Man Without Qualities

Friday, June 20, 2003

A Rather Basic Question

It is widely believed that Hillary Clinton wants and expects to run for the Presidency in 2008.

If a Democrat is elected President in 2004, then Hillary probably will not be able to claim the nomination of her party in 2008 - it will probably belong to the incumbent.

It follows as the night the day that Hillary Clinton's ambitions are inconsistent with a Democrat being elected President in 2004 (unless she's it, but that's another story).

And if a Democrat is not elected to the Presidency in 2004, the effect of that failure on the Democratic Congressional efforts will be seriously negative. Which means that Hillary Clinton's ambitions are also inconsistent with Democratic Congressional aspirations in 2004 (again, unless she's the nominee, but again that's another story).

So why are so many of the Democrats and especially Democratic Presidential contenders seeking advice from Hillary and Bill Clinton - including with respect to the contenders' efforts to obtain the Presidency? As the Washington Post puts it:

Thirty months after leaving the White House draped in controversy, the Clintons are again dominating Democratic politics in Washington and beyond. Former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) are ... doling out political advice to all who will listen, which includes most of the leading candidates to challenge President Bush in 2004. ... At the same time, top officials from the Clinton administration are taking, or tightening, control over several of the party's most influential political groups.

One can almost understand the need of the Democratic Party to coddle the Clintons, since the Clintons can raise money, although history has clearly shown that money obtained through such Clinton involvement is way too expensive for the Democrats - other than the Clintons, of course.

But advice? Democrats are taking advice from two people whose personal agendas are completely inconsistent with Democratic success at either the Presidential or Congressional levels in 2004 - and who were personally responsible for the loss of both Congress and the Presidency?

Advice? Are such Democrats really that stupid?
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It's The Economics, Stupid II

While investment banker Al Gore is trying to obtain funding and support for yet another superfluous source of liberal news and commentary, Mel Karmazin, president of media conglomerate Viacom Inc., seems to realize that what the world needs is liberal news and talk downsizing - or at least consolidation. Karmazin reportedly approached AOL Time Warner Inc. last week and expressed interest in buying its very liberal news-and-talk CNN news channel.

Viacom, of course, already owns CBS, which routinely perpetrates Dan Rather and his gang to a steadily declining viewership.

Mr. Karmazin probably realizes that it would be in his and Viacom's economic interest if CBS and CNN could be consolidated or CNN just shut down. That's the kind of insight that justifies paying the likes of Mr. Karmazin the big bucks even if, like Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, you hate his guts.

And then, on the other hand, there are the likes of Al Gore.
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Davis Descending: For Now, The Phantoms Are Winning

The recall petition directed at California Governor-for-the-Moment Gray Davis continues to gain momentum, at least in Contra Costa County:

CONTRA COSTA ELECTION officials have boosted the Gray Davis recall campaign's claim that the signature-gathering effort is being carefully conducted. Only registered voters' signatures count. So, recall backers said, they were at first slow to turn in signatures because they were checking names against voter rolls. They apparently did a good job. Contra Costa randomly checked 500 of 4,490 signatures turned in May 29 and found 90.6 percent were valid. "Ninety percent is stunning," said Steve Weir, county clerk-recorder since 1989. He cannot recall seeing such a high rate before.

But what should be even more troubling for Mr. Davis is the increasing likelihood of other Democrats putting their names up to become governor if he is indeed turned out. If that were to happen, Mr. Davis' job of demonizing his opponent would become much trickier. For example, if Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante were to put his name up as an alternative, Mr. Davis would find himself running against his own second-in-command. Yet such a state of affairs seems increasingly likely, and according to a March 3 article in the Fresno Bee the internet is apparently also playing a big role in what's happening:

Recall backers say Davis' lack of support, even within his own party, changes the political dynamics. The state also will have to make some difficult choices to reduce the $35 billion budget deficit, and that will continue to damage Davis' standing.

But what makes this recall drive different from others is technology. Citizens can download petitions from their home computers, sign them and mail them in.

"We've had five million hits on our Web site in the five weeks since we started this," said Sal Russo, the longtime Republican strategist. "One of the differences this time is the democratization of technology." .... This issue is a tricky one for Democrats, especially those who want to succeed Davis four years from now. If the measure qualifies for the ballot, they must decide whether to be one of the candidates - essentially challenging their party's sitting governor and making it more difficult for Davis to win the recall election. If they sit it out, a Republican could win and that would severely damage their chances of winning the governorship in 2006. Indications are, though, that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Treasurer Phil Angelides would get into the recall campaign in self defense. All three have been criticizing Davis recently, increasing the speculation that they will have no allegiance to the governor if there's actually a recall election. Bustamante has little to lose.

The ever-more-terrified Los Angeles Times this week reported:

After months of refusing to say whether they might run to replace Gov. Gray Davis in a recall election, two leading Democratic contenders said Tuesday that they would not join the race if it occurs, offering Davis the first hint of party unity he has sought to save him from getting tossed out of office. Davis and his allies continue to hope they can keep the recall off the ballot. But the announcements by Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and state Treasurer Phil Angelides reflected a growing concern among Democrats that the recall is likely to qualify — and that the party must focus on how to respond to the threatened loss of power. .... In addition to Lockyer and Angelides, state Controller Steve Westly, who just won statewide office last year, said Tuesday that he would not run.

If the recall qualifies, the ballot would offer a yes or no vote on whether to bounce Davis, followed by a list of candidates to replace him. If Davis were recalled, the candidate with the most votes would become governor.

The chaotic nature of such a statewide race, which would be a first in California, has befuddled even the state's most seasoned political strategists as they try to understand how standard campaign calculations could apply under such extraordinary circumstances. ....

The Democrat most notably silent on Tuesday was Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.
He is widely seen as the Democratic officeholder most likely to gamble on putting his name on the recall ballot. Bustamante, who has had a number of clashes with Davis, has said he opposes the recall but dodged questions on whether he might run if it qualifies for the ballot.

Translation: "[S]easoned political strategists ... try to understand how standard campaign calculations could apply under such extraordinary circumstances" means "How the heck do you demonize an opponent when you don't really have one and the closest thing you do have to an opponent may end up being your own second-in-command?"

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Thursday, June 19, 2003

Paul Krugman Bubbles Up

Paul Krugman says that his latest effort is directed at arguing: What's clear, however, is that [equities] investors' big move back into the market has been driven not by careful comparison of returns, but by the fact that stocks are rising — and the fear that if you don't buy stocks, you'll miss out on a good thing. His phrasing is all the more peculiar because only a few paragraphs previously he had opined that "investors seem to be buying stocks because they are rising." Why it is that investors' reliance on this particular motivation migrated from "seem" to being "clear" in the course of, say, four column inches, is anything but clear. But there it is.

But what is really odd is that his column offers not a single groat of direct support for his hypothesis. Or is it a conclusion?

For example, does Herr Doktorprofessor try to identify the kind of investor that has led this so-called big move back into the market and determine whether that kind of investor is prone to "bubble" investing? No.

Is it professionally managed funds or recently-spooked individual investors who are leading the charge? Herr Doktorprofessor seems not to have thought the point is worth checking.

Does Herr Doktorprofessor offer any anecdotal evidence that investors who have led this so-called big move back into the market are motivated "by the fact that stocks are rising — and the fear that if you don't buy stocks, you'll miss out on a good thing?" Something along the lines of "Joe Blow, a broker I called at Merrill, says that he's hearing a lot of investors tell him to buy stocks for their accounts because stocks are rising — and if you don't buy stocks, you'll miss out on a good thing?" No.

Bubbles normally "take off' after a period of rational growth in the stock market as "irrational" extensions of previously rational periods of appreciation. Has that happened here? No. Does Herr Doktorprofessor offer any explanation why this market run-up should be an exception to the normal course? No. He does, however, offer lots of arguments as to why there could not - in his mind - have been any rational appreciation at all. So much for history.

What does he do? While he attempts to dress it up a bit by citing to an eccentric collection of negative factors without providing any substantial reasoning as to why those factors should be determinative while dismissing other positive factor equally without reasoning, his argument is nothing more than this: I, Paul Krugman, do not think the market should be going up. Therefore, it is irrational for the market to be going up - a bubble.

Low interest rates? Who cares, says Herr Doktorprofessor: Well, interest rates have been low for a while. And if low interest rates haven't had an effect for a while, he implies, then they can't be having a cumulative effect now. So, by Herr Doktorprofessor's reasoning, low interest rates can never affect the economy. Ah! Behold the workings of the heavyweight economics mind!

Another pearl: A few months ago, some analysts began to argue that because interest rates were so low, even today's very expensive stocks were a good buy. I don't agree, but that's a long discussion.

Sure, Herr Doktorprofessor, sure. Glad you told us that.

Someone is actually paying this guy to write this stuff? Has anyone sniffed the Evian bottle in his office recently?

UPDATE: Don Luskin provides the coherence and perception lacking in Herr Doktorprofessor's screed - and shows why the markets are being anything but bubble headed today.

MORE: Scroll down to "Bubble Buddies."
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2003 Frederic Bastiat Prize for Journalism

International Policy Network will award $10,000 in prize money to the winner(s) of its annual Journalism contest. IPN writes that judges include Nobel laureates Milton Friedman and James Buchanan as well as Hernando de Soto and Wall Street Journal Editor Robert Bartley.

The IPN has invited this announcement to be shared with MWQ's readers. The deadline is 30 June, 2003. You may email published essays to
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Who's Distracting?

Senator John Kerry [December 3, 2002]: Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry said Tuesday that President Bush has used the threat of war in Iraq to distract attention from the nation's economic problems, and he promised to make those issues the centerpiece of his campaign. "They sat down in August and made a conscious decision to bring that up and to dominate the discussion with Iraq."

Senator John Kerry [June 18, 2003]: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Wednesday that President Bush broke his promise to build an international coalition against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and then waged a war based on questionable intelligence. ''He misled every one of us,'' Kerry said. ''That's one reason why I'm running to be president of the United States. ...''I will not let him off the hook throughout this campaign with respect to America's credibility and credibility to me because if he lied he lied to me personally.''

Not so long ago, Democrats and the left generally chanted endlessly that the President and the Republicans generally were focusing on the Iraq conflict to distract voters from what was supposed to be a terrible and deteriorating domestic situation.

Those arguments were silly. But it is interesting that the domestic situation is looking up:

First-time U.S. jobless claims fell for a second straight week while a broad gauge of the economy posted its sharpest gain since December 2001, two relatively encouraging reports showed on Thursday.

But at the same time, more and more Democratic leaders and functionaries can't stop talking and talking about Iraq.

And, of course, it's always a hoot to review what Paul Krugman [April 3, 2003]: had to say on the subject:

The war has monopolized everyone's attention, including mine. But other things are happening, and you shouldn't be shocked if the economic news turns awful.

But, Herr Doktorprofessor, the real shock seems to have been to the Democrats - that the economic news has not turned out awful!

UPDATE: MATT DRUDGE provides some grace notes of high comedy and hypocrisy to Senator Kerry's most recent interpretation of the Saddam Hussein threat. Does Mr. Kerry think nobody writes down what he says - even on the floor of the Senate? It seems that way.

Senator Kerry's nearly always ridiculous performance in the Presidential race so far should emphasize a significant historical fact: United States Senators do not have a good track record in taking the Presidency or being good presidents in the few cases they achieve that office. John Kennedy is not a counterexample - the Senate was always intended by Kennedy and his father to be a stepping stone for him. His political consciousness was not formed by his Senate experience. Messrs. Gore, Mondale, Dole, Humphrey and Johnson, on the other hand, were very much creatures of the Senate.

The Presidency is an executive office. Former governors of even small states such as Georgia or Arkansas have a disproportionate chance at obtaining the Presidency - although former governors of major states like California, Texas and New York have a better record of actually funtioning well as President. For this reason, history gives ex-governor of Vermont Howard Dean a better chance of obtaining at least the Democratic nomination than Senator Kerry, notwithstanding recent polls. And it is for good reason that Democrats should be afraid of that possibility - very afraid.
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Car Ad ...

... that's fun to watch.

Also here and here.

You may have to install Flash 6 to watch this.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2003

It's The Economics, Stupid

Since he decided not to again seek the Presidency, Al Gore is reported (although reported only in TIME for the moment) to be devoting considerable time to another dream, one he shares with many Democrats these days — creating a media enterprise that could challenge the dominance of conservative voices in cable television and talk radio.

It's a curious dream. And one conservatives should devoutly hope comes true.

Such liberal efforts are hardly new.

The debate over whether the mainstream news media is "conservative" or "liberal" ignores a major fact that at least one man - Rupert Murdoch - is making a lot of money by not ignoring: Fox News was expressly created to fill a market niche for news not seen by the public as "liberal." And the success of Fox News should pretty much end the "debate" for any sensible person. Put another way: it is an economic fact that there is simply an oversupply of liberal news reporting - relative to public demand. In the course of the "debate," many on the left routinely deny that there is any such bias, selecting a range of ad hoc criteria to make their case. But the market cares not a bit about any such clever rhetorical criteria. Organs such as the New York Times, the old broadcast television networks, CNN and the Washington Post insist they are "unbiased." But the purchasing public does not agree.

Fine. That's great. I hope they keep that up. And I hope that Al Gore is successful at persuading some very rich Democrats to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into creating yet another source of liberal news - since any such new source will primarily compete with the existing liberal news outlets (or, rather, what is the only relevant criteria for these purposes, news outlets perceived by the public to be liberal). Inserting yet another source of liberal news into the national market where many of the existing outlets (ABC, CBS and NBC network news, for example) are already showing huge, if often disguised, economic losses, should help precipitate a major economic crisis for such outlets while likely causing the new investors to lose much of their investment.

Of course, what is needed to strengthen the liberal newsmedia is downsizing. Fewer liberal competitors would mean stronger liberal competition. That's the kind of reasoning that so many liberals and Democrats have a lot of trouble understanding - so it's not a surprise that they continue to equate a larger number of liberal competitors with more effective liberal competition. But that reasoning is as wrong in media as it is in banking or car dealerships.


One might ask: why would a conservative want Al Gore to succeed at creating a new liberal media outlet, thereby accelerating the liberal media shakeout and the creation of more effective liberal media competition? Don't conservatives want less effective liberal media competition?

The short answer is: No, most conservatives should desire more effective liberal media competition. Liberalism and liberals often have something to offer - or, at least they did at one time. But the current structure of the liberal media, which subsidizes the old news networks and pressures liberal columnists into becoming silly hacks (Krugmania unbound!) represents a huge waste of resources. If the Dan Rathers, Aaron Browns and Paul Krugmans could be swept out in some economic shakeup, their replacements might be incentivized to locate and articulate the strong points of the liberal approach - whatever those may be. The world would be a better place if liberal hacks were not subsidized and thereby rendered largely ineffective and uncompetitive. Indeed, one major reason conservative thought - especially conservative economic thought - is intellectually dominant today is likely that much of it was formed or begun in an era of liberal institutional dominance and, increasingly, liberal flaccidness and fatuousness. In a sense, John Kenneth Galbraith helped to create Milton Friedman, and so too Dan Rather helped to create Brit Hume.

And, while all that is going on, it would be nice to see investment banker Al's investors likely lose their shirts.
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DNA Held In An Idle Hand?

The closest look yet at the Y chromosome -- which makes men different from women at the most basic level -- shows it is not as puny as scientists believed, researchers reported on Wednesday. ....

Scientists believed it was not capable of pairing up with its partner, the X, to repair defects the way other genes can. ... But to their surprise, the scientists found that the genes in this region are in fact palindromes -- the sequences read the same backwards and forwards, similar to the numbers in the year "2002," only much, much longer.

And the chromosome can form little loops in which the genes at one end can press against the genes at the other end of the palindrome, swapping sequences and thus repairing -- or passing along -- mutations. .... "Testes make testosterone. Testosterone makes for male behavior. That is the prevailing view,"

Does MAXIM know about this?

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The Once And Future Ex-Governor of California?

I don't often cite to Pat Buchanan because I don't often think he is right or even interesting - James M Buchanan is more my cup of tea. But Pat Buchanan's thoughts on the looming recall of California Governor Davis are something of an exception:

[N]o governor has ever suffered that indignity [of recall], though 31 attempts have been made.

Why could Gray Davis become the first?

Because, with an approval rating at 27 percent, a majority of voters are now telling pollsters they would like to toss him out. Moreover, Davis faces a budget crisis. He must close a looming $38 billion deficit, which will require new cuts in state spending and new tax increases on top of this year's cuts and tax hikes. Worse for Davis, he is believed to have deceived voters in 2002 as to the depth of the looming budget crisis.

But Buchanan still misses the most important point:

Mr. Davis is unusually vulnerable in a recall vote because his main campaign device is demonizing his opponent - and a recall vote does not itself depend on a opponent.

Yes, there will be a list of alternatives now expected to have something like 20 names on it. The vote leader on the list of alternatives will assume office if Mr. Davis is recalled. But it is not necessary for a voter to choose from that list. Rather, a voter need only believe that Mr. Davis should not be Governor and vote to recall him. If Mr. Davis mounts his normal negative campaign against the leader of the list, then the leader's support will decline. Fine. That alone won't save Mr. Davis from recall. In sum: In a recall vote, Mr. Davis will find himself fighting a hoard of phantoms.

The only way he can avoid recall is to increase the extent of his positive support - but that has never been his campaign strength and it will be particularly hard in the present fiscal mess, which is known by the voters to be largely of his own making.

And, for related reasons, Arnold Schwarzenegger is likely best positioned as an alternative in a recall vote while posing the smallest risk to Republican prospects. Mr. Buchanan points out that Mr. Schwarzenegger is pro-gay rights, pro-choice on abortion and pro-gun control, and called the impeachment of Bill Clinton a Republican disgrace - and that may cost him conservative support and turnout. I have also elsewhere pointed out the possibility of old drug and/or sex related accusations that may or may not lie in Mr. Schwarzenegger's past. But if any of that should become a fatal issue - or if anything else should weigh down the untried Mr. Schwarzenegger in the course of the campaign - the effect on Mr. Davis's fortunes will be minimized. And other Republicans alternatives on that list would have their chances enhanced.

A recall vote, if it occurs, is beginning to look like a perfect storm for Mr. Davis. No wonder he's trying so hard to keep it from happening.

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It's A Fake

Israeli archaeological experts said Wednesday an inscription on an ancient stone box suggesting it once contained the bones of Jesus' brother, James, was a forgery. The burial box and its Aramaic inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" had excited speculation it could be the earliest physical reference to the founder of Christianity outside the New Testament.

But the director of Israel's Antiquities Authority, Shuka Dorfman, called it a hoax.

"The ossuary is real. But the inscription is fake. What this means is that somebody took a real box and forged the writing on it, probably to give it a religious significance," Dorfman told Reuters after a news conference on the matter.


The committee concluded that "even if the ossuary is authentic, there is no reason to assume the bones of Jesus' brother were inside," and that the stone of the box was more typical of Cyprus and northern Syria than ancient Israel.

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Evita Gephardt: Or Are Hypocrisy, Cynicism and Incoherence Bad Things In Themselves?

Richard Gephardt is likely just acting from political expediency - and perhaps desperation - in supporting a Congressional bill that would block Securities and Exchange Commission regulations requiring the expensing of stock options.

I think stock options are a very important way to get employees to think and act like owners ... We had some problems with a few of our corporations, some of which may have involved stock options. The Enrons, the WorldComs have been real disappointments. But I don't think we should just look at that and extrapolate all those problems to every other company.

The fact is that these SEC regulations are very bad law. Yes, yes, Mr. Gephardt is probably being a complete hypocrite and probably doesn't believe a word of his own explanation. Worse, his personal record suggests that Mr. Gephardt has no center and no core beliefs that he really cares about whatsoever - other than obtaining office and brokering political deals. That would make him a bad president and has made him a terrible presence in the House.

But so what? There's virtually no risk that Mr. Gephardt will become president - and he will no longer be a serious force in the House. And, in any event, the Constitution assumes that those in power will often be centerless power-cravers. James Madison crafted a custom fly-bottle for the likes of Mr. Gephardt. Mr. Gephardt's new opposition to options expensing is likely hypocritical, incoherent and cynical. But that is not all a bad thing. Mr. Gephardt's new likely hypocritical, incoherent and cynical opposition to options expensing is a good thing.

Twelve steps. Baby steps.

If he suddenly realized that, say, advocating a flat tax would get him votes and campaign contributions would that be reason for backing away from a flat tax - or from recognizing that he had finally made some progress? Mr. Gephardt began his career in Congress as a relatively conservative Democrat. He changed, Running around, trying everything new
largely to acquire and maintain power, just as Madison expected:

I had to let it happen, I had to change
Couldn't stay all my life down at heel
Looking out of the window, staying out of the sun

Cynicism, hypocrisy and personal incoherence probably also played a role in Mr. Gephardt's support for President Bush's actions in Iraq. Does that mean he was wrong to support the President? At one time Mr. Gephardt opposed Roe. v. Wade. Perhaps hypocrisy and cynicism will accomplish what personal morality could not - and undo the transformation his lust for power has worked there, too. Further, his flip-flops are strong evidence that the silly positions assumed by the mainstream Democratic party on so many fronts will in many cases eventually succumb to economic and other hard realities - to everyone's benefit. He should be studied as an example of how those who drift so far might be brought back - at least approximately. He need only complete his options-expensing thoughts to make them more entertaining and subjectively accurate:

Have I said too much?
There's nothing more I can think of to say to you.
But all you have to do is look at me to know
That every word is true

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Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Block That Pun!

The Wall Street Journal says: Yet, despite the success of Maxim, one would be hard-pressed to call it a seminal magazine ...

Er .... ah ... WSJ editor asleep at the switch?
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Another Obvious Republican Mole!

Looking forward to a possible Supreme Court vacancy, suppose some Republican strategist wanted to lay a foundation for undermining Democratic opposition to a Bush-appointed replacement. Such a strategist might hope to find some way to show that Democrats - or at least the people running the Democratic National Committee - were determined to oppose virtually any candidate.

So almost nothing could make the work of such a Republican strategist easier that the Democrats actually creating and displaying on their own web site a badly executed and crudely conceived cartoon savaging the President's choice as a "right wing extremist" with "no heart" before any candidate is identified or a vacancy on the Court even occurs - right? That would be rather strong evidence to bring out during a confirmation fight to show Democratic bad faith - right?

So somebody like Karl Rove has obviously planted a mole in the DNC, right?

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