free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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03/01/2002 - 04/01/2002 04/01/2002 - 05/01/2002 05/01/2002 - 06/01/2002 06/01/2002 - 07/01/2002 09/01/2002 - 10/01/2002 11/01/2002 - 12/01/2002 12/01/2002 - 01/01/2003 01/01/2003 - 02/01/2003 02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003 03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003 04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003

All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.

Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Tuesday, June 25, 2002

--- A Trifecta Conjectcha ---

Evidence (or absence of evidence) is mounting. The "Trifecta" -- a trio of conditions (war, recession, national emergency) under which GWB claims to have reserved the option of running a deficit -- appears to be a wholesale fabrication, at least as far as pre-election utterance goes.

Yet Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds has a nonspecific recollection of just such an utterance ... and so do I ... as we confirmed to each other in an off-line exchange earlier in the Trifecta controversy triggered by Jonathan Chait's TNR article and Brendan Nyhan's Spinsanity follow-up. Or at least I have a realistic recollection of such an exchange with Glenn.

At the time, I suggested we were both operating under the influence of manufactured memory ... an after-the-fact bolluxed reconstruction of cues and traces, resulting in realistic recollection of events we did not actually experience. You know ... the witness to an air disaster often recalls the aircraft going down in flames, even when the bird in question had run out of fuel.

On recent evidence, I'm prepared to venture an extension of that analysis, to the effect that InstaPundit, CP, and GWB are all under the influence of manufactured memory of the Trifecta caveat remarks. This would create a plausible alternative to the current appearance of a damn lie -- namely, an innocent error compounded by political opportunism and loyalty-laced incompetent staff work.

The White House has produced one citation for a similar three-way reservation, only this is dated 2001-09-06. ("I have repeatedly said the only time to use Social Security money is in times of war, times of recession or times of severe emergency" ... WaPo)

At that date -- prior to the 9/11 attacks, but after the August midterm budget review -- the Bush administration was engaged in a frantic fast shuffle, trying to avoid acknowledging the looming deficit in Fiscal Year 2001 (closing 2001-09-30) and/or FY 2002. Failing that, they were efforting a politically acceptable explanatory dodge. (I would guess the "war" in question was the forthcoming Iraq campaign, though it may well refer to the anti-Osama action package then awaiting signature on a desk in or near the Oval Office.)

At that date, I was actively engaged in dissecting a series of OMB accounting frauds, pounding final nails into a morgue-full of miniature coffins for audacious White House accounting gimmicks ... and I no doubt focused closely on the 9/6 stage-setting rhetoric.

At that date, I don't know what Glenn was doing ... but I'll wager he heard GWB's 9/6 budgetary weasel-wordage, and misfiled those words -- in retrospect -- as Bush 2000 campaign rhetoric, exactly as prompted by GWB's post-9/11 Trifecta ejaculations.

And giving GWB the benefit of the doubt, I'm willing to believe he made the very same error of reconstructive memory ... especially under the stress of an overnight jump from the budgetary frying pan into the counterterrorism fire. As did we all?

Friday, June 07, 2002

--- Homeland Security: Rope-a-Dope? Or "Dude, Where's My Plan"? ---

Why did Bush spring his Homeland Security proposal on an unsuspecting Capitol ... a city that had been crying "give us Homeland Security" for months (or years) on end?

Keeping stakeholders in the dark is a reliable Kiss of Death for otherwise-viable proposals. It's true in Dilbert's world, where most reinventions fall flat anyway -- those that succeed are bought-in before they're trotted out. It's true with a vengeance in government circles, for many good reasons as well as the usual dubious ones.

If he wanted a DHS, GWB had allies across the spectrum ... willing to do heavy lifting and hard bargaining, ready to take some heat, and better-versed in bureaucratic physiology and the surgical techniques entailed in rearranging it.

Instead, he left his own Cabinet in the dark. As far as we know, he avoided input from D.C.'s grey eminences. He alienated 88 committees of jurisdiction (and thus just about every member of Congress). He guaranteed a half-baked organizational blueprint, full of blunders that leave the construction crew laughing up thier sleeves.

If GWB intended to kill the "Department" concept, this would have been an effective gambit ... but there were less costly means to the end. This will cost Bush a king's ransom in the local currency of political capital, and cost him a great deal of embarrassment outside the Beltway. It alienates Bush from many of his own direct reports, weakens them with their subordinates, and raises an aura of courtly intrigue in place of CEO/Cabinet government.

Was it a misdirection ploy, hastily concocted to deflect attention from "who knew what when" questions? Was it a desperate measure to pull Tom Ridge's stature out of a death spiral? These considerations may have driven the precise timing, but they fall short of accounting for a landmark initiative/blunder.

Or could this be a rope-a-dope strategy? On unprepared ground, "The Plan" will bog down in agency infighting and Congressional turf battles for months (playing into a 2002 campaign against "the bureaucracy" and "obstructionist Daschle Democrats") or years (providing a centerpiece issue for 2004, especially if we take another terrorist hit) ... and it will preoccupy Congress, preventing it from focusing on nettlesome domestic issues. Bush may be set to triangulate against Congress and his own Executive Branch!

This could just as well be a clumsy response to the "something must be done" imperative. With virtually no principled oppostion, it's a passable simulacrum of doing something, and Bush -- an org theory bug at Harvard -- may look forward to moving boxes around for the remainder of his term.