200610

October 23, 2006 7:37PM

Nightmare Politics

If you're not into fantasy football and the like, policy buffs around the country can now play Fantasy Congress, a website created by students at Claremont McKenna College. As the New York Times explains,

Just as in fantasy football or baseball, each player picks a team — in this case, 4 senators and 12 House members of varying seniority levels — and competes with other players in a league typically managed by a friend or a co-worker....

Players accumulate points as the legislators they have chosen go about their business on Capitol Hill. A House member or senator earns five points for introducing a bill or an amendment, and more points for negotiating successfully each step in the legislative process.

Yikes! Yes, that's right: In this nightmare Congress, much as in the real one, you "win" by introducing laws and getting them passed. No points for keeping your mitts off our money, or for failing to rush in with a legislative pander after every headline or "Dateline" story.

And so yes, that means that the top-scoring House member is Mr. Pork, Don Young of Alaska. "Don Young's Way" is not just a bridge in Alaska, it's pretty much the story of Washington. And now the story of Fantasy Washington.

Hat tip: Ryan Posly.

October 23, 2006 3:45PM

With Allies Like These…

Close readers of my blog entries will have detected an increasingly irritated tone of late. What with farm subsidies, Doha doldrums, idiotic "solutions" to the trade deficit "problem" and a campaign season upon us, my long-suffering colleagues have become used to my cries of despair.

And now this, through a tip from my colleague and next-door-office-mate, Brink Lindsey (who has no doubt tired of my "You've got to be kidding me" exclaims as I read the headlines every morning). The United States has banned Vegemite, that staple food of Aussies everywhere and an emotionally crucial link to the motherland for all us expatriates living in the United States.

According to this article, the FDA allows folate (or folic acid, which has been added to Vegemite) to be added only to breads and cereals (never mind that Vegemite was practically invented for nutritional purposes, to stave off Vitamin B deficiencies).  From a 1996 news release from the FDA:

specified grain products will be required to be fortified with folic acid at levels ranging from 0.43 milligrams to 1.4 mg per pound of product. These amounts are designed to keep daily intake of folic acid below 1mg, because intakes above that amount may mask symptoms of pernicious anemia, a form of vitamin B12 deficiency which primarily affects older people.

Heaven forbid that the flood of Vegemite pouring into the United States should upset the delicately balanced just-enough-but-not-too-much-folic-acid directive from the FDA.

Australia is an ally of the United States. A small ally, yes, but loyal. Our troops have served side by side in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf wars. Australian troops are in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, more to the point, our countries have signed a free-trade agreement

Part of me is taking comfort that this truly is a non-tariff barrier implemented to protect consumer health (misguided though that aim may be), rather than an act of disguised protectionism designed to shield the politically powerful import-competing domestic Vegemite industry located in electorally important swing-states. But it's unfair all the same. And I'm angry.

Thank goodness my parents smuggled contraband Vegemite through customs when they visited me in July, but I think not of my own well-stocked shelves, but the growling bellies of my compatriots. I plan to share this story with my Australian friends. Expect outrage.

(Please note I am filing this under Civil Liberties, as well as Trade).

October 23, 2006 3:13PM

What is “Economic Insecurity” and Why Should We Care?

In his new book, The Great Risk Shift, and on the Political Animal blog at The Washington Monthly website a couple weeks back, Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker has been selling his line that "economic insecurity" is on the rise, and the state needs to do something about it.

Hacker seems to me to get a lot of mileage out of equivocating systematically between a psychological and objective sense of the word 'insecurity'. Hacker may be right that there has been an increase in income volatility (though, I'm told, it is not clear how much this has to do with systemic economic changes, as opposed to details of Hacker's model and the changing composition of the "households" tracked by the data), and this no doubt causes people some anxiety. But anxiety is not actual insecurity. The Bush administration, in its constant efforts to shore up political support for its so-called "global war on terror" does its best to needle Americans into feeling sufficiently anxious about the constant threat of terrorist attacks. But our anxiety and our national security are two completely separate things. We can feel anxious yet be secure, and we can feel perfectly safe at the same moment a deadly missile bears down upon us from the sky. What matters most is whether we are secure, not how we feel. Likewise with economy security.

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October 23, 2006 12:53PM

Learning the Right Lessons from Iraq

Like "Who Lost China?" in 1949-50, "How Did We Lose Iraq?" may dominate foreign policy debates in the years to come.  The consensus answer that seems to be emerging, in books like Woodward's State of Denial and Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City, is "through the Bush administration's incompetence."

And there's certainly something there.  My lord, is there ever.  The Woodward book is an appalling chronicle of bureaucratic flight from responsibility.  It's Halberstam's Best and the Brightest repeating itself as farce.  It's Dilbert plus guns, bombs, and death--and minus the laughs.

In Woodward's telling, in the run-up to the war, those few officials who understand what an enormous task the U.S. government was contemplating aren't listened to.  The question "what is to be done?" vanishes in a flurry of powerpoint presentations, interminable and directionless meetings, and interbranch squabbling. The month before the invasion General Jay Garner, tasked with heading up the postwar occupation authority, gathered some 200 people for a weekend-long planning and rehearsal session.  One participant analyzed the conference in a 20-page report, concluding that "the conference did not take up the most basic issue: What sort of future government of Iraq do we have in mind and how do we plan to get there?"    

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October 23, 2006 11:42AM

Preparing Children for Adulthood

From the Washington Post:

Recess is dangerous. There's all that name-calling, roughhousing and bullying. And the fast running! Why a child might trip, fall, even -- and perhaps more important -- sue.

Given such perils, Willett Elementary School, south of Boston, has cracked down on tag and other "chasing games." Pia Durkin, the district superintendent, told the Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, Mass., that children's energies should be better directed toward "good, sound, supervised play." 

So they'll be prepared for good, sound, supervised lives.

October 23, 2006 11:40AM

Big‐​Government Republicans for Lieberman

In the Wall Street Journal, Dan Henninger writes admiringly of Sen. Joe Lieberman and the Republicans who are flocking to Connecticut to campaign for him, notably Jack Kemp. The Boston Globe adds that many Republican donors close to the White House are donating to Lieberman: former Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh, former ambassador Mel Sembler, former Sen. Don Nickles, "and the heads of several Texas-based corporations." Republican strategists tell the Globe that Karl Rove's publicized phone call to Lieberman was a signal to Republican donors and politicians.

What are these Republicans doing? They're subordinating every tenet of the Republican philosophy to the war in Iraq. That's the only issue on which Lieberman is in line with Republican or conservative principles. Lieberman has a lifetime rating of 17 from the American Conservative Union. But maybe he's getting better? No, his rating was 8 in 2005. On government spending, the National Taxpayers Union rates him 9, slightly worse than Dodd, Feinstein, or Boxer.

Lieberman votes against tax cuts and spending cuts. He's coauthor of a bill to implement the Kyoto Protocol. He votes for gun control and mandatory seat-belt laws, and against tort reform. He votes to restrict political speech (the McCain-Feingold act) and to punish people for "hate crimes."

It's understandable that Republicans don't want Ned Lamont in the Senate. But to campaign for a lifelong big-government liberal simply because he supports President Bush's increasingly unsupportable war in Iraq is to declare limited government across a wide range of issues less important than this failing war.

October 23, 2006 10:20AM

Criminal Negligence in Iraq

OK, keeping up with energy and enviro related insanity is so difficult that sometimes, it's easy to fall behind on the newspapers.  So over the weekend, I tried mightily to catch up on unread issues from the past week of The New York Times.  That explains why I'm so late to catch this amazing review of PBS's Frontline "The Lost Years in Iraq," which was published last Tuesday.

Unfortunately, I missed the show, which likewise aired on Tuesday.  But here's a quote from the New York Times review:

Certainly some of the [Iraq Reconstruction Group] staff members seemed a bit underqualified.  Colonel Hammes recalls that the person given the job of planning for [Iraqi] prisons and police was 25 and that this was his first job after college.  He didn't worry about having a staff of only four, the young appointee said, because they were all his fraternity brothers.

This is jaw dropping stuff.  If I were a Congressman and this information had crossed my desk back in 2003, I would have submitted articles of impeachment of President Bush right then and there.  This is criminal negligence and incompetence so amazing that words can't do the matter justice.

Gotta go back and catch that show.