Political Animal


$45 IN TAXES FOR A FAMILY OF FOUR EARNING $40,000?….Jesse says today:

The long and short of all of this is any family earning $40,000 (and falling) that actually sees their tax burden on predominant, if not total non-dividend income fall the 96% that Bush claims is taking me out to dinner, considering that they will have an effective tax burden of .11%. Now THOSE are some real tax savings.

The thing is, Bush’s claim is probably true (or pretty close to true). A family of four with an income of $40,000 only pays about $1200 in federal income taxes, and part of Bush’s plan is an increase of $400 in the child tax credit and removal of the marriage penalty. I don’t know for sure if this would reduce their tax liability to $45, but it comes pretty darn close.

They still have to pay sales taxes and property taxes and excise taxes, of course, but in terms of federal income tax, Bush’s claim is pretty much correct.

(Oh, and if you’re single and have no kids ? well, you’re pretty much out of luck. But that’s what we get for electing a “family values” president: if you have no family, you get no value. Tough luck.)


ARE BLOGS THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING?….Nick Denton has been pushing the idea of “nanopublishing” for a while now: blog-like sites that can be profitable because their costs are very low. Typically, he says, these sites employ only one or two people and have very low ongoing costs. Gizmodo and Gawker are two examples that he’s been involved with setting up.

Today Nick points to this article in the Guardian about nanopublishing:

Denton says a site such as Gizmodo costs between $1,000 and $2,000 a month to maintain. It is run by one journalist – Peter Rojas – and employs one designer. “Start-up costs were minimal, at around $2,000 for the initial set-up, plus $150 for the Moveable Type software the site uses.” So, in other words, Gizmodo and Denton’s other sites won’t be running up huge debts as they attempt to build a readership. “Some of these new online media ideas are small but potentially profitable little businesses.”

I still don’t get this. I’m sure these sites can probably build some traffic and attract some advertisers, but why would an investor be interested in funding a “profitable little business”? Or even several of them?

Investors typically want to put their money into a business that has the potential for huge profitability. But even if Gawker turns a profit of $100,000, and even if Nick starts up a dozen similar sites, that’s only a million dollars. Sure, that’s nice, but it’s not going to attract any serious attention, is it?

The only way for a nanopublishing company to make lots of money is to have lots of sites. But there are only so many sites that a single person (or a small management group) can run. And in the end, if each site is run by a single writer, then the attractiveness of the site depends precariously on that one person. What happens when Elizabeth Spiers leaves Gawker and starts her own blog? Does it shut down for a while until Nick finds a replacement? Struggle along until someone new gets up to speed?

I dunno. The dead-tree world is chock full of nanopublishing enterprises too, and they’re called newsletters. These can be quite profitable if they’re run by someone whose advice is valuable, but people like this run their own show and pocket all the profits themselves. The vast majority of newsletters, conversely, are just freebies distributed by enthusiasts. Like blogs.

Count me as a skeptic for now. The business model still seems pretty iffy.


AMERICA VS. EUROPE….A few days ago I wrote a throwaway post about Europhobia, and David Adesnik at OxBlog suggested that I should explain myself. “Throwaway posts are often the most revealing aspect of a blog,” he said in an email.

I’ve been meaning to do this anyway, but today I discovered there’s not much point: Timothy Garton Ash has written a terrific essay on the subject in the New York Review of Books and you should just go read that instead. It’s long, but well worth your time.

So instead I’m just going to throw out some miscellaneous thoughts about American and European attitudes toward each other. Here they are:

  • European countries frequently disagree with American policies ? Iraq is currently Exhibit A ? but that’s not the same thing as being anti-American. It’s important to keep that distinction in mind. That was what I meant when I asked, “Are Europeans even allowed to disagree with U.S. policy anymore?”

  • At the same time, it would be foolish to pretend there is no anti-Americanism in Europe. There certainly is, especially among the lefty intelligentsia, but that doesn’t mean that it’s especially deep or widespread among everyone. Keep some perspective here.

  • There’s a big political dimension to this whole thing too. Europeans on the whole tend to be more liberal than Americans, so it’s natural that liberal Europeans would dislike a lot of American culture. But at the same time, it’s also natural that conservative Americans dislike a lot of European culture, and they do. Jonah Goldberg, for example, has practically built a career out of the word “euro-weenie.” There is at least as much Euro-bashing in the United States as there is anti-Americanism in Europe.

  • Don’t treat Europe as a monolith. Not all European countries are opposed to our Iraq policies, and the ones that are have different reasons. Germany, for example, has had a strong pacifist culture since the end of World War II, and this is probably what’s driving their opposition.

  • France, on the other hand, really does a strong anti-American strain, and it is one of their most unattractive features. But even here it’s worth keeping in mind that their attitude is not completely irrational. Charles de Gaulle was snubbed by Roosevelt during WWII despite the fact that he was practically the only prominent Frenchman to be both staunchly anti-Nazi and anti-communist, and he held this against America to his dying day. In 1956 the French were infuriated when Eisenhower humiliated them in the UN and forced them to withdraw their forces from the Suez Canal. And in 1996 France’s nomination for the post of UN Secretary General was denied a second term after Britain and America ganged up to nominate their “own African,” Kofi Annan. They haven’t forgotten these things, and legitimately feel that France ? and Europe ? have their own unique interests and have as much right to an independent foreign policy as the United States.

  • Americans do have a legitimate criticism of Europe’s unwillingness to spend money on their military. This was made all too clear in the 1990s, when Europeans were utterly unable to deal with a civil war in their own backyard until America finally agreed to become involved in the 1999 NATO bombing of Kosovo. Since then, Europe has talked vaguely about upgrading their military capabilities but there’s been virtually no real action.

  • Americans tend to feel that Europe doesn’t feel enough gratitude for our efforts to defend them against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But there’s another side to this story: many Europeans feel that they were the ones on the front lines and America was there solely because of our hatred of communism. Americans showed their true colors and began breezily dismissing European concerns once the Soviet Union fell and Europe was no longer important to them.

  • The United States ? and especially George W. Bush ? has treated Europe rudely over and over. Look: Clinton didn’t ratify Kyoto either, but Bush just brushed it off, saying “Kyoto is dead” and refusing to discuss it further. Europeans bent over backward to address American concerns over the International Criminal Court, but in the end America sent them packing anyway. And when George Bush decided to pull out of the ABM treaty, he didn’t even bother consulting European leaders. Whether our policies are right or not, it is any wonder that Europeans feel slighted by this behavior?

Why does all this matter? After all, it’s not like we’re going to go to war with Europe.

It matters because rogue nations and terrorists are genuine problems, and we can’t fight them alone, even if we are history’s first hyperpower. We need Europe ? and they need us ? in order to win this battle, and instead of magnifying our differences, both sides should be doing their best to smooth them over. We should agree to disagree when we have to, but work together over the long haul. This is as true for Europeans as it is for Americans.

Europe and America largely share a core set of values: democracy, capitalism, religious tolerance, and a dedication to civil liberties. So, hard as it is, conservatives and warhawks should suck it up and stop the name calling. We need all the help we can get in the war against terror, and Europe is our best ally in this fight.

It may feel good to rant and call each other clever names ? “Old Europe,” “Axis of Weasels,” “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” ? but in the end the laughs are hollow and the transatlantic bickering does nothing except help the terrorists. Anyone who is serious about this ongoing battle should knock it off.

POSTSCRIPT: My original post was a comment on a post from Lincoln Plawg. His response is here.


WORDS MATTER….ESPECIALLY THE LITTLE ONES!….The Washington Post ran a headline today that said, “Sutton Pleads With Senators at Hearing,” and Eugene Volokh was puzzled:

So here’s my question, which I can’t answer myself because I didn’t watch the hearing and haven’t read the hearing transcript — is it quite right to describe Sutton’s conduct as “pleading”?

Probably not, but surely Eugene has noticed that variations on the verb “said” are among the most popular ways of making someone look vaguely foolish without actually saying something that’s overtly untrue or unfair?

As a public service, here’s a list of favorites (mostly used by columnists, which is why it might have seemed so jarring in the news story above):

  • Prattled (“As Hillary prattled on about healthcare, the rest of us….”)

  • Muttered (“‘We need to hear some proof,’ the Democrats muttered helplessly….”)

  • Cackled (“‘Bush’s poll numbers are really slipping,’ Kennedy cackled….”)

  • Whined (“After Daschle finished whining about Rush Limbaugh, the subject turned to….”)

  • Bellowed (“‘The Enrons of the world need to be reined in,’ Wellstone bellowed….”)

  • Sneered (“‘Bush just isn’t telling the truth about tax cuts,’ Pelosi said sneeringly….”)

  • Droned (“As Al Gore droned on about tax policy, the audience seemed restless….”)

  • etc.

The all-time winner, however, is “shrill,” which is the hands down conservative favorite these days for describing any forceful liberal argument. In fact, as near as I can tell, conservatives find it nearly impossible to refrain from talking about Paul Krugman without using the word “shrill” in the next breath. It’s almost like it’s become part of his name.

This kind of language is remarkably effective: it sets an unmistakable tone, but you can hardly complain about the word itself without seeming petty, despite the fact that nine times out of ten the statement was made in a perfectly normal tone of voice. For example:

Eugene Volokh prattled on today about how “well regulated militia” really refers to the entire adult citizenry.

It’s hard to take exception to the factual statement set forth there, but it sure makes him sound like an obsessive crank, doesn’t it?

The lesson, as Newt Gingrich could tell you, is that language matters. But remember, liberals can do this too: if you want to make someone look weak, or silly, or just plain dumb, quote them properly and treat the facts with respect, but always hit the thesaurus to find an appropriately sneering variation of “said.” It’s the newspaper columnist’s secret weapon!