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

Slow News Day

Normal posting should be resuming now, but other than yesterday’s batch of Supreme Court rulings, news is pretty slow. Iraq is still a mess (see this one, also). The economy is still in bad enough shape that almost everyone thinks the Fed will drop rates on Wednesday. The only debate is whether the cut will be 1/4th or 1/2 a point–my guess is one quarter.


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Good News Bad News News

Actually, it’s on balance good news, at least compared to what the SCOTUS could have done: Affirmative action is constitutional. Using race-based bonus points is not. (Salon here and the NYT here). It was pretty easy to peg four of the votes on each side, and I feared that O’Connor would come out against, but I was wrong.

Now a university can’t use quotas (Bakke) and can’t use bonus points (today’s ruling), so the rule seems to moving towards something like “no quantifiable race-based advantage may be given to any racial group but subjective favoritism is fine and dandy”, which doesn’t really make sense, but has the potential advantage of not leaving a paper trail. If there is no “system” then the system can not be unfair and there will be no grounds for lawsuits.

What would a system with only subjective/non-quantifiable racial preferences look like? Teaching colleges already evaluate applications on a number of subjective dimensions (experience, leadership, teamwork, creativity) and many presumably already consider diversity in the way now sanctioned by the Supreme Court. Implementing such a system at the major state colleges (like the University of Michigan) will be much more difficult. I’m guessing here, but Michigan probably gets at least 20,000 applications per year. Due to the huge the numbers, large state schools use objective measures to determing admissions–e.g., Michigan’s infamous “formula” that takes into account GPA, class ranking, SAT score, whether the student is from certain poor areas of the state, and race. Switching to a qualitative system would be extremely costly for these schools.

The more likely outcome is that large schools will use quantitative measure based on GPA, class ranking, SAT score, and possibly a measure of the difficulty of the student’s high school, to set two thresholds. Students above the top threshold would be in; students below the bottom one would be out. Students landing between the two would be subjectively evaluated by hand, and in that process race could be a factor. This seems likely to give admissions officers more discretion over how and whether to weight race. I can’t decide if this is likely to be a good thing or a bad thing, but I’m leaning towards the latter. Not that I distrust admissions staff (I suspect they come from the ranks of educations majors and are on balance no less liberal than the population at large; likely they are more liberal). My fear is that universities can say “we consider race as a factor”, but they can never say how they do so–if they can articulate it, then it’s quantifiable, and therefore tantamount to quotas (Rehnquist’s logic). Any system that is constitutional under the new standards will surely be a morass of uncertainty. In general, as an activity becomes more costly and entails less predictable results, people and institutions engage in less of that activity. I don’t see a compelling reason why this will not apply to affirmative action, hence my pessimism.


Meanwhile, in the background I hear some jackass on CNN, his name may have been “Jeff Block”, doing interviews at the University of Michigan. His question for each minority he speaks to: “Are you here because of affirmative action?”

In other news, “A divided Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a Congressional mandate forcing the nation’s public libraries to equip computers with anti-pornography filters do not violate the First Amendment, even though it shuts off some legitimate, informational Web sites.” This is why the Democrats have to keep opposing, by any means necessary, Apellate Court nominees like Owens, Pickering, Estrada, and Pryor.

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In the News

See O’Reilly’s Online Spanking for some mocking of Bill O’Reilly by Kurtz, who quotes various bloggers. He manages to plug InstaPundit, Volokh, and Lileks, but no big lefties, unless you count Scott Rosenberg.

Katrina Leung, FBI employee and alleged double-agent, got bail today. If you didn’t already know it, there would be no way to tell that she was, until her arrest, a major player in Republican fundraising.

And whoever ends up as the Democratic candidate will need something other than prescription drugs and health care to blather about. The environment is a good topic for Democrats, particularly because it has a lot of appeal in the suburbs and higher income brackets. In an effort to point this out to the Democrats–who are unlikely to figure it out on their own, or possibly could figure it out but are afraid to say anything–the White House is redacting a forthcoming report on the environment.

Gone is any mention that the 1990’s are likely to have been the warmest decade in the last thousand years in the Northern Hemisphere. Gone, also, is a judgment by the National Research Council about the likely human contributions to global warming, though the evidence falls short of conclusive proof. Gone, too, is an introductory statement that ‘Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment.'”


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I’ll be traveling for the next few days, so posting might be light. In the meantime, I offer this for your consideration. It’s a graph of Federal Revenue by year, on a deflated and per capita basis. To derive this, I took annual Tax Revenue (all sources) for 1980-2000, converted to constant 1996 dollars using the GDP deflator rather than the CPI, and then divided the constant dollar numbers by the U.S. population in each year. This should represent federal revenue over time, after controlling for inflation and population growth.

A few observations leap out: (1) Revenue declined after the 1981 tax cut. (2) Revenue did start increasing after 1983 (reflecting two things: first, some taxes were raised in 1983 and after; second, 1983 was when the first year shown in the graph without a recession. (3) After Clinton raised taxes, in 1993, federal revenue took off. This partly reflects the boom, but that didn’t really get into full swing until 1996.

So, on balance, it looks like when you raise federal tax rates, federal tax revenue goes up (at least for rates under 50%), and vice-versa. Stunning. (click to enlarge)


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Alabama, Home of Progressive Politics

From the home state of 11th Circuit Court Nominee-who-must-be-stopped, Bill Pryor, also comes a plan to increase Alabama’s overall state taxes by 14%, progressively. To wit, the proposed property tax “would mean an extra $93 a year in state taxes for the owner who lives in an $85,000 house, which is about the average value for Alabama; and an extra $706 for the owner who lives in a $300,000 house. The owner of a house worth $50,000 or less would pay no state property tax.” Alabama’s current tax system, based mostly on sales and property taxes, is very regressive, so it’s unclear whether the new taxes would actually make the state’s system progressive or just less regressive.

Oh, and Alabama Governor Bob Riley is a Republican. Still, he got the bill through the Alabama House and Senate by basically arguing that the alternative was massive cuts in programs, including education (the proposed plan will apparently cover the shortfall and increase education funding). Needless to say, Riley’s party isn’t happy with him. Riley’s tax plan goes to the voters on September 9th, should be fun to watch.

And, of course, there is a blogger who is following this issue: Michael from A Minority of One.


P.S. A lot of other states are facing budget crises, partly of their own doing (irresponsible tax cuts during the Clinton Boom Years), and partly due to the recession, cuts in Federal spending, and unfunded mandates. Increases in state taxes may cancel out, and certainly will attenuate, the stimulative effects of the Bush tax cuts.

UPDATE: Fixed the link to A Minority of One.

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Adding to the Chorus

This guy should really be kept far, far, away from the 11th Circuit Court, or any other Federal bench. Signorile’s got a great overview of Pryor’s views. In a nutshell, Pryor’s view is that we need God–the Christian God–everywhere…In schools, courts, federal buildings, your office, your car, and, especially, your bedroom. The “so- called separation of church and state” must be eliminated. And, if you are having sex, stop it. Oh, and women have no choice on the issue of abortion. Gays? “A constitutional right that protects ‘the choice of one’s partner’ and ‘whether and how to connect sexually’ must logically extend to activities like prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography and even incest and pedophilia.” I’m just guessing here, but he’s probably not real big on minorities and women outside of the kitchen.

Given the nominees this administration keeps putting up (Owens, Pryor, Pickering, Estrada), about the only thing that would surprise me–and it wouldn’t surprise me that much–is for Rehnquist to resign and Bush to nominate Ken Starr to the Supreme Court.

For more on Pryor go here and to see what you can do to oppose confirmation of this would-be theocrat, go here.


P.S. Theocracy is bad for the economy, yet another reason to oppose Pryor.

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Monkey See…

Again, today’s NYT has a story that’s mixed at best for the administration. In this instance, it’s about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. Hell, the title of the story is “Tales of Despair From Guantanamo“. But right near the beginning, in paragraph four, appears this phrase: “None of those interviewed complained of physical mistreatment.” Based on this quote alone, the story could easily be written in one of two ways:

  • Well-treated prisoners complain about conditions, or
  • conditions [are described] as so desperate that some captives tried to kill themselves.”

This story is clearly written along the lines of the second example, which is a quote. In contrast, my subjective view is that both pre-war and during the war, almost every news piece was spun along the lines of the first example. Now stories appear to be increasingly written in a fashion unfavorable to the administration, as exemplified by the latest NYT story.

No, this is not liberal bias. It just shows that if three pieces tell a story in a given fashion, the fourth piece on the subject is almost sure to tell the same story–partly press stupidity, but mostly laziness. Of late, other journalists have written less-than-glowing articles about the war and Bush, so now Gall and Lewis (the authors of this Gitmo story) can do the same. What got the ball rolling? Possibly Kristoff last Friday, but it may date back to E.J. Dionne, who was the first to reclaim his spine at the start of 2003. (If I missed a predecessor, let me know).


P.S. Morat’s got more here and, particularly, here.

UPDATE: On the other hand, the intelligent bloggers at Not Geniuses bring us this.

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Dueling Quotes

On Libertarians, I previously wrote that “now, if I could just make Libertarians realize that sometimes we’re all better off when the government puts its hands in our pockets (you know: “form a more perfect Union”; “promote the general Welfare”)”. Now Amy Phillips comes at me with this quote from James Madison:

“If Congress can apply money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may establish teachers in every State, county and parish, and pay them out of the public Treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may undertake the regulation of all roads, other than post roads. In short, everything, from the highest object of State legislation, down to the most minute object of policy, would be thrown under the power of Congress; for every object I have mentioned would admit the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the general welfare.”

Ouch! Direct hit! Quick, to The Federalist Papers!

…The SIXTH and last class consists of the several powers and provisions by which efficacy is given to all the rest. 1. Of these the first is, the “power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.” Few parts of the Constitution have been assailed with more intemperance than this; yet on a fair investigation of it, no part can appear more completely invulnerable. Without the SUBSTANCE of this power, the whole Constitution would be a dead letter.
Federalist #44 (Madison)

Hamilton also argued in favor of a broad interpretation of “necessary and proper” (more quotes here). Amy’s quote above was in reference to the 10th Amendment, the interaction of which with the “necessary and proper” clause has been the subject of debate from the earliest days of the Constitution to the present. Madison, Jay, and Hamilton were striving mightily to gather support for the Constitution. Against this were fears of the not so distant monarch, distrust of central authority, and the Anti-Federalists. Notwithstanding this challenge, Jay, Madison, and Hamilton viewed any loose confederation as doomed to fail, proposing instead that broad powers be vested at the Federal level. In The Federalist Papers, originally published as a series of essays in New York papers, they codified and systematized their arguments. So the quote enumerating the perils of unchecked federal government appears to be an argument to encourage the states to ratify the Constitution, by arguing that the 10th amendment (“…reserved to the states…”) would prevent such incursions (This interpretation seems supported by Amy’s source for the Madison quote).

Back to Madison, he immediately follows the second quote above with a discussion of alternative ways of assigning authority to the Federal government, rejecting each in turn, and concluding,

We have now reviewed, in detail, all the articles composing the sum or quantity of power delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, and are brought to this undeniable conclusion, that no part of the power is unnecessary or improper for accomplishing the necessary objects of the Union. The question, therefore, whether this amount of power shall be granted or not, resolves itself into another question, whether or not a government commensurate to the exigencies of the Union shall be established; or, in other words, whether the Union itself shall be preserved.
Federalist #44 (Madison)

Many widely respected Founding Fathers were Anti-Federalists, notably Patrick Henry, but the Federalists–most famously, Washington, Madison, Hamilton, Jay, and Franklin–carried the day. Punchline: Broad federal powers to provide for common defense and the general welfare. That said, absent a compelling reason, the federal government should stay out of lives and markets. Where it initially finds a reason to intervene, such as positive or negative externalities, it should frequently reevaluate whether continued interference is warranted.


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