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31 July 2007

So-Called Liberal Thinktanks

Glenn Greenwald notes that supposed liberals Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, deservedly the darlings of Fox News, are continuing to do what they have done for years: support the Iraq war.

It is difficult to remember a media spectacle to match yesterday's grand pageant where Ken Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon were paraded across virtually every network and cable news show and radio program and heralded as "war opponents" and "Bush critics" who nonetheless returned from Iraq and were forced by The Truth to admit that we are Winning. For sheer deceit and propaganda, it is difficult to remember something quite this audacious and transparently false.

As was demonstrated yesterday, O'Hanlon and Pollack were among the most voracious cheerleaders for Bush's invasion and, as the war began to collapse, among its most deceitful defenders. But it goes so far beyond that.

Even through this year, they have remained loyal Bush supporters. They were not only advocates of the war, but cheerleaders for the Surge. They were, and continue to be, on the fringe of pro-war sentiment in this country. And yet all day yesterday, this country's media loudly hailed them as being exactly the opposite of what they really are. It was 24 hours of unadulterated, amazingly coordinated war propaganda that could not have been any further removed from the truth.

Once upon a time, the Brookings Institution had actual experts on defense policy who were actually left-of-center in their policy prescriptions. Raymond Garthoff was a real contrarian in his magisterial analysis of American-Soviet diplomatic history, and William Kaufmann was unsparing in his analysis of the kind of armed forces the United States would need as a hegemon (big hint: far fewer weapons designed to deter, scare, or confound the Soviet Union). In 1987 or even in 1994 it would have been reasonable, albeit simplistic, to describe defense prescriptions coming from Brookings as "liberal" because its policy prescriptions defied conservative orthodoxy. But somehow the bright lights at Brookings decided that getting op-eds in the Washington Post or agreeing with Brit Hume on Fox News were more important than getting things right.

To put it another way, whose books are going to look better in a generation? Would it be Garthoff or Pollack? Yet who by far more famous nowadays?

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Posted by Tim W at 7/31/2007 10:01:00 PM

15 July 2007

Stupid Tax Tricks

How stupid can state legislators be? One way to find out is to look at the targeted tax breaks that they give away.

A common tax break are incentives to reduce property taxes for companies that build new facilities—at least in theory, they have a justification because the taxes paid, even after the breaks, exceed the taxes previously paid on the real estate in question. (In practice, it is debatable whether the tax breaks offered are really all that necessary.)

Take a look at what Lenoir, North Carolina offered Google to build a new server farm on previously vacant land:

To keep Weiss [Google's representative] interested, the Lenoir City Council voted in closed session on Mar. 21, 2006, to expand the tax incentives then on the table. An initial offer of 100% off local property taxes and 75% off real estate taxes, both for 15 years, grew to 100% and 80%, respectively, for 30 years. Fine, said Weiss, but there were other issues....

[B]y June the deal seemed to be falling apart on another front. In Raleigh, the state legislature was working on a Google-driven bill that would exempt server farms from sales tax on the copious electricity they use. On June 13, Weiss sent an e-mail to Jim Fain, the state's commerce secretary, complaining that the legislation "has remained cursed with unfortunate and petty dickering from the legislative drafting side—mainly refusing to reinsert better word choice." If North Carolina didn't quickly enact "sales tax exemptions that make it competitive with other states in which the project could locate, the project simply will not come to North Carolina," Weiss wrote. He continued to let officials know he was talking to several other states, including South Carolina and New York, according to documents and interviews. The legislation passed in July.

North Carolina's legislature was somehow convinced that Google was going to throw away months of work because of a 3 percent state sales tax. A three percent increase in the cost of electricity. Does anyone believe that the deal would be off if there were a three percent increase in electric rates? The state of North Carolina let itself get ripped off.

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Posted by Tim W at 7/15/2007 06:10:00 PM

Your Stock Market Darlings at Work

Business Week is continuing to take its latest tack of stock-market contrarian seriously. The magazine has published several recent articles about companies that prey on the underclass. This week's issue takes long-distance phone card sellers to task for misleading claims and bizarre fees.

Phone card companies also impose an array of "fees" on card users that reduce the value of cards by trimming 10, 20, or more minutes. Often called connection, service, or maintenance fees, these provisions sometimes are disclosed in ambiguous fine print on the back of cards, but other times aren't disclosed at all, according to a 2005 study by Julia Marlowe, associate professor emeritus of housing and consumer economics at the University of Georgia. IDT's $3 Crazy Crazy Crazy card, for example, charges a connection fee at the end of the call for every five minutes of use. The card also lists a 25% service fee, although it's not clear from the language on the card how the 25% applies. IDT says the fees are fair and vary by destination. A customer can avoid them by using all of a card's minutes for one conversation, the company says.

Regulation of phone cards has been light. Only 11 states, including California, Connecticut, Florida, and Illinois, have laws on calling cards. Other states rely on generic consumer protection regulations, but those are rarely applied to cards. The Federal Communications Commission has jurisdiction but hasn't used it much. The staff of the Federal Trade Commission is watching the calling card industry, suggesting stiffer enforcement could come soon. "We have been speaking to Hispanics across the country, and allegations about deceptive practices in the prepaid calling card industry keep coming up," says Lisa Hone, the FTC's assistant director of marketing practices.

But don't hold your breath waiting for the Bush administration's purported watchdog to do anything. Indeed, IDT seems to be among the more responsible of phone card providers—it has successfully sued competitors for promising minutes of calling that would be impossible to realize.

As the article correctly notes, many users of these prepaid cards are illegal immigrants who are singularly unable in many cases to take any legal action against the predators who are promising goods that they will never deliver.

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Posted by Tim W at 7/15/2007 06:00:00 PM

10 July 2007

Lefties are Smart

Leave it to Tom Tomorrow to create an editorial cartoon smart enough to impress the folks at Scientific American. I, for one, am not surprised. Go check it out.

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Posted by Tim W at 7/10/2007 04:38:00 PM

Our Mister Brooks

David Brooks, supposedly a smart fellow, has tried yet again to take the pulse of cultural America. And yet again he has no idea how to do it. His latest screed purports to show how today's popular culture in America is so unlike that of decades past.

If you've been driving around listening to pop radio stations this spring and summer, you'll have noticed three songs that are pretty much unavoidable, and each of them is a long way from puppy love....

When Americans face something that's psychologically traumatic, they invent an autonomous Lone Ranger fantasy hero who can deal with it. The closing of the frontier brought us the hard-drinking cowboy loner. Urbanization brought us the hard-drinking detective loner.

Now young people face a social frontier of their own. They hit puberty around 13 and many don't get married until they're past 30. That's two decades of coupling, uncoupling, hooking up, relationships and shopping around. This period isn't a transition anymore. It's a sprawling life stage, and nobody knows the rules.

The three songs with these "Lone Rangers" are by Carrie Underwood, Pink, and April Lavigne. All three tell no-good, low-life men to sod off. This surely scares someone like David Brooks to pieces, for if women can tell their boyfriends to stop sleeping around, then gay marriage has to be next.

But the best part is Brooks's assertion that angry women getting revenge on their unworthy partners is something new:

If you put the songs together, you see they're about the same sort of character: a character who would have been socially unacceptable in a megahit pop song 10, let alone 30 years ago.

Baloney. Here's a three-part long-distance dedication from Tim in Massachusetts to David in New York.

  1. The first is from 1995 (that's 12 years ago), in which Alanis Morrisette bitterly tells her ex-boyfriend just how upset she is. And her attitude was hardly "socially unacceptable" in 1995—even without being released as a single, it was all over the airwaves then, and was the most recognizable song on an album that sold over 14 million units in the United States.

    I want you to know, that I'm happy for you
    I wish nothing but the best for you both
    An older version of me
    Is she perverted like me
    Would she go down on you in a theatre
    Does she speak eloquently
    And would she have your baby
    I'm sure she'd make a really excellent mother

  2. The second is from 1979 (that's 28 years ago), when Pat Benatar lashes out at her cheating partner. One might say that she is "like one of those battle-hardened combat vets, who's had the sentimentality beaten out of her and who no longer has time for romance or etiquette." Indeed one might. "Hit Me With You Best Shot" sold over 1 million singles and hit the ninth spot on the main Billboard chart.

    Well you're the real tough cookie with the long history
    Of breaking little hearts, like the one in me
    That's o.k., lets see how you do it
    Put up your dukes, lets get down to it!
    Hit me with your best shot!
    Why don't you hit me with your best shot!
    Hit me with your best shot!
    Fire away!

  3. And the final one goes back to 1966 (that's 41 years ago), in which we find that the kind of revenge that Carrie Underwood is plotting in 2007 was certainly part of pop culture in previous generations. It was, however, a a bit more pedestrian and a bit more metaphorical. With her Number One hit in both America and the United Kingdom, here's Nancy Sinatra.

    You keep saying you got something for me
    Something you call love but confess
    You've been a'messin' where you shouldn't 've been a'messin'
    And now someone else is getting all your best
    Well, these boots are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do
    One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you

But here is the best part. The Wikipedia entry on Sinatra's song tells us that "Nancy Sinatra was encouraged by Lee Hazlewood to sing the song as if she were a sixteen-year-old girl giving the brush-off to a forty-year-old man. And here is Brooks decrying the bitterness and anger that today's culture creates:

[The character in these songs is] disgusted by male idiots and contemptuous of the feminine flirts who cater to them. She's also, at least in some of the songs, about 16.

One of these days, some male columnist will write what women have known for millenia. Some men can be brutal, nasty, and swinish. Some of them prey on young women. It is not a bad thing—indeed, it is a very good thing—to call them on their misdeeds.

Just because David Brooks just noticed this sort of thing happening on the radio does not mean that it is something new. But perhaps he would have noticed if he were not so afraid of women speaking their minds.

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Posted by Tim W at 7/10/2007 03:39:00 PM

02 July 2007

Awful News

Learning that Bush commuted Libby's sentence in a transparent ruse not just to keep him out of jail but keep him from testifying to Congress is bad news. That is, it is not good for the American polity but it is about what one might expect to happen.

Learning that Jim Capozzola died today is awful news. he was the chief cook and bottle-washer at The Rittenhouse Review from its inception in 2002, and it was clear from the start that he was what many bloggers wished they could be when they grew up. His blog was full of great writing, and was invariably a place to find keen political and cultural observations. I never met him personally, but in his emails he was smart and funny and gracious. In a sane country, some big magazine would have snapped up someone of his talents and given him a weekly column, two assistants, and a rotating spot on the Sunday talk shows—in our country, he was a guy running Blogger.

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Posted by Tim W at 7/02/2007 10:59:00 PM

01 July 2007

The New Internationale

Want evidence that gay and lesbian rights are rights that cut across cultures? Take a look at the massive Gay Pride parade in Mexico City. Materialists like us know that sexual identity goes to the core of human existence: dismissing discrimination against GLBT persons as "identity politics" is missing the forest for all of the bark in front of our nose.

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Posted by Tim W at 7/01/2007 02:31:00 PM

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