Friday, November 28, 2003

Your weekend reading on what's going on in Iraq

In the past, I've occasionally offered posts on what's going on in Iraq. However, this time, George Packer blows away anything I could muster. If you have the time, go read Packer's vivid dissection of the current state of Iraq from last week's New Yorker (link via Matthew Yglesias). I'll admit to liking it because it reinforces three points I've made repeatedly over the past few months:

1) There is still no coherent narrative about the future of Iraq. The Packer story is filled with anecdotes both good and bad, frustrating and promising. One hopeful sign is that Packer's updates from his reportage done during the summer suggests that both material and institutional conditions are improving;

2) Bureaucratic politics made an absolute hash out of the pre-war planning for the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. One key section:

In the summer of 2002, when the Administration began leaning toward an invasion of Iraq, [director of policy planning at the State Department Richard N.] Haass asked [Drew] Erdmann to analyze twentieth-century postwar reconstructions. In fifteen single-spaced classified pages—epic length for a State Department memo—Erdmann applied the ideas in his dissertation to a series of case studies from the two world wars through more recent conflicts such as Bosnia and Kosovo. One of Erdmann’s fundamental conclusions was that long-term success depended on international support. In the short run, he explained to me one evening, “the foundation of everything is security,” which partly depended on having sufficient numbers of troops. “You don’t have to look too far to see that isn’t the case here. And I don’t fault the people who are here. There’s no way any fault should be put on the kids in the 3rd I.D. or the brigade commanders. The question is, why weren’t more people put in? That was the concern of my project—were we prepared to do what it took in the postwar phase?”

Last fall, Secretary of State Colin Powell circulated Erdmann’s memo to Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. “Maybe it wasn’t read,” Erdmann said.

Erdmann’s view that rebuilding Iraq would require a significant, sustained effort was echoed by the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Throughout 2002, sixteen groups of Iraqi exiles, coördinated by a bureau official named Thomas S. Warrick, researched potential problems in postwar Iraq, from the electricity grid to the justice system. The thousands of pages that emerged from this effort, which became known as the Future of Iraq Project, presented a sobering view of the country’s physical and human infrastructure—and suggested the need for a long-term, expensive commitment.

The Pentagon also spent time developing a postwar scenario, but, because of Rumsfeld’s battle with Powell over foreign policy, it didn’t coördinate its ideas with the State Department. The planning was directed, in an atmosphere of near-total secrecy, by Douglas J. Feith, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy, and William Luti, his deputy. According to a Defense Department official, Feith’s team pointedly excluded Pentagon officials with experience in postwar reconstructions. The fear, the official said, was that such people would offer pessimistic scenarios, which would challenge Rumsfeld’s aversion to using troops as peacekeepers; if leaked, these scenarios might dampen public enthusiasm for the war. “You got the impression in this exercise that we didn’t harness the best and brightest minds in a concerted effort,” Thomas E. White, the Secretary of the Army during this period, told me. “With the Department of Defense the first issue was ‘We’ve got to control this thing’—so everyone else was suspect.” White was fired in April. Feith’s team, he said, “had the mind-set that this would be a relatively straightforward, manageable task, because this would be a war of liberation and therefore the reconstruction would be short-lived.” (emphasis added)

[Oh, sure why didn't you raise this before the war, when you supported military action?--ed. Even Packer says in the article that prior to the war, "The Administration was remarkably adept at muffling its own internal tensions."]

3) Drew Erdmann is a smart, smart man (click here for my last post that mentioned Erdmann). Having been in Iraq from April to August, and having endured a lot while he was over there, he agrees with me on the "no coherent narrative" line:

In our last conversation in Washington, Drew Erdmann said that it made no sense to claim any certainty about how Iraq will emerge from this ordeal. “I’m very cautious about dealing with anyone talking about Iraq who’s absolutely sure one way or the other,” he said.


posted by Dan at 11:53 PM | Comments (41) | Trackbacks (4)

Good politics and a good thing to do

Matthew Yglesias takes exception to Bush’s visit to Baghdad here and here. His objections can be boiled down to three points:

  • How much “this little poll-driven PR stunt cost the taxpayers”;
  • Democrats weren’t invited;
  • “what the troops need is not a visit from the commander-in-chief, but a commander-in-chief who knows what he's doing. Similarly, the president doesn't need to spend a couple of hours with the soldiers, he needs to figure out what the hell is going on in Iraq and what he's going to do about it.”
  • To address each of his points in turn:

    1) My guess is that this did not cost a hell of a lot, in part because of the mission’s secrecy. Bush did not travel with his normal-sized retinue – according to this report, much of his Secret Service detail thought he was in Crawford, which meant they didn't travel with him to Baghdad. He did not travel with a normal-sized press contingent. The secrecy also meant that very few people were in on the loop, which prevented any large-scale activities. This trip was probably less expensive that a garden-variety stop in Chicago.

    2) As hard as this may be for some on the left to accept, the president is the Commander-in-Chief. There are some events for which Bush will be viewed as the head of government rather than the leader of the Republican Party. Does Matt seriously believe that the troops in the mess hall were going to say, “Huh, there’s the President. Wait a minute, there’s Tom Daschle!! And Nancy Pelosi!! Awesome!!

    Does this mean that this wasn’t a good political move for the President? Of course not. However, despite some problematic policies as of late, it is possible for a presidential action to simultaneously be the right thing to do and the politically savvy thing to do. This was one of those occasions. Those who criticize the president for the latter are ignoring the former at their own peril.

    3) I agree with Yglesias that the really important challenge for Bush and the administration is figuring out a long-range strategy for Iraq – and Matt should bear in mind that unless the long-term policy sorts itself out, this trip will backfire, much like that carrier landing.

    However, that was true whether or not Bush went to Baghdad. It’s not clear to me whether the time invested into this trip was so distracting that the opportunity costs of lost long-term planning (which seems to have made new headway) are particularly high.

    Furthermore, Yglesias may be underestimating the effect the visit had on troop morale in Iraq. The media reports indicate that Bush’s visit was warmly received by the men and women stationed in Iraq. Given the importance of morale in ensuring a constructive military occupation of Iraq and a transfer of power to Iraqis, I would think Yglesias would approve of such trips.

    UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias responds. Robert Tagorda has some thoughts worth perusing as well.

    posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (52) | Trackbacks (6)

    When tenured philosophers attack

    Brian Leiter, in comparing my two-sentence comment on Bush’s trip to Baghdad with Matthew Yglesias’ posts on the subject, comments:

    This, alas, confirms my general view about the relative intellectual merits of philosophy and political science: a BA in philosophy apparently puts you well ahead of a PhD in political science.

    Hmmm.... how to respond?

    I could fire off a one-liner about how this sentence, alas, confirms my view that law and philosophy professors remain woefully behind in understanding the perils of inductive extrapolation from one empirical observation, but that would be unfair to Leiter as well as the rest of the law and philosophy crowd. It would also commit the same error in logic that Leiter commits in his post.

    I’m sure that Leiter has published/posted items of value…. er, somewhere. Generalizing from that one sentence to conclude that Leiter's entire body of work is rubbish would be wrong. And it would be even more wrong to infer that Leiter’s statement is endemic of those who study the nexus between law and philosophy.

    Rather, I will suggest that on this issue, Leiter is wrong on the facts and spectacularly wrong in his generalization. To be fair, however, Leiter's comparison was based on a brief comment. Click here to see my expanded thoughts on the Bush visit and a response to Yglesias.

    posted by Dan at 11:30 AM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (7)

    Thursday, November 27, 2003

    Here's Johnny!!!

    All blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy...... all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play makes Dan a dull boy....all blog and no play ma-----

    [All right, that does it, you're taking a break for Thanksgiving! I am not going to be the Shelley Duvall character in this production!--ed. Yes.... yes, that may be for the best.]

    A happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

    UPDATE: Looks like American troops in Baghdad got an extra special Thanksgiving treat. Bravo for a class act.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's my reply to Brian Leiter's moronic hyperbole, and here's a more substantive response to Matthew Yglesias on the merits of the trip.

    posted by Dan at 07:50 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (5)

    Wednesday, November 26, 2003

    The conundrum of tenure and toddlers

    Kieran Healy, Chris Bertam, and the Invisible Adjunct have posts up about this report in Academe on the effect of gender and children on career advancement: The key finding in the report:

    Our findings illustrate, not surprisingly, that babies do matter—they matter a great deal. And what also matters is the timing of babies. There is a consistent and large gap in achieving tenure between women who have early babies and men who have early babies, and this gap is surprisingly uniform across the disciplines and across types of institutions. While there are some differences among the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities, and there are some differences between large research universities and small liberal arts colleges, the "baby gap" is robust and consistent. By our definition, an "early baby" is one who joins the household prior to five years after his or her parent completes the Ph.D. For most academics, this represents the time of early career development: graduate school and assistant professor or postdoctoral years. These are years of high demands and high job insecurity.

    In the sciences and engineering, among those working in academia, men who have early babies are strikingly more successful in earning tenure than women who have early babies.... there is an overall 24 percent gap between men's and women's rates of having achieved tenure twelve to fourteen years after receiving the Ph.D. This comparative finding focuses on that relatively small group of women who receive Ph.D.'s in the sciences. The gap would be even larger if we simply compared all men in science with all women in science, since men Ph.D.'s greatly outnumber women Ph.D.'s. The same phenomenon exists in the humanities and social sciences, where the gap in tenure achievement between men and women who have early babies is close to 20 percent. Surprisingly, having early babies seems to help men; men who have early babies achieve tenure at slightly higher rates than people who do not have early babies.

    The effects of having late babies, those who join the household more than five years after the Ph.D. is earned, are far less dramatic. Overall, women with late babies and women without children demonstrate about the same rate of achieving tenure, a rate higher than women with early babies. Presumably, women who have babies later in their career life have already achieved job security. They are also more likely to have only one child.

    Overall, women who attain tenure across the disciplines are unlikely to have children in the household. Twelve to fourteen years out from the Ph.D., 62 percent of tenured women in the humanities and social sciences and 50 percent of those in the sciences do not have children in the household. By contrast, only 39 percent of tenured men in social sciences and humanities and 30 percent of those in the sciences do not have children in the household 12 to 14 years out from the Ph.D.

    As a man whose wife had an early baby, I guess I should like my chances for tenure. However, the implications of the report are indeed disturbing. Laura McK**** makes some interesting proposals. [Hey, is it any worse in academia than elsewhere?--ed. Good question. Anyone know if this gender effect also takes place among similar professions like law or medicine? What do you mean by "similar profession"?--ed. A trade that requires a great deal of training, after which there is an intense 5-7 year period of near-apprenticeship, and then a significant career advancement that vastly increases job security?]

    posted by Dan at 08:31 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (1)

    Fundamental attribution error and Al Qaeda's strategy

    As I've said recently, Al-Qaeda's current strategy of killing large numbers of Muslims makes little strategic sense. Stephen Den Beste recently offered up his explanation: "bin Laden's strategy was to get God, or Allah, involved in the war against the infidel." A slightly longer excerpt:

    This is not a war which they expect to win with guns or explosives. It is a spiritual struggle. The word "jihad" is sometimes claimed to have two meanings: one of holy crusade against the infidel, but another representing a struggle within to achieve moral purity and faith.

    Those are not separate meanings to the zealots. They are the same thing; they're inextricably linked. If they triumph internally, and achieve purity of faith, they will win the holy crusade against the infidel, because God will aid them and there is no limit to God's power. Not even America's wizard weapons can defeat God. And they can only become pure internally if they are also dedicated to holy crusade.

    And that's why al Qaeda's plans seem idiotic to rationalists like Donald and me. bin Laden could not create and follow the kind of plan which we'd think was essential. If bin Laden's plan had been based entirely on temporal power and cogent strategy and real resources, and if such a plan did not rely on miracles, it would have demonstrated lack of faith. If there were no place in the plan for God, it would prove that bin Laden didn't truly believe God would help.

    This is certainly a plausible theory. However, part of me is also convinced that this kind of analysis suffers from fundamental attribution error -- a tendency to overemphasize motivational factors and undeemphasize situational or environmental factors when explaining an actor's actions.

    It's possible that Al Qaeda's strategy is based on a fundamental constraint -- it can't hit the bigger targets. Maybe Al Qaeda will strike on American soil in the future. However, would anyone have predicted that, more than two years after 9/11, there would be no additional attacks?

    Even in Iraq -- and bear in mind that I'm not claiming that the insurgent attacks there are coordinated or managed by Al Qaeda -- there's been a shift in tactics:

    Guerrillas thought loyal to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein are shifting away from attacks against American troops in favor of killing and terrorizing Iraqi civilians who cooperate with the US-led coalition occupying the country, the chief of US Central Command said yesterday.

    General John Abizaid said that the aggressive American anti-insurgency campaign underway in Baghdad and in the "Sunni Triangle" region to the north and west has resulted in a sharp decline in attacks on US soldiers, although the soldiers from four Army divisions are still very much under the gun.

    "The offensive actions [by US troops] have driven down the attacks against coalition forces," he said in a Baghdad news conference. "Unfortunately, we have found attacks against Iraq civilians have increased."

    Because the perception of the Al Qaeda's strength rests on its ability to wreak terror, better to attack somewhere than nowhere. Hence the bombings in Istanbul. And for those who believe that such attacks have a persuasive effect on Muslims, consider this report from the,12700,1092383,00.html: Radio 4 and the broadsheet comment pages reflected my pessimism. A bridge between east and west had been destroyed, said one. It was only a matter of time before the west pulled out entirely. I had heard all about the new draconian security measures: the truck now blocking the gate to the American-owned Robert College, where my brother-in-law teaches; the armed guards and sniffer dogs outside the malls, the banks, the supermarkets, and just about anything with a foreign-sounding name; the blockades around the building that was, until a few months ago, the US consulate, and has now become the temporary headquarters for the British. So I was expecting to find the streets empty and most of the city's 10 million residents cowering behind closed doors.

    Indeed, there was a great hush in the arrivals lounge. For the first time ever, I did not have to queue for a visa. But once we had left the airport, it was hard to see any sign of a crisis. The streets were clogged with traffic and people shopping for the holiday that begins today. The shores of the Bosphorus were lined with fishermen and a procession of large, slow-moving families enjoying the unusually fine weather. The restaurants and cafes were doing a brisk business, and every few hundred metres there was a florist overflowing on to the pavement to meet the seasonal demand.

    In my brother's neighbourhood, which was ankle deep in broken glass a week ago, the glaziers have been working so hard that there is a joke rumour going around that they were the masterminds behind the bomb. Now all but a few of the windows have been replaced, bar the ones on the mosque next door to the synagogue. The buildings across the street have lost their fronts and been condemned. But the lighting store next to them is open for business.

    My brother says that the shopkeepers on the street were out with their brooms within minutes of the explosion. It was the residents who got the wounded to hospital. He saw no official presence for two hours.

    They are very much in evidence now. Those with homes or businesses in the affected areas must leave their identity cards with the police manning the barricades. Anyone who stops to look at the damage can expect to be filmed by a man who may or may not be an innocent journalist. It is all very subtle, and very calm. The shopkeepers in the fish and flower markets near to where the entrance to the British consulate stood until last Thursday do not want to talk about the bomb any more. They would rather sell me a string of red peppers or talk me into a pair of wonky glasses and a monster mask. Like my friends, they see staying at home behind closed doors as a form of defeat. They are determined to get life back to normal as soon as possible, no matter what.

    This was Istanbul's September 11. They thought they were safe from the war on terror because they thought all Muslims were brothers. Now they know otherwise, and are unified in their condemnation of the terrorists, who cannot be "true Muslims". The fact that the terrorists staged this attack in the last days of Ramadan has added to their outrage. But no one is in any doubt why the city has become a terrorist target.

    Christopher Hitchens has some additional points on this subject (link via Andrew Sullivan).

    I'm not claiming that my theory is more compelling than Den Beste's or anyone else's, for that matter. I'm just putting it out there for consideration.


    posted by Dan at 10:14 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, November 25, 2003

    All Things Considered on blogging

    Last night NPR’s All Things Considered ran a story last night about how campaign blogs and “independent” blogs (their choice of words) will affect the 2004 election and politics more generally. Their abstract says:

    Online web logs are a resource for political junkies of every political bent. Candidates blog, their campaigns blog, volunteers blog, and countless observers blog, too. It remains to be seen how the political blogs will influence the campaign process.

    You can listen to it here. Having already heard it, I have two thoughts:

  • Never have I heard a voice drip with more condescension than when the NPR announcer provides the lead-in with the opening sentence, “John Kerry has a blog.” As part of a transcript, the line reads as neutral as the color beige. On air, the tone of voice says, “let’s see how bemused I can sound about this phenomenon that may be important in the future but as of now is still insignificant enough to be mocked.” [Maybe he was being condescending about Kerry and not blogs!—ed. Hmmm…. That could be a possibility, with poll numbers like this.]

  • I like Josh Marshall’s point (about 3:20 into the piece) about “choice audiences.” That’ll have to go into the blog paper.
  • Tomorrow morning on WBEZ’s Eight Forty-Eight program (which airs from 9:30 AM to 10:00 AM Chicago time), I will be commenting on blogs as a new media form. Blogs will be discussed, however.

    posted by Dan at 09:39 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    The stability pact -- R.I.P., 2003

    The Economist has the latest on the death of the European "stability and growth pact," which was made in order to harmonize the business cycles of European economies for the creation of the Euro (for my previous takes on this, click here and here). The good parts version:

    Never has a straitjacket seemed so loose-fitting. The euro area’s “stability and growth pact” was supposed to stop irresponsible member states running excessive budget deficits, defined as 3% of GDP or more. Chief among the restraints was the threat of large fines if member governments breached the 3% limit for three years in a row. For some time now, no one has seriously believed those restraints would hold. In the early hours of Tuesday November 25th, the euro’s fiscal straitjacket finally came apart at the seams.

    The pact’s fate was sealed in a meeting of the euro area’s 12 finance ministers. They chewed over the sorry fiscal record of the euro’s two largest members, France and Germany. Both governments ran deficits of more than 3% of GDP last year and will do so again this year. Both expect to breach the limit for the third time in 2004 (see chart). Earlier this year the European Commission, which polices the pact, agreed to give both countries an extra year, until 2005, to bring their deficits back into line. But it also instructed them to revisit their budget plans for 2004 and make extra cuts. France was asked to cut its underlying, cyclically adjusted deficit by a full 1% of GDP, Germany by 0.8%. Both resisted.

    Under the pact’s rules, the commission’s prescriptions have no force until formally endorsed in a vote by the euro area’s finance ministers, known as the “eurogroup”. And the votes were simply not there. Instead, the eurogroup agreed on a set of proposals of its own. France will cut its structural deficit by 0.8% of GDP next year, Germany by 0.6%. In 2005, both will bring their deficits below 3%. Nothing will enforce or guarantee this agreement except France and Germany’s word.

    Now, as has been pointed out in several places, the economic logic undergirding the stability and growth pact were not necessarily rational, so it's demise can be seen as a good thing. However, the combination of no fiscal rules and a unified monetary policy creates massive free rider problems, as the story goes on to observe:

    They worry that governments are more likely to run deficits in a monetary union: governments can enjoy the full stimulus of a fiscal expansion, while the unwelcome side-effects (higher inflation or interest rates) are divvied up among all the members. Similar concerns are voiced by smaller members: if the Austrian government borrows too much, its impact on euro-area interest rates is negligible; but if France, Germany or Italy overborrow, borrowing costs rise for everyone.

    Meanwhile, some of the European Union's incoming members are not sanguine about the current state of the EU (link via Josh Cohen):

    Czech President Vaclav Klaus said Europeans are living in a "dream world" of welfare and long vacations and have yet to realize "they are not moving toward some sort of nirvana."

    The Czech Republic is a candidate for European Union membership, but Mr. Klaus, who was elected president in February, made clear in an interview his distaste for the organization.

    Klaus is probably a bit of an outlier in terms of Eastern European opinion.

    Still, it's gonna be fun to see him tangle with the EU.

    UPDATE: Atrios makes some cogent points on this topic, and on the premature rumors of the death of Keynesian macroeconomics. His key point:

    The truth is the S&G Pact does need to go, though the proximate cause of its death shouldn't have been this kind of "crisis," but rather a sober reassessment.

    posted by Dan at 01:16 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (2)

    Monday, November 24, 2003

    You know things are bad when this qualifies as good news

    From the New York Times:

    Military officials retracted a report today that two American soldiers had been slashed in their throats in an attack Sunday in the northern city of Mosul.

    A military official here, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the two soldiers had died of gunshot wounds to the head and that their bodies had been pulled by Iraqis from their car and robbed of their personal belongings.

    The military official said that contrary to some reports, the men had not been beaten by rocks or mutilated in any way.

    This is sure to disappoint Nicholas De Genova, but I'm not sure how uplifting it will really be for everyone else.

    posted by Dan at 06:23 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (1)

    Will Medicare now cover my depression about domestic politics?

    Last week, Matthew Yglesias wrote:

    I greatly sympathize with people who are disinclined to write about Medicare, since it's an incredibly boring issue. On the other hand, it's also a very important one, and so it's unfortunate that, as it happens, none of the leading lights of the blogosphere right care to lend us their thoughts on it.

    I'm not going to lie to you -- for me at least, Matthew's observations are spot-on. My automatic impulse is to skip any article with the words "Medicare," "Medicaid," or "prescription drug plan" in them.

    So I'm struggling against all my natural instincts here in writing this post.

    That said, the Medicare bill passed by the House this weekend -- and looks likely to obtain Senate approval before Thanksgiving -- bothers me for three reasons.

    The first is that it doesn't appear to be a very good bill at all. The New Republic's &c. has been all over this -- click here and here. Conservatives aren't thrilled about it either. With regard to its fiscal effects, just let me reprint the Heritage Foundation's graph right here:


    Second, the way in which the bill was passed bothers the hell out of me. Pejman Yousefzadeh -- in a must-read post -- draws a great parallel between what the Republican leadership did here and what Speaker Jim Wright did fifteen years ago to railroad a budget reconciliation bill through the House. As Pejman put it, "The worm has turned."

    During the eighties, it was this kind of Democratic high-handedness that built up such an enourmous reservoir of ill will among Republican House members, which got vented after the 1994 takeover. If the House should switch anytime soon, the changeover will not be pretty.

    Not that the Democrats have covered themselves in glory for their performance over Medicare this past week.

    The third is that this spending bill is merely indicative of the larger budget-busting pathology currently infecting Wasdhington. Tyler Cowen highlights the extent of the current profligacy in Washington:

    We all know about the $33 billion for the energy bill, or the $400 billion for the Medicare bill. It is less well-known that Congress is moving to increase veterans' benefits by $22 billion. Or how about peanut subsidies jumping from zero (1998) to $1.5 billion? Dairy subsidies from $318 million (1998) to $2.45 billion? The Agricultural Marketing Service is up from $726 million (1998) to $1.43 billion. The Amtrak budget has doubled to over $1 billion. And so on, and so on, and so on.

    All of this comes from a Washington Post story that contains the following nugget of data:

    Even conservatives who support tax cuts have begun to note the imbalance. Government spending now totals $20,000 per household, a level not seen since World War II, said Brian Reidl, a federal budget analyst with the Heritage Foundation. Meanwhile, taxes total $17,000 per household.

    "Conservatives are so afraid of losing their majority status right now that they feel a need to . . . pass the other side's legislation to prove how moderate they are," Reidl said. "But they're showing an astonishing willingness to spend now and dump all the cost in our children's laps, and an amazing unwillingness to reconcile the size of government with the amount of taxes needed to fund it." (emphasis added).

    Of course, Democrats are not exactly fighting this tooth and nail. And some of them can be bought on the cheap, as the Post observes:

    The energy bill that passed the House -- but stalled in the Senate -- contains $23.5 billion in tax breaks, most of them for oil and gas producers and nearly triple the total in President Bush's original proposal. The support of farm-state Democrats was secured by a major expansion of subsidies for ethanol, a corn-based fuel additive. Balking lawmakers from the Midwest and Appalachia were offered provisions to benefit the producers of high-sulfur coal and a last-minute $2 billion addition to help older coal-burning plants comply with the Clean Air Act.

    In a nod to Louisiana's two Democratic senators, the bill would even provide financing assistance for a mall in Shreveport that is to house, among other things, a Hooters restaurant.

    [You put that in the post just to link to Hooters, didn't you?--ed. I'm just trying to sex up the issue! And let me add that I'm only interested in their magazine for the articles.]

    Indeed, for a pragmatic libertarian, the political landscape out there is pretty depressing at the moment. Joe Klein makes my point for me:

    This was an awful week for the Democrats, who are likely to lose— politically—on all fronts. And it was a shameful week—substantively—for the Bush Administration....

    The week's events illuminate a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans on domestic policy. The Democrats are boxed into complicated and unpopular positions because they tend to stand on principle—although the principles involved are often antiquated, peripheral and, arguably, foolish. The Republicans, by contrast, have abandoned traditional conservativism to gain political advantage (with the elderly, for instance) or to pay off their stable of corporate-welfare recipients. The Medicare bill contains large gifts to pharmaceutical manufacturers; the energy bill is a $23.5 billion bequest to traditional-energy producers, with additional billions worth of free-range pork tossed in. "This is classic machine politics, the sort of thing we used to do," said a prominent Democrat. Hence the Wall Street Journal's opposition to both bills.


    posted by Dan at 11:45 AM | Comments (50) | Trackbacks (16)