Chavez 1, Bush 0

It’s never enjoyable to be mocked by a socialist dictator, but Hugo Chavez of Venezuela scores some solid points as he welcomes comrade Bush to the socialist camp. Reuters also reports that Chavez says Bush is both “clueless” and to the “left of me.” Whether he’s right about Bush, Chavez certainly is right about the aptitude of anyone to his left:

Socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez mocked George W. Bush as a “comrade” on Wednesday, saying the U.S. president was a hard-line leftist for his government’s intervention of major private banks in the U.S. financial crisis. Chavez, who calls capitalism an evil and ex-Cuban leader Fidel Castro his mentor, ridiculed Bush for his plan for the federal government to take equity in American banks… “Bush is to the left of me now,” Chavez told an audience of international intellectuals debating the benefits of socialism. “Comrade Bush announced he will buy shares in private banks.” Chavez, who has insulted Bush in the past as a drunkard or the devil, called him clueless on Wednesday. He accused him of simply parroting the words of his aides without understanding the new policies that rely on heavy state intervention.

Nothing New Under the Sun

Remember the “Ledeen Doctrine” that Jonah Goldberg used to promote the Iraq War? ( It’s unavailable for some reason on the National Review website Here it is on NRO ):

Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.

It turns out that aside from the strategic and moral bankruptcy of the doctrine, it isn’t even original to Ledeen or Goldberg:

These half-civilized Governments such as those of China, Portugal, Spanish America, all require a dressing down every eight or ten years to keep them in order. Their minds are too shallow to receive an impression that will last longer than some such period and warning is of little use. They care little for words and they must not only see the stick but actually feel it on their shoulders before they yield to that argument which brings conviction.

That’s Lord Palmerston in 1850, addressing the House of Commons, as cited in Lawrence James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire.

News That Rich People Can Use

I was astounded to watch a segment on the Newshour With Jim Lehrer tonight about the concerns of Seattle-area arts and public service organizations in the face of Washington Mutual’s acquisition by JPMorganChase, an annual donor of $100 million to nonprofits.

This was not a story about the loss of funds. It was a story about concerns with the potential loss of funds.

Colorful images of ballet dancers, a symphony orchestra, and stage actors in rehearsal flowed across the screen as non-profit heads fretted about the fate of their funding sources.

I enjoy the Newshour and its long-story format, but I’m aware of its government funding and it’s skew toward the wealthy and the politically liberal. And I have to say I can’t recall seeing a story more effete or more indulgent of this audience. The financial crisis - whither capitalism? - is causing arts agencies … concerns.

Something many people don’t seem to understand about mergers, acquisitions, and bankruptcies is that the assets involved in all these transactions don’t just go away. They continue in use under different owners or managers. That’s it! If philanthropy was a good idea before the acquisition of WaMu, it’s a good idea afterwards. If it wasn’t, it wasn’t, and it will go away as it should. I, for one, would rather get cheap or free checking than donate to other rich people’s arts organizations through my banking.

Will wealthy liberals lose corporate-subsidized access to ballet? Oh, I swoon!

Or, here’s an alternative: Get out your checkbooks, richies!

Surely, there are stories about the financial crisis with more substance than this. How about something on Franklin Raines, who headed Fannie Mae from 1999 to 2004 and received a slap on the wrist for accounting irregularities in an organization that we now know was a dumptruck careening toward a crowd of schoolchildren. There are a zillion stories more important than the nervousness of ballet directors in the northwest.

Rant over.

Live Debate Commentary from Cato Scholars on Twitter

Join Cato policy analysts while they comment on the presidential debates live tonight at 9:00 p.m. EST.

Here’s how: Log on to Twitter when the debate begins and see what Cato scholars have to say about the policies the candidates propose.

Some Twitter highlights from the last presidential debate:

Did Sen. McCain answer the question about Social Security? I’d say no. –Jagadeesh Gokhale
Obama’s health plan would outlaw the most affordable 50 percent of health insurance plans currently on the market. -Michael Cannon
Need to understand the rest of the tax code to fix Social Security? Dissemblobama at its best! –Jagadeesh Gokhale
The $700 billion financial-sector bailout is less than one percent of the amount required to bail out Medicare. -Michael Cannon

Read more about Cato’s live-blogging of the debate on K Street Cafe.

NCLB Moment of Truth

Even if some people won’t admit it, by now everyone understands that the No Child Left Behind Act is just one, big, perverse incentive, an obnoxious federal law that practically screams at states, “lie about ‘proficiency’ and ‘accountability.’ As long as I can prattle on about caring for all children, I don’t care what you do!”

Despite this widespread understanding, it’s rare to catch a public official actually admitting to gaming the law, which is what makes this bit from Monday’s New York Times ickily refreshing:

Why did California decide on six years of relatively slow achievement growth, followed by six years of extraordinary gains? Officials from many states told the Bush administration in 2002 that they needed time to write new tests and accustom teachers to them.

But the California state school superintendent, Jack O’Connell, said he also bet that Congress might change the law in 2007, perhaps by removing its 100 percent proficiency goal. “It’s true that was in the back of my mind when we negotiated our plan with the feds,” Mr. O’Connell said. “And I’d do the same thing again. I’m still hoping a new administration will change the law.”

Thanks for the candor, Mr. O’Connell. It concisely illustrates why NCLB and its predecessors have been failures, and why the only way to improve education is to give parents, not politicians, power over the schools.

Housing, Financial Markets, and Government

I’ve been absent for Cato-at-liberty in recent weeks because I’ve been busy with the bailout and various related issues. I’ve missed the opportunity to post and get feedback from readers, so I’m posting some of my recent articles for your reading pleasure.

My first foray into the issue was a column for Real Clear Politics arguing against the bailout.

Needless to say, the political class disregarded my sage advice and voted to give the Treasury Department a blank check for $700 billion. So my next article was part of a Google-sponsored debate on whether the turmoil in financial markets is a reason to expand the size and scope of government. You can also see my opponent’s article  and my rebuttal if you are so inclined. You can also rate both of our arguments if you feel like putting your thumbs on the scale.

I’m also taking part in a debate sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. Monday’s topic was whether government should have any role in subsidizing housing, and Tuesday’s topic focused on who should get blamed for the current mess. I’ll post subsequent debates as they become available.

Not a Cost-Shift, but a Control-Shift

I’m reading left-wing critiques of John McCain’s health plan and coming across doozies like this one from the Center for American Progress and Planned Parenthood:

Finally, the McCain plan would result in a greater proportion of health care costs being born by individuals and families.  Because policies sold in the individual market typically feature less  comprehensive benefits and higher cost-sharing requirements than policies sold in the large-group market, individuals and families who enroll in these plans will find themselves paying a greater share of their overall health care spending.

Wildly wrong.  Individuals and families already pay 100 percent of health care costs.  They don’t just pay for out-of-pocket spending and the “employee share” of their health-insurance premiums.  They also pay for the cost of government spending through higher taxes.  And they pay for the “employer contribution” to their health-insurance premiums because employers reduce workers’ wages.

The McCain plan would let individuals and families control a greater proportion of health-care spending – specifically, that “employer contribution,” which averages $9,000 for those with family coverage.  For example, see this.

Perhaps that is what the Left fears?