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.