Alex's Outlook

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Dirty Harry in Terminator's Sights

The beginning of the Schwarzenegger administration in California has been overshadowed by things like Bush's Baghdad Thanksgiving and the Medicare debate.

The good news is that, generally speaking, Schwarzenegger has been a home run for conservatives. The day he was sworn in, he repealed the Davis car tax. He has proposed a package of state reforms that caps state spending, ends the illegal-aliens drivers' licenses fiasco, and reforms workers' comp.

Recently, however, Schwarzenegger has turned a tad vindictive. He has drawn up a hit list of 10,000 state employees and officials to be removed from office as part of house-cleaning in Sacramento, and Clint Eastwood, a Republican who is a state forest commissioner, is on that list, apparently because he came out against the recall and offered Gray Davis an ad saying as much. Granted, Eastwood's offer was stupid, but he is so unimportant that it only shows Arnie to be vindictive. Besides, Eastwood apparently did pretty well at his job. It will only reflect badly on Schwarzenegger.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Republican Dominance

While I can certainly sympathize with conservatives who are peeved by the $296 billion growth in spending during Bush's first three years, I am not unduly perturbed by it. As neocon David Brooks explains,
From now on, as Tony Blankley observed in The Washington Times, if you work at an interest group and you want to know what's going on with your legislation, you have to go to the Republicans. The Democrats don't even know the state of play.

If you are the AARP, seeking a benefit, you have to go to the Republicans. If you are a centrist Democrat like John Breaux or Max Baucus seeking to pass legislation, you have to work with the Republicans.

Under the leadership of Bush, Frist, Hastert and DeLay, the Republicans have built a fully mature establishment of activist groups, think tanks and lobbyists, which is amazingly aloof from the older Washington establishment (not to mention the media establishment). Republicans now speak in that calm, and to their opponents infuriating, manner of those who believe they were born to rule.

The Democrats, meanwhile, behave just as the Republicans did when they were stuck in the minority. They complain about their outrageous mistreatment by the majority. They are right to complain. The treatment is outrageous. But the complaints only communicate weakness.

Democrats indulge in the joys of opposition. They get to sputter about fiscal irresponsibility, just as the green-eyeshade Republicans used to, as the majority party uses the power of the purse to buy votes. They get to make wild charges. They get to propose solutions that ignore inconvenient realities. They never have to betray their principles to get something done, and so they savor their own righteousness.

Minority parties are pure but defeated; governing parties are impure but victorious. The Republicans are now in the habit of winning, and are on permanent offense on all fronts. They offer tax cuts to stimulate the economy and please business. They nominate conservative judges to advance conservative social reform and satisfy religious conservatives. They fight a war on terror. They have even come to occupy the Democratic holy of the holies, the welfare state. In exchange for massive new spending, they demand competitive reforms.

"Competitive reforms" is a little bit of a stretch. In return for about $2 trillion in spending over the next twenty years, conservatives got a tax shelter (health savings accounts) and the promise of a competitive "pilot program" in six metro areas starting in 2010. Some conservatives were infuriated by that; but I do think that the Republicans threaded the needle as much as possible between the more conservative House and the liberal-leaning Senate when they passed the bill. The end result was the most conservative bill that Congress could have passed, and Bush deserves some credit for that. If he had done the same thing with the farm bill, fiscal conservatives would be a lot less angry at him. At least the GOP can go back and "reform" the just-passed Medicare "reform" after the 2004 elections, since none of the bill's provisions are activated until 2006.

Anyway, it's not as if this alliance of Big Government and Big Business can last forever. The deficit is becoming a major issue in and of itself. If Bush is serious about reforming Social Security, he will have to borrow a lot of money, but the current deficit doesn't leave much room for that. Once the Republicans pad their majorities in 2004, they will have no choice but to cut government spending.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

GWB Plays Theologian, Sticks Foot in Mouth

At a news conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair in England on Thursday, a reporter noted that Bush has often said that freedom is a gift from "the Almighty" but questioned whether Bush believes that "Muslims worship the same Almighty" that he does.

"I do say that freedom is the Almighty's gift to every person," the president replied. "I also condition it by saying freedom is not America's gift to the world. It's much greater than that, of course. And I believe we worship the same god."

I am sure GWB is desperately pandering to the Moslem vote which voted for him overwhelmingly in 2000 has only the best intentions at heart. Unfortunately, his attempts to blur the differences between Islam and Judeo-Christianity are downright dangerous.

Jesus Christ and Mohammed were polar opposites in lifestyle and philosophy. (Some might say that it's unfair to compare Jesus, a god to his followers, with Mohammed, who was just a prophet. But since Mohammed was the "perfect Moslem," he is the great example that Moslems aspire to emulate. As a role-model he is the same to Moslems as Jesus is to Christians.) Jesus preached nonviolence even when faced with his own crucifixion; Mohammed led or participated in dozens of individual campaigns as he subjugated Arabia, killing thousands, including the massacre of 800 shackled Jews in the marketplace of Medina in just one instance. Jesus remained within the bounds of his society's laws on adultery. Mohammed decreed that every Moslem was to have four wives, but ended up having 11 himself. His favorite wife he married when she was six years old. (He justified his 7 extra sexual playthings wives by a vision from the angel Gabriel, who said God said he could have as many wives as he wanted.)

The New Testament, on which Christianity is overwhelmingly based, has no exhortations to violence. The Koran says pretty much the opposite. Even with misogyny, the New Testament comes out much cleaner than the Koran; St. Paul's less-than-feministic quotes, at which modern Christians cringe, were at least able to be repudiated, since it was St. Paul, and not God, who laid down those rules. The Koran, on the other hand, is the word of God. Thus has female inferiority been enshrined in Shariah.

"...now that a Book confirming their own has come to them from God, they deny it...they reply: 'We believe in what was revealed to us.' But they deny what has since been revealed, although it is truth...Say: 'Whoever is an enemy of Gabriel' (who has by God's grace revealed to you [Muhammad] the Koran as a guide...confirming previous scriptures)..will surely find that God is the enemy of the unbelievers.'...And now that an apostle has come to them from God confirming their own Scriptures, some of those to whom the Scriptures were given cast off the Book of God behind their backs...The unbelievers among the People of the Book, and the pagans, resent that any blessings should have been sent down to you from your Lord. " (Surah 2:88-, 98-, 103-)

"Slay the infidels wherever you find them...Idolatry is worse than carnage...Fight against them until idolatry is no more and Allah's religion reigns supreme." (Surah 2:190-)

"Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it." (Surah 2:216)

"Men are tempted [in this life] by the lure of women...far better is the return of God. Say: 'Shall I tell you of better things than these, with which the righteous shall be rewarded by their Lord? Theirs shall be gardens watered by running streams, where they shall dwell for ever: wives of perfect chastity..." (Surah 3:14, 15)

"The only true faith in God's sight is Islam." (Surah 3:19)

"Believers, do not make friends with any but your own people...[Infidels] desire nothing but your ruin. (Surah 3:118)

"If you should die or be slain in the cause of God, His forgiveness and His mercy would surely be better than all the riches..." (Surah 3:156-)

"Forbidden to you are...married women, except those you own as slaves." (Surah 4:20-, 24-)

"Seek out your enemies relentlessly." (Surah 4:103-)

"Try as you may, you cannot treat all your wives impartially." (Surah 4:126-)

"The Jews and Christians say: 'We are the children of God and His loved ones.' Say: 'Why then does He punish you for your sins?" (Surah 5:18)

"Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends." (Surah 5:51)

"The God will say: 'Jesus, son of Mary, did you ever say to mankind 'Worship me and my mother as gods besides God?' 'Glory to You, 'he will answer, 'how could I ever say that to which I have no right?" (Surah 5:114-)

"Believers, when you encounter the infidels on the march, do not turn your backs to them in flight. If anyone on that day turns his back to them, except it be for tactical reasons...he shall incur the wrath of God and Hell shall be his home..." (Surah 8:12-)

"Make war on (polytheists) [including Christians as the Koran seems to imply] until idolatry shall cease and God's religion shall reign supreme." (Surah 8:36-)

"...make war on the leaders of unbelief...Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them..." (Surah 9:12-)

"Fight against such as those to whom the Scriptures were given [Jews and Christians]...until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued." (Surah 9:27-)

"It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true Faith [Islam] to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters [non-Muslims] may dislike it." (Surah 9:31-)

"If you do not fight, He will punish you sternly, and replace you by other men." (Surah 9:37-)

"Prophet make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home." (Surah 9:73)

"Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them." (Surah 9:121-)

"Say: 'Praise be to God who has never begotten a son; who has no partner in His Kingdom..." (Surah 17:111)

"'How shall I bear a child,' she [Mary] answered, 'when I am a virgin...?' 'Such is the will of the Lord,' he replied. 'That is no difficult thing for Him...God forbid that He [God[ Himself should beget a son!...Those who say: 'The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,' preach a monstrous falsehood..." (Surah 19:12-, 29-, 88)

"Fight for the cause of God with the devotion due to Him...He has given you the name of Muslims..." (Surah 22:78-)

"Blessed are the believers...who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them)...These are the heirs of Paradise..." (Surah 23:1-5-)

"As for the faithful who do good works and believe what is revealed to Muhammad...He will forgive them their sins..." (Surah 47:1)

"Muhammad is God's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another." (Surah 48:29)
(source)

Additionally, the Koran says that women are a "step below" men, that a female child deserves half the inheritance of her brother, and that the testimony of a man is equal to that of two women.

Basically, Mr. President, Moslems and Jews and Christians definitely don't have the same God, so quit theologizing already.

When he was told of Bush's mangled theology, Sayyid M. Syeed, Secretary-General of the purist Wahhabi/Saudi-funded Islamic Society of North America, said, "Alhamdullah," or "Thanks be to God." He should be thankful, seeing what a miserable failure the Sunni establishment has been at separating Islamic doctrine from jihad against infidel civilizations. It's so much easier to let infidels like Bush, who have some moral credibility on religion with the general public, apologize for the Sunni establishment, rather than the Sunnis repudiating their own sacred texts.

NYT Naysaying

Anybody dare to guess a major media organization that said that we were losing the peace in 1946 Europe, that Communist occupyers were more efficient than their democratic counterparts, etc.?

Yes, it was our very own NY Times. A blogger, the CounterRevolutionary, has exposed oodles of microfilm from the NYT, 1944-46, plying the same weak-kneed, let's-cut-and-run line that it did during and after WW2. Even though everyone already knows how disreputable the NY Times is, a little reinforcement never hurts.

In Other News, Kim Jong Il Is Looking for a New Interpreter

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea (news - web sites) issued a blistering attack on Donald Rumsfeld on Saturday, saying the U.S. defense secretary was worse than Adolf Hitler.

The official KCNA news agency also said Rumsfeld's criticism of North Korea this week -- he called it an evil regime -- made Pyongyang doubt the prospects of talks to resolve the North's nuclear crisis.


"It is nothing surprising that Rumsfeld talked such nonsense as he put Hitler into the shade in man-killing and war hysteria. But we can never pardon him for malignantly slandering our dignified and inviolable political system whether he is a political dwarf, human scum or hysteric," the agency said.

(link)

EU Shelves Anti-Semitism Report

The European Union's racism watchdog has shelved a report on anti-semitism because the study concluded Muslims and pro-Palestinian groups were behind many of the incidents it examined.

The Vienna-based European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) decided in February not to publish the 112-page study, a copy of which was obtained by the Financial Times, after clashing with its authors over their conclusions.

The news comes amid growing fears that there is an upsurge of anti-semitism in European Union countries. Among many recent incidents, a Jewish school near Paris was firebombed last Saturday, the same day two Istanbul synagogues were devastated by suicide truck bombs that killed 25 and wounded 300.

[...]

"There is a trend towards Muslim anti-semitism, while on the left there is mobilisation against Israel that is not always free of prejudice," said one person familiar with the report. "Merely saying the perpetrators are French, Belgian or Dutch does no justice to the full picture."


Now why on earth would the EU shelve a report that indicted Moslems for anti-Semitism? Maybe because it's afraid of inflaming Europe's already large, burgeoning, and increasingly vocal Islamic population?

Europe's plummeting white population means that it needs lots of replacement workers, to sustain their pension systems, and indeed their economies. But Europe doesn't have a country like Mexico nearby, which shares a somewhat similar culture (especially as far as religion is concerned). Europe has to import its workers from the Islamic world, especially Pakistan, Turkey, Algeria and Morocco. While the immigrants help stave off the white demographic time bomb, the Moslems are unfortunately not assimilating. Their resident immigrant populations are growing significantly faster than white Europe's, and more immigrants pour in every year. In one to two generations, France and Germany will have very large Sunni Moslem populations (France already has a Moslem population of around 12%, and there are as many mosque-going Moslems as churchgoing Catholics). If the war on terror drags on, this demographic reality will only increase the Atlantic rift. Chirac's Iraq pandering will be small potatoes compared to what it's going to be when France is a quarter or a third Moslem.

Hey Wait a Minute...Bush Isn't a Chimp?

Apparently GWB isn't the moron that the Euro-media has made him out to be:

US President George Bush is “totally at odds” with his media image, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said today.

Mr Campbell, an opponent of the war with Iraq, spoke out on the ePolitix website about his discussions with the President during the state visit.

He said that they discussed directly issues such as Iraq, the Middle East, Guantanamo Bay, Kyoto and trade sanctions.

“He is personally extremely engaging. He has a well-developed sense of humour, is self-deprecating and when he engages in a discussion with you he is warm and concentrates directly on you.

“He looks you straight in the eye and tells you exactly what he thinks.”

Mr Campbell, stressing that the President was “totally at odds” with his media image, went on: “I was not persuaded by what he said, but I was most certainly surprised at the extent to which the caricature of him was inaccurate.”


If only our Democrats were so civil.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Medicare Expansion Wins in House

Over the past week, establishment Republicans, especially Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, had mounted a full-court press to convince wavering conservatives to vote for the party's $400 billion-plus expansion of Medicare.

On Saturday morning, it appeared that the Republican establishment's efforts were in vain. The House of Representatives had 216 votes in favor and 218 against the Medicare bill, with about 28 conservatives joining 190 Democrats in defeating the bill. In the wee hours of the morning, two conservatives switched sides; two Democrats then switched sides as well. The final tally was 220-215 in favor of the bill.

As a hardline conservative, I am ambivalent about the bill. Medicare gets a significant expansion (bad), but the Republicans got Health Savings Accounts, means-testing for higher-income seniors and pilot privatization programs in several areas of the country in return. For the HSAs alone I think the bill was worth passing, simply because if the bill were put off until 2004 the pressure to throw seniors a bone would be greater, and the Republicans would be all the more desperate to sign any bill to make themselves more "electable". The HSAs are a real step in the privatization direction. The pilot privatization program is a nice icing on the cake, but all others like it have failed in the past.

Finally, the bill doesn't kick in until 2006, so the Republicans can go back and edit it once they pad their majorities in November 2004.

A Medicare expansion was inevitable, and it could have been worse. It's not the fiscal cataclysm that some conservatives are making it out to be (unlike the energy bill).

Friday, November 21, 2003

Good Guys 1, GOP 0

Congratulations to the 33 coastal Democrats, 6 Republicans and one independent (Jeffords) who defeated the Administration-backed energy bill today. The Bush energy bill would have been decent if all the concessions - the 8.5-billion-a-year ethanol mandate, $5 billion in biomass subsidies, and pet pork projects to bribe various wavering senators - could have been counterbalanced by any conservatism. There was not anything conservative about the bill, other than (arguably) targeted tax cuts for the energy sector.

Anyway, it was a good thing that this monstrosity died. The final tally in the Senate was 57-40, three short of the 60 votes needed to cut off the filibuster. Kerry and Edwards didn't vote, and I daresay they would have both voted against the bill. I don't see any of the six rebel Republicans - McCain (AZ), Gregg (NH), Sununu (NH), Snowe (ME), Collins (ME) or Chafee (RI) - as returning to the fold, no matter how much pork gets added. All the Midwestern Democrats have already been bribed by the ethanol tax. It would take some extremely adept backroom maneuvering for the GOP to get any more votes than it already has.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The Irrelevance of Moderate Islam

RightWingNews blogger John Hawkins has an excellent interview with Robert Spencer here.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Christ and Allah in Great Britain

Peter Hitchens, brother of the celebrated neoconservative-liberal Christopher Hitchens, muses on the explosion of Islam in Britain, the decline of Christianity and the ominous implications that the collapse of morality has for a liberal society. It's worth a read.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Louisiana Gives GOP the Finger - Again

In the Louisiana governor's runoff race, there were two candidates. One was a 32-year-old Indian-American (as in from India) who eliminated waste and inefficiency in the state medical system to turn a $400 million deficit into a $200 million surplus; who had a concrete proposal for every problem facing the state that came down to lower taxes and "good government."

His opponent was a 60-year-old former lieutenant governor who had no concrete proposal for anything; rather, she promised "blue-ribbon committes" to "study" every problem brought to her. Her agenda was smaller classrooms, more education spending and no tax hikes.

Kathleen Blanco, the 60-year-old, defeated Bobby Jindal, the 32-year-old, for Louisiana's governorship. How that exactly happened baffles me. Louisiana elected an old party hack to push the same policies that Louisiana Democrats, and Republican Mike Foster have been pushing for as long as anyone can remember. Way to go, Cajuns! (Am I starting to sound like Howard Dean?)

Louisiana is a depressing anomaly among Deep South states these days - it seems like every time the Republicans increase their grip on the South, Louisiana dents a Southern Republican sweep. That happened last year when Mary Landrieu pulled out a 52-48 win against Suzanne Terrell. Incidentally, Jindal lost to Blanco by the very same margin.

Louisiana has a substantial black population which voted reliably Democrat (despite Jindal's endorsement by numerous prominent black organizations and officials), and its whites are not as polarized to the Republicans as, say, Mississippi's. The result is that any statewide Republican in Louisiana has a steep hill to climb. The Democrats' 90 percent support among blacks, however, is unrealistic; the younger generation of blacks is significantly more independent than the Civil Rights generation, although still heavily Democrat.

Until Louisiana's whites are somehow pulled to the GOP, or the blacks' ironclad support of Democrats is corroded, Louisiana will remain a Democratic bastion in an increasingly conservative Republican region, at least as far as governor/Senate elections are concerned.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Memo to Southern Democrats: Drop Dead

Today's WaPo has a somewhat perceptive piece on the Democrats' Southern collapse and their need to abandon the South entirely - including Florida. As the article points out,

Gore campaign manager (and Southerner) Donna Brazile says that two months before Election Day, the Gore team began to divert resources from every southern state except Florida. The close outcome there validated that decision -- the last time around. But the president's brother won reelection as governor in 2002 by 13 points, and Republicans also control both chambers of the legislature. If Florida, with its snowbird, transplanted population, eludes the Democrats, what southern battlegrounds remain?

The first rule of electoral politics is: Don't Try to Win the Last Election. Why, then, do some Democrats seem bent on trying to revive a disintegrated New Deal coalition in order to replay, and somehow win, the 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988 elections all at once? The bitter truth is that the Florida recount was the Democrats' last stand in the South for the foreseeable future. Gore capitulated in December 2000 at the vice president's residence in Washington. Appomattox would have been the more fitting location.

Farther down the ballot, Democratic fortunes in the South are only slightly less gloomy. With each passing election, there are fewer state and local Democratic officials to legitimize the party's brand name, mobilize resources and serve as surrogates for the national party.

With the recent election results, Republicans hold nine of the 12 southern governorships. With incumbent senators retiring in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, the Democrats are likely to lose at least three Senate races in the 2004 election, which would give the GOP an impressive 18 of the South's 24 seats. The Republican advantage in the House is much smaller, with 57 percent of the 133 southern seats. But if the re-redistricting of Texas goes as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay hopes it will, that share will increase next year and create yet another GOP congressional delegation majority. At present, only Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas are majority-Democrat delegations, with Mississippi's four seats evenly divided.

While the Democrats can still claim a slight lead in southern state legislatures -- 13 of the South's 24 House and Senate chambers -- that margin is dismal compared to the overwhelming one they held three decades ago. The GOP controls the North Carolina House, the Georgia and Kentucky Senates, and both houses in Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia -- chambers that, not long ago, Republicans only dreamed of controlling.


The article goes on to argue, somewhat less convincingly, that greener pastures await in the Southwest.


Lest Republicans rejoice, Gore's 2000 performance also reveals that there are plenty of votes to be won elsewhere. Consider, for example, the dramatic changes underway in what might be called "the new Southwest."

Between 1988 and 2000, the Democratic margin of defeat plunged from more than 21 percentage points to less than 6 points in Arizona and just 3 points in Nevada. Combine Nader's votes with Gore's and these states have gone from GOP blowouts to tossups in just three election cycles. In Colorado, Gore did worse than Michael Dukakis did in 1988, but better once Nader's vote is included. Taking a longer view, New Mexico went consecutively for Nixon twice, Gerald Ford once, Reagan twice, and George H.W. Bush once -- but has gone Democratic since 1992. And population growth gives the Southwest four more electoral votes in 2004 than in 2000.

One key to a Democratic Southwest is the growing influence of Latinos, who in 2002 became the nation's largest ethnic minority. Two surveys conducted last summer, one by pollster Sergio Bendixen and another by CBS News/New York Times, indicate that the GOP is losing ground with the ethnic group that Karl Rove believes is critical to a Republican realignment. And there's more to the story than ethnicity. As electoral scholars John Judis and Ruy Teixeira show, these southwestern states feature the progressive-centrist "ideopolis" cities of Tucson, Denver, Las Vegas and Santa Fe.

Future presidential contests get a whole lot easier if Democrats can successfully employ a southwestern strategy. Add the solidly Democratic northeastern and Pacific Coast states. Stir in post-industrial, midwestern Rust Belt states such as Illinois and Michigan. If Democrats solve their solvable Ohio problem, they can win the presidency without carrying any states south of Maryland and east of the Mississippi River. Non-southern coalitions worked for the GOP for decades: Teddy Roosevelt, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge all coasted to victory without the South.


Except that Ohio isn't going Democrat anytime soon. The Republicans have a supermajority in the state legislature, the governorship, both Senate seats and a majority of the Congressional delegation. Furthermore, Oregon, Wisconsin and Minnesota - about 28 electoral votes - were won by Gore by a margin of about 1% or less. New Mexico's 7 electoral votes were won by 366 votes. Iowa's 7 electoral votes were won by a very slender margin as well.

If the election were held today, the Democrats would tie the electoral college 269-269 if they carried every state carried by Gore - a tall feat in itself - plus New Hampshire and West Virginia. This is due to population changes over the past decade that have shifted several electoral votes to primarily Texas, Florida, Arizona and Nevada, and away from New York and Massachusetts.

The GOP has made major gains among Hispanics in the last 2 years, and pre-911 Gore won the most Hispanic state by only 366 votes. Bush was a singularly weak candidate in 2000, and I don't think the Democrats will come close to their 53-47 margin in Arizona or 51-48 in Nevada for a long, long time. And if the Republicans bring in, say, half the electoral votes they barely lost (21), they won't even need Arizona or Nevada anymore. The GOP could easily win Pennsylvania and Michigan, too; Michigan has a Republican congressional delegation and Republican control of the legislative branch. Ditto for Pennsylvania. They had the governorships of both states until 2002, when Engler and Ridge were term-limited out. Michigan and PA are indispensable for the Democrats, and yet they can't win both of them on a frequent basis.

TR, Harding and Coolidge won without the South because they won everything else. Today's Democrats don't stand a prayer of that, even in the best possible conditions.

The 30+ hour talkathon.

The chattering class, having nothing better to do, is chattering away about the Republicans' "reverse filibuster," in which they have talked for hours and hours about mainly judges and how unconstitutional the Democrats' filibusters of them are. The event is basically a publicity stunt, since it's not going to influence any Democratic senators' votes. The Republicans are basically using it to mobilize their base and show that they DO care about the filibustering of judges.

Each side has too much to lose if the other gains control of the judiciary, so there will be no meaningful compromise. The Republicans have little prospect of gaining the ~58 Senate seats (they will pick off a couple of Democrats) needed to override Democrat filibusters, even presuming that the Republicans ace the 2004 elections. I daresay the Republicans will wait until after 2004, when they have about 55 Senate seats, and then amend Senate rules to declare judicial filibusters unconstitutional.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Surprise! The GOP doesn't sell out on Medicare.

The House-Senate conference has struck a tentative deal on Medicare that includes a "pilot privatization" program in 4 cities (where Medicare will start competing with private companies immediately) and a means-testing provision so that we don't have to pay for Bill Gates' Rx drugs. Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle are calling it "untried, untested and unworkable," so the GOP must be doing something right.

I'd be surprised if it was conservative enough to satisfy the House, without a medical savings account (MSA) provision. Even so, at least one Medicare moderate (John Breaux) is definitely for it, and Baucus might be, too. If either moderate, along with the AARP supports it (they were all involved in the negotiations), it will do significant political damage to the Democrats if they decide to filibuster. Either way, the Dems will get scorched - the compromise bill will make their base mad, and if they filibuster it they're going to lose ground with seniors and probably everyone else too.

Every day, the Democrats prove that they have no vision for the country beyond obstructing the Republican program and hanging on to the unsustainable status quo, whether in isolationist foreign policy, tort reform, or Social Security. Not exactly a recipe for returning to the majority. A whiff of 1963 is in the air.

Monday, November 10, 2003

WTO Levies $2.2B Fine on US Exports

The World Trade Organization has ruled that the steel tariffs Bush imposed two years ago are inconsistent with free trade, a.k.a. illegal. The EU now has the authority to start a full-blown trade war in about a month unless Bush eliminates the steel tariffs.

The EU's plans give great political cover to Bush. You see, Bush&Co. has wanted to eliminate the tariffs for a while, since they have destroyed more jobs than exist in the entire steel industry (which the tariffs were supposed to protect). I think the Bush Administration's flirtation with protectionism will soon end.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Bush Democrats

Winds of Change hosts a rare honest discussion of liberals who are disillusioned with the Democratic party's zealous efforts to abdicate credibility on the national security issue. It is nice to see that some of the liberal intelligentsia, albeit an insignificant fragment, has remained sane after 9/11.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Medicare Expansion On the Rocks

Apparently the differences between the conservative House and the Ted-Kennedy-owned Senate are intractable, and the Republicans will try to divert as much blame to the Democrats as possible for the bill's failure (as opposed to passing a liberal bill). I think Bush would have signed any bill, and the Senate would have passed pretty much whatever Ted Kennedy wanted. The House leadership - aka Tom DeLay - probably deserves preliminary credit for killing the bill in conference; it's not done yet, but all indicators seem to say that the Republicans won't be passing an entitlement expansion this year. We can only hope.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Katherine Harris Ponders FL Senate Race

The famous and infamous Katherine Harris promised not to run against Democrat Bob Graham for his Senate seat, citing old family ties. Now that Graham has said that he will retire, however, Harris is superbly positioned. She would be a moderate on abortion and the environment, and probably very conservative on everything else. Highly electable, in other words.

She would easily squash her primary opponents, and would command a huge national financial base for her race against whatever the Florida Democrats throw at her. Florida is an increasingly Republican state, and I think she would coast to victory in the general election as well.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Southern Sweep

Despite having suffered heavy job losses, Kentucky elected GOP Rep. Ernie Fletcher governor by a comfortable 55-45 vote. He is the first Republican governor of Kentucky in 32 years.

Democrats had tested their planned 2004 strategy in Kentucky, blaming Bush (and the Republicans) for everything that has gone wrong. Obviously, it failed miserably. It does not bode well for the Democrats in 2004.

Mississippi was the opposite; Democrat Gov. Ronnie Musgrove did everything he could to distance himself from the liberal Democrats in Washington, DC, calling himself an 'independent conservative.' That, too, failed.

The GOP controls 29 of the country's governorships, to the Democrats' 21. The Louisiana gubernatorial race looms on Nov. 15, but barring a last-minute scandal the Republicans will hold Louisiana easily.

No doubt Terry McAuliffe will gloat about how the Democrats won the Philadelphia governors' race 58-42, in a city that is 80% Democrat. Even there, the Republican candidate was running even with the Democrat until an FBI bug was found in Mayor Street's office. Mayor Street's easy win obscures (fortunately) Terry McAuliffe's disastrous record as chairman of the Dems.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Mississippi and Kentucky will select their governors tomorrow. I think Kentucky will easily go Republican. Mississippi will be close, but the GOP candidate, Haley Barbour, is the favorite.

Philadelphia will select its mayor tomorrow, as well. I think the Democrat, John Street, will win, but it will be close. Republican challenger Sam Katz put up a very tough fight, and Terry MacAuliffe had every national Democrat he could find come in and stump for Street. MacAuliffe is desperate, because Philadelphia will probably be the only race his party will win in 2003, with Mississippi leaning Republican, Kentucky pretty much gone, and the Republicans poised to easily keep their governorship in Louisiana.

Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) is retiring in 2004.

Five Democrats and four Republicans are running for his seat. I think the GOP will carry the seat. My only question is, what is Katherine Harris waiting for?

Sunday, November 02, 2003

On Trial Lawyers and Runaway Juries

Recently I watched a nauseatingly moralizing adaptation of the John Grisham novel Runaway Jury, featuring a star-studded cast (John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman) and a brisk and intriguing plot. The movie’s premise is this: a depressed stockbroker buys a powerful pistol, walks into the office of his former employer (who just fired him), and guns down 11 people before committing suicide. Hoffman represents the widow of one of the shootout victims, who is suing the manufacturer of the killer’s gun because she thinks it’s at fault for her husband’s death. Hoffman faces off in court against a villainous cabal of gun manufacturers represented by Gene Hackman. In ridiculing the gun distributors as cynical morons and showing (again and again and again) the desperate, pitiable sadness of the widow, Runaway Jury’s producers try to convince their jury (the audience) of the justice of the anti-gun crusade. By the climax of the movie, when – *spoiler alert* – Vicksburg Firearms gets slapped with a $111 million verdict, I think I was the only member of the audience who was even half-rooting for the gun industry; everybody else was clapping.

The audience’s reaction got me thinking. As much as the movie’s producers tried to turn Hoffman into a selfless soldier for justice, real-life American trial lawyers have left a far darker legacy.

Asbestos has been ubiquitous in modern society for nearly a century. By the mid-1960’s, some four million tons of asbestos were produced worldwide every year. It was not until the late 1960’s, however, that asbestos’s devastating impact on the lungs became generally known. Lawsuits were initially confined to the manufacturers of asbestos themselves, who had some inkling of asbestos’s corrosive effects. Soon, however, the lawsuits spread to companies that had no connection with the asbestos manufacturers. As of today, 67 major companies have gone bankrupt due to asbestos lawsuits, most of which never manufactured or installed asbestos. Dozens more companies are lined up for the chopping block. Fifty-four billion dollars – $54,000,000,000 – have been appropriated by pro-plaintiff juries. In just one all-too-typically-egregious example, six former employees of a railroad in Lexington, Mississippi, were awarded $25 million each in punitive damages, even though not one of them had shown any asbestos-related disease whatsoever.

Has justice been served? Yes, if you ask Trial Lawyers, Inc. If you asked the thousands of stockholders in the companies victimized by the asbestos rampage, I suspect you would hear a resounding “No.”

With asbestos cases logjammed in court, the trail lawyers next turned their guns on the tobacco industry. America’s fifty tax-strapped states joined in the carnage. The tobacco’s settlement with the states alone amounted to hundreds of billions of dollars ($100,000,000,000’s) to be paid over a period of thirty years. Several Miami plaintiffs won $145 billion, although that was trimmed down on appeal. A man in California won $27 billion; it was reduced to $27 million on appeal. Considering that smoking’s harmful effects have been common knowledge for at least a quarter-century, I can only wonder why the plaintiff won a single dime, much less a fortune that even many of “the rich” can only dream of.

The result of all this litigation is that tobacco corporations, weighed down by runaway jury verdicts and new taxes, have ratcheted up the price of cigarettes. The tort bar has claimed that it is defending the public interest by mauling “Big Tobacco.” But the fact is that cigarettes are much more expensive today than they were before the flood of anti-Big Tobacco litigation, and the poor who comprise the vast majority of smokers are paying that difference.

Having all but ruined the tobacco industry, the tort bar is now eroding greener pastures. Mississippi is a low-tax southern state, but its litigation environment makes its business climate the very worst in the nation, even worse than the tax-and-spend crazies who ran California until recently. Trial lawyers in Mississippi have zeroed in on high-risk medical procedures where failure is a significant probability, no matter how proficient the doctor. Neurosurgeons and ob-gyns have thus evacuated the state en masse because their malpractice insurance premiums have reached six figures. But Mississippi was not alone. Doctors in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Illinois also went on strike. Sky-high malpractice costs – verdicts engineered by the tort bar – made it impossible for doctors to continue their work. As Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor said, “The era of big government may be over, but the era of regulation through litigation has just begun.”

Although the stock market has tanked for the past couple of years, Trial Lawyers, Inc. has been posting double-digit growth every year; in 2001, the nation’s new predator class hauled in 14.3% more than in 2000. Tort costs consume over $205 billion annually in the United States, equivalent to Russia’s entire economy. The UK, which ranks number 2 on the tort-cost list, spends about 8 percent on litigation compared to the U.S. And Trial Lawyers, Inc. sees enormous growth potential ahead. At its current rate of growth, tort costs will eclipse the value of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts combined. Currently, Americans pay an average of $721 per person for tort costs, or about $3000 per family.

There is no reason why the tort bar can’t continue to play juries’ heartstrings with stories about how Philip Morris destroyed X’s lungs. Or how McDonald’s made Y morbidly obese. Or how Z’s husband died in the WTC attack, so the government owes her millions on top of the $3 million she already received from the 9-11 compensation fund. (Lisa Beamer, call your office.) With tort reform in the U.S. Senate unanimously blocked by the Democrats, there is no reason why the $3000-a-year tort tax will not continue to soak the paycheck of every hard-working American.
As we saw with the case of the six Lexington, Miss. verdict-shoppers, sometimes the jury doesn’t even need a reason to hand out someone else’s hard-earned money like so much confetti. The jurors exposed class-action tort litigation for what it really is: the legally sanctioned rape of American industry.

At one point in Runaway Jury, Gene Hackman’s character says contemptuously, “Trials are too important to be left up to juries.” I couldn’t agree with you more, Rankin Fitch!