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April 5th, 2002:

Senate skirmish

Ron Kirk and Victor Morales traded barbs in a debate yesterday as early voting in the runoff ends today. Here’s one opinion that Morales is in for a tougher time than 1996. I sure wish I knew what the score was so far, but at least I know my vote will be meaningful. Nothing like a low-turnout election to make you feel like you really do have a say in who gets elected.

Another datum in the immigration debate

A large number of the construction workers rebuilding the Pentagon are Hispanic immigrants. Just something to bear in mind when the subject comes up.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay has an interesting thought in an op-ed piece in today’s Chron. He notes the payouts to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers as well as the counterfeiting equipment that the IDF found, and asks the obvious question:

Of course, some of the cash must filter through the fingers of the Palestinian Authority. Israelis claim to have found a counterfeiting press in Ramallah — one for faking shekels, not dollars. Shekels, however, are the local hard currency. One wonders if a few martyr families have been slipped plug nickels in exchange for a kamikaze child.

If it’s ever happened, the irony would be amazing.

Link love

I just noticed that I’ve been added to Jay Zilber‘s Legion of Essential Pets. Thanks, Jay! As long as I’m not Scrappy Doo, I’ll take this as an honor.

Bush’s split personality

Lawrence Kaplan in The New Republic writes about the limits of America to influence events in the Mideast. One of the reasons for this is the fact that our current policy is contradictory.

But the principal reason the Bush administration can’t intervene effectively in the crisis is that it can’t make up its mind. Actually, it has two of them. And that’s not likely to change. One, the “even-handed” approach, resides primarily at the State Department and is exemplified by Powell, Policy Planning Director Richard Haass, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns and his deputy David Satterfield, Ambassador to Israel David Kurtzer, and others. The other consists of the White House–where Cheney, his staff, and increasingly the president himself tout a line barely distinguishable from Sharon’s–and the Pentagon, where officials like Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz have in the past taken an even harder line.

Every time the administration wades into the conflict, this schizophrenia becomes more apparent. Just two weeks ago, for example, the Bush team was characterizing Israeli military operations as “not helpful” and professing sympathy for Arafat. Last week, however, the White House lent its support to Sharon’s much more ambitious offensive into the West Bank. But State Department officials claim that Powell’s words on the day the offensive was launched, which seemed to endorse Israel’s strategy, weren’t his own: Rather they bore the hallmarks of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their staffs, who weighed in on the substance of Powell’s statement at the White House. In January the same factions split over the significance of the Iranian arms shipment to Arafat: Foggy Bottom publicly downplayed it, while Cheney and Rumsfeld proposed severing ties with the Palestinian leader. The two camps also repeatedly clashed over whether to dispatch Zinni to the region and over the content of Powell’s November speech endorsing a Palestinian state.

Back in 2000, back when we were all happily ignorant of foreign policy because none of what happened out there in the non-American world actually affected any of us, Texas Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate George W. Bush dismissed concerns over his lack of knowledge about such things. He would, he assured us, be surrounded by lots of smart people whose job it is to know about foreign countries and stuff like that. They would guide him, so it didn’t really matter if Bush doesn’t know the name of some obscure Prime Minister off the top of his head, as some smartass reporter demonstrated.

This led Thomas Friedman to wonder what would happen if Bush’s advisors ever disagreed with each other. What would he do then? Perhaps now we’re finding out, and if so it ain’t pretty.

In fairness, several folks, such as Steven den Beste and Craig Biggerstaff have characterized Team Bush’s latest muddle as a strategic ploy to buy time. We’ll see. And I also see that Matt Yglesias has weighed in on this as well, with a similar thesis as Kaplan.

That Norah Vincent column

Kathy Kinsley and InstaPundit praise Norah Vincent and her column about blogging for “getting it right”. Maybe Vincent has actually read a few blogs, but I have to ask: What universe does she live in where the Left’s “bowdlerized opus of ideals” are all you can find in the newspapers? Has she never heard of the Washington Times, the New York Post, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, or the Wall Street Journal, to name the more obvious counterexamples? Good grief.

Like Nick Denton and his inability to find “liberal” bloggers, Vincent needs to get out more. She seems to think that until blogging came along, poor helpless conservatives had no alternative to the icky left-wing opinions they were forced to read in their daily Tattler Tribunes. Oh, if only there were some conservative voices in the media – maybe a magazine, or a TV personality, or a radio talk show, anything. Thank God the Internet has freed us from our chains and given a place for our long-silenced voices to be heard!

Full credit goes to Virginia Postrel for seeing through Vincent’s phoniness. Among other things, she points out that Alex Beam, the much-maligned Boston Globe writer whom Vincent piles on for his silly anti-blogging piece, has actually also written in praise of blogs. (It’s interesting, btw, that Mickey Kaus, who was the recipient of Beam’s praise in 1999 and again in the more recent piece, says that Beam “scores a few points”. As with Postrel, Kaus is permalinkless, so scroll down to find the relevant bits.) She also detects a strong whiff of victim politics in Vincent’s writing. Yes, Norah, poor you. Go have a beer with David Horowitz and talk about how oppressed you are. Maybe it’ll make you feel more empowered.

American idealism vs American exceptionalism

An interesting essay by Owen Harries, an Australian scholar who seems to have a pretty good grasp of what America is and what it’s about. His conclusion is a bit sobering:

Let me be clear: After the outrage of September 11, I do not believe that the United States could have reacted in any way other than as she did. But doing so will carry a cost. The long term significance of what happened some months ago may be that it forced America decisively along a course of action that-by emphasising her military dominance, by requiring her to use her vast power conspicuously, by making restraint and moderation virtually impossible, and by making unilateralism an increasing feature of American behavior-is bound to generate widespread and increased criticism and hostility towards her. That may turn out to be the real tragedy of September 11.

Link courtesy of a mailing list I’m on.

The Speedy Gonzales flap

Mark Evanier weighs in with his opinion on the Speedy Gonzales/Cartoon Network brouhaha. (Scroll down, he only has one permalink per day it seems.) There’s a bit more here than just a squeamish network caving in to Political Correctness, so if you’re uncomfortable about being on the same side of an issue as Rush Limbaugh, maybe this will help to make you feel better.

Kissin’ Cousins

Chron headline: Study OKs Cousins Having Kids. Sometimes, it’s just too easy, y’know? I’m pretty sure I heard the writers at The Tonight Show cheer this morning. Let’s move on.

No, wait. As is so often the case, Gary Farber has taken this seemingly fluffy story and mined it for something worthwhile. You rock, dude.

Statewide property tax proposed

Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff has proposed a statewide property tax of $1.40 per $100 of a property’s assessed value, which would then be distributed to districts on a per-pupil basis. The idea is to try to do something about the disparity in funding between rich and poor districts, which is $910 per pupil right now.

I’m not fully sure what I think about this just yet. I strongly suspect that this would raise my property taxes. I’m a good liberal and all that, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy eating my vegetables. The usual cadre of anti-tax groups appear to be against it, so that means it probably will be effective. Neither Governor Goodhair or Tony Sanchez has issued a position yet.

I think this is probably a step in the right direction. It’s awfully hard to discuss taxes in a rational manner anywhere, but here in Texas it’s damn near impossible. Let’s hope that the simplicity of Ratliff’s proposal will at least make it reasonably immune to sound-bite attacks so we can critique it intelligently.

The life of Reilly

Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly makes his case that the NBA and the NCAA would both be better off if more star basketball players would stick around through their senior seasons. He makes a good point, but goes more than a bit overboard here:

The way it should be: Fans thrilled to the moves of Duke All-America Kobe Bryant, Michigan star Kevin Garnett and Kentucky hero Tracy McGrady.

The way it is: Accountants thrilled to the moves of Bryant, Garnett and McGrady, all of whom jumped from high school to a paycheck in the pros.

Good grief, man, what are you saying here? That only those who profited from these guys’ contracts have been thrilled by them? I’m pretty sure that Lakers fans have cheered for Kobe Bryant once or twice since he entered the NBA. I think I can even recall seeing these fellas on the tube a few times. Reilly has his blind spots, such as his vicious hatchet job on Barry Bonds last year, but he’s usually more coherent than this.

Well, chin up, Ricky. As King Kaufman points out, “[s]tar players leaving big programs before their senior year have contributed to the rise, especially in the Tournament, of teams from so-called mid-major conferences, teams that tend to retain their stars, who aren’t quite as shiny as those in the major conferences.” This in turn leads to the upsets and Cinderella stories that, you know, help make the NCAA tournament exciting in the first place. Do you really want Duke to win the championship every year? I for one call that boring.

Further, I agree with Kaufman when he says that “the pendulum’s going to swing back, and you’re going to start seeing more top players stick around in college for longer”. The NBA will eventually come to the realization that it’s not in their best financial interests to do so much speculation on unproven kids in the draft. Market forces at work – whoda thunk it? Reilly himself provides evidence for this:

In the 2001 draft 54 underclassmen entered early, but only 36 were drafted, and five of those are already out of the league.

And sooner or later, some of these guys are going to conclude that maybe they ought to stay in school an extra year or two. Enlightened self-interest and all that.

Dissing Kirk

The New Republic has an article about how blacks have had a hard time getting elected to high offices as Democrats lately. It focuses mostly on North Carolina state legislator Dan Blue, who is running an unfunded, unloved underdog campaign for the Senate nomination against Erskine Bowles. Along the way, author Jason Zengerle talks about the fortunes of black politicians at the national level since 1990, when political analyst William Schneider predicted we’ll have a black on the national ticket sometime that decade.

Not only has that not happened, but by some measures black political power has actually regressed since Schneider’s words. While black Democrats continue to win city, county, and down-ticket statewide offices, there are currently no African Americans in governor’s mansions or in the U.S. Senate. And it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon. Just this week, Roland Burris–who in 1991 became Illinois’s first black attorney general–lost that state’s Democratic gubernatorial primary to a white challenger. And in New York, Carl McCall–a black Democrat who’s served two terms as state comptroller–is in a fierce gubernatorial primary fight against Andrew Cuomo, who’s never held elected office. In Louisiana, outgoing New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial unsuccessfully tried to amend his city’s charter so he could serve a third term–reportedly because he knew that, despite two successful terms, his race meant he had little chance of winning higher office.

Um, Jason? Ever hear of Ron Kirk? I’m not saying he’s going to win – he still has to defeat Victor Morales in the runoff, then he has the uphill battle against Attorney General John Cornyn to fight – but he’s a viable candidate who’s got the backing of the state party establishment as well as some national groups.

Look, I don’t want to be like those people who point to one person’s success as proof that a given group has overcome all of its obstacles. I’m just saying that overlooking Ron Kirk is sloppy. We’ll see if November provides a refutation to Zengerle’s thesis as well.