Thursday, February 24, 2011

Summing up the war in Afghanistan

From the Times:

“What we figured out is that people in the Pech really aren’t anti-U.S. or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone,” said one American military official familiar with the decision. “Our presence is what’s destabilizing this area.”

Maybe the official finally got around to reading Kilcullen's Accidental Guerrilla? It's about as neat a summary as you could find of what's wrong with the whole idea of "winning" the war in Afghanistan.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Entitlements"

Since the Obama administration released its budget that has no chance whatsoever of being passed in congress and is therefore just an exercise in messaging, everyone is talking deficits and debt today. Megan McArdle predictably thinks it's time to panic. Andrew Sullivan seems already to have panicked. Republicans are predictably trashing the budget proposal. I guess it doesn't contain enough cuts to public health programs for the poor.

In the meantime, Jonathan Bernstein wrote a fantastic post on the vague and misleading language used by deficit hawks:

Long-term projections of the federal budget are very clear. It's all about health care.
Medical costs. Medical costs are going up much faster than inflation. Therefore, Medicare and Medicaid, and any other government programs affected by medical costs, will, long term, get far more expensive than any realistic level of taxation can handle.
So when budget hawks talk about "entitlements," as Andrew Sullivan did today, they're using language that in my view obscures, rather than illuminates, the situation.


The very next thing I read was a piece of reporting by TPM's Brian Beutler (emphasis mine):

"Yes, we will include entitlement reform provisions in our budget," Cantor told reporters at his weekly press availability. "Again, unlike the President, unlike Harry Reid who doesn't even admit there needs to be any reform of Social Security."


See that? Cantor is willing to admit that "entitlements" are the problem. But when he gets specific, he starts talking about Social Security, which is a minor, solvable problem, and not health care costs, which are the true driver of long-term deficits:



I guess since his party just won a huge election landslide while campaigning against a Democratic effort to reign in health care spending, he can't go after Medicare. But health care costs are overwhelmingly the cause of long-term structural deficits. Anyone claiming to be a deficit hawk while only looking hard at that 12% of the budget that is "non-security discretionary spending" is a liar and a charlatan. Focusing on Social Security is only marginally better, but it is still a dodge. If you're not looking at health care costs, you're not being serious about deficits. It is that simple.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hooray Beer! (IV)

Minnesota's own Surly Brewing Company has been growing so fast they can't brew enough beer to keep it on shelf and on tap. They've outgrown their little brewery in Brooklyn Center, MN. So obviously, the next step is to build a new, bigger brewery. They've drawn up plans for a new brewery with lots more brewing capacity plus perks like a restaurant overlooking the brewery that serves plenty of Surly. Unfortunately, under current law, their plan is illegal.

See, in Minnesota, you can only brew a certain amount of beer before you're no longer a brew pub, and are no longer allowed to actually serve the beer you brew. Surly is way past that limit. I honestly can't think of a good reason for that rule. The only thing it does, to my mind, is protect existing distributors, bars and restaurants from competition. The statement released by the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association does not dissuade me from that notion. Unsurprisingly, they are lobbying against Surly's efforts to change the law:

The manufacturers (breweries, vineyards and distilleries) supply distributors. Under the laws which created the three-tier system, each level of the system is independent of the others, ensuring accountability to the public as well as the benefits of healthy competition. By preventing tied houses (i.e. Retailers that sell the products of only one supplier), the three-tier system limits the number of retail outlets and therefore promotes moderate consumption, hence our position with the Surly matter. We want the Surly product to sell in our stores, we don't want the manufacturer of a great beer to sell to the public, we'll do that enthusiastically as possible.

Emphasis mine. Somehow they are ensuring "healthy competition" by locking out a source of competition. This is a classic example of regulation being used to protect incumbent businesses from competition.

I wrote previously about the "Brew Beer Here" legislation passed in Minneapolis that has brought two breweries into the city so far, with at least one more on the way. All it took was a small change to the law allowing sales of beer in growlers from breweries. Each one will create jobs as well as delicious beer for all us beer-lovers. Surly says its plan will create 85 construction jobs and 150 full time jobs once the brewery is open. All it takes is the striking of a pointless law. Once again, this is small government I can believe in. I look forward to helping Surly get this law changed in any way I can.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Redefining vindictiveness

Graeme Wood's harrowing account of being dragged through the streets of Cairo is well worth the read for its own sake. But this anecdote at the end caught my eye:

Iran hates Egypt enough to have named a main Tehran thoroughfare after Khaled El Islambouli, the Egyptian artillery officer who gunned down Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat (and injured Mubarak in the process).


Now that is some seriously vindictive hate. Somehow I doubt there's a boulevard named after George W Bush in thanks for his efforts in ridding the Middle East of Saddam Hussein, however.