Friday, May 06, 2005

In late 2002, I listed a few strategic threats. Among them:
  • North Korea: Having obtained plans for a working bomb from our ally in Pakistan, they have now reactivated their reactor, and broken the U.N. seals on their equipment for extracting weapons-grade plutonium, in violation of several agreements. A cause for concern perhaps, but Donald Rumsfeld opines that diplomacy "seems to me a perfectly rational way of proceeding".
  • Iraq: Has no nuclear weapons, and no immediate prospects of getting the requisite fissile material. Their military is a hollow force which presents no immediate threat to any of its neighbors; their trade is heavily restricted. An immense threat which must be dealt with immediately, by military action.

An update:

  • Iraq: subjected to a U.S. military invasion which revealed that they had no weapons of mass destruction, nor the immediate prospect of getting any, despite all the rhetoric about "the smoking gun that might come in the form of a mushroom cloud". Furthermore, a leaked British memo from summer 2002, reporting on American plans, said that the Americans at that point already knew that Saddam's "WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran", and that it didn't matter in Washington -- "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of justifying an invasion that Dubya had already decided on. The "mushroom cloud" rhetoric was a plain, deliberate lie.
  • North Korea: treated with inept diplomacy, the most recent result of which is apparent preparations for a nuclear test.

Any questions?

A tale of social services in the Republican age:

New York hasn't gotten rid of homeless shelters. There's a big one on Ward's Island in the middle of the city. However, it's a bit... isolated. If you want to get there on foot, there's only one footbridge, which is never open after 8:00 PM and not open at all in fall and winter.

There's another way to get there: take the M35 bus from Spanish Harlem. It's quick -- ten minutes or so. But it is a city bus. And if the homeless, destitute people who need to take this trip can't muster the $2.00 fare -- every single night -- the city has also provided cops to arrest them.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

As Matthew Yglesias noted a while ago, part of the reason that rich people in the United States (as judged by income) rate themselves as middle class is that they're acutely aware that the super-rich are so much richer than they are. It used to be that the gold standard for techies was to get "fuck you" money -- the amount of money that would allow you to live off your investments, and give you the security to say "fuck you" to any manager who was trying to jerk you around. But in the dotcom boom, there was a higher standard -- techies who left netscape to do a shopping site were quoted in the press as saying they wanted "airplane money". And folks with the money to afford a mere G5 -- what they're envious of is the people with airliner money. (That link is to an article in the Boston Globe which describes several pimped-out airliners, including someone who has already ordered a customized, private version of the new double-decker A380. But that plane has a room fitted out as a mock Sahara. Evidently, its owner has oil money).

Apropos of income distribution, Jim Henley asks whether there is any level of taxation that liberals would consider unjust. Personally, I think the question's a bit odd; my notion of whether a system of taxation is unjust has a lot more to do with how the tax load is assessed and distributed than on the particular levels of the rates. (For instance, I think that punitive tax rates are a perfectly reasonable way for government to discourage antisocial activities and trades where there's a social need, but where an outright ban would be awkward -- think gas tax to get people out of SUVs). After all, a ban on trade in anything (illegal or counterfeit drugs, unsafe food, whatever) which comes with fines but no jail time amounts to a tax with a very high rate (100% or greater). A tax which is unfairly distributed across residents of geographical regions or racial groups might strike me as unjust. So might capricious enforcement. So might a tax system (like Alabama's) which is actively regressive -- putting more of the burden on those least able to pay. But, as someone noted in Henley's comments, the idea of a numeric threshold on rates (50% just, 50.1% unjust) doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

But in the context of contemporary American politics, the question is moot. Taxes in America, particularly on the upper classes -- the guys with at least airplane money -- were already quite a bit lower in the U.S. than in, say, Europe under Clinton, and the party in power here keeps trying to drive them lower yet. Even if the Democrats had somehow managed to take back both the Presidency and Senate, they would have enough trouble restoring the Clinton tax rates (again, light ones by world standards), let alone raising them to a level where the question might arise.

One last note about "unfairly distributed across geographic regions" -- tax burdens in the U.S. are different in different states. But that's because of what the people in each state have voted for. I'm thinking more of a federal tax which somehow taxed the same activity differently in, say, Massachusetts and Wyoming...

Monday, May 02, 2005

The spirit of Democrats lately is less "Give 'em Hell Harry" than "Coffee with that? Colmes". Last week, there seemed to be another example: with polls showing the public firmly against Republican attempts to get loons appointed as federal judges by banning the filibuster in the Senate, the Democratic leader, Senator Harry Reid, was still trying to cut a deal, preserving the filibuster as a technical notion, in return for letting some of the loons through.

The deal fell through, and liberal blogs sung with praise for Reid. His apparent cave-in, it seemed, was really a canny tactic for exposing the extremism of the Republicans under Frist -- a bluff the Republicans hadn't dared to call.

Which the same sort of thing that Dubya's supporters on the net say about his diplomacy.

And in this case, I'm no more inclined to believe it. Now comes David Brooks, to inform us that the deal , as offered, was even sweeter than had been announced in public. In return for preserving the filibuster as a kind of theoretical construct, Reid was apparently promising that there would be no actual filibuster on the next Supreme Court nominee, no matter who it was. Brooks thinks that Frist was a fool not to take the offer. He would have gotten the judges through, without the procedural chicanery that was killing him in the polls. And for once, I agree with David Brooks: Frist was a fool.

But Frist didn't take the offer, so no harm done, right? Don't count on it. If the Republicans decide not to go "nuclear" (their term), they may well come sniffing around to see if the deal is still on the table. With the promise to complain bitterly if it's not. What would Kos expect Reid to do then -- go on Press the Meat and explain that he can't be held to his earlier offer because it was really meant as a mere strategic bluff?

More: As noted in comments below, Mark Schmitt thinks it never happened. It wouldn't be the first time a right-wing columnist for the Times has been caught making things up. I still think that even the public version of the deal was a bad idea. The public didn't need a "bluff offer" to reveal the Republican position as extreme -- the polls show that they already see it that way. And one of the raps on Democrats with swing voters is that they're wimps who stand for nothing. They won't get away from that by offering compromises on matters of principle -- even as bluffs (which the other side may still, one fine day, call...)