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January 2004 Archives

January 8, 2004

Good reporting is endangered

Excellent deconstruction by Gregg Easterbrook of one of those absurdly overwrought environmental doomsday pieces that appear in the media so regularly. As is so often the case, a scientifically-illterate reporter credulously reports the scariest scaremongering he can find, barely pausing along the way to even get an opposing point of view -- and making sure, when doing so, to label the opposing point of view as "conservative" so that readers will know to dismiss it.

January 9, 2004

Get Ready For Routine Full-Body Cavity Searches At The Airport

In case anyone needs reminding of just how depraved the enemy is:

January 4, 2004 -- A she-bomber planned to blow up British Airways Flight 223 over Washington with plastic explosives hidden inside her body, a chilling new report says.

U.S. security services told Scotland Yard that the woman - almost certainly linked to al Qaeda - planned to hide 8 to 12 ounces of the material tucked inside her reproductive region, London's Mirror newspaper reported.

I must admit, a little part of me just went inside, drew the shades, and is now lying curled up on the floor sucking its thumb...

Brazil Nut-zis

Seems that some people are unhappy with being fingerprinted at airports. That's understandable; not that the fingerprinting is a bad idea (it isn't), but airport security is enough of a chore as it is these days that the last thing people want is another hurdle to jump. Still, there's being unhappy, and there's being a bit of a loon:

In some countries, the fingerprinting requirement has tapped into deeply rooted resentments of the United States. A Brazilian judge was so furious that Brazilians would have to be fingerprinted and photographed that he took revenge.

"I consider the act absolutely brutal, threatening human rights, violating human dignity, xenophobic and worthy of the worst horrors committed by the Nazis," the judge, Julier Sebastiao da Silva, said last week in a court order subjecting all Americans entering Brazil to the same practice.

Yes, we all remember from our history classes the stories of Nazis rounding up Jews and subjecting them to humiliating fingerprinting and photography chambers...

In any case, this judge's lack of historical persective isn't as troubling as the fact that after he condemnned an act as "absolutely brutal, threatening human rights, violating human dignity, xenophobic and worthy of the worst horrors committed by the Nazis," he jumped at the chance to perform the very same act!!

January 19, 2004

Calling their bluff

Those who support "affirmative action" in college admissions complain that those of us opposed to such racial preferences inconsistently appeal to "merit" as the appropriate guiding principle for admissions. That is, although opponents of affirmative action claim that merit should be the only factor, we don't object to preferences for athletes, legacies, etc. The accusation is somewhat unfair -- legacy status, for instance, is not a constitutionally protected class with a history of invidious discrimination attached to it -- but it has a grain of truth to it. Certainly if one is going to argue that colleges should, in order to fulfill their mission, admit the most academically qualified students, it's hard to defend extra preferences for those related to alumni of the schools in question.

In any case, the Powers That Be at Texas A&M decided that these criticisms had force; they've decided to end legacy preferences. But of course that doesn't satisfy supporters of race preferences, because that's not what they really wanted:

Local politicians had been outraged that the university continued to give special treatment to legacies, the vast majority of whom are white, while refusing to give the same consideration to minority applicants.

But ending preferences for legacies was not their goal. In fact, the same politicians said yesterday that scrapping the policy was a poor substitute for reinstating affirmative action as a way to achieve diversity on campus.

"This discussion is far from over," said State Representative Garnet Coleman, Democrat of Houston. "They act like they've done something for students of color by eliminating the legacy program. They have not. The new policy takes away the advantage of some students, but it does not remedy the obstacles faced by students of color and women."

Whoops. I think that falls under "be careful what you wish for." Or, at least, "be careful what you ask for." They thought that they could use legacy preferences as a lever to bring race preferences back; now they don't even have that lever.

Which leaves the following question: does the New York Times even pretend to screen their articles for bias? If so, explain the following quote thrown into the article:

Even ardent opponents of affirmative action often condemn legacy programs, arguing that they perpetuate the same kind of advantages as considerations of race.
"Even"? As if there's some sort of contradiction between opposing affirmative action and legacy programs?

January 20, 2004

Minority Annoyed, Film At 11

Maybe it's just me, but I find this paragraph from a New York Times review of the TV movie "Chasing Freedom" a bit peculiar:

Ms. Lewis captures her character's arrogance and heedlessness, but also manages to signal an underlying layer of self-doubt. (It is also to the credit of the writers, however, that even as Libby grows emotionally and intellectually involved in Meena's cause, she never entirely sheds her annoying manner. At one point a harried African-American I.N.S. guard tells her off for her snooty attitude.)

Does this mean that Libby (Ms. Lewis's character) is supposed to be regarded as extra annoying because she ticks black people off? Remember kids, it's only cool to annoy members of your own race...

January 21, 2004

The era of big government is back

Article II, Section 3:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
I thought the State of the Union spectacle had reached an all-time low in 1996, when Bill Clinton used his Constitutionally-granted podium to advocate a solution to a national emergency:
I call on Congress to pass the requirement for a V-chip in TV sets so that parents can screen out programs they believe are inappropriate for their children. When parents control what their young children see, that is not censorship; that is enabling parents to assume more personal responsibility for their children's upbringing. And I urge them to do it. The V-chip requirement is part of the important telecommunications bill now pending in this Congress. It has bipartisan support, and I urge you to pass it now.
That the president would use his precious time to discuss such a petty matter was an embarrassment.

But I think George Bush managed to top it yesterday, with his latest contribution to State of the Union history:

To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.
It gives a new meaning to the phrase "bully pulpit." The "bull" part, anyway. This dreck is what Bush wastes his time on? His speechwriters have a year to come up with a speech, and that's the best they can do? He calls on sports leagues to get rid of steroids?

"Nothing to offer but blood, sweat, and boredom."

Ugh. Is that really the best that the president and his speechwriters could do? Goodness knows I don't generally look to politicians for inspiration, and I certainly don't look to this president for rousing oratory. (Let's face it: whatever you think of his policies, you have to breathe a sigh of relief any time Bush manages to speak a whole paragraph without inventing a new form of grammar along the way.) But even so, I expect at least a minimal level of dramatic performance out of a State of the Union address. If we can't get a bold proposal, at least we're owed an interesting catch phrase like "Axis of Evil."

But this one? Yuck. I'd expect a Student Government president to give a speech like this one. It was just a rambling collection of blah, and while Bush occasionally projected an air of defiance, it was directed not at Al Qaeda but at his domestic political opponents. The entire speech was defensive in tone, as Bush seemed to be responding to every criticism that has been levied at his policies as though he had been saving up a list for just this occasion. And as though he were determined to give not even one inch of ground, to concede even the possibility that some of his policies need tweaking.

It's one thing to say, "Yay, tax cuts." That's core Republican belief, and there's some evidence that they're helping the economy, even if you'd never get Paul Krugman to admit it. But the Patriot Act? Come on. A third of the country hates it, and the rest are, I suspect, pretty indifferent. (Does anybody outside John Ashcroft's office sit around saying, "Praise the lord for the Patriot Act"?) So who was his defense of the Act aimed at?

Okay, the part where he listed all the countries in our unilateral coaltion was good; I'll give him credit for that. But the rest of the speech? We saw neither humor nor boldness, neither vision nor outreach. Some red meat for his base, as he denounced gay marriage, campaigned for abstinence, and proposed money for faith-based institutions. But nothing for the rest of us.

Not that the Pelosi-Daschle response was any more inspiring, mind you -- but at the end of the night I left the room (actually, I just changed the channel, but that's not the point) hoping that Joe Lieberman does well in New Hampshire.

Good For The Country, Bad For Democrats

David's right - the speech was pretty blah. But I did like this part:

Americans took those dollars and put them to work, driving this economy forward. The pace of economic growth in the third quarter of 2003 was the fastest in nearly 20 years. New home construction: the highest in almost 20 years. Home ownership rates: the highest ever. Manufacturing activity is increasing. Inflation is low. Interest rates are low. Exports are growing. Productivity is high. And jobs are on the rise.

Not because the words are anything special, but because of the reaction from the audience: the Republican side of the chamber gave this part a standing ovation, while the Democrats sat on their hands. I suppose it's because they think low inflation, high economic growth, and such are bad or something for some reason. (Now, whatever reason could that be?) Still, someone should have suggested that they at least *pretend* to be happy about the improving economy...

Alone With Our 34 Friends

OK, I also really liked this part:

Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be internationalized. This particular criticism is hard to explain to our partners in Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the 17 other countries that have committed troops to Iraq.

Nancy Pelosi obviously needs to have it explained to her as well, for in her response, she said:

Never before have we been more powerful militarily. But even the most powerful nation in history must bring other nations to our side to meet common dangers.

The president's policies do not reflect that. He has pursued a go-it-alone foreign policy that leaves us isolated abroad and that steals the resources we need for education and health care here at home.

This accusation of unilateralism is and has always been transparently bogus and ludicrously simple to rebut. Why, then is it such a popular accusation among the accusing class?

UPDATE: Maureen Dowd, no surprise, is also holding her ears and shouting "la-la-la-la-la-I'm-not-listening-la-la-la-la...":

Can you believe President Bush is still pushing the cockamamie claim that we went to war in Iraq with a real coalition rather than a gaggle of poodles and lackeys?

There is no pleasing some people. Build a coalition and they complain that the coalition isn't good - or "real" - enough. Well, tell it to the real good soldiers from those countries who are over in Iraq right now helping us and the Iraqi people, Ms. Dowd. (Just be careful not to spit on any of their graves on the way.)

Mission Accomplished

My wife nearly spit up her milk when Tom Daschle said:

Education is the second key to our "opportunity society." Two years ago, the president signed a new education law. The heart of that law was a promise: The federal government would set high standards for every student, and hold schools responsible for results. In exchange, schools would receive the resources to meet the new standards. America's schools are holding up their end of the bargain; the president has not held up his. Millions of children are being denied the better teachers, smaller classes and extra help they were promised.

Fortunately, we have Time Warner Cable DVR service, so we could pause and rewind and discuss all the speeches at will. After rewinding and listening to this passage again to make sure that that was indeed what he had said, my wife astutely pointed out that if, as Daschle claims, "schools are holding up their end of the bargain," which presumably means that the schools are already beginning to meet the higher standards, then there is nothing for Daschle to complain about! If the schools are meeting the higher standards without more federal money and resources, that's a good thing. The goal of No Child Left Behind is not (or should not be) increased funding for the sake of funding!

January 22, 2004

Going, going, gone!

Is it wrong of me to find this funny?

Update: Use this URL instead. (But note that the scoring for this new link is different, so ignore the scores posted here.)

Continue reading "Going, going, gone!" »

January 23, 2004

So what about "Hickory Dickory Dock"?

Via Overlawyered, I see that one of those ridiculous lawsuits we always read about has been resolved. In this one, Southwest Airlines was sued last year because a flight attendant had used the phrase "Eenie meenie minie moe," and two black passengers claimed that they suffered emotional distress as a result. The jury found for the airline.

Of course, defenders of the current tort system will cite this case as an example of the system working: it was a bogus case, so when the case went to trial, the defense won. Just what we want to happen.

Except, of course, that the case went to trial. That's tens of thousands of dollars the airline had to spend, just to prove that a nonsense nursery rhyme wasn't maliciously used to injure the passengers. And it wasn't just the airline that had to expend resources:

[The trial] began on Tuesday before an eight-member jury.

The jury returned its verdict in favor of the airline Wednesday evening.

So even the correct outcome for this frivolous trial cost eight people two days of their lives.

Keep in mind what the basis of this lawsuit was: it wasn't that the flight attendant had used racial slurs. In fact, the flight attendant never mentioned race at all. Rather, the flight attendant's innocent, non-racial comments offended some people because they thought it might have some tenuous connection to a race-based reference from decades earlier. And that was enough to trigger a lawsuit and a trial.

Unfortunately, when the courts in the mid-1980s decided to expand the "hostile work environment" theory of discrimination, they opened the door to lawsuits where mere offense -- a vague and highly subjective standard -- can create liability. Fortunately the jury made the right decision here, but given that the "hostile environment" theory has now moved beyond the workplace to the public accommodations venue, nobody can feel free to speak -- even in innocuous children's rhymes -- without fear of incurring tens of thousands of dollars in costs if a member of some racial minority is having a bad day.

Continue reading "So what about "Hickory Dickory Dock"?" »

Ignorance of the law is no excuse

So I watched part of Thursday's Democratic debate in New Hampshire. As usual, it was filled with political pablum and pointless platitudes, as candidates struggled to dodge questions in their one (!) minute allotted response times. And it was filled with idiot questions from idiot media panelists, asking all sorts of horse-race related questions which nobody on earth cares about.

But one exchange during the debate, between moderator Peter Jennings and Senator John Edwards, struck me:

JENNINGS: OK, thank you, sir.

Senator Edwards, President Bush, as you know, is worried. He said it again in the State of the Union address the other night that the Defense of Marriage Act is not strong enough, as he says, to protect the institution of marriage.

You were not in the Senate in 1996 when it passed overwhelmingly.

JENNINGS: Senator Kerry was one of only 14 senators who voted against it. I'd like to know from you whether or not you think he was right or wrong, and why?

EDWARDS: I think he was right. I think he was right because what happened with the Defense of Marriage Act is it took away the power of states, like Vermont, to be able to do what they chose to do about civil unions, about these kinds of marriage issues.

These are issues that should be left -- Massachusetts, for example, has just made a decision, the supreme court at least has made a decision, that embraces the notion of gay marriage.

I think these are decisions that the states should have the power to make. And the Defense of Marriage Act, as I understand it -- you're right, I wasn't there when it was passed -- but as I understand it, it would have taken away that power. And I think that's wrong. That power should not be taken away from the states.

JENNINGS: Do you believe that other states, for example, should be obliged to honor and recognize the civil union which Governor Dean signed? Should other states be obliged to recognize what happens in another state?

EDWARDS: I think it's a decision that should be made on a state- by-state basis. I think each state should be able to make its own decision about what they embrace.


HUME: I just want to follow up with on the Defense of Marriage Act, which of course is the law of the land.


HUME: Does not the Defense of Marriage Act specifically say that the court rulings in one state, which might, for example, recognize a gay marriage, may not be imposed on anther state? In other words, doesn't the Defense of Marriage go to the very position which you yourself take?

EDWARDS: No, the Defense of Marriage -- first of all, I wasn't in the Congress, I don't claim to be an expert on this. But as I understand the Defense of Marriage Act, it would take away the power of some states to choose whether they would recognize or not recognize gay marriages. That's my understanding of it.

In case you don't catch what I'm talking about, it's simple: Senator Edwards has no idea what the Defense of Marriage Act is. He gets the answer completely wrong, thinking the law says the opposite of what it actually says. The Defense of Marriage Act -- whatever one thinks of its merits -- is designed specifically to leave it up to each state whether to legalize gay marriages and whether and how to recognize gay marriages from other states.

Edwards pathetically tries to wiggle out of his ignorance by pointing out that he wasn't serving in the Senate when it passed, and that he "doesn't claim to be an expert." But Edwards is a lawyer! No, he doesn't practice an area of law related to this -- but shouldn't he have some basic familiarity with one of the more prominent laws passed by Congress on a prominent political issue? My practice doesn't have deal in any way with any related area of law -- and needless to say, I also wasn't a member of Congress when it passed -- but I sure as heck know what the law says.

Brit Hume gives Edwards a chance to pull his foot from his mouth, and yet Edwards repeats the error. Now, if George Bush showed total unfamiliarity with a prominent piece of legislation, he would be called both a liar and a moron. How do you think the media will choose to characterize Edwards? (My guess: his error will be briefly mentioned, with no insinuations that it tells us something abouut Edwards' fitness, and will then be dropped entirely.)

Scenes from the Democratic struggle in Manchester, New Hampshire

In addition to Senator Edwards' unfamiliarity with the law, which I mention below, some other debate tidbits caught my attention, generally for the absurdity...

  • Wesley Clark dodging a question about why he didn't contradict Michael Moore's calling President Bush a deserter. Clark's response: "Well, I think Michael Moore has the right to say whatever he feels about this." I'm pretty sure everyone's aware of that, Mr. Clark. But thanks for that first amendment primer.

  • John Edwards explaining that lobbyists are fine, wonderful, upstanding human beings... as long as they don't lobby, or at least as long as they don't lobby effectively.
    JENNINGS: Is there anything intrinsically wrong with being a lobbyist?

    EDWARDS: No. There's something wrong with the impact that Washington lobbyists are having on our system of government.

    JENNINGS: Time.

    EDWARDS: Because -- since you asked me, may I say one other word about that?

    Because if you watch what happens there every single day, they are influencing legislation. The power of the American people to have their representatives decide only in the interests of the American people has been taken away. And it happens over and over and over.

    Which is why I have laid out a very clear set of proposals: banning contributions from Washington lobbyists. I've never taken any money from Washington lobbyists, but no one should be able to take money from them...

  • Remember all that liberal propaganda you were fed in high school about how the evil robber barons oppressed their workers, stuffing them all in sweatshops and unsafe factories and making them work 25 hours a day? (Until the noble Progressives intervened with their legislation and unions, of course.) Well, apparently, it's all untrue -- though not for the reasons you think. It's not that these times weren't that bad; rather (to quote John Kerry), "The workplace of America, Peter, has never been as unfair for the average American as it is today." That's right; never.

  • Brit Hume asking Al Sharpton, without smirking, what to do about the chaos in Iran: "As president, how would you deal with the situation in Iran?" (Next: asking Sharpton, "As head of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory , what would you do to help advance research into fusion technology?")
Of course, the format of the debate -- seven candidates sharing the stage, and each getting just one minute to respond to questions (Heck, it barely leaves them time for the pre-scripted quips), doesn't help, but could this group be any more underwhelming? Other than Dennis Kucinich, none of these people can give a clear, concrete, statement as to why they'd be better than Bush -- and Kucinich is a fruitcake, so his clear, concise statements are, well, loony. How can there not be one Democrat out there in the entire country who's presidential material?

It's not just that these people have no ideas -- though (again, with the exception of Kucinich) they don't. They all hate Bush, but they can't really articulate reasons, or come up with their own proposals for anything. It's just "Trust us, we could do it better than he could, because we're Democrats." (Admittedly, part of the blame/credit goes to Bush, who learned from Clinton that triangulation makes it difficult for your political opponents to catch up to you. When Bush expands federal spending on education, AIDS, agricultural supports, Medicare..., what's left to say but "We could do it better"?)

But the bigger problem is that each of them, with the exception of Joe Lieberman, has the backbone of a single-celled organism. Lieberman has staked his campaign on his support for the liberation of Iraq, and he's determined to stick with it, regardless of what his audience thinks. But the rest of them are too scared of offending any part of the party faithful to say anything that might cost them a single vote. Wesley Clark -- a general, for goodness sake -- won't even distance himself from lefty Michael Moore. He won't even say that Moore is wrong, let alone calling Moore the slime that he is. Edwards and Dean talk about being pro gun rights, but then sign on to every bit of the anti-gun agenda of the party. Clark panders panders panders on abortion. Kerry wriggles and twists to avoid saying anything about going to war in Iraq. If these people can't even stand up to those who are on their side, how can they possibly stand up to anybody else?

What went wrong?

By now, I think it's pretty clear that the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs just aren't living up to the hype. There's some scattered stuff out there in Iraq, but we're not going to find the smoking gun we all thought was there. No warehouse filled with cannisters of sarin, no laboratory churning out smallpox, no stockpile of fissile material waiting to be loaded into the missiles. There may be some programs, some spare parts, a lot of plans and blueprints -- but not much in the way of ready-to-go NBC weapons systems.

So did President Bush lie when he itemized the Iraqi programs for us? He definitely overstated his level of certainty, but did he lie? Did he know that Iraq didn't have these things, and pretend that Iraq did, for domestic advantage? Or if he didn't know the truth, why not? How incompetent could our intelligence agencies be?

The most comprehensive explanation of these issues I've seen is in this month's Atlantic Monthly; Ken Pollack the former Clinton administration official who strongly supported the war, discusses at great length what we knew and why. And he makes a compelling case that in fact, Bush did not lie, except perhaps in exaggerating the confidence we should have had in the information available to us. Rather, the errors were the result of reasonable, but incorrect, assumptions by intelligence agencies, combined with a simple lack of useful data and the knowledge that they had repeatedly underestimated Saddam Hussein's progress towards these programs in the past.

It's a long piece, but it's good. Go read it.

January 26, 2004

Do as we say, not as we... say

Next time you hear the New York Times complaining about irresponsible fiscal policies, about deficit spending, please keep this editorial in mind. The Times has serious criticisms of the $400 billion prescription drug plan recently passed by Congress: namely, that it isn't generous enough.

So just keep this simple formula in mind: allowing people to keep their own money is "ill-advised." Spending other people's money as fast as possible is a "major achievement."

Figure of speech

Question of the day: where the heck did the popular term "wingnut" come from? I know what it means -- er, correction: I know what it refers to, but I don't know what it means, and I don't know where it came from. I had never heard the term before in the political context, and then a year or so ago, maybe two years, it suddenly became ubiquitous. What's up with that?

January 27, 2004

Prohibitive Acts

In case you were wondering, here's why you've never seen Roger Clemens play jai alai.

January 29, 2004

Bait and switch

I hate to use a cliche like this, but Paul Krugman has now officially jumped the shark. He started out arguing that Bush's campaign proposals didn't add up. Krugman was a little one-sided, but was basically correct. (Gee, a politician who promises more than he can deliver? Whoda thunk it?) Unfortunately, when Bush got elected anyway, this pushed Krugman over the edge. After all, Paul Krugman, supergenius, had made his pronouncement from the mountaintop. How could people dare ignore him? So he began selectively quoting partisan sources, pretending those sources were unbiased, in an attempt to prove his points.

But now? Now he's just at the point of making things up. Wouldn't you think the starting point for figuring out whether spending is going up would be to look at spending? Not Krugman, though. He claims that domestic spending hasn't gone up, and his entire evidence is this:

Is domestic spending really exploding? Think about it: farm subsidies aside, which domestic programs have received lavish budget increases over the last three years? Education? Don't be silly: No Child Left Behind is rapidly turning into a sick joke.

In fact, many government agencies are severely underfinanced. For example, last month the head of the National Park Service's police admitted to reporters that her force faced serious budget and staff shortages, and was promptly suspended.

Yes, that's it. Hard to believe, but that's his entire analysis. NCLB is a "sick joke," and the Park Police want more money. Notice anything missing? Say, actual numbers?

(Krugman, incidentally, seems to love using the "Bush must be lying about his policy about X because government agency Y or advocacy group Z says that they want more money to deal with X. Is Krugman dishonest, or is he actually so stupid that he doesn't realize that every group always says that they want more money to deal with a given problem? Have you ever heard any government agency say, "No thanks; our budget's big enough"? )

To be fair, Krugman does make a specific argument:

According to cleverly misleading reports from the Heritage Foundation and other like-minded sources, the deficit is growing because Mr. Bush isn't sufficiently conservative: he's allowing runaway growth in domestic spending.
Oh, wait, I lied; Krugman doesn't make a specific argument. In fact, Krugman's entire analysis of the claim is that it's "cleverly misleading."

He then goes off on a rant about tax evasion, which is rather ironic given his later accusation that "the right" is guilty of "bait-and-switch." Regardless of whether taxes are too low or the rich are guilty of tax evasion, what on earth does that have to do with his claim that spending hasn't increased? Nothing. He couldn't prove the latter, so he quickly changed topics to the former, hoping we wouldn't notice. It's, dare I say, a bait-and-switch.

And while I'm ranting about Krugman, what the heck kind of claim is this?

But [the decline in tax collections] also probably reflects an epidemic of tax avoidance and evasion.
"Probably"? Is that Krugmanspeak for "Bullshit"?

(And incidentally, as long as I'm complaining, the phrase "tax avoidance and evasion" is dishonest. Tax evasion is a crime -- people not paying the taxes they're legally required to pay. Tax avoidance, on the other hand, is the perfectly legal approach of structuring one's business/assets to pay the fewest taxes one is legally required to pay. It's like lumping together "outrunning the police" and "driving just under the speed limit" as ways to avoid speeding tickets.)

Can't buy me love?

Speaking of what I just posted about Paul Krugman's idiocy about domestic spending not having risen under Bush, I see this piece on that topic:

President Bush will seek a big increase in the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts, the largest single source of support for the arts in the United States, administration officials said on Wednesday.


Administration officials, including White House budget experts, said that Mr. Bush would propose an increase of $15 million to $20 million for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. That would be the largest rise in two decades and far more than the most recent increases, about $500,000 for 2003 and $5 million for this year.

I'm not quite sure I get Bush's strategy here. Somehow I don't think the NEA -- even a noncontroversial version -- is a program near-and-dear to his heart. So why this proposal? Does he figure that he has already lost the deficit-hawk vote, so he might as well go all out to buy the votes of moderate swing-voters by funding every social program ever conceived of?

The one thing we can be sure of: even if it passes, Bush will never get credit for this among Democratic partisans. It doesn't matter how much additional money he spends; people like Paul Krugman come along to claim that it's not enough. (Indeed, if the NEA's budget increases by "only" $10 million, say, those partisans will claim that this announcement was just grandstanding and that Bush never lives up to his promises.) So I just don't get this. What does Bush hope to gain?

(By the way, isn't Disney, or one of the other media conglomerates, a larger "single source of support for the arts in the United States" than the NEA? Or does only art that nobody wants to watch count as art?)

Trust but verify?

So here's a philosophical question for you: if an advocacy group tries to mislead us, should we be more insulted if it hides its dishonesty, or if it actually has the audacity to provide citations which prove its dishonesty, hoping we won't check?

The left-wing advocacy group MoveOn, a group which ironically never takes its own advice, has been whining lately about "censorship" because CBS has rejected an ad MoveOn wanted to run during the Super Bowl. (It isn't, of course; a private organization making an editorial decision isn't "censoring" anybody when it chooses not to publish a particular message.) MoveOn is trying to claim that CBS's decision is politically motivated:

CBS will also claim that this decision isn't an indication of political bias. But given the facts, that's hard to believe. CBS overwhelmingly favored Republicans in its political giving, and the company spent millions courting the White House to stop FCC reform.(6)
And when you go to that footnote?
6. OpenSecrets.org: "CBS Television Network Soft Money Donations"
Okay, the logic is that CBS "overwhelmingly" favors Republicans, so it must be biased in favor of them. So let's check out their source, OpenSecrets.org...

Yes, in fact, it's true: a whopping 98% of CBS's "soft money" contributions went to Republicans in the election cycle cited. Millions of dollars, all to Republicans. Right? Uh, no. In fact, here's what we're talking about:

To Democrats: $250 (2%)
To Republicans: $13,505 (98%)
Total: $13,755
That's right: a grand total of $13,000. Hardly the sort of giant fundraising bonanza MoveOn tries to portray.

But wait, there's more...CBS is no longer an independent entity; in May of 2000, it was purchased by Viacom. Even if one wasn't aware of the relationship between the two companies initially, OpenSecrets.org provides that information on the page linked to by MoveOn. If you click on that link, you see Viacom's contributions. And if you look at that, you see the numbers change substantially:

To Democrats: $24,900 (60%)
To Republicans: $16,505 (40%)
Total: $41,405
Whoops. Suddenly, MoveOn's argument seems a little silly, doesn't it? And it gets worse. If you look at more than just a single election cycle, the contribution gap substantially widens, in favor of Democrats. Viacom and its subsidiaries gave $19,000 to Republicans in 2002... and $1.3 million to Democrats.

Of course, this doesn't prove that the decision to reject MoveOn's ad wasn't partisan -- but it sure as heck refutes the limited evidence (*) provided by MoveOn that it was partisan. MoveOn couldn't have missed this data; as I said, the first set was linked to right on the page MoveOn cited.

(*) MoveOn and its Democratic supporters also claim that CBS's excuse -- that it doesn't accept advocacy ads -- is just a pretext, because it has run antismoking and antidrug ads. Uh, yeah. Whatever. Because a partisan political position ad is clearly equivalent to an antismoking ad. Both are likely to be equally controversial.

The United States Mint is unconstitutional!

You see, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, clearly states that "The Congress shall have power to ... coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin." But Congress does not coin money nowadays; the U.S. Mint does! This is obviously an unconstitutional and illegal usurpation of Congressional authority!

And what of regulating the value of foreign coin? The price we pay for euros and British pounds isn't set by acts of Congress, as the Constitution requires. It's time to take back our country from the clutches of the currency traders!

Have I convinced you? Only if you were anti-Mint and anti-currency-trader in the first place, perhaps. Just as you'd have to already be opposed to the war in Iraq to believe the following:

The Iraq war is in direct violation of the United States Constitution.

It's the same ridiculous argument as above; argue that a piece of Article I, Section 8 is being violated, while conveniently ignoring that the last paragraph of that section states that Congress has the power to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers".

It's a nice try, but good luck getting the Supreme Court to agree.


I'm off to Hawaii for ten days. I want to hear no bad news from back in the real world while I'm gone, OK? I'll have enough to worry about over there, what with the revolution brewing...

January 30, 2004

He has other good qualities, too.

The good news is, Josh Chafetz isn't snarky.

Which hunt?

Remember, an investigation that doesn't result in findings of guilt is a "witchhunt":

Ms. Lewis played a central role in the Whitewater witch hunt (seven years, $70 million, no evidence of Clinton wrongdoing)
..but an investigation that doesn't result in findings of guilt is a "whitewash":
(Yes, the Hutton report gave Tony Blair a clean bill of health, but many people -- including a majority of the British public, according to polls -- regard that report as a whitewash.)

The fabulous mind of Paul Krugman, folks.

Also, remember, if one doesn't like a report's findings, one can ignore it:

True, Mr. Kay still claims that this was a pure intelligence failure. I don't buy it:
...but if one does, then it must be true:
a report from a the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has issued a damning report on how the threat from Iraq was hyped, and former officials warned of politicized intelligence during the war buildup.

Still Paul Krugman, folks.

January 31, 2004

It doesn't ad up

The New York Times carried a small story yesterday about pharmaceutical advertising. Seems Congressman Henry Waxman is criticizing the Food & Drug Administration because it isn't going after drug companies enthusiastically enough for their ads:

Mr. Waxman's staff found that the number of notices of violation or warning letters to pharmaceutical companies for misleading ads fell to 24 last year from 108 in 1999.

When the agency did contact companies about ads it found misleading or incomplete, moreover, it took longer to send its complaints, the report said. For 14 of the ads that generated letters last year, the agency sent letters an average of six months after the ads first appeared. By way of comparison, the report cites a General Accounting Office study of a five-month period in 2002, when the agency took an average of 41 days to send warning letters.

As an example of slow action, the report discussed a consumer ad for Taxotere, a cancer treatment sold by Aventis. The ad first ran in People magazine in October 2002, but the agency did not send a warning letter to Aventis until more than a year later.

This report is being used by advocacy groups to bash the FDA:
"The F.D.A. is in a semi-lawless mode with respect to enforcing drug advertising rules," said Sidney M. Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen in Washington, an advocacy group. "It began in the Clinton administration, but it's gotten much worse. The amount of enforcement has gone down when the amount of advertising has gone significantly up."
Reading the actual report (PDF), the situation seems slightly less dire:
In 2002, FDA cited one advertisement for every seven complaints submitted to the agency. But in 2003, the citation rate declined to one citation for every eight complaints submitted to FDA.
One in seven, one in eight. Big deal.

More importantly, here's what these self-styled consumer advocates consider such a big deal:

The agency said that the headline in the ad, "The next move may be the key to survival," falsely implied that Taxotere was essential for patients to survive, when, in fact, other treatments were available.
This is what our tax dollars are going for? They're making a federal case of this? Not only is it trivial -- after all, we're talking about prescription drugs here, which cannot be purchased without a doctor's prescription anyway -- but it's stupid. Clearly, the statement "X may be the key" does not imply that X is essential. It says that it "may be" -- which implies that it may not be.

It goes on. Some of the other inanities include:

  • "[Y]ou portray a seemingly healthy unimpaired man out fishing and taking care of a child, rather than depicting a more typical person with persistent, moderate to severe pain taking Oxycontin."
  • "You also claim that, 'Because Taxotere is generally safe and tolerable, you can stay involved in important aspects of your life.'... [T]his claim ignores the risks associated with the drug that may prevent or interfere with the patient's ability to stay involved in important aspects of his or her life..."
  • "Claims such as 'Novartis and Gloria ended 30 years of delibiltating abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation in just 3 days' imply that the 'treatment from Novartis' (i.e., Zelnorm) conferred complete relief of her symptoms... Zelnorm is not indicated as a cure for IBS with constipation and does not help everyone."
In short, we're apparently spending taxpayer money to chastise the FDA for not spending more taxpayer money to inform people who can't buy a particular drug without their doctors' prescription that the photographs in drug ads may not reflect every person who suffers from the symptoms the drug treats, that patients are different, and that drugs actually have risks. Duh, duh, and duh.


And it would be so devastating if the federal government were slashed in size? To whom, other than bureaucrats and their parasitic hangers-on like Public Citizen?

About January 2004

This page contains all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in January 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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