What’d I sign?

by Ted on August 19, 2004

Atrios has a good question:

I really don’t understand why there hasn’t been more attention paid to this, from little Scott McClellan:

We’ve called on Senator Kerry to join us and call for an end to all of this unregulated soft money activity.

What exactly does this mean? Should all expenditures be “regulated?” Regulated how? Should my friends and I not be able to throw some dollars together and buy ads?

I mean, I’m a tepid supporter of various Campaign Finance Reform endeavors, but I didn’t realize that president had such extreme views. Or does he? Can someone pin him down?

The quote isn’t out of context– I’ve got the whole exchange under the fold. McClellan repeatedly says that the President calls for an end to all unregulated soft money activity. Surely he can’t mean that?

McClellan also says “the President thought he got rid of all of this unregulated soft money activity when he signed the bipartisan campaign finance reforms into law.” Incredibly, he seems to be making the argument that Bush doesn’t understand the laws he signs. Even I know that campaign finance reform did nothing of the sort.

But let’s take McClellan seriously for a second. Are we supposed to believe that Bush thought he was signing away the right of Americans to engage in “unregulated soft money activity”? I mean, we Timberites pay money for our bandwidth. We engage in political speech. And we’re completely unregulated.

Did Bush think that he was outlawing this?

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Kerry and BCCI

by Daniel on August 19, 2004

Gosh, I remember this from my small collection of BCCI books, but had never realised it was the same John Kerry. This really ought to count in peoples’ minds a lot more than any tales of heroics in Vietnam. The fact that George W Bush borrowed money from BCCI in 1987 but John Kerry launched the investigation in 1988 that eventually brought them down really says about all you need to know about the character of the two men. BCCI was a really quite extraordinarily bad organisation and Kerry’s investigation opened the eyes of the whole world to the extent that it was possible to get away with corruption in high-quality financial centres. It was about this time, by the way, that the liberal media of the USA were smearing Gary Webb as a “crackpot conspiracy theorist” for reporting, accurately, on the fact that politically well-connected Nicaraguans were being allowed to get off easily on cocaine smuggling charges. The Washington Monthly story is well worth a read.

Link comes via Atrios, btw, who obviously needs the vast publicity that a CT link can generate.

Rents and Conditions

by Brian on August 19, 2004

I basically agree with everything “Daniel”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002359.html and “Atrios”:http://atrios.blogspot.com/2004_08_15_atrios_archive.html#109286835802888918 said about “Alex Tabarrok’s post on renting”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2004/08/economic_founda.html, but I just wanted to add one anecdote to support Daniel’s side of the story.

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The correct way to argue with Milton Friedman

by Daniel on August 19, 2004

I’m pretty sure that it was JK Galbraith (with an outside chance that it was Bhagwati) who noted that there is one and only one successful tactic to use, should you happen to get into an argument with Milton Friedman about economics. That is, you listen out for the words “Let us assume” or “Let’s suppose” and immediately jump in and say “No, let’s not assume that”. The point being that if you give away the starting assumptions, Friedman’s reasoning will almost always carry you away to the conclusion he wants to reach with no further opportunities to object, but that if you examine the assumptions carefully, there’s usually one of them which provides the function of a great big rug under which all the points you might want to make have been pre-swept.

A few CT mates appear to be floundering badly over this Law & Economics post at Marginal Revolution on the subject of why it’s a bad idea to have minimum standards for rented accommodation. (Atrios is doing a bit better). So I thought I’d use it as an object lesson in applying the Milton Friedman technique.

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The Iraqi National Conference – a mixed bag

by John Q on August 19, 2004

The meeting of the Iraqi National Conference has wound up in Baghdad, leaving, from the limited reports available, a very mixed record. Given the series of disasters we’ve seen in the last eighteen months or so, a mixed record is certainly better than the par outcome of total failure.

It was certainly good that the gathering was held at all, and appears to have encompassed a much broader and more representative sample of Iraqi opinion than anything of the kind held since the overthrow of Saddam (or, of course, while Saddam and his Baathist predecessors were in power). This report on the televised proceedings,at Healing Iraq gives an idea of what it was like.

On the other hand, the supposed purpose of the Conference, to elect an advisory council of 100 members to oversee the Allawi government, degenerated into farce. It appears that the Conference was presented with a slate of 81 members agreed by the big parties and a US-imposed decision that 19 members of the old IGC (originally 20, but Chalabhi was excluded after falling from grace). In the absence of any alternative, this slate was accepted by default.

But the biggest success (still not a sure thing, but promising) was the intervention of the Conference in the Najaf crisis, demanding that the assault by the US and the interim government cease and that Sadr withdraw from Najaf, disband his militia and enter the political process. Clearly, if it were not for the Conference, there would have been little chance of a peaceful outcome here, and the potential consequences were disastrous. Sadr has stated acceptance of the Conference’s demands, though it remains to be seen what that means.

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The Wisdom of Sticks

by Daniel on August 19, 2004

Finally, with the Google IPO pricing way below expectations and with a serious arbitrage[1] showing up on the Iowa Electronic Markets, I get round to reviewing James Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds”. I’ll save the suspense; it’s a cracking read and well worth buying. To give you an idea of the style, I’ll start this review with my own shockingly unfair parody …

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