Krugman Errs Again

In his Sept. 30 column, Krugman writes of Bill Frist, “He sold all his stock in HCA, which his father helped found, just days before the stock plunged.” However, according to this AP story, Frist sold the shares on June 13 and the shares tumbled on July 13–about one month later. This timeline is corroborated in a news story from Krugman’s employer. A Krugman defender may argue that 30 days could count as “days.” But to me, anything in excess of six days no longer can be described as “days,” because after that point it becomes at least a week.

See CORRECTION

Vulnerable Republicans, Clueless Democrats

Even though the evidence against House Majority Leader Tom Delay seems weak (see below), it certainly looks bad that the Republicans’ No. 2 man in the House is under indictment, especially if you couple this with the news that their leader in the Senate, Bill Frist, is being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Delay and Frist may both get cleared, but in politics perception is more important than reality. As news articles have reminded us repeatedly over the past few days, it was ethics violations by the entrenched Democratic leadership that provided the opening for the Republican triumph in the midterm elections of 1994. A few weeks ago, even before the Delay/Frist news, a poll showed only 36 percent of Americans approved of the job the Republican leaders in Congess were doing, compared to 49 percent who disapproved. Within the Republican base, anger among small-government conservatives has reached a boiling point as Republicans fail to insist on offsets to help finance the more than $200 billion of expected Katrina-related spending. Perhaps this will affect turnout in 2006.

While all of this points to Republicans being vulnerable next year, Democrats still have to make major changes to exploit this vulnerability. No matter how unpopular the Republicans are, Democrats must convince a cynical public that their party can do a better job. Yes, Republicans gained power in 1994 in part because of ethics lapses by Democratic leaders. But Republicans also made a positive case for change, embodied in the Contract With America. Democrats oppose Bush’s tax cuts, oppose Social Security reform, oppose the war in Iraq (sometimes), oppose corporate influence, etc. But what are they for? As of now, it doesn’t seem as if they have a clue.

Delay Indictment

Tom Delay gives me no reason to defend him, especially after his recent statements that there was no more fat left to trim in the budget because Republicans had, “pared it down pretty good.” But based on what I’ve read so far, it does not seem like by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has much on him. As the Washington Post (no fan of Delay) editorialized today:

Nonetheless, at least on the evidence presented so far, the indictment of Mr. DeLay by a state prosecutor in Texas gives us pause. The charge concerns the activities of Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), a political action committee created by Mr. DeLay and his aides to orchestrate the GOP’s takeover of the Texas legislature in 2002. The issue is whether Mr. DeLay and his political aides illegally used the group to evade the state’s ban on corporate contributions to candidates. The indictment alleges that TRMPAC took $155,000 in corporate contributions and then sent a check for $190,000 to the national Republican Party’s “soft money” arm. The national committee then wrote $190,000 in checks from its noncorporate accounts to seven Texas candidates. Perhaps most damning, TRMPAC dictated the precise amount and recipients of those donations.

This was an obvious end run around the corporate contribution rule. The more difficult question is whether it was an illegal end run — or, to be more precise, one so blatantly illegal that it amounts to a criminal felony rather than a civil violation. For Mr. DeLay to be convicted, prosecutors will have to show not only that he took part in the dodge but also that he knew it amounted to a violation of state law — rather than the kind of clever money-trade that election lawyers engineer all the time.

If more conclusive evidence emerges pointing toward wrongdoing by Delay, I will freely join the chorus of outrage sure to follow. But as of now, I remain unconvinced.

Chief Justice John Roberts

I was happy to see Chief Justice John Roberts get confirmed by a wide, 78-22 margin. If this were a different time, the vote probably would have been unanimous. I really enjoyed listening to Roberts during his confirmation hearings. Rhetoric or not, I found his idealistic views on the judiciary and its non-political role refreshing. I look forward to reading his opinions to see what type of chief justice he turns out to be.

SCOTUS Quiz

This quiz says my favorite candidate for the Supreme Court is Judge Karen Williams of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Don’t know much about her, though I read that in 1999, Williams ruled that a suspect’s confession could be admissible whether or not he was first read his Miranda rights. Anyway, I’m not sure how reliable the quiz is, given that it doesn’t ask questions pertaining to judicial philosophy. I’ve always thought I was more of a Judge Janice Rogers Brown person.

The Greatest Candy Bar I’ll Never Have

Before I move on to more serious stuff I must report that today I stumbled across a description of the legendary SevenUp bar and it sounds like it was a stroke of confectionary genius. The bar was comprised of seven individual pillows of chocolate, and each section had its own delicious filling. The fillings changed from time to time, but over the course of the bar’s run, they included caramel, brazil nut, coconut, jelly, mint cream, nougat, butterscotch, cherry, fudge and buttercream. It was like having an entire box of chocolates in the palm of your hands! Talk about a solution to indecision.

sevenup.jpg

Unfortuantely, according to the book Candy: The Sweet History, the bar went out of production in 1979 because the trademark for the name “SevenUp,” which it shared with the soda, expired. Also, it was apparently expensive and labor intensive to make, given that all those fillings had to be injected into each bar.

But it seems as though there’s another candy bar out there carrying the torch. Necco’s Skybar has the same basic concept as the SevenUp bar, only with four flavors instead of seven. You can order a case of Skybars here. I’m quite tempted, but I’ve made far too much progress in fighting my sugar addiction over the last two months to become a Skybar junkie. If I ever see them for sale individually, though, I’ll definitely treat myself.

So I discussed obesity in my last post and wrote an ode to a candy bar in this one. That’s my idea of fair and balanced reporting.

Obesity, Pollution and Life Expectancy

Radley Balko uses this article about how deaths from breast cancer are declining to declare that:

Somehow, despite the dire headlines about rampant obesity, toxins in the environment, the pollutants in processed food, and the like, we seem to be be getting healthier.

He also points out that, “We also continue to set records for life expectancy, across all demographic groups.”

It bugs me when libertarians cite higher life expectancy and improving health conditions to refute people’s concerns about issues such as obesity and pollution. I see this argument over and over again. Does it not occur to libertarians that these problems can still be ligitimate, but gains in life expectancy could be occuring in spite of these problems? Medical science has improved drastically over time, so it makes perfect sense that people are living longer now. But it is still perfectly valid to argue that life expectancy could be increasing even more rapidly than it is, were it not for rising obesity and pollution.

On an issue like obesity, I wholeheartedly agree with libertarians when they oppose government attempts to regulate what people eat or lawsuits that attempt to blame obesity on fast food companies. But libertarians often go a step further, getting apoplectic over any attempt to portray obesity as a problem, or any attempt to expose the dangers of fast food. Though I don’t agree with everything in it, I think a book such as Fast Food Nation serves a useful purpose because it informs people what’s in the food they’re eating and it enables them to make informed decisions about what goes into their body. If anything, this is the strongest case imaginable for how a free society can deal with social problems without the need for government interference. But libertarians are quick to dismiss such endevors as alarmism.

I find it ironic that of all things, Balko chooses to point out a study showing that breast cancer rates are declining to illustrate his point about media alarmism. One of the main reasons the American Cancer Society gives for declining breast cancer rates is earlier diagnosis. I would argue that more women have been getting screened for breast cancer precisely because media attention increased awareness of the disease.

Likewise, I think all the media attention on fast food and obesity is a good thing, if it makes people reconsider what they are putting in their bodies.

Small Government Giuliani

Political junkies who are speculating about the 2008 presidential election give Rudy Giuliani long odds of capturing the Republican nomination because of his liberal views on abortion and gay rights. Many articles have been written on how he should deal with this potential liability. In a column earlier this year, John Podhoretz suggested that Giuliani simply become pro-life (link unavailable). I think this would be a bad move, because though becoming pro-life may mitigate a potential liability, it would also undermine Giuliani’s greatest political asset: his unwavering conviction. Should Giuliani make an about-face on abortion it would tarnish his image as a strong leader who doesn’t change his views with the wind.

An alternate way for Giuliani to make inroads would be to position himself to the far right on economic issues to court conservatives who are fed up with the runaway spending of the GOP. This would not contradict any prior positions Giuliani held as mayor, where he cut taxes (despite pressure to raise them during a budget crunch) and cut spending as much as he could given the overwhelmingly Democratic city council. He also drastically reduced welfare rolls during his tenure. New York City even ran a surplus at one point when he was mayor.

Social conservatives are often among the most vociferous in their opposition to the way Republicans have abandoned fiscal responsibility. If Giuliani were to unveil a long list of government programs that he would cut, and resurrect the Reaganite rhetoric of small government, it would endear him to many of these conservatives–┬Łespecially if he combines this with his aura as a no-nonsense leader who gets stuff done. The most ardent social conservatives probably won’t vote for him anyway, but such an approach by Giuliani could at least placate them so they’d oppose him less forcefully. Should he get the nomination, I don’t think running to the right on fiscal issues would hurt him in the general election as much as it might hurt the typical Republican, because Giuliani’s moderate stances on social issues would make it difficult for Democrats to portray him as a complete extremist.

One additional thing to keep in mind is that what happens with the U.S. Supreme Court during the remainder of President Bush’s term could be a factor in 2008. John Paul Stevens is 85. Should he retire in the next few years, that would mean Bush would have gotten three picks. If they all turn out to be reliable conservative votes, social conservatives may become a little more passive in 2008. If, however, (soon to be Chief Justice) Roberts turns out to be too moderate and whoever else Bush nominates turns out to be equally disappointing to social conservatives, the group may be foaming at the mouth come 2008, and more likely to mount a strong opposition to a Giuliani nomination. This is a whole lot of speculation, but that’s what blogs are for.

North Korean Farce

So it seems that what was hailed as an deal under which North Korea was going to abandon its nuclear weapons programs, really wasn’t much of a deal at all, because North Korea already said, “The U.S. should not even dream of asking us to give up the nuclear deterrent we already have before providing a light-water nuclear reactor.” The Bush Administration has refused to discuss a light water reactor until North Korea disarms and yet still insists that they will get this deal done.

It seems that in desperation to show progress with North Korea and to appear as though it gave diplomacy a chance, the Bush Administration is signing an agreement that North Korea is no more likely to abide by than the 1994 pact that it secretly violated before formally pulling out of. Furthermore, based on all press accounts I have read, the pact does not make any aid to North Korea contingent upon improvement of the country’s atrocious human rights record. Much like the 1994 agreement, the current pact could have the effect of sweeping the North Korean issue under the rug for the time being, while propping up a regime that once made Bush’s “axis of evil.”