Friday, December 17, 2004

So, the baseball world is aghast at the apparent collapse of the Washington D.C. stadium deal, when the city council amended the deal to require some private financing. Some commenters are disgusted that you can't cut a deal with D.C.'s mayor the same way you would with a CEO. (I'm disgusted that the mayor himself was pretending that he could, and didn't make sure that he had a council majority for whatever deal he reached. But hey, that's just me).

From a libertarian perspective, Jim Henley (in his latest of several posts on the subject) is amused to observe, in a comment thread at liberal D.C. resident Matthew Yglesias's blog, ...

...some fairly determined advocacy by liberals who support the deal. Heaven knows I can't construct a principled liberal objection to stadium subventions myself - it seems to me that if you believe in the welfare state it's hard to oppose corporate welfare, at least in concept. I think this is why almost all of these deals end up going through - a critical mass of a legislature's liberal opponents eventually roll over.

And yet, strangely enough, folks here in the socialist paradise of Massachusetts seem to have managed exactly that. We've had two major sports arenas built here within the past decade: Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots, and the building formerly known as the FleetCenter, where it is rumored that there used to be professional hockey and basketball. Both buildings were privately financed, with contributions from local government limited to relatively small amounts for transportation infrastructure and the like.

So, what might the mysterious liberal argument against publicly financed stadiums look like? Well, here's what Yglesias himself had to say, before his "liberal" commenters took their whack:

The idea that a poor, but developing city should spend a vast some of money on an entertainment project for the affluent residents of the city's suburbs is simply insane. What DC really needs is to fix its school system, but that would be hard. Easier, however, would be increasing the frequency of Metro cars on the non-Red lines, a step that would also be connected to expanded economic development in a considerably clearer way than a baseball stadium.

To put it more generally: the liberal case against stadium deals, considered as corporate welfare programs, is that they don't work. They don't meet their stated goals. They create few jobs. The people they bring in are transients who leave soon after the game is over -- or, in California baseball stadiums, three innings before that. Almost every serious study of the issue has shown that the minimal economic gains aren't worth the cost. (A sample: a few folks at Johns Hopkins got fed up with hearing about how Camden Yards in Baltimore was an exception, and did the math. It's not.) It's not that it's wrong to spend government money to create new, sustainable private sector jobs. It's that the money is better spent elsewhere -- like on, say, public safety, education and mass transit.

To turn the argument around: most libertarians acknowledge that there's a role for some government -- at least, to provide for the common defense, and to provide a court system that enforces contracts. Those libertarians believe, at least, that it's better for a government to provide those services than not. My argument for mass transit would be exactly the same: New York City tried a private mass transit system. It failed, which is why the government had to take it over. It is now run as a government program, heavily subsidized by taxes. And without it, the city would collapse. It is better for New Yorkers for the government to provide this service than not.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Tom Friedman suggests that Dubya's crew doesn't seem to be entirely serious about promoting democracy in the Arab world.

But Dubya's crew has made their priorities entirely clear. They will keep funding democratization programs in Jordan, for instance -- but only if the Jordanian government promises Americans total impunity before the International Criminal Court.

So about some things, they're serious...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

In his briefest entry yesterday, Kevin Drum opines that

David Brooks can write a good column when he puts his mind to it. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Well, maybe he can. But the column he cites, an unmitigated sneer-fest remarkable only in that for once, Brooks has a sneer or two for Republicans, stuck out to me mostly for this delightful paragraph:

Third, you have to remember that Republicans have a different relationship to ideas than Democrats. When Democrats open their mouths, they try to say something interesting. If the true thing is obvious and boring, the liberal person will go off and say something original, even if it is completely idiotic. This is how deconstructionism got started.

That's interesting. In my universe, Republicans are pushing an "interesting" social security reform proposal that makes no sense at all, and the Democratic response so far is ineffective policy wankery, excruciatingly correct on the merits, which has gained no traction because it makes peoples' eyes glaze over.

For more perspective, let's look at the Democrat who was most under the national spotlight for the past six months or so. Kerry's much-praised response to the abortion question in the second debate strikes me as precisely this sort of thing -- he wasn't so much explaining his position as apologizing for it. And on a more central issue in the campaign, his answers to questions on Iraq were frequently hedged and conditional, attracting critics and making even supporters' eyes glaze over, because he correctly said that he'd have to know what kind of mess Dubya left him in January to know that any particular policy would still make sense.

It's entirely likely that Brooks is equally unfair to the Republicans. But I'll let their partisans figure that out for themselves...

Monday, December 13, 2004

As DOD contemplates "information warfare efforts" abroad, having already been caught lying to CNN, here's a brief study in casual propaganda here at home:

I tuned into the local news last night (the ABC affiliate), and saw two brief stories on Iraq presented in quick succession. The first was a report on the current situation of Saddam Hussein, who has apparently taken up gardening while awaiting a trial that no one wants to begin, the report said, until it is clear that it is being conducted by an independant and sovereign Iraqi government. (Don't we already have one of those?) The anchor then switched from Saddam to a very brief report on "the insurgency operating on his behalf", which had just blown up a few more American troops.

My immediate reaction to the second story was, "The insurgency is operating on Saddam's behalf? When did we learn that?" It certainly includes elements of the former Baath security structures, but quite a few of those had pledged their loyalty to us before the shooting started until Bremer -- um -- fired them, and it's far from clear that they'd want Saddam back if they could get him. And it also includes elements, most notably al-Sadr's militia, who went straight from opposing Saddam to opposing us.

The first story is misleading in a subtler, but more pernicious way. It shows a prominent Iraqi prisoner -- Saddam -- and one who has the whole insurgency operating on his behalf, living more like a retired politician than a prisoner of war. To someone who bought the "few bad apples" line about Abu Ghraib, and is ignorant of persistent reports of mistreatment of prisoners elsewhere, this certainly makes it seem, without actually saying so, as if it's our firm policy to treat them all -- even sleazeballs like Saddam with arguable ties to the insurgency -- with the greatest possible respect.

This station has maintained the high standards of their news operation despite a great deal of competition from the blood-and-guts gutter diving on several competing channels now. It has a reputation as one of the best in the country. They're really quite proud of it.

And speaking of casual propaganda, Joseph Mailander has been wondering for a while about a blog by some Iraqi brothers which, unlike most of them, has been echoing the American line with remarkable faith. Now that Dubya has personally met with these guys -- passing over, among others, the first Baghdad blogger, Salam Pax -- he's wondering even more. Via Juan Cole.

If you're around Boston the next few weeks, and you'd like to see some interesting sculpture, you might want to check out Sam Ostroff's new works, which look like illustrations for some whimsical literary steampunk confection that hasn't been written yet -- tables, chairs, and a (regrettably inoperable) piano, elegantly appointed in the Victorian style with graceful, curvaceous ornamentation in industrial steel. The (hopefully inoperable) electric chair in a back room is done in the same style. This is at the Locco Ritoro gallery, which just opened in the same building as Toale at 450 Harrison Ave. It'll be there through Jan. 22nd -- I'd link to the web site on their cards if there were anything there yet. I think the artist's got a gallery of his work online here, but I may be fooling myself -- as I write, the unwelcoming welcome page of the web site claims, "This web site is temporarily unavailable".

It was a day for unavailable web sites -- by sheer chance I ran into Kitten Rosa I, formerly of the Valhalla Kittens, which is probably my favorite local band now that the Dresden Dolls are apparently living on a tour bus. The VKs are a glam-rock sextet with killer harmony vocals, so their songwriter, Scott Dakota, is naturally working on a dystopic cyberpunk rock opera for them, and the first two songs sound great. I'd link to their web site, but it's also down, a casualty of excessive bandwidth charges. Grump.