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:: Monday, June 16 ::


That Other Blog is no more. As the That Other Blog souvenir t-shirt says, "Hours and hours of backbreaking HTML trial and error, and all I got was this stupid gray template," so it's time to move on up to the East Side of blogging: Moveable Type, a template with actual colors (created by someone other than me), and our very own domain.

From now on, I will be writing with Matt Singer and Ezra Klein over at Not Geniuses. Please update your bookmarks or links, and join us there.

:: posted by Joe at 09:56 ::
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:: Saturday, June 14 ::

Johnny Bardine is writing favorably about school vouchers on the heels of this Times article that summarizes the mostly inconclusive evidence on their usefulness. He cites this paragraph:

Today, two Harvard University professors, Paul E. Peterson and William G. Howell, whose multiyear study of the 1,300 New York students who transferred remains the largest randomized experiment to date on vouchers, issued a 38-page report defending their conclusion that African-American students who entered private schools scored significantly higher than their public school peers on standardized tests.
Peterson and Howell may be correct, but their conclusion doesn't address the systemic problems that blanket voucher availability may cause.

Surely a couple of kids pulled from the worst of the worst public schools and put into any halfway-decent private school will show signs of improvement. The proven reliability of that idea is why parents who can afford it already put their kids in private school. But what happens if, as logic would dictate if vouchers were available, every parent of a child in a below-average school pulled their son or daughter and sent him or her to a private school? I'm open to arguments for vouchers (the knee-jerk opposition to vouchers on most of the left can get pretty tiring), but there are some serious questions that need to be answered before vouchers make public policy sense.

It seems to me that the sudden introduction of vouchers for everyone could have at least two potential downsides:

(1) There may not be enough desks in private schools to accomodate a mass exodus. Private schools would need to raise tuition (and therefore the amount of tax dollars necessary to provide a voucher) for construction and the hiring of teachers to keep student/teacher ratio low and manage to do all of the things that makes their education "better". Thus, vouchers could wind up being more expensive per student than public schools, necessitating tax increases to pay for them.

Also worth considering is the worst case, in which the most dastardly of private schools might simply pocket the money, increase class size, and let the quality of education deteriorate to something barely different than the public schools students were escaping.

(2) While the test cases don't remove enough students from the public schools to really test this part of the pro-voucher case, most proponents of vouchers argue that public schools will improve with fewer students (smaller class sizes, etc.). But in the worst cases, far more than half of the students would likely opt out of their failing schools. There will be a point at which enough students -- 60%? 80%? -- leaving will deprive the public schools of the economies of scale necessary to keep schools rational on a per-pupil cost basis.

In that case we might find ourselves with empty public schools burning taxpayer dollars to stay open for only handful of students. Or worse, some districts may not be able to support any public schools at all, creating a de facto wholesale privatisation of education. While some in the privatize-everything crowd might be happy with that, it may wind up violating state constitutions which require public education, not an outsourced system that effectively mandates that protestant kids faithfully attend Catholic school because it happens to be the only school around.

Some other potential problems with vouchers would take more time to develop, and depend on the scope and nature of implementation. Shall vouchers be available only to the very poor? Does this discriminate against middle-income families that get by well enough but can't afford private school? Or, if private schools accept only the best students, is a primary school system segregated by standardized test scores fulfilling the goal of molding citizens through public education?

It's good news, if a bit of a yawn, that a couple of professors showed that a few of kids plucked from failing schools perform better when you stick them in good schools. But it seems that many of the crucial questions about vouchers have more to do with a large-scale program than the kind of experiment performed here.

:: posted by Joe at 19:41 ::
:: ::


Flipping around my 2 A.M. Swedish television dial I came across a program that makes me think that there may be a conscious programming effort to keep Swedes feeling good (or, at least not violently bad) about America. For the second time in three months they're broadcasting a two-part mini-series that captures the quintessence of American liberal consciousness (if you can stand the bad acting): NBC's made-for-TV movie "The 60's".

Despite the deeply cheesy cultural "moments" heavy-handedly scripted into the life of one Midwestern family, the series manages to be somewhat moving when it splices real footage of, say, Robert Kennedy's final, brief speech in California into the melodrama. Its overall message is to affirm the political and cultural progress of American society during that decade. Really, the plot boils down to a several hour long humiliation of the not-even-Republican father. Though it winds up rejecting the excesses of the far left, that message comes late. The series mostly glorifies everything not conservative, and Swedes eat that leftist rah-rah shit right up.

So, readers in America, I recommend the series (which comes on VH1 every now and then) for all of you who have liberal leanings. Non-liberal readers may also be interested if they, like me, are inexplicably attracted to the objectively-ugly Julia Stiles, who plays the daughter.

:: posted by Joe at 18:15 ::
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:: Friday, June 13 ::

Jennifer Senior has a very well-written cover story in the tomorrow's New York Times Magazine for anyone interested in New York politics over the last decade, the plight of the placating centrist, or the prospects of a moderate Republican on the national stage.

I haven't read anything by Senior before, but this piece has several wondering-who-wrote-this moments that will make you check the byline enough times to remember her name.

:: posted by Joe at 19:19 ::
:: ::


:: Thursday, June 12 ::

Matt Singer is writing about it, Kos is raising money for it, and now I'm going to tell you why I'm not giving to the DNC's new ePatriot program anytime soon. What follows is an amalgam of various comments and emails I have been writing on this.

Is there a compelling argument for me to give any part of my limited political donation budget to the DNC and not to Howard Dean? If my guy gets knocked out, it would make sense. But why on earth would I give to a general election fund now? Seeing as Dean's is a shoestring campaign and he is by no means assured of the nomination, why should I be giving elsewhere?

At this point in the process, it is about choosing who you want to be president, and getting him or her the resources to get their message out. Later, after the nomination is settled, it will be about getting rid of Bush and throwing money at the effort against him without regard to the candidate we put up.

Giving your presidential campaign donations to anyone but your preferred candidate at this point in the cycle only reinforces the position of those in the money lead. It siphons off presidential campaign funds and makes the $7 million of folks like John Kerry and John Edwards that much more difficult to overcome. Of course, the exception would be if you have given the $2000 maximum to your candidate. I'm nowhere near there, and I'm guessing most of the bloggers and netroots-types getting these solicitations aren't either.

Donating to the ePatriots program doesn't help get Howard Dean any closer to being president, and that's what I want. If Democrats wind up nominating Joe Lieberman, I'll still probably vote for him, but I will be significantly less motivated and enthusiastic about it. Sending money anywhere other than to Howard Dean makes that distinctly more likely.

My political passion these days is about Howard Dean's positive vision for this country. That's what I'm giving money to support. The ePatriots campaign is more about an anybody-but-Bush feeling. I am definitely sympathetic -- but that's a movement of last resort.

:: posted by Joe at 05:37 ::
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:: Wednesday, June 11 ::

Bravenet informs me that this site received its 10,000th visitor today.

The pressing question is, of course: Why is world media domination taking so damn long? (Tentative answer: posts like the one immediately below.)

:: posted by Joe at 13:13 ::
:: ::


:: Tuesday, June 10 ::

The usual BBC overnight anchor (for Central Europe) is wearing some extra make-up tonight. She's super-cute. And even more articulate than usual. I'm very drunk and need to squint to confirm all this, but I assure you that it is true.

:: posted by Joe at 18:15 ::
:: ::


:: Sunday, June 8 ::

Rick Hertzberg doggedly refuses to take any time off from being the best political essayist writing today with this amazing piece in the New Yorker juxtaposing the rebuilding of Baghdad and efforts at "national building" right here at home.

:: posted by Joe at 23:42 ::
:: ::


Candace of Five Corners has decided to break out of the draconian 400 character limit and continue on her blog a discussion of tax policy that has been going on in comments on several posts over at Johnny's Truth is a Blog.

Rather than spill more digital ink explaining myself in a language that apparently doesn't translate into Republican, I will use this space to quote at length Peter G. Peterson -- Republican, former Nixon cabinet member, and present chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York -- whose piece in the Times Magazine today is freakishly on point:
I have belonged to the Republican Party all my life. As a Republican, I have served as a cabinet member (once), a presidential commission member (three times), an all-purpose political ombudsman (many times) and a relentless crusader whom some would call a crank (throughout). Among the bedrock principles that the Republican Party has stood for since its origins in the 1850's is the principle of fiscal stewardship -- the idea that government should invest in posterity and safeguard future generations from unsustainable liabilities. It is a priority that has always attracted me to the party. At various times in our history (especially after wars), Republican leaders have honored this principle by advocating and legislating painful budgetary retrenchment, including both spending cuts and tax hikes.

Over the last quarter century, however, the Grand Old Party has abandoned these original convictions. Without ever renouncing stewardship itself -- indeed, while talking incessantly about legacies, endowments, family values and leaving ''no child behind'' -- the G.O.P. leadership has by degrees come to embrace the very different notion that deficit spending is a sort of fiscal wonder drug. Like taking aspirin, you should do it regularly just to stay healthy and do lots of it whenever you're feeling out of sorts.

With the arrival of Ronald Reagan in the White House, this idea was first introduced as part of an extraordinary ''supply-side revolution'' in fiscal policy, needed (so the thinking ran) as a one-time fix for an economy gripped by stagflation. To those who worried about more debt, they said, Relax, it won't happen -- we'll ''grow out of it.'' Over the course of the 1980's, under the influence of this revolution, what grew most was federal debt, from 26 to 42 percent of G.D.P. During the next decade, Republican leaders became less conditional in their advocacy. Since 2001, the fiscal strategizing of the party has ascended to a new level of fiscal irresponsibility. For the first time ever, a Republican leadership in complete control of our national government is advocating a huge and virtually endless policy of debt creation.

The numbers are simply breathtaking. When President George W. Bush entered office, the 10-year budget balance was officially projected to be a surplus of $5.6 trillion -- a vast boon to future generations that Republican leaders ''firmly promised'' would be committed to their benefit by, for example, prefinancing the future cost of Social Security. Those promises were quickly forgotten. A large tax cut and continued spending growth, combined with a recession, the shock of 9/11 and the bursting of the stock-market bubble, pulled that surplus down to a mere $1 trillion by the end of 2002. Unfazed by this turnaround, the Bush administration proposed a second tax-cut package in 2003 in the face of huge new fiscal demands, including a war in Iraq and an urgent ''homeland security'' agenda. By midyear, prudent forecasters pegged the 10-year fiscal projection at a deficit of well over $4 trillion.

So there you have it: in just two years there was a $10 trillion swing in the deficit outlook. Coming into power, the Republican leaders faced a choice between tax cuts and providing genuine financing for the future of Social Security. (What a landmark reform this would have been!) They chose tax cuts. After 9/11, they faced a choice between tax cuts and getting serious about the extensive measures needed to protect this nation against further terrorist attacks. They chose tax cuts. After war broke out in the Mideast, they faced a choice between tax cuts and galvanizing the nation behind a policy of future-oriented burden sharing. Again and again, they chose tax cuts.

The recent $10 trillion deficit swing is the largest in American history other than during years of total war. With total war, of course, you have the excuse that you expect the emergency to be over soon, and thus you'll be able to pay back the new debt during subsequent years of peace and prosperity. Yet few believe that the major drivers of today's deficit projections, not even the war on terror, are similarly short-term. Indeed, the biggest single driver of the projections, the growing cost of senior entitlements, are certain to become much worse just beyond the 10-year horizon when the huge baby-boom generation starts retiring in earnest. By the time the boomer age wave peaks, workers will have to pay the equivalent of 25 to 33 percent of their payroll in Social Security and Medicare before they retire just to keep those programs solvent.

Two facts left unmentioned in the deficit numbers cited above will help put the cost of the boomer retirement into focus. First, the deficit projections would be much larger if we took away the ''trust-fund surplus'' we are supposed to be dedicating to the future of Social Security and Medicare; and second, the size of this trust fund, even if we were really accumulating it -- which we are not -- is dwarfed by the $25 trillion in total unfinanced liabilities still hanging over both programs.

A longer time horizon does not justify near-term deficits. If anything, the longer-term demographics are an argument for sizable near-term surpluses. As Milton Friedman once put it, if you cut taxes without cutting spending, you aren't really reducing the tax burden at all. In fact, you're just pushing it off yourself and onto your kids.

You might suppose that a reasoned debate over this deficit-happy policy would at least be admissible within the ''discussion tent'' of the Republican Party. Apparently, it is not. I've seen Republicans get blackballed for merely observing that national investment is limited by national savings; that large deficits typically reduce national savings; or that higher deficits eventually trigger higher interest rates. I've seen others get pilloried for picking on the wrong constituency -- for suggesting, say, that a tax loophole for a corporation or wealthy retiree is no better, ethically or economically, than a dubious welfare program.

For some ''supply side'' Republicans, the pursuit of lower taxes has evolved into a religion, indeed a tax-cut theology that simply discards any objective evidence that violates the tenets of the faith.

So long as taxes are cut, even dissimulation is allowable. A new Republican fad is to propose that tax cuts be officially ''sunsetted'' in 2 or 5 or 10 years in order to minimize the projected revenue loss -- and then to go out and tell supporters that, of course, the sunset is not to be taken seriously and that rescinding such tax cuts is politically unlikely. Among themselves, in other words, the loudly whispered message is that a setting sun always rises.

What's remarkable is how so many elected Republicans go along with the charade. The same Republican senators who overwhelmingly approved (without a single nay vote) the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to crack down on shady corporate accounting of investments worth millions of dollars see little wrong with turning around and making utterly fraudulent pronouncements about tax cuts that will cost billions or, indeed, even trillions of dollars.

For some Republicans, all this tax-cutting talk is a mere tactic. I know several brilliant and partisan Republicans who admit to me, in private, that much of what they say about taxes is of course not really true. But, they say, it's the only way to reduce government spending: chop revenue and trust that the Democrats, like Solomon, will agree to cut spending rather than punish our children by smothering them with debt.

This clever apologia would be more believable if Republicans -- in all matters other than cutting the aggregate tax burden -- were to speak loudly and act decisively in favor of deficit reductions. But it's hard to find the small-government argument persuasive when, on the spending front, the Republican leaders do nothing to reform entitlements, allow debt-service costs to rise along with the debt and urge greater spending on defense -- and when these three functions make up over four-fifths of all federal outlays.
That's about the long and short of what Johnny and I are saying -- that this tax cut is not only bad policy but that the effort to sell it has been cynically, purposefully dishonest.

UPDATE: Candace replies, asserting that:
Remember that with Reagan's cuts, the actual revenue for the government increased? Thus, the tax cuts can not be responsible for the increase in the deficit. [Emphasis hers]
That's demonstrably false. Virtually all serious economists (including those quoted her beloved Economist newspaper) agree that these tax cuts will have a huge cost when implemented. Presuming that we will eventually have to balance the budget with these tax cuts on the books, the Economist reports that:
According to Peter Orszag of the Brookings Institution, if all this year's tax cuts go into effect, they will be the equivalent of 2.4% of GDP in 2013. To find that amount from discretionary spending, you would have to cut it by two-thirds -- an impossible task seeing so much of it goes on policing and homeland security. [31 May 2003, p. 44 of the European print edition; I can't find it online]
She grounds her "can not" conclusion in the supposed increase in revenues after the Reagan tax cut, but doesn't account for the fact that after Reagan's tax cuts record deficits immediately ensued and continued into the 1990s (or the fact that Reagan actually repealed many of his initial cuts in the face of potentially even huger deficits and ambitious military spending plans).

A few conservative economists and many more conservative politicians claim to believe that cutting taxes eventually increases revenue in the long-term -- what the current president's father called "voodoo economics" -- but even these folks admit that the price of a tax cut will be short- and medium-term deficits in the absence of a willingness to offset the tax cuts by cutting spending. President Bush has increased discretionary spending in each of his budgets. Thus, this tax cut will make the already record-setting deficit even worse.

Candace also writes that:
The tax cuts may not be the wisest fiscal policy, but Bush et al firmly believe they will contribute to economic recovery and provide relief for those who need it. Convictions, not dishonesty, are what drive this president's agenda, and an argument that his convictions are misplaced will be much more accurate and go much further with me ....
The first problem is that this conclusion ignores the reporting by Mr. Peterson, above, that there are "several brilliant and partisan Republicans who admit to me, in private, that much of what they say about taxes is of course not really true."

The second, more complicated problem with this kind of thinking is that it relies on little more than a "feeling" about the president. Is a blanket trust in a given president's virtuous motives (as opposed to, say, electoral/political motives) any better than a blanket cynicism that a given president can never be virtuous or tell the truth? The former tends to afflict the the most partisan members of the president's side (Gephardt/Begala for Clinton, DeLay/Hannity for the younger Bush). The latter manifested itself in the near-constant investigations of the Clintons and can be seen today in the pages of the Nation and around the lefty blogosphere.

Neither is especially useful or convincing in policy discussions. Whether positive or negative in nature, an overarching feeling -- that we "should know this president better than that by now" -- can get in the way of evidence. Especially in the case outlined here, but also more generally, it doesn't seem controversial to suggest that a politician's actions and words (or the dissonance between them) would be grounded in purely political motives.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Candace didn't like the ellipses used in the reproduction of her argument above, so they've been removed and replaced; the substance of both her point and my response remains, I think, the same.

She counters the update above with a long analogy to a CEO who sets her own income. At one point the word "debt" finds its way into what I thought was a point about deficits:
Joe, your counter-argument has ignored my basic idea - the percentage decrease is not in and of itself responsible for the increase in debt, whether personal or national. If spending is unrestrained, government has a responsibility to restrain it.
A "deficit" is the difference between revenue and expenditure when that latter is higher (when revenue exceeds expenditure, of course, you have a surplus). Deficits are measured every budget cycle; thus, you could have one year (2000) where there is no deficit and another shortly after (2003) where there is a huge one. Underlying causes may stay the same from year to year, but each year we must sit down and figure out what the number for that year will be.

"Debt" accumulates. It is carried from year to year in the same sense that your credit card debt carries from month to month if you don't pay it off. When we talk about debt, we don't talk about individual years. We talk about the cumulative sum of debt (usually as a percentage of GDP).

Candace says that if "spending is unrestrained, government has a responsibility to restrain it." That's true. When you cut taxes without reducing spending, it immediately increases both the deficit (presuming the tax cut isn't the giveaway of a budget surplus) and the debt (because you have to borrow to send the checks out to people and cover lost revenue). President Bush fails (intentionally, I would argue) to mention this when he sells his tax cuts. He has refused to reduce spending -- he has actually increased it.

Even if you believe that the Bush tax cuts will stimulate the economy (most economists don't) you have to concede that the time frame for that stimulus to produce increased government revenue is in the 10-15 year range. That is the amount of time it would take for capital to be invested and create wealth that would generate taxes. (Most economists agree that a better idea for a stimulative tax cut would a payroll tax holiday, which would boost consumer spending.)

So, keeping in mind that the tax cuts will decrease revenue in the short- and medium-term and that we have to measure our deficits yearly, a tax cut without spending reductions -- i.e. the one we're talking about -- will absolutely increase the deficit. Also, given that debt starts accumulating immediately because we must borrow even more to cover the lost revenue and remembering that the servicing of hat debt will begin right away, this tax cut will increase the national debt.

The only way around these facts is a time machine. We would have to hop in and fast-forward to the moment at which the tax cuts eventually "trickled down" to affect the economy and generate tax revenue. Once we got there, though, we might find that by that time the question is moot because international investors have fled and withdrawn their capital from an economy spinning out of control due to a reckless fiscal policy. Or, perhaps worse, we would find a nation that had fallen (even further) behind the rest of the developed world in education, health and life expectancy, experiencing a resurgence of poverty owing to the massive rollback of spending necessary to address the fiscal crisis created by that Trojan Horse tax cut way back when.

THE CASCADE OF UPDATES CONTINUES: ... In order to point out a very good post by Matt Yglesias describing where the tax burden goes when you cu taxes without cutting spending.

:: posted by Joe at 12:40 ::
:: ::


:: Friday, June 6 ::

For the record, I am so supremely convinced that what the Russian government has been doing in Chechnya is wrong and counter-productive that this short post about it won't contain any links to documentation of the gross human rights violations by Moscow or to statements by Russian authorities that demonstrate the deep, deep dangers of giving all our "allies" in the "War on Terror" a free pass to do anything they deem necessary to defeat anything that they decide to label "terrorism."

To be sure, there are terrorists in Chechnya. But if there is anything that is obvious in the post-September 11 fight against terrorism, it is that nation-states cannot stoop to terrorist tactics or punish entire populations in place of extremists among them. This type of policy has failed for Israel and it has failed for Russia.

All of this is by way of the fact that tonight Discovery Europe aired a documentary, The Moscow Siege, about the hostage-taking in a downtown Moscow theatre by Chechen terrorists this past October. Whatever you've heard and whatever you think about what happened -- it's worse. Well over a hundred hostages were killed by nerve gas used by the Russian authorities and the "rescue operation" after the military strike consisted most notably of throwing dead and dying hostages into piles just outside the theatre's foyer.

European readers should be able to catch replays of the film in coming weeks, but I have an icky inkling that most American readers will not have the opportunity since most mainstream Russia-related news tends to concern the personal relationship between presidents Bush and Putin. Those willing to entertain the notion that all may not be well can check out regional news at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty for the below-mainstream-American-media-radar events of serious consequence to both Chechen and Russian people caught between two groups of terrorists -- one of the more conventional guerilla type, the other operating out of Putin's Kremlin.

:: posted by Joe at 14:00 ::
:: ::


:: Thursday, June 5 ::

So I started writing a post about Howard Dean's new Moveable Type blog under the impression that I was breaking the news, but a cursory Technorati search reveals that Taegan Goddard's Political Wire broke the story a whopping three days ago.

While there aren't any posts up, Mathew Gross and the Dean team seem to have completely their 'About' section, which is more than can be said about some other impending moves to Moveable Type (stay tuned -- I have a meeting about it tonight). Howard Dean has already won the Best Blog presidential primary, but it's good to see the campaign doing more.

One note: it seems that you can access the new blog both at this address and at this other one, which is on the Dean for America server. It seems to me that an address like deanforum.com is likely to get lost in the shuffle of Dean blogs and Dean forums. The second address, blog.deanforamerica.com, would probably be more indicative to visitors that yes, they are indeed at Howard Dean's official campaign blog.

:: posted by Joe at 06:39 ::
:: ::


Johnny Bardine, sporting a brand new and suspiciously familiar template, is back over at Truth is a Blog after a brief stint here while he sorted through his template mess. His widely-linked post on Howard Dean's appeal to libertarians is a great read and brought some much-lacking class to this operation. We're sad to see him go.

I'll get back to our famously antagonistic blog dialog by noting that he makes a rather dreadful contribution today to the campaign finance reform debate that's been bouncing around here and there.

I have extensive commentary on Johnny's proposals, but opted for the marathon-comments-thread-tirade mode of exposition rather than go into it here. The count presently stands at seventeen comments because while Johnny favors no limits on campaign contributions, by not paying the ten bucks to upgrade he insists on a four-hundred-character limit in blog comments.

:: posted by Joe at 06:08 ::
:: ::


Greg Greene of the very smart Green[e]house Effect notes in comments on my campaign finance proposal that he has some ideas of his own. He takes the unusual position -- given that almost everyone (even Johnny) agrees that reporting requirements about who's giving to whom are a good thing -- that we actually have too much information about political donations. He digs deep into his archives to pull out this idea:
Thanks to the advent of the secret ballot in the 19th century, the hardy old tradition of vote buying died out, while people went on casting their votes in peace. Speech wasn't abolished, of course -- people still voted. But pulling a curtain over that speech restored an integrity to the political process that vote-buying wiped away.

In short, we can snuff out the flow of information about voting to stop vote-buying -- and we've been doing it for years. So what, pray tell, would be odd about snuffing out information about giving to stop politician-buying? The ideas sound like long-lost twins to me.

Without further ado, then, let me introduce the donation booth. Stride in and give all the money you please, but remember the catch: nobody but you gets to know about it. Your cash goes into a blind trust, the candidate gets it with no names attached, and all the backslapping in the world won't prove whether you gave your senator $10,000 or a dime.

As for money, forget limits: let a thousand flowers bloom. (Pat yourself on the back, Mr. Sabato; I've come around to your point of view on this one.) Let the big checks fly, hombres -- just remember: no names attached. You can bankroll all the democracy you want, mind you, but you can't buy your congressman.
There are a couple of problems with this. The first is that Larry Sabato -- while very smart -- tends to be unbearably pompous, is somewhat of a GOP hack, and has a terrible mustache that makes him look like way much more of an idiot than he actually is.

But Greg's idea has some problems with it, too. The reason the 'donation booth' won't work is that donations are fundamentally different than votes in some crucial ways.

The first and most important is that votes are democratic -- donations are not. Voting booths make private the sacred act of the citizen. The vote is the great equalizer in a society. One of the important things to remember when discussing campaign finance is that votes and donations are not equally protected either by democratic theory or by law.

Second, the secret ballot was desirable because it prevented a negative effect on the individual voter -- that is, it stopped the parties or local officials from dishing out reprisals for voting "the wrong way." It was in the individual voter's interests to shut up about who he voted for if he could somehow vote in private.

Secret donations are different because they seek to do the opposite -- that is, prevent a positive consequence (influence, access) for the individual contributor. Barring some draconian laws on speech, there would be nothing to prevent people from saying, "I gave $50,000 to George Bush today," and from his campaign trust-watcher to note that the fund went up $50,000. Or what about a black-tie gala with 100 contributors at which everyone together, at their tables, writes their six-figure checks? Or how do you prevent the donor from sending the Bush staff his cancelled check in the mail? Or from faxing them his credit card statement?

Presuming that donors and campaigns would find some way to communicate with each other, the public would be the only one left in the dark -- and that would be a step backward from present reporting requirements.

The secrecy plan only works if the people you're seeking to protect actually want to be protected. In the same sense that the secret ballot doesn't prevent a voter from walking out of their elementary school gymnasium and telling an exit pollster who they voter for, secret donations would only be truly secret insofar as donors saw it as being in their interest that they remain so.

Most probably won't. And the few that do would be the ones who don't need to buy influence -- think Richard Mellon Scaife -- and so would be content to use Greg's repeal of contribution limits to drop a seven-figure sum in a candidate's lap for purely ideological or personal reasons.

:: posted by Joe at 05:50 ::
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:: Wednesday, June 4 ::

One could be forgiven for wondering whether there has been any campaign finance reform in America. Despite the passage of something called McCain-Feingold (which bore little resemblance to the far more ambitious bill of the same name which was introduced in the mid-1990's), the president is still planning to raise $200 million for his re-election campaign and law firms are sending bricks of checks from their employees to trial lawyer and presidential candidate John Edwards.

Matt Singer tackles the problem of money in politics with a proposal to tax political expenditures:
Couldn't we have expenditure taxes on political campaigns (this could possibly even be done by states to apply to federal campaigns, since they are entities operating in the state). For different kinds of committees, have different exemption levels. Expenditures beyond that exemption get taxed at a 25% rate. It would be a pretty powerful disincentive, while also raising money for the state. [...]

You aren't limiting speech. You're taxing it. And if money is speech, speech gets taxed (even double-taxed) all the time.
It's an interesting idea, but it seems to me that this idea will put politicians under even more pressure to raise money to make up the difference between what they would have been spending anyway and the new, higher amount they'll have to dish out in order to do it.

Let me say before I lay out this proposal: I don't think that money is speech. If money is speech then wealth is speech, and the vastly unequal distribution of wealth in the United States means that the "public square" is inhabited by those with megaphones and those with duct tape over their mouth. That doesn't sound very democratic to me. In a political system where giving money buys access for donors and having it means credibility for candidates, "free speech" is a joke -- speech is expensive, and every election cycle the price gets more unaffordable for the vast majority of Americans.

For whatever reason, legions of shortsighted opinion-makers and Supreme Court justices disagree with me. Well, they're wrong. But, fortunately, the campaign finance reform ideas that I favor dodge the question of whether money equals speech. Neither of these two points are original, so far as I know, and both build on rules already in place. Implemented together, they would mark a huge improvement in our campaign finance system.

Critical Mass Contribution Limits: We already limit individual contributions. For some reason Congress thought that your previous limit of $2,000 to a candidate ($1,000 for the primary and another grand for the general) was too low; they doubled those limits when they passed McCain-Feingold. Now special interests and assorted other influence-peddling fundraiser-types can wield twice as much influence during the ever-increasing amount of our public servants' time they command. This is a select group; only a fraction of one percent of Americans ever hit the contribution ceiling.

If money is speech, let's level the playing field. Set the contribution limit to something normal people can afford and would be willing to give -- say, twenty-five dollars ($12.50 for the primary, same again for the general). When some percentage of registered voters -- twenty? thirty? -- have hit the ceiling in a given two-year cycle, the limit doubles. This will dilute the influence of money in politics and democratize the donor base.

Public Good Airtime Requirements: The FCC has completely abdicated enforcement of the requirement that broadcasters dedicate some time to pursuing the public good. The above proposal for contribution limits would severely limit the amount of money campaigns have to spend. To compensate, a requirement that candidates for office be given blocks of airtime for free would eliminate their biggest expense. The free time would be a combination of Ross Perot-style blocks and the rotation of thirty-second ads at certain times.

The specifics aside, it seems to me that these two principles are the best starting point -- short of complete public financing -- for getting big money out of politics and letting politicians, who now spend countless hours dialing for dollars, get off the phone and back to a more egalitarian sort of pandering -- and perhaps even the occasional bit of responsible governing.

:: posted by Joe at 15:04 ::
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:: Tuesday, June 3 ::

Girl bloggers are rare, and thus deserve special mention. Yet these two females merit attention regardless of their gender. Both are witty (brutal, when need be) and, consequently, are must-reads for all That Other Blog visitors. You'll find both number-named blogs at the very top of the blogroll to the right.

Two Abes is the brand new blog of long-time friend Kara "I'm Not Sure She Wants Me To Reveal Her Name Is" Murray. She is part of the we-know-eachother-in-real-life blog solar system that includes myself, one Johnny Bardine, and Ms. (not Mr.) Jaime Mulligan. Kara is super-smart (one might even go with scary-smart) and doesn't mince words. In addition to the many benefits to her readers, her blog will hopefully pre-empt the many emailed articles with exceptionally pithy commentary that fill my inbox. The result should be fantastic.

Five Corners is the enthralling blog of a girl named Candace who was, until recently, twenty years old, but apparently now wishes a greater degree of anonymity. Thus, Candace may be fifty; I don't know. Perhaps she'd prefer I not elaborate further. Just go read her; she's brilliant.

:: posted by Joe at 21:15 ::
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Readers may or may not be interested to note that the first tear I ever shed over a contemporaneous (read: non-Kennedy brother) political death was over Paul Wellstone. I don't consider myself especially liberal, and I flatly disagreed with the late Senator Wellstone on trade (to name but one issue). But, as a C-SPAN2 junkie, I admired his principles and his untiring struggle to do what he thought was right.

I'm a rather freshly minted twenty-two years old. Never one with much cash on hand, a political donation is low on my list of necessary expenditures. Still, before I gave to Howard Dean a few months ago, I had given two donations to political figures. One was to Sen. John McCain during his presidential campaign. The other was to Paul Wellstone, shortly before he died.

As a result of my contribution I am on a mailing list which has notified me that the Wellstone legacy of compassion and activism lives on at Wellstone.org. Paul's two surviving sons (his wife and daughter, among others, died with him in a plane crash) have set a goal of "nothing less than to jump-start a new generation of professional organizers and grassroots leaders who will run for office themselves." They have founded a camp for political activists that will pass on the lessons of the Wellstone campaigns.

Those who dismiss or otherwise don't mourn the death -- I honestly have a lump in my throat as I type his -- of Paul Wellstone would do well to examine the Wellstone Archive at Cursor for some thoughts on his life and the hole in our society left by his passing.

:: posted by Joe at 20:01 ::
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:: Monday, June 2 ::

I am, if you'll indulge my profanity, fucking sick of these people who play the know-it-all martyr by saying that they prefer one candidate but have concluded that only such and such other candidate is electable.

The best test of whether a candidate will inspire actual people is for them to actually inspire you. And anyway, isn't a nine-person field eight months before the first vote is cast the one time, if there ever is one, to go with the guy you actually prefer?

:: posted by Joe at 22:23 ::
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Ikram Saeed, of Path of the Paddle, in comments on a post over at Yglesias about how Howard Dean's height could hurt him:
He's short (which is bad), but he looks strong, with a thick neck. Almost blue-collar. It looks like if he punched you, it would hurt. That is a good image.
For those of you scoring at home, note for the record neither being short nor being a guy will get you anywhere with Matthew.

Runner-up for quote of the day goes to Calvin in the same comments thread:
I read Yglesias get catty about how Dean didn't have a fleshed-out health-care plan a few weeks ago before Dean rolled out his plan. I don't recall reading anything substantive on the site about Dean's plan after it came out. Why not?
I seem to recall some mention of the plan when it was released, but Calvin gets the gist of it about right. The complaints about Dean's lack of a fleshed-out plan (he was the second, rather than the first, of nine candidates to release one) surely outnumber commentary and analysis on the plan by a ratio of at least three posts to one. (Precise numbers elude me since most of the relevant posts seem to be 404'ed.)

And now, given this latest post, discussion of Dean's height would appear to be in a dead heat with post-release discussion of his health care plan. As the second runner-up for comment of the day -- me -- asked in the same thread as the other two honorees:
Is this really the state of the "Dean is unelectable" meme these days?
If it is, that bodes well for the governor.

:: posted by Joe at 13:43 ::
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:: Sunday, June 1 ::

Why is That Other Blog getting hits like this one?
Domain Name: Level3.net ? (Network)
IP Address: 67.26.119.# (ARIN)

Language Setting: English
Operating System: Microsoft WinXP
Browser: Internet Explorer 6.0 Mozilla/4.0

Time of Visit: Jun 01 2003 7:49:21 pm
Page Views: 1

Referring URL: google.com
Search Engine: Google
Search Words: ariel sharon nude

Time Zone: UTC-5:00 EST - Eastern Standard
Visitor's Time: Jun 01 2003 1:49:21 pm
Answer: Because of this post which, it should be said, generated far less response than I had hoped.

And by "response" I mean discussion, not hits from a person -- who I hope is, at least, female -- searching for nude photos of the septuagenarian Israeli Prime Minister.

:: posted by Joe at 18:33 ::
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:: Saturday, May 31 ::

So I'm poking around the Open Secrets database of political donations, as is my right as a citizen of the democratic wonderland where wealth equals speech equals political contributions equals access for the wealthy, and I come across the following:
Contributor: REED, BRUCE N, WASHINGTON, DC 20008
Contribution Date: 1/23/2002
Amount: $500
Recipient: Bowles, Erskine B

Contributor: REED, BRUCE N, WASHINGTON, DC 20008
Contribution Date: 8/7/2002
Amount: $500
Recipient: Bowles, Erskine B

Contributor: REED, BRUCE N, WASHINGTON, DC 20008
Contribution Date: 10/20/2002
Amount: $500
Recipient: Bowles, Erskine B
Seems to me that totals $1,500. I know that the present limit for individuals is $2,000 -- but that is a result of the McCain-Feingold law which came into effect last November, after the election (in which Mr. Reed's candidate, former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, was one of many Democrats who were defeated during what has become known as the Centrist Slaughter).

Was it possible under the old laws to contribute the $1,000 limit to a Senate candidate for the primary campaign and then give another thousand for the general election? Or is this something else? The DLC has been pretty sinister lately. Can someone explain what's going on here?

:: posted by Joe at 20:39 ::
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