Sullivan’s Foot

One of the things that makes blogs different is that readers get to know the writers on a more personal level. But Andrew Sullivan is taking things too far when he gives us the details of his wart treatment.

What’s next? Is he going to update readers on his bowel movements?

Same Old Dems

James Taranto writes:

Harry Pelosi and Nancy Reid “are stepping up their effort to cut into the public perception that Republicans are stronger on national security,” reports the Associated Press from Washington:

“We need a new direction on national security, and leaders with policies that are tough and smart. That is what Democrats offer,” . . . Reid, D-Nev., said in remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday. . . .

Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats were providing a fresh strategy–“one that is strong and smart, which understands the challenges America faces in a post 9/11 world, and one that demonstrates that Democrats are the party of real national security.”

Me: I don’t see how this is anything new for the Democrats.

In New York in Sept. 2004, Kerry gave a speech that was supposed to lay out his Iraq plan. It included the following line:

To win, America must be strong and America must be smart.

What Palestinians?

At one point in Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, the hero Howard Roark is approached by the conniving villain who wants to destroy him, Elsworth Toohey. Toohey offers Roark an opportunity to express his true feelings. “Why don’t you tell me what you think of me?” Toohey asks. “But I don’t think of you,” Roark responds.

When the terrorist group Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January, many observers predicted that it would shake up Israeli politics and benefit the hard-line Likud Party led by Benjamin Netanyahu. But in Tuesday’s elections, amid record low turnout, Israeli voters collectively sent a message to Palestinians: We don’t think of you.

Not only did interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Kadima Party win the most seats in Israel’s Knesset on a platform of disengagement from the Palestinians, but other parties that made strong showings campaigned on domestic matters rather than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Labor Party came in second place after running on issues such as raising the minimum wage and increasing education funding. There was even a surprisingly strong showing for the Pensioners’ Party that was built on a demand for benefits for the elderly. Netanyahu’s Likud, which opposed withdrawal and called for a more hawkish stance toward the Palestinians, had disappointing results.

For decades, Israeli politics has fluctuated from right to left as if it were run by a metronome. When Israelis feared the government was becoming too soft, they moved to the right. When they were worried the government was becoming too harsh, they moved to the left. But the policies of both sides of this struggle always centered around Palestinians: either fighting the Palestinians more fiercely or negotiating with them more openly.

ON TUESDAY, Israelis instead chose a third option that is Israel-centric. Building on the legacy of Ariel Sharon, who still lies in a coma, Olmert has pledged to remove thousands of Jewish settlers from the West Bank and focus on defending borders that will be defined unilaterally, if necessary.

The policy of disengagement arose from several realizations by Israelis. They cannot wait around for the Palestinians to produce a legitimate peace partner and they cannot expect to resolve the conflict by military force alone. Also, demographic trends in the occupied territories favor the Palestinians.

While disengagement is a sensible strategy, it could prove dangerous if it is not handled properly. Critics of the policy argue that evacuating Jewish settlers and giving up land without concessions emboldens Palestinian terrorists by convincing them that their tactics are working.

Sharon understood this danger, which is why he remained vigilant against terrorism as he planned for last summer’s pullout from the Gaza Strip. Despite international opposition, Sharon built a security fence that helped reduce suicide bombings to a trickle. He did not hesitate to use military force when necessary and he ordered targeted assassinations against leaders of terrorist groups such as Hamas.

When Sharon became incapacitated from a stroke in January, Israel lost a leader who not only had a sensible strategy, but the steely resolve and sheer will to implement it. His stature and hawkish bona fides comforted Israelis who may have otherwise been jittery about the Gaza pullout.

Olmert, who served as Sharon’s deputy prime minister, clearly has a firm conceptual grasp of the disengagement strategy. It remains unclear whether Olmert will be as willing as Sharon to use military force when necessary, or whether he could potentially buckle under international pressure and attempt to negotiate with Hamas down the road. A policy of withdrawal coupled with an embrace of empty diplomacy with Hamas would be disastrous.

But there have been some encouraging signs. Olmert has said repeatedly that he will not deal with Hamas. Also, as acting prime minister, he ordered a raid on a Palestinian Authority jail in Jericho earlier this month to take custody of prisoners who are wanted for the killing of an Israeli tourism minister. Hamas leaders and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had indicated the prisoners would be released.

If Olmert does emerge as a strong leader, there is a chance that Israel will end up with a country that has permanent, defensible, borders. And Israelis can look forward to holding more elections in the future in which Palestinians don’t matter.

Israeli Elections

I’m writing a column on this so I’ll hold back for now. The bottom line is that disengagement seems like a sensible strategy to me, but we’ll have to wait and see whether newly-elected Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can pull it off properly.

Hamas Nobel Peace Prize Watch

One reason Yasser Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize is that he was a master at making overtures of peace to the rest of the world while remaining a warrior among his own people. The Palestinian Authority’s new prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, is proving he may have what it takes.

Via Al Jazeera:

In presenting the cabinet for parliamentary approval on Monday, Haniya sought to reach out to the West by saying his government was ready for talks with the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators on bringing a “just peace” to the region.

In contrast, on Tuesday, Haniya said: “We were born from the womb of resistance, we will protect resistance and the arm of resistance will not be touched.”

While on the subject of Hamas, it’s worth pointing out this statement by one of its newest members of parliment:

Holding high a copy of the Koran, legislator Hamed Bitawi shouted: “The Koran is our constitution, Mohammed is our prophet, jihad [holy war] is our path and dying for the sake of Allah is our biggest wish.” His remark drew a thunderous applause from all his Hamas colleagues.

Read more at the Jerusalem Post.

Freedom and Tolerance

It’s good news that the worst possible outcome was avoided and Abdul Rahman’s life will be spared, but damage was still done. That anybody would face the prospect of death in the 21st century for converting to Christianity is sickening. It just stings even more that this happened in a country where American soldiers and their allies spilled blood to topple an Islamist regime just a few years ago and give freedom a chance. Even though Rahman was freed, he will be seeking asylum in another country to avoid the angry mobs that are threatening to kill him in the name of Allah.

I go back and forth on the question of whether democracy is achievable in the Islamic world. When I’m being optimistic, I convince myself that deep within every person is a desire to be free. But just because somebody wants to be free, it doesn’t mean that they want others to enjoy freedom. Sure, Muslims want to be free to practice their own religion, they just don’t seem to want other people to be free to practice other religions. They want to be free to print anti-Semitic literature in their own countries, but yet they don’t think people in other nations should be permitted to criticize Islam.

Democracy hinges not only on a personal desire for freedom, but also on a tolerance for the views of others. The only way to make changes in a free society is to persuade others without resorting to violence. The system can only thrive if people understand that sometimes they won’t get what they want.

After the last presidential election, there were plenty of liberals who were hopping mad that President Bush was reelected. But this is about as crazy as it got. Angry liberals did not start burning down evangelical Christian churches because they contributed to Bush’s victory.

Perhaps, in time, the Muslim world will understand the concept of tolerance. And I’m not willing to give up hope yet. But if I were keeping a ledger of progress in the Islamic world, the Rahman story would certainly bolster the case of the pessimists.

Sopranos

This post will only make sense to those who have been watching the Sopranos this season, and there are SPOILERS below.

The last two episodes of The Sopranos have left me hopeful that the show can return to its old form. I think the episodes recaptured some of the psychological depth and originality that were missing in the past two seasons. The dream sequences creatively explored the issue of identity, and If you interpret them from a Freudian perspective (i.e. wish fulfillment) they reveal that somewhere deep within Tony Soprano there really is a desire to live the life of a typical guy. As he regains his physical and mental capacities over the course of the season, I think he’ll come back to having a lot of the identity issues that were revealed in the dream sequences. This gives him an inner conflict on top of the outside threats he faces. No matter what was going on in the last few seasons, I never really felt a sense that Tony was vulnerable, but now I do, and I look forward to seeing how he’ll confront his enemies and placate his underlings while struggling with his inner demons.

NY Times Misleads on Taxes and Deficits

An editorial in today’s NY Times (link unavailable) includes the following untruth:

Republicans want voters to believe that the deficit is the result of spending increases alone – not tax cuts. That’s false. The swing from a $236 billion budget surplus in 2000 to a $371 billion deficit today is a huge deterioration in the nation’s fiscal balance, equal to 5.3 percent of the economy. Of that, fully 62 percent is due to lower tax revenues.

Without knowing the source of the “62 percent” statistic, I am left to challenge the general points that the editors are trying to make. 1) Tax revenues have fallen since 2000. 2) Lower tax revenues played a much greater role in widening the deficit than increased spending did. 3) The underlying assumption that tax cuts are synonymous with lower tax revenue.

The Congressional Budget Office’s Historical Budget Data (pdf) directly contradicts these claims. According to the CBO, between the years 2000 and 2005 (the last fiscal year for which actual data is available), tax revenue increased by 6.3 percent. During the same time, spending increased by 38.2 percent, which would support the thesis that spending played more of a role in widening the deficit.

I decided to give the NY Times the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were referring to tax revenue being lower now than it had been projected to be prior to the Bush tax cuts. With that in mind, I looked this CBO report from April 2000.

The old report did predict that 2005 revenues would be about $200 billion higher than they turned out to be. But it also projected spending would be $358 billion lower than it actually was in 2005. To put it another way, if we pretend that the Bush tax cuts hadn’t been instituted and that tax revenue rose as projected, we’d still be looking at a $120 billion deficit, based on today’s spending levels. However, if you reverse that experiment and assume that spending only grew at the pace it was expected to, we’d be enjoying a $39 billion surplus, even with today’s lower than projected revenue levels.

Of course, the tax revenue projections are no doubt based on rosy economic growth forecasts, because they were made before the effects of the stock market collapse and 9/11 were felt.

In closing, it’s worth pointing out that there’s no real way to isolate the effect that a change in tax rates has on tax revenue, because economic growth plays such a key role. Supply side economists have long argued that lowering tax rates can boost tax revenue by generating economic growth (sort of like a retailer that increases sales by reducing its prices). This view is certainly supported by data showing that tax revenue rose during the Reagan presidency and (current) Bush presidency, even though both presidents reduced taxes. Liberals may disagree on this point, but there should be no disputing the fact that the relationship between tax rates and tax revenues is a tricky one to pin down and that any number somebody quotes on the issue is merely an estimate. But the NY Times emphatically states, “fully 62 percent is due to lower tax revenues,” without qualifying it as an estimate or identifying the source. As a result, readers cannot assess the methodology that was used to arrive at the figure.