Friday, February 01, 2002

The Mission

Charles Krauthammer praises the President for his strong State of the Union address, noting President Bush is playing against type by pushing for an expansion of the war on terror, rather than trying to use his popularity to address domestic issues. This is a point that has been little noted by the press to date, although Kevin Phillips attacked the President for it yesterday. Soon, this will become a major issue.

The elites want the war to be over. They don't know much about war, but they know they don't like it in general, and any war that makes a Republican President look good is even worse. Sure, we had to do something about September 11, but we got to blow up Afghanistan; what more do we want? No, the consensus building in the elite is that it's time to end the war and get back to what really matters: social measures here at home.

Phillips's piece is a perfect example of this. "Justifiable retaliation may be turning into a wider crusade." This war was never about retaliation, despite what Phillips and his ilk believe. Retaliation is nice, and we'd all love to see Osama strung up by his thumbs, but the business of government is not making us feel good. It's protecting its citizens. That's what government is really about, that's what makes government important. We could (and should, in many cases) throw out all the welfare, social security, flatulence research projects and so on, and government would still be important, because government's primary purpose is the defense of its citizens. The American government failed decisively on September 11, and only the actions of a few courageous souls kept the disaster from being even worse than it was.

If it were up to Mr. Phillips, government would do nothing to ensure the security of its citizens in the future. We're permitted to retaliate when terrorists hit us, but not to preemptively remove threats against us. Fortunately for all of us, President Bush understands our mission is larger than that. We need to go after all terrorists everywhere, and the states that sponsor them, so they're not able to conduct another attack like September 11. Despite Paul Krugman's ludicrous beliefs, Enron is a minor issue for government. Terrorism is a major threat to all Americans, and that means the American government needs to do everything it can within the Constitution to attack terrorists and protect American citizens.

It would be lovely if we could return to the days when the most important question in government is whether the rich should pay 40% of all tax dollars, or 60%. But those days are behind us for the foreseeable future. The President clearly understands this. The rest of the government needs to get with the program.
Personal Responsibility

The President released a list of proposed changes to the rules for 401(k) accounts today, as part of his reaction to the Enron scandal. His plan would allow employees to sell company stock after three years, rather than forcing them to wait to a specified age, and would not allow executives to sell stock during 'lockdown' periods. Although these aren't bad changes per se, they fail to attack the real problem of Enron: the ability of the company's executives to use smoke and mirrors to create the impression of a good company.

If the government really wants to address the problems of Enron, they have to address the question of disclosure. A good start would be requiring all company executives to disclose immediately when they dump company stock, rather than allowing them three months time to disclose. Had investors seen Enron executives dumping their own stock en masse, the market might have caught onto the scam a little more quickly. Adopting a rule that would not allow one accounting firm to both audit a company and advise them would be another strong step. Any company that's smart wouldn't do such a thing in the first place, because a good manager should want the most accurate data available from an audit, not cooked books. But some companies clearly have yet to learn this lesson, so there's a good argument for regulating it.

What we should avoid is letting the government get into the business of controlling people's portfolios. Many in Congress now want a rule stating people can have no more than 20% of their portfolio in any one stock. While this is certainly a smart thing for people to do, it's not the government's place to force people to do it. If an investor chooses to put all of her eggs in one basket, she should have that option, and she should have to live with the consequences if the eggs break.

An interesting question, however, is what businesses will learn from Enron. Although some CEOs may have no problem running their own company into the ground if it means they walk away rich, most businesses are going to be concerned at the implications of Enron. This may lead to changes in how stock options are treated, for example, as businesses may now realize how stock options encourage poor long-term strategies in favor of desperate attempts to puff up the stock price. As Paul Krugman correctly points out, there are probably other companies out there like Enron, to varying degrees. Now the marketplace is going to have to adapt to the lessons learned from Enron and Global Crossing, which will allow some companies to become significantly better while others make poor choices and cease to exist. In the long run, the winners will be all of us.

Thursday, January 31, 2002

Price Gouging and California

Charles Dodgson accuses Enron of gouging California for its energy during last year's self-inflicted crisis. This article certainly raises the possibility Enron was doing just that, but Charles fails to note one important caveat: nobody held a gun to Gray Davis's head telling him to pay that price for the electricity. It was Davis's stubborn insistence on not allowing any blackouts, even though they would have done far more to resolve the crisis, that allowed energy companies to sell at such high prices. Enron may well have abused the system, and there may be good reasons to look into tightening oversight of the energy markets, although I'm leery of the government taking it too far. But California created the situation by putting together such a terrible deregulation plan and refusing to live with the consequences of their stupidity.
Let the Attacks Begin

David Broder provides a useful counterpoint to McGrory's polemic. While acknowledging the success of the President's speech, Broder points out the critical issue the Democrats must use if they're to succeed. For the President to keep the budget with minimal deficits, his proposed budget will contain a number of cuts and spending freezes. The New York Times is already noting his budget will cut job training programs. Every program that is cut or frozen has a constituency, providing the Democrats will plenty of ammunition to fire at the President. President Bush wants to focus the country on the threat of terrorism, and his budget shows that priority. If Democrats can take advantage of the public's concerns about the economy, they may be able to gain the advantage of public opinion and use that to press for their own concerns. This year's budget fight will be particularly bitter, due to the elections, and the Democrat's have to frame the debate to flatter their positions. Public concern over the economy and the President's focus on the war give them a good opportunity to do just that.
We Hear What We Want to Hear

Mary McGrory offers her unique take on the State of the Union. According to Ms. McGrory, President Bush put out the call for a "corps of snitches who will go to the police with their suspicions in the interest of 'homeland security.'" Reviewing the text of the President's speech, I can't find any calls that approach that accusation.
One purpose of the USA Freedom Corps will be homeland security. America needs retired doctors and nurses who can be mobilized in major emergencies ... volunteers to help police and fire departments, transportation and utility workers well-trained in spotting danger.
Spotting danger is significantly different from a 'corps of snitches,' and McGrory's attempt to smear the President's plan like this suggests she's pretty desperate to find some way of undermining his popularity. What's most interesting about that is she does mention, at the end of her column, the President's failure to address many details of how he will accomplish all his plans. Although I prefer a speech that doesn't waste too much time on details better left for legislation, McGrory could easily have written a column attacking the President for his lack of specifics, or even going after his call for further tax cuts or his decision not to submit a balanced budget. By attacking him for something that isn't really there, McGrory appears to have allowed her personal dislike for the President to override her ability for rational thought.
A Useless Battle

As the GAO begins its lawsuit to try and force the White House to disclose information about the people involved in crafting its energy plan, the Washington Post makes a sensible call that both sides should find a compromise. Though I believe the White House may have the moral high ground in attempting to preserve the prerogatives of the executive branch against the legislative branch, I think they're picking very poor ground from which to fight. Their refusal to release the information simply plays into the hands of those Democrats who are trying to create a scandal from the Enron situation, as it creates the impression they have something to hide when they almost certainly do not. Rather than sticking with this to the bitter end, the White House would do well to put out a public call to the executives involved in helping craft the energy plan asking their permission to disclose their identities to the GAO. If they agree, and there should be no reason for them to object, the White House can then give the GAO what it wants while maintaining their right not to disclose information in the future.

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Unclear on the Concept

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has an op-ed in today's LA Times complaining about the differences in how the Bush Administration addressed the California energy crisis and the formulation of the administration's energy plan. Feinstein is upset that she was unable to gain access to the President to ask for help for California while some Enron executives were meeting with the Vice President about the energy plan.
Something is wrong when a senator representing 35 million Californians is not able to talk personally to the president or vice president in the midst of a crisis, but executives from a company that contributed millions of campaign dollars have complete access and significant influence.
But the two issues are separate, and Feinstein makes no effort to actually equate the two. She simply makes the accusation and assumes her assessment will be accepted. A check of the facts shows her assessment is incorrect.

When California's regulated deregulation plan began collapsing around its ears, the President made it clear he would not help California out of the mess it had made for itself. Meeting with Senator Feinstein might have made her feel better, but the President was not going to change his mind. Conversely, when the President tasked Vice President Cheney to develop the administration's energy plan, it was only logical for the Vice President to discuss the matter with leaders in the industry. In hindsight, asking Ken Lay for advice was clearly a bad idea, but at the time he was the CEO of one of the largest energy concerns in the nation. Drawing on the experience of the people who have worked in the industry for years is a logical first step in developing a policy, as they may well have ideas and experience they can offer to avoid some of the pitfalls they've undoubtedly run into. As long as the energy companies weren't permitted to draft administration policy to their benefit without concern for the country, and there's no evidence of that, then Feinstein's complaint loses even the slightest relevance.

If Feinstein really wanted to address the question of undue influence, she might have used two more comparable events: California's energy crisis and Enron's collapse. This would eliminate her own argument, however, as the Bush Administration acted the same in both cases. California and Enron alike were told they had to live with the consequences of their decisions.
The State of the Union

All in all, the President did a pretty good job with his speech last night. He emphasized the focus we all should have on the war on terror and the fact it's far from over, warned several rogue states they may be next, but spent enough time on domestic issues to assure the public he's concerned for their well being. I had a few notes and observations from the speech I'll share here.

--Does Senator Clinton ever look happy about anything? When President Bush singled out Shannon Spann, Senator Clinton looked as if someone had just peed in her Cheerios. The only smile I saw from her during the address was when the President acknowledged the work of the First Lady. I don't believe Senator Clinton actually thinks ill of Ms. Spann. I do think, however, that her general tendency is to scowl, and that tendency is going to hurt her in politics over the long haul. She'll be able to hold her Senate seat, but if she tries for the Presidency, that natural negativity will prevent her from winning higher office.

--The President mentioned al Qaeda plans to attack U.S. infrastructure targets like power plants and water supplies. It would have been good to hear that something concrete was being done to protect those targets.

--Although the President mentioned a number of Islamic terror groups, most centered in the MidEast, he was remarkably vague about what plans there might be to deal with them. We don't want to telegraph our next punch, but an ultimatum making it clear such groups must give up terror or face destruction at our hands would have established a clear case for future action. It would have been nice if he'd mentioned a terrorist group that often gets a pass, as well: the IRA.

--I don't believe it was picked up on, but the President's use of the term 'axis of evil' can be used to draw parallels between the war on terror and WWII, where we fought a different Axis.

--While it's nice to say we'll pay any cost for security, it's even better if we're prudent with our money and spend it wisely where it will do the most good. A return to profligate Pentagon spending will not be at all helpful in winning the war.

--The President was wise to discuss the linkage between some homeland defense measures and the other benefits those will grant. But when he mentioned border security and the drug wars, my first thought was, how can we stop terrorists if we can't even keep illegal drugs out of our country?

--Recognizing the flight attendants from Richard Reid's flight was a good idea. The President should have further emphasized the important role all of us must play in securing our own safety.

--If the deficit is so small, only $80 billion, why not balance the budget? There's easily $80 billion in federal spending that could be cut without doing harm to anyone but government workers in those programs.

--Expanded trade is a good thing, and the President was right to push for Trade Promotion Authority. But he seems a little hypocritical given his own protectionist actions with steel.

--It's depressing to hear a Republican President arguing in favor of using the government to create jobs. Aren't the Republicans the party that's supposed to believe in the private sector?

--The President's call for tougher accounting standards and disclosure laws as a response to the Enron collapse sound like the best way to attack the problem. Invasive laws that attempt to force employees to diversify their investments will do more harm than good.

--While "Let's Roll" is an admirable line that reminds us all of the courage and sacrifice of September 11, it's actually not much of a creed. Couldn't the hijackers just as likely have said 'let's roll' before seizing control of those planes?

--Emphasizing the existence of evil is the right way to go in our war on terror. Although there are many shades of grey in the world, there are some moral absolutes as well. The President should continue to stress those differences between us and our enemies.

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

No Limits

President Bush and Vice President Cheney are trying to convince Senator Daschle to restrict his planned probes into the September 11 attacks. Senator Daschle should thank the President for his concern and structure the probes without such limits. It's too important to find out what went right and wrong leading up to September 11 to worry about the certain embarassments such a probe will uncover. As long as the probes are directed at learning how we can improve our intelligence systems in the future, they'll be of far greater value than the poor laws Congress passed in the wake of the attacks.
Trouble at the Times

I had planned to stop talking about Paul Krugman, but his column from today raises serious questions about his sanity and/or his intelligence. Enron as a more significant event than September 11? What was the Times thinking running that kind of foolishness? A statement like that seems deliberately constructed to invalidate Krugman's argument from the start. Greg Hlatsky was obviously correct--getting a PhD has no bearing on your capacity for rational thought.

Thanks to Samizdata for pointing out this column.
International Intrigue

It's undoubtedly in our best interests to have Afghanistan's full support in the war on terror, at least until we've cleared out the last remnants of al Qaeda from Afghanistan. Being able to control the Afghan Interim Government would be a valuable tool. Remember that Hamid Karzai was reportedly almost killed in a friendly fire incident in early December. Is it possible that Karzai was killed in that strike, and we put in a ringer. Check out the following pictures. Is this Karzai? Or is this? Couldn't an accomplished actor portray a world leader long enough for America to get what it needs? I make no accusations, but has anyone seen Ben Kingsley recently...?
Al Qaeda and Chechnya

FoxNews is reporting the discovery of a videotape that shows Arab fighters, including Osama bin Laden, helping train Chechen rebels to fight the Russians. If this tape is real, it's a Godsend to Vladimir Putin. He's been trying to tie Russia's fight with Chechnya to the U.S. battle with terrorism since September 11, and this should help him seal the deal. I don't think all, or even most of the Chechens currently engaged in the war with Russia are affiliated with al Qaeda, but they'll all be tarred with it now, allowing Putin to continue his appalling tactics in that region with almost total impunity.

Richard Cohen apparently couldn't find one coherent theme for his column today, so he chose to throw mud President Bush's way and see what might stick. He starts off by describing what he calls 'Enronian Economics,' his new tagline for President Bush's budget plan. Regrettably, Cohen can't find a way to actually demonstrate how Enron and the Bush budget are actually similar, but that's not really the point. Cohen knows people are mad about what happened with Enron, and he doesn't like the current budget plan. So voila, call it Enronian and with a little luck, people will assume it must be bad too. If Cohen really wants to argue in favor of rolling back the tax cuts, however, he'd do well to make a real argument in the future.
Men, Suicide, and the Courts

Wendy McElroy notes the alarming rise in male suicides worldwide and posits they may be due to the severe prejudices against men in family courts. Although her article brings up some interesting points, and there's little doubt family law tends to discriminate against fathers, there is no evidence beyond a series of anecdotes to indicate why male suicides are rising. While it certainly doesn't seem unreasonable that some men have difficulty dealing with the adverse consequences of divorce, an argument like this really needs to point to a real study of the issue, not several related stories. The converse of this is that it is highly unlikely anyone will bother to do the research necessary to root out the causes for the rise in male suicide. This is unfortunate, as such an alarming rise in suicides merits more attention and study.

Monday, January 28, 2002

The Plagiarism Plague

As Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose attempt to explain their way out of their recent troubles with footnotes, Tony Adragna from Quasipundit tracks down a new culprit. Tim Noah of Slate has been busy doing much the same. His recent column lifts a number of sentences from a Robert Novak column without quotes, footnotes or other attribution. Given Noah's rather harsh attack on Goodwin for her own plagiarism, pointed out by Bill Quick, Noah appears to have quite a bit of 'splaining to do.

Kudos to Tony and Bill for their spotting this. I wonder now, however, if it will be acknowledged outside the blogosphere?

Update: It wasn't plagiarism, just bad formatting, as it turns out. Noah's article appears quite correct on the Slate site, so apparently something was lost in translation to MSNBC.
Message to the World

Steven Den Beste points out the best way America can take advantage of our victory in Afghanistan to dissuade future terrorists. Rather than bragging that America can handle whatever is thrown at her or taking the appeasement route, simply use Afghanistan as an indicator of how small these jihads are to us. Most of the al Qaeda and Taliban fighters killed in the campaign weren't killed in desperate firefights, but by bombs and missiles dropping from the sky unopposed. There's little glory in war to begin with, but there's none in being turned into a fine mist by an enemy you never see or hear. Emphasizing that point will go far in reducing the number of people willing to rush off to al Qaeda's next hiding place.
In Memoriam

Samizdata reminds us that today marks the 16th Anniversary of the destruction of the Challenger and the deaths of seven astronauts. To that I will add that yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of the fire on the pad that killed the crew of Apollo 1. We should never forget the sacrifices made by so many in pursuit of the dream.
Apollo 1
Roger Chaffee
Gus Grissom
Ed White

Greg Jarvis
Crista McAuliffe
Ron McNair
Ellison Onizuka
Judy Resnick
Dick Scobee
Mike Smith

Update: Rand Simberg has posted his own recollections from January 28, 1986.
Recess Appointments Redux

Greg Hlatsky from A Dog's Life points out Bill Lann Lee was not a recess appointment (until the very end; President Clinton did make Lee a recess appointment in August, 2000, after he'd served two and a half years in the position). When it became apparent Lee would be voted down on the Senate floor, Senate Democrats blocked his nomination completely. President Clinton then named Lee 'acting' Assistant Attorney General, an action outside the bounds of the Constitution. President Clinton himself later admitted his actions were unconstitutional, although he no doubt felt he'd earned a few unconstitutional actions after his vigorous defense of the Constitution during his impeachment.

Although it's easy to attack President Clinton for his actions, the Senate deserves a share of the blame as well. Our Founders knew each branch would attempt to encroach on the territory of the others, and so provided numerous means for each branch to preserve its powers. The Senate complained about President Clinton's appointment, but they didn't act on it; a tacit acceptance of the President's actions.

Now it is up to the Senate to act. They must act on the President's nominees, up or down, as quickly as possible, and they must defend their prerogatives against encroachment by the President. I have little doubt Senator Daschle will aggressively pursue the latter course. He should redeem himself on the question of nominees as quickly as possible.
September 11 Questions

An interesting Washington Post article on the events of September 11 shows us at least a few of the failures of the intelligence community leading up to the attacks. George Tenet actually began wondering if Zacarias Moussaoui had anything to do with the attacks as soon as he heard about the WTC. Now Rudy Giuliani is speaking out, pointing out the fact we dropped the ball in the days leading up to September 11.

Now the question becomes, will Congress or the President do anything about it? It's easy to suggest we can't afford the luxury of investigating how our intelligence services failed to detect al Qaeda's preparations for September 11. But such a decision is tailor-made to ensure the terrorists can exploit the same intelligence loopholes again for their next major attack. Congress is prepared to devote all its time over the next few months to the Enron scandal, a problem that has resulted in one death to date, while spending not one minute asking a few questions about the events that led up to the attacks. What did the CIA, NSA, or FBI know in the last weeks of August? Did the FBI dismiss Zacarias Moussaoui because their agents were spread too thin covering the myriad crimes federalized by Congress? I can think of a dozen questions I'd like answers to right off the top of my head. I suspect 535 members of Congress could find more than that.

But asking those kinds of questions isn't sexy. Nobody wants to hear about the mistakes made that could have prevented the attacks, because that will make the public angry. Better to sweep it all under the rug and cross our fingers, and hope the war wipes out al Qaeda before they can strike again.

There's no question an investigation of the events leading up to September 11 would be painful. We may well discover that the attacks could have been prevented, and we'll certainly discover areas where our intelligence services dropped the ball. That doesn't make them un-American or bad people necessarily; people make mistakes, and they'll continue to make mistakes until they realize they're making them. We've got to ask the hard questions. It's the best tool we have for improving our performance, and making it that much less likely terrorists will be able to strike at us the next time.

Sunday, January 27, 2002

Recess Appointments and the Senate

With a spate of recess appointments, President Bush has managed to place at least a few members of his administration despite the obstructionism of the Senate. I have mixed feelings on these appointments. On the one hand, Senate Democrats refused to vote or even hold hearings on many of the President's nominees, leaving him with unpalatable choices: wait for the Senate, probably forever; withdraw the nomination and try again; or use a recess appointment. Of those three options, the recess appointment is probably the best option. Waiting for the Senate to act was clearly a waste of time, due to the 'controversial' nature of the President's nominees. Withdrawing the nomination before the Senate votes it up or down allows a small number of Senators veto power over the President's nominees, an unacceptable usurpation of executive authority.

But recess appointments are easy to abuse (look at what President Clinton did with Bill Lann Lee), and they unbalance the scales of government in the President's favor. While I think it's a far cry from a Constitutional crisis, it is a problem that needs to be resolved. Both parties claim it's the other's fault of course, but the plain fact is, they're both to blame. Republicans were wrong to stall on President Clinton's appointments, and Democrats are wrong to stonewall President Bush's. As I've said previously, the only way to deal with the question is for the Senate to uphold it's Constitutional role by promptly voting each nominee up or down. If, for example, Senator Daschle really feels Eugene Scalia shouldn't be Solicitor for the Department of Labor, then he's free to do whatever he can to convince 51 senators to vote him down. If he can't find those votes, however, he needs to do the honorable thing and allow Scalia to be confirmed.

There is, of course, the question of filibusters. If a Senator feels strongly enough about a nominee he or she is filling to filibuster the nomination, more power to that Senator. But they should be forced to follow through on that threat, not simply tell the Majority Leader they're planning to filibuster and get a free pass. If they've got to get up and read the phone book and the Bible, so be it, just make them stand up and fulfill their promise.

Granted, the one flaw with this plan is that one of the parties has to be the bigger man. Neither has shown any inclinations to this as yet, but it's not too late. Perhaps Senator Leahy could make some ideological hay by showing his party is willing to practice what it preaches?
The Blogger Pro Era

In the hope it will eliminate the infrequent but annoying Blogger outages, I've taken the plunge to Blogger Pro (poorly named, since they didn't offer to pay me to write for it). At first glance it looks nice. Nothing particularly special as compared to the free version, but I have yet to be denied entry, either. If that's the only benefit I gain, it will be enough. And the price isn't too bad, although even bloggers with moderate output like me will end up paying more per month than the base fee; I shudder to think what Glenn Reynolds will be paying.
Government Rightsizing

William Quick points out an amusing idea put forth by the Washington Post to cut down on the $40 billion deficit the states are currently dealing with. It's hard to believe anyone could take the article seriously, but then, I'll not soon forget the letter to the editor in my local paper that asked how anyone could consider eating a chicken after seeing what interesting lives they lead in the movie "Chicken Run." So many fascinating people in the world...
The Media Conspiracy

Kathy Kinsley offers her take on why the media seems to be hyping the idea of attacking Iraq: ego. I don't know if even I'm that cynical about the media, but it's an interesting theory, well worth reading.
Statistics Revisited

Thomas Stemwedel takes me to task for my suggestion the Statistical Abstract be removed from the government's to do list.
First, as a technical note the Statistical Abstract (which Paul Krugman, before he drank the Kool Aid and turned into Bob Herbert, once called the best book in America) while published under the name of the Census Bureau, compiles information from a wide range of government agencies, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Transportation, the Treasury, the USDA, etc. that in the course of their operations collect statistics on a vast range of topics. Lots of the numbers in the 1000 page copy of the 1999 Abstract I have on my desk aren't from the Census and aren't in the 6.5 billion cost of the Census. For that matter, lots of what the Census compiles doesn't come from the decennial Census.

Secondly (and more important than the prior quibble) the data in the Census is incredibly useful for people such as economists, political scientists, sociologists, even lawyers and newspaper hacks. If someone's going to make a argument about policy or the condition of the economy or the social fabric of the country (teen pregnancy, abortions, incarcerations) the Abstract is the place to start. If you want to argue from first principals without an empirical basis, or generalize from personal experience, well knock yourself out. But the people that tend to make those sorts of arguments will find themselves quickly in the Idiotarian camp. Without good data, one cannot make good arguments. And it seems that the provision of good data by the government would improve the quality of debate, and thus democrary.

Third, the amount of money we're talking about is tiny. You state that the 2000 Census cost $6.5 billion. Well, that $6.5 Billion is a once every ten years thing, and the expensive part of the exercise is not compiling what's on the form (I got the long form that year. Took ten minutes). It is tracking down all the people and sending canvasers out to folks that don't answer the form. Constitutionally, that has to be done. Also I mentioned earlier a whole bunch of agencies compile data, which you think is outside the proper role of government. So let's say that the real number(annually) spent on compiling statistics (the thing you're annoyed by) is like to $10 billion (which the statistics guys at the FCC, BLS, BoC, EIA, etc. would kill to have) - well that's less 1% of the 1995 Federal expenditures (last year reported by my out of date Abstract - don't worry I've already ordered a new copy). By point of comparison, the Abstract show that the feds spent, in 1999, $21 billion on "Agriculture", $60 billion on "Education, training, employment, and social services", $143 billion of "Health", $205
billion on Medicare, $243 on "Income Security" and $392 on Social Security. When the bulk of the Federal budget (not including ridiculous off budget tax loop hole which never seem to figure into the equation) is glorified vote buying, a few billion dollar spent on collection statistics seems begnine.

Lastly, try to get data of the quality we compile out of the EU or god forbid China. If these guys aren't putting out a 1000 page book every year, informing their citizens of the conditions in their country, well, doing so must be the right thing.
Thomas has some good arguments here, and I'll take them one at a time.

The data is unquestionably useful. I'm sure there are thousands of people, probably tens of thousands, who use the Abstract in their research. But that doesn't mean that it's a good thing for the government to do. That is the trouble I have with the Abstract. If there's a market for this data, and clearly there is, than the private sector could surely provide it just as well as the government. It might mean researchers have to pay a little more for their information, but I see no problem with that. Let the costs be borne by those who require the information, rather than spending government money (everyone's money) to do it.

I conceded the point that the amount of money is small already. But cutting spending has to start somewhere. This probably isn't the best place to start, however. It's the nature of blogging to comment on what you see, and when I saw the foolish statistics on the front page of my paper, it seemed a logical issue. Thomas is right, there are plenty of other places in the budget to cut, and if I get a huge amount of time on my hands, perhaps someday I'll work my way through the budget and make some more detailed recommendations. Until then, I will maintain that trimming some of the statisticians out of the government will at least spare a few of my precious tax dollars.

The last argument I just can't go along with. China is currently ramping up her space program. I don't think that means we should kill ours just because anything China does must be a bad idea. It's great that we have all this data available, but there's no reason the government has to provide it.

Brian Linse of AintNoBadDude held a soiree for LA-area bloggers Friday night, and he has an interesting assortment of photos from the get together. Looks like a good time was had by all, although I suppose it wouldn't be in Brian's interests to post if that were not the case.