Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hopeful signs for Mexico

My friend Sallie Hughes, a wise woman and true scholar, will be presenting her book on modern Mexico in a few days at my favorite bookstore. For the moment, I'll leave it to the blurb at Books & Books to tell you what it's about.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Krugman names the tax collectors

Paul Krugman picks up on the development I mentioned yesterday, the privatizing of tax collection by the IRS. Let him explain:
In the bad old days, government was a haphazard affair. There was no bureaucracy to collect taxes, so the king subcontracted the job to private “tax farmers,” who often engaged in extortion. There was no regular army, so the king hired mercenaries, who tended to wander off and pillage the nearest village. There was no regular system of administration, so the king assigned the task to favored courtiers, who tended to be corrupt, incompetent or both.

Modern governments solved these problems by creating a professional revenue department to collect taxes, a professional officer corps to enforce military discipline, and a professional civil service. But President Bush apparently doesn’t like these innovations, preferring to govern as if he were King Louis XII.
You can read more in the New York Times (registration required).

Why vaccines are scarce

One of my earliest discussions here was a lamentation over the shortage of flu vaccine. Here's a piece from Forbes that offers an explanation: the heavy, inept hand of the FDA. To check it out, read here. Your comments would be welcome.

The initial post.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pols give public service a bad name

I declare, as my hometown neighbor used to say, there are some real skunks out there. This reflection comes in response to the news that secret campaign organizations are growing and possibly the dominant factor in Florida's statewide elections this year. Near the bottom of The Miami Herald's thorough report, one finds the information that most offends me:
Unnoticed by many, an unknown person changed [former Senate President Tom] Lee's bill at the last minute and abolished a ban that prohibited ECOs [electioneering communication organizations] from coordinating with campaigns.
The changes render Florida's strict $500 cap on campaign contributions meaningless, since a candidate can now legally ask friends or special interest groups to raise large amounts of cash through ECOs to pay for television ads.
We ought to be asking every state senator we meet, how can it be that a bill in the Legislature is changed by hands that remain invisible? Such a system is an invitation to the grossest abuse. Actually, the present case is pretty darned bad.

IRS hires debt collectors

Has it ever seemed to you that the Republicans running things in Washington are systematically trying to dismantle as much of the government as possible? Here's the latest sign. The Internal Revenue Service is going to start using private bill collectors to chase down many of the debts that its own agents used to pursue. Never mind that the IRS can do this work at less cost. Congress, according to today's report in the New York Times, has declined to let IRS have the necessary staff.

As the Times points out, such privatization is often defended as saving money for taxpayers. That isn't the case here. Clearly, the name of the game is fomenting private profits.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

New owner hopeful of newspaper turnaround

You may remember posts here earlier this year about the forced sale of Knight Ridder Newspapers because Wall Street in general and one institutional investor in particular weren't satisfied with the company's substantial profits. One of the proudest parts of the Knight Ridder group was the pair of daily papers in Philadelphia, the Inquirer and the Daily News. They wound up in private ownership, and here Brian Tierney, the head of the new group, tells why he's optimistic about the venture.

Want more? Here's a takeout on Tierney from the American Journalism Review.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A book I wish I had time for

Harvard historian Caroline Elkins reviews The Wonga Coup in Sunday's New York Times Book Review. The heart of the matter:
“The Wonga Coup” is a forceful example of how a group of rapacious Europeans can hatch a fantastic plan to overthrow a foreign government, gain the tacit support of Western officials — not to mention international corporations — and fully expect to succeed in executing their grandiose vision.

The book is by Adam Roberts, and you may be able to see the review here. The author was interviewed a few days ago on NPR's Fresh Air.

Friedman on target about Iraq and the elections

The columnist Thomas L. Friedman nails the point again in the New York Times today.
What should really worry the country is not whether the Democrats are being dragged to the left by antiwar activists who haven't thought a whit about the larger struggle we're in. What should worry the country is that the Bush team and the Republican Party, which control all the levers of power and claim to have thought only about this larger struggle, are in total denial about where their strategy has led.

I recommend you find the column Big Talk, Little Will and read it all. Registration may be required.