Monday, 19 January 2004

We're Number One!

Tyler Cowen finds evidence that Mississippi is the most corrupt state in the Union. You don’t say…

The scary part: the figures don’t even include the non-quite-illegal-but-downright-unethical influence peddling that goes on in these parts, like ex-attorney general Mike Moore’s long campaign to enrich his law school buddies.

Mississippi is number 1!

In public corruption, that is. Via Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, we learn that the Corporate Crime Reporter has listed Mississippi as the most corrupt state in the country, closely followed by North Dakota and Louisiana.

As for the rest of the Mid-South, the full report reveals that Tennessee comes in at number 19, and Arkansas is way down on the list at number 42. Nebraska is apparently the least corrupt state in the nation.

Congratulations, Mississippi!

UPDATE: Damn, Chris beat me to the post by 24 minutes.

Crime and punishment

You’ll be hard-pressed to find it in Daniel Davies’ account, but the case of Katharine Gun, a former British intelligence officer who has become something of the “Valerie Plame” of the anti-war movement on the other side of the pond, seems rather open-and-shut.

Gun, an admitted opponent of the war in Iraq, is charged with violating the Official Secrets Act by leaking a memo, apparently from the NSA, soliciting help from their British counterparts at GCHQ in conducting intelligence operations against several U.N. delegations—something which, to the best of my knowledge, is not illegal in either the United States or Britain. But, you know, she’s being made a “scapegoat” (i.e. being charged with a crime she’s almost certainly guilty of) because of the “embarrassment” to the government (i.e. she broke the fricking law).

Anyway, if you’re inclined to venerate criminal acts, you’ll probably enjoy this Bob Herbert op-ed which plays the martyr card to the hilt. If not, well… scroll down, there’s better stuff here to read.

Update: Jacob Levy also has an interesting take on Mr. Davies’ clarion call.

The Man

Radley Balko shows the faces of the people who will, in all likelihood, decide the Democratic nomination. Here’s a hint: they look like Howard Dean’s cabinet in Vermont did…

Wednesday, 21 January 2004

What's a fiscal conservative to do?

Juan Non-Volokh complains that fiscal conservatives have nowhere to turn:

Last night’s State of the Union included the usual laundry list of costly new proposals, further cementing President Bush’s record as a profligate spender. Even with increased economic growth, pursuing these initiatives will further delay deficit reduction. Alas, fiscal conservatives don’t have anywhere else to turn, according to this study by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. To the contrary, based on their campaign platforms, NTUF found that every one of the contenders for the Democratic nomination would increase spending even more than it has grown under President Bush.

But the question should not be “what Bush will spend” vs. “what Democratic candidate D says he will spend“. The question should be “what Bush will spend” vs. “what Democratic candidate D will spend“. Any Democrat in the White House would have a powerful brake on his profligate spending plans that President Bush does not, viz. a Republican Congress. Andrew Sullivan has realized this, even if he can’t bring himself to support any of the Democratic candidates because of such important matters as endorsements by obnoxious jerks.

Of course, the worst federal spending (being not just wasteful but downright counter-productive), viz. farm subsidies, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But aside from farm subsidies, a Democratic president would have a hard time finding enough common ground with a Republican Congress to pass any major new spending initiatives. And with the House gerrymandered into Repblican hands for the forseeable future, there’s not much danger of a Democratic Congress coming around and allowing a Democratic president to have his way with the Treasury.

Slumming in the blogosphere

Visiting today some regions of blogspace I usually avoid, I found one of Clayton Cramer’s observations about racism:

In general, racism of any sort tends to be strongest among people that are at the bottom of the economic ladder—and need someone below them to look down upon. If you can’t take pride in anything that you have accomplished, you can at least take pride in your race!
I wonder how Clayton would explain vile anti-gay bigotry.

Friday, 23 January 2004

Double-teaming Clayton Cramer

I don’t exactly want to turn this blog into CramerWatch, but this post struck me as being, well, a tad odd. He quotes at length from a Reuters piece on penis enlargement spam (no, really) and comes across this lovely tidbit:

At the heart of the problem, [NYU psychiatrist Virginia] Sadock said, is that since men don’t see many penises other than their own, they have little basis for comparison.

The exception, she said, is pornography, which gay men view more that straight men. And comparing one’s penis size to a porn star’s could lead even a well-endowed man to feel inadequate.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that New York’s gay community self-help arena has expanded beyond problems such as alcoholism and over eating to the affliction of a small penis.

“What is Small, Anyway,” is the working name of a support group in Greenwich Village, which acts as a safe haven for gay men who have small penises, or feel as though they do.

Participants complain about a gay community in which men brag about being bigger than they are and a country where big is king. Like at other support groups, most in this group are grateful just to be in a room together with people trying to confront the same problem.

A slim man with reddish hair told a recent meeting that he is made to feel he doesn’t measure up. “In our community the idea of what’s average (size) is very distorted,” he said.

Cramer’s response: “Of course, this wouldn’t be the only area in which the gay community is a bit distorted about what it considers important.”

Now, this strikes me as something of a weird reaction. For one thing, you’d expect gay men to have a more realistic idea about penis size—not less—since they, er, see more of them than straight men do. For another, I’m not entirely sure that gay men watch more porn than straight men do; now, it’s possible that more gay men watch porn than straight men, and it’s likely that the porn gay men prefer (which, of course, would be “gay porn”) has more penises in it, but I’m not convinced that once you pass the “selection function” (to borrow from Nobel laureate economist James Heckman, who I’m sure would love to know his name is in this conversation) that the count is markedly different in the universe of “porn viewers.”

Lastly, anyone who’s seen the god-awful ads for “Enzyte”—a product for “natural male enhancement” (i.e. a penis enlargement pill, distinct from e.g. Viagra and Levitra, which are erectile dysfunction pills)—would know that it’s being aggresively marketed to heterosexual males. Show me a straight guy and I’ll show you a straight guy who’s obsessed with the size of his penis. What I can’t fathom is that Cramer is apparently more obsessed with gay men than the size of his.

Sunday, 25 January 2004

Snark Hunt: Brought to you by the makers of Tylenol 3

A heavily-medicated Kate has produced the latest edition of the Snark Hunt.

Continuing this evening’s meta-blogging theme, Signifying Nothing did not submit any material, as we didn’t have any snarky posts this week. We’re above that here at SN, you see.

By the way, I have to say that—in my personal experience—Tylenol 3 is one of the few sequels that’s better than the original.

Saturday, 31 January 2004


Dan Drezner wrote Friday:

Here’s my position—I’m genuinely unsure of who I’m going to vote for. More and more, Bush reminds me of Nixon. He’s not afraid to make the bold move in foreign policy. On domestic policy, Bush seems like he’ll say or do anything, so long as it advances his short-term political advantage. If Karl Rove thought imposing wage and price controls would win Pennsylvania and Michigan for Bush, you’d see an Executive Order within 24 hours. Andrew Sullivan and others have delivered this harangue, so I won’t repeat it.

If—a big if—the Democrats put forward a credible alternative, then I could very well pull the donkey lever.

I’m close to being in the same boat as Dan (well, besides that whole “having a tenure-track job” thing), but I’m probably more likely than he is to pull the Libertarian lever than the “donkey” one.† After listening and watching the Dems, my rough assessment is that either Lieberman or Edwards would make a decent president, Kerry would be borderline, and the rest might as well be LaRouche. If one of those clowns got the nomination, I’d probably feel compelled to vote for George W. Bush, since I really don’t want to convert to Islam and/or learn Arabic. Nothing against Muslims, but my wishy-washy beliefs suit me just fine and I don’t particularly feel like converting.

However, Edwards, Kerry or Lieberman appear sufficiently competent and—more importantly—will be more constrained in their desired profligacy by a Republican Congress than Bush has been; plus, I suspect O’Connor’s mood-swings would be somewhat more conservative with a Democrat in the White House.* While I doubt I’d be sufficiently inclined to vote for any of them, their presence on the ticket would be more than sufficient to demotivate any support I might otherwise have for Bush.

Monday, 9 February 2004

The C word

Steven Taylor thinks conservatives need to learn to love the Shrub, since otherwise they may well receive eight more years of Clintonism. On the other hand, if you’re a conservative—not necessarily a Republican, mind you—a spell of divided government might well be desirable.

It seems to me, at the simplest level, that different sorts of conservatism require the control of different branches of government. Fiscal conservatism rests largely on control of Congress; if you keep spending and taxes down, there isn’t much the White House or Supreme Court can do about it. Social conservatism, on the other hand, rests on control of the presidency and the judiciary; the Justice Department effectively decides to what degree morals violations (like prostitution and drug crimes) are prosecuted, while the judiciary effectively sets the limits of what personal behavior Congress and the states can regulate.

There are, of course, other issues to base one’s vote on; the Clinton administration fiddled while North Korea and Iraq burned during the 1990s, instead expending political capital on dubious adventures like Haiti (which is now in more of a mess than when I was a wee intern in D.C. being briefed on this problem 9 years ago) and saving the Europeans’ asses in the Balkans. And, at the moment, it’s hard to tell if Kerry’s campaign-trail pronouncements are simply part of a red-meat distribution effort to keep the Deaniacs on the Democratic bus through November or actually serious foreign policy views—if you believe they’re the latter, you might think twice about jumping on the divided government bandwagon.

But, given that Congress is essentially a lock to remain in Republican hands for the forseeable future,* if you’re not much of a social conservative and you make under $200k it’s hard to see what you’d lose under a Kerry (or Edwards) administration.

This is today’s entry in the BTJ™.

Tuesday, 10 February 2004

Reality intrudes

Poliblogger Steven Taylor responded yesterday to my post on conservatism and the 2004 election. First he examines my argument with regard to divided government:

Chris makes an argument, that I have often heard, that the solution to the problem of insufficient fiscal conservatism is the return of divided government. However, I would note that in the twentieth century divided government has been the norm, and, likewise, deficits and ever-increasing spending has also been the norm, calling into question the idea that divided government results in curtailed spending. The only exception (at least in regards to deficits) was during part of the Clinton years, during which we did, in fact, have divided government. However, as I have argued before, the balanced budgets of those years were primarily a function of unexpected economic growth, not a tremendous feat of fiscal restraint the resulted from divided government. For that matter the Reagan era, one of divided government, is usually considered the hallmark of deficit politics.

Causality is difficult to prove here, but I don’t think that—necessarily—you can argue that the Clinton years were a fluke. Reagan was president with a Democratic House and a Senate that was sometimes under Republican and sometimes under Democratic control. The Democrats of the 1980s were hardly a model of fiscal responsibility—and coupled with Reagan’s fetish for supply-side economics, the two together created a giant deficit between them. As I stated in my earlier post, effective fiscal conservatism rests on control of the House and Senate—something that Reagan didn’t enjoy, but Clinton did. That Clinton also benefitted from a favorable economy that he had little control over doesn’t change the fact that Republicans in Congress were much more willing to say “no” when Clinton wanted to throw money at problems than they are today.

And I do think that in terms of national security one would see a rather substantially different world under a Kerry administration. That alone is sufficient reason to heed my prior advice. And do think that he is serious in his campaign rhetoric regarding foreign policy. Remember: this is the guy who voted against the first Gulf War even though Saddam has invaded Kuwait. I think that he is highly reticent to use force and does not have the temperament needed to fight the war on terror.

This is an argument I acknowledged, albeit somewhat glibly, in my post. But to a large extent I think a Democratic president is now stuck prosecuting the War on Terror forcefully, or he risks going down in history as a miserable failure the likes we haven’t seen since the late 1970s. Not that that’s much comfort if you think Kerry will get us all killed between now and January 2009, mind you. (I think the more likely scenario is that Kerry will simply fail to follow through with al-Qaeda and do the minumum necessary to protect the homeland, leaving us with a mess at the end of his term.)

[On domestic policy:] However, there would still be important differences. For example: the judgeship issue and I don’t just mean in regards to specific social conservative issue (although abortion is important to me), but just the general idea of having judges who at least make an effort to simply judge the law and let legislators legislate. I consider this to be rather significant.

I think the odds of either Kerry or Bush getting the nominees he wants on the bench are rapidly approaching zero at this point; however, Kerry or Bush might be able to accomplish a bit with recess appointments. The open question is whether or not the next president will dare make a recess appointment to the Supreme Court when Stevens keels over.

And a side note the “social conservative” issue: prostitution really isn’t that much of an issue for the DoJ, so that strikes me as a non-starter of an example. And in regards to the drug war (which I oppose on efficacy grounds, btw), a Democratic president is unlikely to function any differently than a Republican one on that one. From Nixon to the present the funding for the drug war has simply grown, and while Carter discussed support for legalizing marijuana, the basic approach to illegal drugs has been be pretty consistent across partisan lines. Indeed, the massive increase in funding to Colombia under “Plan Colombia” was under Clinton.

My example sucked because I actually meant to write “pornography.” Don’t mind me, my brain’s in deep freeze. But I suspect a Kerry administration would not prosecute either the War on Drugs or the War on Porn with the zeal that Ashcroft has shown. Of course, if you’re a SoCon that’s a bug, not a feature.

To be honest, I cannot conceive a situation arising in which the net policy desires of conservatives of any stripe would be furthered by a Kerry win, unless they occurred by sheer serendipity.

Serendipity works. I don’t think Bill Clinton particularly wanted to show fiscal restraint in the 1990s, but a funny thing happened as a result of his perpetual head-butting with Congress. If John Kerry had proposed No Child Left Behind, or the Medicare drugs bill, in the exact same form that Bush had, he’d have been laughed right out of Congress by the Republicans—and deservedly so. It may only be a marginal difference, but the difference between trying to give the president a record to run on and trying to deny the president something to take credit for may just be enough to encourage Congress to keep spending in check.

Now, if you’re someone who wants Roe and Goodridge to go away, this may not be enough to affect your vote. But if you’re someone who’s indifferent, or for that matter realistic, on social issues—let’s face it, Roe and Goodridge aren’t going away, because another two Scalias will never make it onto the Supreme Court—it’s something that might be worth considering. (On the other hand, it’s also worth noting that some people, including my esteemed co-blogger, who want more Breyers on the Court have made much the same argument. So your mileage may vary, as they say.)

Sunday, 27 February 2005

Confidence tricks

Jacqueline has some rather utilitarian relationship advice for her readers, with emphasis on the value of self-confidence. Contrary to the commercials on TV, apparently you don’t need Enzyte to become more confident—go figure.