Saturday, January 11, 2003

Culture Jihad?-Interesting back and forth over in St. Blogs, where Mr. Shea is calling for believers to stop nitpicking and start making common cause against evil, invoking Peter Kreeft's book "Ecumenical Jihad." Mr. Cameron discounts the idea, stressing the need to defend one's faith while defending Western Civilization . There are times when you can make common cause on civic or political issues with people you wouldn't want to share a church service with. I remember going up to Ocala on Thanksgiving Eve to visit a couple of seminary buddies of Eileen's. They're married, and the husband is an assistant pastor of a Presbreterian church; he's on the conservative side of the PCUSA, so we generally get along theologically. The church was having a "interfaith" Thanksgiving service that evening in their fellowship hall. How interfaith? Very; even the local Jews and Muslims were in on this service. We had the non-touchy excuse of having a two-hour drive back to Winter Haven and needed to head back prior to the service. However, I wouldn't have stayed, for the idea of sharing a "religious" service with people who do not share anywhere near a common ground on what the nature of the God we're praying to. The PCUSA regulars might have thought that was cool, but I don't. Having a multi-church service is OK, as long as you roughly on the same page. While I was never in Kent on Thanksgiving Eve, my old Baptist church in Kent would have a joint service with the Assemblies of God church next door. They might not have agreed on the Gifts of the Spirit, but they agree on most everything else. However, what Shea and Kreft seem to be after isn't that interfaith service, but a common cause on cultural and political areas. For purist, the word "Ecumenical Jihad" grate, for they don't like the compromising connotation of ecumenical. However, there are political issues where devout Christians of various stripes can agree about. We don't have to fight over the status of Mary when Protestants and Catholics get together to support school vouchers. We can downplay the need for knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior to make common cause with devout Jews on abortion. That's not to say that the theological fights will cease, you can stick to your traditionalist Catholic guns on litergy changes while still sharing cookies and punch with a Baptist at a Right to Life meeting. You can even put in a plug for the Church while you're schoozing after the meeting. However, Jews and Muslims will agree with us on many moral issues. 9/11 may have thrown a monkey-wrench into adding Muslims to that mix, but making them persona non grata in a Judeo-Christian coalition seems a bit short-sighted, as it will tend to drive them into the Democratic Party if they feel rejected. There's a place to stand up for your faith and a place to put those differences aside for the moment to work together.

The First Two Kicks Were Nedney, the Third Was Dead Center-Just got done seeing the OT of the Tennessee-Pittsburgh game. Titan kicker Joe Nedney hooked a end of regulation field goal, then hooked a OT FG, only to be run into on a Pittsbugh guy. Finally, he got one dead center to give the Steelers the rest of the year off. Every time I see the guy, I want to think that "nedney" sounds like a British or Australian pejorative adjective. "How was your round, mate." "I hit a nedney drive on the 3rd; hooked it into the blooming 7th fairway, but made the green in two anyway with a good 4-wood."

Evening Musings- The power went off just after 6AM this morning and stayed off until we left for a St. Petersburgh road trip just before 8. Thus, the normal early morning stuff never got posted. However, I got up from a post-trip nap before Eileen did, so a tad bit of throughput while she sleeps. After I said a lot of nice things about Bill Richardson a week ago, he starts channeling Jimmy Carter's controling spirit. Cross him off that VP list. What would keep a governor in a snit on his way out the door to let everyone out of prison? No, it isn't that bad, but commuting all death sentences seems just as cheeky. Good think Ryan's being replaced. More on the death penalty later when I can get my thoughts together. Interesting. Who's Pete Townsant caugh with child p()rn on his computer. Let the Tommy metaphors fly. Let's see if the Trafficant Alibi ("I was doing an investigation") holds up. Unlikely, since at least the former Sultan of Special Orders was a sherrif when he used that.

Friday, January 10, 2003

Why Are the NFC Playoffs Like Klingon War Games?-They have two Birds of Prey going against each other. I went 2-1 on my predicitions last week, forgetting to pick a winner in the Pittsbugh-Cleveland game. My upset special is in the Klingon Bowl, where I'll take the Falcolns over the Eagles. I could have used McNabb in the Blogger Bowl final, but he might just be a bit rusty. I'll pick Oakland, Tennessee and Tampa Bay in the other games. I hadn't gotten a good look at the Giants this year prior to the 49ers game last weekend, and I was both pleasently and unpleasently suprised by Jeremy Shockey. Pleasently suprised to see one of the better pass-catching TEs in a while; Kellen Winslow Sr. comes quickly to mind (and I'd love to be Junior's agent, he's looking good) as a fair comparison. Unfortunatly, his attitude reminds me of a mix of Mark Gastineau and Charles Barkley.

A Pure Synergy Play?Interesting bit of financial news where AOL is spinning off a part of its cable network. Note that they're only spinning off 25-30% of their cable operations. This will allowed them to retain control of their cable operations, and the synergies with AOL and cable modem networks (I use their non-AOL Road Runner service at home) while allowing the cash generated from the sale to pay down debt. It looks like an interesting investment; you're getting a cable "pure play" that has the muscle of AOL-TW behind it, which should be appealing to investors who can stomach being part of that media Death Star.

Midday Musings-One of the downsides of being a professor is giving out bad grades, of telling a student who crashed-and-burned on the final that they failed the class or telling the B student who flamed his way to a C on the final. With the students back for registration today, I've had to handle a couple of those informal appeals. I find it hard to stick to the grade that they earned, but we're supposed to base our grades on what the students are showing on exams and assignments, not on how pitiful a sad-puppy face they bring to the professor's office. Another piece of evidence that Dale Carnegie needs to be translated into Arabic-the Lebanese ambassador to Canada let loose with some, well, less than diplomatic statements about the safety of Canadians in Arab countries and of the "Zionist" Canadian media. Don't be surprised if Lebanon sends a new ambassador in short order. The Canada bashers can call off the dogs; looks like they're in for Iraq even if we don't get a formal UN blessing. Interesting hypothesis over at the Note on the Pickering nomination-it's a sacrificial lamb to be borked by the left, hoping that the left only has one all-out borking in them for 2003, thus allowing other nominees like Owen and Estrada to get through.

A Curious Lack of an Amicus-A lot of conservatives are roasting the administration for not filing a brief in the UofM admissions case. Anne Wilson applies a slow mesquite flame here
The Republican Party and this administration are trawling for any black and Hispanic votes they can get. When will they learn that by pandering to sentiments that are racist in their own right (and the idea that someone should be admitted or rejected to a university because of their ethnic or racial heritage is as racist as it gets) they will not only fail to win votes, they will win the contempt of those whom they are trying to court? The Republicans are in a tough spot right now. The country as a whole is almost equally divided between Democratic and Republican voters. That makes any fringe in the middle worth courting, no matter how tiny a percentage they may seem to represent. It also makes any defections in existing Republican ranks highly significant. Is it worth winning a tiny fraction more black and Hispanic voters while losing white surburan or rural voters to the Libertarians or Taxpayers' Party?
Does the phrase "holding ones fire" mean anything? Many pundits have a Klingon attitude of pressing the attack against the enemy regardless of the odds. However, today might not be the best day to die. The administration might be like Worf, who combines a Klingon warrior spirit and human strategic guile; in this case, they might be sensing a need to wait until they get a cleaner shot. I think the Supreme Court will reverse the Bakke decision and throw out the University of Michigan's positive-discrimination admissions plan. I think the Bush administration thinks so, too. The trend as of late has the Supremes throwing out racial preferences and filing an amicus brief wouldn't help much legally and would be a bit politically toxic. Right now it's better for the administration to lie low on this one and let the Supreme Court come to a decision without political pressure from the right. I think we've got at least a 5-4 against UofM and bringing Souter and Breyer on board isn't out of the question, especially if the pressure isn't as heavy on the left-of-center justices. A 5-4 vote "enabled by White House pressure" will give the left some extra ammunition, while a 6-3 or 7-2 vote with a hands-off strategy would reduce the mau-mauing by half. The target audience isn't blacks as much as it is swing white voters who can be convinced that Republicans are bigots. Now isn't the time to go on the attack on affirmative action; it would get spun like mad by the left and would likely help keep some of the left-leaning justices from joining a center-right decision. Let them vote it down, then when the decision come out in the spring and l'affair Lott is back in the archives, they can start to once again actively champion the color-blindness before the law that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of. [Update-10:38 This from the WaTi-"Asked yesterday by The Times whether fallout from the Lott debacle was prompting the president's cautious approach to the case, Mr. Fleischer said no." I know you're supposed to say no, Ari, but wouldn't it at least aid in that caution]

Hello, I Must Be Going-Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan is ready to leave his post to become president of Florida Atlantic University. Skipping out just after he got sworn in for a second term as LG is a head-scratcher. A minority and/or female replacement is likely. New Secretary of State Glenda Hood and state school board member Julia Johnson are mentioned as possibilities. With a lame duck governor, this would be a good spot for someone looking to take over for Jeb in 2007 to start to get statewide connections and PR. If the replacement were black, like Johnson, it could open up the real possibility of the second black governor since Reconstruction (Doug Wilder in Virginia), and a Republican one to boot.

Morning Musings-As Mr. Johnson said, if you find yourselve in a hole, stop digging. The Mom in Tennis Shoes just provided herself a second helping of Nike Tartare. Get your resume ready, for you'll likely be Dunn in at the polls next year. We've got a case of blog crib death; Girl On the Right's hanging it up just short of it's first birthday. In relation to Ms. Gray's retirement, Josh asked "has the Blogosphere reached a saturation point?" Not yet, but as we get more and more readers, you might start to see a bigger lurker-to-blogger ratio. One of the reasons for blogging is to get your opinion out and if there are more bloggers out there, people might be more likely to find their blog soulmates having said exactly what they were thinging and phrased it better than they would have. Sharon's having to fight off corruption charges; he got a big loan from a old Army buddy who moved to South Africa; foreign campaign donations aren't allowed. Here's a bit-too-cheeky Kos rundown of the story. The new story was that Sharon got on TV to explain the loan to voters and added it a bit too much electioneering; the Central Election Committee pulled the plug on the broadcast as campaigning on TV is limited to certian slots a month before an election. That's scary; this is our future if the McCainiac have their way, where a politician being a political gets a live show yanked in real time. This might knock Likud down a peg or two, but the good thing for the right in this case is that they can get rid of Sharon as PM if this is shown to be more than just a sweetheart loan.

Tigger Exceptionalism-"...But the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is I'm the only one." One more reason for Euroweenies not to like us, buddy boy. As Den Beste notes, we've got more bounce to the ounce that they do and they're not sure how to deal with that.

Edifier du Jour-Genesis 26:6-17(NASB)
6 So Isaac lived in Gerar. 7 When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, "She is my sister," for he was afraid to say, "my wife," thinking, "the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful." 8 It came about, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out through a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah. 9 Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, "Behold, certainly she is your wife! How then did you say, 'She is my sister'?" And Isaac said to him, "Because I said, 'I might die on account of her.'" 10 Abimelech said, "What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us." 11 So Abimelech charged all the people, saying, "He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death." 12 Now Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the LORD blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; 14 for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him. 15 Now all the wells which his father's servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth. 16 Then Abimelech said to Isaac, "Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us." 17 And Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar, and settled there.
The thing that I marvel at is that these patriarchs aren't exactly sinless people, yet God decided to bless them anyway. Isaac pulled the same fast one that his day did, trying to pass his wife off as his sister, yet God continued to bless him. They were getting blessings that the seem not to deserve. There are few Biblical heroes that didn't have a sinful side mentioned. Remember that when Satan tried to tell you that you're not good enough to be used by God. God can, and does, use us and bless us even if we're far from perfect. As long as we try our best to keep God first in our lives, failing on a hourly basis yet still trying, we're doing what we can to please Him.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

My Elected Officials At Work-After all that rainfall, the Polk county commission wants to do something about drainage.
In a unanimous vote Wednesday, county commissioners ordered staff to look into the feasibility and legality of implementing a stormwater fee and to bring the information back to them at a future workshop. Staff will also prioritize the county's drainage problems at the behest of Commissioner Jack Myers, who suggested a monthly 50-cent fee for every Polk household. "I don't think it's going to kill anybody, and it would save the county a lot of problems," Myers said.
No, but when all those other $6/year items that get tacked on at various levels are added up, it might. Remind me to vote for whoever running against Mr. Myers next time; that's the kind of attitude that starts running up the government tab real quick.

Midday Musings-The semester's syllibi have been printed up, as have my notes for tonight's MIS class (the undergrads start Monday), so I can spend the afternoon in a antibiotic-laced veg. One more sign of that can-o-whuppin' heading Sadaam's way-the Marines have issued a stop-loss order keeping most Marines from leaving the service until next February. Ben might have been right to fear Lugar as Foreign Relations chair; he seems to have helped derail Otto Reich's reupping as Assistant Secretary of State. Reich's pro-Contra work in the Reagan years made him persona non grata to the left; he's being moved over to be Condi's Latin American guy at the NSC now that his recess appointment of a year ago expired. OAS ambassidor Roger Noriega is slated to be the nominee. A five-inch downburst New Years Eve made this the wettest year on record in Lakeland, the nearest full reporting site to Winter Haven. We were 22 inches above normal; all those summer dinnertime thunderstorms added up. That might help get the Everglades get back some water.

Operation Baathwater-Instapundit might be onto something here, but it would take a whole lot of chutzpah to pull off. He sites a Jerusalem Post article on Syrian infiltrators trying to sneak into Israel, concluding with
"Hey, no fair! You shot our armed infiltrators!" How sadly typical. But you have to wonder why Syria might try something like this just now. And you also have to wonder if part of the reason for the delay in invading Iraq is that the operation may wind up as a twofer.
Or a threefer if we throw Lebanon into the mix. This makes sense if you were playing some geopolitical war game, to roll up Iraq and Syria in one swoo felp. Being secular socialists tyrants, Assad and Saddam won't be greatly missed by the Arab Street. The Syrian operation could be done fairly neatly with a NATO-Israeli operation with the IDF being supported by extra NATO air and naval power from the Mediterranean area, possibly adding a few extra NATO Marines and paratroopers. An all-out partnership with Israel would allow US fighters to fly out of Israel as well as our Gulf allies and Turkey. The trick would be in justifying going after Syria. They've tamed themselves in the recent past, but the Syrians have a long track record of backing terrorists, enough to justify breaking out the jars of whuppin'. However, if you fast forward five or ten years after Operation Baathwater and some thoughtful nation-rebuilding, you could see functioning fledgling democracies in Syria and Iraq (and an improved situation in Lebanon without Syrian hegemony) to go along with Turkey, putting to rest the legend that Islam and democracy don't mix. Both countries would be better culturally suited to a small-s secular democracy than to a mullahocracy. A peaceful northern flank will cut off a lot of the Palestinian support and make a peaceful settlement in the West Bank more likely, especially if you start hearing Syrian and Iraqi democrats criticizing the PA's lack of democracy. The Israelis would be faced with the novelty of non-belligerent neighbors on every corner, with the Saudis the most likely to cause trouble of the lot; however, the Saudi's aren't overly likely to start a war with Israel for fear of having the oil fields being nuked (either figuratively or literally) into a parking lot. Israel has chilly but peaceful relations with Egypt and Jordan, and with Syrian and Lebanon settled down, the IDF and the Israeli government can focus on cleaning up the West Bank. Now, lets wake up from this pleasant geopolitical fantasy. The chances of trumping up enough charges to make an US invasion of Syria viable are slim. If Syria is stoopid enough to come to Iraq's aid during Gulf War II, then the twofer could be feasible. If Syria chose the time of Gulf War II to try to move on the northern border, trying to retake the Golan Heights or moving in from Lebanon, then the US might choose to aid Israel on a road trip to Damascus. However, the chances of this happening are fairly slim. Bashir Assad isn't a dummy; an invasion of Israel would be folly unless he's throwing a Hail Mary (good Islamic alternative, please) to take out the Jews once and for all. Helping out the Iraqis would be equally foolish; allowing Saddam to stash some Scuds in Syria would lead to a nasty US response. Barring either of those actions, Dr. Bashir is safe for now.

Blood Ties-This bit of news is a bit troubling
India's government has announced that it will grant dual nationality to some of the 20 million people of Indian origin living overseas. The announcement was made by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at the start of a high-profile three-day event in Delhi for overseas Indians. The conference has been seen as part of a move by the Indian Government to form closer ties with the Indian diaspora, which many see as a powerful potential source of investment, support and influence.
I'm not sure what Vajpayee is up to here. There are two agendas here and the article only lists one. The first is that giving the Indian diaspora (especially the large number of computer geeks, physicians and businessmen in the US and Britain) citizenship will allow them to invest in industries barred to foreign investment. The second, unstated goal might be a Hindu nationalism that plays to the BJP rank-and-file. By making all Indians permanently Indians whether they are in India or not seems to preclude the idea of assimilation. The BJP's not alone in this type of politics; Mexico's president Fox is trying to keep émigrés to America politically active. There seems to be an implicit racialism here in that blood determines citizenship. This policy might clear up the status of the diaspora who are in countries, like Kuwait, where only native Kuwaitis who can trace their lineage back to 1920s Kuwait (IIRC) are considered citizens; I remember a Indian elementary school classmate who was born in Kuwait yet was still an Indian citizen. However, treating all people of Indian blood as Indians might have some interesting ramifications in custody fights (dad splits, takes kid to India. US consulate is told to get lost, the kid's an Indian citizen) or if an Indian-American gets in trouble with the government while visiting India. That's not an American concept, where people are, despite occasional racism, considered Americans if they are born here. Despite the northern European roots of the country's founders, the idea of being an American isn't about blood line but of sharing common ideals of freedom and equality under the law. The BJP is more free market than the Congress Party is, but I'm not sure if this is a good sign for India becoming more integrated into the Anglosphere.

A Manley Tax Policy?-"Ya, ve're here to poomp your economy up." "Ve're not just some poomped up guys from the Alps." "No, ve're also good Austrian economists who understand the virtues of a frei economy." "Ya, unlike that girly Manley north of da border who's afraid to cut taxes."
John Manley, the Finance Minister, said yesterday the federal government will not embrace the kind of aggressive tax-cutting program announced by George W. Bush, the U.S. President, because it is unwilling to risk running a deficit.
"Ya don't have to run a deficit if you cut taxes. You can always cut spending." "Nah, but those Canucks love their big girly velfare state. 'Da Liddle Guy would be hurt' I hear 'em say."
Mr. Manley has come under renewed pressure from business groups, economists and the political opposition to make tax relief a key feature of his next budget to prevent Canadian tax competitiveness from falling behind that of the United States.
"You can't expect to get a poomped up, manly economy with capital taxes, high income taxes and that big vopping GST sales tax." "Ya, that's vat they've been telling the Liberals for years, but they don't seem to listen. Canada might be doing a bit better at the moment, but that girly nanny state has slowed them down for a couple of decades." "Ya, that's vy vere over here in da States. This is a manly economy who needs to get back into the gym."

Eagle or Deficit Hawk?-Germany's been ordered by the European Commission to play deficit hawk or else. Eurozone memebers can't run a deficit bigger than 3% of GDP and Germany, in a high-unemployment stagnant economy, is slated to run a 3.8% deficit this year. This points out the big problem with common currencies; you have to have common monetary and fiscal policies within the currency zone and can't run a deficit during a recession. However, there's quite a bit of irony in this in that it was the inflation-wary Germans who pushed the hardest for that rule.
The Commission's warning to Germany falls under the Stability and Growth Pact, a set of rules that were initially created at Berlin's insistence. The Pact was intended to hold in check the state finances of smaller, poorer eurozone member states such as Ireland and Greece, but the main miscreants so far have been larger economies such as France, Italy and Germany itself.
The big questions will come in the next few months. If Germany fails to cut its deficit, will the EU have the chutzpah to fine Germany as the Stability and Growth Pact calls for? Would Germany leave the Euro and the EU rather than face the music? Would the Greens allow for the budget cuts that seem to be called for? We could have early elections in Germany and a serious threat to the stability of the EU. I don't know about you, but those don't look like bugs, they look like features.

Edifier du Jour-Genesis 16:1-6(NASB)
1 Now Sarai, Abram's wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, "Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram's wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. 4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight. 5 And Sarai said to Abram, "May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me." 6 But Abram said to Sarai, "Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight." So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.
How many times do we fail to wait for what God has for us? God spoke to both of them, yet neither believed in that promise fully. They then resorted to worldly means in order to try and jump start things. How many Ishmaels do you have in your life, things that you did on your own that didn't turn out as well as they should have. We're not good at waiting upon the Lord, allowing Him to set things up so that the better thing will emerge. Sexual issues frequently come into play here, where people will either leap at premarital sex or go into bad marriages in order to scratch that intimacy itch. Wait for the Issac, the better thing that God has planned for you. Sometimes it will take a "miracle" to pull that off, but it will be worth the wait.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Blog Birthday Musings-This humble enterprise got started a year ago yesterday; I made a time-zone mistake as my date tags in Blogger where stated in Greenwich time, making a late 1-7 post show up as 1-8. Back then, I figured it would be fun way to have your own op-ed page. I wondered at the time if anyone would read this, citing a old Jack Germond line a year ago "Editorials are like wetting your pants in a blue serge suit- you get a warm feeling and nobody notices." At the time I mused "I hope this blog doesn't have the same fate." A link from Moira Breen was my first positive feedback. Now, I get well over 100 unique visitors each day and dozen of permalinks around the Blogosphere; not exactly anything that would get the major networks jealous but rewarding. However, it is an upscale and influential crowd. Lawyers, computer programmer, legislative aids, speechwriters and pastors are the e-pen pals I have made over the last year. I'm made on-line friends from Australia, the Philippines, Great Britain and Canada, not to mention people from over half the states in the nation. If you told me I'd be trading insights on theology with a college student in Indiana and a Canadian Catholic, having a back-and-forth on neoconservatives and paleoconservatives with a legislative aid in Columbus and contributing to a on-line political journal, I'd have questioned what you were smoking. I've made a lot of friends through this blog; even though I've never met any of them, we've created an electronic pub where we hang out and trade our thoughts on stuff. When I moved down to Florida, the on-line family helped make the transition easy; the family just came with me. Married life hasn't changed blogging too much (I don't post as much at night and on weekends when Eileen's around) but the professorship has helped, giving me flextime to blog when I'm not in class teaching. Eileen's struggled to find friends down here; I have struggled as well, but the blogging has filled a lot of that void. I don't know what year two will bring. The number of hits have gone up about 15% from when I started counting in March. It will be interesting how many new friendships and new opportunities will come of this in the year to come.

Graham in a Three-Point Stance?-This Orlando Sentinel piece looks at the likelihood of Bob Graham running for President-it's looking more likely. However, he's running with some interesting bedfellows.
Graham has powerful contacts with connections of their own. Buffett, chairman of Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and one of the most successful stock traders, was a close friend of Katharine Graham, the late publisher of The Washington Post and Bob Graham's sister-in-law.
I didn't know the Katharine Graham connection (Katharine's husband (and thus Bob's brother?) committed suicide back in the 60s, IIRC) until today and didn't know Buffett ran with that liberal elite crown. Buffett's not a stock-trader in the classic sense; he buys undervalued companies and manages them back to financial health. He's a buy-and-manage investor. However, Buffett's made some surprisingly statist political statements in the past, including backing a plan to make employee stock options taxable upon issuance rather than upon exercise. This seems to clarify that he's the ultimate limousine liberal. Another interesting footnote in the piece-Gephardt's not going to run for reeelction for his House seat. The primary in Missouri's late enough (August 6 last year) for him to flop in the presidential primary and still try to reup, but he joins Miller as a lame duck.

Midday Musings-Back after getting a physical (guys, don't sweat a prostate check, it ain't anywhere near that bad) and some antibiotics and a serious wake-up call on the scales. Let's just say that at 6'5" I thought I was more linebacker size when I'm more down-lineman size; trust me, it ain't muscle. Dr. Byron's prescription: packing lunches rather than going for the cafeteria food, lighter dinners, steering clear of the candy at the secretary desk and the donuts before church and getting a lot more walking in. If I work at it, I can get down to quarteback size by my birthday in August. Good news and bad news on the judicial front. The good news is that Owens and Pickering are being renominated. The bad news is that the left's in full Bork mode over Pickering, whose cursed with being a conservative from Mississippi; the ghost of Trent Lott will be trotted out by the left when Pickering doesn't deserve it. More good/bad news. Zell Miller's not running for reelection next year. That's a seat that's now ripe for a GOP pick-up but we're losing a solid anti-idiotarian despite the D behind his name. I don't have a link for this yet, but accoring to Hannity's radio show, McCain has joined three northeastern RINOs (Chaffee, Collins and Snowe, IIRC) in opposing the president's stimulus package. Before this, I had place McCain a bit more to the right on economics than that, but I think we can officially declare him in the RINO camp. Others had already done so, but I saw more conservatism in him in the past. Good think he won't be running for reelection next year; now Arizona can put a real Republican in his place.

Blog Birthday-This humble abode in cyberspace turns one today; however, the proprietor has to go to the doctor with yet another sinus infection; I just shook one off over Christmas. I should be back later this afternoon with good drugs in my system and some reflections.

Edifier du Jour-Genesis 18:10-15(NASB)
10 He said, "I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. 12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" 13 And the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?' 14 "Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son." 15 Sarah denied it however, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. And He said, "No, but you did laugh."
Why did Sarah laugh? The proper worldly responce to that news is "Yeah, sure." It ain't gonna happen. Unless you have an omnipotent God capable of such miracles. Then, all bets are off and anything's possible. People get in trouble when they don't realize how big God is. God's in the miracle business; a little creative reproductive biology is easy for Him.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Afraid of a Wicked Googly, Robert? There's a bit of a row in England over whether their cricket team should play in the World Cup in South Africa and Zimbabwe. The handwringing over whether to grace "Mad Bad Bob" Mugabe's country reminds me of the debate over the 1980 US Olympic boycot. The Blair government doesn't want the one game in the Cup that will be in Zimbabwe to go forward but doesn't want to order the team not to go. Sounds a lot like Jimmy Carter 23 years ago. This chuckler comes from Airstrip One
It appears that Comrade Bob is living in fear of his life as the English cricket team going to Zimbabwe could be comprised of spies and assassins. Every cricketer will be assigned three agents from the Central Intelligence Organisation to ensure that they are unable kill Bob with whatever comes to hand (bat, stumps, ball, perhaps pads?). Bob was unsure if he would allow them into the country but (more rational) souls managed to persuade him that the show must go on. Who is the most likely assassin? Gough, bowling an accurate and fast delivery, or Butcher, living up to his name.

Trentecostals?-Via Envoy, this interesting piece on Pete Vere's journey: Catholic-to-Pentecostal-to-charismatic Catholic. He's been nicknamed a Trentecostal. I'm not going to agree with everything, but the Holy Spirit is at work in some interesting corners of the Catholic church. Watch for the charismatic Catholic movement to come of age in the years to come, especially in the Hispanic church. If John Paul II lingers a while, a charismatic Pope (John Paul's charismatic, but the personality kind) might be a possibility, given the large numbers in South America.

Afternoon Musings-Channel surfed into a leftist station out of Tampa that, at least for the snippets I heard this afternoon, made NPR sound like neoliberals. A caller to their 1:00 show was asking about Cities for Peace's move to get an anti-Iraq-war resolution passed in the St. Petersburg city council. The C4P web site boasts that "Cities for Peace is a rapidly growing effort to get City Councils and other civic bodies to pass resolutions against a war on Iraq." Let me check; no, the War Powers Act doesn't give the St. Petersburg city council any say in the matter. Anyone want to go on a good rant about symbolic liberalism? Another rant inducer was an ad for the Florida Lottery. "When you play, we all win." All of us except the poor suckers who are only getting $0.50 or less on the dollar back on their bets. Eddie Murray and Gary Carter into the HOF. Good choices. Carter was the best catcher in the NL for his era, and Murray was a quiet but steady presence at first or DH for the 80s Orioles and the early 90s Indians. I'd of voted for Sutter (great closer and popularized the split finger fastball; go ahead and say the splitter's just a forkball with attitude) and Sandberg (Lou Whittker's counterpart as the NL's perenial 2B all-star) and think that Dawson and Rice are good honorable mentions that the Old Timers Committee will let in somewhere around 2023. I'm not sure about Lee Smith and the Goose; both had their moments, but not quite HOF stuff. Ben spotted this one first, Miami U running back Willis McGahee took out a $2.5M insurance policy the day of the Fiesta Bowl. If he's unable to rehab that badly damaged knee, he's still a rich kid. Here's one for the winners from OSU. Terry Pluto has a nice write-up on Jim Tressell as a true class-act. I got a sense of that when he was at Youngstown State, but this confirms it. Maize and Blue fans, get ready for a long decade, for Tressell's going to pick up that JoePa mantle in short order making Columbus a place you'd be (hack, hack) proud to (choke) send your kid.

Bye, Bye Tommy. Don't Let the Door Hit Ya Where the Lord Split Ya-Just after giving a severe handicapping of Daschle's chances (not good, projected at 5th) in the Democratic presidential race, he decides he's not running.
"After careful reflection, I've concluded that at this moment in our history, with so many important decisions to be made about our nation's future, my passion lies here in the Senate," he said in a written statement.
Nah, his passion really lies in fighting off Howard Dean for sixth place. Plus, all that fund raising that he'd have to do to be a viable candidate would be hitting up much of the same people he'll need to hit up to keep his Senate seat next year. That will be a bear; John Thune (or whoever the GOP puts up) can run on Bush's coattails in a Red state, while Daschle can't run on "I agree with the president on a lot of things" like Tim Johnson did. He's going to need all the help he can get to hang on to his seat; I don't think he's quite ready to teach American Political Parties at South Dakota State, but he should get his resume polished. P.S. Would a post-2004 Tom Daschle need a resume? Or would he just get job offers from interested schools and/or liberal non-profits?

Midday Musings- Turned on the TV just now, and I'm seeing Smitty doing Above All at Jeb's reinaugural. Let's see the liberals squirm at that. Well, they get one back, a military band played Fanfare for the Common Man, a great piece of music but one that is standard fare at Democratic conventions for my lifetime. The KorComs are squirming too, stating that any UN sanctions would lead to war. How come I think Kim's got a tiger by the tail and doesn't quite know how to get off other than to get more and more belligerent. The Grammy nominations are out; Josh will be happy to know that his favorite singing cutie, Norah Jones, got record and album of the year nominations as well as one for Best New Artist. Yet another sign that I'm out of the pop culture loop; I don't know any of her stuff. Not that I needed too much of a reminder, but I do need to stay away from buffets, walk more and take my lunch to work this semester. I would up in a strategic retreat in the Battle of the Bulge since getting married and need to get a counter-attack going.

Towards an Optimistic, Other-Centered, Dynamist Conservatism-Kevin has a pair of good posts on foreign policy, this one pointing to three articles (four if you count mine) and a second on "neoconservative" foreign policy. Good pieces, but I'm going off on a tangent related to "what the heck is a neocon" meme. In my standard political thoughts, I had three basic continuums; one on the size of government, one on the importance of traditional moral values and one on whether one had a globalist or nationalist perspective on foreign trade or military engagements. The unprefixed conservative is a small-government traditional globalist, the paleocon is a small-government traditional nationalist and the neocon is a small-government globalist who's center-right on moral values. In the Boot article Kevin cites, he had this definition of a neocon "In social policy, it stands for a broad sympathy with a traditionalist agenda and a rejection of extreme libertarianism." Note a broad sympathy; many of the classic neocons weren't great churchmen (or synagoguemen). I found this Churchill quote that Mark Cameron cites indicative of many neocons "I could hardly be called a pillar of the Church; I am more in the nature of a buttress, for I support it from the outside." Are neocons just conservatives who aren't big Bible-thumpers? Not quite. I'd like to look at three other continuums that might shed some light.
(1) Optimist versus pessimist
Optimists are more likely to be one of Boot's "hard Wilsonians" who have confidence that we can make a difference around the world. Neocons tend to be more optimistic than paleocons; in fact, most of the neo-paleo fights break down on pessimism. Paleolibertarians are grumpy misanthropes when compared to their more upbeat unprefixed libertarians and neoliberals are more positive than the old left. If one has a pessimistic attitude, it lends itself to a status-quoian attitude, for changes aren't likely to be seen as positive. This will extend overseas, where our endeavors are seen as more likely to fail by paleocon pessimists.
(2) Self-centered versus other-centered
Paleocons seem to be more focused in what happens to them and their corner of the world than in the bigger picture than other conservatives. Being disinterested in the world, added to their pessimism, leads them even further into an isolationist mode.
(3) Dynamist versus Localist
The classic Postrellian fight is between dynamists and statists, but this transcends the size of government. Paleocons tend to be localist in that they prefer the mom-and-pop over the MegaMart and the homemade over the branded, while dynamists allow for big and efficient corporations to elbow aside smaller local businesses. Not too many of us prefer the branded and corporate, all else being equal; at breakfast, Eileen was commenting on Blockbuster running a small local video chain out of business in her old stomping grounds of northern metro Houston. Some of us are willing to pay a higher price as individuals (to pay a bit more at the smaller store) or as a society (to set up laws discouraging MegaMarts setting up in your town) for that personal touch. You don't have to be a paleocon to be a localist; the Crunchy Conservative meme of Rob Dreher is more of a localist thing when boiled down to the essentials. [Update 4:10PM-Dreher has a good quote on this track today"I've found that crunchy-cons can better be understood as paleo-cons without the fixation on race, and without the foreign-policy isolationism."] However, even if they are crunchycons in their buying habits, our stereotypical neocon they see the advantages of a free economy allowing for economies of size and see free trade as a way to allow for more economies of size. Paleocons tend to be more localist than other conservatives. This will give them a bias against big corporations, especially ones from overseas. Free trade means more corporateness and less local control over things. On the flip side, the people we associate as neocons tend to be more dynamist in their political philosophy. Going the localist route means slower economic growth; for most of us, we'd rather save 15% at Wal-Mart than buy a bit less at the mom-and-pop and having to be forced to go with the local option doesn't make too much sense. Even if a person, like Boot, was conservative from the get-go, he might have the optimistic, other-centered dynamist attitude of a neocon. I'd argue that the standard conservative today is an optimistic, other-centered dynamist. Liberals will tend to be more pessimistic about the future, thus wanting a bigger government to protect them from economic downturns. Liberals, despite all the rhetoric about compassion, tend to be more self-centered, looking at covering their individual derrieres rather than allowing for the possibility a smaller government that would be more beneficial for the commonweal. Liberals tend to be localist in that they have a native distrust of large corporations, even if they are more unionized than small businesses. Moving away from optimism leads one towards one of the paleos, as does being self-centered. A secular conservative who's pessimistic and self-centered is a candidate for paleolibertarian recruitment, while a pessimistic and self-centered religious conservative will lean towards the paleocon. However, both of those ideologies don't sell well. Optimistic, other-centered dynamist does. Reagan and Dubya fit those bills, Dole didn't. Dole was a pessimist which helped lead him to a right-of-center statism that didn't sell. I think Frist is an improvement over Lott on all three of those counts ;you can argue on the dynamist, but Frist has him beat on the optimism and the other-centered. I might be painting with a broad brush here, but those features seem to point to what kind of conservatism sells. The difference between neoconservatives and unprefixed conservatives might be a bit of extra optimism in the neocon and a bit extra moral conservatism in the regular conservative. However, as we look for people to run for office, those three qualities should mark the candidate that has the best chance of winning.

"President Daschle"-Make Sure I'm Not Drinking Something When You Say That-Ruffini has this faux headline from a year from now "Daschle garners 613 votes in N.H. primary; Edges Lieberman, Sharpton" Let's take a look at the 2000 New Hampshire Primary returns; there were 154,000 votes cast in the Democratic primary. That will likely go up as President Bush will likely be running all-but-unopposed on the Republican side; some yutz might run and get a few percent as a protest candidate. I'd think Daschle would get more than 0.4% of the vote. Bush got 827 votes in the Democratic primary as a write-in. The only was Daschle gets that low of a percentage is if he drops out just after the ballots are finalized. You can make the case that Sharpton would be lucky to pull half-a-percent in New Hampshire, but both Lieberman and Daschle will get more than 0.4% How much will Daschle get? Not much over 10%. He might do well in Iowa, where his prairie populism will play well; I'd make him the co-favorite with Gephardt. He'll be just as Midwestern as Gephardt and be better attuned to the agricultural nature of Iowa than the city-slicker from St. Louis. Once you get out of Iowa, the road gets tougher. He can't rely on that huge block of Upper Midwestern delegates to carry him to the nomination. Here's my quick and dirty political ecology of the Democratic race. Daschle's appeal would be to establishment liberals; he'll have to fight Kerry and Dean for that block. Gephardt gets the union vote and a bit of the DLC vote. Lieberman gets the DLC vote, the Jewish vote (not huge but could make the difference in states like New York) and the votes of people who want someone who can win in November. Edwards fights Kerry for the Ideopolis vote and gets a leg up on some Southern Voters. Graham, if he runs, would fight for the Southern vote and the DLC vote. The wild cards here would be where the black and Latino vote breaks and who gains the mantle of the Establishment Candidate.
2004 Democratic Nomination
Predicted Percentage
Daschle 10%
Dean 6%
Edwards 11%
Gephardt 14%
Graham 9%
Kerry 27%
Lieberman 20%
Sharpton 3%
The big question is whether all of these candidates stays in for the duration. Gephardt could pull out some plurality wins in the Great Lakes, while Edwards and Graham could sneak off with a few southern states each. Lieberman could become a second choice for the more centrist voters in the race if others drop out, while Dean could emerge as the "progressive" candidate on the left if some of the more establishment candidates drop out. If all of them go the duration and Kerry comes in second in most states, Kerry could have a plurality of the vote but far short of a majority of the delegates. If the numbers I posit above ring true, the lead pieces on the nightly news will be about Kerry and Lieberman, with the rest of the candidates battling for the second piece on the also-rans. If one of those teen-percenters starts to get within hailing distance of Lieberman, the media coverage will start to go three-way. However, getting to 10% in the polls seems to be the world's worst tease; you're starting to do well, but you can't get the attention to do much better unless you're a media darling. I don't see a natural constituency for Daschle in the party that someone else doesn't do a better job of. Kerry will have a greater appeal to establishment liberals, Gephardt's the natural union guy and Daschle will be a hard sell to the DLC crowd. The guy from South Dakota doesn't seem a natural to pitch to minority voters, either. One of the mental tests I use for the plausibility of a candidacy is the bumper-sticker test; who's going to have a bumper-sticker of the candidate on their car or do other sorts of activist work? Kerry's the good looking establishment liberal anti-war war vet. Gephardt's the happy class warrior. Edwards is Matlock Jr., Mr. fight the corporate interests. Lieberman is the earnest moralist with a soft spot for the little guy. Dean's the classic "I'm not from Washington" maverick. Graham's the folksy and stable fellow who's more liberal than he comes across. Those people I could see people sporting their bumper stickers; I don't see Daschle passing the bumper sticker test. He doesn't seem to be anyone's first choice. He's not bad looking, but come across as a bit shrill, like Dave Letterman without the humor. He's enough of a generic liberal that he doesn't scratch a particular demographic itch. He's also waited too long to get into the Invisible Primary; a lot of resources that could have been there six months ago aren't there now. Look for him to find it difficult to break much past 10% and bow out before the snow falls in Sioux Falls next winter. [Update 2:10PM Never mind. Thanks to Ben for the heads up]

The Dividend Tax Exemption Post-I had planned a post on the Bush administration proposal to exempt dividend income, but Billmon over at the Daily Kos laid out the arguments in the form of six “stupid” arguments for a tax cut. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll critique his critique.
(1) It's only fair
I spent a bit of New Years Day talking to a friend-in-law (he married a gal Eileen and I know from our old church in Midland) about double taxation and that, all else being equal, you should look more for growth than income outside of an tax-sheltered (like an IRA or 401-K). Billmon makes a plausible point that some compensation for limited liability, for the right to go belly up and stick the creditors with the losses, in the form of a separate corporate tax, might be called for. However, than compensation should be a lot lower than the ~35% rate currently charged.
(2) It's more efficient
Billmon acknowledges that the tax deductibility of interest biases corporate finance towards debt but doesn't quite get the consequences of it. Let me go after it
But even if there is a problem, eliminating the personal income tax on dividends is a curious way of dealing with it. It doesn’t change the incentive structure for corporate managers: Favoring debt over equity would still tend to raise the after-tax bottom line, and thus, their own bonuses.
Yes, but less so than before. Companies will want to raise money as cheaply as possible. Debt has a lower required return, but companies that have too much debt will see their interest rates go up and see their cost of equity go up, as the company is riskier to the stockholder as well. There comes some point where adding capital via equity will be cheaper than adding capital via debt. When the cost of debt is multiplied by 0.65 (1 minus the tax rate) that point comes a lot later.
Theoretically, this preference would be offset by stockholders, who would have their own incentive to favor dividends. But it’s a Rube Goldberg apparatus: 1.) investors would rather have dividends than interest, so they would prefer stocks over bonds. 2.) Preferring stocks, they would drive equity prices up and bond prices down. 3.) Corporate managers would realize they can get more buck for the bang by selling stocks. 4.) Corporations would shift from issuing debt to issuing equity.
Billmon is just about there with his Rube Goldberg, but let's build a better mousetrap. (1) Taxes go down on dividends, making stocks more attractive. It's not that they prefer stocks to bonds, but they prefer good risk-adjusted returns to bad ones (2) Investors buy less bonds and more stocks, driving bond prices down (and interest rates up) and driving stock prices up (and implied required returns on stocks down) (3) Corporate managers will adjust their capital mix by issuing more stock and less bonds than in the past.
This requires some fairly heroic assumptions about market rationality, and about the responsiveness of corporate financing decisions to external signals. It’s also complicated by the fact that many institutional investors – pension funds, college endowments – are tax exempt, and thus don’t care about differences in after-tax returns. So the little ball might not push the right lever or drop through the right hole.
Not to mention tax-deferred IRAs and 401Ks. The better way to do this is to give the corporations the tax break, to allow them to deduct dividends as an expense. However, that's more easily demagogued by the left; giving a tax break to individual stockholders will sell better than giving it to corporations. Also, since the tax break doesn't apply to those institutional/tax deferred investors, it will lessen the revenue hit from the feds. However, our Rube Goldberg is basic Finance 301. "Shucks, Ma'am, I ain't no hero, I'm just the financial markets." True, the changes won't happen overnight, as a lot of corporate debt isn't callable (refinancable) and many companies will be stuck with an over-leveraged balance sheet for longer than they might like.
What’s worse: the Bush plan would induce some market distortions of its own. From a taxable investor’s point of view, dividends would go from worst to first – better than interest income, even better than capital gains.
Not quite better than interest income, just tax-exempt. An investor will look at the risk-adjusted after-tax return of investments. While a 4% dividend yield would bring a higher after-tax return than a 5% Treasury bond for higher-income taxpayers, the bond's interest is guaranteed. Investors will still have to weigh the risks of the company into their decision.
Of course, that will probably become the wedge for the next Republican attempt to chop the capital gains tax to zero. But in meantime, it should give a nice big shot in the arm to the tax shelter industry, which has been in the doldrums since the 1986 tax ‘reform" act. Well, that might create some jobs, anyway.
I don't think that this will create a new "tax shelter industry"-all it would take is investors to buy stocks rather than bonds and you don't have to set up any hedge funds or limited partnerships in order to do so. What this will do is to allow companies to take on more projects than they were before. When companies are in debt, they tend to be more conservative in their decision-making, preferring the sure thing that will keep the creditors at bay rather than the risky project that might hand the company over to the creditors. The less in debt a company is, the lower their fixed costs are and the more room they have to start new projects and thus create more jobs.
If the Bushies were really serious about making the capital markets more efficient – as opposed to just greasing the wealthy – they could ask Congress to make dividends deductible on corporate income tax returns, just as interest payments are now. Corporate tax rates could be adjusted upward to make the whole thing revenue neutral. Problem solved. But of course, that wouldn’t help the GOP reward its best and most loyal customers: the ultra-wealthy.
No, it would reward all stockholders, but would be a heck of a lot harder to sell. If you can call off your Democratic dogs long enough to sign off on such a compromise, I'd be with you, but those hounds will go after the corporate deduction of dividends even harder, so don't give me that excuse.
(3) It will boost demand
A little bit. To the extent that it will give people more money in their pockets, yes. However, the biggest increase in demand will come from corporate spending on new plant and equipment. The income effect on consumer spending that the tax cut will have will be offset by an increase in demand for savings, as the future returns from investments will make saving more attractive and reduce spending a notch.
To boost economic growth, a tax cut has to do one of two things: increase aggregate demand, or increase aggregate supply. This one would probably do neither. I’ll address the supply-side issue in a minute. But the demand-side equation is the most relevant one, since our current economic problems are not, by any stretch of the imagination, caused by a shortage of productive capacity. To boost consumer demand, it’s not enough to put money back in the hands of taxpayers. They have to spend it. If they decide to sock it away for a rainy day instead, it can actually make things worse, by further suppressing demand. This was the great insight of Keynesian economics, as valid today as it was in the 1930s. The problem: Rich people save a much larger share of their incomes than poor people, and the ultrawealthy save most of all. It’s why they own everything. So a tax cut that goes primarily to the tiny minority in the highest income bracket is probably going to be saved, not spent.
That's true, but the Keynesian model generally ignores investment spending, assuming it to be fixed/autonomous. While the effect on consumer spending might well be a wash, with the higher after-tax returns encouraging savings, the lower cost of capital to businesses will cause businesses to spend more, increasing total consumption. We might have an excess of capacity in certain areas like steel, airlines and telecom, but we also will be at capacity in others. The Keynesian bias against savings assumes that business won't spend those savings. In a bad recession, where there is an excess of capacity across the board, savings aren’t overly productive. However, there are growing industries that can use the extra investment in the modern climate. You might also see some old-economy stalwarts (and it's mature companies, not your new high-tech startups, that generally pay dividends) keep their old dinosaur plants open a bit longer if the cost of capital went down.
Now we come to the "class warfare" issue. Note that I have not framed this as a matter of "fairness." I’m being pragmatic here. If the goal is to stimulate the economy and create jobs, then presumably we want a plan that will work. A tax cut that is skewed too heavily towards the rich won’t. And it would be hard to exaggerate the degree to which this particular tax cut is skewed towards the rich. The Wall Street Journal – that house organ of wild-eyed liberalism – reported in yesterday's issue that 63% of all dividends are received by households with pre-tax incomes of $100,000 or more. But that doesn’t really do it justice. The IRS actually breaks income distribution down a little more precisely than that. Based on the latest data, nearly 30% of all dividends are received by households with annual pre-tax incomes over $500,000, and more than 20% by households with incomes of over $1 million a year – the top 0.7% of taxpayers who reported dividend income.
That doesn't have a lot to do with demand, Billmon. Yes, that extra spending might come from adding a satellite radio system to the Lexus, but it would increase spending, either via consumer or business spending.
(5) It will stimulate supply (he seems to have skipped #4)
Yes it will. By lowering the cost of capital and making that capital mix more equity oriented, it will allow companies to do things that weren't quite profitable before. Here is where Keynesians fall flat on their faces. Since their model either assumes a recession where added investment isn't needed or a full-employment economy where our resources are maxed out, they tend to ignore ways to stimulate the supply of goods and services.
Just as there’s more than one way to steal a Florida election, there’s more than one way to stimulate the economy. If businesses can be coaxed into investing more, it not only increases demand for goods and services, it increases our ability to produce those goods and services. A virtuous circle.
Nice straw man; let's dissect it. Added business spending doesn't increase demand for goods and services, it will increase the quantity demanded by lowering their cost. The supply curve is shifting here, not the demand curve. The aggregate demand curve might shift a bit outward in the short term to reflect the added business spending, but the larger effect will be the new economic capacity caused by the lower cost of capital.
Now Mae West once said too much of a good thing is simply wonderful. But that’s not necessarily true of capital spending. We had way too much of it – or more precisely way too much in a few narrow areas (telecom, Internet) – during the late 1990s. But a more balanced investment boom would be helpful now, since tax cuts or no tax cuts, consumers aren’t going to carry this expansion forever.
True; they need new goods and services, or cheaper existing goods and services, to keep the economy going. However, we don't need no steenking balance, we need to get capital to flow where it is needed; more capital in stagnant areas might not be helpful.
So would this dividend tax cut do the trick? In theory, maybe; in reality, almost certainly not. The key would be whether higher after-tax returns induced investors to accept lower pre-tax returns. This would reduce the cost of capital, lowering the "hurdle rate" at which a proposed capital project would become a paying proposition.
By George, I think he's got it! Oops, that's seems to be head knowledge rather than heart knowledge.
But it’s also an iffy proposition. As economist Allen Sinai and former Fed Governor Andrew Brimmer pointed out in yesterday’s Washington Post, the package, while large relative to the federal budget, doesn’t amount to much of a hill of beans relative to the U.S economy – much less the global one.
Yes, but it a small step in the right direction. It will encourage companies that don't have a good internal place to invest their profits to allow them to give it to the stockholders in dividends rather than go on a merger spree.
Investment responses to changes in after-tax returns also tend to be one-off – capital spending accelerates until a new equilibrium is reached, then tapers off. So unless the jump start triggers more sustainable underlying forces – as in the early 1960s – the boom tends to fizzle out – as it did in the mid-1980s. There is also the question of whether encouraging companies to pay dividends would itself be a demand-side and a supply-side drag, since it would divert retained earnings that might otherwise be used to finance investment.
The boom in investments will be temporary, but future growth will come from that higher level and lower costs of capital. The diverted retained earnings argument is a two-edged sword. Under the current system, dividends are suppressed in favor of lower-returning internal projects. With no taxes on dividends, companies without many great additional projects can pay dividends and allow investors to plow the money into companies with better prospects.
My answer is: Who knows? If it caused profitable projects to be cancelled it might be harmful, but if it induced companies like Microsoft to stop sitting on piles of cash and return them to investors who could profitably reinvest them elsewhere, it might be helpful. But anything that shifted purchasing power from those who intend to use it to those who intend to save it would likely be counter-productive, at least in the short run.
Only assuming that there isn't a demand for investment capital, sir; that savings-phobic Keynesian's showing.
(6) It will help the stock market
Billmon rightly points out that this "is actually a variation on Stupid Argument #5."
If after-tax returns are increased, investors will bid up stock prices. This will reduce the cost of capital, and have the happy effect of refloating some of the submerged asset values left behind by the collapse of the tech bubble. A major pension financing crisis might thereby be averted. If there is any coherent policy behind the dividend proposal, this is probably it. I think the Fed is very nervous about the risk the stock market will become a Japanese-like sink hole, pulling the "real" economy down into a deflationary morass. This view has probably been communicated through whatever passes as a policymaking process at the White House.
Finishing up the Iraq thing and showing that Enron and WorldCom are things of the past will do more to help, but this would help.
According to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the administration is projecting a 10% increase in stock prices if the plan is passed. They wanted to forecast a 20% gain, but apparently the computer started laughing so hard they had to reboot and start over. Now this is funny: When the Japanese tried to rig their own stock market with various tax gimmicks and other interventions in the 1990s, we told them they were a bunch of economic illiterates. But wait, I forgot: We're Americans, so of course this is entirely different, which makes it OK.
To the extent that this tax cut will produce a 10% increase in after-tax returns, it should increase stock prices by 10%. It will be higher for more mature, dividend paying companies and much less for younger firms whose dividend-paying days are far off in the future. Come to think of it, it will cut utility costs in states where they are still regulated; utilities are typically among the biggest dividend-payers. Since the state utility regulators will set prices such that the stockholders get a fair return, the rates will go down as the required returns go down. “Cut taxes on dividends, cut your electric bill!” Try that one on for size, Mr. Rove.
Now this is funny: When the Japanese tried to rig their own stock market with various tax gimmicks and other interventions in the 1990s, we told them they were a bunch of economic illiterates. But wait, I forgot: We're Americans, so of course this is entirely different, which makes it OK. The problem for the Bushies is that they may run into the law of unintended consequences. Since the early 1980s, companies have been steadily increasing share buy backs, as a substitute for paying dividends. This kept shareowners happy because it's transformed taxable ordinary income into tax-deferred (and taxed at a lower rate) capital appreciation. One recent study, "Dividends, Share Repurchases and the Substitution Hypothesis, Journal of Finance, August 2002 (yeah, I really read [stuff] like that, it's part of my job), has confirmed there has been virtually a one-to-one negative correlation between paying dividends and buying back shares. In other words, firms that spent more of their free cash flow on repurchasing shares tended to spend less of it paying dividends -- evidence that buybacks have indeed been a substitute for dividends If dividends are no longer treated as taxable income, shareholders will want that money in cash. If corporations oblige them (and they would have no reason not to do so, since it would allow them to pay lower returns on capital) then corporate share buyback programs will probably start to dry up, removing what has been a fairly significant prop under U.S. share prices.
The JoF article sounds about right; if companies are looking to get money back to shareholders, dividends and share repurchases are the two ways of doing that and increased dividends would tend to result in lower stock repurchases. You’ll still see a good amount of stock repurchases, since companies that have a short-term windfall are reluctant to give it out as a one-time dividend; markets expect steady (and steadily climbing) dividends, which makes cutting dividends a cardinal sin on Wall Street and that will be unlikely to change even if/when dividends are tax-deductible. To avoid raising dividends only to drop them later, companies will tend to do a stock buyback as a way of getting rid of excess cash. Billmon does have this cautionary tale that does make some sence
There’s one issue I haven’t touched: the budget deficit. I’m not a particularly big deficit hawk – at least not right now -- so it’s not very high up on my list of stupid Bush tricks But it is true that if tax cuts lead to higher deficits, and higher deficits lead to sharply higher long-term interest rates, any stimulative effect of the Bush plan could end up being crowded out. That’s Keynesian economics in an era of globalized financial markets.
A supply-sider will agree with the crowding-out effect as well-if the increase in interest rates more than offsets the reduction in the cost of equity, then it will have a negative impact on the economy.
Of course if the administration’s real goal is simply to redistribute income massively upwards, then none of the above matters. The plan will be a smashing success the minute it is passed.
I think the goal is to maximize income across the board. A good hunk of that will go to the rich, but the rich only make up a small chunk of the vote.
Life, as Forrest Gump reminds us, is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. But that’s not true about the Bush White House. We always know what we’re going to get -- and what part of the anatomy we’re going to get it in.
Yes, we always get a shot in the economy’s arm, don’t we?

Amusement Park-The sermon at church Sunday was on Harry Potter and the media blurring the lines between good and evil but the most interesting part to me was Pastor Dave's breakdown of the word amusement. To muse is to think about, "to become absorbed in thought." Add the a- prefix (the Not! prefix) gives us amuse, a state of distraction and lack of thought. As modern-day people, we're used to being amused. Most television (and other visual-based) entertainment is meant to be absorbed passively and uncritically. That will create a population that is passive and uncritical. The short attention span generated by modern media extends away from the TV, where that short-attention span gets in the way of in-depth study; it's hard to muse about something when we've grown accustomed to being amused. I remember reading Neal Postman's critique of modern media culture, Amusing Ourselves to Death, back in 1990. I don't remember if Postman did that etymological breakdown, but when you understand the deeper meaning of the world, our culture is amusing itself to death. The lack of critical thinking among people absorbed in our media culture will be a detriment to both spiritual and economic growth. On the spiritual side, it's hard for us short-attention-span TV folks to be still and listen to God; prayer is not amusing. On the economic side, people who look to be amused will be less able to come up with complex ideas that will help grow the economy. Another downside of this media culture is that unhealthy messages come in on that amusement machine. When you put your mind on auto-pilot and entrust it to a program or movie, it will typically pick up some of the message that is being conveyed by the artists. Since you aren't musing about what is passing before your eyes, you'll start to absorb part of the show's world-view. When a good hunk of that world-view is hostile to traditional religion and free markets, it will instill a more libertine and more statist view in people's minds. As conservatives, we have to fight over decades worth of preacher villains and CEO villains to get a message of morals and of free markets. I'm not lily-white on the media; I enjoy a good football game and the occasional good movie, but I don't like putting my mind on autopilot. It might be the residual of childhood hyperactivity, but I like to be able to engage my mind, and reading does that better than television. Blogging's even better, for I can interact with what I'm reading and focus my musing by putting it down in words. This on-line version of a journal (on-line journal is my quick definition of a blog) isn't a new thing; people have kept journals for years; someone's even serializing the journals of Samuel Pepys, whom Eileen mention when I first started talking about blogs a year ago. However, not everyone is going to blog and not everyone is going to read blogs; that takes a different mindset than our amusement culture. This medium combines the musing of a old-time journal with the immediacy of modern telecommunications. You can log onto your favorite blogs and get near-instant feedback on the big issues of the day; you hear a piece of big news and check to see what your favorite commentators have said then put your own $0.02 in. How about this oxymoron-speed musings? I just remembered that I've been using "X musings" as my fallback title for a handful of short paragraphs that don't warrant a full title. There might just be something to that.

Edifier du Jour-1 Corinthians 1:20-25(NASB)
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The basic message of Christianity is too simple-God's perfect, you're not and Jesus died to bridge that gap. It doesn't have a long to-do (or to don't) list other than loving God and your neighbor. Jesus' ministry was too simple. The Jews of the day were waiting for a Messiah, but they were expecting a conquistador to apply a can of whuppin on the Romans. That will happen, but on the second trip. The first trip was as teacher and sacrifice. Jesus' teaching was too simple; to borrow from an old Tom Lehrer song, it's so very simple that only a child can do it. Various people have added to the basic teaching, which gets in the way of the simplicity and universality of what Jesus was teaching and doing. You don't have to understand a decade's worth of doctrine to get the Gospel. To the intellectual, that just too simpliste to understand a big God. In a way, they're right. You don't understand God fully by a simple acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. However, you lean more by walking with Him than by spending a half-decade in a seminary.

Monday, January 06, 2003

Second Chances?-Joshua Claybourn posts this theological brain-teaser.
When we "choose" to accept God and Jesus as a Savior of sins, we make this choice from a foundation that comes from Him, so is the ultimate outcome His choice? And if it is His choice, atheists and skeptics will ask why He created some humans for the purpose of sending them to hell. Just in case I haven't made the question clear, let me offer a final analogy. God gives us the choice to build house A or house B, with house A being the right/good choice. What happens to those who have only been given the tools and equipment to build house B? Why send them out when they're doomed to failure? Or is the analogy flawed, and everyone has the tools to build either house? I have thoughts on it all, but I'm more interested in what you have to say.
The straight Biblical answer is that if you don't know Jesus, you're not going to Heaven. However, that leaves us with the hard teaching of someone who's not been presented with the Gospel doomed to a eternity without God. That leaves the compassionate believer with a bad case of Monday-morning quarterbacking, wondering how a good God could bring a condemned person into the world. This leads one towards a universalist paradigm if you're not careful What about giving the person who never got a fair chance to accept Christ a second chance after death? Mark Cameron offered up this in the comment section of this post on Jews and salvation-
The Catholic answer to this is that Jews and other non-Christians can be saved through an implicit desire for baptism - if they had known the truth of Christ, they would have accepted it, but they were prevented from knowing Christ through invincible ignorance. Invincible ignorance doesn't necessarily only apply to the south sea islander who has never heard the Gospel, but also to those who are brought up in an atmosphere of deep prejudice against the Gospel. Their rejection of Christ is therefore not culpable
That sounds good, but I can't bring up any good passages that would back up that doctrine. It also seems to run counter to the idea of an omnipotent God; ain't no ignorance is invincible if He wants it done. It gives a bit too much of a backstop to not spreading the gospel; not only would someone have to fight past the hyper-Calvinist attitude of "God's gonna to save who He's gonna save" but this doctrine would also give us "if we don't reach them in this life, God will give them a redo." As much as I'd like to buy that invincible ignorance argument, it doesn't sound like it meshes with scripture.

I'd Rather Switch Than Fight-Two Pasco County (NE of Tampa) officials, Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning and commissioner Steve Simon switched over to the Republican party Friday. Let's hope Browning has a clean landing on the jump. Browning attribued the selection of Nancy Pelosi as the new house Democratic leader as his last straw. How many other Democrats around the country are thinking the same thing? Thanks to Orrin Judd who clued me into this.

The First Blogged Presidential Election-Ruffini mentions that it wouldn't be at all far fetched for some bloggers to attend as press the 2004 conventions. That will be interesting, but the more interesting ramifications will be the coverage from the field of various campaigns. If Political State Report lives up to its potential, it could wind up being a major stop for a lot of journalists and political insiders. Even if it gets lost in flamage, other blogs could easily wind up as stringers for the media covering state politics.

Corpus Crispy-Lileks has a winner today; go read the whole thing, but here's the golden nugget on the Palestinians
Every time I think I’ve had it I find that there are still a few jots of sympathy left - and by "sympathy" I mean that last weary civilized impulse that makes you stay the hand of your inner beserker. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
The Poet Lauriet of the Blogosphere at work-the inner beserker who's mad as hell and can't take it any more. I call that my 10-megaton mode, which Den Beste (rated R for language) has reached as well.
After reading about yet another Palestinian atrocity, I find myself thinking, "[F***] it. Nuke Ramallah. Then nuke Nablus. And if that doesn't help, bulldoze Gaza. And once that's done, put all fifty surviving Palestinians on a freighter, tow it out to sea, and let them become someone else's problem." I know that's wrong. I know it could never happen, and that it will never happen, and that it should never happen, and I would never actually advocate anything like that. But what I'm finding is that every time I read about a Palestinian being killed by the Israelis, my first emotional reaction is, "Good riddance." I've reached the point where I feel nothing at all when I read about them dying. I have reached the point where I don't care at all, not even slightly, about their pain and hardship. They have ceased to be persons to me. I'm no longer even interested in hearing their side of the story.
A while back, I got on William Sulik for invoking Stonewall Jackson's "Kill them, Kill them all." It seems to be a common sentiment. It's not a godly one, and one we need to stifle. There's a fine line between righteous indignation and rage, and a lot of smart people are getting close to it

The Divinity Blind Trust-In response to Mr. Collins' request to clarify terms on exactly what form Jesus divinity took in childhood. My posts from the 27th and 28th might be a good starting point. It doesn't seem like he was omniscient, for he "grew in wisdom." I'm at a bit of a loss on how to define divinity, but it doesn't seem like he's got all the sensors and databases working as a kid.. What parts of his knowledge base didn't he have access to as a kid? What other aspects of his divinity weren't on display? Or was it all on display and He was sandbagging his family for thirty years? I don't have any good answers, just questions.

Edifier du Jour-Acts 8:14-24
14When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into[3] the name of the Lord Jesus. 17Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money 19and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." 20Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin." 24Then Simon answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me."
There's two points here. The first is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is from God and that such automatic blessing machines aren't out there. The second is that you can't buy such a gift. The Holy Spirit isn't something you can put on a scroll or some slave of the beleiver's bidding. There are some people out there today, both in the New Age front and in some of the Prosparity Gospel crowd who are Simon's succesors, looking to create a color-by-numbers God. It doesn't work that way.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Edifier du Jour-Romans 16:17-18(NASB)
17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
There are quite a few heterodox teachings within the church that will call hindrances to believers who stumble into them. We're use to seeing the liberal version, where it's the gospel minus some of the less politically correct details, like needing to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Other times its the gospel plus. Legalism can crop up here, as can hyper-seperatism. The one that's making the rounds in the Blogosphere as of late are the name-it-and-claim it crowd; Ms. Cornett has a good essay on a run in with one of the more obnoxious "if you don't believe me, you're going to hell" type of the species. I haven't done a good fisking of the Prosperity Gospel yet; I need to put that on my to-do list for next week. However, the short form of the critique is that God heals and blesses whom He wants to and can't be turned into a ATM or a healing gizmo. You see people in ministry like Billy Graham with his Parkinsons or Joni Erickson Tada with her paralysis; are they lacking in faith? You see a lot of faithful poor people; are they not faithful enough because they're driving a 76 Beetle rather than a '03 Lexus? The downside of such people is that if the beleiver doesn't get immediate results, they are put on a guilt trip and if they mistake the goodie merchant for a authentic representative of Christianity, they may walk away from all churches. Be on the lookout for people who both add to the basic Gospel message and people who subtract from it. It's sometimes easier to spot the subtractors, but watch out for the adders, they're real snakes (ba-ta-la-BING).

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