Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Clearly a Commie-Symp Terrorist

Who said:

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the [1984 UN Convention on Torture] . It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.

Answer here. Is he rolling over in his grave?

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SF-Politics Tie-In of the Day

Greg Mitchell’s twitter feed reminds us of Upton Sinclair’s 1934 campaign for Governor of California.

Working on Sinclair’s campaign, as noted in an article we ran several years ago in NYRSF, was a former Naval Officer in his mid-20s whose career was cut short by tuberculosis: Robert A. Heinlein.

As Mitchell notes:

The champion of all dirty races in this century, in fact, was that 1934 contest. Like Barack Obama, Sinclair led a “change” campaign with masses of new or re-energized voters leading him to an upset victory for the nomination from the Democrats in dire economic times. Like Obama, he was pictured as mysterious interloper. And like Obama, he was labeled a “Socialist.”

Well, actually, that was mostly true in his case.

It’s always interesting to note that to all the people who say they became “libertarian” because of Heinlein.

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The Advantage to Sin Taxes is Relatively Low IED

My Loyal Reader notes that the economic survival of Zimbabwe’s current government is now largely dependent on sin taxes:

As he presented his revised 2009 budget to parliament, Finance Minister Tendai Biti noted that “indirect taxes made up of customs and excise duty have contributed 88 percent of government revenue, which means that the government has been literally sustained by beer and cigarettes.”

Those who are planning to “go Galt” will need also to Sin No More.

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Stimulus Update

Brad DeLong has the breakdown of things taken out of the no-longer-possible-to-defend-as-stimulating stimulus bill.

Nice to see that no Republican, and precious few Democratic Senators, believe in following even Andrew Samwick’s tepid endorsement:

Congress and the Obama Administration should be very discriminating in what they will spend money on. Bailout money for banks and large firms should go. Every piece of pork in the stimulus bill should go. Every additional tax cut should go. What should remain are the highest value public infrastructure projects, many of which the government has been deferring for years or decades.

which is a minor modification of his previous position:

[A]s I will continue to blog until I am blue in the fingers, the appropriate course of action when the economic downturn appears like it will be unusually severe is to bring planned capital projects forward in time. Doing so allows them to be done more cheaply.

This would be especially true of the non-”highest value” projects, as an Finance person can tell you. (At 2%, it might have a positive NPV; at 5% and full employment, it will, er, “crowd out.”)

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Word to be Eliminated: "Symbolize"

Several recent events have been described as “just symbolism,” which apparently is a method of dismissing uncomfortable statements of fact, such as ‘Sarah Palin is the nominee for Vice President’ or ‘Rick Warren will give the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration.’ Apparently, these moments are supposed to have a lifespan closer to that of Britney Spears’s first marriage than, say, Britney Spears’ [sic] Guide to Semiconductor Physics.*

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Symbolism Writ Large, in a manner to shame Christo himself:

US opens world’s largest foreign mission in Iraq

The $592 million, 104-acre compound that was dedicated in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone on Monday is meant to symbolize a long-term commitment to Iraq.

That’s a lot of “symbolizing.”

Tell me again why we need to be cautious in investing in domestic infrastructure. (Yes, I get that it’s incrementally larger. So was the Federal-Aid Highway Transportation Act of 1956. Nu?)

*Since Rick Warren was the driving force behind the PEPFAR initiative, discussed by cactus here, response for tens of thousands of African illnesses and deaths, and so discredited that even popular television shows are lambasting it, the idea that he will Just Go Away on 20 January 2009 around 2:00pm is even more absurd than usual.

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Random Notes, or, More Posts I Don’t Have to Write

Greg Mankiw presents Yet Another Reason to regret skipping the AEA this year, though somehow the word “intentional” was left out of the description.

Stan Collender, of all people, does the job I wished someone would do on Martin Feldstein’s WSJ op-ed. I may have beaten him by a day in calling it out, but there’s nothing so perfect as Collender’s conclusion:

Finally, something that’s not in the Feldstein piece: dollar for dollar, military spending doesn’t provide as much an economic return as domestic spending. Building an extra tank or missle that then sits idle because it’s not needed provides a one-time boost to the economy. But building a road, bridge, tunnel, sewer, or information superhighway that is needed continues to provide benefits as people, goods, and information travel faster, less expensively, and far more productively than would have otherwise been the case.

That means that starting with the headline, Feldstein was seriously mistaken.

Differences between now and 1992, positive version: In 1992, Dave Barry made a legendary appearance at the National Press Club. At some point during the Q&A, he declared that he was going to end all of his answers with the phrase “failed Clinton Administration.” (There may have been cheering.)

UPDATE: I was trying to think of a nice way to be rude about Tyler Cowen’s NYT piece on how “the seeds of the crisis” were planted by the resolution of the LTCM crisis.* () But Buce at Underbelly saves the day with a two-point takedown (not the three-pointer of Collender, but still aces) called Long-Term Confusion:

Tyler Cowan has an amazingly confused piece in this morning’s NYT arguing tht we owe our current plight in large part to the “bailout” (I use the term advisedly) ten years ago of Long-Term Capital Mangement (link). But the point of LTCM, as Tyler’s own piece acknowledges (but Tyler ignores) is precisely that LTCM was not a bailout, except perhaps in the sense that the Feds provided lunch.** Okay, and a little bit of arm-twisting. But I should think that would be on the approved list for even the most hairy-chested libertarian. The message was: look, we love ya, and we will work with ya, but we will not put skin in the game. [italics mine, but they could have been his]

In 2008, the NPC appearance of note is by Paul Krugman (h/t EconLib, again of all places), whose six part presentation and q&a session is available on YouTube and therefore easier to watch for the Internet-impaired than his Nobel Lecture.***

McMegan Wuz Robbed! Then again, that’s nothing compared to the abomination of this voting, where something that’s already remainder and long-forgotten appears to be winning.

And, finally, proof that it’s really TOUGH to live in Hoboken.

Happy New Year!

*If Robert Samuelson had published the same piece, Brad DeLong would not have been nice. As it is, we can just assume DeLong hasn’t read it yet amidst his globetrotting.

**Meaning in this case literally the food for the sixteen conversants, fifteen of whom anted up.

***Yes, I assume anyone who accesses YouTube from a non-networked machine has a downloading program. Also, am I the only one who just realised that YouTube is maintained on a Linux-based server?

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