Friday, December 16, 2005

Why on Earth would a nationally syndicated columnist give a rat's, you know, about the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Island?

Because he was getting some serious green to write about it. Longtime Copley News columnist and (until Thursday) Cato Institute fellow Doug Bandow admits that he took as much as $2,000 a pop to write columns that shed a favorable light on the clients of D.C. influence peddler Jack Abramoff. (Hat tip: The Corner.) Bandow conceded the obligatory "error in judgment," Cato immediately cut ties with him, and Copley started purging those columns from its archives. Reactions from syndicated columnists Cal Thomas and Connie Schultz are here.

Meantime, another libertarian thinktanker, Peter Ferrara of the heretofore obscure Institute for Policy Innovation, copped to the same charge ... but he won't apologize; indeed, his employer tells Business Week Online that punditry for hire is common, and there's no reason to be ashamed about it.

Wonderful. It's as if the Armstrong Williams fiasco disappeared down the memory hole. To make matters worse, this punditry for hire scheme (one BW commenter called it "infomercials masquerading as opinion pieces") serves to reinforce a canard the left has kept alive for the 20-plus years I've been involved in the realm of ideas: the argument that the philosophy of individual freedom lacks any intellectual credibility or moral underpinnings. The shtick goes like this: "The only people who could really believe that evil/oppressive/offensive/mean-spirited tripe are either a) rich or b) on the payroll of a greedy special interest." (I'll ignore the Marxian false-consciousness line for now.) Sure enough, Huffington Post leapt right on this pony, tarring all free-market thinktanks as "Republican talking points machines" and "Disinformation Institutes." (As if there's any intellectual consistency or substance to anything Arianna's done. But I digress.)

Forget the venerated work of Locke, Burke and Smith. Ignore the intellectual courage exhibited by the Friedmans and Hayeks of our lifetime -- and the millions of people who now have control of their own destinies because those ideas defeated the murderous ideology of socialism. The point is, Bandow and Ferrara have placed every nonprofit public policy organization that supports limited government on the defensive. For a few pieces of silver. And anytime the left wants to discredit the position of a free-market rep of a thinktank on a talk show, it's only necessary to ask: Have you ever accepted any money from Jack Abramoff or his associates? Confirming or denying that is guaranteed to drain the life from any serious discussion -- or at least sure to suck up a good minute or so of the segment. Thanks, guys.

UPDATE: On The Corner, lawprof Jonathan Adler (an acquaintance from my days in D.C.) recounts the enticements he received (and rejected) from PR firms to serve as a hired gun when he was a thinktanker. Jon's right; PR people are shortsighted. Truly independent organizations can make much more credible arguments than those that are perceived to be flacks for their donors.

But what a Christmas present Bandow and Ferrara have given to statists and their acolytes. The goal of the apologists for the regulatory state has never been to engage in an honest philosophical discussion of the proper role of government. No, the plan was to discredit the entire concept that there's a legitimate case for freedom. So if you're a fund-raiser or a PR person for a free-market thinktank, you'd better be scrubbing your donor list to make sure Abramoff and his minions aren't there -- and getting ready to return any money, pronto. Otherwise, forget booking that scholar on Meet the Press or landing an op-ed in The New York Times.

Too gloomy a prediction? Here's Marty Kaplan on HuffPost again:

Lobbyists and ideologues use every trick in the book in order to spread propaganda. But why do editors, bookers and producers have to fall for it? Maybe it's because asking an "expert" columnist or guest whether a lobbyist or special interest group paid them isn't enough of a test. After all, the payrolls of these Disinformation Institutes are no more pure than Jack Abramoff's bribes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Dear Santa

If Dave Barry can dust off the cobwebs long enough to compile a 2005 Holiday Gift Guide, could you please ask him to put together a year in review, too? And if not, could you get someone else funny and insightful, like, say, James Lileks, to pinch hit? Thanks, Santa. (Hat tip: Instapundit.)

P.S. I'm still hoping that Dave comes through.

UPDATE: He did. Joe Biden may never recover; the Republic is safe.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Schwarzenegger's statement

... denying clemency to Williams is here. (Hat tip: The Corner.)

Room to breathe

TechCentralStation has changed to TCSDaily: Technology, Commerce, Society, with a spiffy new home page and the formal acknowledgment that the site has expanded far beyond talks of telecom. TCS has been on my blogroll since the founding of the online Deregulator, and it's great to see the site grow and evolve. Congrats.

In one of the newest entries, lawprof and wine geek Stephen Bainbridge gives a thumbs-up to wineries that are capping their premium vintages with screwtops. Something I learned: California wineries that won't take the twist to screwcaps are replacing natural corks with synthetic ones. Even so, fake corks don't preserve wine well. If you plan to cellar a pricey bottle that's sealed with a bogus cork, beware: your wine could spoil within a couple of years.

We belong to the wine club at Bonny Doon Vineyard, home to some of the more unusual wines to emerge from Central California. (When you're looking for Bonny Doon on the shelves, just head for the oddball labels owner Randall Grahm commissions, such as the "ransom note" that adorns his Big House Red and Big House White -- so named because the winery's across the street from a jail.) Grahm is topping most of his domestic bottlings with the Stelvin screwcap, and as avid Bonny Doon consumers, we applaud the move. The process of uncorking a bottle may be cool. But the screwtops are idiot-proof, and yes, it is possible to reseal an unfinished bottle and (horrors!) stick it in the fridge to drink the next night.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Ban Bonds

I'm stunned that Bud Selig said he would review the allegations in Game of Shadows, the forthcoming expose of Barry Bonds' allegedly voracious appetite for performance-enhancing chemicals.

Look, MLB had planned to cash in big time on Bonds' pursuit of Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron. If Selig is not just blowing smoke, The Round Mound of Dinger Renown might be in trouble. Wow.

As several sportswriters have noted, the book is so meticulously detailed that Bonds cannot credibly stonewall. Doing so would be a tacit admission of guilt. His only options are admitting it's true or suing the authors to the hilt.

I'm guessing Selig hopes this matter is moot before April. Either a) the feds indict Bonds for lying to a grand jury or tax evasion -- then Bud could suspend him until the legal battles are over -- or b) Bonds' body has been so devastated by his rapacious substance abuse that he can I just feel bad. I don't want to throw things in his face when he is inconsistent. Or be an ungrateful bitch because I know he is trying. I wonder what he thinks that he isn't talking to me about.ng. I wonder what he thinks that he isn't talking to me about.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Can't we all just get along?

Let's see, here. "Community leaders" in L.A. urge peace if Schwarzenegger refuses to grant clemency to Tookie Williams. So Los Angeles may again go up in flames if the state fails to legally execute a man who not only killed four people -- and has neither expressed remorse nor taken responsibility for his actions -- but also founded a homicidal gang which has terrorized hundreds of thousands of innocents? Some community you got, folks.

SOP ought to be you don't negotiate with or lend succor to terrorists -- no matter how many useful idiots Hollywood lines up in their support. Get me outta here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Free the grapes

From the 1880s until the 1960s, the Inland Empire -- the Southern California area spanning roughly from East L.A. to the deserts surrounding Palm Springs -- was the backbone of the California wine industry. The emergence of Napa, and the demand for housing in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, nudged land owners to plow the vineyards and plop down subdivisions. But a sliver of winemaking areas remain in SoCal, and the two dozen or so vintners in the Temecula region near San Diego County want to use the force of law to protect their little slice of heaven from competition.

The Riverside County supervisors today will vote on a set of new restrictions that would block outsiders from building new wineries in Temecula unless they abide by rules that might well make their operations unprofitable. The big impediments: Wineries with tasting rooms would have to grow 75 percent of their grapes in Riverside County; and tight limits would be imposed on the number of "commercial buildings" -- tasting rooms, gift shops, restaurants, banquet halls -- that could be erected on the premises. Not surprisingly, existing wineries wouldn't face these barriers unless they expanded their facilities. The Press-Enterprise story outlining the rules is here; links to the paper's reportage is here. (Reg may be required.)

IMHO, Temecula wines are overpriced and uninspiring, with the exception of a few whites (which I rarely drink) and some zinfandels. (Why? It's too hot in Temecula in the summer to grow anything but the heartiest grapes. Forget Pinot Noir and decent Syrahs. Even the best zins in the IE come from the Cucamonga Valley ... which is in San Bernardino County. 40 miles north of Temecula.)

That said, Temecula is the only winemaking region that's a reasonable day trip from the southern Los Angeles basin, Orange County and San Diego; that's what -- 20 million upscale consumers? So there's gold in them thar grapes. Today's winemakers stand to make a mint if they can shut out competitors who would increase output and, who knows, might produce better wines.

What's this protectionism worth? This report chronicles production by grape variety county-by-county in California. Riverside County hosted only 177 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in 2004; contrast that with nearly 16,000 acres of Cab Sauv in Napa, 11,000 in Sonoma, and even 8,000 in San Luis Obispo, which includes my favorite winemaking region, Paso Robles. Keeping production low and limiting competition will surely inflate wine prices in the region -- and, as Press-Enterprise editorials have noted, is surely an abuse of power by county government.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Shake off the Winter blues

I'll be a thousand miles away, but if you're a blues lover and are on or near the West Coast in January, you've got to check out Mark Hummel's Blues Harmonica Blowout. The Bay Area harp man has put together these January tours annually since 1991, and he's brought in the old lions and the young turks. We caught the show in Riverside this year, which featured Superharp himself, the legendary James Cotton (from the Muddy Waters bands of the 1950s and '60s), along with Charlie Musselwhite and Fabulous T-Bird founder Kim Wilson. Hummel's rockin' band The Blues Survivors backs up all the players, and it's three-plus hours of fun.

This year, Hummel's pushing the envelope. Along with Jerry Portnoy, another Muddy Waters alum, the tour features Lee Oskar of War and Magic Dick of the J. Geils Band. (Wilson will join in a few gigs, and don't be surprised if Hummel's longtime buddy Huey Lewis doesn't pop up at a show or two.) The dates and players are here.

Magic Dick and J. Geils put together an outfit called Bluestime in the mid-90s that played nothing but vintage goodies from the '50s and before -- music that was more retro than what the original J. Geils Band played in Boston bars nearly 40 years ago. I caught Bluestime at a club in D.C. and was astounded by their chops.

The shows are great, and Hummel's a terrific player and seems like a good guy. Seeing James Cotton jam onstage with Musselwhite and Hummel while Kim Wilson worked the crowd was a treat. Check it out.

UPDATE: I would be remiss to not mention the opening act at this year's blowout: Nathan James and Ben Hernandez. We first saw Nathan picking guitar with the James Harman Band in 1998, when he was too young to consume alcohol at the bars where he played; he was the guitarist with Harman when the band played our wedding reception in 1999. Nathan's still with That Dangerous Gentleman and doing the duo stuff with young Ben, performing country blues with songs that date to the 19th century. They're talented fellows and nice guys who deserve a wider audience. Check out Nathan's Web site for more info and gigs -- they're primarily in Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties. He and Ben often play Saturday shows at the Mira Monte winery in Temecula. The cover's criminally reasonable, the food and wine are fine and the setting is downright delightful.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Rocky Mountain news

I'm delighted to end the radio silence with a special announcement: In January, I will join the Commentary section of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver as an editorial writer. (The Opinion section's link has just joined my blogroll.) The gap between real jobs has been nerve-wracking, but the wait was justified. I'm eager to move to higher ground and get started. Thanks to all the friends and well-wishers who have buoyed my spirits in recent weeks.

From all accounts, Denver is one of America's most liveable large cities, and the News is a gutsy competitor in a terrifc newspaper market. Don't know when I'll write anything with a byline, but that's OK. I'm just ready to get back to work.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Grey Lady* shows her true colors

The LA Times announces another opinion page shakeup. The major sackings: lefty columnist Robert Scheer and Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative cartoonist Michael Ramirez. (Nuts and bolts of the deal are here.) Scheer and Ramirez are both syndicated, so they'll be OK. Can't say the same for the Times's readers. This post by the LA Weekly's Marc Cooper nails it: The Times has decided to sanitize its op-ed pages and lose two major local voices. (Cooper's a lefty, and can't stand Ramirez's politics, but he did offer a SoCal-based vision that nationally synidicated toonists -- who don't live here -- will not replicate.) For metropolitan dailies to continue to survive (if not flourish) in the changing media market, they have to offer unique local commentary from recognizable voices. Saving a few thousand (or maybe even $100k) by using freelancers rather than staff writers is no way to build readership.

*of the West

Speaking of dumb, dumb, dumb

Arnold asks California for a mulligan, saying the special election was a mistake and vowing to a) buddy up with legislative Democrats and b) get more political advice from his spouse.

Wow. Dan Walters's rather morose take on the governor's mea culpa strikes the right tone:

The Republican governor has every reason to be contrite - not because he was wrong to challenge the status quo, but because he did it so incompetently. His measures were poorly drafted and even more poorly presented to voters, allowing his enemies to bury them and his public standing in an avalanche of misleading television ads. ... He's shifting back to the mode that marked the first eight months of his governorship, in which he repeatedly catered to lawmakers' demands in hopes that they would cooperate on his larger agenda. But it didn't work when he had a 65 percent public approval rating. It's even less likely to work now.
That's why all the happy talk about "governing from the center" is sheer folly. Arnold needed to rally conservatives and populists to his cause of reform. He didn't get enough of them -- but he got almost enough to beat back the establishment. And now he seems ready to toss his political base overboard. It makes no sense -- and 35 million Californians will be poorer because of Arnold's indecision.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Huh?

On KNBC-TV Channel 4 just now, the insufferable Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said the special election also signaled a rejection of ... George W. Bush. This was the only way voters could express their displeasure with the war, energy prices, yada, yada, yada.

I don't buy this for a second. The debate here was framed long before gas prices started soaring, back when MSM reportage on Iraq wasn't as negative as it is now. Besides, Schwarzenegger has consciously distanced himself from Bush this year, snubbing the president when he came to California for a fundraiser late last month. This election was intensely local, driven by state issues and not national concerns. If Jeffe is right, though, California voters are dumber than I thought.

UPDATE: Howard Kurtz agrees, more or less.

What journalists often fail to appreciate is that state and local races turn on state and local issues and personalities. There may be voters who would back Jerry Kilgore because Bush visited the state, but I doubt there are many of them. I had the same feeling when I saw Democrat Jon Corzine repeatedly running ads in the New Jersey governor's race with Bill Clinton singing his praises.
... Every four years, the press grabs onto the flotsam of the Jersey and Virginia races and the New York mayoral contest--boosted this year by Arnold's special election in California--and tries to interpret, infer and extrapolate what it all means . And it may not mean squat beyond the borders of those states.
It is better to look good than it is to feel good

Use the cliche you prefer about style trumping substance in California. Pundits may spin the defeat of all the reform proposals as a personal rejection of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the state's structural problems persist, and in my view, Schwarzenegger has a freer hand to be even more recalcitrant with the Legislature. (Arnold sent signals along those lines in the closing days of the campaign when he hinted that he would not endorse a tax increase, even if the initiatives failed.) Prop 76 would have loosened the straitjacket of spending formulas that denies policymakers fiscal flexibility. Since that's kaput, Arnold can deny any new legislative spending schemes and say, "hey, my hands are tied."

UPDATE: At NRO, Arnie Steinberg offers a fairly positive take on the results and sees Schwarzenegger returning to his former, wheeler-dealer persona. (It's worth a read.) If the gov can make headway with the Dems, great. But Arnold's been burned every time he tried to negotiate with legislative leaders. Who's to say Nunez and Perata won't read the election results as a vindication of their policies, and push for tax hikes on "the rich" and even higher spending?

UPDATE, PART DEUX: Meantime, GOP consultant Dan Schnur says in 20/20 hindsight that Arnold should have reached out more to the middle by pairing his "conservative" initiatives with some centrist sweeteners. Paycheck protection + a new ban on offshore drilling? Budget reform + another daycare entitlement?

Puh-lease. Talk about muddling your message. The agenda sank for a lot of little reasons, and (as I've noted before) one big one: The Capitol establishment made this a referendum on Arnold, and the governor took the bait -- and got reeled in. Sure, it might be tougher to vilify Schwarzenegger if he offered government goodies to everyone, but how exactly would that "reform Sacramento so we can rebuild California"? Besides, a salient complaint about Arnold's agenda is that it was wonky: redrawing legislative districts; reforming the budgetary process; tweaking teacher tenure; limiting political activity by public employee unions. Paycheck protection and teacher tenure were the easiest measures to explain in a soundbite, and they weren't the linchpins to his reform package. I can't see anyone girding for battle so that we can have fairer congressional districts, no matter how much the state desperately needs them.

UPDATE, PART C: Dan Weintraub thinks the Legislature now has a freer hand to play hardball with Arnold:
Before [the special election], Schwarzenegger at least had the threat of going over their heads directly to the people. Now that option is gone, at least for the time being. Why would they take that development as a signal that it is time to compromise?

Indeed.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Conflict of Visions

Tomorrow's special election might not be "Judgment Day," as plugged by Schwarzenegger on Sunday. (The guy just can't help himself.) But it is a big deal. And it's fascinating to see how the combatants have spun this vote. The governor and his allies have pitched this election as a matter of reform -- the only way to fix the wretched processes that leave the state constantly in debt and the Capitol in hock to special interests. The other side has made it a referendum on Arnold -- a beauty contest, if you will -- even though it's conceivable that Schwarzenegger will be busy making "Trues Lie 2" in 2007 rather than agonizing over the budget deficit.

This battle over process (Arnold) vs. results (his opponents) is the theme of Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions -- the book that may have most influenced my politcal thinking over the past two decades. I've previously written about Sowell's arguments here. Arnold's enemies count on Californians to have limited attention spans. Here's hoping voters show some patience and foresight.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

No stealth here

Give President Bush props for one thing: Senators won't have to consult a psychic to determine what Judge Samuel Alito thinks about the Constitution. As Ann Althouse notes in The New York Times, Bush could have followed the Miers selection with another candidate whose resume had (shall we say) a few holes. (Hat tip: Instapundit.) Instead, this confirmation process should be a real treat -- a nominee with 15 years' appellate-court experience and additional time as a litigator in the Justice Department and the office of the Solicitor General.

Meantime, Julian Sanchez deconstructs the left's initial talking points against Alito. Note: Sanchez is a libertarian, Alito a conservative; Sanchez concedes that Alito has a more expansive view of the role of the state. That said, the judge reads and applies the law carefully and consistently. Or as my old D.C. acquaintance Jonathan Adler writes on OpinionJournal, Alito is "pro-law." This should be welcome news to anyone who believes that the courts should not be super-legislatures that settle policy disputes.(More here and here, and for regular updates, check Bench Memos, RealClearPolitics and The Volokh Conspiracy.)

While pundits argue over whether Alito's jurisprudence will align more closely with Scalia or Roberts, the more fascinating question is whether his views are closer to Scalia or to Thomas? Adler's piece suggests the latter. And given Thomas's rousing rulings in Kelo and Raich, his selection may be cause for relief among limited-goverment supporters. After all, consider Bush's first choice for the job.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Up next ...

Harriet Miers should not have been subjected to this. But she showed class and dignity (and a good deal more sense than her boss) by withdrawing. Now, the Bush administration has to show it learned from the debacle. While the president reportedly loves to surprise people, being overly clever here by picking another stealth nominee (or a White House insider who's a cipher to the outside world) would neither mollify his supporters -- nor promote an independent judiciary, which will have an impact on Americans long past 2009.

It's just plain sad to see Chuck Schumer and other Democrats blame the Miers withdrawal on the vast right wing conspiracy, or to see Dianne Feinstein (who's sadly becoming more of a party hack as the years drift by) play the sexism card. Miers had few champions, because she clearly was not qualified for the job. It's not her fault; she specialized in the administrative side of law, not the theoretical. Still, it's gonna be fun to watch the Democrats and their special-interest puppet masters squirm if Bush selects a successor for Sandra Day O'Connor that draws unity from conservatives and libertarians.

The silver lining

At Instapundit and The Corner and The Volokh Conspiracy, the mood seems more relief than celebration. And that's a healthy sign -- especially with the NR crowd. It's an indication that speaking expansively, "the right" is perfectly happy complementing the GOP or the Bush administration but not becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of either. The Porkbusters campaign (which has been temporarily stymied but refuses to evaporate) is another example of a movement that's putting principle ahead of personality.

By contrast, Democrats and the left, which are both bereft of ideas and an agenda, and are pinning their hopes on the Clintons. Talk about your cult of personality.

Don't get me wrong. W and his brain trust might be tempted to forge a political dynasty -- word that the White House was compiling what amounted to an enemies list that comprised the public opponents of the Miers pick is certainly not encouraging. But the free-market or conservative movement is much larger than one person or one administration -- and is clearly more grounded in ideas than in the short-term lust for power. Peggy Noonan may be gloomy. But I'm willing to have a sunnier outlook ... if Bush uses this setback as an opportunity to rebuild credibility with his principled supporters -- to dance with who brung him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Read all about it

In this Reason Online piece, former Tar Heel Jesse Walker notes the migration of zines to public library stacks -- and plugs this humble blog, which began as a zine several millennia ago.

The brief history is here. Deregulator was my second stab at publishing. The first, titled The Free Citizen, was a spiffier, tabloid-style rag produced by a handful of libertarians (including me) in the Research Triangle Park circa 1985. We laid it out on a Mac Plus -- which cost several grand back in those days, and featured a whopping 128k of RAM. Since the OS chewed up 99k of the RAM, you had to save everything to a floppy.

We spat Microsoft Word copy from a laser printer, used paste-up sheets and photocopies and rubber glue; desktop publishing software was not available to mere mortals in those days. Production costs were microscopic; the newsprint to run 10,000 copies of a 16-page tab ran less than 100 bucks, I think. The plates and ink probably cost more than the paper. And since the variable costs were so low, we hoped to sell enough ads to local businesses so that we might actually make this a commercial operation. Didn't happen. Plus, we lived in different cities and had real jobs, making it tough to coordinate a schedule. If I remember correctly, only two issues of The Free Citizen resulted. But I got the bug, and Deregulator soon emerged (with plenty of help from the folks who made The Free Citizen possible). It was published on an Atari 520(!!!), which cost something like $1,500 rather than 5 large. An able assist from font designer Ralph Selsor and a switch to bond paper, Kinko's copying and delivery by USPS (along with a modest subscription fee) kept that publication around for a dozen issues or so.

Jesse's article brought back some fond memories. And in comparing zines with blogs, he's surely right about this:

But the Web will never completely displace the printed zine. An active website is supposed to be updated constantly; if you don't post to your blog for a month, it looks abandoned. A zine can appear only once or twice a year and still feel fresh. It's a series of completed projects, not a perpetually open-ended enterprise -- a different medium with different strengths, even as it draws on the same do-it-yourself spirit. As long as paper, staples, and Kinko's survive, it will too.


Better Justice

My friend and former boss Virginia Postrel formally joins a handful of prominent Bush backers and urges the president to pull the Miers appointment. The group, Americans for Better Justice, is asking people to e-mail and call senators to up the pressure on Bush. It has also produced an ad, set to run on Fox News starting Wednesday, to get out its message. Virginia explains her reasons for enlisting in this diverse group here. Money quote:

Unlike some social conservatives, my concerns are not results-oriented. As a matter of policy, I am perfectly happy to have abortion legal, with some restrictions, and actively support gay marriage. If there were any evidence (other than my friend Hugh Hewitt's imaginings) that Harriet Miers shared Richard Epstein's views on affirmative action, I'd give her a pass on that. (Now there' a line of questioning for the Judiciary Committee: Would you agree with Richard Epstein on affirmative action? Does she even know who he is or what he says?)

But the Supreme Court is not a legislature, in which the standard for a justice is whether he or she will "vote right." Supreme Court decisions set precedents beyond the case at hand, and they do that through the arguments they make--the very sort of logic and rhetoric Miers shows absolutely no interest in or competence for. Being the president's friend and lawyer, like being of the right sex and religion, does not by itself meet the requirements of the job.

This is a huge deal, considering that the board of advisors includes not only Virginia, but also Linda Chavez, Bush's first choice as secretary of labor, and David Frum, a speechwriter in the administration's early days -- the man who crafted the phrase "axis of evil." It should be difficult for even this insular administration to brush aside such a principled and public appeal from some people who were this tight with this president.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A tricky mentor

George Bush is getting semi-friendly advice about the Miers nomination from National Review, the Wall Street Journal and Charles Krauthammer, among others (in other words, DUMP HER!) -- and has chosen to hunker down, notwithstanding the dilemmas this stance poses to his political base. For one thing, if she indeed goes to Capitol Hill and is confirmed, it'll be tough for a future nominee's supporters to successfully argue (as did adherents of several Bush appointees, including John Roberts) that there should be no religious test for court nominees. Look, the only bloody reason the Bushies are giving religious cons to back Miers is that she's one of them. If that's not a religious test ...

Meantime, the conservative crackup has caused some historian types (check The Corner and No Left Turns, for starters) to question whether Bush is really a conservative, much less of a Reaganesque variety.

Maybe we've got the role models wrong. Think of a putatively conservative chief executive who won re-election during a divisive war but who squandered his political capital because of foolishly placed loyalty to associates who didn't deserve it. And who left future generations saddled with a massive expansion of the federal government.

OK, this is too easy. But W's looking more Nixonian all the time. With Tricky Dick, we got not only Watergate, but also the EEOC, the EPA, OSHA, and countless other bureaucratic headaches. With Bush, it's the repudiation of free-market farming and the Medicare drug benefit. Plus we've bought Louisiana twice!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Busted!

Dan Weintraub also links to this affidavit from the California Teachers Association, which is trying to get a $40 million line of credit to pay for its politicking. The union has not only exhausted the increase in dues it imposed on union members in June to fight Schwarzenegger's ballot drives, but also pre-spent (if you will) all the extra dues it expects to collect through 2008. Foes of the dues hike are trying to get a judge to block the line of credit. Weintraub also notes that the governor's folks believe the unions have raised and spent $100 million in the anti-Arnold campaign.

If you don't live in California, you haven't been bombarded by the ads featuring those public-spirited teachers and firefighters Arnold has picked on with his mean-spirited campaign. Lucky you. But now that the gov has come back with his own ads that cast the battle as one of "government unions in Sacramento" vs. "the people of California," the initiatives' poll numbers are going up. A win for Arnold will not only demoralize the political establishment in Sacto, it'll also leave it broke for next year's (slash public pensions) campaign.

Why Prop 75 could worsen union politicking*

Of course, union members should not be coerced into paying dues to support political causes. But what if Prop 75 makes that the law in California? Union political activities wouldn't end; in fact, they could intensify.

Consider this: Say 60 percent of public employee union members choose to continue lobbying legislators with their dues. Such an affirmation might embolden the CTA to dun willing members a lot more than $60. The potential payoff is stunning. $500 bucks now to purchase the legislative process could easily deliver tens of thousands over time for each member in higher pay, pensions, and health benefits.

To be sure, there's a risk. The casual observer might start looking at goverment workers not as selfless public servants but as yet another money-grubbing special interest group. Given the increasingly duplicitous and vicious nature of the unions' campaign tactics, however, I'm guessing that the unions are willing to take a PR hit over the next few weeks and months if it can lock up their legislative clout for years to come.

*even though I support the Paycheck Protection Initiative.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

How a strip-club scandal helps Arnold

The ever-insightful Dan Weintraub handicaps the race for mayor of San Diego. (Free reg'n may be required.) He also blogs about why voter intensity in California's second-largest city could give Schwarzenegger's reform agenda a boost. When the Democratic candidate, maverick surfer Donna Frye, is threatening to force the government into bankruptcy unless public employees take benefit cuts, you know this gorgeous city's administration has jumped the tracks.

But wait. There's more. The San Diego debacles go beyond creative public financing and overly generous employee benefits. Interest in Frye's earlier write-in candidacy got traction from a scandal involving two council members and the Galardi brothers, who owned strip clubs there and in Vegas. And the Galardis' dirty money -- they bribed public officials in both cities in the hopes of getting laws governing their strip clubs relaxed -- ended a handful of political careers in both places.

The Galardis' shenanigans in San Diego could wind up bringing reform-minded voters to the polls, and giving Arnold's agenda an unexpected boost.

The most noteworthy Sin City pol wrecked in the scandal was former Clark County Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey, a successful, straight-arrow flower-shop owner who raised more than 20 children and took an envelope of cash from the Galardis. Also ensnared in the bribery meltdown were two of Harry Reid's youthful proteges -- former commissioners Erin Kenny (the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2002) and Dario Herrera (who lost the race for a new congressional seat that year).

The biggest loser, though, was former commissioner and onetime cop Lance Malone, who served as the Galardis' bag man in both Vegas and San Diego. Malone was convicted along with two SD councilmen in July of corruption, but appeals continue. (A collection of the Review-Journal's reporting is here.)

It was both fascinating and appalling to watch this old-style political payoff scheme unravel. Wouldn't it be priceless if the biggest payoff from this Vegas-led conspiracy lands with Schwarzenegger, and by extension, the forces of reform in California?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Free-range technocracy

In a fascinating Reason colloquy, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey says Milton Friedman wasn't thinking expansively enough 35 years ago when he penned "The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits." Mackey argues that from now on, successful companies will have to acknowledge the "humanitarian" dimension of capitalism, incorporating charitable contributions (presumably directed to the local community) as part of the business model.

Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers counters that Mackey's little more than a Marxist decked out in libertarian pleather. Sure, companies can be good corporate citizens and help charitable projects. But they must keep shareholder value their top priority, or more-efficient competitors will drive them out of business.

Friedman plays peacemaker, noting that in a diverse marketplace, it's possible for corporations to succeed by selling their conscience, if you like -- so long as they also serve their customers, employees and shareholders well.

Friedman has it right, but he lets Mackey, who claims to be a free-market libertarian, off too easily. Had Mackey adopted the, say, Maoist defense of his business philosophy -- let a thousand flowers bloom -- he'd have convinced me. Problem is, Mackey becomes messianic in his message.

The ideas I’m articulating result in a more robust business model than the profit-maximization model that it competes against, because they encourage and tap into more powerful motivations than self-interest alone. These ideas will triumph over time, not by persuading intellectuals and economists through argument but by winning the competitive test of the marketplace. Someday businesses like Whole Foods, which adhere to a stakeholder model of deeper business purpose, will dominate the economic landscape. Wait and see.
This isn't free-market libertarianism; it's central planning garnished with yogurt and granola. When Mackey argues in the inevitability of his model -- the one best way -- he shows a profound misunderstanding of the dynamic nature of free markets, where no one can predict the long-term structure of a corporate sector, let alone a global economy.

In his own field, Whole Foods thrives alongside Costco and Safeway, and often cater to the same customers because each type of store offers something different -- in the variety of products, pricing and personalized service. Beyond that, though, he's using his relatively brief success in a narrow niche to predict how entrepeneurs must behave if they hope to succeed decades from now.

Whole Foods may have a license to print money today. But look at how its success has forced more-traditional stores to upgrade their offerings; compare the meat and produce sections of any modern supermarket in 2005 with the same store a decade ago. Remember the narrow aisles, the limited selection, the unattractive displays?

Whole Foods' profitability has also spawned (and grown) new local, regional and national competitors -- Trader Joe's, Bristol Farms, Wild Oats. Over time, this competition could trim Whole Foods' profit margins, making Mackey's new vision hardly seem inevitable.

Before making bold predictions about the future of capitalism, I'd recommend reading not just Adam Smith but also Frederich von Hayek ... not to mention Virginia Postrel.

Friday, October 07, 2005

How atypical am I?

I didn't opine on the Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court because: a) by all accounts, he's a very bright, qualified man who knows his way around a courtroom and has confronted constitutional controversies for a quarter-century; and b) Bush didn't ask me who I'd put on the court. (For the record, the 9th Circuit's Alex Kozinski would be a Brian McCann shot over the wall. But Kozinski's too honest about his views of the law to ever be confirmed to another federal bench.)

From what I've seen and heard, though, the Miers pick is entirely different, because, well, it alienates people like me. I tend to vote Republican for one reason: The alternatives are unpalatable. The Libertarian Party is a joke; it lost me forever after 9/11 when its leading lights expressed sympathy with the view that Osama, et al, had legitimate grievances for U.S. foreign policy. To the extent the Democrats hold any discernible views, they seem to be based on a model from 1973 -- redistributionist economics and timid, if not apologetic, foreign policy. Nor can I abide the Democrats' embrace of identity politics, treating everyone as a member of a group rather than an autonomous individual.

Republicans, on the federal level at least, pay lip service to free trade; they keep taxes in check; they know who the bad guys are on the world stage and are willing to expend some capital and effort to pursue them; and, until the Miers pick, the Bush administration talked a very strong game on judicial philosophy and the courts. I've come to endorse a more-limited role for the judiciary over time, believing that the political branches of government should settle most policy issues, following the proper procedures laid out in the Constitution, of course. I'm not looking for judges who agree with me, but instead judges who apply the law and do nothing more -- even if the outcome isn't to my liking.

Bush's discussions about the courts reassured me, and gave me more justification to trust his judgment. Now I'm not so sure. To return to the baseball analogy: Bush is pinch-hitting with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, down by a run with a man on base. Rather than swing for the fences, he bunts. Why would a manager have faith in him in a similar situation?

While I remain convinced that the Bush administration will not cut and run in Iraq or Afghanistan, that's about the only reason I plan to pay any attention to this presidency. It has zero credibility on fiscal responsibility, let alone any fidelity to government reform (bye-bye Personal Retirement Accounts, hello Medicare drug benefit). Now it has frittered away any cause to support its judicial appointments, for SCOTUS, anyway. If I'm still in California next year, I'll probably vote for Schwarzenegger, but I'll have little interest in any other partisan race, because there's no reason to be excited. How many more people are like me? In a nation as deeply divided as ours, the Republicans better hope there aren't many.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Miered in Congress

Want some local knowledge about the Harriet Miers nomination? Virginia Postrel, who hails from Dallas (and notes that much of her family income is provided by SMU), has cogent thoughts here and here. For starters. By all means, go to the main site here and keep scrolling. Virginia's point on "Miers-Briggs Jurisprudence" strikes particularly close to home. Over my many lifetimes I've worked for extreme "S" types, who may lack either the interest or inclination to look beyond their own experiences and think the world is simply an extension of what they know. They can make wretched bosses -- if they're in a position where setting long-term goals is important.

Meantime, Peggy Noonan nails this point:

I find myself lately not passionately supporting or opposing any particular nominee. But I'd give a great deal to see Supreme Court justices term-limited. They should be picked not for life but for a specific term of specific length, and then be released back into the community. This would involve amending the Constitution. Why not? We'd amend it to ban flag-burning, even though a fool burning a flag can't possibly harm our country. But a Kelo decision and a court unrebuked for it can really tear the fabric of a nation.

I'm sympathetic to the argument for term-limiting Supreme Court justices, if for no other reason that it would limit the amount of time a truly awful justice could do harm.

UPDATE: Matthew Franck, on NRO's Bench Memos blog, brings up a troubling prospect: If Miers is confirmed, could she wind up like Charles Evans Whittaker? Whittaker, appointed by Eisenhower in 1957, was such a detail freak that he worked 17 hours a day, 7 days a week until he collapsed of a nervous breakdown and had to step aside after five years on the bench. Franck predicts nothing, but simply underscores what Charles Krauthammer noted in today's Washington Post: "constitutional jurisprudence ... is, by definition, an exercise of intellect steeped in scholarship. Otherwise it is nothing but raw politics." Even more reason to be underwhelmed by this nomination.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

'Constituency conservatism'
So what went wrong with the Republicans? Without question, it's easier to plot an electoral victory than it is to maintain control once you've won. And wielding power often means spending programs that target the people who elected you. (Someone -- Dave Barry? -- once called it "bribing people with their own money.")

Beyond that, though, two factors have locked the GOP into what appears to be political invulnerability: legislative gerrymandering and the emergence of (borrowing from Mickey Kaus again) "constituency conservatism."

The absence of competition in legislative races, caused by partisan rigging of member districts, protects incumbents from serious challenges. This is a bipartisan scandal that transcends regional politics. Even in deep-blue California, none of the 153 state or federal legislative seats changed parties in the 2004 election.

But if federal legislators who once win office (or certainly who win their first re-election campaign) can count on lifetime tenure, then why didn't the Republican Revolution of 1994 result in a dramatic downsizing of the federal government -- particularly since the party has controlled both the White House and Congress since 2001?

In simplistic terms, you can blame the ascendance of Karl Rove at the expense of Grover Norquist. Norquist was the grassroots organizer who got disparate interests -- the "leave us alone coalition" of religious conservatives, property-rights groups, Second Amendment activists, homeschoolers, tax-cutters, ideological libertarians -- to work together to elect limited-government Republicans throughout the 1990s. As Norquist said when Steve Hayward and I interviewed him for Reason the day after the 1996 presidential election, "We want to remind everybody who's a single-issue voter for freedom that there are seven other reasons to support it."

Norquist has his detractors, to be sure, but he's genuinely a small-government guy. He said back then that his goal was to shrink the federal government by half within a generation ... and then to reduce it by half again. He's a policy conservative.

Bush's political architect Rove, by contrast, is a constituency conservative. His goal, as Michael Barone and others have often stated, is to make the Republican Party the dominant force in American government for decades. Barone points out that Bush has at times tried to meld leave-us-alone sentiments with his calls for national greatness. But this is a volatile mix. And Rove's goal is not to shrink the federal government, but to make sure it's big enough to parcel out goodies to every interest group in the GOP coalition.

The prescription drug benefit for Medicare is the best example of this. The leave-us-alone approach would try to stop making every American who turns 65 a ward of the state. If it's not possible or even desirable to phase out Medicare, then at least you could means-test the program, so that the 20-year-old checker at Safeway isn't subdizing Warren Buffett's Rx plan.

Instead, the constituency-conservative approach has plopped a budget-busting add-on to an already backbreaking entitlement program. Sure, the drug benefit offers some meager elements of choice. This has allowed supporters to claim that this is the only alternative to federal price controls or some other non-stealthy takeover of the pharmaceutical industry. But it's clearly a new tax-financed goodie for seniors, and makes a growing proportion of the population more dependent on Uncle Sam.

And it's not the only approach Bush has taken along these lines. Take No Child Left Behind, the faith-based welfare scheme, the farm bill of 2002 (so long, freedom-to-farm), his tax cuts (a less-technocratic approach than Clinton's, but still one that targets specific audiences rather than provide across-the-board relief). The idea is to ensure that Washington has stuff it can give and stuff it can take away.

This is why the absence of intellectual seriousness within the Democratic Party should alarm anyone who values freedom and individual responsibility. When the GOP's offering big government and the Democrats' alternative is even bigger government, better keep your powder dry.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Calling Lord Acton
An engaging debate between Matt Ygelesias and Mickey Kaus about unions, prevailing wages, Katrina reconstruction and what this all means for the Democratic Party. Yglesias says up front he knows nothing about the Davis-Bacon Act (which mandates that workers on government contracts get union wages), and it shows.


That said, it's refreshing to see this debate unfold among Democratic public intellectuals, even if it's unlikely to reach the cerebral cortexes of, say, Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi. Since the 2000 election, Bush-religious right-conservative-Republican hatred has poisoned the national Democratic Party, relegating constructive discussions about policy issues, even in the abstract, to the dustbin of history. (As Mickey points out, even the "centrist" Democratic Leadership Council has become a sorry mouthpiece for the party's reflexive left.)


The problem with this policy vacuum is that the Republican Party has, by default, emerged as the nation's dominant political force. And the GOP has embraced all the spoils of governing with relish -- as evidenced by Tom DeLay's jaw-dropping claim that the federal budget has been cut to the bone. Some $25 billion of the $284 billion highway bill is made up of "earmarks," aka pork -- spending that goes to specific congressional districts and was not vetted through the regular budget processes. Even so, DeLay said the $110 million in highway pork project he secured for his district "are pretty important to building the economy." So much for "the party of fiscal restraint."


This profligacy is not just a problem for today's taxpayers. Because the Democratic Party offers nothing constructive to anyone who does not belong to its base of union members, public employees, welfare-state wards, and remnants of the loony left, there's no organized or principled force to block (or at least slow) the GOP's fiscal wrecking ball.


Instead, the Democrats simply embrace the latest bromides from the antiwar left -- including their musty, McGovernik Great Society policies. It's as someone pushed the History Eraser and the misery caused by the technocrats of the Nixon-Ford-Carter era never occured. Witness the move in Hawaii to cap wholesale gasoline prices (subhed: "Some analysts warn move may spur supply problems." Ya think?)


The sort of politicians who at least paid lip service to what Mickey calls "policy liberalism" -- Gary Hart, Tim Penny, Dave McCurdy, Chuck Robb -- have aged, sure, but mainly they've been sent to pasture. Penny now is more comfortable with the folks at the Cato Institute than he is at, say, the DLC.


I'm not arguing that to again be taken seriously as a governing party, Democrats have to embrace Adam Smith. But they should at least consider that there's a reason the United States has prospered for the past quarter century. America shook off the malaise of the 1970s because Americans (in general terms) rejected central planning and embraced entrepreneurship, fiscal discipline and individual enterprise. So long as those latter principles remain anathema to the Democratic brain trust, the less likely independent-thinking Americans will be to take the party seriously.


Lacking genuine opposition, Republican leaders have no incentive to call off the spending orgy. And taxpayers have few outlets for channeling their outrage. Not exactly what Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey had in mind in 1994, I'm guessing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Terminal planning
At TechCentralStation, Frederick Turner offers a fascinating explanation of why the Iraqi resistance is getting more lethal, even though the casualties increasingly wind up being Muslims. (Hint: Michael Moore's suggestion that Zarqawi resembles, say, Patrick Henry fares none too well.) Meantime, Nick Schulz locates the architect of HillaryCare, taking up residence at the Clinton Global Initiative. That's bad news for the developing world, not just Western taxpayers. Check 'em out.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

He'll be back

A two-fer this week: Schwarzenegger launched his last push for the special election on Monday, and then said he'll run for a full term on Friday. Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters suggests how a chief executive with bottom-feeding approval ratings could still prevail:

First, the gay-marriage bill shows that Californians do not get the representation they want at the Legislature, regardless of the merits or demerits of the bill itself. They voted against gay marriage five years ago, only to have their representatives try to pass it again and again and finally succeeding this year. Only the Governator's veto kept it from trumping the will of 60% of California's electorate, which has a significant Democratic majority. Arnold made himself the people's representative, restraining an imperial Legislature that has far too easy of a time maintaining a Democratic deathgrip on state politics. (Note: Schwarzenegger hasn't vetoed the bill, just said he would. -- ED.)

That allows Schwarzenegger to run not only as a counterbalance, but as a reformer with more work to do. He wants to change the way California apportions its districts to disrupt that political deathgrip, a much better idea than the term limits that failed to do the job almost a generation ago. While he may have lost some popularity and luster of celebrity, that combination will be hard for any Democrat to overcome. It will take someone with star quality and a sense of reform to beat him, and the closest thing the Democrats have is Dianne Feinstein -- who has already ruled it out.



Democrats' relentless push for SB 60, which would grant de facto driver's licenses to illegal immigrants is another instance where the Legislature shows it's completely out of touch with the electorate. On its merits, Gil Cedillo's bill might comform completely with the federal Real ID law, which allows states to grant driving privileges to illegals, so long as the documents meet certain uniform standards.

Arnold has countered that the bill may not meet those tests, so why rush to pass something that may have to be scrapped later? It's a legitimate point that scores politically, too: It suggests that legislative Democrats would rather kowtow to a (wait for it!) special interest than arrive at a measured policy to accommodate noncitizens who operate vehicles in California. It also highlights the disconnection between realitiy and legislators in bulletproof seats. An earlier licenses-for-illegals bill helped kick Gray Davis from office; Cedillo faces no competition for his job. (To be sure, this argument also stokes some of the borderline nativist sentiments that reside in certain quarters, but that's another story.)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Happy birthday to the King
BB King, that is, who turned 80 today. (He shares a birthday with Katie Snell, 7-year-old daughter of our good friends Mike and Lisa). Riley King may be a beloved cultural icon, but he's also a wonderful musician; Clapton and Stevie Ray both considered him on of the greatest guitarists. By all accounts, he's also a lovely man with a big heart who can still play. Many happy returns.
We keep losing BB's contemporaries and colleagues -- pioneers who can never be replaced. Over the past few months, Johnnie Johnson (Chuck Berry's longtime piano collaborator and the first sideman selected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) passed on at 80. Last week, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown left us at 81.
It was fascinating how both these legends transcended categories. Johnson, a jazzman by training, recorded two pretty solid albums with country outlaws The Kentucky Headhunters, and even toured with them. Gatemouth appeared on "Hee Haw" so that he could jam with Roy Clark.
I was fortunate enough to see Gate play an outdoor festival in D.C. about a decade ago with what looked like a biker band backing him. (Their opening number was "Hot Rod Lincoln.") The performance was vintage Gatemouth, crossing genres as the quiet legend picked his guitar and puffed on his pipe during instrumental breaks by the other musicians. He had his fiddle on stage that day, but decided not to take it from the stand.
I regret not seeing Johnnie Johnson perform in person. But if you catch Taylor Hackford's 1987 rockumentary Chuck Berry: Hail, Hail Rock and Roll, you can't miss Johnnie, tickling the ivories. (BTW, that film celebrated Chuck's 60th birthday. He'll be 80 soon, too. Yikes.)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Calling Lyle Lanley
It's a tale of juice, boondoggles, the Mormon Mafia: The intrepid Steve Sebelius and George Knapp unravel the mystery of the Las Vegas Monorail in this week's City Life. Alternative weeklies offer what may be the last outlet for this dead-tree-based form of long-form, feature writing on local issues -- and it's a type of storytelling TV cannot match. Check it out here. And for some fun blogging from the left side of the aisle, be sure to read Steve's two blogs, Under a Naked Bulb and Various Things and Stuff. They're both on my blogroll.
Newt the seer

Horrific tales of child abuse, much like the one unfolding in Wakeman, Ohio, come to light far too often, with foster parents treating their young wards as a cash crop, or livestock. All of which makes Newt Gingrich look like a humanitarian.

Remember 11 years ago, when he suggested that a revival of orphanages might offer a more compassionate means to provide a healthy upbringing for some children who were abandoned or abused by their parents? Gingrich was widely ridiculed by the left at the time, claiming that this was a mean-spirited Republican plan to dump poor children into warehouses. But those warehouses exist now; they're run by adults who have state approval to keep abandoned children, apparently, without having to worry about being watched by the government. To be sure, the vast majority of foster parents are loving, caring people. And we should value their commitment to provide some security to children who can rely on no one else.

But the current system also allows monsters to torture and abuse helpless kids -- at a profit.

Who could argue that an institutional setting would not provide a healthier environment for kids who don't have parents? (See this 1996 Brookings Institution study for background.) At the least, those facilities would face a lot more scrutiny than the in-home kennels some foster parents operate. Children would be safer. Isn't that the goal?

UPDATE: The Brookings study was published in 2000. My bad.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Terminated

Terminated?
On Monday, Gov. Schwarzenegger formally launched what’s left of his November campaign to reform California government. It’s a reminder that the real summer blockbuster in the Golden State was Arnold’s unexpected political meltdown. And if Props 75 (paycheck protection) and 77 (redistricting) fail, not only will Schwarzenegger likely become a lame duck; California may well become ungovernable.

A year after pulling in unprecedentedly stellar approval ratings, his favorables have plummeted toward the Gray (Davis) Zone. (If it’s any solace to Arnold, at least Californians continue to despise the Legislature.) See the latest Public Policy Institute of California survey here.

To be sure, some of Arnold’s wounds are/were self-inflicted, perhaps a sign of political naivete. Letting corporate-bankrolled nonprofits underwrite the costs of his Sacramento offices? Dumb – and a betrayal of his vow to govern transparently, not influenced by special interests.

Allowing third parties (Allan Zaremberg, Ted Costa) to control two key initiatives in his reform agenda, rather than commanding his political operatives to scrutinize every jot and tittle of the process? Damn near suicidal. Drafting blunders by the outsiders a) forced Arnold to pull from the ballot the crucial proposition that would revamp state pensions; and b) spawned a court battle that nearly bumped Prop. 77 from the special election.

But these weren’t entirely rookie mistakes. It looks like Arnold realized – belatedly – that being CEO of a state government isn’t the same as sealing a commercial real-estate deal or producing a movie. It’s a real-world lesson in public-choice theory that has presumably chastened Schwarzenegger and should caution other corporate types who hope to enter the elite levels of politics, especially in an executive-branch role, where accountability matters.

That’s why I think Arnold shifted from conciliatory gestures toward the Sacramento establishment last year into a declaration of war. Because there are two big differences between business and politics: The processes and incentives aren’t the same.

Making a movie or negotiating a real-estate transfer are finite processes. It happens, or it doesn’t. Once the process begins, there’s an endpoint: The film reaches theaters, the new owner takes title to the property. Then everybody moves on. Schwarzenegger thrived in this environment.

Governing, by contrast, is continuous; bureaucracies are perpetual. You may balance this year’s budget, but then the next fiscal year begins. Will spending programs that are on automatic escalators (like public-employee retirement plans) crowd out resources for other programs? Will an economic slowdown depress tax revenues? Will wildfires or earthquakes sap funding for other projects? Roads crumble, kids need educating, people get sick, fires rage, bad guys have to be locked up. Even though governments are awful at long-term fiscal planning, it has to be done or the tax-and-spending environment becomes chaotic – and the investors who buy government debt look to other jurisdictions.

The incentives faced by negotiating partners and the branches of government are different, too. Once a studio decides to produce a movie, it’s in the interests of everyone – the studio, the financiers, the writers/directors, the crew, the on-screen talent – to finish the job. If this film never reaches the big screen, it’s tough to produce the next one.

But inside the Capitol, there’s no incentive to change. The establishment likes things fine as they are. Bulletproof districts mean that legislators of both parties have guaranteed tenure, 14 years if they want it, once elected. Term limits don’t make them accountable to voters; instead, senators and assemblymen just move from one body to another (or to cushy political sinecures) when their term limits kick in.

The public employee unions love the status quo, too. Teacher unions give heavily to Democrats; the public safety types (cops, firefighters, prison guards) ply Republicans with cash. Compensation packages keep getting plumper; everybody – except the taxpayers, of course – is delighted.

Sacramento Bee sage columnist Dan Walters has said that Arnold figured this out sometime during the 2004 legislative session, and decided that he had to fight the establishment, not schmooze it. (Walters, who’s no right-winger, has also said that if an outsider with Schwarzenegger’s forceful personality and broad appeal can’t govern California, no one can.) This shift, though, forced Schwarzenegger to drop the “uniter, not divider” persona that he adopted during the recall. And it left him an easy target for the political barrage he’s endured from the unions and their legislative allies.

It’s possible that – other than the strategic blunders he made with the initiatives – Arnold did as well as he could. Had he campaigned like Tom McClintock, as a feisty foe of state spending and the unions and the bureaucracy, rather than a populist who vowed to topple the Capitol’s special interests, Davis might have prevailed in the recall.

Whatever happens in November, though, champions of industry who hope to prevail in politics have much to learn from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brief tenure in office, especially if they assume that a market-based business model would seamlessly apply to governing.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Goat Boy returns
I don't mean to diminish the unmitigated evil al-Qaida encapsulates, but did anyone else find the the latest Jihadist bluster -- a 9/11/05 video message purportedly from former Riversider Adam Gadahn -- cartoonish? Gadahn, privately referred to as "goat boy" by some of the locals since he grew up on a goat farm, hardly appeared threatening to me. Looked like he belonged in one of the Die Hard movies.
I'm back ...
Though it's not entirely my idea. My previous gig at The Press-Enterprise didn't work out. That's all I'll say for now, but I may choose to share more over a virtual beer if you drop me an e-mail.
Meantime, I'm actively seeking steady pay at a new work place. I have several irons in the fire (or maybe it's a few irons in separate fires), and am freelancing to stay sharp. Plus, blogging again. Thanks for tuning in.

Speaking of freelancing
My first effort, post P-E, was for Las Vegas City Life; a follow-up with the folks in New London, Conn., to see what indignities the local government would dump on hapless property owners once the Supreme Court refused to defend their rights. (Thanks to City Life's editor, my buddy and former Review-Journal colleague Steve Sebelius, for getting me back on the horse so quickly.)