Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Link for Anti

Follow the link and see Rep. Michele Bachman (Anti's favorite politician) pawing over Bush.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bush Has Got Balls

I figured that since tonight is President Bush’s state of the union address I should take this time to comment on his proposed escalation of the Iraq war by sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq, I actually feel kind of bad that it has taken me this long to write anything about this. So here is my take on Bush’s plan.

Basically love ‘em or hate ‘em one can’t deny the fact that President Bush has got a large set of balls on him, and I am talking about big balls, balls the size of grapefruits. Despite the fact that his party was basically thrown out of Congress due almost entirely to opposition to the current handling of the Iraq war here is how President Bush has responded:

So there you have it, no matter what you think about the president you have to admit that he’s got balls. The American public opposes his plan, his military commanders oppose his plan, Iraqis oppose his plan, Congress opposes his plan and yet nothing will stop him from escalating this war…and that my friends takes balls.

So what in all of this is the response from the Democratic controlled Congress? Thus far all I have heard is that short of cutting funding for the Iraq war there really isn’t much that Congress can do to stop the president…which is complete bollocks according to constitutional scholars. In fact here is a short list of how Congress has exercised its constitutional authority to limit the President’s ability to escalate existing military engagements by capping the number of American military personnel available for deployment and by refusing to release appropriated funds:

  • In the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, P.L. 93-559, enacted during the Vietnam War, Congress limited the number of American military personnel in South Vietnam to 4,000 within six months and 3,000 within a year of the Act’s enactment.
  • The Lebanon Emergency Assistance Act of 1983, P.L. 98-43, required the President to “obtain statutory authorization from the Congress with respect to any substantial expansion in the number or role in Lebanon of the United States Armed Forces, including any introduction of United States Armed Forces into Lebanon in conjunction with agreements providing for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon and for the creation of a new multinational peace-keeping force in Lebanon.”
  • Through the Department of Defense Authorization Act of 1985, P.L. 98-525, Congress prohibited the use of funds appropriated in the Act or in subsequent Acts from being used to increase the number of U.S. military personnel deployed in European nations of NATO. The Act provided that Congress might authorize increased troop levels above the prescribed ceiling upon the Secretary of Defense’s certification to Congress that the European nations had taken significant measures to improve their defense capacity.
  • In the Military Construction Appropriations Act of 2001, P.L. 106-246, Congress limited the involvement of U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors in counter-narcotics activities in Colombia by prohibiting the use of appropriated funds to expand their presence above specified levels.
  • The Second Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1973, P.L. 93-50, specified that none of the funds appropriated by the Act were to be used “to support directly or indirectly combat activities in or over Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam or off the shores of Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam and South Vietnam by United States Forces and after August 15, 1973, no other funds heretofore appropriated under any other Act may be expended for such purpose.”
  • Congress authorized the use of U.S. Armed Forces in Somalia in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 1994, P.L. 103-139, but set a deadline after which appropriated funds could no longer be used to pay for their involvement. The Act specified that the deadline could only be extended if requested by the President and authorized by the Congress.
  • In the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 1995, P.L. 103-335, Congress required congressional approval of “any change in the United States mission in Rwanda from one of strict refugee relief to security, peace-enforcing, or nation-building or any other substantive role” and blocked funding for continued participation of the U.S. military in Operation Support Hope beyond a specified date.
  • The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1998, P.L. 105-85, provided that no funds appropriated for fiscal year 1998 or any subsequent year could be used for the deployment of any U.S. ground combat forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina after a specified cutoff date unless the President first consulted with Congress and then certified to Congress that certain conditions existed in the field.

But fortunately for the president Democrats in Congress are not willing to actually do anything to stop him except for offering a non-binding resolution opposing further escalation of the war, or in other words they will be symbolically sticking their thumb up their ass (it might feel nice, but it really doesn’t accomplish anything).

I find it pathetic that even though Democrats won control of both houses due to the American publics opposition to the war in Iraq and even though 66% of the country is opposed to escalating the war Democrats are still too scared to do anything. I guess it would be nice if the Democrats decided to grow a pair sometime in the near future.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Car Talk on Gas Tax

The guys over at Car Talk, the best radio show ever, have endorsed the gas tax.

Friday, January 12, 2007

He's Bringing Sexy L.A.

Yesterday it was announced that David Beckham has signed a 5 year contract with MLS’s L.A. Galaxy estimated to be worth $250 million and he will start playing with the Galaxy this August.

Here is what I see as being the funniest part of the story. I am not sure how many of you are familiar with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, but it is one of the oldest cup tournaments in the country. Basically how the cup works is this: qualifying amateur teams start out in the tournament and as it progresses low level professional teams are filtered into the mix and eventually MLS teams play those teams, both amateur and small professional teams, until there is ultimately a Cup champion.

The beauty of the U.S. Open Cup is that small market teams, such as the Minnesota Thunder, have an opportunity to play larger market MLS teams. Some of you may remember back in 2004 when the Minnesota Thunder beat the L.A. Galaxy in a game held at the Metrodome and then went on to lose to Landon Donavan and the San Jose Earthquakes at the Jimmy (James Griffin Stadium aka Central High Schools football field) in a shootout.

The thought of David Beckham, the most well known athlete on the planet, being forced to play a game in a high school football stadium just kind of makes me chuckle.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Show Must Go On!

Last night we heard from Mr. Bush that it is important to keep the present horror show playing out in Iraq on the road. After having acknowledge that the territory that was Iraq is now a deeply divided and violent place where "outrageous acts of murder" recur daily, he spent the bulk of his speech speaking as if this is merely the product of a lapse in "strategy" on our part, and not a further confirmation of what we all know to be the case, namely that the sterility of troops in the effort to "stabilize" Iraq has been proven many times over. The greatest evil Mr. Bush can conjure up is a rogue regime in Iraq, intent on killing Americans. By invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush believes he courageously and heroically removed one such regime. But his solution has become the problem. Or rather, he never had a solution for how Iraq would be governed without Saddam. And he continues to use the mortal terror that has gripped Iraq in the wake of America's invasion and occupation as an excuse to deploy more violence with the hope that once Baghdad and the rest of Iraq has been "clear and secure," Iraqis will finally come together as a plural yet united nation. Yet how can this hope can be squared with the known conditions of Iraq? "Americans know," the Times editorial notes, "that this Iraqi government is captive to Shiite militias, with no interest in the unity, reconciliation and democracy that Mr. Bush says he wants." Hence it is that the problem in Iraq is more fundamental than security and reconciliation, it is about the integrity of the state of Iraq, about how it will run. Telling it to run a different way simply begs the question and ignores the way it is already being run.

Mr. Bush is under the illusion that Iraq is basically good, except for the bad elements which can be purged and cleared with more troops. This misbegotten belief in the cleansing act of violence only points in one direction: overkill. "Rationalistic metaphors about cleaning," as William T. Vollmann writes in Rising Up, Rising Down, his massive study of violence, suggest "processes which require overkill for their effectiveness to be guaranteed." Hence the problem with Bush's "surge" of troops is not only that it will fail, but that from the get-go it stops well short of the numbers that would be required to impose an effective police state in Iraq. As the Times says, "There is nothing ahead but even greater disaster in Iraq."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Random Thoughts for the New Year

Greg Mankiw posted an opinion piece he wrote a while back for WSJ on raising the gas tax. A basic principle of tax policy is that if tax something you get less of it. Pursuant to that rationale we should be careful when we discuss increasing marginal income tax rates or captial taxation as a source of revenue. It is clear there are several externalities associated with the consumption of fossil fuels, environmental degradation only being the most obvious. The basic problem with consumption taxes is that they are regressive. However, as a gas tax or carbon tax is likely to raise substantial revenues, it could be used to as way to offset or replace the payroll tax, thus mantaining revenue neutralitly and replacing a regressive tax that is distortionary (in so far as it affects labor) with one that is less distortionary (by affecting consumption).

Another thing we could do with that tax code that would generate substantial revenue while enhancing the progressivity of our tax code and minimizing harmful environmental effects would be to eliminate or drastically reduce the mortgage interest deduction. The mortgage interest deduction is one of the more egregious deductions. One can deduct the interest on their mortgage from their income tax. The cap is up to 1 million dollars and one can also deduct the the interest on a second home mortgage or a home equity loan. It does not take too much imagination to envision who benefits from such an arrangement.

Anyhow, looking ahead to 2008, Republicans have to face the music. New revenues will need to be found to fund the growing entitlement program. We are likely to be in a minority for at least an election cycle. Democrats picked up 30 seats in the house and while they have razor thin majority in the Senate they will be defending fewer vulnerable seats in 2008. Republicans should consider revenue neutral tax reform if it is married to such things as means testing entitlement programs, raising the eligibility age, and carve out accounts for social security. Republicans need to focus on curbing the spending pressure the entitlement programs present but also on the least bad options for raising new revenues.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Pessl Publicity Machine

Her name is Marisha Pessl. Her debut novel, "Special Topics in Calamity Physics," is out in hardcover, soon in paperback. It's not bad, I read it myself. But it's not great either. It's certainly not worth all the attention she's getting in The New York Times; or, The Pessl Publicity Machine. Allow me to review: there is this article about her good looks, about them not being used to sell the book (but by mentioning it, you only remind us....). This one about the Rembrandt oil-paint set her husband (a hedge fund manager) gave her. The Times published a fluffy op-ed by her on December 3, 2006. Surprisingly, although very little has been written about the substance of her 500 page book, the editors of the NYT Sunday Book Review chose it as one of the 10 best books of the year. Here is one description of the novel:

The antic ghost of Nabokov hovers over this buoyantly literate first novel, a murder mystery narrated by a teenager enamored of her own precocity but also in thrall to her father, an enigmatic itinerant professor, and to the charismatic female teacher whose death is announced on the first page. Each of the 36 chapters is titled for a classic (by authors ranging from Shakespeare to Carlo Emilio Gadda), and the plot snakes ingeniously toward a revelation capped by a clever ''final exam.'' All this is beguiling, but the most solid pleasures of this book originate in the freshness of Pessl's voice and in the purity of her storytelling gift.

Indeed, Pessl gives voice to a mystery, but the real mystery is why the NYT has bouyed her image to the extent that it has.