Sunday, June 30, 2002
California Gov. Gray "Mussolini" Davis: Once power is given, it can be very difficult to reclaim -- and that's something that the California legislature is learning now. Today's Sacramento Bee reports that the California legislature, dominated by Democrats, is grumbling about Davis' continued energy-related "state of emergency."
Even though the Democratic governor insists that the state is still at risk of power blackouts and spiking energy costs, fellow lawmakers -- mostly Democrats -- are calling on him to end the emergency. A national taxpayers' group is threatening to sue.
They argue that Davis is upsetting the balance of power between the state's executive and legislative branches of government and is violating state law in the process.
"Emergency powers temporarily disrupt a constitutional balance of power between the governor's office and the Legislature, which is the house that more closely represents citizens," said state Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, who is the author of a resolution that would end the state of emergency.
Only the governor or the Legislature, by concurrent resolution, can end a state of emergency.
"An emergency declaration basically makes the governor the supreme dictator while it's operative," she said.
Some Republicans, including Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga, have opposed the move to end the governor's declared state of emergency.
While this is not a partisan issue, it is a power issue. Davis and his aides insist that California is still suffering from a power crisis. Therefore there is a need for him to retain the extraordinary powers granted him under the state constitution.
I'm skeptical. Enron is kaput. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is, belatedly, breathing down down every energy-producer's neck. We know how companies gamed the system, and it's something that regulators will be aware of. Power generators, facing action by the FERC and the threat of a windfall profits tax will be extremely hesitant to work over Californians again.
But the truth is, Californians will no longer believe there can be a shortage -- Davis' own propaganda, up until this point, has told us all about how he has solved the power problem by taking over power contracts, buying power, rushing through authorization of new power plants.
FERC's energy price caps run through September -- covering the hottest, most energy-demanding months. The caps provide no incentive for energy producers to fake a shortage.
So, all things considered, why does Gov. Davis want to hold onto these powers? Well, like any chief executive, it's a whole lot easier to accomplish what you want when you don't have to worry about getting permission from a pesky legislature.
Unfortunately, Davis' convenience is no reason to circumvent our democratic system.
Introduction to politics: Today's Washington Post has an editorial today on the pork-laden farm bill passed earlier this month. The Post takes Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle ($-S.D.) to task for doing what all politicians do best -- lying.
The release came from Sen. Tim Johnson, Mr. Daschle's fellow South Dakota Democrat, and it quoted the majority leader at some length. "We need to provide natural disaster assistance as soon as possible," Mr. Daschle stated. "The new farm bill sets up sound policy for the future . . . but that will not help farmers whose land is so bone-dry that their crops will not grow and their cattle cannot graze." So much for that promise to Mr. Russert that "we're getting rid of those ad hoc disaster payment approaches."
President Bush was wrong to sign the farm bill. But Congress is equally, if not more culpable. Bush would've likely signed any farm bill sent his way -- with or without all the pork. Congress, unfortunately, can't count on the president saving them from themselves.
Thursday, June 27, 2002
Surprise! The New York Times' Paul Krugman provides an excellent and concise primer on the different methods certain unsavory corporations have used to inflate their profits. [Odds that the previous statement has given Jeff Hauser a heart attack: 2 to 1. The rest of you will be reading on.]
Wall Street is in serious trouble, and you don't have to be following the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the NASDAQ index to figure it out. Worldcom was just the latest of a string of Fortune 500 companies that have fessed up to their sins. Krugman says there very well be more, and I don't necessarily disagree with him.
Worldcom wants more money to be able to stave off bankruptcy, but it has obstacles to overcome.
In order for them to get more money they would have to verify their financial statements, which they cannot do," a different banking source said.
Worldcom's troubles, and those of the other companies Krugman mentions, are cause for concern. There is a systemic problem -- and though I'm usually an optimist, I wouldn't put money on Worldcom being the last company to come out with a mea culpa.
What Krugman has been pressing for is for Congress to pass a slew of new laws to prevent the kind of accounting scandals that have exploded over the last year or so. I'm skeptical that new laws will do much good, because there were laws in place before any of this happened that were designed to prevent it. That's why Worldcom is facing a lawsuit from the SEC and its executives are being delivered congressional subpoenas.
The long rollercoaster ride on Wall Street is not over. But I have a little more faith than Krugman that before all is said and done Wall Street will work it out. Those who steal from investors will be visiting Lompoc, Calif. Accountants who can't be trusted will cease to exist (witness Arthur Andersen). The old accounting standards are no longer satisfactory, because they counted on corporate honesty. That sort of moral grounding can no longer be taken as a given.
Krugman's column is excellent, if you ignore his parenthetical attack.
(Even while loudly denouncing WorldCom, George W. Bush is trying to appoint the man who drafted the infamous "Enron exemption" — a law custom-designed to protect the company from scrutiny — to a top position with a key regulatory agency. And some congressmen seem more interested in clamping down on New York's attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, than in doing something about the corruption he has been investigating.)
I wish Krugman would name names, it would be much easier to do research and fact-checking if I didn't have to do guesswork. I don't get a name, and I don't even get the agency that this guy is supposedly appointed to. (If anyone knows who he's talking about, send me the name.) For a different look at the "Enron exemption," which wasn't specifically made for Enron -- other companies benefited too, click here.
As far as Eliot Spitzer goes, he's a Democratic version of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. According to Fortune magazine's Rob Norton:
So why does it matter if the attorney general is a highly ambitious character? Look at the weakness of the Merrill Lynch settlement. If Spitzer had really been interested in reforming Wall Street and protecting small investors, he would have brought Merrill to trial to force real institutional change, and demanded that substantial damages be paid to investors (none of the proceeds of the fine are going to them). Instead, having grabbed the headlines he sought, Spitzer let Merrill off with a slap on the wrist--a promise to try to do better in the future and a $100 million fine. (That sounds like a lot of money only until you consider that Merrill is taking in about $20 billion per year, making the fine exactly as onerous as a $750 fine for an individual making $150,000 per year. Inconvenient? Sure. Something to put the fear of God into you? Nope.)
If Krugman wants rail about the lack of meaningful government oversight of the Wall Street giants, maybe he should write a column about Spitzer.
But then, that's always been my complaint about Krugman. Krugman sees much of the world as black and white. Good and Evil. Democrat and Republican. There appears to be little room in Krugman's worldview for good Republicans, or for evil Democrats. Some of both exist. It would be nice if Krugman would recognize that fact a little more often.
Former Rep. John Kasich was sitting in for Bill O'Reilly on Fox News tonight and I was amazed to hear him utter the old saw: "I know you can't legislate morality, but we sure could use some more of it on Wall Street."
While the latter phrase is certainly correct, the former is an old, tired, lame and incorrect analysis. The criminal code is little more than legislated morality. Murder is wrong. Stealing is wrong. Fraud is wrong. Et Cetera.
Wednesday, June 26, 2002
The Ninth Circuit strikes again: The loony Ninth, based in San Francisco, has ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional endorsement of religion and cannot be recited in public schools.
Actually, if its so unconstitutional, it probably shouldn't be recited in Congress or before the Supreme Court. Look for this to be overturned by the Supreme Court (like so many other of the Ninth Circuit's rulings).
Are the courts hostile to religion? Yep. It's rulings like this that give American people the impression that they have to keep their religious beliefs to themselves -- especially in the public square. Freedom of religion means the freedom to think what you want, not to actually put your beliefs into action, or share them with anyone else. Freedom of speech means that you can say whatever you want, as long as it doesn't offend anyone or, even worse, hurt their feelings.
We are becoming a PC nation -- and that's scary.
Also in the Middle East The Palestinian Authority announced earlier this week that it had put the founder of Hamas under house arrest.
The Palestinian Authority has placed the founder and spiritual mentor of the Islamic militant group Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, under house arrest in Gaza City, a Palestinian security official says.
The move came amid redoubled Israeli and international pressure on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to crack down on militants after two suicide bombings in Jerusalem and a gun attack on a Jewish settlement left 31 Israelis dead last week.
"It was decided, starting from tonight, to impose house arrest on Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to safeguard the ultimate national interests of the Palestinian people," the official told Reuters on Sunday.
"The decision was issued from high up, from President Yasser Arafat," he said.
So, you think Arafat is getting serious, finally, about cracking down on Palestinian terrorists? Nope. Serious isn't putting an admitted murderer under house arrest. Serious is having a fair trial followed by a public execution.
Yassin is little different from a mob boss who orders his enemies executed, with one minor difference. With a mob boss, it's strictly business. With Yassin it is unbridled racist hatred.
If you want to stop terrorism -- against Americans or Israelis -- you have to kill the terrorists. Putting them under house arrest, only to lift it when public pressure eases, does little to stop suicide-murder bombings.
A dim bulb: Yasser Arafat says that President Bush wasn't talking about him when the president called for new Palestinian leadership earlier this week.
WASHINGTON – President Bush decided to call for Yasser Arafat's removal after receiving intelligence information last week showing that the Palestinian leader had authorized a $20,000 payment to a group that claimed responsibility for the most recent suicide attack in Jerusalem, senior administration officials said yesterday.
As a result of the last-minute decision, the officials said, the aggressive diplomacy that had originally been expected to follow the president's speech – including an immediate trip to the region by Secretary of State Colin Powell and a Middle East peace conference – will be delayed. Instead, officials acknowledged yesterday that they would need a new round of consultations before deciding on their next steps.
Although Arab leaders said Bush's call for Arafat's removal had caught them by surprise, most chose to ignore that emphasis in the speech. Instead, they offered constructive and cautiously supportive public comments.
Arafat said Bush certainly wasn't referring to him.
Speaking to reporters at his Ramallah headquarters, Arafat said it was incorrect to conclude Bush's speech was critical of him, saying Bush had spoken about a Palestinian state and elections. Palestinians proudly carried out democratic elections in 1996, he said, repeating "democratic" three times for emphasis.
Yeah, democratic like those in the former Soviet Union and Cuba. That may sell in Europe -- but Americans don't buy it.
Got this in my e-mail tonight:
FROM THE DESK OF PRINCE TUNJI MOHAMMED
FAX NUMBER: 234 9 2720164
WE ARE SENDING THIS LETTER TO YOU BASED ON INFORMATION GATHERED FROM THE FOREIGN TRADE OFFICE OF THE NIGERIAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY. WE BELIEVE THAT YOU WOULD BE IN A POSITION
TO HELP US IN OUR BID TO TRANSFER THE SUM OF FORTY-0NE MILLION, FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS ($18M USD) INTO A FOREIGN ACCOUNT.
WE ARE MEMBERS OF THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE FOR BUDGET AND PLANNING OF THE MINISTRY OF PETROLEUM, THIS COMMITTEE IS PRINCIPALLY CONCERNED WITH CONTRACT APPRAISALS AND APPROVAL OF CONTRACTS IN ORDER OF PRIORITIES AS REGARDS CAPITAL PROJECT OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA. WITH OUR POSITIONS, WE HAVE SUCCESSFULLY SECURED FOR OUR SELVES THE SUM OF EIGHTEEN THOUSAND UNITED STATE DOLLARS (US$41.5M). THIS AMOUNT WAS ACCUMULATED THROUGH OVER INVOICED CONTRACTS PURPOSELY DONE BY US FOR OUR OWN GAINS.
WHAT WE NEED FROM YOU IS TO PLAY THE ROLE OF EXECUTOR OF THE CONTRACT AND THEREFORE THE BENEFICIARY OF THE FUNDS, YOU WILLALSO PROVIDE A SAFE ACCOUNT WHICH THE INCIDENCE OF TAX WILL BE LOW AND WE ARE SURE TO BE ABLE SPEND THE MONEY AFTER THEN, INTO WHICH THE FUNDS WILL BE TRANSFERRED SINCE GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ARE NOT ALLOWED BY OUR LAWS TO OPERATE FOREIGN ACCOUNT. IT HAS BEEN AGREED THAT THE OWNER OF THE ACCOUNT WILL BE COMPENSATED WITH US$8.3 MILLION OF THE REMITTED FUNDS, WE KEEP US$31.125MILLION WHILE US$2.075MILLION WILL BE SET ASIDE TO OFFSET EXPENSES AND PAY THE NECESSARY TAXES.
SO IF YOU CAN PROVE YOURSELF TO BE TRUSTED AND INTERESTED IN THIS DEAL THEN WE ARE PREPARED TO DO BUSINESS WITH YOU. WHAT WE WANT FROM YOU IS THE ASSURANCE THAT YOU WILL LET US HAVE OUR SHARE WHEN THIS AMOUNT OF US$41.5M IS TRANSFERRED INTO YOUR ACCOUNT.IF THIS PROPOSAL SATISFIES YOU, PLEASE CONTACT ME STRICTLY THROUGH MY E-MAIL STATED ABOVE, MY FAX NUMBER.ABOVE SO WE CAN ADVICE YOU ON THE MODALITIES OF THE TRANSACTION. ALL MODALITIES OF THE TRANSFER HAVE BEEN WORKED OUTAND ONCE STARTED WILL NOT TAKE MORE THAN 30 WORKING DAYS WITH THE ABSOLUTE SUPPORT OF ALL CONCERNED. THIS TRANSACTION IS 100% SAFE. PLEASE TREAT AS URGENT AND VERY CONFIDENTIAL.
GOD BE WITH YOU AS I LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR REPLY.
PRINCE TUNJI MOHAMMED
And I felt privileged when Michael Barone sent me an e-mail. Now I get mail from a prince!
This is a scam, for those of you who don't know it. If you're going to throw away your money, throw it away on me -- not some prince.
(That didn't come out right.)
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Are you qualified for a copyediting job at the Washington Post? Thanks to National Review Online's "The Corner" for pointing out this little faux pas from the Post.
U.S. District Judge Dennis W. Shedd, 49, has the support of the White House and both senators from his home state as well as other prominent members of the bar there. Shedd spent 10 years on Capitol Hill as a top aide to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R), who nominated Shedd to the appeals court last May.
You'd think that copyeditors there would realize, even if the reporter does not, that the president nominates federal judges, not senators.
Well, it was a nice few days off. Got really busy with real life. But come Tuesday, we get Paul Krugman's latest analysis of the current political climate.
As we have come to suspect, it is partisan to the point of being littered with falsehoods, half-truths and unfair coloring of the events. The particulars:
[Y]ou can say this about the Bush administration: where others might see problems, it sees opportunities.
This is the only positive thing Krugman has to say about the president -- and he's being facetious.
A slump in the economy was an opportunity to push a tax cut that provided very little stimulus in the short run, but will place huge demands on the budget in 2010. An electricity shortage in California was an opportunity to push for drilling in Alaska, which would have produced no electricity and hardly any oil until 2013 or so. An attack by lightly armed terrorist infiltrators was an opportunity to push for lots of heavy weapons and a missile defense system, just in case Al Qaeda makes a frontal assault with tank divisions or fires an ICBM next time.
Bush had been pushing for a tax cut long before most economists knew the economy was going in the tank. The logic then was that if the money wasn't sent back to taxpayers in the form of a tax cut, then it would be spent in the Capitol. Bush was half-right. He sent the money out of town and the panderers in the Congress (both houses) spent the money anyway. [See Farm Bill, anything with Sen. Robert Byrd's ($-W.Va.) name on it.] The tax cut may put "huge demands on the budget in 2010," but we really can't be sure. Why? Because it's 8 years away. Rewind two years and there were surpluses "as far as the eye can see." This just in: the eye can't see very far.
Bush was pushing for oil drilling in Alaska before the California electricity crisis. Krugman's right about it not producing any electricity -- but it's part of a long term plan to reduce energy dependence on Arab oil. While Krugman can argue about the relative benefits of oil exploration vs. conservation, the ANWR oil would lessen our dependence on those foreign sources.
Bush was trying to get the U.S. out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty long before Sept. 11. As for a push for lots of heavy weapons -- they cancelled the Army's Crusader program. I got sick of the: "A ballistic missile defense system wouldn't have prevented Sept. 11" argument a long time ago. A lot of things wouldn't have prevented Sept. 11, including: Tanks, Cargo planes, LCACs, Infantrymen, Bradley fighting vehicles, TOW anti-tank missiles. Is Krugman really suggesting that we base our national defense need only on what al Qaeda might do? A lot more people in this world hate us -- and we have to defend against them too.
President George H. W. Bush once confessed that he was somewhat lacking in the "vision thing." His son's advisers don't have that problem: they have a powerful vision for America's future. In that future, we have recently learned, the occupant of the White House will have the right to imprison indefinitely anyone he chooses, including U.S. citizens, without any judicial process or review. But they are rather less interested in the reality thing.
While the recent imprisonment of Jose Padilla, aka Abdullah Al Muhajir, as an enemy combatant is cause for concern -- there will be some judicial review. I would remind Mr. Krugman that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. If Padilla means to kill thousands of people, and has had contact with al Qaeda, then they should hold on to him. If they release him and he's part of another Sept. 11-type attack, will Krugman forgive the administration? I'll start being worried when Krugman is jailed as an enemy combatant.
For the distinctive feature of all the programs the administration has pushed in response to real problems is that they do little or nothing to address those problems. Problems are there to be used to pursue the vision. And a problem that won't serve that purpose, whether it's the collapse of confidence in corporate governance or the chaos in the Middle East, is treated as an annoyance to be ignored if possible, or at best addressed with purely cosmetic measures. Clearly, George W. Bush's people believe that real-world problems will solve themselves, or at least won't make the evening news, because by pure coincidence they will be pre-empted by terror alerts.
Very cynical. Did Clinton do the same thing when he was lobbing cruise missiles at pharmaceutical plants to divert attention from his attentions to interns? Clinton's actions then are certainly more suspect then Bush's actions now. Time will judge Bush, Krugman may be right, but he sounds like he recently got his membership card from the "black helicopter" club.
But real problems, if not dealt with, have a way of festering. In the last few weeks, a whole series of problems seem to have come to a head. Yesterday's speech notwithstanding, Middle East policy is obviously adrift. The dollar and the stock market are plunging, threatening an already shaky economic recovery. Amtrak has been pushed to the edge of shutdown, because it couldn't get the administration's attention. And the federal government itself is about to run out of money, because House Republicans are unwilling to face reality and increase the federal debt limit. (This avoidance thing seems to be contagious.)
Mideast policy is adrift because the Mideast is a war zone. What is Krugman's solution. Help us out here. What should he be doing? As far as the stock market goes, what should the president do? Raise taxes? I'm sure that would help. Amtrak has been pushed to the "edge of shutdown" because it was supposed to be profitable years ago -- and it's not. Every Amtrak rider is heavily subsidized -- does Krugman really want us to throw more money down that rathole? Is that the kind of advice that Krugman the economist would give investors? Rep. Denny Hastert was on "Meet the Press" Sunday and said that they would be passing a bill to raise the debt limit as soon as possible. Is Krugman sure that Democrats aren't just a little bit to blame either?
From the Associated Press:
But facing nearly unanimous Democratic opposition, House GOP leaders say they lack the votes to increase the ceiling. Democrats blame the need to raise the limit, the first increase in five years, on President Bush's 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut and say they will not bail out the GOP.
Who's playing the partisan games at the expense of the country? A few House Republicans and a whole bunch of Democrats.
So now would be a good time to do what the White House always urges its critics to do — put partisanship aside. Will Mr. Bush be willing to set aside, even for a day or two, his drive to consolidate his political base, and actually do something that wasn't part of his preconceived agenda? Oh, never mind.
There seem to be preconceived agendas floating around all over the place. Bush has it. Krugman has it. Could you, dear reader, be next?
I think that most commentators missed the point of the story about Mr. Bush's commencement speech at Ohio State, the one his aide said drew on the thinking of Emily Dickinson, Pope John Paul II, Aristotle and Cicero, among others. Of course the aide's remarks were silly — but they gave us an indication of the level of sycophancy that Mr. Bush apparently believes to be his due. Next thing you know we'll be told that Mr. Bush is also a master calligrapher, and routinely swims across the Yangtze River. And nobody will dare laugh: just before Mr. Bush gave his actual, Aristotle-free speech, students at Ohio State were threatened with expulsion and arrest if they heckled him.
And this proves that Bush is a bad man? Maybe it just proves that there are stupid people everywhere?
It's interesting to note that the planned Department of Homeland Security, while of dubious effectiveness in its announced purpose, will be protected against future Colleen Rowleys: the new department will be exempted from both whistle-blower protection and the Freedom of Information Act.
Well, it's still early when it comes to that legislation. Plenty of time for changes. Maybe Krugman's next column should be taking up that crusade.
But back to the festering problems: on the economic side, this is starting to look like the most dangerous patch for the nation and the world since the summer of 1998. Back then, luckily, our economic policy was run by smart people who were prepared to learn from their mistakes. Can you say the same about this administration?
As I've noted before, the Bush administration has an infallibility complex: it never, ever, admits making a mistake. And that kind of arrogance tends, eventually, to bring disaster. You can read all about it in Aristotle.
So, if one disagrees with Paul Krugman you're stupid. Well, that claim has been addressed before.
I think most administrations have an infallibility complex -- at least for their term of office. I don't remember Clinton saying that the "gays in the military" fiasco was a mistake. And if arrogance leads to disaster, what does that say about Krugman's lily-white hero, former President Clinton?
Thursday, June 20, 2002
Too dumb to die: The Supreme Court ruled today that mentally retarded people cannot be executed for murder. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, said that because mentally retarded individuals don't have the mental faculties to be deterred from committing murder by the death penalty -- that the states don't have a valid interest in executing them. You can read the entire opinion here [Adobe Acrobat Reader required], but I would like to highlight some excerpts from Justice Antonin Scalia's dissenting opinion.
Today’s decision is the pinnacle of our Eighth Amendment death-is-different jurisprudence. Not only does it, like all of that jurisprudence, find no support in the text or history of the Eighth Amendment; it does not even have support in current social attitudes regarding the conditions that render an otherwise just death penalty inappropriate. Seldom has an opinion of this Court rested so obviously upon nothing but the personal views of its members.
The Court pays lipservice to these precedents as it miraculously extracts a “national consensus” forbidding execution of the mentally retarded, ante, at 12, from the fact that 18 States—less than half (47%) of the 38 States that permit capital punishment (for whom the issue exists)—have very recently enacted legislation barring exe-cution of the mentally retarded.
The Court attempts to bolster its embarrassingly feeble evidence of “consensus” with the following: “It is not so much the number of these States that is significant, but the consistency of the direction of change.” Ante, at 10 (emphasis added). But in what other direction could we possibly see change? Given that 14 years ago all the death penalty statutes included the mentally retarded, any change (except precipitate undoing of what had just been done) was bound to be in the one direction the Court finds significant enough to overcome the lack of real consensus. That is to say, to be accurate the Court’s “consistency-of-the-direction-of-change” point should be recast into the following unimpressive observation: “No State has yet undone its exemption of the mentally retarded, one for as long as 14 whole years.”
But the Prize for the Court’s Most Feeble Effort to fabricate “national consensus” must go to its appeal (deservedly relegated to a footnote) to the views of assorted professional and religious organizations, members of the so-called “world community,” and respondents to opinion polls. Ante, at 11–12, n. 21. I agree with the CHIEF JUS-
TICE, ante, at 4–8 (dissenting opinion), that the views of professional and religious organizations and the results of opinion polls are irrelevant. Equally irrelevant are the
practices of the “world community,” whose notions of justice are (thankfully) not always those of our people.
Retribution is not advanced, the argument goes, because the mentally retarded are no more culpable than the average murderer, whom we have already held lacks sufficient culpability to warrant the death penalty, see Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U. S. 420, 433 (1980) (plurality opinion). Ante, at 14–15. Who says so? Is there an established correlation between mental acuity and the ability to conform one’s conduct to the law in such a rudimentary matter as murder? Are the mentally retarded really more disposed (and hence more likely) to commit willfully cruel and serious crime than others? In my experience, the opposite is true: being childlike generally suggests innocence rather than brutality.
Assuming, however, that there is a direct connection between diminished intelligence and the inability to refrain from murder, what scientific analysis can possibly show that a mildly retarded individual who commits an exquisite torture-killing is “no more culpable” than the “average” murderer in a holdup-gone-wrong or a domestic dispute? Or a moderately retarded individual who com-mits a series of 20 exquisite torture-killings? Surely culpability, and deservedness of the most severe retribution, depends not merely (if at all) upon the mental capacity of the criminal (above the level where he is able to distin-guish right from wrong) but also upon the depravity of the crime—which is precisely why this sort of question has traditionally been thought answerable not by a categorical rule of the sort the Court today imposes upon all trials, but rather by the sentencer’s weighing of the circumstances (both degree of retardation and depravity of crime) in the particular case. The fact that juries continue to sentence mentally retarded offenders to death for extreme crimes shows that society’s moral outrage sometimes demands execution of retarded offenders.
This newest invention promises to be more effective than any of the others in turning the process of capital trial into a game. One need only read the definitions of mental retardation adopted by the American Association of Mental Retardation and the American Psychiatric Association (set forth in the Court’s opinion, ante, at 2–3,
n. 3) to realize that the symptoms of this condition can readily be feigned. And whereas the capital defendant who feigns insanity risks commitment to a mental institution until he can be cured (and then tried and executed), Jones v. United States, 463 U. S. 354, 370, and n. 20 (1983), the capital defendant who feigns mental retardation risks nothing at all.
Today's Supreme Court decision is nothing more than legislating from the bench. Whether or not a mentally retarded murderer should be sentenced to death should have been left to judges and juries. It should have depended on the particulars of each case, and not a blanket free pass to the mentally retarded.
Just to recount, from Justice Scalia's dissent, the particulars of this particular case that was the subject of the today's decison:
After spending the day drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, petitioner Daryl Renard Atkins and a partner in crime drove to a convenience store, intending to rob a customer. Their victim was Eric Nesbitt, an airman from Langley Air Force Base, whom they abducted, drove to a nearby automated teller machine, and forced to withdraw $200. They then drove him to a deserted area, ignoring his pleas to leave him unharmed. According to the co-conspirator, whose testimony the jury evidently credited, Atkins ordered Nesbitt out of the vehicle and, after he had taken only a few steps, shot him one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight times in the thorax, chest, abdomen, arms, and legs.
The jury also heard testimony about petitioner’s 16 prior felony convictions for robbery, attempted robbery, abduction, use of a firearm, and maiming. Id., at 491–522. The victims of these offenses provided graphic depictions of petitioner’s violent tendencies: He hit one over the head with a beer bottle, id., at 406; he slapped a gun across another victim’s face, clubbed her in the head with it, knocked her to the ground, and then helped her up, only to shoot her in the stomach, id., at 411–413.
This guy deserves to be executed. The Supreme Court did wrong again today.
Krugman again: I know you've come to expect it. His column is here. It's another diatribe about the horrible idea of letting people invest a portion of their social security in private accounts. I won't deny that there are some problems with private accounts, and an infusion of cash would be needed to move younger people, like myself, into private accounts, while still providing people now on social security with their benefits.
Instead of retyping the whole thing, check out this post from March. It addresses the same issues.
Krugman does make one new claim that I would like to address briefly.
For example, the mystery money infusions that the commission assumes will somehow be forthcoming are almost enough to preserve Social Security exactly as it is, with no benefit cuts, forever.
This is a lie. Plain and simple. You don't even need to know anything about economics to realize it. When Social Security was created there were approximately 12 workers supporting each retiree. By the time the baby boomers retire, there will be approximately 3 workers supporting each retiree. Based on simple demographics, Social Security cannot continue as it has in the past. People are having fewer kids, meaning fewer people contributing to Social Security later on. Social Security is little more than a government-sponsored Ponzi scheme. It requires more and more workers coming in at the bottom to support the retirees at the top.
That infusion of cash that's coming in to save Social Security can really only come from one source -- higher taxes. Maybe this week we can save Social Security, forever, by reinstituting the estate tax and repealing the Bush tax cut? I wonder why Krugman didn't think of that.
Is it life? Or is it a video game? That's what I thought when I first saw James Goldsborough's column in today's San Diego Union-Tribune. See, when I went to bed last night, I lived in a form of democracy, a constitutional republic. But, when I woke up this morning I found out that I live in a dictatorship run by George W. Bush. Just like the highly popular simulation "Civilization," apparently, with the click of a button, we changed overnight.
The Bush doctrine, which he announced at a Republican fund-raiser last weekend, is that the United States will take "pre-emptive" action against states and groups that could pose a threat to us.
This is the first example in history of a democratic nation conferring on itself the right to attack those nations it may perceive itself to be threatened by. Tyrannies often have done such things, but that is what makes them tyrannies.
Goldsborough is exaggerating -- the mark of a good columnist. But to liken the "Bush doctrine" to an emerging form of despotism is silly.
Goldsborough's grasp of history is also less than whole. Last I checked, Israel was a democracy and on June 7, 1981, it pre-emptively attacked Iraq, destroying a nuclear power plant -- an act we should probably thank them for -- because 10 years later we weren't facing nukes as we went in to liberate Kuwait.
As the National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg pointed out today, there are plenty of people who perceive every molehill to be a mountain -- Goldsborough is my Exhibit A. Goldberg writes:
Some people spend their whole lives seeing molehills as mountains. And, among this group, there are people living perfectly happy and normal lives who for some reason also believe that we are a hair's-breadth from tyranny. From across the ideological spectrum, these folks imbue comparatively tiny events with profound ideological and historical import. And sometimes they seize on important events, and magnify these to the point of near-biblical prophecy.
Is Goldsborough a sufferer? I think so.
To keep from looking irrational, Bush needed a rationale for his Iraq obsession, and he has found one: "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long," is how he explains the principle underlying his doctrine. He has dressed up the rationale of a few weeks ago, when he told a group simply, "I made my mind up that Saddam needs to go."
Actually, Bush just says this to give those Americans with short attention spans something to ponder. If we remember back to the cease-fire that ended the Gulf War, a few things were required of Saddam -- most notably that he give up all weapons of mass destruction, and allow international inspectors to verify the fact. Weapons inspectors were expelled from Iraq several years ago -- a violation of the cease fire. We don't need any other rationale to introduce Saddam to Allah.
To give the attack on Iraq a modicum of respectability, the administration has worked hard to find a link between Iraq and Sept. 11. Unfortunately, it has been forced to admit that there is "no smoking gun," as Secretary of State Colin Powell put it, and "no evidence" of a link, in the words of CIA Director George Tenet.
I'm not really sure why the administration has been issuing these denials, but I suspect politics is the answer. You don't really want that information out there in the media every day if you're not ready to act on it. If Bush, and Rumsfeld and Powell were to all confirm it, there would be clamors for action against Saddam now, and I don't think they're ready for that yet.
Besides, it appears as though Goldsborough's information may be incorrect. Despite whatever administration sources say, the meeting between hijacker/mass-murderer Mohamed Atta and the Iraqi intelligence agent did happen.
"Pre-emptive" warfare is a risky concept because it puts you in the business of causing a conflict that otherwise might not occur. A nation like North Korea has no leverage save bluster, but bluster is a long way from action. During the Cold War, Moscow and China were constantly blustering, but were deterred from action by the risks of U.S. retaliation.
Why would not North Korea or Iraq be deterred as well?
While I will concede that pre-emptive warfare is a risky concept, I don't think that we should disavow it solely for that reason. Why would North Korea and Iraq be different? Well, maybe because of the new possibility of unconventional forms of warfare, i.e. terrorism. If done well, you create, at best a tenuous link with your regime. Such a weak link would give plenty of ammunition for peaceniks and the wimps at the UN to decry any action taken against you.
The Bush doctrine shows no understanding of the causes of quarrels. In the Middle East, a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue would do far more for U.S. security than the overthrow of Saddaam (sic) Hussein. Yet Bush's Mideast policy is a wasteland.
Sometimes causes are irrelevant. Would a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue really increase our security? The Sept. 11 terrorists were mainly Saudis, not Palestinians. The mastermind behind the attacks, Osama bin Laden, has had little interest in the issue. His main priority was the removal of American troops from Saudi Arabia. How a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue would affect needing troops in Saudi Arabia escapes me. However, having Saddam out of power would certainly obviate the need to have so many troops in Saudi Arabia. No threat against the flow of oil, no need for the troops.
Sometimes it's good that the government doesn't listen to the pundits.
Wednesday, June 19, 2002
Alert the FBI: I often like to check up and see what brought people to my site. Sitemeter does an awfully good job of that for a good price -- free. A vast majority of people come here from either bookmarks or Instapundit.
But, by far the most interesting source of visitors often comes from the search engines.
I had a visitor today (Jun 19 2002 10:17:15 am EDT) from the Broward County, Fla., library who was using google with the following search terms: "organizing terrorist cells."
My Web site came up second on the list (of two items). I would also like to note that there is no information anywhere on my site that would give direction on how to organize a terrorist cell (and neither did the other site that pops up using these search terms). Unfortunately this would-be terrorist would have only found reference to stem cell research and terrorism.
To refresh your memory, several of the terrorists spent time down in Florida -- and were reportedly using public library computers. The FBI might want to head down to Florida and do a little more checking -- I don't think they've detained all of the people who need to be detained.
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
Well, Cox Communications came out to look at the cable going into my new place. After approximately 1 1/2 hours of checking connections the problem is apparently high up on a pole. It's actually working right now, but it's very spotty. That may affect my posting. Very frustrating.
It appears that I was misled on the previous item due to poor reporting. (*Takes the editor and reporter of the piece out back and beats them.*)
Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds got the following e-mail earlier today:
Dr. Steve White of the University of Chicago sent this:
The researchers collected thymic stem cells from mice, not humans (the clonal populations were collected from 15.5 day old mouse embryos). The exact populations were R1 (CD45.MHC class II.MTS24-) and R2 (CD45.MHC class II.MTS24+) cells. These cells were separated from other cells by flow cytometry and then engrafted into mouse kidneys. Embryonic cells at 15.5 days old (mid gestation for a mouse) were used as it was felt that this represented a point at which thymus cells (technically, thymic epithelial cells) had differentiated into two component types for the developing thymus gland.
This is a remarkable study and deserved publication in Nature Immunology. But these were mouse cells, not human cells, and came from an embryo, not an adult. Hope this clarifies it for you.
Dr. White was kind enough to send me the PDF of the Nature article, and he's right -- it says rather clearly in the methodology section that mouse cells, not human cells, were involved.
So, Dr. White has cleared up the particulars of this experiment, but I stand by my contention that this is better news for cloning opponents than it is for cloning supporters.
Note that scientists got these cells from a mouse at "mid-gestation" -- 15 1/2 days for a mouse. Translate that to a similar level of embryonic development in humans and you get 4 1/2 months. I know of no reasonable person who would support destroying human embryos at that stage of development in order to harvest stem cells. If that is the level of fetal development that is required to get usable cells, we can just halt the debate right now -- it's not going to happen.
The other thing about Dr. White's explanation that is notable is "this represented a point at which thymus cells . . . had differentiated into two component types for the developing thymus gland." Note that the cells that were harvested were no longer undifferentiated (or raw) stem cells that embryonic stem cell researchers claim are so beneficial. Instead, while still embryonic stem cells, they appear to be much more similar to the developed adult stem cells about which there is no controversy.
Monday, June 17, 2002
I dropped a note earlier Monday to Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds regarding a post he had made about the human cloning and a recent scientific breakthrough. Scientists in Australia have grown a functioning thymus from stem cells. Glenn referred to this development as a setback for anti-cloning forces (of which I am a member -- I guess -- I didn't get an ID card or secret decoder ring or anything else).
I wrote him the following:
Glenn, I might be mistaken, but I think you've got this development wrong, at least as it relates to the cloning debate.
To quote from the article you linked to:
The Monash scientists put thymus stem cells into the kidney cavity of a mouse.
"To see the thymus grow, complete and working, was exciting," Professor Boyd said.
Note it says "thymus stem cells" this would indicate to me that these were taken from a developed organ. Otherwise the reference would likely be to "embryonic stem cells" which are undifferentiated.
Also, according to the theory, if embryonic stem cells were injected into the kidney, they should have turned into kidney cells -- not thymus.
I'll admit I don't know all there is to know about the science -- but it appears to me that this report is fodder for the anti-cloning debate -- another scientific success for adult stem cell research -- which doesn't require the destruction of any human embryos.
Well, as far as I'm concerned that's actually better news if it's true. I'm more interested in the treatments than in how they're arrived at, and success with adult stem cells shortcircuits a lot of potential political opposition. And he's right -- I assumed the story was about fetal cells, but it doesn't actually say that.
I must say that I'm glad that Glenn feels this way -- and I wish that there were more people out there like him. I've written before that while embryonic stem cells are all the rage because of the testimony of celebrities like Michael J. Fox and Mort Kondracke, there isn't much there to be excited about. While adult stem cell research has made some amazing strides and has some solid achievements, embryonic stem cell research has been a failure.
Scientists have said that the power of embryonic stem cells is that they can turn into anything -- and that's been the major problem with them. Injected into humans, they do turn into anything, and everything -- causing tumors that can be fatal.
It's a few months old -- and due for an update -- but Michael Fumento over at National Review Online outlined some of the successes of adult stem cell research.
We should be spending our research dollars where it will do the most good for humanity -- thus far that money has been far better spent on adult stem cell research.
California governor's race: It looks like Gov. Gray Davis made another boneheaded decision that will end up costing California taxpayers more money -- and possibly deepen the state's budget woes, according to a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The legal bills continue to pile up as Gov. Gray Davis tries to extricate himself from an embarrassing quagmire of his own making.
Davis is counting on a state appeals court to spare taxpayers from an $88.5 million award to attorneys who helped secure smog-fee refunds of $300 plus interest for more than 1 million motorists.
The state has paid outside counsel more than $500,000 to contest an arbitration panel's decision in favor of the attorneys, who include representatives of some of San Diego's most prominent law firms.
Why is this such a big snafu? Because the lawyers who are set to get $88.5 million in fees had agreed three years ago to accept just $18 million. Davis, not wanting to shell out that much offered to submit to binding arbitration and a three-person panel decided on the higher figure.
Davis' problem was that there were no ground rules going into arbitration.
(San Diego attorney Bill) Lerach said in his declaration that "we agreed there would be no floor and no ceiling." The three-member arbitration panel, chaired by retired state Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Lucas, unanimously ruled that the law firms were entitled to 13.3 percent of the $665 million set aside by lawmakers.
Why would Davis make this "no floor-no ceiling" concession going in? According to the article: "The San Diego firm and one of its partners, Bill Lerach, have been generous campaign donors to Davis and other Democrats."
If GOP-challenger Bill Simon loses to Gray Davis in November, he has only himself to blame. Davis has given Simon plenty of rope -- he just has to use it.
Drugs for old-fogies: Adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare has been a topic of debate since the 2000 election. Both parties, in order to pander to the vast majority of senior citizens who vote, have said they're for it.
The Democrats have a plan.
The Republicans have a plan.
The Republican plan is cheaper.
The Democratic plan is better.
At least, that's the analysis from the New York Times' most "enlightened" columnist, Paul Krugman. But Krugman isn't really too concerned about the prescription drug coverage debate. What he is concerned about is taxes.
My wish is this: That Krugman would go on Crossfire and answer the Bob Novak question(tm). (For the record, the question is: Do you believe Americans are overtaxed or undertaxed?)
I suspect Krugman's answer would be "undertaxed," but someday I'd like him on the record anyway.
In Tuesday's piece, Krugman proposes reinstating the estate tax and rolling back the big Bush tax cut (again) to pay for the Democrats' prescription drug plan.
The Senate Democratic plan would cost about $500 billion over the next decade; if we could afford that $1.35 trillion tax cut, we can afford prescription drug coverage — and if we can't afford both, why not reconsider some of the tax cut? Just by canceling future cuts for the top income tax bracket, and retaining current taxes on estates over $3 million, Congress could save enough revenue to pay for the Senate Democrats' plan — and adversely affect only a handful of very affluent families.
Of course, it's a good thing we don't have Krugman in Congress, because just last month he spent the same money on increased aid to Africa. I hate to presume, but Krugman really needs to brush up on the whole opportunity costs principle.
To be honest, when it comes to this issue I couldn't care less. Krugman says that despite the fact that both parties say that they want to provide prescription drug coverage, when the dust settles seniors will get nothing.
Oh, well. I know, I'm a heartless bastard. But would someone answer me this: Why haven't I seen any stories about some little old lady dying because she couldn't afford drugs that would keep her alive? I know that we're not supposed to suggest this, but where are the private charities? Isn't this a need that they could provide for? I don't know this for a fact, but I suspect that the reason we haven't seen a "60 Minutes" or Times piece on some poor little old lady who died because she couldn't afford her pills is because some charity does step in before it gets that far.
I suspect that the seniors yelling loudest for prescription drug coverage are the ones who are outraged that they won't be able to spend 6 months a year on the road in their 60-foot recreational vehicle and afford their medicine.
How is this for a possible solution/middle ground -- I can go for the Democrats' plan (actually there are two versions, one from House Democrats, one from Senate Democrats) with one caveat -- means testing for Medicare. Krugman's always so keen to stick it to the rich, why don't we have means testing for Social Security and Medicare? Seriously, why should I be funding Ken Lay's retirement? Or Ted Turner's?
But I do have to give Krugman credit, he does have at least one good line in his column:
Why should we have prescription drug insurance in the first place? One answer is that the voters want it.
If that's all it takes to get the heels in Congress moving, that the voters "want" something, then I have some proposals:
1.) Two girls for every boy.
2.) Money for nothing (and your chicks for free).
3.) Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam and spam.
4.) Subsidized vacations to Hawaii for everyone with the last name of "Hoy."
Well, I'm back to blogging...but on a 56k modem. After getting my cable modem hooked up again last Friday I've had nothing but trouble with it. Tonight I got the word that my problems are being caused by a weak signal -- they'll be out tomorrow to fix it. In the meantime, my Web surfing is curtailed and everything else is just a pain.
Once you've experienced the speed of broadband, you never want to go back to a phone line.
Sunday, June 16, 2002
Our friends the Mexicans: The San Diego Union-Tribune has a front page story today on evidence that the Mexican military may be hiring itself out as protection for drug smugglers.
But retired Border Patrol agent Ron Sanders faces no such constraint. The former head of the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, which covers 281 miles of Arizona's 350-mile stretch of the Mexican border, spoke openly of his distrust of the Mexican army.
Before retiring in 1999 he received intelligence reports "on a routine basis" that tied the army to drug trafficking, he said.
"The intelligence reports clearly stated that the military was taking drugs from drug traffickers, destroying only part of it and then reselling it to the cartels in the Douglas and Nogales areas," he said, referring to two Arizona border towns.
"They seemed always to be in the area when the drugs were coming north and they seldom seemed to be keeping drugs out," Sanders said.
This is really no surprise to anyone who lives along the U.S.-Mexico border. Reports of corruption in the Mexican government are a dime a dozen. Mexico-watchers hoped that with the election of President Vicente Fox there would be a crackdown on the decades-old practice of looking the other way. Fox may be trying, but there is little evidence that he's making inroads.
Just a couple of months ago, Mexican federal agents arrested more than 40 Tijuana police -- including the chief. Just a week later, many of them had been released.
Did they get the wrong guys the first time? Or is it indicative of an inability to deal with an entrenched thugocracy?
Whatever it is, Bush needs to talk with his good friend Fox about making sure that Border Patrol agents don't have to worry about Mexican military drug protectors in addition to terrorist infiltrators.
Friday, June 14, 2002
I'm back online. Just got the new cable modem installed, but regular posting will not really occur until Sunday.
One short note before I go: somebody needs to pay their bills.
Tuesday, June 11, 2002
A few final thoughts on Krugman: I say final in that I won't be online to critique him on Friday. The computer I'm working on now is the next thing to be disassembled for travel to my new home. If Krugman is particularly distasteful, I might post something Saturday or Sunday, but no guarantees.
First point: Krugman again took Bush to task for his anti-free trade policies. Bush should be taken to task for the protectionist measures that he has instituted. Krugman's problem again is one that I strove to emphasize last time Krugman wrote on the issue -- everybody does it.
Over at National Review Online's "The Corner" Ramesh Ponnuru (exactly how do you pronounce that?) had an apropos observation:
But his habit of always believing the worst about Bush and the best about Clinton ruins the piece. Thus, Clinton is presented as a simon-pure free trader whose "scrupulousness continued to the end." No mention that the Seattle trade talks collapsed because Clinton wouldn't put our anti-dumping protectionism (among other things) on the table. No mention of the tariff requests to which Clinton acceded. At the end of the column, Krugman suggests that Bush's opportunism might lead to another Smoot-Hawley. That's just neo-liberal hysteria.
Second point: I don't think Krugman's handle on politics is very good. Krugman claims that with a little pandering, Clinton could have given Gore the election:
If Bill Clinton had given the steel industry the tariffs it wanted, Al Gore would probably be living in the White House. But administration officials actually worried about the consequences — for the nation, and for the world economy — of giving in to special interests.
The top-5 steel producing states are: Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Of those five states, Gore won three (Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania). Bush won Indiana by more than 50 percent (Nader's candidacy had little effect there.) But Ohio Bush won, but not by a majority.
So, is steel why Gore lost Ohio's 21 electoral votes, enough to give him victory? Well, not according to Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn.
You want an explanation of why he lost Ohio by four points and New Hampshire by one? Try the WTI hazardous-waste incinerator (world's largest) in East Liverpool, Ohio. Gore promised voters in 1992 that a Democratic administration would kill it. It was a double lie. First, Carol Browner's EPA almost immediately gave the incinerator a permit. When confronted on his broken pledge, Gore said the decision had been pre-empted by the outgoing Bush crowd. This too was a lie, as voters in Ohio discovered a week before Election 2000.
William Reilly, Bush's EPA chief, finally testified this fall that Gore's environmental aide Katie McGinty told him in the 1992 transition period that "it was the wishes of the new incoming administration to get the trial-burn permit granted. The Vice President-elect would be grateful if I simply made that decision before leaving office."
Don't think this was a picayune issue with no larger consequences. Citizens of East Liverpool, notably Terry Swearingen, have been campaigning across the country on this scandal for years, haunting Gore. So too, to its credit, has Greenpeace. They were particularly active in the Northeast, during Gore's primary battles with Bill Bradley. You can certainly argue that the last-minute disclosure of Gore's WTI lies prompted enough Greens to stay firm and cost him New Hampshire, a state which, with Oregon, would have given Gore the necessary 270 votes.
And don't think these are conservatives critiquing Gore. Cockburn is a columnist for The Nation.
A final note on Krugman: I pointed this out last month, but Krugman's claim that the Clinton-Gore administration "actually worried about the consequences — for the nation, and for the world economy — of giving in to special interests." Well, they did give in to special interests. Witness the unlawful refusal to follow NAFTA and allow Mexican trucks free access to the United States.
One of Krugman's acolytes, Jeff Hauser, has referred to him as a "future Nobel prize winner." I won't say that that won't happen, after all, they gave the Peace Prize to Yasser Arafat.
Monday, June 10, 2002
OK, so I took a break from packing to check out Krugman's latest. There's so much wrong with it that I really don't have the time dissect it thoroughly -- but one thing that just caused my jaw to drop.
[S]ome months ago an academic colleague — a man with strong Democratic connections — urged me to write a couple of columns praising the Bush administration. "What should I praise?" I asked.
There was a long pause — funny, isn't it, how "balance" becomes a goal in itself? — but eventually he came up with something: "How about its commitment to free trade?"
Paul, I don't think anyone's asking you to be balanced. I think we'd just like you to be somewhat fair on occasion. If the New York Times ever decides to give you the heave-ho, then just submit your columns to the Democratic National Committee. I'm sure Terry McAuliffe can give you a job.
Sunday, June 09, 2002
Posting notice: My move is fast approaching. Posts slowed last week, and will practically disappear this coming week. My apologies.
For those of you looking for your twice-weekly Krugman fix check out the Minuteman.
I will return next weekend.
In the meantime, GO USA soccer!
Thursday, June 06, 2002
I'd stop if he'd stop: Paul "$50,000 Enron man" Krugman that is.
Apparently the world would be a much better place if we had no power plants, signed the Kyoto global warming treaty, and simply ignored that Sept. 11 ever happened.
I know what you're thinking: I'm exaggerating. Yes, but Krugman is too.
Krugman's latest column is just another recitation of a litany of liberal complaints about the Bush administration -- with little insight, evidence or new information.
You've got to parse Krugman very carefully, because what he says is accurate. As far as it goes.
[A]s Senate investigators examine evidence on the administration's Enron contacts, the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, has already delivered the verdict: Everything's fine, because officials did nothing to help Enron as it was collapsing.
I believe him. I also believe that the administration played no role in the death of Elvis Presley, an equally relevant assertion.
Wow. Thanks, that's really a generous concession. Hey everybody! Republicans didn't kill Elvis! Just thought you'd like to know.
Mr. Gonzales is pulling the same trick on energy policy that Dick Cheney has pulled on antiterrorist policy: Respond to real, serious questions about the administration's actions by self-righteously denying charges that nobody is actually making. Nobody has accused the White House of helping Enron when it was down, just as no Democratic leader has accused the administration of deliberately allowing Sept. 11 to happen.
From the evidence is known to exist, no one in the Bush administration did anything to help prop up Enron as it teetered on the edge of bankruptcy -- despite a phone call from former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin urging action.
Also note Krugman's assertion that no "Democratic leader has accused the administration of deliberately allowing Sept. 11 to happen." Well, leaders haven't, but Rep. Cynthia McKinney (Nutcase-Ga.) has. The administration can afford to ignore late-night radio talk show hosts with their conspiracy theories, but it can't choose to ignore the wacko claims of elected representatives of several hundred thousand people. McKinney's allegations were widely-reported in the mainstream media -- they had to be addressed.
The real questions in both cases are whether the administration failed to act against real threats because it was preoccupied with a preconceived agenda; why officials who manifestly got it wrong have not been held accountable; and whether, because nobody has been held accountable, the administration is continuing to make the same mistakes.
The only one around with a preconceived agenda is Krugman. His Times editorial page colleague, Nicholas Kristof, identified one of the major problems facing the FBI earlier this week when he identified liberals' aversion to any type of profiling.
Which officials "manifestly got it wrong" and "have not been held accountable" on Enron? Was not helping prop up Enron a mistake? (Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and others think it was.) Held accountable? For what? What crime or wrong was committed?
I know that I'm about to get a barrage of mail saying that energy policy and terrorism are not comparable; but bear with me for a minute.
He's right on this one. And his plea won't stem the flow.
In the case of energy policy, the administration still won't release information about Dick Cheney's energy task force. But it's clear that energy companies, and only energy companies, had access to top officials. The result was that during the California power crisis — which, it is increasingly apparent, was largely engineered by Enron and other companies that had the administration's ear — the administration did nothing.
Yes, the energy task force notes -- it's internal executive branch documentation. Krugman may disagree, but until a court rules otherwise Cheney has every right to refuse to release it. Many have likened the Cheney task force to Hillary Clinton's health care task force back in the early '90s that was forced to release documentation about its meetings. There is a big and legally distinct difference between the two. Unlike Cheney's task force, Hillary Clinton's was run by an unelected official (Hillary) and consisted of members of the public -- not executive branch employees.
Yes, it is increasingly apparent that California's power markets were gamed by the power companies. But it started under Clinton's watch. San Diego Gas & Electric was the first of California's "Big Three" power companies to divest itself of its power plants -- allowing it charge market rates for power. In San Diego, big electricity bills started showing up in the mail months before Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric started straining under the financial pressure of paying increased costs for energy, but barred from passing it on to consumers.
From one of the better reporters at the North County Times Dan McSwain:
Under former chairman James Hoecker, a Clinton appointee, the agency plunged ahead with energy deregulation with an inadequate staff and no experience in policing markets. Hoecker has described at length his failure to transform the FERC from a bureaucracy that took an average two years to approve a utility rate request. The best thinking was that power buyers and sellers were big outfits that could look out for themselves in competitive wholesale markets.
But under Gov. Gray Davis, California's bungled deregulation put ordinary consumers at risk and removed risk from the state's three big utilities. What's more, during the critical early months of the 2000 market meltdown, Davis bet heavily on FERC intervention. The Clinton FERC did nothing.
Of course, Clinton's FERC eventually put price caps on energy prices -- and the Bush administration's FERC extended them when the time for renewal came up. Krugman should avoid using superlatives like "never," "always," "everyone," "no one," or "nothing." Bush did some things -- just not everything Democrats wanted -- and not right away.
Enter Pat Wood, chief utility regulator in Texas who was widely admired by consumer advocates despite his diehard belief in deregulation.
Wood certainly smelled fishy to Californians: Bush, Wood and the fallen Enron chairman Ken Lay go way back.
Yet in Texas, utility lobbyists had unsuccessfully pressed then-Gov. Bush to get Wood to back off. The regulator blocked state deregulation until an abundance of power plants was built, ensuring a surplus to prevent price spikes.
In his first decision as federal chairman, Wood engineered price caps on Western markets.
He issued the first fines on marketers who abused federal market rules. He ordered generators to run their power plants, forestalling the sort of false electricity shortages that enabled gouging last winter.
He has also threatened powerful utilities in other states with the "death penalty," loss of the right to sell at market rates, if they prevent fair access to competitors on power lines.
Wood has been far from perfect, as evidenced by his refusal so far to take back from power sellers the obscene profits they extorted from spot markets. And California will get no federal help wiggling out of the expensive long-term contracts signed by Davis. Look for Wood to uphold the FERC's long tradition of honoring legal deals signed by consenting adults.
I noted earlier this week that FERC continues to take action -- threatening to revoke several power companies right to sell energy at market prices. Moves are being made -- just not with the reckless abandon that critics are supporting.
But just as John Ashcroft, who brushed aside appeals to make terrorism a priority, remains in charge of our effort against terrorism, Mr. Cheney — who ridiculed conservation and price controls, which in the end were what saved California — remains in charge of energy policy. And that scares me more than terrorism.
I'd love to know what Krugman is talking about with regard to Ashcroft. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that Bush was preparing a plan to deal with al Qaeda in the weeks leading up to Sept. 11. One would assume that Ashcroft, as head of the Justice Department, would have been involved. Why wasn't Krugman the voice in the wilderness before Sept. 11 calling for the government to make terrorism a priority?
Conservation and price controls "saved" California? I don't think Californians feel "saved" by them. Price controls were necessary to stop the shenanigans that power companies were using to drive up prices, but Californians have always been die-hard conservationists. Even before the power crisis hit, data showed that Californians used less power per capita than any other state.
You can't keep price caps on forever if you're going to have a deregulated power market (an argument can be made if power should have been deregulated in the first place -- but that's a separate issue). Price caps being antithetical to a free market. Krugman also misstates Cheney's comments on conservation. The dispute over conservation in the Bush administration's energy plan is one of degree. Those on the left want more conservation and less exploratory drilling. Those on the right want more drilling and couldn't care less about conservation. The Bush plan is somewhere in the middle -- but closer to the right than environmentalists want it.
Does he really believe that last line -- Dick Cheney scares him more than Osama bin Laden. Somebody's got their priorities out of whack.
Earlier this week the Environmental Protection Agency released a report confirming what the vast majority of climatologists, and every other advanced-country government, had already concluded: human activity is causing global warming, and the consequences will be nasty. But the E.P.A. did not propose any preventive action. Instead, it talked only about adapting to the changes.
Old hands recalled the days of James Watt, the interior secretary back in the 1980's. When scientists discovered that industrial chemicals were depleting the earth's protective ozone layer, Mr. Watt suggested that people wear hats, sunscreen and dark glasses. Luckily for the planet, he was overruled; the United States joined other countries in curbing production of ozone-depleting chemicals. The ozone hole is still growing, but disaster has at least been postponed.
Twenty years ago we were going to see the next ice age. Now it's global warming. Krugman would like to pretend that it's settled science -- but it's not. Second, the main thing blamed for that growing ozone hole was chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in things like hairspray. CFCs use has been banned in the U.S. and abroad for more than a decade -- and yet the hole is still growing. Maybe we humans didn't have a whole lot to do with it.
No such happy outcome seems likely on global warming. After a curious pause, George W. Bush rejected his own administration's analysis. "I read the report put out by the bureaucracy," he sneered.
Clearly, this was a replay of what happened early last year, when the E.P.A.'s Christie Whitman assured the public that Mr. Bush would honor his pledge to control carbon dioxide emissions — only to be betrayed when the coal and oil industries weighed in on the subject. So the administration learned nothing from the California crisis; it still takes its advice from the energy companies that financed its campaign (and made many administration officials, including Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, rich).
Who is Bush supposed to take advice from on energy policy? Seriously, if you're going to sponsor legislation on airport security maybe you would want to talk to the airlines and the police? If you're going to come up with an energy policy -- you're going to talk to energy companies.
Carbon dioxide emissions are another red herring.
And it's one thing to reward your friends with subsidies and lax regulation. It's something quite different to let them dictate policy on climate change.
Is he talking about Bush or Clinton? Clinton certainly let environmentalist groups dictate his policy on climate change. Elections have consequences -- what did Krugman expect?
Many people believe that the Bush administration had a special window of opportunity on global warming policy. Politically, it could have been a Nixon-goes-to-China moment: Mr. Bush could have passed legislation that would have been totally out of reach for a Democrat. Furthermore, many corporations were actually eager for guidelines that would allow them to make long-term plans.
But because the administration continues to listen only to the usual suspects, that window of opportunity is closing fast. And bear this in mind: Whatever he imagines, Osama bin Laden can't destroy Western civilization. Carbon dioxide can.
One of the corporations eager for guidelines -- Enron with regard to trading credits on power plant emissions. Enron didn't get it. So much for towing the company line.
Krugman's scare tactics on carbon dioxide are disappointing -- and out of whack with the true danger facing Americans. We have little to fear from carbon dioxide and much to fear from bin Laden and his ilk.
James Taranto, the author of The Wall Street Journal's "Best of the Web Today" is not much of a soccer fan, and it shows.
America woke up Wednesday to one of its greatest soccer wins," the Associated Press reports from Suwon, South Korea. "The U.S. soccer team shocked heavily favored Portugal at the World Cup, earning a 3-2 victory and breaking a five-match Cup losing streak dating back to 1994."
This just goes to show what a lame sport soccer is. A victory over Portugal is a big deal? Portugal--a country that hasn't been a major power since the 16th century?
So, for the sport to be any good, the USA has to be the best at it? An American winning the Olympic marathon wouldn't be a big deal because the ones who win marathons like clockwork -- the Kenyans -- aren't a world power?
I'll admit I stayed up late last night to watch the USA vs. Portugal game -- and it was a great game. Go USA!
I guess that there is some hubbub going on in the blogosphere over Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design. Why? Because Instapundit says so.
Instapundit points to this piece by Iain Murray who says that ID is nothing more than a backdoor strategy to get creationism into the classroom, and that it has no scientific validity.
ID is not, however, true science. According to the eminent modern philosopher Karl Popper, the defining characteristic of science is that its assertions are falsifiable. In other words, if we have no means to prove a theory wrong -- by experiment, observation, and the like -- then it is not scientific. And theories that cannot be falsified simply have no place in science books or classrooms.
Let me start out with some disclosures:
1.) I'm a Christian who believes that the Bible is the word of God and is without error.
2.) My degree is in Journalism, though I took numerous math and science classes in college and had a subscription to Scientific American starting in 7th grade.
3.) The Bible isn't a science book. It doesn't tell us how things were created -- it just tells us who created them.
With that in mind, according to Popper's defining characteristic of science, I don't think Darwinism qualifies for science books or classrooms either.
Tell me, how would we be able to falsify Darwinism? Let's look at two options we're given: experiment and observation.
Experimentation is very tricky. We would run into the danger in any experiment we might conduct of affecting the outcome by use of our intelligence. Sticking to strict Darwinism, the change must come without the aid of any outside intelligence. We can change the conditions in the experiment, but cannot encourage any specific mutation or natural selection to occur. I suppose that scientists could demonstrate evolution by changing one species into another (it wouldn't disprove ID, however), but I've heard no news of any such successful experiment.
Back in the late '80s and early '90s when I was reading a lot about Darwinism, I don't reading anything about any experiments that had been conducted to prove Darwinism. If some have been conducted, I'm really curious to the methods used.
The second scientific tool we can use is observation. This is the primary one that has been use over the decades by Darwinists. In the more than 100 years since Darwin's "The Origin of Species" was published, proponents have pointed to the fossil record as evidence of evolution. But there are still lots of holes in the fossil record. Strict Creationists (as opposed to IDers) have claimed that there are no intermediate species -- species with characteristics of two other distinct species -- the heart of Darwinism. That claim is not true, there are intermediate species -- just not nearly as many as one would expect from a statistical standpoint.
In response to this problem, the late Stephen Jay Gould came up with the idea of "punctuated equilibrium." Simply stated, there are bursts of evolutionary activity followed by long periods of nothing. This explains the dearth (but not absence) of the intermediate species.
I'm not opposed to teaching the science of evolution in the schools. What I am opposed to is teaching the religion of Evolution. To have science teachers say there is no God and this is how everything came to be is a religion. To say there was a lifeless (Louis Pasteur proved that life can only come from life, never from non-life.)primordial goo that suddenly had single-cell organisms sprout from it to eventually become humans is a belief system. If they could stick to the parts of the theory that they have strong proof for (examples of microevolution, etc.) -- and not just speculation, there would be little support for ID.
This is all off the cuff, I haven't done any recent research on the issue, so I encourage people to comment and point me to research that I have missed.
Let me close with this: Darwinism is a religion cloaked in the mantle of "science" by its adherents. Criticism by outsiders is dismissed as religious zealotry. Alternative theories and evidence that tends to undermine Darwinism are either belittled or ignored.
A case in point comes from Murray himself: "Moreover, it is hard to call ID an emerging scientific paradigm when its leading proponent is a University of California, Berkeley law professor, Phillip E. Johnson, who is not a scientist at all."
Apparently, if you are not a trained scientist you're not allowed to dabble in science.
After all, wasn't that Einstein fella a patent clerk?
Tuesday, June 04, 2002
Score one for me!: Last month I wrote that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was getting serious about investigating what exactly happened last year when the lights went out in California.
At that time, in a column for the New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman wrote: "And I'm sure that there will be a determined effort to ignore even these latest revelations (of gaming the power market). After all, why let facts get in the way of a beautiful, and politically convenient, theory?"
Krugman's going to have to revise his theory, because the FERC is taking action. From today's Times:
[W]ASHINGTON, June 4 — Federal regulators threatened today to strip four large energy traders of their ability to charge unregulated rates for electricity because of their responses to inquiries about their strategies in California.
In an order issued late today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said it appeared that three of the companies — El Paso Electric, the Avista Corporation and Portland General Electric, an Enron subsidiary — may have submitted false information to the commission in response to inquiries about whether they engaged in manipulative energy trading strategies in California. The fourth, the energy trading unit of the Williams Companies, has simply refused to answer a crucial question, the commission said.
Late today, the four companies said they would act quickly to provide new information demanded by the commission.
The commission has never before even threatened to strip an energy trader of its ability to charge unregulated rates, commission officials said last night. But one commissioner, Nora Brownell, said it was important that all energy traders recognize the seriousness of the commission's investigation into market manipulation in California during the 2000-01 power crisis.
Is this a calculated political move by the Bush administration to put California in play for the 2004 election? Some cynics might think so, but the truth is California is currently so liberal that it will be at least a decade before even the most liberal Republican has a chance at a major statewide office -- let alone a GOP presidential candidate capturing the state's huge electoral windfall.
Instead, I think it is merely a recognition that it is apparent that Californians were robbed by Enron, and probably other power generators. In the end, I think justice will be done -- but don't hold your breath waiting for a refund to consumers for those sky-high rates you were paying a year ago. Not even a Democratic president could get cash back to the people -- however look for the state budget deficit to shrink some.
An Arizona blogger points out the similarities between your common, disease-carrying rat and California Gov. Gray Davis.
So creepy and so right.
What they knew and when they knew it
Bush administration reveals who had information on Sept. 11 terror attacks -- and didn't warn the public
(Hoystory.com) -- The Bush administration issued a preliminary report today that points the finger of blame for failure to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks squarely at America's psychics.
"All the information was there, but Mistress Cleo, Dionne Warwick's psychic friends and numerous others failed the American people," President Bush said at a noon press conference.
In a phone interview which cost $3.95 a minute, Mistress Cleo denied the administration's allegations.
"Listen daaarrrlin', I only knew dat dem terrorists would attack Neuva York," Cleo said. "Sophia over at Psychics R Us knew dat somethin baaad would happen in September."
Contacted at Psychics R Us, Sophia acknowledged, at $2.99 a minute, that she felt "bad psychic vibes" in late August, but blamed Esmerelda for missing the specifics.
"She had 9 and 11 among her lucky numbers for the entire month of August -- they weren't lucky -- but the psychic aura she was detecting was loud and clear."
Despite their protestations, Bush said the psychics were primarily to blame.
"Millions of Americans count on psychics to give them guidance in their daily activities," the president said. "Unfortunately, the psychics failed not only the 3,000 people who lost their lives on Sept. 11, but all of America as well."
Acclaimed psychic medium John Edward confirmed Bush's assessment.
"I've contacted hundreds of the Sept. 11 victims in the afterlife who had consulted psychics prior to the terrorist attacks," Edward said. "None of them was given a specific warning by their psychic of what would happen when they went to work that day.
"One woman told me that her psychic had told her to bring her umbrella to work -- but an umbrella can't keep a jumbo jet from raining down on your head."
While critics in Congress focused on intelligence failures by the FBI and CIA, President Bush pointed out that Congress had barred federal agents from using the 1-900 numbers necessary to contact America's psychics.
"Congress needs to allow our intelligence agencies greater freedom to pursue leads wherever they may go," Bush said.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala, said that he was open to changing the law, but it would require strict oversight.
"We'll want to make sure that they're calling bona fide psychics," said the ranking minority member of the Senate intelligence committee. "But I hear that some of those numbers are used for things other than psychics. So we'll want to watch it closely."
Monday, June 03, 2002
More annoying than a little kid with a drum set: Those pop-under ads that have exploded into use on the Internet may become a little less common. CNet's News.com is reporting that ExitExchange is claiming rights to the ubiquitous advertising convention. If its patent application is approved, all those Web sites using those ads will have to start paying royalties.
Of course, that will likely mean that the even-more-annoying "takeover" ads -- that cover up content and are and play a flash-like animation may be used more often.
Maybe this isn't a good thing.
Sunday, June 02, 2002
Hoystory will be publishing irregularly and on a reduced schedule over the next two weeks as I move my residence. More regular and lengthy postings will resume in mid-June.
Kudos to the Miller Brewing Company: A new TV spot for Miller beer does something that is most uncommon in today's commercial culture -- it supports the sanctity of marriage. The ad shows a couple of guys at a bar who spot a very attractive woman. We see the woman write down her phone number and give it to one of the men. But in the close-up shot we see a wedding band. Ad cuts to a picture of the man's daughter and then his wife reading to his daughter. The bartender then makes some comment to the effect of asking if the man wants another. The man says, "no, I like the one I've got" and then pushes the phone number-bearing napkin away.
I was shocked to say the least -- in a good way.
Saturday, June 01, 2002
Absolute power corrupts absolutely: Especially when it's given to an airport screener. An Army lieutenant wounded in action in Afghanistan has bumped into the stupidity of the new security rules.
An Army lieutenant whose jaw is wired shut from a bullet wound he received in Afghanistan claims screeners at San Francisco International Airport denied him permission to pass through security with wire clippers used to snap open his jaw in an emergency.
Lt. Greg Miller, a combat medic and member of a special forces patrol, was shot in Kandahar in April. The bullet passed through his jaw, severing nerves and leaving him without feeling in his mouth.
He said his jaw was wired shut at a hospital in Germany, and his doctor issued him wire clippers to carry in case he became sick and needed to open his jaw to avoid choking.
Read the entire story here.
Would someone please slap Norm Mineta -- hard.
Don't call me stupid!: Yes, the phrase was made famous by Kevin Kline in "A Fish Called Wanda," but now Dov Fischer is saying it too.
[I]n his latest ad hominem-based syndicated article, the resident radical-Left opinion writer at the Los Angeles Times, Robert Scheer, mocked the intelligence of Attorney General John Ashcroft. In a vertical screed, Scheer wrote the following: Ashcroft is "not the sharpest [tool] in the shed." He "managed to lose a Senate race to a dead man." He "was not picked for his smarts." He is a "Keystone Kop in charge of law enforcement." And, in the most telling comment, "Perhaps it is just too difficult for a stern, God-fearing fundamentalist like the attorney general to fully anticipate the dark side of religion's wrath."
Scheer's writing reflects the polemic arrogance monopolized by a Left that is convinced its ranks are just too smart for conservatives to fathom and that conservatives are just too troglodytic to be liberal.
You can read the entire article here.
The WHO and its budget: Krugman defender Jeff Hauser is disputing my analysis of the WHO's budget as spending a large portion of its funding for administrative costs. The fact that Hauser and I can't easily determine exactly how much money is going to administrative costs and how much is spent actually helping the poor says something about the ambiguities in the WHO document. [Requires Adobe Acrobat.]
From Hauser's comment:
Going through Table 3 on pages 14-15, it seems to me as if $85M of $2.2B is unquestionably administrative, and it is possible some fraction of other expensitures [sic] is administrative as well.
I've stared at that table for 45 minutes and I don't see where Hauser gets the $85 million figure. Looking at the last line on page 14, I see: "Subtotal -- General Management: 201 459" (Note that the chart is in $thousands) That says to me $201 million of $2.2 billion is undoubtedly administrative. Admittedly less than my earlier 33 percent, but more than twice as much as Hauser's $85 million.
If you look up a few lines you'll also see the following: "Subtotal -- External relations and governing bodies: 57 746." This sounds like bureaucratese for public relations, so I would feel pretty safe adding this into the overhead costs.
Hauser pointed out that by assuming that everything budgeted to headquarters is overhead, I had ignored the possibility that grants to nongovernental organizations might come out of that piece of the pie. I concede the point. Grants may come out of the HQ budget. I can't say for sure, and neither can Hauser, because even the detailed WHO budget (found here) doesn't indicate which budget grants are awarded from.
I would hope that Hauser is right and that the vast majority of the funds allocated to headquarters are actually spent on really making a difference in poor people's lives and not for making life easy for some bureaucrats in France. But everyone will have to excuse me if I'm skeptical. It's just as likely that grant funding comes from the regional and country budgets. Also, there is the likelihood that a portion of the money for each of the grants that are awarded is also overhead.
It would take a CPA thousands of hours and documents not available online to determine how much is spent on administrative costs and how much is spent actually helping people.
I believe I've safely established that the minimum spent on administration, according to WHO's own documents is approximately 12 percent. I would not be surprised if the actual number was three or four times that amount.
On a related note: While looking for information regarding WHO grants, I came across some information on who gets grants and what they get them for. You can see a recent list here. The thing that struck me as I looked down the list was how much it looked like something you would see from the National Institutes of Health. If this sort of research is what counts as foreign aid, then I think that the entire budget for the NIH should be added to the United States' foreign-aid contributions.
A final note: Several people commenting on Krugman's column have pointed out that, unlike some other countries, individual Americans give money to charities in addition to that allocated as foreign aid by the government. Here's a case in point.