Celebrities and Politics

Pat Sajak (yes, the Wheel of Fortune guy) has some reasonable thoughts about celebrities expressing their political views.

I especially liked this bit:

A celebrity should try to consider the appropriateness of a venue before opening his or her yap about political and social issues. Just because an arena is full of screaming kids who have come to hear your latest songs doesn’t mean you have the right to abuse this captive audience with speeches, tirades or political proselytizing. When you go up to a bank teller for a transaction, you don’t want to hear a lot about politics or the environment before your check is cashed.

Power Failure

The electricity went out at my house today.

After waiting for about an hour, I finally went to the movies, since I couldn’t watch one at home (I saw Million Dollar Baby, which I thought would be useful when evaluating the Academy Awards results. I thought the movie was very well done, but it isn’t really my kind of entertainment).

Fortunately, it was back on by the time I returned (no food was spoiled, etc.)

What was interesting was just how many things I thought to do that required electricity to be done properly. Electricity has become part of our environments that we usually take for granted. It often takes losing it for a while to appreciate just how valuable it is to us.

So, I’ll appreciate electricity for a while…

The Prescription Drug Cost Program

Ok, time to put on my anti-Bush hat.

This NY Times op-ed by David Brooks has me pretty annoyed at Bush.

In the past months we have learned that the prescription drug benefit passed last year is not going to cost $400 billion over 10 years. The projections now, over a slightly different period, are that it’s going to cost over $700 billion. And these cost estimates are coming before the program is even operating. They are only going to go up.

That means we’re going to be spending the next few months bleeding over budget restraints that might produce savings in the millions, while the new prescription drug benefit will produce spending in the billions.

That means that as we spend the next year trying to get a grip on one entitlement, Social Security, we’ll be launching a new one that is also unsustainable.

Over the next few months we will be watching a government that may be millions-wise, but trillions-foolish. We will be watching a government that sometimes seems to have lost all perspective – like a lunatic who tries to dry himself with a hand towel while standing in a torrential downpour.

And much of this new spending will go to people who have insurance to pay for their drugs.

In Congress, some are taking a look at these new cost projections and figuring that maybe it’s time to readjust the program. In the House there are Republicans like Mike Pence and Jeff Flake (whose predictions of this program’s actual cost have been entirely vindicated by events). In the Senate there are people like Judd Gregg and Lindsey Graham. These fiscal conservatives want to make the program sustainable.

Perhaps the benefits should be limited to those earning up to 200 percent of the level at the poverty line. Perhaps the costs should be capped at $400 billion through other benefit adjustments. These ideas are akin to what the candidate George Bush proposed in 2000.

But the White House is threatening to veto anything they do![Emphasis Mine] President Bush, who hasn’t vetoed a single thing during his presidency, now threatens to veto something – and it’s something that might actually restrain the growth of government. He threatens to use his first veto against an idea he himself originally proposed!

Now, it’s possible that there’s more to this story than is apparent, and there are some good reasons for Bush to behave this way. But, I doubt it.

I suspect he views attempts to control this program as threatening the integrity of his promises. Well, I think he is his integrity’s own worst enemy in this case.

And the harder he opposes reform, the less integrity he’ll have left.


I don’t know much about the issue, but you have to admire Jacob Sullum’s skepticism of the Class Action suit bill passed in the Senate.

In short, this looks like good legislation that respects the Constitution. Yet the broad, bipartisan support it has attracted in Congress makes me suspect there must be something wrong with it.

It reminds me of this joke.

Budget Priorities

I feel like I’m becoming a George W. Bush cheerleader.

I was very heartened to read this NY Times article proclaiming that Bush’s budget favors security over social spending. Well, that’s what governments should do.

I, of course, would love to see much greater cuts (e.g. War On Drugs, “education”, unneeded military weapons systems and deployments); but, it’s possible that this budget is already pushing the limits of what is politically feasible. I hope Bush is serious about defending these budget goals with credible veto threats (and actual vetos, if necessary). He has been a failure to make any serious effort to control spending thusfar.

This might just be an opening offer in a bargaining process, but it’s so much better than first-term Bush had to offer that the result, if he follows through, is likely to be far better than I had expected.

UPDATE: The folks at Cato aren’t quite as impressed as I am. I don’t disagree with their goals, I’m just not sure if demanding something closer to perfection will help or hinder the chances of getting the best possible outcome.

The Ownership Society

I recently came across this article by Duane D. Freese, written before the presidential election.

The premise is that a major reason why the Democrats are so afraid of Social Security reform that makes everyone an investor in the economy is that it will hurt their future electoral chances.

A poll released Tuesday…found that Bush has an 8 percentage point advantage over Kerry among the 71 percent of likely voters who invest in the markets (margin of error of 3.46). Meanwhile, among those who don’t have investments, Kerry holds a 14 percentage point lead.

While polls can be skewed by ignoring demographic groups, this poll looked across the demographic spectrum and found the gap between investors and non-investors held true among all segments. It has what stats geeks call “internal validity.”

It will be much harder for Democrats to engage in class warfare when everybody is an owner. Attacking the interests of corporations has always really meant attacking the interests of people, but if everyone owns stock many will realize that they are the people being attacked. It won’t be quite as appealing anymore.

With the growth of IRAs and mutual funds, ownership has already begun spreading; which might explain why the traditional anti-trade, anti-business populist rhetoric isn’t as popular as it once was.

I’m sure that there are many other political considerations, but this idea strikes me as interesting, and I suspect it is at least a part of the story.

Another thought I have is that even if Social Security reform is defeated (by a filibuster in the Senate, say), it might hurt the Democrats. If the Republicans can successfully frame the issue as their attempt to fix a broken system, and the Democrats being obstructionist for purely partisan reasons against the interests of the people, then the Democrats might suffer for it during the 2006 elections. That’s what happened to the Republicans because of their budget battles with Clinton.

Whatever happens, it is likely to get interesting. The Democrats have consistently underestimated Bush in the past, and I suspect they’re doing it again.

The State Of The Union Address

I thought it was a fine speech. Bush has become much better at delivering these speeches. He seems much more comfortable. I’m sure that the recent successful Iraqi election helped this time.

My over-all response is that Bush continues to impress me. He’s got a lot of guts. He’s certainly not perfect, but he’s willing to get behind many important issues that most politicians avoid.

I really liked his announcement to reduce or eliminate over 150 government programs:

My budget substantially reduces or eliminates more than 150 government programs that are not getting results, or duplicate current efforts, or do not fulfill essential priorities. The principle here is clear: Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely, or not at all.

I know Reagan talked a lot about eliminating programs, and departments, but I don’t think he managed to do much of it. I get the feeling that Bush just might.

I also noticed that part of his energy pitch included a call for “safe, clean nuclear energy”. Good for him.

Lots of other good stuff…Tort Reform, Social Security Reform, Tax Code Reform, expanded use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful convictions, continued focus on the War on Terror, support for continuing the mission in Iraq until it’s done, and warnings to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and more strongly to Syria and Iran to clean up their acts.

On Social Security, I thought he did a good job of explaining the issue, reassuring older people, and encouraging young people that the changes will be good for them. I’m a bit discouraged that the Democrats have circled their wagons against Social Security reforms; but they seem to continually underestimate Bush and I hope this is another instance of that. His strategy of pitching his plans to conservative states with Democratic senators might work well for him.

I usually don’t like the use of guests as political props for these speeches, but I thought the introductions of the Iraqi woman who lost her father to Saddam, and the parents of the killed Marine were very touching and powerful.

I liked his continued focus on “liberty”, and his reduced focus on God (I didn’t really notice much beyond “faith-based” groups, and the formality of “God bless America”).

I didn’t like his calls for increased spending on “education”, health care, ethanol, etc. I didn’t like his call for the protection of embryos. I didn’t like his call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages, either, but I understand that there was an ultimatum issued from a major evangelical group that if they didn’t hear such support in this speech, he couldn’t count on their support on other agenda items. It’s also somewhat comforting to know that such an amendment has no real chance of passage, and Bush knows it.

So, overall I was quite pleased with the speech. It made me feel better about things, and I’m usually pretty skeptical about what politicians say.

Who Is He?

Today would have been Ayn Rand’s 100th birthday.

I think it’s fair to say that she was one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century. She was certainly one of the major influences of mine.

Cox & Forkum have posted a very nice tribute with some good links for those who are interested in learning more about her. I thought I’d just jot down some of my thoughts, starting with how I was first exposed to her work.

When I entered college, I hadn’t heard of her at all, but that didn’t last very long.

In the first quarter, I had to take a humanities class called “Utopia”, which was basically a survey of various utopian (and dystopian) writings as a way to get us to think about politics. The first assignment was to, before doing any of the reading, write our own description of our vision of the perfect society. This was intended to help us contrast our thinking with “the greats” and to see how our ideas change throughout the class.

I had never been very explicitly political in high-school. But, I was one of the few students who didn’t nod in stupid agreement as the teacher extolled the virtues of the European-style cradle-to-grave welfare state. I understood enough economics to know that most economic regulations did more harm than good, and that markets tended to work very well without them. I also was appalled by the idea of “victimless crimes” and the military draft, and thought that people should generally be free to make their own decisions about how to live their lives.

So, my paper was basically a description of a Jeffersonian minimal state, with laissez-faire capitalism. I don’t even remember very much of what I wrote (but I’m sure it was good). What I do remember is the professor’s comment. When I got my paper back, I could see that he had written in large, angry, red letters:


I also remember my immediate thought:
Who is He???

So, I went to the library that same afternoon to check out (literally) this Rand fellow’s work. When I saw her books on the shelf, I figured I’d start with the shortest one: Anthem. It was a marvelous little statement about individualism vs. collevectism, told in a simple but powerful way. I really liked it, and was eager to move on to the book that seemed to be her masterpiece: Atlas Shrugged.

The next few days, I had my head stuck in Atlas Shrugged and my studies and sleep definitely suffered. It was amazing. Here were characters saying and thinking what I had been thinking, but doing it much more eloquently than I could have managed. And all from an immigrant, no less! I loved it.

I eventually read the rest of the available fiction, and non-fiction. I won’t get into the details of her books and philosophy, and I don’t want to leave the impression that I agree with every word, but I think that everyone should eventually read her works, particularly Atlas Shrugged.

As Michael S. Berliner wrote in an article quoted in the link above:

Ayn Rand left a legacy in defense of reason and freedom that serves as a guidepost for the American spirit — especially pertinent today when America and what it stands for are under assault.

UPDATE: Check out these Rand Day links: here, here, here, here, here, and here.