El presupuesto gordo: More people than you might think concur with Michael Kinsley that the Republicans are no longer the party of fiscal responsibility and that the "starve the beast" argument is craven. As GarySimpson puts it:
This is a dark day. I find myself in general agreement with not one but two Liberals.
(The other liberal is Al Hunt.) But piling on is boring, and can quickly get out of hand. Who will defend the Bush administration?BenK tries here; he needs responses. There are two potential kinds of defenders I can see. First, Keynesians. In "The Danger of Shooting Fish in a Barrel" The_Bell points out that one side's craven is the other side's longstanding economic theory:
Democrats DO like big government, they DO believe in government spending as means to cure many ills. They even believe deficits are appropriate in certain economic situations - such as the one we are in right now - to stimulate consumption. Are we to believe that Mr. Kinsley's attack on the Bush Administration's spendthrift ways, his outrage over the perils of paying back interest on debt mean that the Democrats have renounced Keynes?
The responses have been excellent. Keith_M_Ellis contends that many Democrats have renounced Keynes. True enough. Are there any Keynesian Democrats who will defend the Bush Administration's deficits, even backhandedly, like this? (In another post, Keith_M_Ellis goes to the numbers to show that (by his reckoning) only 1/3 of the projected $300 billion deficit is directly Bush's fault.)
The George W. diet has two objectives:
1. Get re-elected.
2. Force a Social Security/Medicare "crisis" that will panic the public to support GWB's goal of privatizing both.
Thus the second potential group of deficit defenders are Social Security privatizers …
Trading the line-item veto for the scratch-off ticket: Within the reportorial glee surrounding the prospect of legions of Republican governors raising taxes, Jack Shafer sees an underlying reluctance to ask how states got in their collective mess. His budgetary parable goes like this:
Rather than placing a cap on spending in the face of budgetary surpluses, the states acted as if they had won the lottery. They added new programs and expanded existing ones. They hired more employees. And then came the Judgment Day of the crash.
The Fray has its quibbles. Zathras argues that Shafer himself is using a "fairly lazy shortcut" by "measuring spending growth against population growth." There are different populations (schoolkids, oldsters, the indigent) who might require government spending out of proportion with their numbers. Jason_McCullough points to an even more important missing variable: GDP:
Surely you don't expect a population with ever-increasing incomes to have flat government spending? As can be seen in the BLS data here, in table 15.3, the share of GDP spent by local and state governments didn't really change in the 1990s. It peaked at 10% in 1992, slid on down to 9.4% in 1999, increased by .1% in 2000, and then increased by .3% in 2001.
In other words, there was no was 1990s state spending explosion.
Finally, BushLeague has an idea:
Offer California a bribe for war support. Instead of paying Turkey 34 billion to let our troops march across their country, why don't we just pay California 34 billion dollars to let our troops march across their state?... 10:45 a.m.
Preuve it: Chatterbox thinks Powell's proof is still indisputable; the Fray is disputatious. (To find more of the relevant posts, click here.) Many in the Fray like mrachmuth-2 hereand JackD here want the inspectors to be a roving disarmament force (as in the French proposal, although not many can bring themselves to support that). Joe_JP points out that "Noah didn't have to go to Wild Cockburn to dispute the testimony. Newsweek gave a rather mixed report as well." As for proofs themselves:
Noah challenged someone to dispute the Powell presentation to the U.N., which could be broken down into three parts: terrorist … , chemical, and nuclear. Noah himself says the terrorist connection is disputable. The nuclear part, which he seems to ignore here, has been disputed by many. ... That leaves the chemical. Noah (being a good sport) agrees that maybe that wildman Alexander Cockburn and Hans Blix might have a point that a couple points were disputable. But that leaves a few that clearly aren't. Therefore, a fraction of Powell's presentation is indisputable enough for Noah.
Didn't take Noah that much to go to the war camp, huh?
Nastiness aside, there is much fun to be had in the Chatterbox Fray following CaptainRonVoyage's "Wacky Iraqi Mad Libs." … 5:00 a.m.
Thursday, Feb. 20, 2002
Hold the phone: Kevin Werbach's piece on "the real Michael Powell" describes him as a gadget-loving wonk—a Republican Al Gore. DavidDavenport-12 agrees, sort of, lumping Powell and Gore together with George W. Bush as "testimony to the importance of nepotism in American life." More important for Fraysters, though, will be what happens to our broadband rates. Randy_khan's post here points out that Powell is isolating himself on the eve of the crucial new regulations (particularly those that allow you easily to buy your broadband from a someone other than your Baby Bell):
The rumor in Washington is that Powell imposed his preferred result on the initial draft of the proposed FCC decision, without consulting with his fellow commissioners. Many chairmen have made that mistake in important and controversial cases, with predictable results. When you consider that Powell already had prickly relations with Martin and with Commissioner Copps, a Democrat who has allied with Martin before despite their political differences, and that the newest commissioner, another Democrat, was likely to follow Copps's lead, it seems like a recipe for disaster.
Werbach responds after the new unbundling agreement was announced and confirms the worst:
Powell indeed over-reached with his unbundling order, as today's decision [see below—J.D.] made clear. It's shocking to see an FCC chairman forced to dissent on such a big issue, and one he's made a centerpiece of his agenda for so long. But that only proves my point. Powell doesn't fit into the normal liberal/conservative political grid. He didn't have the level of political support from fellow Republicans and the White House that one would expect, because he was never fully on their side.
Take, for example, the decision today on "line sharing." The pre-Powell FCC decided that DSL providers such as Covad can purchase only the high-frequency portion of a loop, because the incumbent can still use the same loop to provide voice service. That had the practical effect of making DSL competition viable, and keeping DSL prices down. Consequently, the Bells have been fighting it from day 1. Powell, the supposed Bell company shill, wanted to keep it. The Martin-led coalition killed it.
One can certainly fault Powell for being too focused on a vision of the future to notice his immediate political liabilities. After all, that was the knock on Al Gore.
(Michael Powell's dissent is available here; the unbundling portion goes like this:
Most of our policies to promote the goals of the Telecommunications Act have produced little yield to date. However, line sharing has clear and measurable benefits for consumers. It has unquestionably given birth to important competitive broadband suppliers. That additional competition has directly contributed to lower prices for new broadband services. By some estimates, 40% of DSL providers use line shared inputs. The decision to kill off this element and replace it with a transition of higher and higher wholesale prices will lead quite quickly to higher retail prices for broadband consumers.) … 10:30 p.m.
EUN, or paybac: Scott MacMillan argues that most of the European support for the U.S. war with Iraq comes from Eastern European countries looking for a better deal within the EU: "For many, the Iraq spat is a proxy battle for the forthcoming redefinition of the European Union. The message to EU powerhouses France and Germany is clear: We'll join you, but that doesn't mean we'll follow you." This sounds very familiar to CaptainRonVoyage here: "Basically, they're doing to France in the EU what France is doing to America in the UN." This remark starts a nifty little discussion, in which SlipperyPete disagrees with both CRV and MacMillan here:
Jacques Chirac just told them, in his recent hissy fit, that they're putting their entry in jeopardy by speaking out now. The clever approach would be to lie low now and exert their influence from within.
MacMillan has this precisely backwards.
CaptainRon fires back here:
Well, I think his point is that the power of the prospective EU countries within the union is still being hashed out. Another point is that while the current EU members are the richest and might carry the most weight now, the prospective countries carry the best prospects for growth, thus any deal that favors France and Germany now might screw them in the long run. They can better afford a delay in membership if France and Germany don't like it, because they will only get richer and their "deal" from the EU will only get sweeter. … 4:55 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2002
Good Charlottes: The Sports Nut Fray discussion of new names for the Charlotte NBA franchise has been fun. Charlatan (Charlotte Annes?) reports that local sport radio favors a return to the practice of naming the team after its owner, giving us the Charlotte Johnsons. Costabrava is the first (in the Fray) to suggest the Charlotte Brontes while chachi the "Facts of Life" fan wants the Charlotte Rays; andkathleen suggests the Charlotte Observers, but Hugh_Jass notes "It'd be a good name for the fans, if there were any!"
As for BernardYomtov'ssuggestion below, Zathras is the first to point out that BYU is already the Cougars, so the Utah Cougars is a nonstarter. … 8:45 p.m.
Naming right: The very first responses to the latest Sports Nut—Sam Eifling's piece on incongruous team names—are excellent; the Fray should be fun. The best is FromtheEast's here, but the joke requires that you read the article (you will find the post at the bottom, too). BernardYomtov proposesa three-way trade reminiscent of the Cleveland Browns' repatriation:
Wandering teams create all sorts of inappropriate names. Here's a chance to correct one set of problems.
Let Charlotte reclaim Hornets from New Orleans, while New Orleans gets Jazz back from Utah. (Surely the Utah Jazz is the single most inappropriate name in sports).
Of course Utah would then need a new name. How about the Cougars, since the real thing is more common in Utah than North Carolina anyway? … 8:45 a.m.
"Pastry-stuffin’ surrender monkeys"? Meanwhile the EU is breaking up in the Well-Traveled Fray. Jim Holt may have thought he was kicking off a discussion of Scandinavian design, but he has really invited a nation-stereotyping free-for-all. Ang_Cho sticks up for the non-Scan design world here,while Frozen-Pie-Crust disses the Danes here, and daibread defends them by attacking "pompous French and the aggressive Germans" here. When things turn to biomorphic curves, teak, and Heikkenen-Komonen, I'll let you know. … 6:00 a.m.
Building and dreaming: Not much Chatterbox Fray activity about the problems of renaming Saddam’s Edifices (in stark contrast to the excellent discussions of the consumption tax—I kid you not!). Mrachmuth-2 has an idea:
after the invasion and conquest of Iraq, it will be easy to do away with all that Saddam by just passing a law that says everything named after Saddam will now be named after Ronald Reagan, the god of imperial U.S.A.
He must live in the D.C. area (or visited recently). (On this note, you can begin saving your "collectors item" $10 bills now—Hamilton is in deep trouble.) … 5:40 a.m.
How quickly they forget: DeaH responds to the Book Club bashing of the GI Bill, noting that "you have to look a little farther back." On her account, the specter of another "bonus army" of "Forgotten Men" from WWI forced the government to "make better promises" to returning veterans from WWII and keep them. Hence the GI Bill. (DeaH has forgotten men on the brain lately—she likens "The Go Game" [which Steven Johnson describes as video game meets street theater in "Geeks Without Borders"] to My Man Godfrey here. Godfrey, you see, is the Forgotten Man Carole Lombard finds in the scavenger hunt that opens the film.) ... 5:30 a.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2002
Steve Millionaire: The Slate 60 Fray has been quiet, but several posters weigh in to say they don't think Steven Spielberg's $12 million gift is exactly that. The money will hold off development (read "houses like his") on 8 prime acres, but it won't be part of a nature preserve. The land will remain an equestrian center. AmandaBee has the details here … 9:05 a.m.
Duck, duck, book: What does the Book Club Fray have to say about Lizabeth Cohen's A Consumer's Republic? Are they up in arms about the portrayal of Keynesianism as it seeped into American culture? No. They object to Chris Caldwell calling Scrooge McDuck a "villain." Blend here and numbertwopencil heredefend Carl Banks' miser. #2 puts it this way:
what's interesting about Scrooge McDuck, from a post-WWII sociological perspective, is that he's not a villain, per se—he's a comically flawed protagonist, and his actions are often presented by Carl Barks as being unprincipled and avaricious, but never explicitly villainous. Which actually says a lot more about the American ambivalence about capitalism/imperialism in the late 40's than the simplistic characterization Caldwell gives.
Jim Surowiecki responds:
Cohen is interested in Uncle Scrooge because what's wrong with him in the comic is not that he's rich, but that he's a miser. She argues—and it seems convincing—that this is part of a broader cultural move away from thrift as a value and toward spending as a value.
#2 agrees, and elaborates:
Uncle Scrooge, like Jack Benny, could only have been a successful comic character when being a miser was an inherently funny thing, just like being a drunk used to be. ...
Phobic, narcotized donkeys: Remember back in November when the Democrats got pounded nationally (more or less) and everyone (more or less) wondered what they would do next? Pacimini (and Betty_The_Crow) have been discussing that passé subject, and in a funny thread, P offers this seasonal explanation:
My theory is that the Democratic Party has gone into hibernation until the start of the presidential campaign or real disaster hits the Bush administration. The Democratic Party is an organization defined by fear. They're afraid of George Bush as he prepares for war and they're afraid of their own popular base as various Democratic constituencies gear up to oppose the war. So, rather than face up to their fears, Democratic leaders have decided to go into a really deep sleep. ... 7:10 a.m.
Hookin' up memes and phrases and clauses: Over in the Chatterbox Fray, discussion of the Tax the Poor Meme has linked up with a discussion of the Consumption Tax Meme. Posters want to know 1) Would there be a low-income exception or other measures to make it more progressive?; and 2) Are there successful examples of a consumption tax in operation elsewhere? Chango opens an excellent thread here, and ChasHeath offers this proposal:
Replace the payroll tax with a consumption tax. Why not? That would solve several problems.
We wouldn't have to worry about the baby boomer's retirement, since boomers would be paying in to the pool.
The tax would be roughly equal in terms of regressivity as the payroll tax. It would have different intergenerational impact, and it would hit some current retirees, but it would lift the burden on future generations.
Republicans are planning to phase out income taxes for the rich and replace them with a consumption tax, in order to keep Social Security solvent. Why not short circuit the plan? ... 6:15 a.m.
Monday, Feb. 17, 2002
The Aftermath: After some scintillating montage work in the hour-long leadup (Mojo's eyebrows, Melissa's Valley Girlish oaths) the promised finale of Joe Millionaire at least settled one thing: CaptainRonVoyagewas right—about both Joe's choice and the couple's windfall. This entitles him to a full-on nyah-nyah post, although he has already done something like that here. Whether he was right about what the producers would do if Zora hadn't "said yes" will remain a mystery, unless the producers decide to answer that question next week, when they trot out their V-torsoed lummox for another hour. Update: CRV has made his post, and it is elegant, yet understated: KNEEL BEFORE THE GOD THAT MADE YOU …
Update: Following up on my unsubtle pleas for responses to some newbies (see Friday), several posters, but particularly The_Bell, dropped in to flesh out their discussions of the silence of judicial nominees. I thank you, even if the original posters never returned. ... 10:30 p.m.