Friday, April 28, 2006

¿Jose can you sí?

Contra a good deal of the right-wing blogosphere, I kinda like the idea of singing the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish. Our national anthem is a poem made to stir a patriot's blood to sacrifice and struggle on behalf of a symbol that stands for noble idea. There is real merit in making that idea more accessible to anyone, especially someone who has voluntarily left his homeland to come here.

It is my understanding that the version of the anthem currently in circulation omits the whiny chant about mean laws and is just a straight-up Spanish translation. In fact, the translation seems to be the one composed by Francis Haffkine Snow. It was commissioned by the U.S. Bureau of Education. In 1919. And is freely available, as you can see, from that noted nest of subversion, the Library of Congress.

National Review's Mark Krikorian can, as usual, be relied upon for a non-sequitur quote:

Would the French accept people singing the La Marseillaise in English as a sign of French patriotism? Of course not.

After four years of Freedom Fries and Chilean reds, "the French wouldn't put up with this" is a rhetorical loser. Go out and find me an English speaker who is interested in singing La Marseillaise in any language. In fact, find me someone outside France who doesn't snigger at the phrase French patriotism. Let Nuestro Himno do the work of instructing its audience in the language they understand.

My NPR Commentary From Today

I’m going to reveal a little secret: This is an election year. How do I know that? Well, the Beltway yet again is placing the blame for its own failings on the oil industry.

Back in the days when we had real leadership in Washington, Ronald Reagan ignored the calls for windfall profit taxes, price controls, and conspiracy investigations. Back then, gasoline prices were even higher in inflation-adjusted terms than they are now. But Reagan stood firm, allowing market forces to work, and the high prices of the 1970s fell sharply in the 1980s.

What a different world it is today. Those now arguing for windfall profit taxes for oil companies never advocate subsidies when prices are low. That biased policy approach is destructive economically because it limits potential profits without limiting potential losses. The effect would be falling investment, reduced production capacity, and higher prices over the longer term. So much for consumer wellbeing.

Let’s look at the real reasons that gasoline prices are high. The most obvious are strong worldwide demand for crude oil, and production problems in Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia, and other regions.

Three refineries on the Gulf Coast shut down by hurricanes last fall only now are returning to operation. Other refineries, in order to continue production then, deferred maintenance until this spring. Others are undergoing spring maintenance now in advance of the summer driving season. And so gasoline production has declined over the last month. None of this has anything to do with conspiracies.

And let’s not ignore the damage done by Congress. The environmental requirement for reformulated gasoline can be satisfied only with ethanol or a chemical called MTBE. But some of that chemical has leaked from storage tanks into water supplies, resulting in lawsuits against the MTBE producers, even though they neither own nor maintain the storage tanks. Congress has refused to give those producers legal protection, as a favor for the trial lawyers, so MTBE is being withdrawn from the market. This means that the price of ethanol is being driven up, making corn producers in the Midwest very happy, but at the expense of gasoline consumers. And let’s not forget the 54 cents per gallon tariff on imported ethanol, another example of Congressional magic.

Oil industry earnings per gallon were about 19 cents in 2005, and have increased to about 23 cents more recently. Federal and state taxes per gallon of gasoline average 46 cents. And so by all means, yes: Let’s have a debate about who is profiteering from the gasoline market.

We really should ignore all the demagoguery; oil prices simply bring out the worst in the Beltway, as public officials use unpopular industries as punching bags in pursuit of their political goals. We expect this behavior from such Democrats as Senator Charles Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; after all, fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly. But President George W. Bush and House Speaker Denny Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist are supposed to be the pro-business, pro-capitalism, pro-free enterprise Republicans. And they simply are unwilling to stand for principle.

Some Shameless Self-Promotion

I am supposed to be on NPR ("All Things Considered") today to give a sermon on gasoline prices, profiteering, and Beltway blather. Check your local listings.

May the spirit of Adam Smith be with me.

Identity Cries "Sis!"

So apparently the novel by the Indian American chick, Hiawatha or something, got pulled because she was plagiarising another genius named McNugget or some such thing. The premise of McSmeup's book was that an Irish girl was a little confused and fell in love whilst the startling and bold new envelope-pushing premise of Sacagawea's book was that an Indian girl was a little confused and fell in love.

Isn't it a shame that two artists could not pursue their separate literary visions in the refreshingly original way that would reflect their unique personalities and perspectives? Sometimes life disappoints.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Republicans Will Sustain Majorities This Fall

In today's Opinion Journal, Jay Cost makes a fascinating and highly persuasive case that the Republicans, despite their perceived political weaknesses, will hold on to their majorities in both the House and Senate this fall.

Cost bases his conclusion not on the policies or politics of the two parties but on history and the current configuration of the two legislative bodies. Cost notes that many pundits are predicting that the Republicans will hold on to the Senate but will lose their majority in the House. Among the important facts they are minimizing, however, are "2004's 98.8% incumbent retention rate or 2006's incredibly low 4.6% incumbent retirement rate" in the House. Even more persuasive, however, is Cost's analysis of trends in House and Senate turnover, and his explanation of why they are so.

I'll leave the full explanation to him, as it is very well don in his article, and will go right to his main point, which is that historically the House flips parties only when the Senate does. This is not a quirk but an ironclad rule of the entire past century (which is the relevant period because it includes the entire period during which Senators have been elected directly by popular vote rather than by the state legislatures).

As to whether this all simply means that the Senate will flip too, Cost points out the unlikelihood of that scenario:

Of course, one might respond, this argument could just as easily predict that both the House and the Senate will flip this year. The error that pundits are making, according to this line, is not with the House but with the Senate. Both are vulnerable. I do not find this compelling. One of the reasons pundits are so prone to write off the Senate is that they know more about the individual elections (this, by the way, is in keeping with senators' reduced incumbency advantage--individual senators are better known). They have a better sense of the electoral landscape, and therefore can appreciate that a net of six is prohibitively difficult. However, pundits know less of the specifics of House contests; thus, the House seems more promising. They cannot name the seats the GOP would have to lose to lose the House. If they could, they would find themselves naming many members most think are secure. A switch of the House still seems plausible, in other words, only because details are lacking.

History indicates that when the House switches, the Senate switches, too. Our knowledge of congressional elections implies that this is not coincidence. Accordingly, we can conclude that the safety of the GOP Senate strongly implies the safety of the GOP House. Further, we can issue a challenge to pundits who think the Democrats will take the House. They have an additional burden of proof: they must either indicate that the Senate will switch or why 2006 will be the first exception to a 92-year rule.

As Cost points out, even those most optimistic about potential Democrat gains in this fall's elections concede that the Senate is probably not going to flip. He notes that the concession that the Republicans will probably retain the Senate is probably correct, given that with less than 40 seats up for grabs and less than half of those being at all competititive this go-round, it's fairly easy to predict which ones will go which way and hence whether the Dems can make up their present deficit. The answer appears to be no, unless things change dramatically in the meantime.

Tony! Toni! Tone!

Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.
Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.
Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.
Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.

My friends on the left call me a Bush dead-ender. I think my more retro-con and Con Classic™ fellows here at TRC are too polite to do the same. Surely Dubya's 32% approval rating indicates much disapproval from both left and right, and vindicates them all.

All I can offer is that I listen to barely a whit of Bushist rhetoric: I poke through the this & that and my conclusions are my own. That they largely agree with the administration's is a matter of coincidence. Or not.

It's all about Iraq, of course, the defining issue of the Bush43 presidency. I must wonder if our ally France had got our back instead of protecting its Oil-for-Food arrangement, or if Russia and China weren't amoral, Hobbesian brutocracies, that freeing 25-odd million Muslims from the boot of a murderous dictator in the heart of the Muslim world and offering them the chance of freedom might have been seen as morally admirable. But that's neo-con fantasy*, so let's leave that for the moment.

The War, of course, is over, and was within one month. The US and UK are on a humanitarian mission now. No one, not nobody, expected that the one of the world's oldest civilizations would so quickly descend into savagery and indiscriminate fratricide. Neither that al-Qaeda would so remorselessly kill more of their own co-religionists than Americans. Still, even if Bush is blamed for the carnage, he has killed fewer innocent Iraqis than Saddam Hussein, fewer innocent Iraqis than al-Qaeda, and fewer innocent Iraqis than the Clinton Administration did with their bloodless but no less deadly sanctions.

This should be, but isn't, common knowledge. There's the rub.

It's acknowledged by all, even us dead-enders, that the Bush administration is abyssmal at communication with the American people and thereby the world.

There are perhaps tens of thousands of murderers yet in Iraq. But there are a quarter million more who risk life and limb to join the police force, and millions more who risked being butchered to vote, each in his or her small way defying the murderers. It would be cowardly to abandon them to the tyrants.

This should be common knowledge, too, but it's not.

And so, a guy recovering from cancer, who has a family to think about, who is taking a huge pay cut from his gig as a media talking head, decides to step into the breach to try his hand at fixing the biggest problem of his government, and perhaps sustain the last light of freedom in this cold and corrupt world.

Here's to you, Tony Snow. You may be accused of being an opportunist, although considering the facts of your life, it's hard to imagine how. Perhaps you're just a good man, coming to the aid of his country, and the world.

* Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge—and more.
---John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 1961

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Internet as Television: Michelle Malkin

Back in his internet entrepeneur days, George Gilder wrote convincingly about narrowcasting rather than broadcasting and people tuning in to get the news they wanted from the source they wanted with the viewpoint they wanted.

Wow, was he right. We've seen a step in that direction with Fox News. More steps with all the political news sites and blogs on both sides of the aisle.

But I think Michelle Malkin has kicked the process further yet down the field. Check out her new internet television-style commentary site. It looks like television with television style graphics. Really quite impressive just from the standpoint of aesthetics.

One wonders whether she can keep this up on a regular basis (a question the boys at Powerline asked), but it is easy to imagine that small consortiums of the more successful bloggers could easily do something like this and get lots of eyeballs every day. If the blogworld ever develops the resources to do serious reporting, the broadcast medium will be absolutely dead.

Burial or Cremation?

A fascinating discussion over at Mere Comments
over whether Christians should bury or cremate their dead. I've been rather instinctually against cremation, but mostly, I suspect, because it seems so fashionable.

A couple of things of note: some of the commenters seem unable to distinguish that there is some space between what is forbidden and what is prescribed. That is, there are things, in St. Paul's words, that are "beneficial" though not necessary. It's as if Christians can't say we ought to do anything except what is required for salvation. Second - and Russell Moore alludes to this but doesn't spell it out fully enough - when we are thinking about what we should and should not be doing, it's not enough just to say how an action (or omission) will affect us directly. We also have to reckon with how an action will affect the shape of the lives we all live together. Moore's claim is that in burying our dead sans the funeral pyre, Christians show and shape themselves to be the sorts of people who expect the resurrection. In burning the dead, we aren't denying the resurrection, but we are creating the conditions in which its expectation seems a bit less "real."

High Gasoline Prices—What the Government Can Do

In an effort to deal with—or be seen as dealing with—high gasoline prices, President Bush called upon Congress to f"ind a way to approve permits to build new refineries a year after they are filed." In addition, Bush noted that he had "told the Environmental Protection Agency to use 'all available authority to grant waivers that would relieve critical fuel shortages,' and said he would seek more waiver authority from Congress if needed." Both quotes are from a brief Reuters story on the subject.

In addition, AP reports that Bush today also "halted for the summer the purchase of crude oil for the government's emergency reserve."

Analysis: the President's suggestions are valid and reasonable things for the federal government to do: to alter federal policies that force up the price of gasoline without paying off in a cleaner environment. (Reducing gasoline taxes at all levels of government would lower prices at the pump significantly as well.)

There are plenty other federal laws that are exceedingly valid candidates for such treatment, in countless areas of life and the economy, and I hope that this can be the beginning of a trend.

Although it almost certainly won't be.

The Baseball Dilemma

I’m one of those people who takes the baseball encyclopedia to the bathroom with him and memorizes statistics. There isn’t the slightest value in going through this exercise except, that for reasons only available to me, I enjoy it.

I know, for example, that in one distant year in the past Babe Ruth hit more homeruns in a season than the entire American League. I know that in 1949 Jackie Robinson in the National League and George Kell and Ted Williams in the American League finished the season with identical .342 averages to lead the majors. I know that Alex Rodriguez’s 48 homeruns in 2005 to lead the American League broke Joe DiMaggio’s record for most homeruns by a right handed Yankee batter.

Now one might well ask, so what? These statistics don’t reveal anything about the complexities in life, nor can they offer any guidance about human behavior. The numbers aren’t even predictive, a great season is sometimes followed by a mediocre one.

Still baseball was a game of numbers. I learned how to use a slide rule so I could break that log-jam in ’49 and determine that George Kell led the majors in batting. But now that the revelations of steroid use are convincingly documented in Game of Shadows, I wonder what my bathroom reading will be; in fact, I wonder if statistics will ever have the meaning for baseball aficionados it once did.

It is not merely Barry Bonds and his pursuit of Henry Aaron’s lifetime career homerun record that disturbs me. As I see it, the problem is every single number in the age of “juiced” players. Should I take seriously McGuire’s homerun achievements? Should I discount Palmiero’s 500 plus homers and 3000 hits?

How should I evaluate the game? What Bud Selig and the myrmidons of baseball have taken from me is not easily forgiven. Here we are with a new season and I don’t know what is legitimate about the game. Should I honor the player or his pharmacologist?

I’m perplexed. All of my life baseball was a game of numbers. After all, I would say “the numbers don’t lie.” Yet now in my middle years I discover the numbers do lie. In fact, it is hard to know what is real.

The owners intoxicated by box office results averted their gaze from this tragedy. They want the long ball that keeps fans in their seats. Forget about the sacrifice bunt or hitting behind the runner. In the age of steroids, it’s the homerun that counts.

Of course, if you’re looking for results, teams with the most homeruns don’t usually win. Pitching and defense count for a lot; just ask the 2005 White Sox or, for that matter, the Japanese team that recently won the World Baseball Championship.

Clearly Popeyes with muscles bulging who hit 500 foot homeruns get big seven figure contracts and are the envy of their colleagues. The problem is now you don’t know if those biceps came from eating spinach, lifting weights or consuming steroids and growth hormones.

Years ago Bart Giamatti, the former president of Yale and later commissioner of baseball, was asked to compare university and baseball life. His comment: “There’s a better class of people in baseball.” Perhaps, but it should be noted that using pharmaceuticals to enhance performance is the rough university equivalent of plagiarism. The integrity that once characterized baseball is in tatters.

Habits are hard to break. I still read baseball statistics in the newspaper before I read the news. Earl Warren, who did the same thing, once said, “I prefer to read about accomplishments before I read about failures.” Unfortunately I’m no longer sure about those accomplishments. I’m not even sure about what to have as bathroom reading.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website,

Monday, April 24, 2006

Guess Hu?

It occurred to me that it would be worthwhile to expand on a point that I alluded to at the end of my Human Events article, namely that the idea that China will help us to curtail the nuclear adventurism of Iran and North Korea is the starkest self-delusion.

So I wrote an analysis-with-attitude on that subject for tomorrow's The American Spectator.

For an appetizer:

Here is Michael J. Green, senior director for Asia policy through December 2005, waxing pithy on this subject: "In both Iran and North Korea, China has a very serious role to play, and in some ways is the pivot in whether we're successful in dealing with these problems. Hu will be under pressure to say something and to signal, not only domestically here but to those countries, that China's patience is wearing thin."

One hesitates to disabuse the holder of such views, because there is a kind of charm to such loopy delusions. Until we recall that people are actually advancing this rot as a basis for decisions that affect our security. For example, once this serves as the gestalt for international discussion of the Iran crisis, we could get a joint announcement by Hu and Ahmadinejad that Iran has decided to desist from further nuclear development out of respect for the request of China. This would (a) give China a huge diplomatic coup, (b) reinforce the notion that they are world peacemakers, (c) make Iran look reasonable, and (d) worst of all, allow Iran to proceed secretly while we would be hard-pressed to publicly challenge their good faith.

Hu: Main Event

We Reform Clubbers have to stick together, so in lockstep with Doc Zycher, I wrote a diminutive piece for Human Events decrying the heavy-handed treatment of the lady who heckled Hu.

Here is a slender sliver to whet your appetite:

Apparently it was not enough that the police had her removed afterwards. Not enough that Chinese TV cut off the broadcast of the event until after she was subdued. Not enough that President Bush apologized to Hu for his being discomfited. It was necessary, right here in the U.S. of A., in the land of the free and the home of the brave, to arrest this menace to society before she could wreak havoc on defenseless visiting tyrants. She is being charged with “willingly intimidating or disrupting a foreign official”, says Secret Service spokesman Jonathan Cherry. This carries a maximum sentence of six months.

So poor Hu, all intimidated and disrupted, gets to return home to pull the wings off flies or whatever dictators do for recreation, while a decent woman, a New York City doctor who put her conscience ahead of her career for a day, has to face federal prison. What am I missing here?

Republicans Bad, Democrats Worse, Hope Meager

These are sad times for classical liberals. The Republicans are spending taxpayer money at a pace that has drunken sailors saying, "Whoa, hold on a minute there, Buddy!" With President Bush's enthusiastic encouragement, they created a new Medicare prescription drug plan and managed to keep a straight face while telling us it would actually save us money. Katrina gave them a great excuse to add tons of new spending without making corresponding cuts in non-emergency programs. The Republicans are flirting with allowing lawbreakers to benefit from their illegal actions in flouting our immigration laws, all for the benefit of rich people looking for cheap gardeners, nannies, fruit pickers, and warehouse workers. And so on.

It's repugnant, all right, and there would be something we could do about it if not for the fact that the Democrats are not only for all these these things, they support them more strongly, want more spending on these programs and more solicitiude toward the lawbreakers, would press forward more quickly toward the precipice of economic and social destruction, and advocate these absurd proposals with a level of moral smugness even Republicans have difficulty matching.

Mark Steyn describes it well in the current issue of National Review, excerpted on National Review Online:

I'm not predicting electoral disaster this November. It would be nice to think that the GOP might get to enjoy a Geena Davis-style "hiatus" while they "retune" their winning formula. But I doubt it will happen: Even losers need someone to lose to, and the Democrats have failed to fulfill even that minimal requirement for the last decade.

Christopher Hitchens said on the Hugh Hewitt show recently that he "dislikes" the Republican party but has "contempt" for the Democrats. I appreciate the distinction, though I'm not sure I could muster even that level of genial tolerance. The Democrats have been the most contemptible opportunists in the years since 9/11: If they've got nothing useful to contribute to the great challenge of the age they could at least have the decency not to waste our time waving around three-year-old Abu Ghraib pictures and chanting "exit strategy" every ten minutes.

Hitchens has it just right, I think.

Now in power, the Republicans are doing whatever they can to retain that power, which in the nation's capitol means buying votes with taxpayers' money. That's what political parties do, and as long as huge amounts of money and power are concentrated in Washington, D.C., that will be the way of things, with the taxpayers occasionally saying "enough!" and the party out of power deciding to take a chance on a small dose of economic liberalization and a slightly greater encouragement of rule of law.

Unfortunately, the Democrats are so strongly attached to their economic redistribution ideology that there is virtually no hope of them pursuing a course toward liberalization and rule of law. They seem likely only to fall further into their present radicalism.

One might hope that such a course would send them into final political oblivion and allow a more plausible political opposition to arise, but the Republicans' adoption of the Dems' principles has kept the latter party alive.

So a plausible alternative party is not going to arise under current conditions, and a classical liberal third party is an impossible dream.

Which leaves us with the Republicans. Will they see the foolishness of their choice to become the party of huge government as opposed to the Democrats' gigantic government?

Not any time soon.

Guller's Travels

That wacky comedic genius of British television, Ali G (aka Sascha Cohen, a very clever Jewish boy), takes his Kazakh alter ego to a country bar in Tucson and gets the whole crowd into singing 'Throw the Jew Down the Well'.

This is kind of scary, I suppose, but definitely funny as all get-out. Don't miss this video clip.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

How I Spent My Earth Day

Jim and me and Eddie decided to do something special for the occasion, because we love nature and all. So we got up early for a Saturday, and me, I think we did our part to make this world a better place.

11:30 AM---Global Warming. Put a few cases of Bud on ice. Cools the environment.

12:30 PM---Recycling. Threw the empties from the first case in the blue can. (Blue is for recycling.)

12:31---Global Warming 2. Walked, did not drive, to the 7-Eleven. Got more ice. (Also more Bud.)

12:45---Ozone. Oxygen causes ozone. You could look it up. Lit up some bigass Cuban stogies Eddie got from his cousin in Miami and killed some oxygen, which is also a carcinogen. (That's why they sell anti-oxidants.)

2:00---Recycled some more Bud cans.

3:30---Wildlife. Caught some fish in local crick. (Used some of Eddie's mom's tortillas as bait. Excellent.) Removed excess flesh (fillets) from fish but then released them back into the wild. Jim shot at some feral cats, which kill more birds than pollution does, but didn't hit any.

4:45---Buried, did not litter environment with case of Bud empties.

6:00---Genetically Altered Foods. Drove back home (slowly, as it increases gas mileage and besides Eddie was really faced) and barbequed up the fish. (Excellent.) Ate no genetically altered foods and started the barbeque with recycled paper. Also didn't use plates, as it would have wasted water to wash them. Oh and I forgot, got more ice on the way home, at maybe 6:23.

8:00---Decided to do no more driving (Eddie was kinda passed out, although he could answer questions if it was a "yes" or a "no" question, and besides he's the only one with a license even though it's suspended). So we turned off all the excess lights and ordered up the WWF Death Cage Match on pay-per-view.

Whew. What a warm glow, being part of the solution and not the problem. This is the only planet we've got. We were saying it's a shame Earth Day only comes once a year, but you know, that's silly. Jim and Eddie are coming back over tomorrow after Eddie drives his mom to church. Every day can be Earth Day!