Friday, May 06, 2005

The Politburo Lives

In case you missed it, my essay from TCS (Tuesday) on the New York City Council and its latest descent into legalized theft can be found at the following link. I think you'll enjoy it.

Wlady P. on Medved

Hunter, and whomever else might be interested: if you have the Michael Medved Show in your area, you can hurry now to hear Wlady Pleszczynski being interviewed until 5 p.m. Eastern Time.

Labour Wins, and Loses, and Blair Loses BIG

Britain's Labour Party won a third consecutive majority in Parliament in yesterday's national elections, for the first time in history. However, as the AP reports, the party's majority shrank radically, by nearly a hundred seats (down from 161 to 66, out of 646 total seats), and as a consequence PM Tony Blair is definitely a lame duck. In fact, there is rampant speculation that he will be replaced before his term is up, by Treasury chief Gordon Brown, long thought to be Blair's natural successor.

Labour had run up huge leads in the pre-election opinion polls, and there was never any real doubt that the party would receive a majority and Blair continue as Prime Minister. However, the poll numbers had been tightening in the past few days. In addition, poll figures for the rightward, Conservative Party typically turn out to be lower than are manifested in the general elections, as in the United States.

As a result, political analyst John O'Sullivan predicted the following in an article in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times (which I surmise to be a reprint of his coverage for the Evening Standard—though I'm sure he did not spell Labour without the u):

"If Labor's victory looks certain, what generates the excitement? Simple -- the possibility that Tony Blair will be struck down by his own party at the moment of victory. Well, perhaps not at the actual moment; but not long afterwards either. It is impossible to exaggerate the hatred and contempt that Labor politicians and activists feel towards Blair.

"Labor candidates go on television and when asked their opinion of Blair, utter sullen remarks such as 'He is the leader of our party at the moment.' Some ask to be elected so that they can control Blair or even oust him. And some activists are planning to vote Lib-Dem or even Tory so that Blair will be humiliated by a sharp fall in the majority and be replaced by Brown."

The Conservative, or Tory, Party leader, Michael Howard, has decided to step down. "As I can't fight the next election as leader of our party, I believe it is better for me to stand aside sooner rather than later so that the party can choose someone who can," he told what the Times described as "shocked Tory supporters" in a speech at Roehampton University. Howard is sixty-three years old and would probably be in his late sixties during the next election. He promised to stay on briefly while the party considers possible changes to the rules for choosing a successor.

The Liberal Democrats and some minor parties picked up a few seats, and the Times reports that the conservatives did much better than expected:

"For the Conservatives, it was a far more successful night than many expected: they gained Putney in south-west London, Peterborough, and Ilford North from Labour and took back Newbury from the Liberal Democrats. In Putney, Justine Greening achieved a 6 per cent swing from Labour to regain the seat for the Conservatives.

"Mr Howard said earlier that the result would give the Conservatives a fresh intake of talented MPs with which to build its future, including the party's first ever black MP, businessman Adam Afriye in Windsor.

"There were some major upsets for Labour. Stephen Twigg, the Schools Minister, lost Enfield Southgate and Melanie Johnson, the Health Minister, also lost her seat. The most painful loss for Labour, however, was probably that of Oona King, who was unseated in Bethnal Green and Bow by the former Labour MP George Galloway, fighting on an anti-war platform for his Respect party."

The Times noted that the Labour plurality in the popular vote was the smallest ever:

"At 36 per cent, Labour's share of the vote is the lowest ever received by any party that has won an election—reflecting the increasing success of minor parties and the steady rise of the Lib Dems. The Tories received 33 per cent of the vote and the Lib Dems 23 per cent."

The results in Britain are indeed good, from a (classical, English Whig) liberal perspective. Those tempted to see the result as an antiwar vote, however, had better think again. The Tories supported the war, and they made their biggest headway not with antiwar talk but instead with "a hard-hitting campaign focused on immigration, violent crime and 'superbug' infections in hospitals, contending that all were now out of control," as the Times of London correctly put it yesterday. A great many Britons truly hate Blair now because they believe he lied to them regularly. Yet George Bush the Younger was reelected despite similar problems. It seems evident that the social issues are what gave the Tories their traction, in addition to the popular dislike of Blair and the common characterization of him as a liar.

In his pre-election article in the Sun-Times, O'Sullivan noted that a personal dislike of Blair on the part of the British public had become overwhelming:

"In the past these hatreds were held in check by Blair's popularity with Middle England and with the political elite. He was seen, however bitterly, as an electoral asset by those Labor people who thought New Labor was a sellout. But this is true no longer. Blair is deeply distrusted as a result of the widespread view that he deliberately lied to the British people in order to maneuver them into an unjustified and illegal war. That belief is at best an exaggeration and at worst a falsehood. But it moves large numbers of voters, generally on the Left, and senior opinion formers in and out of government."

As O'Sullivan suggests, Blair had lost a good deal of support among his political base, and his main opposition, the Tories, had finally begun to make some incursions from the right by running as actual rightists instead of watered-down Labourites. This is analogous to the situation in former PM Margaret Thatcher's last term. As a result, it appears that Big Ben is ticking toward Blair's imminent political downfall.

An AHA Moment . . .

And no, I don't mean the 1980's band from Norway.

I just figured out why people hide their money under mattresses.

Because liberals don't believe the government has any business in your bedroom.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Craig Ferguson Drops Bill Maher on Late, Late Night

Hat tip to Jonah Goldberg for this one:

Late Late Show
May 3, 2005

Bill Maher: "I think that there is no perspective. People have no perspective, especially about crime. You know, zero tolerance. You know, of course, nobody ever wants to see a child, you know, diddled. That’s just plain wrong. But even the people who are testifying against him, they’re saying that he serviced them. They didn’t service him."

Craig Ferguson: "You don’t have kids, do you, Bill?"

Maher: "No."

Ferguson: "No. I have a son. It makes me crazy, this thing, this Michael Jackson thing. It drives me, the idea of someone touching my kid, I would go, I nearly swore there. I’d go crazy."

Maher: "Very wrong. But, you know, I remember when I was a kid. I was savagely beaten once by bullies in the schoolyard. Savagely beaten. If I had a choice between being savagely beaten and being gently masturbated by a pop star. It’s just me."

Ferguson: "The always controversial Bill Maher, everybody."

Maher: "What? That’s it?"

Ferguson: "Bill Maher. We’ll be right back with Rain Pryor."

This is the answer to swine-ish behavior. Well done, Mr. Ferguson. I'll be tuning in.

A Doe In The Floodlights

Please read the story that I have linked, about the successful identification of Precious Doe in Missouri after four years.

The importance of the report does not inhere in the fact that her identity was finally ascertained, but in the genuine greatness of spirit that was called forth in so many of our fellow citizens who spent these years honoring her memory in a wide range of ways. There are still many wonderful folks across the fruited plain who are filled with love for every one of God's children.

Wlady P. on Savage?!!!

We used to ask what would happen if the irresistible force met the immovable object. Yesterday, I observed something familiar when one of my favorite people met one of my least favorite. Wlady Pleszsczynski (yeah, I can spell it) appeared for an interview on the Michael Savage Show. I've said in the past that I don't like what Savage does on the radio and that he's a net minus to the conservative (or as Karnick says, "liberal") movement, so you can deduce that I love Mr. P, the big man at American Spectator.

The two talked about the Laura Bush speech and I still can't quite figure how to view it. Savage played some clips and it came off to me like a really savage roast, funny and appropriate to the setting. "Milking the horse" probably goes a bit far for a culturally conservative prez, but we've got to avoid the deadly joyless culture warrior syndrome. Wlady took it as pandering, as has our wise Zycher. Savage hates Bush and was happy to hammer him again.

Having written some 20-30 pieces for Mr. P, all handled through email correspondence, it was great to hear his voice. Pretty much exactly as one might expect it to be -- articulate, measured, and carrying just a hint of his European origins.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Are They Going Native?

Oh, dear. Back from interminable time in airplanes, hotel rooms and conference centers, giving briefings, listening to dumb questions, maintaining a straight face. The life of a lonely economist running a one-man think tank. Or something. In any event, it seems that all has gone to hell in a handbasket in my absence; my friend and colleague, the Great Reynolds, seems not to have maintained, as they used to say in the Soviet Union, when standards meant something, the eternal vigilance promised when I paid him a huge honorarium to keep an eye on things in my absence. For this transgression he is likely to find himself in a nice, cozy cell with a gorgeous view of the Arctic Ocean. Better that than to find himself walking across a bridge in front of some thug carrying an umbrella. (Google "Georgi Markov.") So I return to find Laura Bush---a class act, a lovely Lady, the UnHillary---regaling the unwashed masses with off-color humor about President W turning in by 9pm, desperate housewives, male strippers, and attempts to milk male horses presumably wearing blue dresses. Is there a cigar in there somewhere? What do I mean by "is?"

Oh, well. What gives here? Is the fair Laura trying to expand the tent? Or are the Bushes now schmoozing the Beltway elite with signals about their true sophistication? Put aside whether the jokes were funny (yes) or in good taste (I think so). Can it actually be the case that W has decided that he needs the Beltway's approval? It strikes me that there is here both less and more than meets the eye: Nothing wrong with a little off-color bawdiness, but in front of this crowd? W and Laura will never have their approval, nor should they want it. And the more they pursue it, the worse off they will be.

Bayh to Run—Maybe, Probably, Most Likely

When Indiana senator Evan Bayh cast his vote against confirmation of Condoleeza Rice for appointment as U.S. Secretary of State, this reporter noted that the vote was in stark contrast to Bayh's previous voting record. The explanation I offered was that Bayh was deliberately going with the Left in a prominent vote, in preparation for a run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

Now there is open speculation that Bayh is indeed preparing for a run. A story on Bayh in today's issue of The Indianapolis Star-News notes that Bayh's father, former U.S. senator Birch Bayh (who unsuccessfully ran for his party's nomination in 1976), told reporters, "I think he's giving that serious consideration."

The Star-News story noted, "Bayh has $6.8 million in his campaign fund and is raising more, though he was just re-elected last year." The story also cited much more evidence pointing toward a presidential run by the well-liked Indiana senator who has positioned himself as a moderate throughout his political career. Sen. Bayh is quoted as trying to dampen the speculation.

With Hillary Clinton as the favored candidate on the Left and moving to to increase support toward the center, it will be interesting to see where Bayh attempts to position himself within the party.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Time To Open Ears, Open Hearts

For those of us who prayed our hearts out for Terri Schiavo and are still traumatized by our inability to save her, a sort of prophetic answer seems to be arriving piecemeal. One after the other, people who have suffered from brain damage long thought to be irreversible are having amazing recoveries.

The most recent is firefighter Don Herbert of Buffalo, N.Y., who suddenly began conversing this Saturday morning after nine and a half years without that ability. Note that the press is covering up the fact that his case, like Terri's, involves a spouse who defeated his parents in court and got a Do Not Resuscitate order posted on his bed almost seven years ago.

This case follows on the heels of the Miami Herald front-page story of a man who recovered his mind more than nine years after a traffic accident. The Herald article followed Terri's death by only a few days, so they compensated by headlining it: Delayed Recovery A Rarity.

The sad part is that this pattern began before Terri's killing, with the amazing recovery of speech by Sarah Scantlin in Kansas after 20 years! This occurred on Feb. 12, 45 days before Judge Greer in his wisdom allowed Terri to be starved.

Will we finally hear the call? How loud does it have to be before it penetrates to the heart?

Funny As a Rubber Crutch . . .

I've heard a lot of unhappy comments about the White House Correspondent's Dinner, but was inclined to chalk it up to ill-humored observers. Now that Wlady Pleszczynski of the American Spectator has panned it, I'm starting to think the whole affair may have truly offended.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Arnold's Lesson in Public Choice Economics

The states have long complained, and rightly, about the number of unfunded mandates Washington sends them, and although the Republicans promised a decade ago to stop doing so, state budgets are continually drained by two huge money pits: education spending, and Medicare/Medicaid. The latter is definitely imposed by Washington, whereas education spending is a state-level obsession as well as a federal one.

The problem is, these are extremely costly items when done entirely as government-run programs. As a consequence, state budgets keep rising and are strained. When the economy is growing, the budgets rise quickly, and when the economy and consequent tax receipts slow, the budgets do not decrease accordingly. The cost of state government ratchets up steadily and hardly ever decreases, even in inflation-adjusted terms. This is proving to be an increasing problem across the nation.

Public-choice economists point out that government expenditures at any level and in any jurisdiction rise to the extent that powerful interest groups benefit from the spending: they have a far greater incentive to push for additional spending that benefits them than an individual taxpayer has to oppose any particular expenditure item. Thus spending keeps rising, especially when the real beneficiaries (in money and power) can say, "It's for the kids!," or "If we don't help the poor and elderly, who will?"

In California this evil reality is playing out today. Governor Schwarzenegger's opponents have attacked him aggressively as "an uncaring, partisan Republican doing the bidding of big business," as an article on Schwarzenegger's political troubles in today's New York Times put it.

Led by various public employee unions, especially the teacher unions, the attack on Schwarzenegger has taken a powerful toll on his popularity, which has dropped some 20 percent in the past four months, down to 40 percent in the most recent reckonings. Schwarzenegger took a further beating this weekend for daring to suggest that Arizonans are to be praised for doing something about illegal immigration when their government simply refuses to deal with a matter about which a large proportion of the public there is truly concerned.

You can be perfectly sure, however, that all of this has precious little to do with concern for society's underdogs and everything to do with politically greedy individuals' grabs for money and power. It is always so, and the furor over Schwarzenegger's minor efforts to stem the grotesque ballooning of California's government expenditures shows just how hazardous it is to stand between a greedy person and the big grab bag of government money power and power.