Monday, November 28, 2011

All of this has happened before

...and will happen again.

Haven't been blogging much. Made a few posts at some other sites, but I'm frustrated. Once again, political history is rhyming, as Mark Twain might have put it, and not a lot of folks seem to have picked up on it.

Candidates, parties, various “movements”, newspaper editorials, talking heads on Sunday morning shows, political operatives... the public at large... Everybody seems to be acting as though they haven't actually learned anything from recent history.

If you've read much of my writing for the last few years, particularly at PAWaterCooler, you might have noticed that I've tried to put a damper on the over-reliance on the left-right ideological paradigm when plotting political actions and communications. At a certain point, it becomes blindingly obvious that voters don't rely on ideology nearly as much as it is supposed that they do. Once you see it, every abuse of the old conventional wisdom sticks out like a sore thumb.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why is Cain being taken seriously?

Why is it that the media -including conservative media- are taking Herman Cain so seriously?

Yes, his poll numbers are impressive for a candidate who was written off just weeks ago. But Cain's rise would not have happened had the media been doing their jobs. There are two categorical failures in the media's coverage of Cain, coverage concerning his 9-9-9 plan, and everything else. First, the tax plan:

A lot of conservative wonks are not on board with 9-9-9 for various wonky reasons. Sadly, the media has largely avoided those reasons, and has chosen to focus on made-up bullshit instead. Virtually every media report on Cain's plan portrays a nightmare scenario for middle and lower income households who would suddenly be hit with massive sales tax increases. The media conveniently omits the fact that Federal payroll taxes (-who is this "FICA" person, and why does he get so much of my paycheck?) would be eliminated under Cain's plan.

When critics leave out this crucial detail, they only invite the Cainiacs to (correctly) cry foul. All this spurious criticism then blinds Cain supporters to the legitimate problems with the Cain candidacy.

But with all the fuss about 9-9-9, we've been distracted from the biggest reason Cain shouldn't be President: He doesn't understand the Constitution.

I’m not exactly the biggest fan of the Religion of Peace (tm), but I have enough respect for the First Amendment to know that localities can’t prohibit the construction of mosques based on majority vote. Freedom of religion doesn’t work like that. That sort of fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution is a complete deal-breaker.

And we shouldn’t forget Cain's shaky remarks about the Second Amendent, which, even in the most generous view of Cain’s comments, seems to misunderstand the incorporation doctrine.

So there we have it. A guy who is dead wrong about the First Amendment, possibly the Second, and shows a general misunderstanding of Constitutional principles. Even his 9-9-9 plan shows a wrongness about the ability of Congress to bind future Congresses to a two-thirds supermajority to raise taxes. The supermajority requirement itself could be repealed by a simple majority.

How can anybody, particularly pro-Constitution conservatives, possibly be taking Herman Cain seriously?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The details of my 9-11 story are quite inconsequential

I was working at my Dad's business.  No television.  A small radio.  One crappy (even by 2001 standards) computer with dial-up internet access.  We had gotten all the delivery drivers out on their routes by the time of the attacks, and Dad and I were the only people left in the warehouse.

My grandmother called about 9am.  A plane had hit the World Trade Center, she explained.  She said little else, but seemed exasperated.  My grandmother had always been an excitable person, and I had just recently learned that years ago a plane had hit the Empire State Building, and the building had withstood it.  I didn't quite understand why my grandmother was calling.  Such an odd phone call.

Of course, we got a better idea as the day wore on.  Without a TV, we were relying on the radio and the dial-up internet connection, the latter of which was of little use.  All the news sites were swamped with traffic.  Dad eventually had the idea of checking the BBC website, which did eventually load for us.  All sorts of crazy reports were coming in over the radio, such as the rumor that the State Department had been car-bombed.  I was kind of freaked out at this point.  Who knew what else was going to happen?!

Still, we had business to conduct.  Shipments to receive, customers to service.  We went about our jobs with what in retrospect was stunning normalcy, still monitoring the radio for the latest updates between spurts of work.

I don't recall whether I saw any still photographs of the attack on the Beeb website, but I know I didn't see any video until I got home that day some time after 4pm.  Most of the hard facts had been sorted out by then - at least about what had been destroyed and what hadn't.  I was still flabbergasted when I eventually saw the video, even knowing what the news of the day had been.  Such unbelievable horror, viewed all at once.

Monday, September 05, 2011

What's all this about "vetting" Perry?

Look, I'm not trying to coronate the guy, and I think we've all seen how the whole political messiah thing works out, but I'm pretty much for Rick Perry at this point.

I don't quite get what all this business is about the frantic need to "vet" Perry.  Yeah, I'd like to see him perform in some debates, and I'd like to hear his answers to some tough questions.  But at this point I'm not sure what the big deal is that certain Republicans are having with him.  The guy has been governor for a heckuva long time.  It's not like he just rolled out of some Chicagoland Illinois Senate seat with no real record of accomplishments, or anything.

It's like this -- Romneycare is a dealbreaker, at least in the primary.  (Are people really surprised that the base finds Romney unacceptable?  Really??)  And I think Michelle Bachmann has pretty much failed her public "vetting".  Pawlenty dropped out, and I'm not drinking the Ron Paul Kool-Aid.  By process of elimination, that pretty much leaves Rick Perry unless for some reason Paul Ryan decides to have a change of heart.

Sure, he has some klunkers in his record, notably the Guardasil snafu.  And the Time magazine pre-hit piece from late June does reveal certain problems with the Texas Enterprise Fund and Texas Emerging Technology Fund programs.  (On the whole, however, Texas' job creation record is nothing short of phenomenal.)  But the ironic thing about the Time piece is that it inadvertently reads like a to-do and not-to-do of job creation.  DO make your laws business-friendly.  DON'T create slush funds to pick winners and losers.  Isn't that pretty much exactly the opposite of what Obama and the Democrats did?

(Don't even get me started on that whole Sharia/dhimmi thing with Ace of Spades vs Pam Geller and Robert Spencer.  Ace wins that hands-down, and I think Pam needs pharmaceutical help.)

So, yes - I like the idea of Rick Perry more than I like the actual Rick Perry.  But I still like the real Rick Perry better than I like anybody else at this point.  To answer the haters who think that I'm just jumping on a bandwagon without looking, I'm going into this Perry thing with eyes open.  He's just a guy, not a god.  I get it.  I just happen to like him best right now.  Get a grip.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Establishment" gets part of the blame for TPaw's exit

Surely it can be said that the Pawlenty team made some strategic errors.  Lord knows I've expressed my dissatisfaction with how things were being handled.  Philip Klein's analysis isn't far from my own, though I have a hard time seeing Pawlenty in the veep slot. (Not that I don't think he would be good at it.)

But whatever the Pawlenty campaign's faults, I can't let the pro-Romney "Republican establishment" entirely off the hook.

I don't want to hear that there isn't any "establishment".  A guy doesn't raise ten million bucks in a day's worth of phone calls without there being an establishment on which to draw.

The Powers-That-Be should understand that a big chunk of the party isn't supportive of Romney, and that this tepid-at-best reaction will create issues in the general election.  Had the proverbial old, cigar-smoking, rich, white men understood this, they might have looked for somebody else who fit the general profile of a conservative governor from a blue state who didn't irritate the base so much.

Well, they're a stubborn bunch, and the establishment has stuck with Romney.  And instead of shepherding Pawlenty to the nomination with minimal friction, now they're dealing with Bachmann and Perry.

I think they could have handled Bachmann.  Perry is going to be a bigger threat.

Personally, I'm leaning towards supporting Perry.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Selfish Y Chromosome: Genetic explanation for child gender preferences?

Gallup recently released a poll confirming a preference for male children. Specifically, men displayed this preference while women responded with near indifference. It would be easy to write this off as a purely cultural phenomenon --machismo, labor demand, etc. --, but I hypothesize a potential genetic explanation unique to the influence of the Y-chromosome.

Gallup makes passing mention of the theory of evolutionary advantage to having male children --presumably that males are capable of being more genetically prolific than females--, but this theory fails to account for the discrepancy between the preferences of men versus the preferences of women.  On a whole-genome level, a woman would benefit genetically just as much as a man as the result of a prolific male child.

The Y chromosome is somewhat of a genetic island.  95% of the Y is unable to recombine with the X during meiosis.  The Y is thus passed on virtually intact through the generations, and it is immediately apparent in newborn children whether the Y is present or not.  A father with all female offspring will see his Y lineage disappear. 

The X, on the other hand, is not similarly unique.  The mother's two X chromosomes would have recombined during meiosis, and male children will also receive an X chromosome from the mother, avoiding the genetic dead-end of the Y chromosome in female offspring.

This Y chromosome "selfish gene" explanation thus avoids the criticism regarding the "units" of natural selection in that the genotype and the phenotype are essentially synonymous in this unique circumstance.

The "selfish Y" hypothesis is at least as credible as the original theory of evolutionary advantage, and has the added benefit of accounting for the discrepancy of preferences found between men and women.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Six Reasons the SPR Release is Stupid

The globally coordinated release of petroleum reserves is the latest evidence that the Obama administration simply doesn't understand markets.

1 - The justification (or "cover") for the SPR release is the loss of North African (especially Libyan) output. However, the Libyan situation is a disruption of indeterminate length, and the SPR release is scheduled to last 30 days.

2 - The price of oil was already headed down in response to market feedback.

3 - A significant percentage of major stock market indices are populated by energy companies, which are hit especially hard by this action, thus exacerbating the ongoing stock market decline.

4 - A suggested alternate motivation for the SPR release is to shake speculators out of their positions, and introduce an element of uncertainty in order to deter future speculation. To the extent that this is successful, the world oil market will be unable to correctly determine the correct price premium corresponding to supply uncertainty. The global market will be less capable of absorbing future supply disruptions.

4a - To the extent that the expectation of future scarcity is successfully driven from the oil market, oil companies will not be given the correct price signal to drill for more oil, and future oil price shocks will be more severe due to a lack of spare capacity that was never developed.

4b - To the extent that the expectation of future scarcity is successfully driven from the oil market, consumers will not be given the correct price signal to conserve energy and buy more energy efficient vehicles, magnifying the impact of future price shocks on consumers.

5 - Impairment of marginal supply development will hit North American exploration disproportionately, deterring the creation of high-paying energy sector jobs in the US and Canada.

6 - An SPR release diminishes our ability to respond to a legitimate use of the SPR such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Somebody Should Focus Group This Video

Paul Ryan ably defended his entitlement plan on CNBC's Squawk Box against Jared Bernstein.  Folks, this is just about as good as it gets, so if this doesn't work, then we're pretty boned.

Here's a small-ish clip:



The full video (14+ minutes) can be viewed here.

The bottom line on Medicare is that there are going to be cuts. The question is whether voters want to have some input on where those cuts get made, or whether they want the IPAD (Independent Payment Advisory Board) -- the unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats Congressman Ryan spoke about -- to make all of those decisions for everybody.

QOTD: Asterisk

Jack Kelly at RCP quotes Glenn Kessler:
And what Mr. Obama said at the Jeep plant "is one of the most misleading collections of assertions we have found in a short presidential speech," wrote The Washington Post's fact checker, Glenn Kessler. "Virtually every claim made by the president concerning the auto industry deserves an asterisk, just like the fine print in that too-good-to-be-true car loan."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Quote of the Day: Indefensible

Bill Daley, White House Chief of Staff:
“Sometimes you can’t defend the indefensible,”

(via Dave at AoSHQ)

More:
Daley couldn’t answer basic questions and continually faced criticism from the executives in the room. The business leaders even applauded each other’s criticism of the administration. “At one point, the room erupted in applause when Massachusetts utility executive Doug Starrett, his voice shaking with emotion, accused the administration of blocking construction on one of his facilities to protect fish, saying government ‘throws sand into the gears of progress,’” wrote Peter Wallsten and Jia Lynn Yang in the Washington Post.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Kathleen Parker Missing The Flipping Forest For The Trees

The former Spitzer co-host* once again woefully laments the perceived ideological rigidity of her conservative would-be-brethren. This time she's defending the “flip-flop”, with particular emphasis on Mitt Romney. Oddly, Romney is most recently in trouble for not flipping on global warming, which makes me wonder whether Kathleen Parker finished her bottle of wine before or after submitting her work this week.

* - (No, we will never let you live that down.)

But the problem is not merely that somebody change his or her mind, as Parker would have us believe. The Republican Party is filled with folks who changed their minds on issues large and small. Reagan made George H.W. Bush change his professed position on abortion in order to join the 1980 ticket. Dubya was against nation building before he tried to nation-build in Iraq. Pawlenty has reneged on his previous support of carbon cap-and-trade. Old-hand Republicans everywhere who once supported an individual health insurance mandate in the early 1990s have largely come to denounce the idea in the present. Rick Perry, who according to many liberal opinion writers seems to be the impossible love child of Barry Goldwater, Hitler, and Yosemite Sam, actually voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and supported Al Gore's presidential ambitions in 1988. If Texas can forgive Perry for these political sins, then so shall I.

Rather, the problems with flip-flopping are those of quantity and convenience. We can tolerate the occasional flip-flop of convenience, so long as it is rare. And we can stomach a large number of changed positions, so long as the changes are credible, as in the case of an ideological conversion or epiphany. But forgive us, oh wise Kathleen, for questioning the intellectual integrity of a politician whose positions change with great frequency and during awfully convenient circumstances.

Parker seems to empathize with John Kerry and his episode of “[voting] for the $87 billion, before [he] voted against it”. She calls these remarks, “unhelpful”. But Kerry's problem was not merely that he didn't explain himself, it was that his remarks betrayed what was at best a wishy-washyness to his support of the war effort, and at worst a cynical calculation to manipulate the domestic tax policy process by withholding critical funding for the war. Kerry's entire 2004 campaign was marked by his inability to convey clear policy messages. Even as he was on the cusp of receiving the Democratic nomination, The Washington Post complained about Kerry's “fuzziness on issues ranging from Iraq to gay marriage”.

The issue about flip-flopping is not that a politician might change his beliefs in light of new facts, but the concern that the politician has no real beliefs to begin with.

Kathleen, ask yourself what you suppose Mitt Romney really thinks about gay marriage. If your answer is anything other than an unhesitating confirmation of his stated position (-opposed), then perhaps you should reflect upon that.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wreck-overy-dot-gov: Porkulus Still Only 83% Spent

Yeah, that's right. The Obama "stimulus" bill, after over two years since enactment, is only 82.73 % spent.

Screen-cap from Recovery.gov:

259.9 + 207.3 + 183.9 = $651.1 billion

651.1 / 787 = 82.73%

Recall that the entire point of a Keynesian stimulus is to spend it, and to spend it quickly.  Obama couldn't even get that much right.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Paul Ryan vs Polling - Painting outside the lines

Picking up on Ace's "DOOM!" meme, if we're to believe the polling about Paul Ryan's Medicare plan, the GOP is doomed.  And not just the GOP, but the nation as well, because ignoring the issue is going to put us in a Greek-like situation in relatively short order.  Problem being that we're not Greece, we're the US of A, and there will be a lot more collateral damage.

But Ryan isn't backing down, ignoring the hand-wringing pollsters.

Republicans need to learn to paint outside the proverbial lines.

Ryan on Meet the Press (emphasis added):
REP. RYAN:  First of all, if people are describing this accurately in polls, it's far more popular than the poll you've referenced.  Second of all, leaders are elected to lead.  I don't consult polls to tell me what my principles are or what our policies should be.  Leaders change the polls.  And we are leading in the House.  We are not seeing this kind of leadership from the president of the United States.  The Senate Democrats haven't even proposed or passed a budget for 753 days, and we have a budget crisis.  So yes, we are going to lead, and we are going to try to move these polls and change these polls because that's what the country wants.

I, I just did 19 town hall meetings, David, in, in the district that I work for that went for Obama, Dukakis, Clinton and Gore.  People are hungry for solutions, and I really fundamentally believe that the people are way ahead of the political class.  And I think they're going to reward the leader who steps up to the plate and actually fixes these problems, no matter how much demagoguery, no matter how much distortion, no matter how much political parties try to scare seniors in the next election.  I just don't think they're going to buy it this year, and they're hungry for leaders to fix this problem before it gets out of our control.

There's a maxim among political consultants -- "If you're explaining, you're losing."  And there is some truth to that, like if you're trying to explain why you voted for something before voting against it, you're in trouble.  Or if you're trying to explain that, yes, the candidate does read a lot of news sources despite failing to name a single one in an interview, you're losing.  If you're explaining that you cheated on your wife because of how much you love your country, you're losing.

But on certain issues, particularly existential issues, you need to do some explaining.  You need to lead.  You need to call the other side out for lying like Jon Lovitz on his old Saturday Night Live sketches.  Paul Ryan has done that, and wins in his not-overly-conservative district because he consistently takes the time to explain his positions and people trust him.

Unlike some "damn the torpedoes" conservatives, I am generally appreciative of the wisdom obtained from good polling. But there are limitations to the utility of polls.  Polls are clumsy at detecting social tipping points, and poor at anticipating results involving exogenous circumstance -- exogenous circumstances like an imminent sovereign debt crisis and a politician actually willing to lead on that issue.  I have personally witnessed polling in a state-wide race where the politician moved significant numbers based on a screwball issue no pollster or consultant would have ever dreamed of.  It can be done.  "Leaders change the polls."

But the limitation is not just with polling and pollsters, but with the entire professional partisan political consulting universe.  Consultants only know how to paint inside the lines, caring more about the quick 50-percent-plus-one win and caring less about an electoral future two years distant. Draw a quick contrast grid, emphasize your candidate's positives, slam your opponent's negatives, make a bunch of phone calls, and hang on for dear life.  It's a process that works enough of the time to be useful, but it isn't a strategy for changing a lot of hearts and minds.

The special election in NY-26 illustrates this ineptitude.  Corwin has backed off her support of the Ryan plan, no doubt following the advice of pollsters and other consultants.  In doing so, she has forfeited credibility among both conservative Tea Partiers and independent swing voters alike.  She is somehow simultaneously an ideological squish and a mean, grandma-killing ghoul.  The Republican party apparatus, having lost the last two Congressional special elections in upstate New York, knows nothing other than its previous recipe for failure -- calling in (well-meaning) out-of-state shock troops and barraging the electorate with phone calls and advertisements well past the point of saturation.

I know -- "What about Jack Davis?"  First of all, a lot of Davis voters are breaking Democrat.  Second, to the extent that Republicans "protest" with a Davis vote, it reflects poorly upon the ability of the NYGOP and the Corwin campaign to hold their own.  I despise him as much as the next guy, but don't go blaming all of this mess on Davis.

Imagine if Corwin had explained (gulp!) that the Democratic plan is to either (1) ignore the problem and blow up the system, or (2) force rationing from DC central planners?  Given those two choices, isn't it preferable that oldsters have a hand in determining how best to manage their own health care budgets?  If society wants to spend less money on health care, who should make those decisions, bureaucrats or individuals with their doctors?

Instead, Corwin painted inside the lines.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Newt Officially Worse than Romney on Health Care

There are two categorical objections to a federal individual mandate for health insurance.  The first is that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to force an individual to purchase a product -- any product.  The second is the libertarian objection that it is wrong in any circumstance, whether constitutional or not, to impose such a mandate.  Romney is right on the first question, and wrong on the second.  Newt seems to be wrong on both.

Romney's position that MassCare was just fine, while Obamacare is unconstitutional is a perfectly coherent view.  Just because it is unconstitutional for the federal government to do something does not automatically make it unconstitutional for a state government to do the same.  While I disagree with Romney's defense of the mandate in MassCare as a matter of policy, it does not automatically follow that his legal reasoning is unsound.

Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, seems to defend some variation on the individual mandate at the federal level. 

Newt on Meet the Press today:
(Videotape, October 3, 1993)
REP. GINGRICH:  I am for people, individuals--exactly like automobile insurance--individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance.  And I am prepared to vote for a voucher system which will give individuals, on a sliding scale, a government subsidy so we insure that everyone as individuals have health insurance.
(End videotape)
MR. GREGORY:  What you advocate there is precisely what President Obama did with his healthcare legislation, is it not?
REP. GINGRICH:  No, it's not precisely what he did.  In, in the first place, Obama basically is trying to replace the entire insurance system, creating state exchanges, building a Washington-based model, creating a federal system. I believe all of us--and this is going to be a big debate--I believe all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care.  I think the idea that...
MR. GREGORY:  You agree with Mitt Romney on this point.
REP. GINGRICH:  Well, I agree that all of us have a responsibility to pay--help pay for health care.  And, and I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy.  I've said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond...
MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.
REP. GINGRICH:  ...or in some way you indicate you're going to be held accountable.
MR. GREGORY:  But that is the individual mandate, is it not?
REP. GINGRICH:  It's a variation on it.
MR. GREGORY:  OK.
REP. GINGRICH:  But it's a system...
MR. GREGORY:  And so you won't use that issue against Mitt Romney.
REP. GINGRICH:  No.  But it's a system which allows people to have a range of choices which are designed by the economy.  But I think setting the precedent--you know, there are an amazing number of people who think that they ought to be given health care.  And, and so a large number of the uninsured earn $75,000 or more a year, don't buy any health insurance because they want to buy a second house or a better car or go on vacation.  And then you and I and everybody else ends up picking up for them.  I don't think having a free rider system in health is any more appropriate than having a free rider system in any other part of our society.

While there are certainly ways that a system that included a mandate could be significantly less onerous than Obamacare, there is no way to square the circle on the constitutionality of a mandate.  Either a mandate is constitutional, or it is not.  Newt claims that Obamacare is unconstitutional, yet still supports a mandate of sorts.  He cannot have it both ways.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Quote of the Day: Contented Cows

A Depression-era anecdote that seems relevant in the current environment...

From Bob Dole's humor compilation book, Great Political Wit:

In the depths of the Great Depression, Hoover and Coolidge found themselves together in Marion, Ohio, dedicating the memorial to Warren G. Harding.  Hoover outlined all the steps he was taking to end the nation's economic spiral, making clear his resentment over what he regarded as unfair criticism from the public.

"You can't expect to see calves running in the field the day after you put the bull to the cows," said Coolidge.

"No," replied Hoover, "but I would expect to see contented cows."

Of course, to the extent that the Obama administration's policies are just as ineffective and counterproductive as Hoover's, there's little wonder the cows aren't contented.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

So we're back to dithering now?

I say we should release the bin Laden photo(s), but I understand the argument against it.  What's really confusing and irritating is the high level of public anguish displayed by the Obama administration.  You might even say Obama is "dithering" about the decision.

All this "will they or won't they release it" stuff is idiotic.  I'm not sure if I was hearing the TV correctly, but folks on a certain "forward leaning" channel seemed to suggest that the public anguish over this issue was being done with the explicit purpose of showing how seriously the administration was taking the decision.

But in the grand scheme of things, the photo-release decision is not especially consequential. If they don't release the photo, some whacky folks might not believe OBL is really dead -- but then again those are the mostly same folks who wouldn't believe it even if they did see a photo.  On the other hand, some whacky folks might be offended or incited by the photo -- but those people are always finding reasons to be offended or incited regardless of what we do.

I've seen people speculate that the OBL take-down sealed Obama's 2012 re-election victory.  I maintained that the OBL success wouldn't really affect Obama's long-term political trajectory.  Little did I know that the forward-momentum established by the administration wouldn't survive the actual OBL story.

Stop dithering, Obama.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dr StrangeHair - How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Donald

I was admittedly more than a little annoyed to see how well Trump has been doing in early GOP primary polling.  But Trump is pretty much maxed out right now.  He's not going to get independent-minded folks, and he's not going to get ideologues like myself. Or anybody with tact, common sense, or an IQ notably over 100. When primary voters learn of his donations to key Democrats (like Ed Rendell and Rahm Emanuel, for starters), his continually shifting party registration, his rather undisciplined insane policy ramblings, and an abortion flip-flop so convenient it would make Mitt Romney blush, support for Trump will wither away.

In short, he's not going to win the Republican nomination. He's not a threat.

And if he's not a threat, perhaps he can do some good -- as an attack dog.  A good chunk of the population still clings bitterly to a personal admiration for Obama, even if many have soured on his policies and governance.  What Trump brings to the table is a shameless, vulgar willingness and ability to attack Obama personally.  What we know from three years of Obama media coverage is that anybody who criticizes Obama on anything other than the narrowest of policy grounds gets denounced as a racist.  (Actually, any criticism of Obama is declared racist, but the policy stuff is less so.)  Trump has shown an enthusiasm for criticizing Obama without any concern for how it might backfire onto Trump.

Yeah, the birther stuff was idiotic.  But it must be noted that the mainstream candidates all distanced themselves from the issue, and thus won't be burned by it.

I'm a little more interested in the academic records.  I'd like to know what sort of GPA our sooper-geenyus President was pulling at Oxy and Columbia. (I'm guessing it was pretty good, but short of great.  Remember, Dubya the dunce had a slightly higher GPA than Kerry.) I'd love to know what courses Obama took.  I'd consider sacrificing a pinkie toe to get a hold of some of his papers.  Again, none of the mainstream candidates need bother with this down-in-the mud stuff.  Trump can be the honey badger invading the beehive, unfazed by multiple stings from an angry swarm of media-types.

It's not that I oppose Obama because I think he might have had a less than stellar GPA, took a dozen courses on Marxism, or got a C-minus in basic economics.  It's that I think finding out such information might start to dispel the rainbow-farting-unicorn aura that surrounds the man. People need to like Obama less on a "personal" level.

So I've made my peace with the Trump quasi-candidacy.  Let him stir up the pot of Obama's history, then fade into political (if not media) obscurity after a while.  He really can't hurt anything.

Friday, April 22, 2011

NLRB And The Right To Say “No”

 In “The Godfather”, when Don Corleone says he's “gonna make him an offer he can't refuse”, it's generally understood that the Don isn't intending to engage in honest and meaningful negotiations. He's going to make a threat, backed by force.

The recent action by the National Labor Relations Board challenging Boeing's decision to build a new plant in right-to-work South Carolina has a similar bent. This move by Obama's NLRB is part of a continuing attempting to take away management's right to say “no” to unions in any meaningful sense of the word.

In every other facet of civilized society, meaningful consent is defined by the ability of one party to walk away. Why is employment – typically considered to be a “voluntary” arrangement – any different?

It should be noted that the South Carolina plant is a second line, and that no union worker will lose his or her job. Actually, more union jobs are being added in Puget Sound to support the South Carolina facility. All Boeing did was decide to build a plant in a place with favorable labor laws while being honest enough to say why.

This shouldn't come as any surprise to anybody who was paying attention in 2008. A visit to Obama's 2008 campaign website via the WayBack Machine shows that this recent behavior is part of a larger pattern. As far back as January of 2008, BarackObama.com promoted the following policy:
Protect Striking Workers: Obama supports the right of workers to bargain collectively and strike if necessary. He will work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers, so workers can stand up for themselves without worrying about losing their livelihoods. 



A nearly identical statement incorporating Joe Biden's name persisted on the website through the election.

This statement, buried on the Obama campaign website, told you everything you need to know about Obama's governing philosophy.  "He will work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers..."  Knowing that the union could never be broken even under the most dire circumstances, labor “negotiators” would be able to demand anything they wanted – literally making offers that management could not refuse.

But this privileged status only extends to union organizers, not to individual workers. Let's not forget EFCA, the absurdly named “Employee Free Choice Act” – a.k.a. “Card Check”. Though now seemingly on ice, EFCA would have effectively eliminated secret ballot union elections, and with it the meaningful right of refusal to join a union.

If the Obama administration had its way, workers could not refuse to join unions, management could not refuse to acquiesce to union demands, and businesses could not even build new facilities except where union “negotiators” stipulated.

If Big Labor and the administration think they can make people offers that others can't refuse, it's not going too far to suggest they are acting like gangsters.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Best Graphic Ever: Ted Kennedy on Windfarm Article

At FastCompany, which is a pretty good site, btw.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Difference is the Direction

Ezra Klein seems to have missed the point about Paul Ryan's plan for Medicare.

Klein's WaPo interview with some-time Ryan collaborator Alice Rivlin, who does not support the "Path to Prosperity" plan:
EK: Speaking of the Affordable Care Act, you’ve said before that the theory behind the exchanges in Ryan-Rivlin and the theory behind the exchanges in the Affordable Care Act are identical. That would mean Republicans who believe in Ryan’s model should be more optimistic about the Affordable Care Act. But Ryan has said the two of you simply disagree on how to build the exchanges. Can you explain to me the disagreement you have that would make Ryan-Rivlin different from the ACA?

AR: No. I can’t. I think he’s sort of backed himself into an intellectual corner here.

EK: When you would talk to him, did he seem to recognize that?

AR: Yes.

Sure, they're very similar.  The difference is the direction in which they are moving.

Medicare is currently a massively expensive single-payer plan with minimal market restraints. To attempt to save any money under the current Medicare system is necessarily an exercise in command-and-control planning.  The Ryan plan moves slightly away from that, and attempts to cap overall premium supports and let market participants figure out what to do with that money.

Obamacare goes in the opposite direction, moving from a system with significant (if insufficient) market-based checks, towards a system with more central control and higher levels of taxation and spending.

The lack of any frame of reference seems like an act of willful obfuscation. It would be like saying that one will experience hot weather when moving to Virginia.  Well, yes, it's hotter than Maine, but cooler than Texas.  

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pawlenty, the Un-Somebody

7-up is the “UnCola”. By avoiding a lot of the negatives of other possible Presidential candidates, Tim Pawlenty is the Un-Candidate – a refreshing alternative to the other contenders. The question is who or what is Pawlenty the “un” to? Team T-Paw needs to figure out who they are attempting to displace if they want to win the nomination. I say he should be the “Un-Romney”.



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pat Buchanan is forcing me to defend Obama

There's a lot to criticize in President Obama's handling of the Libya situation, but that hasn't gotten in the way of Pat Buchanan's uncanny ability to be wrong.

Buchanan's 3/25 column:
When Greek patriots sought America's assistance, Daniel Webster took up their cause but was admonished by John Randolph. Intervention would breach every "bulwark and barrier of the Constitution."
   
"Let us say to those 7 million of Greeks: We defended ourselves when we were but 3 million, against a power in comparison to which the Turk is but as a lamb. Go and do thou likewise."

But Randolph, and by extension Buchanan, don't have the history quite square.  Our rebel colonist forefathers had help.

Quoting directly from Wikipedia, bold added:
France, Spain and the Dutch Republic all secretly provided supplies, ammunition and weapons to the revolutionaries starting early in 1776. After early British success, the war became a standoff. The British used their naval superiority to capture and occupy American coastal cities while the rebels largely controlled the countryside, where 90 percent of the population lived. Then, the Continentals' unexpected victory and capture of a British army at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 convinced France to openly enter the war in early 1778, bringing the revolutionaries' military strength into balance with Britain's. Spain and the Dutch Republic—French allies—also went to war with Britain over the next two years, threatening an invasion of Great Britain and severely testing British military strength with campaigns in Europe—including attacks on Minorca and Gibraltar—and an escalating global naval war. Spain's involvement culminated in the expulsion of British armies from West Florida, securing the American colonies' southern flank.

French involvement proved decisive, with a French naval victory in the Chesapeake leading to the surrender of a second British army at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781.

I guess "Foreign aid for me, but not for thee" is Pat Buchanan's creed.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What they messed up in Firefox 4

Mozilla has been pretty good about allowing the user to customize the interface. Of course, it seems that every time there's a new major release I spend the first twenty minutes trying to undo all the “improvements” the UI team made. Likewise with Firefox 4, I immediately set about trying to get my old environment reestablished.

And good Lord, did they mess it up. It's never a good sign when there's a Lifehacker post titled “How to Fix Annoyances with Firefox 4's New Look”. The saving grace is it's a little easier to tinker with than Chrome, and it's not worse than Chrome in most ways when tinkering is not possible.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Libya: Yoda, Kant, and Other Dime Store Philosophising

(1) Yoda - The Empire Strikes Back:
Do, or do not. There is no try.

This is only a slight oversimplification of my biggest problem with Obama's offensive in Libya.  If we're going to intervene in Libya, then damn it, make sure the job gets done. Don't just lob a few cruise missiles and hope for the best. Make change, oh light-bringer!

But if we're not going to go all the way, then don't bother.

(2) Having recently read the War Powers Resolution for the first time, I am starting to grasp the controversy surrounding it.  I think the general idea of a war powers resolution is probably Constitutional, but I have doubts about specific provisions in the current document.

Generally speaking, I think Obama's actions in Libya are most likely Constitutional, though I am amazed by the naked hypocrisy of those like Joe Biden, by whose standards Obama should be impeached.



(3) If we are to be the world's policemen, where does it all end? How do we decide where to get involved? Why Libya and not Bahrain?

My answer: Supererogation.  If we are to use a humanitarian justification for intervening in Libya, that does not obligate us to intervene everywhere.  It should be plain that the US literally can not be the world's police force.  Therefore, injecting the Kantian principle that "ought implies can", we are not obligated to police the world.  But that should not preclude supererogatory intervention in certain circumstances of our collective choosing.

How are we to decide which cases?  A capital-C Conservative answer might be when it is in the US national interest to do so.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Potent Quotables: Osama bin Buffett

The Oracle of Omaha:

Over the weekend, Buffett joked with CNBC, saying, "I'm going to be the Osama bin Laden of capitalism. I'm on my way to an unknown destination in Asia where I'm going to look for a cave. If the U.S. Armed forces can't find Osama bin Laden in 10 years, let Goldman Sachs try to find me,"


Goldman and other banks received regulatory approval last week to start buying back shares and raising their dividends and it looks like Goldman wants to seize this chance to buy back the shares Buffett owns.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Whither the Powell Doctrine

How does the action against Libya stand up to the lauded Powell Doctrine?

Copy and Paste from Wikipedia:
The Powell Doctrine states that a list of questions all have to be answered affirmatively before military action is taken by the United States:

1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?
Throw this in too:
Powell has expanded upon the Doctrine, asserting that when a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing US casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.
From this, I add the following conditions:
(A) Decisive force used.
(B) Minimal US Casualties
(C) Quick resolution through enemy capitulation.

Let's run down the checklist...
  • National security interests?  I guess so. Libya has oil, and Qaddafi has American blood on his hands.
  • Clear attainable objective?  No, and I'll come back to that in a bit.
  • Risks and costs analyzed? Probably not, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt and overlook it.
  • Non-violent measures exhausted?  Yes.
  • Plausible exit strategy?  No.
  • Consequences considered? Maybe.
  • Support of the American people? I think so, for now anyway.
  • Broad international support.  Yes.
  • Decisive force? No.
  • Minimal US Casualties? Yes, probably.
  • Quick resolution through capitulation? Probably not.

The overarching problem is that there are two potential objectives, and each objective creates different Powell-esque difficulties.

Assume the stated objective, which is the prevention of a humanitarian disaster, namely the ruthless slaughter of civilians in rebel territories.  That is a conceivably attainable objective, but commits coalition forces to enforcing a no-fly zone (and possibly other actions) indefinitely, thus violating the "exit strategy" criterion, and arguably the criteria about decisive force and quick resolution.

Assume what some believe is the unstated objective, that Bushian, Rumsfeldian expression, "regime change".  It should be obvious that decisive force is not currently deployed (and may not even be available).  It may or may not turn into "Iraq II" in that scenario, but a prolonged engagement with ambiguous results cannot be entirely discounted.

I don't think Powell's analysis is the be-all-end-all of military decision making, but it's interesting to me that this engagement seems to casually violate so many criticisms that Obama and others made of the Bush administration not too long ago.

I'm not saying this mission is doomed, just that it's poorly planned and poorly articulated. I can imagine a happy scenario where the coalition arms the rebels while providing a full range of air support functions, eventually leading to the overthrow of Qaddafi. But a lot of puzzle pieces need to come together for that to happen, and that's certainly not what's being sold to the American public right now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Roundup: DCGOP shot at, MI muni bk law, TPaw vid, federal junk cleaning

(1) Somebody shot out the windows at the DC Republican headquarters.  Probably some tea-party nutter...

(2) The new shape of municipal bankruptcy? Michigan considers "financial martial law" bill. (Maybe the folks in Harrisburg should be looking at this.)

(3) Pawlenty has a new video where he criticizes "crony capitalism". Yes, more of this please. Less Michael Bay.



(4) Dems think twitter will save them.  No.

(5) Apparently there's $823k in the stimulus to pay for people to teach uncircumcised African men how to wash their genitals after having sex. How stimulating.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Roundup: Newt ♥s Philly, Ethanol, MinWage, Casey Cowboy Poetry, etc

(1) When Newt announces for President, he's expected to do it in Philly.

(2) Is isobutanol a good bio-fuel alternative to corn ethanol?  Let's hope so.  If anything is to save us on the green energy front, it will be new technologies, not subsidies for the old and busted ones.  If this isobutanol process is everything it's cracked up to be, it would make the previous holy grail of cellulosic ethanol look rather lame.

(3) From the "cutting off the bottom rung" department ... How bad a policy was the minimum wage increase? It might be responsible for over 40% of the unemployment rise we've seen since 2006.

(4) Let it be known -- Bobby Casey voted to save cowboy poetry festivals.

(5) An anti-appropriations committee?  Long overdue.

(6) Trading in onion futures contracts is illegal.  Who knew?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Funding Both Sides of the Culture War

The Mo-Joe crew (sans a vacationing Joe Scarborough) was flippantly dismissive of the NPR exposé video that got a development exec axed.  In the tape, the NPR executive describes Tea Party folks in racist terms.  Carl Bernstein in particular seems hung up on the culture-war aspect of the NPR battle.

Problem is, conservatives are tired of funding both sides of the culture war.



(video from the Daily Caller, because MSNBC's player is a pain.)

I guess they find the argument so tedious because they presume to have won the culture war, as if "war" was a suitable metaphor.  Did I miss the moment when Larry Flint planted a flag somewhere unmentionable and won the culture war?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Ideology as a Scare Word

Both sides do it, but the left seems to get away with it more often.

A New York Times editorial yesterday called for Democrats to hold firm against the "reckless" budget cuts called for by Republicans, then blaming a subsequent government shutdown on those same Republicans.  Here's how the NYT described the programs under the GOP first swath:
But this is not a moment for another difference-splitting deal. The House wants to carve $61 billion out of the government for just the next seven months, which would throw hundreds of thousands of people out of work and kill off scores of vital functions. Many of them, like funding for health care reform, environmental regulation and Planned Parenthood, are on the Republicans’ ideological hit list. The latest deadline for an agreement is March 18; without one, the government would close. 

Cuts to the unconstitutional Obamacare implementation and pulling in the EPA regulatory power-grab are about creating a pro-growth economic environment where job creation.  The cuts to Planned Parenthood are admittedly ideological, but take the entirely sensible position that, with money being a fungible commodity, an organization that is the biggest abortion provider in the country shouldn't have the support of the US taxpayer.

The NYT's position that government programs are necessary for sustaining our feeble economic recovery are no less ideological than the Republican positions they attack.

"Ideology", and any linguistic derivation thereof, is an essentially meaningless pejorative, carrying even less intellectual force than when certain conservatives label President Obama a socialist.  It is a sophistic hoax to claim everything the NYT wants is logical and pragmatic, while everything championed by the other side is tagged "ideological" -- shorthand for irrational and imprudent.  And it is an especially bold position to take when the Times' philosophy has not produced adequate results, and the electorate has shown quite a few Democrats the door.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Bobby Casey as Liberal as Al Franken

National Journal's new legislative ranking has PA Senator Bob Casey Jr. tied with Al Franken (MN) and Tom Udall (NM) as the #15 most liberal Senator based on 2010 votes.

The rankings suggest Casey is more liberal than Dick Durban, John Kerry, and Barbara Boxer.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Obama NATO Ambassador fishing for ideas on Twitter

They have no idea what to do.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Strategy for Continuing Resolutions: Boil the Frog Slowly

It seems like the Democrats are eager to see the government shut down so they can blame it on the Republicans.  Dick Durban was even so bold as to blatantly lie about Social Security checks being endangered.  (They aren't for existing beneficiaries. New claims will be delayed.) 

Here's a strategy for avoiding a shutdown while getting as much as we can.

Start with a one-week CR that cuts spending across the board by a small figure, say 5 or 10 billion (if the CR were to be extended for the remainder of the fiscal year, which it won't). Democrats surely couldn't reasonably balk at such a modest cut and short horizon.  If they did, it would be pretty clear who was responsible for shutting down the government.

The following week, ratchet that number up by 10 billion. And the next week. And the next. Pretty soon, we'll either have an agreement, or we'll have moved the line of scrimmage into the multiple tens of billions in cuts. And each week, the Democrats will have to choose between an incremental cut and a whole government shutdown.

A lot of Congressmen are jumping out of the boiling water of $100 billion in cuts, Republicans included.  I think we can cook these frogs by slowly and steadily turning up the heat.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why I still prefer Firefox to Chrome

 In response to the LifeHacker love-letter to Chrome, here are the reasons I don't care for it.

(1) Chrome isn't a proper multi-user application.  It's not easy to run Chrome as another user, and it can't be installed on all accounts at the same time.

(2) Web install. I am a USB sneaker-net kind of guy, and web installs are the bane of my existence. Web-install plus not being multi-user means annoying downloads for each user account.

(3) I hate the tabs-on-top interface. Tabs do not logically belong on the top of the window. Any mouse-pointer accuracy gained by a tabs-on-top interface is negated (and then some) by an OS level task or menu bar at the top of the screen. (Default configuration in Ubuntu, less common in Windows).

(4) Non-native window decoration.

(5) I like my junk. Chrome is often praised for its clean interface. Well, I like my "cluttered" toolbar and bookmark system. The presence of a prominent bookmark or folder of bookmarks offers a reminder of sites that should be visited.  Reliance on a search bar is equivalent to reliance on my own memory, which is not a good idea. (This is reminiscent of the GUI vs CLI debates circa 1993. And while CLI will always have its place, GUI won.)

(6) Auto update is not always a good idea.  There can be reasons for keeping older versions around, at least for a little while.  Who needs continuous incremental updates for features? It's a web browser, for Pete's sake.

(7) The URL box and the Search box are different for a reason.  Searching the URL box looks at history and bookmarks.  Search box auto-completes are pulled from the net.  Why would you combine these two things?

(8) Mature extension environment. Chrome is getting there (and it would be nice to install an extension without restarting the program), but mozilla still rules for now.

(8a) NoScript. As far as I know, there is no Chrome equivalent functionality as found in the Firefox "NoScript" extension.

(9) Developer support. It just works. In my experience, more sites fail to work properly in Chrome.  (And when you encounter the rare site that fails in Firefox, there's IE-tab.)

(10) RSS - I might be the only one, but I actually like the Firefox "live bookmark" scheme. I don't have a separate RSS reader and have hated every one I've tried.

Chrome touts its use of separate threads for each tab.  I think this will be implemented in a future Firefox, but I haven't had the whole browser crash in a while since Firefox made plug-ins separate processes.  I can kill an errant Silverlight process, reload the misbehaving tab and go about my business just fine.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why I Want Herman Cain In The Mix (#CPAC11)

I don’t necessarily think Herman Cain should be the Republican nominee for President, but part of me wants to see him do well because he brings unique attributes to the contest that could be constructive to our politics.

Cain’s CPAC address showed off his ability to captivate a crowd, but everybody who is the least bit familiar with Herman Cain already knew he could do that in his sleep.  While Cain chose not to deliver policy specifics to the CPAC/Republican base audience, he is more than capable of doing so, even when sparring against the wonkish Bill Clinton.  Cain could wipe the floor with Obama in a policy debate, and would be a driving intellectual force in any Republican primary field.  The GOP needs candidates who can communication the issues of the day in persuasive and engaging language without demagoguery or sacrificing accuracy. Cain can do that.

Cain also represents the rise of the non-politician expert, the self-made man.  In his CPAC speech, he told the audience that both of his parents walked off the farm as young adults with little more than the clothes on their backs. Cain’s biography is the American Dream on steroids, made all the poignant by his race and the era in which he earned his success.  Perhaps the jump from the business world to the political world ought to be a little easier than it is.  What would the landscape look like had Cain won his 2004 Senate bid?

I do have some substantive concerns about Cain. He holds a few positions that are controversial even inside the Republican Party.  

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Case for Flex-Fuel

Since I ripped Newt in the previous post while supporting the flex-fuel mandate, it might be a good idea to talk about flex-fuel and the difference between government creating demand and government creating a market.

I'm not against ethanol per se.  I'm against government forcing us to buy subsidized ethanol, especially corn ethanol.

I know I'm straying off the libertarian reservation here, but a mandate that new autos have flex-fuel capability is not the worst idea in the world.  Current ethanol policy is essentially social engineering in the form of farm price support.  Under current policy we must use ethanol -- food prices, efficiency, and environmental impact be damned.  Government has created an artificial level of demand, and is not allowing the market to balance the inherent trade-offs in using ethanol as a fuel..

With a flex-fuel mandate, government would of course be forcing you to buy $100 worth of engineering and gadgetry in your car, but would not actually force you to buy E85.  The "flex" part of flex-fuel means you can burn anything from straight gasoline up to E85 and everything in between.  The consumer would have a choice of fuels. 

A flex-fuel mandate solves a collective action problem in the distribution of E85 by creating a market rather than creating demand. Currently, so few individuals have flex-fuel vehicles that E85 pumps are scarce.  With a mandate, fuel suppliers would know that their customers are capable of using E85, and could choose to supply it at a level demanded by the market.  With free pricing of ethanol, consumers and suppliers will find an equilibrium price where E85 and gasoline are in rough price parity after adjusting for their relative efficiencies.

By having a diverse fuel source, we would be more insulated against price shocks from either the petroleum or the agricultural markets.  If there's a drought, we would naturally shift toward petroleum to pick up the slack.  If there's a geopolitical shock, we would shift to biofuels.  With flex-fuel vehicles, these adjustments would happen quickly and seamlessly.

In exchange for a flex-fuel mandate, I want a few concessions from King Corn:
  • Mandates and subsidies for corn ethanol are to be phased out within five years.
  • The tariff on imported sugar and ethanol is to be lifted immediately.
  • Nothing above E10 is to be sold as "gasoline".  (E15 is a non-starter... sometimes literally for small engines like chainsaws and snow-blowers.)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Professor Cornpone's Huckabee-ish Class and Culture Warfare

I've been saying since 2008 that Huckabee was a poor facsimile of Newt Gingrich, though I never thought I'd see Newt sinking to a Huckabee-esque level of absurdly vulgar class warfare.

Newt thought it would be a great idea to slam "big city attacks" on rural areas.  "Every time farmers start to do well, somebody starts to attack them." -- "Why are we attacking farmers for being productive?"

The sick thing is, I am actually sympathetic to one of Newt's major ethanol proposals (-a flex-fuel mandate for autos), but I can't stand his blatant demagoguery of this issue.  Misleading attacks on the motivations of major elements of the conservative coalition are not to be tolerated.  This is every bit as bad as Huckabee's "Club for Greed" nonsense.  Newt, if you ever had a chance to be a real Presidential candidate, you blew it by so carelessly slandering opponents of our ethanol policy as being malevolent and uninformed.

Good job, Professor Cornpone.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

An Exercise For Those Who Think Palin Is Stupid

Read something Obama said, but in your mind replace Obama's voice with Palin's.

Read things Palin has said, but imagine it in Obama's voice.

GOP Still Not Connecting the Dots on Jobs

Rarely do I agree with Chuck Todd, but...

Jan 31 Meet The Press (bold added):

MR. TODD:  ...a couple of Cabinet agencies merged, a couple of other agencies.  It'll be symbolic whether it actually is a big change.  But this idea of entitlement thing, I want to say one thing, Republicans have lost--somehow have let the White House own the jobs message in this last month.  And I don't understand how they let that happen.  They focused on health care.  They're talking about spending cuts.  They're talking about the debt.  Things that do matter to their base, but they've got to be careful here.  They're not, they're not, there's not an obvious jobs plan coming out.

MR. MURPHY:  That's true.  But, you know, he has the big microphone of the State of the Union.

MR. TODD:  And he used it.

MR. MURPHY:  So his jobs rhetoric is great.  The reason he's still in political jeopardy is his jobs results are not great.  He is not perceived yet as a great economic manager, and that's going to be the battle for the presidency.

MR. GREGORY:  And I still think this debate over what role the government plays in, in winning that and turning that around.

There's a lot to this, and it's a much bigger problem than some realize.  A lot of people are looking for "a plan".  This is an inherently un-conservative idea.  The conservative jobs plan is "Stop the Insanity".  Regular folks understand that blowing out the deficit to build windmills and dog parks isn't going to create jobs, but they don't necessarily understand the contrapositive sentiment, that it is beneficial to job creation to avoid squandering money on wasteful programs.

If Obama's jobs plan is all sizzle and no steak, then the GOP jobs plan is a freshly butchered carcass, unfit for immediate consumption.  Some further preparation of the message is necessary.

Yes, all of the things Chuck Todd listed are part of the "jobs" story.  Aside from its prima facie repulsiveness, Obamacare is a job destroyer.  Spending, taxation, and debt are all ultimately about our economic health (and therefore jobs-related concerns), but it wasn't that long ago that GHW Bush derided "voodoo economics".

It's not enough that Obama's plans haven't worked (and won't).  Republican spin-meisters must explain as simply as possible why they are bad ideas, and why Republican ideas are better.  Do not take basic economics for granted.  Connect the dots.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Roundup: Nothing Egypt Related

Because there's enough talk about Egypt without my two cents.

(1) There is reasonably broad support for the thought that Republicans should consider Tea Party ideas, even among those Americans who are not themselves Tea Party "supporters".

(2) It looks like a recent Chinese propaganda video ripped a scene from Top Gun.

(3) Interested in a funeral pyre to send your loved one into the great beyond? Head to Colorado.

(4) Your Chris Christie love of the day.

(5) Apparently the band Nirvana is old enough that people can rip them off without seeming like a "me too" wannabe grunge band. Here's my take on Warpaint's "Undertow".

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Paul Ryan's Response, Pt 2: Evidence

Here's the problem with using an ideological message rather than a specific one: Independents aren't overly in love with the abstract notion of free capitalism.  Watch this dial-group video of Paul Ryan's speech...



While Ryan does pretty well, you see in this particular segment that Democrats unsurprisingly trail off when he talks about lower taxes, and more importantly, Independents start to fade when he asserts that the American system has done "more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed".  The marginal independent voter moves parallel to the marginal Democrat voter on ideological assertions about capitalism.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What I Didn't Like About Paul Ryan's Response

The job of responding to the President's State of the Union address is by all accounts a thankless one.  If you're lucky, nobody remembers what was said.  If you're unlucky, as Jindal was, people start writing your political obituary.

The task is difficult for several reasons.  The responder has second billing, (usually) no live audience, and must respond to a carefully prepared address that has been delivered just moments before.  Stylistically, the responder must be critical of the President.  It is de rigueur for Presidents to project optimism in their SOTU speeches, and it is difficult for such a response to burst the optimism established by the President while simultaneously establishing a competing cheerful vision.

As if this task wasn't impossible enough, it is also necessary to lay out one's criticisms and alternative visions in a way that that is psychologically accessible to non-ideological voters.  If you pull out the usual trick phrases from your ideological bag of tricks, you'll find that they don't work as well with swing voters.

But regardless of the difficulties, that is the established task.  And while Congressman Ryan did a respectable job criticizing the President with his bulletproof logic, the few sunny statements he made seemed bolted on like miscellaneous body parts on Heidi Montag.

We got a promissory note that the upcoming budget will "cut spending to get the debt down… help create jobs and prosperity … and reform government programs".  We heard sincere yet vague talk about the Declaration, the Constitution, and the vision of self reliance and limited government.

Great. So what?

Ryan:
We believe a renewed commitment to limited government will unshackle our economy and create millions of new jobs and opportunities for all people, of every background, to succeed and prosper. Under this approach, the spirit of initiative – not political clout – determines who succeeds. 

I wholeheartedly believe every word of this.  And there's no doubt in my mind that Paul Ryan does too.  And yet, many will see this as empty rhetoric.  More importantly, success and prosperity are necessarily vague terms.  Tuesday evening quite a few of us poked fun at Obama's vision of teachers accessing their high-speed wireless internet on bullet trains while sitting next to gay ROTC recruits, but Obama presented an accessible vision.

This is an inherent weakness in selling a dynamic, unpredictable, freedom-loving system; government can't project a specific vision into the future.

If I was re-writing this speech, I'd address some scenarios voters might find themselves in --starting a new business, planning for retirement, looking for a job, sending children to college, filling a gasoline tank, etc. -- and contrast the consequences of the Obama plan/vision against a brighter future enabled by potential conservative governance.  Even a metaphor such as Tim Pawlenty's "cash bar at a wedding" bit would have been useful.  The listener must find him/herself engaged in a contemplation of the future that the speaker is guiding.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I Can't Believe It's Not Centrism!

Republicans have taken notice that Obama’s new “centrist” pivot seems to involve a lot of “investment”, i.e. more government spending.  What they don’t seem to realize is that swing voters probably won’t be able to tell the difference between real centrism and the fake stuff.

Please, GOP politicos, by all means try to convince the public that Obama’s additional spending is more of the same stuff that voters rejected in November.  But don’t be surprised when the public scoffs at our opposition as shallow partisanship.

You see, swing voters are not especially ideological. You might think this is an uncontroversial and uninteresting idea until you start to apply it.  I usually argue the “irrational independents” line from the position of supporting more conservative candidates instead of the empty-headed supposed moderates our party organizations often try to promote, but this knife cuts both ways. When we hear that Obama is attempting to shift to the center, we must remember that this shift needn’t be more than cosmetic in order to be effective. Obama’s “new” ideas  only need to pass a superficial test of sounding plausible to those voters who are least likely to have established ideas about the proper size and scope of government.

The public will see Obama talking about specific “investments” in particular things that they like, such as education and R&D.  The public will hear about business tax breaks recently enacted in the Great Tax Compromise. (Of course, they will not hear about Obama’s previously longstanding opposition to those ideas.)  The public will see Obama’s new corporatist “jobs” panel (or whatever they’re calling it) headed by sycophant CEO Jeff Immelt of General Electric. Obama is “pro-business”, you see!

You can criticize Obama’s policies, but you can’t do it from a perspective that even smells of ideology.  The swing voter will tune you out quicker than a “Best of Ashlee Simpson” video marathon.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Magazine Size and the Insurrectionist Doctrine

Daily Caller shares this video as an example of the New Tone on MSNBC strongly resembling the Old Tone, but I want to address what Lawrence O'Donnell is saying, and marry it to another aspect of the gun debate.



O'Donnell is complaining that if magazine sizes were smaller there would have been fewer people killed in the Arizona massacre.  I don't know about that.  There are a lot of ways to kill people.  He could have used a bomb.  Heck, he could have brought two or more guns and not bothered to reload.

But rather than address the limited (and more fruitful and constructive) issue of keeping the mentally ill from getting guns, O'Donnell wants to make sure everybody's gun rights are diminished.

Of course, the gun control crowd doesn't buy into the Insurrectionist Doctrine -- the idea that the people have a natural right of rebellion against any tyrannical government that might arise, and that the right to bear arms acts as a deterrent force against the abuse of power.  Hypocritically, the anti-gunners scoff at the potential effectiveness of an armed rebellion while wailing incessantly about how the guns currently available to the public are too effective.  Sorry, but you can't have it both ways.

Admittedly, this slippery slope has two directions.  It's not unreasonable to suggest that individuals shouldn't be armed with guided missiles, or bio/chemical weapons, etc., but it's just as ridiculous to suggest (as Saturday Night Live did recently) that individuals be limited to muskets and other weapons available in the late 18th Century when the Constitution was written.  Individual arms must be effective.  The crowing about magazine size is a pretext for smothering the real meaning of the Second Amendment.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Partial Defense of Ron Jr

In his new book, Ron Reagan Jr. makes some claims about what he believes were early signs of Alzheimer's disease seen in his father.  Generally speaking I have little respect for Ron Jr., and some of his claims warrant further inspection, but the vehement denials from some of the former President's allies also seem a bit overwrought.

Allahpundit cites this WaPo medical Q-and-A as evidence that Reagan did not have Alzheimer's while in office.  Read it and judge for yourself.  Here is a quote from it, bold added for emphasis:
Wallace, N.C.: Do you think that Ronald Reagan had Alzheimer's during his term as president?

David Shenk: Everyone wants to know that about Reagan, understandably. The short answer is no -- he did not have diagnosable Alzheimer's in the White House.

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that creeps up very very slowly, and it was certainly creeping up on him during the late years of his Presidency. He knew that better than anyone, and joked frequently in speeches and with his White House doctors. But it's clear from looking at the evidence that his memory troubles in the White House were much too slight to be considered Alzheimer's.

I'd say that's at least a little ambiguous.

A few points pro and con-Ron Jr.--

Pro:
  • Family members can often know when something is wrong, even when others are not as perceptive.  Numerous times I was told that my grandfather "seemed fine" when he had been symptomatic for a while -- even after diagnosis.  And no, I don't think these individuals were all just being polite.
  • After consulting with a MD friend of mine, it is possible that a visual inspection of the brain as described in Ron Jr.'s book might have revealed hints of the disease, though certainly not a diagnosis. 
  • By the time Reagan was diagnosed in 1994 he was probably in the "moderate" stage of the disease given the motor deterioration evident in his handwritten letter. It is entirely reasonable to presume that pathological origin of the disease had begun during his Presidency.
  • Even if the disease had begun during his Presidency (as I feel was likely), there is little reason to doubt the sound judgment of President Reagan on policy matters in the earliest stages.  It's not like he was going to forget what the little red button did and accidentally nuke anybody, or do anything idiotic like try to take over health care.  We joke about Zombie Reagan coming back to restore conservatism, but in all seriousness I'll take a 95% capacity Reagan over a 110% capacity Obama.
  • Reagan had a significant cognitive reserve, and would have adapted and performed rather well during the early stages of the disease.
  • While many Americans are emotionally and ideologically attached to Reagan and his legacy, he was, after all, a mere human, subject to human ailments. We should be concerned with the historical facts, not political posturing.


Con:
  • Reagan was diagnosed in 1994. Ron Jr.'s claims of symptoms in President Reagan's first term are stretching the believable boundaries of perception of the disease.  Late second term sounds more reasonable to me.
  • Ron Jr. has already had to walk-back part of the story about the surgery to relieve pressure from his brain.  He initially claimed that Reagan was treated in San Diego, then later at the Mayo Clinic, but has revised his story to claim that the initial treatment for the fall happened in Tuscon, and the skull pressure treatment happened two months after the incident of being thrown from his horse.  
  • In revising his story, Ron Jr.'s initial account of "[opening] the President's skull" became "[burrowing] a hole".  This should diminish the likelihood that anything significant was seen.
  • Ron is an idiot with a book to sell.

My doc friend (-who is a Democrat, for what it's worth) called Ron Jr's story (as cited in the above-linked Salon article) "a mix of both plausible and less plausible elements..."  

That sounds about right to me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Halperin Ironically Makes Case For Conservative Vigilance

Today's Morning Joe program was a pretty kum-ba-ya affair with painfully self-aware supposed even-handedness about a "wake up call" for overheated political rhetoric on both sides.  And while the deliberate appeal to the center did not do particular justice to the facts that unfolded, MoJo at least made some effort at common ground.

Yet, in the midst of this saccharine sweetness and appeal to our better nature, Mark Halperin demonstrated that he wasn't paying the least bit of attention to the tone Scarborough was trying to establish.  Rather, he felt the need to denigrate conservatives for doing little other than defending themselves against a baseless attack (via Newsbusters):





You see, Mr. Halperin, we're sick of turning the other cheek. The nutjobs always get blamed on conservatives no matter what their ideology turns out to be, or if they have any at all. Ace-of-Spades listed a number of such instances where conservatives where initially imparted with some or all of the blame: the IRS plane-bomber, the Discovery Channel shooter, the hanged census worker, and the Fort Hood shooter (who according to Chris Matthews was driven by vicarious PTSD).  I'd add to that list the Holocaust museum shooter (who was anything but a conservative) and Lee Harvey Oswald (a defector to the USSR and Cuban sympathizer).  And we shouldn't forget the apparently fabricated reports of the Tea Party's alleged racist insults at black members of Congress.

Many of these fallacious allocations of blame are still to this day reported as fact.  Nobody bothered to report that the census worker actually committed suicide.  Nobody bothered to report that the plane bomber quoted the Communist Manifesto in his writings.  It is still reported as fact that Tea Partiers shouted the "N-word" at black Congressmen despite an utter lack of evidence and an outstanding $100k reward for the same.  We're still stuck with the JFK assassination, for Pete's sake!  ("Deep in the hate of Texas!")

So it doesn't exactly wash with me when Mark Halperin tells conservatives to turn the other cheek.

What Scarborough (let alone Halperin) fails to understand is that the media narrative of "overheated rhetoric" is inherently biased against conservatives since, according to the established media perspective, it is conservatives who are pre-supposed to be more guilty of this than the Left.  This disingenuous appeal for calm is little more than the "shut-up" tactic we know all too well:



Never mind that there is no evidence whatsoever that political rhetoric played any factor in this shooting.  As Halperin's comments confirm, once the topic of popular conversation turns to the tone of our political discourse, the conservative side is already at a disadvantage in the mainstream media.