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

What the Hell….

…is wrong with Texans?

A high school band director has apologized for a halftime performance that included Adolf Hitler’s anthem “Deutschland Uber Alles” and a student running across the field with a Nazi flag.

In fairness to the majority of Texans, the shool and its band were roundly booed.


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Best of the Blogs

I got a bit behind in my reading, so here are some highlights from my catching-up:

  • Dan Drezner says that academic faculty are liberal and gives a compelling example from the humanities. Nevertheless, this argument is tiresome. While I’m not in a position to say one way or the other with regard to the humanities, I’m perfectly willing to believe that such departments are mostly liberal. Even so, this does not render them useless or even bad.

    Liberal or not, read Steinbeck, Bellamy, Wright, and London. They all give compelling looks at the world as it was as viewed through a particular lens. Read Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, and Rand too (each is an important thinker whose works are common subjects in undergraduate curricula). Balance your Rawls with Nozick.

    In my experience, professors are interested in, actually excited by, students who demonstrate an ability to engage in synthetic and critical–not leftist–thinking. And we’d do anything to see more competent writing, from any perspective. I have never seen anything that would prevent a smart conservative student from succeeding at the undergraduate level, which is the source of most criticism (“liberals are poisoning the minds of our youth!“).

    There may be a surfeit of liberal influence at the graduate level in the humanities, but that is likely offset by the center-Right views in most economics departments and business schools. I’m unsure about the typical composition of a political science department, but even assuming they are disproportionately liberal, the University of Chicago is also disproportionately (to the number of faculty and students, not necessarily to the structure of their arguments) influential and conservative. (Note that Matt Y. says that Harvard’s philosophy department is liberal. But also see Crooked Timber. Speaking of Matt, he also has a Plame piece up at TAP).

  • Charles Kuffner updates us on Texas redistricting events–they are in conference and the House and Senate are working from markedly different maps, meaning there will be delays, which is a good thing.
  • Dave Neiwert explains why the Freepers may have to rethink Bush’s anti-tort positions.
  • The non-evil Roger Ailes reports on more Conservatives who may not be so anti-tort (at least, not anti-tort until their ridiculous case crumbles into dust).
  • Jesse has the relevant law that senior (or top) administration officials apparently broke in the Plame outing.
  • Marshall is also at the epicenter of Plame information, and this post is particularly amusing.
  • TBogg has a roundup on why people are Republicans (ok, all the answers are from Democrats, but that doesn’t make them untrue). Chujoe may be onto something with this explanation: “I had sex once, but it wasn’t all that great–why should anybody else enjoy themselves.”


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A lot of discussion is happening today about the Valerie Plame affair, both in media and in the blogosphere. I’ve even started seeing the word “impeachment” come up in a few places, such as on Brad DeLong’s blog.

But there are really two separate questions one can ask about this situation regarding impeachment, and I haven’t seen the distinction really made yet. The first question is whether this crime falls into the category of “impeachable offenses,” particularly as it was defined during the 1990s. My answer is that I’m not sure, yet, and that we probably need more information. The second question is whether, if the press and public answer yes to Q #1, Bush could actually face impeachment over the issue. I think the answer is absolutely not — there is zero probability of that happening with the current Congress. Given the answer to Q #2, is it even relevant to ask Q #1?


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The Birth Tax, Revisited

A friend posed an interesting question to me last week: exactly how much of the astonishing change in the finances of the US government is due to Bush, and how much is due to forces outside of his control? Put another way, exactly what is the magnitude of the tax increase that Bush has deliberately levied on future Americans?

The astonishing collapse of this nation’s government finances over the past three years is well known, and was discussed in some detail in this earlier post by AB. In January of 2001 the US government was expected to run a total surplus of $5 trillion between 2001 and 2010. But now our best guess is that the US will actually run a total deficit of $2.2 trillion through the end of the decade.

It turns out that it is possible to estimate exactly how much of the change is due to which factor, using some CBO data that I referred to in my earlier post about Cheney’s lies on MTP. I spent some time yesterday doing the necessary calculations.

Part of this change is nobody’s fault. The estimate from early 2001 was just plain wrong, in two ways: it relied on overly optimistic revenue projections, and didn’t count on a long and lingering economic downturn. And of course, another part of the discrepancy is due to expenses related to 9/11, which also can’t be blamed on Bush.

However, once additional interest expenses are taken into account, and assuming that the tax cuts currently set to expire are extended (as both President Bush and the Congress say they would like to do), deliberate decisions by Bush and Congressional Republicans are the source for $4.1 trillion of the change in the government’s finances through 2010. Here’s the breakdown:

Total discrepancy between 1/01 estimate and 8/03 estimate: $7.2 trillion

Change due to earlier misestimation + effects of recession: $2.6 trillion

Change due to higher spending for 9/11-related expenses: $0.4 trillion

Change due to higher spending unrelated to 9/11: $1.6 trillion

Change due tax cuts in 2001, 2002, and 2003: $2.5 trillion

The graph below shows the total change in the US government budget forecasts, decomposed into the four elements given above. If you assume that Bush and the Republicans had no control over the top two items, you still must conclude that they deliberately caused the majority of the change in Americans’ future tax burden.

One interesting thing to note (and pointed out by AB in the earlier post about the birth tax) is that it is not just the tax cuts that have created the shortfall. Government spending has also been growing at breakneck speed. Increased spending for things unrelated to 9/11 will total roughly $1.6 trillion by the end of the decade. As noted by the Cato Institute, President Bush must share the blame for this. He has never vetoed a spending bill while presiding over double-digit increases in spending every year of his term. Compare this to President Reagan, who vetoed 22 spending bills during his first 3 years in office.

Look at it another way. What would budget deficits be if Clinton-era policies were still in place? The following graph shows three different scenarios: Clinton-era rates on both taxes and spending (though spending is augmented by 9/11 expenses); Clinton-era taxes but Bush spending levels; and Bush taxes and spending.

Hopefully this should put to rest the question of whether the terrible state of the US’s long-run finances is due to Bush, or to bad luck. It is unequivocally not due to bad luck.


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Hitting the Fan

Calpundit and Marshall are all over these, but the administration is getting hit hard on Iraq, pre-war planning, pre-war intelligence, the purported and promoted Saddam/9-11 link, and The Valerie Plame Affair, all while the performance of the economy remains mixed. Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post, and the NYT all have very scathing pieces. Appearances by Rice and Powell on the Sunday talk show circuit appear to be of little help to the administration, Cheney having devalued such appearences two weeks ago. The next few weeks (and hopefully even the next 13 months or so) will not be fun for Rove et al. Still, Bush does have a growing mountain of cash.


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Poverty Up, Income Down

The Census Bureau released the 2002 Poverty Report yesterday. In a nutshell, says the NYT,

The number of Americans living in poverty increased by 1.7 million last year, and the median household income declined by 1.1 percent, the Census Bureau reported today. The worsening economic conditions fell heaviest on Midwesterners and nonwhites.

It was the second straight year of adverse changes in both poverty and income, the first two-year downturn since the early 1990’s.

Things are tough all over right now, but toughest in manufacturing-intensive areas (things are fine if you’re one of the richest 400 people in the country, though).

At first glance, it seems tough to blame Bush for this–the manufacturing decline has been ongoing for decades. On the other hand, Bush’s naked grab for Pennsylvania voters via unwise steel tariffs–tariffs that drove up the cost of steel–harmed domestic manufacturing that relies upon steel as an input, thereby costing the US economy 30,000-50,000 manufacturing jobs.


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Has the CIA Finally Had Enough?

MSNBC is reporting this interesting story:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 — The CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the White House broke federal laws by revealing the identity of one of its undercover employees in retaliation against the woman’s husband, a former ambassador who publicly criticized President Bush’s since-discredited claim that Iraq had sought weapons-grade uranium from Africa, NBC News has learned.

Has the CIA finally had enough of being the Bush White House’s scapegoat, punching-bag, and lackey? This could get interesting.


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Protectionism and Congressional Republicans

Brad DeLong has a link to this, from Morgan Stanley economist Stephen Roach:

Cries of protectionism can be heard loud and clear in the hallowed halls of the US Congress. America’s jobless recovery has finally reached a breaking point. Republicans and Democrats, alike, are up in arms over the steady attrition of employment in this so-called economic recovery. Job-related distress is bad enough. But unrelenting layoffs, together with record and ever-widening US trade deficits, are a toxic combination in this highly charged political season. For Congress, the agenda is clear: It is now time for action against those deemed responsible for the distress of the American worker. China is the target.

Protectionism becomes more popular during every economic downturn, and this one is no different. The only thing that changes is the target. During the last recession it was Japan, and during this one it will be China.

One question is, of course, how the “free-trader” George Bush will behave in the face of a protectionist movement in Congress. But that’s a boring question, since I think we all know the answer — just as we can guess how he’ll behave in any situation where his principles come up against short-term political expediency.

So here’s the really interesting question in this case: How panicked are Congressional Republicans starting to feel about the 2004 elections? Will they feel so much election year pressure that they will do anything, including violating the free trade principles that so many of them supposedly espouse, to boost their popularity?


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