Saturday, May 21, 2005

Where freedom is not marching

Uzbekistan. A great op-ed piece by Bill Kristol.


IN THE WEEKS AFTER SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, as Washington prepared for a difficult war to remove the Taliban from Afghanistan, the neighboring former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan became a particularly useful ally. Indeed, Uzbekistan was the first country to offer military assistance to our government on the afternoon of September 11, and the Pentagon subsequently established a base there. After the main fighting in Afghanistan ended, we continued to work with the regime of Islam Karimov, even though he remained an unsubtle dictator of the neo-Soviet style. We did little to help promote political freedom there. Indeed, we seem to have "rendered" dozens of terrorists to the Karimov government for interrogation, despite (or perhaps because of) its well-deserved reputation for brutality and torture.

But the character of the Karimov regime can no longer be ignored in deference to the strategic usefulness of Uzbekistan. The Taliban has been defeated, and, with the liberation of Iraq, the nature of the global struggle to which the Bush administration is committed is no longer exclusively focused on the destruction of terrorist redoubts. We are now committed to a democratizing effort that challenges tyranny along with terror as threats to peace and freedom around the world. The Uzbek regime that was part of the solution in 2001 is now, with its bloody suppression of protests, part of the problem.

Less than two weeks ago, Karimov ordered his troops to the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon, where economic discontent had stirred the local populace to protest. They opened fire in a spasm of official bloodshed reminiscent of Tiananmen Square. The death toll remains unconfirmed, perhaps unconfirmable, but apparently exceeds 500 and includes women and children. Karimov and his servants have sought to explain away this atrocity with charges that the Andijon demonstrators were, or were inspired by, Islamist radicals. But such claims seem to be mendacious propaganda, which, left unchallenged, could undermine the real and indispensable effort against radical Islam.

The Bush administration's response to the bloodshed has been tepid, featuring calls for restraint by both sides. The president's failure even to mention Uzbekistan in a major foreign policy speech to the International Republican Institute last week is not good news. Neither is the absence of talk about using U.S. aid as leverage on Karimov.

Uzbekistan has a distinguished cultural and theological Islamic heritage. If it had a regime accountable to the people, allowing entrepreneurship and pluralism, it could become a force for progress in other Muslim lands. As an exemplar of successful reform, Uzbekistan would be a far more valuable ally than it is now as Karimov's fiefdom.

I couldn't agree more. Mr. President, show us the guts you're famous for.

Freedom continues to march

Kuwait recognizes the right of women to vote. Now the UAE is considering voting rights as well.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Social mobility

The NY Times is running an interesting set of articles about social mobility. You can read the first here.

The NY Times, like most media, is really striving to be fair and balanced here, but I think in this case it's painting an unnecessarily grim picture of class in America today. If you look at their data, we see that people in the bottom quintile had about a 50-50 chance of moving into a higher quintile over ten years. In my opinion, those are not long odds. Those are "work hard and you'll make it" odds. People in the bottom quintile had a 5% chance of making it to the top quintile. Once again, this is hard, but hardly impossible. Many liberals have made it seem like a person born poor had such huge obstacles to overcome that the odds of them succeeding were about the odds of an aspiring baseball player to make it to the majors.

Also keep in mind that we're only talking about ten years here. I'll share a little bit of my info with you. When I started out, I made $4.75 an hour, or $7000/yr(part time work). That's defintely bottom quintile territory. Ten years later, I was making $30,000/yr, which I believe puts me pretty firmly in the 3rd quintile. Not too shabby, according to the NY Times' data, my odds were 25% of accomplishing that. So pat me on the back, thank you very much. However now, I'm up to $36,000, three years later. That's about 4% real growth per year. At that rate, I'd be getting into the 2nd quintile in about 20 or 30 years. But I plan on doing better. That's if I only get raises and similar jobs my whole life. If I continue on my career track, I can eventually expect to make top quintile wages. I'll probably achieve that at the end of 20 years of working life. So over 20 years, if all goes well, I'll be on top, from the bottom. I wonder how many people from the bottom quintile would be following me over 20 years. I hope the NY Times uses the same data and comes back to tell us in 2015.

In my opinion, social mobility will not be a problem unless we have a situation where people born poor actually do have long odds to make it to the middle class. I just don't see that kind of problem in the current social mobility data.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Presidents and the economy

Just as I say I need to pay more attention to Kevin Drum, he goes and posts something stupid.

Here it is.

All I have to say is do the same thing, only use Congress instead of Presidents, and you get a much different result. And after all, does not Congress decide tax and spending issues?

Not that it matters there either, since it's a lot more complicated than that and I think Kevin Drum knows it. So after exposing some right-wing hackery in Limbaugh, I guess I'll expose the left-wing kind now. You're welcome.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The 1990 bipartisan deficit reduction plan

I was just reading about it today. I remember that conservatives had a huge fit over this plan. It contributed to President Bush's defeat in 1992. But I never knew the specifics of the plan, only the general outlines. And I've found that it really wasn't a bad plan. We could use such a plan today to reduce the deficit. For those who don't know, here were the specifics. I think every one of these could be used today to help bring down the deficit:


Gas tax increased by 10 cents.

Cigarette tax increased by 8 cents.

Liquor taxes raised by a total of $2 billion a year

A new 10% luxury sales tax on cars over $30,000, yachts over $100,000, jewelry over $5000, and furs over $5000.

The wage ceiling on the Medicare tax was raised by

Tax deductions were reduced for the top 2% of households.

Airplane ticket taxes rose by a total of $2 billion a year.

Spending cuts:

Defense reduced by $35 billion a year.

Meidcare payments to hospitals cut by $6 billion a year.

Doubled the deductible that Medicare beneficiaries had to pay.

Doubled Medicare premiums.

Cut farm subsidies by $2.3 billion a year.

All other discretionary domestic programs held to inflation for the following three years.

Total bill:

$134 billion in tax increases over 5 years.
$366 billion in budget savings over 5 years.

I'm not sure what's so bad about this plan, especially considering that Democrats controlled Congress at this point. Yet Bush still managed to make 72% of the deficit reduction come from the spending side! And no income tax rate increases! That's brilliant negotiating considering the circumstances.

When do liberals consider taxes to be too much?

Jim Henley asked the question. Matt Yglesias dodged it. Kevin Drum, a liberal blogger I should really be paying more attention to, answers it.

He lists 40% as "unwise"(which wasn't really the question, but hey, I'm all for more information), 50% as "counterproductive", and 60% as "unjust".

Myself, I'd put 40% as the figure that is unjust, at a minimum. It seems that whenever we've increased that top rate past 40%, we start running into problems of declining revenues and reduced compliance. Which is understandable. It's an oppressive rate.

But that's a minimum. Whether or not something is just is a lot different from whether or not something can be done without unduly impacting the economy. So I'd say that advocating tax rates higher than 40% is crazy, but that even as high as 25%, we're in unjust territory. But that's just my opinion. I've spent a lot of time studying what the government spends money on and how it raises revenues. Taxes and spending are something I feel I've got a pretty good handle on. So I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the federal government, under normal peacetime circumstances, can get by with 15% of GDP. If I was really ambitious I'd go so far as to say they could do it on 12%. 9 to 10% once you can eliminate most of the national debt. But let's just go with 15% for now. I don't think a tax rate over 25% is really necessary to fund that fully.

Like Kevin, I'm speaking of effective tax rates here, not the marginal tax bracket.

I also think that Democrats really hurt themselves when they can't bring themselves to say that any tax rate is too high from a moral perspective. It makes one wonder if they have any respect for the rights of citizens to own property. What else can one think, when they think it's morally okay to take more than half of it?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Hillary Clinton

David Limbaugh has a post about Hillary Clinton's positioning herself to run for President in 2008. Like most Republican hacks, he's portraying it as a cynical attempt to deceive Americans about her true feelings, which are supposedly of the far left variety.

I say baloney. There is nothing in her history of her statements to suggest that she is anything other than a moderate centrist Democrat. She was that way during Bill Clinton's Presidency, she has been that way as a Senator. The only black spot I can find on her resume is working for the McGovern campaign. But Bill Clinton did as well, and he turned out to be quite the centrist President. Heck, even McGovern seems to have seen the error of his ways, at least on issues affecting business.

Now, there's no question that she is crafting her centrist message better to appeal to Americans who are inclined to disagree with her. But that's normal. Nothing deceptive about that. Her recent statement on abortion, where she said she respected the views of pro-lifers, are cited by Republicans as proof of her duplicity. How? On most issues, I respect the views of those who disagree with me. Doesn't mean I'm changing my position. I think Republicans are projecting here. Limbaugh and many other Republicans don't respect the opposing views of Democrats and assume that Democrats don't respect their views. Especially Mrs. Democrat herself, Hillary Clinton. Sure, there are many Democrats and liberals who are quick to resort to ad hominems or throwing things rather than reasoned debate. Ann Coulter knows about that. But I don't see that Hillary has ever shown herself to be one of those kinds of people.