Friday, February 06, 2004

Floyd Norris reports on Dubya's tax priorities in today's Times. Nothing on the AMT, nothing about the export tax break which the WTO has tried to ban. But there is this:

... in one of the lesser tax proposals in the budget released this week, President Bush offers a tax break for what must be a very small group of taxpayers: those who support their grandchildren even though the kids are independently wealthy or earning a substantial income on their own. For the first time, such grandparents will be able to claim dependent exemptions for the grandkids.

I will let this stand alone. It is a perfect gem. Anything I could add would only mar its singular perfection.

Al Sharpton says his performance in this weeks primaries was disappointing. For friends of the Democratic party, it was not disappointing enough.

He apparently thought he actually had a shot at winning in South Carolina, which was clearly delusional. He got less than 10% of the overall vote, only about one in five votes from blacks -- supposedly his core constituency -- and not a single delegate. (His one delegate to date comes from Delaware, which by some weird electoral calculus gave one delegate to the sixth-place finisher in its primary, Sharpton, and let the winner, Kerry, take the other fourteen). Many of those votes were likely cast as conscious protest votes by people who knew full well that Sharpton didn't have a prayer of winning anything. And he achieved even that with the well-publicized assistance of a hotshot Republican strategist working for free -- quite clearly meaning to tar the Democratic party as a whole by association with Sharpton, particularly in the South, where that kind of tar is depressingly likely to stick.

But his South Carolina finish, dismal though it may have been, still placed him third statewide, ahead of a legitimate candidate or two, and that ought to give you a little pause. Even a protest vote for Sharpton is still a vote for the bloodthirsty buffoon who sparked a riot in Crown Heights. Why?

Well, some of those people may have been thinking that the legitimate candidates weren't paying enough attention to black issues, and needed a kick. Which I'm ill-equipped to judge.

But there may also be people who view Sharpton as the closest thing to "black leadership" in the legitimate political process -- in part because, when "black leadership" shows up in the major media, it's not someone like Kweisi Mfume, who did yeoman's work in Congress before taking his current post as the head of the NAACP, it's someone like Sharpton. Similarly, the picture that you'd get of a "black mayor" in the national media is a lot more Marion Barry than, say, Andrew Young (or any of the other blacks who have done, on the whole, a fairly decent job running Atlanta for quite a while now).

Perhaps this just reflects the media's prediliction for the wild and outrageous over the responsible and dull. Because no one would deliberately try to do something like this out of deliberate racial politics. Not even Rupert Murdoch. Why, that would make them no better than The Washington Times...

More: Via Electrolite's short takes, this maledictory address on the Sharpton campaign, from the Black Commentator, which winds up by saying:

We must ask why Al Sharpton emerged as a contender for national Black leadership via the presidential primaries. The answer is simple, and should be deeply troubling: He was the only one to step forward. Such was also the case in the decades of Sharpton’s rise to prominence in New York. When police brutalized African Americans, Al Sharpton was there. When demonstrations needed to be mounted, Sharpton was on point. When Black anger rose, Sharpton rose to the occasion – year, after year, after year.

Whites of all political persuasions denounced Sharpton as an opportunist and publicity seeker – as if they were telling Black folks something we didn’t know. But we desperately needed publicity, and an opportunity to be heard. Rev. Al seized the spotlight and shook things up, which was a lot better than nothing.

Somebody Black had to do it.

So, who’s stepping forward, now?

Very sad, if true -- and stunning, especially since the leadership organizations of the 1960s civil rights movement still exist, and New York is, well... not entirely bereft of legitimate black politicians. Which leaves me, as a white guy in Boston, still wondering -- was Sharpton the only one to step forward, or the only one to get press?

For those who care about RSS: I've enabled the new blogger automatic RSS feed, which is more complete and more up-to-date than the scraper-based one I used to be using. Pointer over on the left...

Thursday, February 05, 2004

So, it seems that Pakistan, our staunch ally in the War Against Terror and Things that Go Bump in the Night, has actually been selling nuclear secrets to anyone who would pony up -- including, perhaps among others, the North Koreans, Libyans, and Iranians.

Now, this might set some of you to wondering how serious the leadership of Pakistan really is about aiding us in our cause. But worry not. They are blameless. Incredible as it may seem that Dr. A. Q. Khan, director of the country's nuclear labs, would decide to sell this strategic information entirely on his own, without the approval or even the knowledge of high-ups in the national government, it appears to be so.

How do we know? Because the higher-ups in the government say so. Ask President Musharaff, and he will tell you himself -- it is so. And if that's not good enough for you, you can also ask Dr. Khan. Now that he has received a complete, unconditional pardon from Musharraf, he is entirely free to tell you the exact same thing.

Well, that puts an end to that. Doesn't it?

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

A little news from Boston: in the wake of the general disorder that followed the Superbowl, most of it driven by rowdy college students around Boston University and Northeastern, the search is on for where to place the blame. The Boston Police have been criticized, for instance, for having only 43 crowd control officers on duty that evening for the entire city, despite similar problems in the same parts of town after the last Patriots Superbowl.

But never mind that -- Mayor-for-Life Tom Menino knows where the blame really belongs: new state rules that allow Sunday liquor sales. It doesn't matter to him that there were no Sunday liquor sales the last time, or that the police failed to learn from their prior mistakes. And so even though the disorder looks to a naive observer like a replay of the bonfires and vandalism which happened in pretty much the same spots in January of 2002, there is, indeed, a difference: this time, Hizzonner is officially on record as saying that college students at fairly good schools are just too dumb to stock up on excess booze for their Superbowl parties a day in advance.

Perhaps it's college students like that who graduate to go manage funds for regional fund giant Fidelity -- which may be about to get dumped as a manager of a chunk of the state pension fund after consistently underperforming the S&P 500. Over a period of years, with a fairly broad-based portfolio, doing that consistently takes work...

And now, the latest from our wise Republican leaders in Congress:

The chairmen of the House and Senate subcommittees with jurisdiction over the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expressed shock and outrage at Janet Jackson’s briefly exposed right breast as a part of Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show.

The circumstances of Jackson’s exposed anatomy will receive a further airing at hearings later this month in both the House and Senate.

If they're that desperate for something to talk about, I could suggest a few alternatives more worthy of their attention. The dead and mutilated soldiers coming back from Iraq, for example. Or that lousy performance from P. Diddy -- uninspired, repetitive, and just plain bad...

via The Poor Man...

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I'm listening to an NPR talk show on Dubya's budget in which former Republican House budget chair John Kasich just gave an impassioned speech about how partisan bickering in Washington keeps serious problems, like the budget deficit, from being addressed.

When Clinton left office, there was a small, nominal surplus. Since then, Republicans have had firm control of all three branches of government. There is now a huge budget deficit.

Due, of course, to partisan bickering.

David Brooks reveals today that the CIA is wrong to attempt a scientific approach to intelligence, because scientific analysis of human behavior is impossible. Evidently, scientists are unable to assess, say, whether the story some Iraqi defector is telling about a weapons program even makes any technical sense, because weapons programs are human behavior, and scientific analysis of human behavior is impossible. This was the flaw of the IAEA weapons inspections.

He goes on to propose that the tricky business of assessing intelligence from murky, unreliable sources in foreign cultures with their own, perhaps unknown private agendas is best left to political party hacks. These are folks whose lives are defined by their own partisan agendas, but faced with a task of this importance, they'd surely put them aside. And to prove he's the kind of deep thinker who is capable of transcending party lines, he goes out of his way to say that James Carville would be as qualified to assess the debatable debriefings of Khidir Hamza as, to pick a name out of a hat, Grover Norquist.

Of course, as many bloggers have noted, the party hacks, particularly from the Republican side of the aisle, have a major advantage over more scientific schools of analysis: when they're wrong, they don't have the kind of professional ethics which keeps them from lying about their own past claims. The CIA's professional analysts used to be wrong because they were blind to the manifest threat of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction -- but now that we've scoured the country and found none, they were wrong because they supposedly claimed that such a threat existed in the first place. The party hacks are always right, and the CIA's "scientistic" analysis is wrong because it doesn't always agree with the party hacks. Ain't that neat?

Oh, one other thing about party hacks. They'll never bother a pseudointellectual like Brooks with technical jargon that goes over his head. And while they may, from time to time, be wrong, they are never uncertain. That all makes them so much more comfortable to deal with...

Note: a few paragraphs added here after first post...

Monday, February 02, 2004

I posted below some reflections on the Superbowl. Overshadowing that, in the "celebrations", amid the usual vandalism, was a hit and run by a drunk driver which injured four, one of whom is now dead.

And it wasn't even Red Sox fandom. Maybe that World Series drought is just somebody's way of keeping the Olde Towne safe...

A couple of interesting pieces showed up on blogs over the past few days regarding the humanitarian case for the war in Iraq.

Nathan Newman points out the hollowness of claims that we're improving womens' rights in Iraq -- with reference to a detailed article in, of all places, David Horowitz's Front Page magazine.

But the real shockers are to be found in this piece from Billmon, which features, among other things, a report of a meeting with Col. Nate Sassaman, already notorious for his advocacy of "a heavy dose of fear and violence" in dealing with Iraqis. Among other shockers are complaints of some of the Iraqis who are afflicted with Col Sassaman's rule:

Military people had previously acknowledged to us a policy of "45 seconds of rage and fury"on entering a house. They consider this necessary to obtain immediate submission and keep their troops safe. Soldiers break down doors, yell commands to lie on the floor, run through the house, and generally try to frighten the occupants into submissive behavior.

"Why do the soldiers break down our doors and smash our cupboards. We would give them the key if they just asked?" was a typical question from the outraged lawyers.

"When Saddam raided," said one, "he took only the person he was after. Now the whole family is taken, even when the soldiers know they have the wrong house."

The treatment of women infuriated some of these men. With embarrassment, one lawyer claimed that US troops had raided a house, found a couple naked in their bed and took them away in that state. "This is not acceptable in our culture," he said."

Got that, folks? The Iraqi people themselves are saying that on a day to day basis, in important respects, Sassaman is worse than Saddam. Saddam didn't win hearts and minds like that, and neither will we. (And there's more -- read the whole thing, including Sassaman's unproked arrest of an Iraqi human rights lawyer, and a thoroughly unconvincing attempt at a rebuttal from someone who claims to be in Sassaman's unit).

Which seems like an appropriate juncture to talk about the notion of "support for the troops" -- a notion which is often used by war supporters to try to shout down opponents. ("You're not supporting the troops!"). Which is an odd notion to someone who went to anti-war rallies before the invasion, chanting "support our troops, bring them home" -- the troops themselves are unambiguously worse off now than they would have been had we stayed out of this ill-considered invasion.

My attitude toward the troops has been that they have been thrust into a situation they were ill prepared for by leadership that refused to think ahead, and that they're doing the best they can. But that has its limits. It is easy to say that we don't support the actions of a Sassaman, who is clearly a bad apple. What bothers me very much is this: how much support do we give, and how, to soldiers who have followed orders for, say, those "45 seconds of rage and fury" without complaint?

A little news from Boston:

Well, now the rest of the country knows what it has been like to watch the Patriots all year. The hallmark of their performance through the entire -- what is it -- fifteen game winning streak has been that they played just well enough to win against whoever else they were playing. Future AFC championship opponent Indianapolis had the ball on the one yard line late in the fourth quarter, down less than seven points, and got stuffed. On the other hand, in the Pats' previous game in Houston, they nearly gave the game away several times, finally kicking the winning field goal with overtime nearly expired after the expansion Texans simply weren't good enough to take it. Most of the games have been tight; several have been squeakers.

There may have been some folks around the country who were surprised to see a competitive game with the Panthers. Those people weren't listening to Pats head coach Bill Belichick, who had been telling everyone who would listen that they were solid in every phase of the game, with high praise for specific playmakers.

But Belichick is generous to every opponent, and to an amazing degree, the team's public posture reflects the personality of its coach. Belichick won't take personal credit for the team's success -- whenever he's asked about it, he credits the players and his assistants. The players (like the coaches) accept blame for their own goofs, but credit whatever success they have, even on spectacular athletic plays, to having been put in position by their teammates and the coaches. Whenever they are asked about an opponent beyond the next, they won't say anything -- "we play one game at a time." (Belichick refused, in interviews, to discuss the playoffs until they were coming up, even though the team had clinched a playoff berth weeks before). They will discuss that next opponent, like their coach, respectfully, looking forward to the contest with the kind of quiet avidity that you'd expect from a team of really top flight accountants. When trash talk comes from the other quarter, they aren't, at least in public, so much offended by the insult as simply nonplussed at the other guys' unprofessional demeanor. And on the field, they do whatever it takes to win, whether that's mental tricks or sheer physical punishment.

A couple of other notes. First off, to anyone who's wondering about the suddenly clay feet of formerly "automatic Adam" Vinatieri, possibly the only kicker in the history of the league to have multiple simultaneous TV endorsement deals -- he is widely reported now to be struggling with back problems, which have been affecting him all season. He's a great guy, though, I hope he works through it.

It seems that the NFL office is shocked, completely shocked, that the halftime show at the Superbowl was tasteless. Perhaps they hadn't looked at the halftime shows at all the other Superbowls.

Also on that halftime show... well, I don't ordinarily praise Britney Spears for much, but good job dumping Justin. ("Wardrobe malfunction", suuuuuure). You go, girl.