Monthly Archives: February 2006

Dump FISA

Finally somebody suggests dumping that 1970’s left-wing monstrosity – FISA. A Wall Street Journal editorial also provides historical context:

Passed in the wake of the infamous Church hearings on the CIA, FISA is an artifact of post-Vietnam and post-Watergate hostility to executive power. But even as Jimmy Carter signed it for political reasons, his own Attorney General declared that it didn’t supercede executive powers under Article I of the Constitution. Every President since has agreed with that view, and no court has contradicted it.

As federal judge and former Deputy Attorney General Laurence Silberman explained in his 1978 testimony on FISA, the President is accountable to the voters if he abuses surveillance power. Fear of exposure or political damage are powerful disincentives to going too far. But judges, who are not politically accountable, have no similar incentives to strike the right balance between intelligence needs and civilian privacy. This is one reason the Founders gave the judiciary no such plenary powers.

Far from being some rogue operation, the Bush Administration has taken enormous pains to make sure the NSA wiretaps are both legal and limited. The program is monitored by lawyers, reauthorized every 45 days by the President and has been discussed with both Congress and the FISA court itself. The Administration even decided against warrantless wiretaps on al Qaeda suspects communicating entirely within the U.S., though we’d argue that that too would be both constitutional and prudent.

Any attempt to expand FISA would be the largest assault on Presidential power since the 1970s. Congress has every right to scrutinize the NSA program and cut off funds if it wants to. But it shouldn’t take the politically easy route of passing the buck to the judiciary and further limiting the President’s ability to defend America. Far from expanding FISA, Congress could best serve the country by abolishing it.

The First Black President

I caught some of the Coretta Scott King funeral yesterday and was reminded why I don’t miss Bill Clinton. Clinton’s nauseating performance (“without notes,” cooed the New York Times), dripping with condescension towards the predominantly black audience, confirmed my preference for the current inarticulate bumbler in the White House.

The only observers who could do justice to Clinton- Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken – are unfortunately no longer with us. Chris Matthews just won’t do.

Maybe it’s a Southern thing that I can’t understand, but I find it disheartening that the blacks in the audience exploded with enthusiastic applause and yelps over Clinton’s impersonation of a snake oil salesman. Ironically, it’s quite true that Clinton did more for black people than any other president since Abraham Lincoln, but not for the reasons black Democrats would like to think. His gift to black people was to sign the Republican-authored welfare reform bill which put restrictions on welfare payments and was criticized vigorously by the civil rights lobby as an attack on poor, black children. Even the usually sagacious Pat Moynihan predicted a profusion of poor kids living on grates.

Not only did it not happen, but the indices of social pathology – illegitimacy, unemployment, and crime- declined as a result of the welfare bill, one of the most successful pieces of legislation in American history. But let’s not forget that Bill Clinton was against the bill as written; his pledge to “reform welfare as we know it” was nothing more than another giant jobs program with no penalties. He signed the Republican bill because he knew it was popular and suspected that a veto would be overridden.

Needless to say, few of the black folks assembled at the funeral ever praised Clinton for signing the welfare reform bill. So why do black people love Clinton? Perhaps it’s because they buy the idea, expressed first by the ever-fatuous Toni Morrison, that Clinton’s the “first black president.”

If so, what’s black about him? Is it that he was raised by a single mother? Is it the sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility? If that’s what black folks identify with, they ought to be concerned.

Cruel Necessity

Fouad Ajami, in the Wall Street Journal, on democracy in the Middle East:

It was not historical naiveté that had given birth to the Bush administration’s campaign for democracy in Arab lands. In truth, it was cruel necessity, for the campaign was born of the terrors of 9/11. America had made a bargain with Arab autocracies, and the bargain had failed. It was young men reared in schools and prisons in the very shadow of these Arab autocracies who came America’s way on 9/11. We had been told that it was either the autocracies or the furies of terror. We were awakened to the terrible recognition that the autocracies and the terror were twins, that the rulers in Arab lands were sly men who displaced the furies of their people onto foreign lands and peoples.

This had been the truth that President Bush underscored in his landmark speech to the National Endowment for Democracy on Nov. 6, 2003, proclaiming this prudent Wilsonianism in Arab lands: “Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place for stagnation, resentment and violence for export.” Nothing in Palestine, nothing that has thus far played out in Iraq, and scant little of what happened in other Arab lands, negates the truth at the heart of this push for democratic reform. The “realists” tell us that this is all doomed, that the laws of gravity in the region will prevail, that autocracy, deeply ingrained in the Arab-Muslim lands, is sure to carry the day. Modern liberalism has joined this smug realism, and driven by an animus toward the American leader waging this campaign for liberty, now asserts the built-in authoritarianism of Arab society.

Death by Sensitivity

Mark Steyn on the easily provoked:

…I never thought I’d switch on the TV and see … excitable young lads jumping up and down in Jakarta, Lahore, Aden, Hebron, etc., etc., torching the flag of Denmark.

Denmark! Even if you were overcome with a sudden urge to burn the Danish flag, where do you get one in a hurry in Gaza? Well, OK, that’s easy: the nearest European Union Humanitarian Aid and Intifada-Funding Branch Office. But where do you get one in an obscure town on the Punjabi plain on a Thursday afternoon? If I had a sudden yen to burn the Yemeni or Sudanese flag on my village green, I haven’t a clue how I’d get hold of one in this part of New Hampshire. Say what you like about the Islamic world, but they show tremendous initiative and energy and inventiveness, at least when it comes to threatening death to the infidels every 48 hours for one perceived offense or another. If only it could be channeled into, say, a small software company, what an economy they’d have.

Meanwhile, back in Copenhagen, the Danes are a little bewildered to find that this time it’s plucky little Denmark who’s caught the eye of the nutters. Last year, a newspaper called Jyllands-Posten published several cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed, whose physical representation in art is forbidden by Islam. The cartoons aren’t particularly good and they were intended to be provocative. But they had a serious point. Before coming to that, we should note that in the Western world “artists” “provoke” with the same numbing regularity as young Muslim men light up other countries’ flags. When Tony-winning author Terence McNally writes a Broadway play in which Jesus has gay sex with Judas, the New York Times and Co. rush to garland him with praise for how “brave” and “challenging” he is. The rule for “brave” “transgressive” “artists” is a simple one: If you’re going to be provocative, it’s best to do it with people who can’t be provoked.

…Jyllands-Posten wasn’t being offensive for the sake of it. They had a serious point… The cartoons accompanied a piece about the dangers of “self-censorship” — i.e., a climate in which there’s no explicit law forbidding you from addressing the more, er, lively aspects of Islam but nonetheless everyone feels it’s better not to.

That’s the question the Danish newspaper was testing: the weakness of free societies in the face of intimidation by militant Islam.

One day, years from now, as archaeologists sift through the ruins of an ancient civilization for clues to its downfall, they’ll marvel at how easy it all was. You don’t need to fly jets into skyscrapers and kill thousands of people. As a matter of fact, that’s a bad strategy, because even the wimpiest state will feel obliged to respond. But if you frame the issue in terms of multicultural “sensitivity,” the wimp state will bend over backward to give you everything you want — including, eventually, the keys to those skyscrapers. Thus, Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, hailed the “sensitivity” of Fleet Street in not reprinting the offending cartoons.

Christopher Hitchens on the same subject.

Dueling Views of the Economy

The New York Times editorial page predicts gloom and doom:

We hope Congress will realize that extending the tax cuts would be an act of political cowardice, not courage. The country is already deep in debt, and the tax cuts are largely to blame. In the next two weeks, the administration expects to hit the nation’s legal debt limit — $8,184,000,000,000 — and has told Congress it needs to vote to raise the debt ceiling to nearly $9 trillion, a 51 percent increase since 2001, when Mr. Bush took office. Congress must raise the limit or the government will default. But Congressional leaders are looking for ways to downplay the vote, precisely because it’s a disgrace.

Casting the tax cuts in stone now would be particularly craven because they don’t expire for another three to five years. But Mr. Bush and his supporters in Congress are hot to act now. That is because the cuts they want to extend the most — special low tax rates for investment income — overwhelmingly enrich the rich and will be even harder to justify in the years to come, when, by all reasonable estimates, the country’s financial outlook will have deteriorated further. [my emphasis]

Then from today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page:

Well, what do you know. The latest statistics on capital gains tax collections were recently released by the Congressional Budget Office, and receipts are not down but way up. By 45% to be exact. As part of President Bush’s 2003 investment tax cut package, the capital gains tax rate was reduced to 15% from 20%. Opponents predicted, as ever, that this would reduce tax revenue.

Not even close. Here’s what actually happened. This 25% reduction in the tax penalty on stock and other asset sales triggered a doubling of capital gains realizations, to $539 billion in 2005 from $269 billion in 2002. One influence was the increase in stock values over that time, thanks in part to the higher after-tax return on capital induced by the tax cuts.
[Supply-Side Effect]

But another cause for the windfall was almost certainly the “unlocking” effect from investors selling their existing asset holdings in order to realize some of their profits and pay taxes at the lower rate. They could then turn around and buy new assets, hoping for higher rates of return. This “unlocking” promotes the efficiency of capital markets by redirecting investment into new and higher value-added companies.

It also yields a windfall for the Treasury. In 2002, the year before the tax cut, capital gains tax liabilities were $49 billion at the 20% rate. They rose slightly to $51 billion in 2003, then surged to $71 billion in 2004, and were estimated by CBO to have reached $80 billion last year — all paid at the lower 15% rate. In short, the lower rate yielded more revenue.

The CBO also found that total tax collections from all “non-withheld tax receipts” — typically, non-salaried income — surged by 32%. Dividend tax payments are undoubtedly a big part of that jackpot. Since 2003 when Congress cut the tax rate on dividends paid out to shareholders to 15% from 39.6% (the top income tax rate that was also reduced to 35%), dividend payouts by American companies have roughly tripled. The government gets 15% of those larger payouts, which sure beats 35% of nothing.

…A new report from the American Shareholders Association finds that Joint Tax had assured Congress in 2003 that the tax cut would reduce capital gains revenues by $3 billion from 2003 through 2005, with even bigger losses in future years. Nope. According to the CBO data, actual revenues were $62 billion higher than Joint Tax predicted over this three-year period.

This is Groundhog Day for the Joint Tax estimators. Back in 1997 when Republicans in Congress passed and Bill Clinton signed a reduction in the capital gains rate to 20% from 28%, Joint Tax overestimated the three-year revenue losses by a mere $84 billion. Yet now these JCT bean-counters are using the same flawed economic model to insist that if these lower rates are made permanent they will still reduce federal revenues by tens of billions of dollars. The CIA has a better track record than this crowd.

As to the “further deteriorating economy,” The Wall Street Journal noted yesterday:

Yesterday’s report of 193,000 new jobs in January (and a revision of 80,000 more in November and December) was certainly a blunt rebuttal to last week’s announcement of weak fourth-quarter GDP. The economy seems to have begun 2006 with a roar.

Ford’s announcement last week that it will lay off 30,000 workers was seized upon by the media as evidence that America is caught in a spiral of industrial decline. We’ll be surprised if the news of a 4.7% unemployment rate, the lowest in 4 1/2 years, gets half the attention that the auto layoffs did. In any case, since the Bush investment tax cuts took hold in May of 2003, just under five million jobs have materialized. That is the equivalent of a new job for every worker in New Jersey.

Yesterday’s report also confirms that America is creating more than 30,000 new jobs, mostly in new-age industries, every week. Real wages are higher now than at the peak of the 1990s boom. [my emphasis] This is no burger-flipper economy. You also won’t hear much about the fact that the black unemployment rate in America has tumbled in the past three years to 8.9% from 11.5%. Hispanics have seen their jobless rate dip to 5.8% — nearly their lowest rate ever. Many Latino immigrants are filling employment demand at a record pace, suggesting that these newcomers are assimilating into the labor force fluidly and filling vital economic niches.

Euro-English

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5 year phase-in plan that would become known as “Euro-English”. In the first year, “s” will replace the soft “c”. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard “c” will be dropped in favour of “k”. This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome “ph” will be replaced with “f”. This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter. In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent “e” in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away. By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing “th” with “z” nd “w” with “v”. During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary “o” kan be dropd from vords kontaining “ou” and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu erstand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru. Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

Thanks to Simonetta Trinchieri.

Why America is Idiot-Proof

A Brit explains why America succeeds despite Bush.

Good For Woody

Woody Allen is a conservative in liberal’s clothing. He may be a New York Jewish “intellectual,” but his movies reflect a cast of mind not dissimilar to another putative leftist – George Orwell. As his friend Malcolm Muggeridge once said of Orwell, “He loved the past, hated the present, and dreaded the future.”

Take Woody’s latest movie Match Point. Political incorrectness in a movie counts for a lot in my book, if only because it’s so rare. And Match Point is a frontal if subtle attack on liberal prejudices.

Allen introduces us to a very rich London family who spend their weekends doing what upper class Brits like to do: shooting and drinking. The father seems to be the head of some kind of investment firm. The mother and a grown son and daughter talk like you’d expect of the “rich.”

Two “outsiders” enter the lives of the family: a young non-rich, powefully sexy American woman who wants to be an actress and a young non-rich, powefully sexy Irishman who used to be a pro tennis player.

A typical Hollywood picture would, of course, have the selfish, immoral rich destroy the poor, innocent outsiders. And you expect just that to happen until near the end.

In a year in which Hollywood outdid itself in the political correctness department (Brokeback Mountain, Munich, Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, The Constant Gardner are just a few examples), Woody Allen, whose picture wasn’t nominated for a best picture Academy Award, stands out as one director willing to challenge liberal orthodoxy.

An Agglomeration of Pernicious Falsehoods

Commentary’s Gabriel Schoenfeld weighs in on Spielberg/Kushner’s Munich.