Thursday, October 13, 2005

Tragedies and Statistics

I'm almost breaking a sweat with all this prolific posting, but I couldn't pass this story up. Here is an interesting article on the value of human life, american vs foreigners, new yorkers vs oklahomans, etc, from Reason Magazine.
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This is pretty incredible:
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From the Washington Post:
In what may turn out to be one of the biggest free-falls in the history of presidential polling, President Bush's job-approval rating among African Americans has dropped to 2 percent, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. (via Huffington Post)
Didn't know approval ratings ever got that low. Extrapolated out, this poll indicates that only 700,000 of the 36.4 million African Americans in the US, from the 2000 Census, approve of the Bush Administration.
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The Sexism Argument

I can't say that I agree with Peggy Noonan much, but in this case she hit's the nail on the head: "'You're a sexist snob' isn't a case, its an insult." Read on...
An essential White House mistake--really a key and historic one--was in turning on its critics with such idiotic ferocity. "My way or the highway" is getting old. "Please listen to us and try to see it our way or we'll have to kill you," is getting old. Sending Laura Bush out to make her first mistake as first lady, agreeing with Matt Lauer that sexism is probably part of the reason for opposition to Ms. Miers, was embarrassingly inept and only served to dim some of the power of this extraordinary resource.

As for Ed Gillespie and his famous charge of sexism and elitism, I don't think serious conservatives believe Ed is up nights pondering whiffs and emanations of class tension and gender bias in modern America. It was the ignorant verbal lurch of a K Street behemoth who has perhaps forgotten that conservatives are not merely a bloc, a part of the base, a group that must be handled, but individuals who are and have been in it for serious reasons, for the long haul, and often at considerable sacrifice. They don't deserve to be patronized by people they've long strained to defend. (Via Althouse)
The ploy of attempting to douse all criticisms of Harriet Miers with calls of elitism and sexism, was such a blaringly obvious defensive manuever, one that in itself shows Miers lack of qualifications, that the only traction it has gotten anywhere has been the blogosphere, where it has been rebutted so completely that I'm wondering why everyone keep bringing it up.
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Liberal Tactics to Miers

Andrew Sullivan presents an approach to the Miers nomination for Democratic Senators, an approach I think could be put to work successfully.

Basically, Senate Democrats should vote for Miers for 2 major reasons.
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1. She is the least bad option
The sensible thing for the Democrats to do is to hold their noses and vote for Miers. If Miers is rejected or withdrawn, the next nominee will be a lot worse. Bush, having alienated his right-wing base will try to mollify them by picking a hard-line right-wing fire-breather whose record will make it clear that he favors reversing Roe vs Wade.
2. If Conservative Republicans rebel against the nominee, an affirmative Democratic vote will both help drive, or accentuate, a wedge in the Republican party, while at the same time allowing Democrats to claim that they support Miers religious and moral values.
In addition, if Miers is confirmed because of the votes of the Democrats while a majority of the Republicans vote against her, it will drive Bush's right wing base absolutely beserk and make the right-wing backlash against Bush much stronger.

The Miers nomination is therefore a golden opportunity for a potential Democratic presidential candidate to take on the far-left base. C'mon, Senator Bayh. He needs two core messages: he deeply values Miers' religious faith and personal integrity and believes there should be an up-or-down vote in the whole Senate. Out-Bush Bush, vote for Miers, and then sit back and enjoy watching Sam Brownback squirm.
Miers the nominee is clearly unqualified for the role of Supreme Court Justice, but the alternatives would likely set back the liberal cause even further. As someone who is both older than many of the other potential nominees to the court, as well as someone whose record at the very least appears to be susceptible to a Souter or Kennedy like turn, Democrats should jump at the opportunity to make the Brownbacks, Coburns and Dobsons squirm.
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The Miers Saga: Summarized

A comprehensive list of Miers Pro and Con arguments, from a conservative's perspective. (Via Volokh Conspiracy.)
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Unjustifiable Criticism

So today, outgoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was quoted by the Washington Times as saying:
I can think of a recent disaster that shows what happens when a country neglects its duties of state towards its people. My post as chancellor, which I still hold, does not allow me to name that country, but you all know that I am talking about America. (Via Political Wire)
As an American I certainly appreciate Chancellor Schroeder's advice, but I thought that perhaps before he focuses on disseminating his views to others, he take a look at the country which has been under his illustrious leadership for the past number of years. (continue below)

In Germany, around 4.7 million people are unemployed, or 11.6 percent of the country’s workforce - close to the highest rate since World War II. At time this year the unemployment rate has been even higher, reaching a peak of 5.2 million, 12.6% in February, the highest levels since the 1930s. In East Germany unemployment stands as high as 20%.

Further, public debt has ballooned to 66 percent of Germany’s gross domestic product (GDP), and Germany has flouted the European Union's fiscal rules for four years in a row, as both its budget deficit and its public debt contravene the rules. Economic growth since 1997 has been a sluggish 0.1 percent, according to the World Bank.

There certainly were, and are, major issues in America's response to the Katrina disaster, but this Chancellor is the last person we need to hear from. This is like Robert Mugabe dispensing advice on human rights. Oh wait.
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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The col-BEAR ra-PORE

Definitely looking forward to Monday, when Steven Colbert will premiere his new tv show The Colbert Report directly after the Daily Show on Comedy Central. The show will essentially be a parody of cable news punditry, shows such as Fox's The O'Reilly Factor and MSNC's The Scarborough Report, much as the Jon Stewart parodies the network evening news.
"Like O'Reilly, we'll grab the most important word out of every sentence," Mr. Colbert said. " 'The,' for example. Also, I'll say, 'I'm angry,' and the graphic will read, 'Colbert angry.' "
See the NY Times preview
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On Ignominy

When the Yankees acquired A-Rod, it appeared to be a match made in heaven. The most highly paid, most glamorous, most conceited player in baseball would now be playing for the most famous, most successful and highest spending team in baseball. Sure A-Rod was known for wilting under pressure, so what if his BA with RISP was perturbingly low? Playing in such a stocked lineup and in such glorious surroundings would allow him to flower, we were sure. Well, A-Rod started the 2004 season, his first with the Yanks, on slightly unsure footing, but that's just acclimation issues. And sure enough, by season's end, he was alright. Then came the playoffs. Surprise, surprise; the golden boy smiled his way to a mediocre postseason, punctuated by his slapping of Bronson Arroyo's glove in an attempt to dislodge the ball, and thus reach base safely. (continue below)

This season, A-Rod set the pace offensively in the AL, putting up MVP-quality numbers. He led, or was among the leaders, in BA, HR, RBI, R, OBP, BB, SLG, and OPS--impressive by any measure. The ALDS, however, proved to be a different story. As has become old news, the Yankees, despite having one of the best first 5 of an offensive lineup ever assembled, could not score when they had to, and were set to face the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in an elimination Game 5 in Cali. Throughout the series, A-Rod had been uneasy at the plate, obviously feeling the burden of his 25 million dollar salary and the memories of last year. The Yankees were behind 5-3 going into the 9th inning. Due up was the veritable constellation of Jeter, who had been clutch thus far in the game, A-Rod, who at 0-3 with 2 LOB, had not, and Giambi. Beyond that was Sheffield and Matsui, also All-Stars. What followed was the very picture of deflated dejection.

Jeter, as though he had to, further solidified his status as a Yankee icon with a line drive single. Here came A-Rod. While everyone felt in their bones that he would squander this chance to redeem himself, one nonetheless felt a glimmer of promise as this man, the most prolific home run hitter before the age of 30 stepped to plate, representing the tying run. The anxiety in his gut was palpable, his unnaturally tight grip on the bat was approximated by the viewer's grip on his remote. And swing the would-be Yankee did, all the way into a DOUBLE-PLAY. Now, had A-Rod not hit a homer, he would not have been lynched, had he merely advanced the runner, no one would have called for his exile, had he even flied out quietly, he would not quite have been a pariah, just a perpetual let-down. Instead, A-Rod committed the single worst sin a batter can commit with the season on the line and a runner on base. He not only got out, he not only failed to advance the runner, but he facilitated the runner's removal from the base, as well as incurred 2 outs, putting the Yankees a mere 1 from elimination.

This is the sort of result one might expect from a journeyman middle infielder batting 8th. But A-Rod is a mega-star--one who fancies himself not just the G.O.A.T., but an icon of the sport, the personification of all that Major League Baseball represents on its best days, and all that every little-leaguer could hope to be when he grows up. But he can never reach that level if his response to his team's season being on the line is to meekly ground into double plays. At this rate, he will never be accepted as a "true" Yankee. How can it be that the man with the league's gaudiest regular season stats finished the postseason batting .133? Of course, A-Rod is aware of all this, but it is as though he can do nothing about it. Much ado has been made of A-Rod's exceptional ability to shut out all thoughts while at the plate, implying that his true advantage is not physical talent, but a sort of super-psyche which enables him to hit as though alone in a batting cage. Well, based on the cavernous disparity between his regular season numbers and playoff numbers, I beg to differ. A-Rod is the least clutch hyper-talented player ever. With this ALDS included on his CV, he has now surpassed mere disappointment, or weakness under pressure. A-Rod's play can now be best described as ignominous.
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Monday, October 10, 2005

The Evolution of Harriet Miers

Undeniably a great quote:
“Twenty years ago, she was a Roman Catholic and she was a Democrat. She’s now an evangelical Christian and a Republican.”
-- Tim Russert, on Meet the Press, questioning President Bush's conviction that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers would not change her views once confirmed.
(via Political Wire )
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Impressive Resume #1

In an effort to ever so briefly switch tracks from the Miers brouhaha which has so recently flooded this blog, I have come upon, while digging through piles of information on private equity groups for a future post, an impressive resume, which true to form I will post.

But first let me clarify the reasoning behind such an unusual posting. In an effort to motivate the youth of today, to stimulate them into pursuing their dreams and attaining the highest levels of achievement, when an impressive resume, one which combines education, accomplishment, service and true contribution to society, is uncovered it will be posted here as part of an ongoing series, so that it may serve as a shining star for any and all to reach for. Now on to the resume, (continue below)

Resume of Glenn Hutchins
Mr. Hutchins is a co-founder of Silver Lake, a leading private equity firm which focuses exclusively on the technology industry,and a Managing Director. He has spent his business career as a private equity investor in growth companies and large-scale buyouts. Prior to founding Silver Lake, Mr. Hutchins was a Senior Managing Director and General Partner of the Blackstone Group, L.P. ("Blackstone"). At Blackstone, he was a senior member of investment teams and served on the firm's Investment Committee which was responsible for all capital commitments made by Blackstone's second and third merchant banking funds. Prior to joining Blackstone, he was a Managing Director of Thomas H. Lee Company ("THL"). Mr. Hutchins joined THL in 1985 and, over the next decade, assisted Mr. Lee both in building the firm and in assembling its investment track record.
Mr. Hutchins is also active in public and charitable service. Between his stints at THL and Blackstone, Mr. Hutchins served President Clinton in both the transition and the White House as a Special Advisor on economic and healthcare policy. After leaving government, Mr. Hutchins was appointed by President Clinton to chair an initiative on privatization in the former Soviet Union and by Secretary Rubin to serve on the Treasury Department's Advisory Committee on Financial Services. Mr. Hutchins is a trustee of the Lawrenceville School, the Brookings Institution and the New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Additionally, he has been a volunteer leader for CARE, Inc. and Harvard University. Mr. Hutchins is a director of Ameritrade Holding Corp., Seagate Technology, the NASDAQ Stock Market, Inc. and Chairman of the Board of SunGard Capital Corp. Previously, he was a director of Instinet Corp. and Gartner, Inc. Mr. Hutchins holds an A.B. from Harvard College, an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.
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Grammatical Musings

When reading the post of my colleague The Arbiter of Truth I was struck by the sentence, emphasis added: "One is the administration's now legend intransigence." (continue below)
Now to my ears this statement sounded somewhat off, inespacably an error, or simply grammatically incorrect. In my mind the above sentence should read, "One is the administration's now legendary intransigence." To my consternation, I was dutifully informed that such sentence is grammatically correct, though I must presume in a way that is not the common usage of the term. Therefore I will pose the question, and I would be ecstatic to hear from someone with professional expertise in this matter, is it improper to use grammatically correct language when alternate grammatically correct usage that is also considered common usage exists?

I will be unable to rest until this great question is answered.
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Withdrawing Miers, the Concurrence

While Miers "should" withdraw, I agree with Kapstar that she won't. Two factors seem to be standing in the way. One is the administration's now legend intransigence. No matter how strongly the facts on the ground may disagree with its stance, the administration will simply not admit a mistake. Except, that is, under very limited conditions, which are not yet present in the case of the Miers nomination. The only way the White House could save face in the event of her resignation would be for there to be "compelling grounds" for the resignation (e.g.: a scandal, rumors of impropriety...). So far, no such luck. Without such grounds, a resignation would incontrovertibly be a mea culpa: "This was a misguided nomination; sorry, we'll do better next time." Based on what I've seen, such behavior is not in keeping with this administration's personality.
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Withdrawing Miers

Though there is increasing speculation that Harriet Miers SCOTUS nomination will be withdrawn, read on ACSBlog, through the link on Volokh Conspiracy, I must confess that I foresee almost no such scenario unfolding. To withdraw the Miers nomination would be the ultimate embarassment to the Bush administration, at a time when they can afford no such blow to their prestige. The only greater embarassment, and indeed the only possible way I think that the nomination will be withdrawn, will be if it becomes evident that Miers will be soundly defeated in the Judiciary Committee or on the floor of the Senate, even with the White House full-court press. At this early stage in the process, despite the ire of many in the blogging world, it does not appear as if such a defeat will befall the President's nominee.
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Thoughts on the Nobel Prize for Economics

While perusing the articles on the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, (here, and here) as well as blogs that mention discuss it (here, and here), I happened across this fact: this is the sixth straight year that Americans have won the Nobel for Economics, or had a share in it. While the Bush administration, through budget cuts and misguided policies has laid the groundwork for undermining US dominance in the sciences, etc, it is endearing to know that at least we maintain an edge somewhere.
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Princely Contest

Defying the bookies' odds, HSBC won a "spectacular coup" when Prince William elected to get some work experience at Britain's largest bank, a decision which "marks the end of weeks of fevered speculation" about where the Prince might decide to work. Can follow the story here.
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Torturing the President

I'm usually not one to enjoy or admire or even read op-ed pieces by the NY Times writer Bob Herbert, but I must say that today's piece "Who Isn't Against Torture?" is a good one (subscription required).

In it Herbert takes the Bush administration to task for fighting the McCain amendment that would prohibit "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners in the custody of the U.S. military. Passed 90-9 in a rare show of bipartisanship, the amendment enjoys support in all quarters, has been endorsed by a number of retired military officers including two ex-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, yet is still opposed by the Bush Administration. Herbert reprimands Bush, fairly in my mind:

So who would you expect to remain out of step with this important march toward sanity, the rule of law and the continuation of a longstanding American commitment to humane values?

Did you say President Bush? Well, that would be correct.

The president, who has trouble getting anything right, is trying to block this effort to outlaw the abusive treatment of prisoners.

Senator McCain's proposal is an amendment to the huge defense authorization bill. The White House has sent out signals that Mr. Bush might veto the entire bill if that's what it takes to defeat the amendment.

The Washington Post summed the matter up in an editorial that said:

"Let's be clear: Mr. Bush is proposing to use the first veto of his presidency on a defense bill needed to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan so that he can preserve the prerogative to subject detainees to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In effect, he threatens to declare to the world his administration's moral bankruptcy."

Aside from the obstinancy and unjustifiable nature of the administrations stance, (documented here by Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit) in purely political terms this is somewhat unexplainable. Backed by a large, veto proof, majority of Congress, as well as, I would imagine, a large majority of Americans, it seems like a poor move to fight an amendment whose passage and enacted seem all but assured. By doing so the President opens himself up to attacks from all sides and wastes needed political capital on a foregone conclusion.

Andrew Sullivan has been following the events closely on his blog here.
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Focus on the Nominee

As untold numbers of my fellow bloggers, as well as my fellow compatriot The Arbiter of Truth, have pointed out SCOTUS nominee Harriet Miers has a number of flaws, including a lack of necessary qualifications for the post, unexplainable loyalty to the President, and no paper trail or history of Constitutional thought whatsoever. With this in mind, it is extraordinarily troubling (continue below) when Dr. James C. Dobson, the influential founder of the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family, declares his outright support for a nominee based on supposed insider information.
On his radio program last Wednesday, Mr. Dobson said, "When you know some of the things that I know - that I probably shouldn't know - you will understand why I have said, with fear and trepidation, that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice." (via NY Times)
As so little substantial information is available on the nominee, (yes President Bush's proclamations and the ramblings of former beau and Texas Judge Nathan Hecht do not suffice), it is patently ridiculous that the Senate Judiciary Committee must fulfill their constitutional obligation to advise and consent in the dark, while Dr. Dobson receives access to special insight.

Therefore I roundly applaud Chairman Spector's decision to call Dr. Dobson before the Judiciary Committee, though it is not definite, to testify on what he has been told about the nominee.

Spector stated, "If there are back-room assurances and if there are back-room deals and if there is something which bears upon a precondition as to how a nominee is going to vote, I think that's a matter that ought to be known by the Judiciary Committee and the American people." (via NY Times)
Legal analysis on this issue at Volokh Conspiracy
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Eliminating Farm Subsidies and Clearing the Path to Economic Prosperity

When I awoke this morning and dutifully scanned the morning headlines, I was pleasantly surprised to see this staring back at me: Trade Chief Makes Offer to Reduce Crop Subsidies. Not a moment too soon.

US farm subsidies are an outright crime for a number of reasons: First, they are an outright drain on taxpayers dollars and don't even fulfill their purported aim of subsidizing poor farmers but are a simply corporate welfare. Second, farm subsidies encourage crop overproduction that depresses crop prices and causes irreparable damage to poor farmers worldwide, mostly in developing countries. Thirdly, farm subsidies undermines the free trade agenda by encouraging other nations to refuse American exports on similarly protectionist grounds. (continue below)

Now, lets back up a second.
The current system of US Farm subsidies was enacted in 2002, when Congress passed the Farm Bill. Here is a quick summary of the bills provisions from Daniel Gross at Slate:
It provides three sources of income support for commodity farmers. Direct payments are made to farmers regardless of "current production or ... current market prices." According to this chart, those will cost us $5.3 billion in 2004. A new subsidy program—counter-cyclical payments—guarantees farmers a minimum price for their crops regardless of the market price (estimated 2004 payments: $1.9 billion). Then there are provisions for loans ($4.1 billion), a special dairy program, and payments for conservation.
Now you might argue that the bill has some merits, afterall America was partially founded on the agrarian dream as enunciated by Jefferson and Madison, who declared that agriculture, "may justly be stiled the staple of the United States." However, this noble goal is utterly violated by the Bill which directs the vast majority of subsidies to agribusiness, politicians and large farmers and not to the small, struggling farmers whom lawmakers typically describe when defending these policies.
Lawmakers distribute two-thirds of the $12 to $30 billion in annual subsidies to the top 10 percent of subsidy recipients. The vast majority of these households, who work on large farms, report an average income of more than $135,000. But it gets worse: 78 farms received more than $1 million each in subsidies in 2002. The $110 million received by Riceland Foods that year was more than Washington gave to every farmer in 12 states combined.

Not to be outdone, a dozen Fortune 500 companies, including John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance, Westvaco, Chevron and Caterpillar, have pocketed farm subsidies as much as 510 times larger than what the median farmer receives. (via Heritage Foundation

Which brings me to my first point, the US Farm Subsidy program is an abuse of taxpayer dollars, an unconscionable waste. As Brian Reidl concludes in a research paper on US farm policy, "These corporate welfare programs enrich agribusinesses and other non-farmers at the expense of family farmers, the farm economy, and taxpayers. With federal spending spiraling out of control and the budget deficit approaching $500 billion, taxpayers can no longer afford to pay farm subsidies to the rich and famous." Amen.

But just as importantly,by guaranteeing U.S. farmers a minimum payment for commodities such as corn, rice and soybeans, the government encourages overproduction. That drives down the market price, forcing even higher subsidies and creating surpluses that can be shipped to around the world. While a boon for American farmers in both boom and bust cycles, the flooding of the world market devastates poor farmers in developing countries who can't compete with subsidized prices, and can't count on similar subsidies from their own governments.

Take the case of cotton.
When it comes to harvesting subsidies, America's 25,000 cotton barons are first among equals. In 2001 they received $3.6 billion in government support. Because the US is the world's largest cotton exporter, accounting for 40 percent of the world market, these subsidies lowered world prices: by around one quarter according to the International Cotton Advisory Committee. Farmers in Africa have suffered the consequences.
In West Africa alone 10-11 million people depend on cotton cultivation as a source of income. Lower world prices caused by American subsidies mean that desperately poor households have seen their incomes fall, with attendant consequences for poverty. In Benin, the price decline associated with American subsidies translates into a 4 percent increase in the incidence of poverty, or 250,000 people falling below the poverty line.
What makes the cotton case so egregious is that West Africa is a far more efficient producer than the US. Fewer than 10 per cent of America's producers would be competitive on world markets without support. But in 2001/2002 the subsidy provided to American cotton farmers exceeded the total national income of countries like Burkina Faso and Mali. In a bizarre throwback to the principles of Bolshevik state planning, it also exceeded the value of cotton output. In cotton, as in other areas of agricultural trade, market outcomes owe less to comparative advantage than to comparative access to subsidies. (via the World Bank

Lastly, the enactment of farm subsidies throws up large barriers to free trade agreements. As the major roadblock to the Doha trade round, farm subsidies and their supporters in Congress threaten to derail essential negotiations needed to move globalization and economic freedom forward. Without farm policy reform, it will be impossible to make progress on the enlargement of global free trade, which will in turn put the breaks on the gains and economic prosperity the world as a whole has seen over the past couple of years.
As US Trade Representative eloquently stated in an FT editorial (subscription required) this morning in relation to the WTO Doha trade round and the elimination of farming subsidies, "No other initiative has more potential to generate global economic growth and significantly help the poorest countries. As such I heartfeltly endorse Trade Representative Portman's breakthrough, and his plan (stated below) for cutting subsidies, and advancing the Doha trade round. Next on the agenda, the elimination of Sugar subsidies.
First, by improving market access for agriculture, the greatest benefits can be realised. I urge WTO members to adopt an ambitious tariff reduction consistent with the framework and using the formula developed by Brazil, India and others in the Group of 20 developing countries. This should involve steep tariff cuts over the next five years, starting from 55 per cent up to 90 per cent in the highest tariffs in rich countries. In a second stage, tariffs should be brought down to zero. There would need to be a very limited scope for alternative treatment of sensitive products, and the creation of this list cannot be used to undermine market access. Developing countries must also offer contributions commensurate with their role in agricultural trade.
The second pillar of the agriculture negotiation is trade-distorting domestic support. To jump-start our stalled negotiations, the US is prepared to move, and move aggressively, by supporting a 60 per cent cut in “amber box” support – the most distorting type of subsidies – over the next five years. This will require significant reforms to US farm programmes. WTO members agreed in the framework to establish a new cap in the less trade-distorting support programmes under the “blue box” and further define this type of domestic support. Getting control of “blue box” payments has been a top priority of many WTO members. Recognising its importance, the US is prepared to move here too and go beyond the framework. Over the next five years we suggest reducing the agreed cap by half – a step that also requires changes in US farm programmes. In the second stage, all trade-distorting support could be eliminated. The US will do its part and more, but consistent with the framework’s harmonisation commitment, greater cuts must be required by the European Union and Japan, which have much larger subsidies. All countries must also simultaneously deliver real market access.
Export subsidies – the third pillar in agriculture – are already slated for elimination under the framework. The date for elimination must be set and it should be 2010, as suggested by Tony Blair, the UK prime minister. The US is also prepared to tighten rules on the donation of food aid to guard against possible commercial displacement but not at the risk of further reducing already inadequate food aid for those who need it most.
A ground-breaking result in agriculture is not in and of itself a sufficient outcome. There must also be complementary advances in trade in manufactured goods and services. Development, which we believe is at the heart of Doha, can be best realised if we are ambitious in all three areas. The US is ready to make tough decisions on agriculture, but we cannot do it alone. It will take serious contributions and intensive participation by all members. The US offer to make difficult domestic support decisions is conditional on other countries reciprocating with meaningful market access commitments and subsidy cuts of their own. The clock is ticking. Together, we can break the agriculture deadlock and unleash Doha’s potential for greater global prosperity.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

"Warren," she answered


So responded Associate Justice-nominate Harriet Miers to Senator Leahy's request that she name her favorite justices. Generally, when one counts "Warren" as being among his (or her) favorite justices, one is referring to Chief Justice Earl Warren, he of Roe v. Wade. While many lawyers and laymen alike surely regard Chief Justice Warren as one of the greatest justices, few Bush confidantes, and fewer devout Christian pro-lifers, fall into this camp. This is why Leahy could hardly believe his ears. As those with a knowledge of constitutional interpretation, and those conversational in political/jurisprudential code, know, the Roe decision, and Earl Warren's personification of its ungodly judicial activism, is literally and invariably what the president refers to when he vows to appoint jurists who "will not legislate from the bench," or who are "strict constructionists," or are "in the mold of a Scalia or Thomas." That is, all that the president has pledged to achieve through his judicial appointments, and all that the conservative legal establishment and the Christian right are hoping (praying?) for can be represented as follows: ≠Earl Warren. So for what crazy reason would Ms. Miers volunteer the information that the man proclaimed by the Washington Post to be "the bête noire of conservatives" is one of her favorite justices? (continue below)

Fortunately, Leahy had managed to keep his wits about him. Before collapsing into a convulsive state due to the inevitable sense of penetrating shock he must have experienced, Leahy asked a clarifying question: By "Warren," did Miers in fact mean that Chief infanticidal maniac, or could she, possibly, have been referring to his successor, the universally venerated Chief Justice Warren Burger?

"Burger," came the answer.

How relieving! Just when we thought White House Counsel Miers may have represented the latest link in the distinguished chain of Republican nominees turned indulgent sodomites once on the bench, this nominee of formidable intellect and unfathomable constitutional scholarship summarily straightened the record. She is not yet indulgent, nor is she thus far a sodomite. She is just possessed of one or more of the following endearing qualities.

One possibility is that she has a quirky sense of humor. It would seem that a meeting for evaluative purposes with an influential opposition senator makes for an inopportune venue to display one's kooky side, but maybe I'm just old-fashioned. Another potential explanation is that her powers of recall are less than total. (An explanation of what I am implying by this list of possibilities is forthcoming.) Perhaps neither of the above account for the likely soon-to-be-justice's vexing answer. Perhaps, despite having found significant success in corporate law--which, particularly in Texas, has traditionally been the province of men, and thus likely required more than a bit of savvy and tactful speech--and notwithstanding her many years spent beside Karl Rove and George Bush (whatever else may said about his intellect, morals, judgment or otherwise, he is undoubtedly politically and socially skillful), the nominee Miers may be utterly without a politically aware neuron in her brain. Last, but unfortunately most probable, is the possibility that she is not humorously offbeat, nor is her memory altogether failing her, nor, if we are to abide by the charitable strictures of grammar and hold that a person can have only a single greatest weakness, is her most jeopardizing deficiency her apparent lack of understanding regarding what to say and how to say it, particularly on those occasions when those things matter. No, by most indications, none of these traits is the one that compelled the "on again, off again" partner of Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht to puzzlingly point to simply "Warren," and subsequently clarify that to mean Burger, not Earl Warren, in answering the question of who her favorite justices are.

As has been a recurring theme throughout the discussion of the Miers nomination, it appears that here, too, the former Locke Liddell managing partner's rumored lack of intellectual heft has taken center stage. Allow me to issue a brief disclaimer before I proceed: I do not seek to disparage Miers; I do not hold intrinsic biases against women, corporate lawyers, non-jurists, the soft spoken, born-again Christians, or, so far as I'm aware, any of the other various and sundry quasi-demographic characterizations that might be attributed to Ms. Miers. I do, however, strongly object to allowing, and certainly nominating, individuals who are plainly not suited to the task of the Supreme Court to sit on the Court.

To best appreciate the folly of the "Warren" episode, and how it serves as an almost synecdochical example of the inappropriateness of the Miers nomination, I will dissect it methodically.

First, when asked to name favorite justices, any casual historian, engaged citizen, or law student could rattle off several names that would provoke no dispute at all. For example, I have yet to meet the person who has some quarrell with Oliver Wendell Holmes or John Marshall. Considering our subject is not merely an engaged citizen, but is the primary legal counsel to the White House, and indeed, not merely a law student, but the nominee to the second most prestigious legal job in the country this question should have been brushed aside in a manner becoming what we all know it is, a perfunctory get-to-know-you question, the sort one might ask on a first date. Instead, as though to flaunt her unsuitability, Ms. Miers chose not to name Justice Holmes, or Chief Justices Marshall or Hughes, or even Rehnquist. Nor did she give the nod to Justices Frankfurter or Jackson, who while more liberal than the right hopes a Justice Miers will prove to be, are roundly admired for their intelligence, pragmatism, and fair-mindedness. Any of these names and others would have been passable to ideal answers to a softball query.

Assuming we can disregard a quirky sense of humor as the reason for her answer, which I think is a safe bet, what accounts for her response? An interesting sidebar, which does not explain her choice of Burger, but merely her given answer of "Warren," is that she may, implausible though it seems, have actually forgotten the distinguished Chief's surname. Ouch. One does not even want to tap with a ten-foot pole the possibility that a member of our Supreme Court could have forgotten the name of a Chief who was active just twenty years ago. Nonetheless, is it not convention to refer to justices by their last names--as in, Chief Justice Burger, the Rehnquist court, etc.? I don't recall having heard references to the Earl Commission. Already, the returns are discouraging.

Disregarding this odd faux pas, the choice of Burger as an idol is not exactly impressive, or even explicable. He was not, to be kind, especially galvanizing in either his ideology or his intellect and efficacy. Let us, for the moment, suppose that Miers had hoped to take not the neutral route in answering the question, but instead were intent on using "code" to send a particular message to the conservative base, or even to some other bloc. In this case, had she named Justice Thomas, her answer would have been easily explained. While Thomas is not about to win any awards for brightness, such an answer would have blared loudly and clearly across the red states that Justice Miers is on their side, will limit/restrict abortion, and generally be everything they had prayed for. On the other hand, had she named Justice Brandeis (or the real Warren), the base would surely have been furious, but she would have announced, in similarly clear voice, that she is someone who the Democrats can feel good about, and who will not, as Senator Kennedy is so fond of saying, "restrict rights rather than expand them." Instead, and this is what is so very weird, she chose a justice who was not especially conservative, not especially bright or effective, and not broadly, or even narrowly, loved. Burger voted for Roe v. Wade, Burger was considered overbearing and ill-respected by his associates on the Court--Burger was even the butt of jokes by the other justices' clerks. Meaning, the Right has no affinity for him, and, seeing as was somewhat conservative, nor does the Left. Academia certainly doesn't think highly of him. In short, there is no discernable group to whom Miers could have been appealing with this choice.

At this point, Miers made the choice either because she is completely impolitic, without a sense for how to be uncontroversial, or because she genuinely does admire Burger foremost, which effectively implies foolishness. Or perhaps she doesn't know better. She may have known he was the Chief and that he was "conservative," and decided "I'll run with that." It is of course impossible to know which was the real reason, but when it comes down to it, the reason doesn't matter. An examination of this sorry episode encapsulates quite concisely how distressing the Miers nomination is. With only nine members, each with lifetime appointments, the Supreme Court is the one place in American life where it is not just ideal, but essential to ensure that each and every individual who sits there is not just smart, but a superstar. This is a designation that cuts across political ideologies. The standard for Supreme Court confirmation should not, in most cases, be ideology or "litmus tests," but should be whether the nominee is immensely talented, accomplished, and capable. On this measure, both John Roberts and Stephen Breyer pass the test, despite being on different sides of the political spectrum. The problem with Harriet Miers is not whether she's too Christian, or not inherently conservative enough, but rather that, despite her accomplishments as a lawyer, and her apparently fine personal nature, or even her good intentions, this is not a university admissions process, in which many thousands apply, several thousands are admitted, and fewer thousands accept. Nor is this like the position of Attorney General, for whom the term is limited by that of his patron, and is thus effectively a position elected by the people. On the Supreme Court, unlike at Harvard College, it is not okay to take a couple candidates of "good character" because they have "connections." That works in a pool of thousands, not in one of nine. Let us not forget, this is the same woman who once proclaimed George Bush the most brilliant man she had ever met. Whatever Bush's qualities, and he has many, not even the strongest partisans can honestly believe him to be the most brilliant man they have ever met. While none of these slip-ups alone disqualify Miers, taken together they make her laughable, and added together, one cannot help but have grave doubts as to whether she is up to the task.

Perhaps the Burger choice was inspired by her own nomination. It has been said that if 100 legal scholars were asked to submit their top 100 choices for the Supreme Court, Miers would not have made a single list. Just as no one considered Miers, no one would consider Burger for the list of great justices. Could that be why she named him, for humorous, ironic effect? To demonstrate the parallels between them? Maybe she does have that quirky sense of humor after all.
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Nothing Like Home

Looking for a new home? Well here is the most expensive home on the market in 2005. The location: Bridgehampton, NY. The price: a cool $75 million.
For the ultimate price, you can have the ultimate in luxury--60 acres of coveted Hamptons farmland transformed into an uber-estate. There is the grand main house, which totals more than 25,000 square feet and has a great room with a 28-foot-high domed ceiling. The 14 gardens include vegetable, hydrangea and butterfly plantings, as well as a rose garden modeled after the one at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. And how could a home be considered complete without its own U.S. Golf Association-rated course designed by Rees Jones? The grass tennis court, 75-foot pool and three large ponds are just extras.
Not too shabby.

See the other 10 Most Expensive Homes in 2005.
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Entertaining Articles Of Which The Enterprising Young Reader Should Be Aware But May Have Missed

Recruiting at Columbia's Economic Department via NY Metro Magazine
740 Park: Where the Rich and Famous live in NYC via NYT
Taxi's on the famed East 78th St. via NY Observer
A Treatise on Ivy League Admissions via New Yorker
The Marriage of Regis Philbin's daughter via NYT
About Hedge Funds via the Economist
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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Second Addendum

Just a short note. I am, of course, equally honored and excited to embark on the project that is General Equilibrium. It should re-emphasized, as it could never be too much, that the goal of this forum is NOT to agree. We do not aim to advance one school of thought, one political party or even one sports team. Many an argument has, and should, lead to the raising of voices and much harrumphing - not because irrationality has taken the place of logic, but because the viewpoint to be advanced is so fully and strongly believed that every party involved absolutely requires that their voice be heard. Luckily, the technology that is the Internet provides a place where the intensification of debate does not cause one opinion or the other to be lost in the din of voracious viewpoint-making. Links will be shared, evidence brought forth, rebuttals strongly typed - but at no time will one's opinion simply fall by the wayside because of brute strength of voice. The contributors may never come to an agreement, but that's a good thing. It is for the reader to decide for his or her self which side is more valid, which statistical measure more telling or, in some cases, which rationale is less absurd. And so we carry forward, pompous voices intact, beating forward steadily through time; pseudo event after cultural event after news event - the tide of information unabating, the opinions ever flowing.
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Addendum to Kapstar's Statement of Mission

Such a project as "General Equilibrium" has been a long time coming. Of course, it could not be earnestly attempted without the right men for the task. I am honored to be a part of this momentous occasion and hope to welcome additional distinguished contributors as we expand.
For now, however, I wish to offer my perspective as to what I hope to accomplish through this journal. As no two persons have identical preferences, dispositions, priorities, beliefs, or capacities, each unique member of this project will offer his own unique perspective. What we do share, however, is a deep and abiding interest, even obsession, in the aforementioned subjects. None of us, individually or together, can hope to be all-encompassing in our coverage of events, but we can make every effort to bring fresh insights, honest analyses, and incisive dissection of those issues we do cover.
The ideally successful result of this experiment would be for our readers to come to recognize not only our impressive breadth, but, dare I say, the frightening depth of the understanding and information we have regarding our subjects.
This is certainly no mean task, but come along, won't you, as we dive into the world of blogging and rigorous examination of all things interesting and important.
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After much thought and endless hours of contemplation, this blog has been launched to provide a forum for posting thoughts on anything that should happen to strike us on the head. Finance, politics, law, foreign policy, economics, psychology, sports, books, movies, restaurants, sure why not. As the title suggests, here the entire world will be summed up, interesting articles will be linked, impressive resumes posted, random facts enshrined, fashionable quotes publicized, current events reviewed, and meritorious topics debated. And if any guests should happen upon this site, and wish to join in, so much the better.
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Tonight at 11:55PM Greenwhich Mean time, or 6:55PM Eastern Standard time, General Equilibrium was successfully launched.
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