Reagan" noises that Sullivan's reader later associated with Graham?

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Thursday, January 09, 2003

Not That Rangel Is Serious About The Draft

But here is a serious plan from Kurtz at NRO. ROTC, Junior ROTC - oh, soccer moms will love this. Robbins rebuts Rangel, as if facts and logic are somehow relevant to this discussion.

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Time To Dust Off The Lunar Chart

Voyage to Arcturus took us to Baghdad last September, by the light of the silvery moon. If I am following, then the first week of February would seem to be a likely time for a US led coalition to attack Iraq. The inspectors report to the Security Council on Jan 27, so that seems to tie in. My remaining question - in 1991 the land campaign was preceded by about six weeks of bombing. Perhaps we bomb for a week, and invade? Five weeks, and invade in the first week of March? Or does this matter less than I suspect?

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Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Pickering, Again

We all thought he left with Trent Lott. Now Bush has decided to re-nominate him to the Federal bench, so here we go. One of Pickering's "troubling issues" was a 1994 cross-burning case, described by People for the American Way thusly:

Several senators questioned Pickering about a 1994 cross-burning case in which Pickering went to extraordinary lengths on behalf of one of the defendants. A Feb. 11 Legal Times article noted that Senator John Edwards "questioned both Pickering's sensitivity to crimes of racial bias and the propriety of the judge's efforts to intervene."

In the case, two men and a juvenile had burned an eight-foot cross on the lawn of an interracial couple with a young child. The juvenile and one of the men, described as borderline mentally retarded, pleaded guilty and received reduced sentences. The third, described by the Justice Department as the leader of the conspiracy, refused to plead and was convicted after a trial. He faced a much more severe sentence, largely because of a mandatory minimum sentence for crimes involving arson that had been enacted by Congress. Defendants who cooperate with the prosecution and do not force the government to go to trial are routinely given reduced sentences, but Pickering took unusual and ethically questionable steps in getting the government to drop the charge with the mandatory minimum and acquiesce in a shorter sentence.

Byron York of NRO rebutted this quite forcefully.

Michael Crowley of TNR reviews the Senate hearing, the pro-Pickering counter-attack, and leaves us with their thoughts.

And, for those with too much free time, the WSJ and BlackElectorate.com.

UPDATE: The Viking marches on Chuck Schumer and his role in this.

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Evil Dick Nixon

Architect of the Republican "Southern Strategy" and desegregator of southern schools.

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Last Thoughts On The Bush Tax Proposal - Until Next Time

First, what does Bush really want? According to news stories, in December Bush aides were contemplating a $300 billion package with a 50% dividend exemption. Now we are offered a tax cut package exceeding $600 billion with full dividend exemption. Will Bush supporters die of disappointment if Bush allows himself to be bargained back to the 50% threshold? [Mini-update: the WaPo chimes in.]

Secondly, Bush has changed the tone in Washington! Democrats are not talking about undoing the tax cuts scheduled to be phased in in 2004 and 2006. Now, they are proposing their own version of tax cuts. A political win for Bush.

Thirdly, we eagerly await the many opportunities for new tax management schemes at both the corporate and personal level that the full dividend exemption will afford. I guessed at some corporate ideas at the end of this post. An obvious play for individuals - borrow money to buy tax exempt preferred stock. Deduct the interest expense, take the dividend tax-free, and maybe make some money. Whether this works will depend on the subtle interplay of the tax rates of marginal investors and issuers. Some investors are tax exempt; some issuers don't pay tax. Time will tell whether this tax play works, and whether Congress allows it. Rules are already in place to prevent such scheming with tax exempt bonds - more tax code wrinkles to address dividends?

Finally, we bemoan the lost opportunity of tax simplification. Back when Steve Forbes was boring us with calls for a simple flat tax, the argument was that, since simplification led to winners and losers, it could only be coupled with a tax cut. Well, with his 2001 and 2003 tax proposals Bush has offered $2 trillion in tax cuts without a lot of simplification. Bother.

UPDATE: Jane G. and Mindles on modifications to the dividend accounting. More complexity.

UPDATE 2: Floyd Norris of the NY Times explains the subtleties to us. And some of my earlier questions are answered: if a corporation does not pay taxes, its dividends will not be exempt. Hmm, does this mean that ordinary shareholders will put the company's tax reurn under a microscope? They may not like what they see. And I am thinking of "Big Pharma" when I say that.

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I Love This Profile Of John Edwards

The NYTimes published this while I was on vacation (my winter motto: carpe skiem!). Let me see if I can remember the mini-tirade that so annoyed my wife and houseguests as I summarized the article. No peeking, now.

The article starts with a quote from Breaux wondering whether Edwards is properly seasoned. Lacks a bit of cajun sauce, maybe? And why is Breaux not a candidate - when I think of Breaux I think of charm, good looks, and Lousiana, and two out of three ain't bad. Sorry, digression.

Next, we meet the Senator with a quote that makes him out to be a perfect self-absorbed a**h***. "Hello, I'm John Edwards, and I want to be President so I can protect my wife and kids. Your family, pal? Hey, you're on your own."

OK, he didn't really say that. TNR gives us another opinion on the fateful words, as does the Hammer. But wow, will Edwards' handsome, chiseled jaw drop when he learns what Rumsfeld did on 9/11, rushing from his office to the crash scene at the Pentagon, where he helped move survivors out of the area. And I hope Edwards is near a heart surgeon when he learns about Afghanistan!

Ok, pressing on, still from memory, next we have a quote from Ma Edewards marveling that "Johhny" is ready for such high office. Them a quick discussion of his political ambitions - he denies having a lifelong passion for politics, and a quote from the wife is used to sugest he is a liar. His political agenda? He wants to be John McCain, but he is not quite ready. His big selling point - people like him, excuse me, "he connects". Hey, it may be enough, and maybe my dog can be Vice-President. Edwards never really built a fund-raising network in North Carolina, since he mostly used his own money back in 1998. And now he is off to the White House, and good luck to him.

It was quite a ghastly profile, if I am remembering it correctly. Probably ought to double-check at some point. Still, I think the Times may be looking elsewhere for leadership.

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Who Luvs Ya, Baby?

Or, who loves the propsed Bush tax package? My thought was to scan the obvious candidates for cheerleading - the WSJ, the NRO, and the Weekly Standard. Away we go, with the Journal: We were hoping for a big and bold tax cut from President Bush and, by George, we got one.

They like it! Accelerating the scheduled cuts in the top rates is a winner! Well, I thought so too. The child care credit is marked as political: "while the credits are popular the economics isn't all that pretty." And the elimination of dividend taxation?

...Returning profits to shareholders, the true owners of firms, would free this capital to flow to higher-return, more productive companies. It would also bump up stock prices, maybe as much as 10%, thereby reducing the cost of capital and encouraging firms to invest. Count this proposal as another economic win.

Well, I will count this analysis as a near total loss. Half of the 10% jump in share prices is, almost literally, yesterday's news. New incentives, please! The WSJ ignores the many devices, such as share repurchases, by which companies have circumvented the taxation of dividends.

OK, on to Fred Barnes at the Weekly Standard, who makes an interesting political point: the Democratic tax cut is geared toward juicing the economy in 2003. If it then fades in 2004, well, hard luck for whoever is in the White House. Conversely, the Bush/Rove plan offers modest stimulus now, and more in 2004. This may be advantageous to Bush as he cranks up his re-election effort.

As to the specifics, what does Mr. Barnes say?

"...the president doesn't think injecting a huge amount of cash into the economy today would solve the real problem. Investment in buildings and equipment dropped 5 percent in the year following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and businesses cut 1.2 million jobs. That's the real problem: a lack of investment, not a lack of consumer spending."


" Were Bush only worrying about the politics of cutting taxes, he probably wouldn't have decided to eliminate the tax on stock dividends. Many economists question whether it would juice up the economy. And most of its benefits are bound to go to wealthy stockholders, thus prompting Democratic criticism. But it's bound to improve the stock market by making dividend-paying stocks more attractive and freeing money for investment. And guess when stockholders will actually get their tax cut? When they file their returns in 2004.

In truth, Bush has proposed the kind of tax cuts he likes, the cuts which provide incentives to save and invest."

Well, this is not exactly pounding the table for dividend tax relief, but I suppose Republicans can work with it. How about over at the NRO?

In a column apparently intended to elicit an "Oh, for pity's sake" response, Bruce Bartlett informs us that Jimmy Carter himself talked about eliminating the taxation of dividends. Well, it is not often that the NRO turns to "Jimmah" for economic guidance, so let's enjoy the moment.

David Malpass loves the proposals, especially the dividend part:

"Eliminating the double taxation of dividends would unlock equity capital, lower the cost of capital, and liquefy the U.S. capital structure, adding dramatically to U.S. growth. Right now, there's a tax wedge between corporate earnings and shareholders. This would eliminate that wedge, allowing a more efficient allocation of capital."

Boy, am I unconvinced.

And how about Larry Kudlow?

"Eliminating the double taxation of corporate dividends will raise stock market values, increase investor returns, and improve both corporate governance and corporate finance practices, in effect becoming the most significant pro-growth tax reform since President Ronald Reagan slashed personal income-tax rates twenty years ago."

He likes it too. I think raising stock prices and improving returns, if they are a one time adjustment to a new tax regime, mean nothing. Improved corporate governance? Well, companies may feels some pressure to actually cough up some cash, which may expose them to a bit of the same capital market discipline that so effectively reined in companies like Enron. And as to improved corporate finance practices? Presumably he means that companies will adjust their target equity to debt ratios and de-lever ther balance sheets. My prediction - look for creative schemes under which companies issue tax deductible debt to a special entity, which then issues tax exempt dividend paying preferred stock to investors. Schemes like this were popular in the 80's, exploiting accounting rules and the 85% exclusion companies enjoy on dividends received. My understanding is that tax and accounting rules have changed, but the imagineers on Wall Street will work with this.

More bold predictions: Congress will write a million new rules to cover "tax exempt" dividends. Can a company declare a dividend when it is not reporting taxable income, due, for example, to investment tax credits or depreciation? If a company is not a taxpayer, what "double taxation" are we avoiding? How about liquidating dividends - tax exempt, thus circumventing capital gains rules? I look for hideous tax "complification" as a result of this proposal. Which is just how tax accountants, lawyers, and Wall Street likes it. Oh, man, cynicism reigns.

So, big finish - the usual suspects support the Bush proposal, with more enthusiasm then I expected.

UPDATE: Get off the WSJ Editorial page, and the WSJ is a lot more balanced.

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Accidents Will Happen

Here is a wild Tom Clancy - Steven den Beste scenario for dealing with the North Korean nuclear reactor - smart spears:

The reactor must be physically destroyed.

Blowing it up like the Israelis blew up Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in 1981 (with bombs dropped by F-16s) is obviously not the best way – far too public, releasing a media firestorm. Far better to destroy it quietly, safely, stealthily and mysteriously.

With a spear. A steel rod 40 feet long and 4 inches in diameter, fin-stabilized, with a needle-sharp tungsten-carbide tip, equipped with a small JDAM guidance package including a GPS. It is non-explosive; there is no warhead.

You've heard of smart bombs. This is a smart spear.

You take a half-dozen of these Smart Spears up in a high-altitude bomber, like a B2 or B52, and drop them over Yongbyon at 50,000 or 60,000 feet. The Smart Spears have such a big sectional density that it will be like a vacuum drop – with no wind resistance, they will be going faster than the speed of sound when they hit their target.

Going so fast and with almost no radar signature, the GPS-guided Smart Spears will punch through the Yongbyon reactor and keep right on going, burying themselves in the earth several hundred feet deep. The North Koreans won't know what happened, and all there will be is some holes in the ground – plus a melted-down reactor....

Well. The rest of the article goes beyond the fringe, but this idea is intriguing. "Google" comes up with nothing on "smart spears" for me, although I suppose a lesser man would be delighted by the many links to Britney Spears.

However, here are two articles about the GBU-28 bunker buster bomb already in the US arsenal. It uses explosives, but is probably heavier than the "Smart Spear". The GBU-28 is half as long but has three times the diameter - nine times the cross section times half the length equals roughly four times the volume for the GBU-28. Relative densities of steel and high explosives? Beats me. And might a smart spear be a steel pipe packed with spent uranium, thus allowing us the delightful irony of deactivating the reactor by dropping uranium on it? Where is Mr. Den Beste when we need him?

Anyway, if the GBU-28 is steerable despite its weight, I suppose the Smart Spear should be as well. Whether we can deliver it without attracting the attention of radar operators in North Korea, Russia, China, and South Korea seems to be problematic. Let's see:

Of the three active American heavy bombers, only the B-2A "Spirit" (or stealth bomber) is able to drop a variant of the bunker buster, called the GBU-37/B. America's other stealth aircraft--the F-117A "Night Hawk" light bomber and F-22A "Raptor" fighter--are unable to carry the GBU-28/B because of the planes' relatively short bomb bays.

If this were my fantasy, I might just take the explosives out of a GBU-37/b and let 'er rip. Obvious benefit - the rest of the system has already been tested. Whether the B-2A is stealthy enough, I have no idea. And going with the untested idea of dropping Britney Spears onto North Korea seems to introduce too many variables into the mix.

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Tuesday, January 07, 2003

I Am Fascinated By This

TAPPED sends us to this paper, with a related explanation here.

This analysis is based on Senate roll call votes:

There were 633 roll calls cast in the 107th Senate of which 498 roll calls had at least 0.5% or better in the minority and were used in the scaling.

I think the "0.5% or better in the minority" means that if the Senate unanimously wishes Aunt Edna a "Happy 101st Birthday", the vote is dropped from the analysis.

So, my question - the roll-call votes seem to include what I will guess are organizing resolutions - Senate majority leader, and so on. I infer this from the fact that Bush, Senator from USA, votes 63 times (he is ranked at 70.5). Presumably, these are straight party-line votes, and reflect a Senator's loyalty, rather than political philosophy. So, does dropping the straight party-line votes change the outcome much? The extremes presumably won't change, but there might be more mixing across the center. E-mail, ho!

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Who Do You Support, Cows Or Humans?

A fascinating guest editorial in today's WSJ by Carl Bildt, the former prime minister of Sweden. His theme is that protection of intellectual property is critical to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa and developing nations:

...There is clearly an urgent need to expand access to life saving drugs in the world's poorest nations. A waiver mechanism would facilitate the grant of compulsory licenses for export and offer poor countries the flexibility they might need to achieve this goal. But negotiators in Geneva must remember that expanding access to existing medicines is not a sustainable option. As much as 99% of essential drugs are already in the public domain in Africa. Innovation is an equally critical part of the equation.

The challenge we face today is not only to get existing therapies to patients but also to encourage a steady stream of new medicines. The fact is that development of new and better medicines will depend upon whether the international community maintains the stability of an intellectual property system that rewards the development of these medicines. Private sector risk taking and investment generated those innovative medicines that today save countless millions of lives around the world. And investment will be the key to developing a new generation of innovative AIDS treatments that work against increasingly resistant strains of the virus, or, even better, a vaccine.

Moreover, patents and other "tools" of the intellectual property system stimulate technology transfer, investment and economic growth. And, even more important in the long term, we should not forget that they spur and reward local creativity and innovation. The software industry in India achieved world-class status after improvements were made to its copyright regime. And Brazil and China have experienced vast increases in pharmaceutical sector investment following improvements to patent laws. Over time, there is no reason why Africa should be different.

Sorry, I promised something on "cows". Mr. Bildt goes on to explain his belief that economic development is the best public health prescription. European, US, and Japanese agricultural subsidies to domestic farm interests inhibit third world growth, as we have heard before. And he closes with this sound-bite:

A long-term solution will require the U.S. and EU to liberalize their markets and help developing countries onto a path of sustainable economic growth. It remains truly shameful that the EU subsidizes every cow with $2.40 every day -- which is more than three-quarters of the population of sub-Saharan Africa have to try to live on.

When you put it that way - ouch! Of course, the subsidy goes to the farmer, not the cow. Europe is not (I hope) trying to assure that these cows live in comfort and plenty - but it is still a lovely sound-bite.

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Where Are The Incentives?

Supply siders have said for years that it is not simply the magnitude of tax cuts that stimulate the economy, it is the incentive effect (or lack thereof). For example, cuts in marginal tax rates reward additional work; cuts in standard exemptions reward additional breathing. Supply siders typically prefer to reward the former, since the incentive to engage in the latter is scarcely a function of tax rates.

An example of this belief is presented in today's WSJ, excerpted as follows:

...This isn't to say that all tax cuts raise revenue, as in the liberal caricature of supply-side economics. But it does mean that some tax cuts change incentives enough so that taxpayer behavior also changes and so less revenue is "lost" to the Treasury. This is especially true of the response to cuts in marginal tax rates, as ample evidence has shown over the years.

In a June 1995 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Harvard economist Martin Feldstein followed the behavior of the same taxpayers before and after the marginal rate cuts passed in the 1986 tax reform. The taxpayers "who had the biggest taxable rate cuts had the biggest behavioral response," he says.

Estimating conservatively, Mr. Feldstein found that at least 30% to 40% of the revenue loss predicted for those tax cuts was regained as a result of changes in behavior -- that is, by taxpayers working and investing more and in more productive ways. A separate NBER study has shown that marginal rate cuts have an especially large incentive impact on second earners in a household, mainly spouses.

...An added benefit of such a move would be to show Members that when it comes to promoting growth (and thus revenue) all tax cuts aren't equal. In Joint Tax's static world, a marginal rate cut that changes incentives is no better than a one-time tax rebate that taxpayers pocket but don't build into their future work calculations. In such a world, Members will naturally support whatever tax cut happens to do best in the polls or have the most special-interest support, not the one that does the most economic good.

Fine, I'm convinced. But when I look at the proposed Bush tax package, what do I see?

According to official White House figures, the administration proposes spending $364 billion over 10 years to end dividend taxation; $64 billion to accelerate cuts in income tax rates; $58 billion to speed up the removal of the "marriage penalty;" $91 billion to hasten an increase in the child tax credit; $48 billion to accelerate the move of lower income taxpayers to the 10 percent bracket; $29 billion for adjustments in the alternative minimum tax; and $16 billion in incentives for small business purchases.

OK, the idea of eliminating the double taxation of dividends has been around forever as an improvement on the economic efficiency of the tax code. However, the idea is also out there that, at the margin, both investors and corporations have attempted to make their peace with the tax code through such mechanisms as share repurchases as a substitute for dividends. Thus, a big portion of this part of the tax cut may simply represent "found money" for the current holders of dividend paying stocks, and would have no significant supply side incentive effects.

$68 bilion to accelerate scheduled cuts in the marginal rates: good. Deferred tax rate cuts can actually encourage people to postpone income producing activity, which is not the best way to give the economy a quick boost.

$58 billion to reduce the marriage penalty: could be good for incentives, depending on the details.

$91 billion to hasten an increase in the child tax credit: I would be shocked if supply siders could make a case for this.

$48 billion to accelerate the move of lower income taxpayers to the 10 percent bracket - I have to give this a maybe - it depends on whether the 10% is the relevant top bracket for the folks in question.

$29 billion for adjustments in the alternative minimum tax, and $16 billion in incentives for small business purchases: Again, a maybe.

So, from a supply-side perspective for folks scoring at home, we have $68 billion of "good" tax cuts, most of the $364 billion associated with dividends as "not good", $91 billion for the child-care credit as "not good", and a bunch of "maybes".

Now, Karl Rove is the reigning genius in Washington. But I doubt that supply-siders will be beating the drums for this tax package. Where Rove and Bush find the Senate votes for this is a mystery to me.

UPDATE: Alan Reynolds, supply-sider, makes the case for the dividend tax cut. Perhaps it is my selective reading, but he seems to emphasize the political appeal to seniors, rather than incentive effects.

UPDATE: OK, the Gamma-man sees dividends differently. And he goes to great dinner parties.

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