Monday, October 27, 2003

A Fairy Tale for Our Times

The "Emperor's New Suit" column ran in the Sunday (October 26, 2003) East Valley Tribune here. Due to my editor's unwillingness to use bold and italics, it actually reads better on the website here. I got the headline "Pro-war spin doctors come up with a fractured fairy tale."

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Supply-Side Genesis

This column originally ran in the East Valley Tribune on Jan. 13, 2002, and isn't available online, but I want to refer to it in a comment to a post on Brad DeLong's website.

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 13, 2002

Genesis, Chapter 41 (Goldwater Institute Version):

And it came to pass one night that Pharaoh dreamed, and when he awoke, he called all his magicians and wise men, but none could interpret his dreams.

His chief butler then spoke, saying: I recall the time that Pharaoh, upset with his servants, put both the chief baker and me in the dungeon. Each of us dreamed a dream one night, but neither could interpret his dream.

In that dungeon was a young man, Joseph, a Hebrew and a liberal -- but I repeat myself. He interpreted our dreams, and as he interpreted, so it came to pass.

Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, who was brought out of the dungeon, shaved and dressed, and taken before Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said to Joseph: I have dreamed dreams, and none can interpret them. I have heard that you can understand and interpret dreams. Joseph answered Pharaoh: It is not me, but if the Almighty desires, He shall give Pharaoh an answer.

Pharaoh then said to Joseph: In my first dream, I stood upon the bank of the river, and out of the river came seven fat and handsome cattle, which grazed in a meadow. Then seven other cattle came up after them, ill, scrawny, and ugly, and the seven lean cattle devoured the seven fat cattle. Then I awoke.

Then I had a second dream, where seven full, good ears of corn grew on a stalk. Seven withered and thin ears then sprang up, and swallowed the seven good ears. I recounted these dreams to my magicians, but none could interpret them.

And Joseph said: The dream of Pharaoh is the same dream, and the Eternal is showing Pharaoh what He shall do. The seven good cattle and the seven good ears are seven years of plenty. The seven thin and ugly cattle and the seven empty ears shall be seven years of famine.

Behold, there shall come seven years of great plenty throughout the land. Then shall come seven years of famine, and all the plenty shall be forgotten, and grievous famine shall consume the land.

Let Pharaoh plan for the future of his country, by decreeing the setting aside of reserves during the seven years of plenty, gathering food and corn in the cities and granaries against the seven years of famine. And those stores shall protect the land during the famine, and the people shall not perish.

And Pharaoh said to Joseph: You may be wise in interpreting dreams, but you know nothing of politics.

You must not know, having been locked in a dungeon these past two years, that I am a supply-side Pharaoh.

During years of plenty, we do not gather reserves nor do we plan for the future. The grain that will grow in abundance is not the government’s grain, and such abundance instead demands that the government set aside less grain, not more.

Right-wing Pharaohs, during years of plenty, want to cut taxes. The surplus generated by years of plenty may pay for an occasional new program. But conservative Pharaohs have no desire to prepare for the future—except by repealing the estate tax.

When the lean years come, famine may consume the land and afflict the people, but that hardship becomes yet another reason to cut taxes and to continue ignoring the future.

This philosophy may strike you, Joseph, as shortsighted and foolish. Years of famine always may come, and a wise ruler should prepare during the years of plenty.

But Pharaoh’s family and friends will have enough money to buy grain, no matter how severe the famine.

Pharaohs need not worry about famine. That is the beauty of being rich—and of term limits. I will rule over plenty; the next Pharaoh can deal with the famine.

And Pharaoh thanked Joseph for his time, gave him a snappy nickname, and ordered him returned to the dungeon.
The Emperor's New Suit, Modern Version

I wanted to get this week's column up in advance. I'll post how it turns out in the paper at the usual time.


Why did our emperor take us to war in Iraq -- based on a fairy tale, perhaps?

The emperor marched in the procession under the beautiful canopy, and all who saw him in the street and out of the windows exclaimed: “Indeed, the emperor’s new suit is incomparable! What a long train he has! How well it fits him!” Nobody wished to let others know he saw nothing, for then he would have been unfit for his office or too stupid. Never emperor’s clothes were more admired.

“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! Listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried at last the whole people. That made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought to himself, “Now I must bear up to the end.” And the chamberlains walked with still greater dignity, as if they carried the train which did not exist.

Hans Christian Anderson, “The Emperor’s New Suit” (1837)

It was a simpler time then, when the whole people were willing to recognize the truth once the little child spoke. Today, however, there’s an entire army of chamberlains desperately trying to spin each other, and everyone else, otherwise:

Rep. J.D. Hayworth: By questioning our emperor’s choice of clothing, unpatriotic opponents like this little child, whether wittingly or unwittingly, provide aid and comfort to our enemies. Terrorists want to destroy both our way of life -- and our pants. If our emperor says his new clothes were magnificent, anyone who says otherwise is a traitor.

Thomas Friedman, The New York Times: Debate over the emperor’s attire misses my latest version of the real reason the emperor purchased his fabulously expensive new suit. He bought the magic cloth from the two swindlers to bring human rights and democracy to the region -- because once people have seen this emperor in his underwear, it’s only a matter of days before market economies and free elections arrive.

Jonah Goldberg, National Review: Critics of the current imperial administration are peddling a blatant lie. The emperor never used the phrase “new clothes.” In his State of the Empire speech, he said only that he would wear a new suit. And in any case, he wasn’t wearing nothing; he wore his imperial underwear, so the little child was wrong.

Bill O’Reilly, Fox News: My guest tonight is the ungrateful little child who unbelievably and unpatriotically said that our emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. Shut up! I’ll give you 15 seconds to respond once I’m finished with my 10-minute harangue.

Judy Woodruff, CNN: It’s not enough to criticize the emperor for making a mistake. Instead, his opponents must explain, in detail, how they would fix the problem the emperor created. We must spend another $87 billion trying to make the invisible “cloth” visible.

David Ignatius, The Washington Post: The emperor has access to better intelligence than you or I do. If he said he was wearing a new suit, then the burden falls upon his opponents to prove that he wasn’t.

Vice President Dick Cheney: By saying “9/11” and “new clothes” together frequently, perhaps our subjects will conclude -- without me actually saying it -- that the emperor wore no clothes because of 9/11. It’s an open question whether there’s any connection between his lack of clothes and 9/11. Did I mention 9/11?

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: It’s all Colin Powell’s fault. What part of “all” don’t you understand?

Rich Lowry, National Review: It’s all Bill Clinton’s fault.

Monday, October 20, 2003

I Will Gladly Take Responsibility Tuesday

It's a special session lid-lifter (table-setter? plumber's helper?) this week. The governor has called the legislature into a special session to consider Child Protective Services and Corrections, two areas where the loony right believes we shouldn't have to pay for our policies, and maybe there's some ideology we can deploy instead of money? Well, there isn't.

I got a block quote from the editor, in bold in the newspaper version, which you can view here.

Should the line have been, "I will gladly take responsibility Tuesday, for avoiding it today"? We retort, you decide.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 19, 2003

Some legislators claim they need more time to “study” Child Protective Services during their regular session. Yeah, right. With all of the other issues competing for attention starting in January, ranging from the budget and economic development to homeowner associations -- and did I mention it’s an election year? -- how much time do you think they’ll devote to an in-depth, scholarly examination of CPS?

Tomorrow’s special session is the time to act. Reasonable people (and, this being the Arizona Legislature, unreasonable people as well) may differ over details, but anybody paying attention knows the general outline. We must improve coordination among agencies in providing services to kids and parents, and between CPS and law enforcement.

We need to increase permanent placements, including both permanent guardianship and adoption. We also need to reduce turnover and hire additional caseworkers and support staff to deal fully and faster with the rapidly-increasing numbers of complaints and children in the system, to provide better investigations, follow-up, and support.

No statute is ever perfect, as legislation is a human approximation. I’ve got no problem with passing stuff now and revising it in the regular session. But there should be no argument that CPS is overwhelmed and underfunded, and the Legislature needs to start fixing those problems right now.

Some financial problems the Legislature has caused CPS would be funny if the results weren’t so tragic. The Legislature made a big deal of funding 104 new CPS positions during the 2002 fiscal year, but didn’t make those new slots part of the ongoing budget in the following years. CPS could hire new caseworkers and support staff for a few months, but afterwards these people were supposed to work for free.

The Legislature also considers funding for new equipment a one-time expenditure, so when setting the following year’s budget, deducts that money from the base -- except they backed out some CPS purchases twice.

The Legislature shouldn’t wait until January to fix its own mistakes.

Many financial problems facing CPS aren’t mistakes, but due to the Legislature’s unwillingness to acknowledge reality. Foster parents’ expenses keep rising, but reimbursement rates were last increased in 1996.

Caseloads are increasing rapidly (investigations increased 11.4 percent in 2002 and then another 6.7 percent in both 2003 and 2004, while the number of children in foster care has shot up 17.6 percent), but funding for caseworker positions hasn’t come close to keeping up.

Right now CPS investigates 86 percent of abuse and neglect reports, referring the remainder to Family Builders social workers (who cannot require cooperation). If the Legislature refuses to act this week, the percentage of reports CPS can investigate will drop to 74 percent.

Some 1,000 children need permanent guardianship, which is more cost-effective than temporary placements, but the Legislature only funded 300 slots -- leaving over 700 kids in the lurch. Help for parents wanting to adopt kids out of the CPS system hasn’t been funded fully, and the Legislature has consistently overestimated federal funds available, so some 600 kids stuck in foster care won’t get adopted and over 1,100 children in adoptive families will lose their services.

The Legislature shouldn’t wait until January to close the gap between their rhetoric and reality.

But the most compelling reason for the Legislature to act now is that their legislative leaders have had years to fix these problems, but they haven’t acted. Further delay only lets them continue to avoid their responsibility. Some so-called leaders remind me of Wimpy from Popeye: “I will gladly take responsibility Tuesday, for a hamburger of avoiding it today.”

Don’t let ‘em wait until Tuesday, or until January, which they hope means "never." The Legislature can act this week, and it must.

Monday, October 13, 2003


I went to the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Phoenix last Thursday with my wife and my daughter. Actually, the most striking moment of the entire debate for me was realizing that my daughter will vote in this election. She won't turn 18 until after the Arizona presidential preference election on Feb. 3, but she'll be able to vote in both the primary and general election in 2004. Anything any of the candidates said seemed pretty insignificant after that. Whoa.

The second most striking moment was during the "town hall" portion of the debate with the questions from supposedly ordinary undecided voters, when one said, "We all know that to be president you need intelligence and courage," at which I blurted out, "Not anymore."

Just remember--we Democrats aren't being negative. We're just reminding voters how Ronald Reagan framed the 1980 election: Are you better off today than four years ago? If so, vote for the incumbent. If not, vote him out. Foreign policy and defense were in that question in 1980, and they're in it again today. What--you think Reagan asked the wrong question?

Democratic (Yawn) Debate

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 12, 2003

As an uncommitted Democratic primary voter -- I supported Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who had quit three days earlier -- last Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate in Phoenix didn’t do what it was theoretically supposed to. It also solidified my belief that Democrats shouldn’t campaign as reporters and Republicans claim we should.

I can’t recall attending a political event as an uncommitted voter before. I watched the debate free to make an educated judgment, as many well-intentioned idealists say should happen. In some theoretically perfect universe other than ours, voters are supposed to read long (and inevitably boring) position papers and newspaper articles and watch debates like Thursday’s intently, withholding judgment until getting satisfactory answers on substance, policy, and character.

Bullflop. First, until some more candidates drop out of the race -- and the dynamics and calendar probably mean that nobody else must quit until after we start voting in Arizona -- a debate can’t distinguish among nine candidates (even once you realize Kucinich, Moseley Braun, and Sharpton aren’t in it to win, and that despite his greater ability to connect emotionally with voters, pressure will build on Edwards to turn his charm and political skill toward keeping his Senate seat). Dividing 90 minutes among nine candidates means there isn’t enough time for anybody to stand out, especially when the substantive disagreements are minor (and half the debate is vaporous questions from allegedly uncommitted voters).

This is not a bad thing. Until the nominee emerges in early March, the candidates must work on other aspects of their campaigns -- building their “back office” operations, creating effective volunteer organizations in the various primary states, making their Internet fundraising and campaigning effective -- than on having the best debating style and sound bites. The Democrats won’t be able to rely on weapon systems, but will have to fight this war with people, on the ground. That will be far more useful in November, 2004, particularly if after the nomination, a greater-than-usual percentage of these organizational assets unite in common cause against George W. Bush.

It also means that the Republicans can’t use their opposition efforts as effectively, because they can’t train their fire and spin on the presumptive nominee. The Democrats don’t have a clue yet who will be the nominee, so how could the Republicans? Effective negative advertising and spin needs to have a single target, not 9.

The other great “theme” of supposedly well-intentioned people -- continually expressed by people with absolutely zero interest in Democratic success -- is that the Democrats cannot succeed by just criticizing George Bush, but need to lay out a positive vision, alternative policies, and specifics. Also wrong.

First, the Democrats tried that in 2002. Consultants and commentators told candidates to “take the war off the table” and support the administration’s moves toward war in Iraq so that voters would focus instead on domestic issues where the parties disagreed, and where polls showed Democrats had an advantage. But that strategy failed; you can’t take that big an issue “off the table” and any time you spend explaining why you support the president can’t be spent attacking him. Sen. Mary Landrieu proved in Louisiana’s December, 2002 runoff election that if you’re the opposition party, you’re better off opposing.

But here’s the clincher. In California, the new Republican governor-elect spent his entire campaign attacking the unpopular incumbent and offering only the most general and contradictory platitudes, and certainly no specifics, about his policies. The 2004 campaign will be a similar referendum on Bush’s performance in office. The Democratic nominee should focus on the failures of the incumbent, just as Arnold Schwarzenegger did.

Arnold didn’t need no stinkin’ substance. Neither should the Democrats.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

It's a Battle of Wits with J.D. Hayworth!

I decided to take a swipe back at J.D. Hayworth for his column last Sunday in response to my Sept. 21 column. What's weird is that to my surprise, three separate people (all unknown to me) sent in and had lengthy letters to the editor published attacking J.D.'s reasoning about the "link" between Saddam and 9/11 this past week, so this column is a bit of piling on. But any day when you can make light of Hayworth and Marianne Jennings is a good day by my standards.

It's not a good headline, and entirely misses the 'wingers-attack-our-patriotism-because-they-can't-(or-won't)-argue-with-our-logic point, but such is life and/or editing.

BTW, Rep. Hayworth has taken down the Saddam-as-threat question from his website; you now can vote on driver's licenses for undocumented aliens. If you want to, go ahead here. It's certainly good public policy to screw up Internet polls, and anyway, as taxpayers, you're paying for it.

Don't forget to contribute to Catholic Social Services and/or Jewish Family & Children's Services; you can get the addresses in this entry (scroll down to just above Tribune headline).

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 5, 2003

I got under Rep. J.D. Hayworth’s smaller-but-still-commodious skin by noting that the very day he wrote claiming a connection between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11, President Bush finally said that there wasn’t a connection between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11.

Hayworth argues that he meant something entirely different than what President Bush or Time magazine in 2003 or I mean by “linking” Saddam to Sept. 11. It’s a very idiosyncratic definition -- like President Clinton’s personal definition of sex. I guess to Hayworth, it all depends on what the meaning of “link” is. (And don’t forget Clinton used fancy language to hide an affair; Hayworth is using slippery syntax to justify a war.)

Hayworth can’t “link” Saddam to Sept. 11 with actual evidence, or because the hijackers were Iraqis, or got assistance or direction from Saddam. Instead, it’s a “historical inevitability” argument, a series of less-than-ironclad assumptions that if Saddam hadn’t invaded Kuwait, then the U.S. wouldn’t have troops in Saudi Arabia, which wouldn’t have outraged Osama bin Laden, who wouldn’t have declared jihad against America.

This decade-long historical inevitability argument has two problems. First, why stop at 10 years? Saddam wouldn’t have invaded Kuwait if the U.S. hadn’t “tilted” toward Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, which followed the Iranian Revolution, which overthrew the Shah, who wouldn’t have ruled Iran if the CIA hadn’t overthrown Mossadegh in 1954. You can ride this so-called reasoning back to the British Protectorate or stop short when Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war -- there’s no clear finish line.

Second, we can test the logic of Hayworth’s argument today, and it flunks. We’ve liberated Iraq from Saddam and U.S. troops are leaving Saudi Arabia. Thus, both of the inevitable and inexorable preconditions to Sept. 11, in the Hayworthian view, no longer exist. So why isn’t the war on terrorism over?

Hayworth’s claims crumble upon inspection. Maybe another operation limited his ability to digest more than one thought at a time? Or maybe the point isn’t to find some “connection,” however remote, between Saddam and Sept. 11, but rather to wave the bloody flag, bully his opponents, and attack their patriotism.

I certainly enjoy a good political food fight, and weekly I experiment to see what jokes and japes our rather tolerant editor will allow in print. But I’m paired with Marianne Jennings, so it’s not like decorum and respect for one’s adversaries are core values of the Tribune Opinion pages. Still, I don’t accuse my opponents of hating America.

Unfortunately for all of us, Hayworth does. He’s not relying on evidence, or logic, but instead yells that anybody who disagrees with him is essentially a traitor. Of course we Americans must pay $10,000 per month for business school for dozens of Iraqis, or give them radios and satellite phones at $6,000 apiece, and anybody who questions how Hayworth wants to spend that money is a “Saddam-lover.” (At least the oft-criticized midnight basketball programs provided Americans with jobs.) It’s an emotional appeal, because Hayworth won’t justify this stuff rationally.

Actually, wouldn’t real America-haters support policies that would eliminate 3.3 million jobs; turn a huge surplus into trillion-dollar structural deficits; pin down virtually all remaining active U.S. forces in a difficult nation-building program; starve our infrastructure while building Iraq’s instead; push millions more Americans into poverty and out of health insurance; and shift tax burdens from those making more than $200,000 annually to those making less? And they’d do those things while attacking the patriotism of opponents pointing out those uncomfortable truths.

For a guy who loves to dish it out, Hayworth sure hates to take it. So why’d he need that operation?