Saturday, February 28

Many things are possible

2:07 through the hoop is spectacular

Genital mutilation in Africa

Sierra Leone:
Ms Turay was mutilated at her aunt's house where she was staying with her three sisters and her cousin. "We didn't even know that we were going to be initiated," she says. "They called me to get water and then outside they just grabbed me."

She was blindfolded, stripped, and laid on the ground. Heavy women sat on her arms, her chest, her legs. Her mouth was stuffed with a rag. Her clitoris was cut off with a crude knife. Despite profuse bleeding she was forced to walk, was beaten and had hot pepper water poured into her eyes.

"My mother had always told me never to let anyone touch me there. I was scared and I tried to fight them off. Nobody talked to me but there was all this clapping, singing, shouting," recalls Ms Turay. "When I tried to walk on the seventh day I could not walk. All they could say is 'Today you have become a woman'."

Ms Turay is among the estimated 94 per cent of girls who undergo female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone. The practice – which forms part of a ceremony of initiation rites overseen by women-only secret societies such as bondo and sande – can cause severe bleeding, infection, cysts and sometimes death, but is largely ignored.

Reasons for the process vary, but many people cite tradition and culture, saying it is essential preparation for marriage and womanhood; binds communities to each other and to their ancestors; and restricts women's sexual behaviour.

While not as barbaric and actually useful in preventing HIV transmission, male genital mutilation is more prevalent and still a problem in much of the world because it's often done without consent, especially to infants.

In the Western United States 62% of males have their genitals intact, but in the South it's 35% and in the North 32%. Here in the Midwest we have the worst prevalence with only 18% intact. Those numbers wouldn't be a bad thing if done with consent.

The inhumane practice of genital mutilation without consent needs to be banned worldwide.

The astounding consensus on Iraq vs. other U.S. deployments


As the book club on Tom Ricks' The Gamble comes to a close, Barack Obama announced his future plans for Iraq

What's fascinating is the effect of the surge on the political reaction to Obama's proposal to scale down the U.S. presence to 55,000 troops by August 2010.  It has received bipartisan support in the United States.  Iraqi officials have by and large endorsed it (though see here and scroll down).  Obama has even earned the always-crucial Foreign Policy blogger vote

Think about this for a second.  If I had told you two years ago that there would be a broad domestic and international consensus on U.S. strategy in Iraq, you would have laughed me off the Foreign Policy web site. 

Ricks argues that the surge has not led to political achievements in Iraq, and he may very well be right.  What it has accomplished, however, is changing the political optics in three crucial ways.  First, it has given Republicans cover for supporting a withdrawal, arguing that it is being done from a position of strength rather than weakness. Second, it has blunted the Democrats' zeal for immediate withdrawal.  So long as things in Iraq are going relatively well, the political pressure to DO SOMETHING NOW! has abated.  Finally, the surge has given the Iraqi government the confidence to believe that a significant U.S. drawdown will not lead them back to the abyss. 

I don't know whether the withdrawal will actually prove to be good policy -- but the fact that we've reached a political consensus that it is good policy is nothing short of astounding.  

Far be it from me to disagree that the consensus is astounding.

The 55,000 remnant is going to anger the Muslim world more than it would other peoples, and this worries me.  But for perspective here are the top 6 countries with active duty U.S. military personnel as of September 2008:
South Korea25,062
Source: Department of Defense

All six countries are ones we've liberated or are attempting to liberate. From previous wars Vietnam is notably absent and has a mere 14 U.S. military personnel.  It would seem the Imperial U.S. Army didn't win that round.

But why do we still have more personnel assigned to Germany and Japan than Afghanistan? Isn't it where the last attack came from and where we continue to be at war?  Put in this perspective, Obama's announcement that he's sending 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan seems an obvious move.

Now certainly Germany and Japan are useful bases of operation.  For instance wounded soldiers who require advanced treatment get flown from Iraq to Germany, and we need the naval and air bases in Asia to defend South Korea and Taiwan.  But do we really need 55,140 in the Fatherland now that the Cold War is over?

BTW the DoD only lists 32 personnel in Pakistan. I'm sure the classified number is much higher.

What happened to conservative talk radio?

Via TMV, Dean Esmay:
Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I found Rush Limbaugh a refreshing voice on the radio. He was funny–sometimes very funny–and he often made good points. Yes, he was sometimes obnoxious, and yes, sometimes his jokes were a little too cruel. But he was also saying things no one else had the guts to say, and in any case he was entertaining. Even though I disagreed with him frequently (but not always), he was at least a refreshing voice in our national political dialogue.

Fast forward 20 years, and now whenever I listen to Rush I’m disappointed; he’s less of a source of politically incorrect entertainment, and more of a voice of irrational partisan nastiness. (Oh, plus, he’s got too many damned commercials on his show.)

Of course, this isn’t only about Rush Limbaugh, but he’s the King of the Hill of talk radio on the right. A whole industry has spawned in his wake of conservative media celebrities, and many of them emulate him. Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin and Debbie Schlussel (and to a lesser extent Bill O’Reilly) are basically making their livings by following in his footsteps.

Nowadays when I listen to conservative talk radio, I’m often appalled. Paranoia and rage seem to be the top agenda. A sense of humor and basic humility seem to be missing. As a non-conservative with some conservative views, I find this disappointing at best. On the issues, I’m still sympathetic to many conservative viewpoints. Indeed, I feel that conservatives are a vital, indispensable part of a healthy body politic. But all I seem to hear or see nowadays from that sector is rage and fear.

Mind you, there are honorable exceptions. Not every conservative is out of her mind, and not every conservative is shrieking nonsense. But man, it sure seems like there’s a lot of that.
Emphasis mine.  I blame the aftermath of 9/11.  That's when humor and decency on the right died amidst all the "War on Terror" hysterionics.

Looks about right

From that speech:
I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, S.C. -– a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters.”

[...] if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.”
Yet from that budget and long-term spending:

Don't worry America, we're not quitting. We're just switching cig brands from MakeYouSafer to MakeEconomyHealthier, whilst preserving the time-tested legendary effectiveness of YourGovernmentSpendingYourMoney:

See? It employs additional hands and can go on forever. Infinite job creation!

Ron Paul at CPAC 2009

This first part is a little weak with its vague talk of "liberty". But watch it anyway, because it gets better: Part 2 - Part 3

Too bad he'll be 77 years old on election day in 2012. That's a little much. But it would sure be nice to have a 1964 Goldwater moment against Obama's LBJ-ness that gets the party back on track.


David Frum tries to dispel the Goldwater myth. I would contend that today the Republican party is nothing like Ron Paul -- it lost its libertarianishness during the Bush years, largely due to hose 9/11 hysterionics. So why would a shift back be a bad thing? The GOP stands little chance of winning in 2012, and should be more concerned with developing a long-term coherent governing strategy rather than short-term pandering to its existing rump (i.e. the Bush and Palinites).

The sane governance tax

Dish reader:
I'm one of those “wealthy” people who will be pinched hard by Obama’s tax hike. I came to this country legally 17 years ago with $300.00 in my pocket but with good education. I struggled at the beginning but nevertheless, worked my way up in the high tech world. I too think that the Obama’s tax proposals are extremely unfair as if I don’t pay already enough to Uncle Sam. And this article on a liberal web site just infuriated me beyond belief.

But after listening to and reading about CPAC conference which is held currently in Washington, DC, I realized that I would rather take my chances with Obama than anybody from that group. I can’t imagine that these people were in power for 8 years and yearn for more. This rabid bunch MUST be kept away from any kind of power for all of our sake.
Andrew seconds:
I feel the same way. I came from a modest background in another country and arrived in the US with barely a cent of my own money. I've worked hard and earned the American dream - and now have to work for the government for well over half the year (a government that still persecutes me for being an HIV-survivor). Obama will take more of my money - and much, much more in the future. Liberalism believes in punishing hard-working successful people in this manner - and the more you succeed, the more they will punish you. But if I had to pick between him and the party of Sarah Palin and Joe The Plumber, it's really no contest.
I agree. And you can actually see a shift among the wealthiest Americans in returns from the last election, which I posted in November.

Sure looks to me like rich people are willing to pay more taxes if it means not having a party of Bushes, Palins, and Joe the Plumbers running the country.

Friday, February 27

Young CPAC

I defined convservatism upon four categories of principle:

1. Respect for the constitution.
2. Respect for life.
3. Less government.
4. Personal responsibility.
Gee whiz, Bush Republicanism only failed on 4 out of 4!

I wish there was actually some of his Goldwater-style conservatism on offer. Ron Paul is as close as we came.

And now for the sillier stuff...

Sanity at CPAC?

There is some -- sort of:

Tucker Carlson attempts to convince the audience at CPAC that the New York Times actually cares about the accuracy of its news, but the audience isn't buying it and regularly interrupts him with boos and jeers.

He also says that the conservative movement needs its own news gathering organizations who will create news that reflects its values and wishes there were twenty-five outlets like the Fox News Channel:
Twenty-five Fox Newses? Could this nation survive the hysteria?

Meanwhile FiveThirtyEight's Sean Quinn attended CPAC and rambles a bit trying to understand what makes people Republicans.

Update: Leave it to The American Conservative to have the most interesting CPAC post yet

"Some ideas should be illegal"

Via Radley, a Connecticut State University student gave a presentation in his Comm 140 class on how concealed carry permits could help prevent campus shootings like the one in VA Tech.

His professor called the cops on him.

But surely it's not as boneheaded as calling 911 when your local Burger King runs out of lemonade:

Generational anxiety

Ambers asks Can Obama Really Do This? and theorizes:
"I wonder if I simply cannot come to terms with the country's embrace of the Democratic platform," a top Democratic fundraiser told me. "Growing up during the 80s and 90s, when Democratic orthodoxy was a mess and not popular with the majority of the country, I wonder if I'm being way too hard on Obama, and that country is willing to embrace higher taxes on $200k + earners, massive increases in government spending, this health care "down payment."

There is absolutely a generational component to the anxiety. Three generations of Democratic activists view the possibility of Obama's election through different lenses; the first came of age in the 60s and 70s before the flowering of modern conservatism and the triumph of Nixonian resentment politics. The second rose to power with the election of Bill Clinton, and today, they approach politics with instincts as developed in the 1992 campaign and refined by Clintoncare, the government shutdown and the Monica Lewinsky affair -- careful, wily, programmatic, triangulatish, risk-averse, incremental. The third generation rejects all of that, believing that such caution kicked the legs out from under the Democratic Party. This generation rejects baby steps in favor of bold, often populist action; they reject the notion that the default liberal ideology cannot be majoritarian.

Who's right? Well, the Reagan revolution is no longer the dominant political environment. But did Americans really know what they were voting for in 2008? Didn't Democrats win the last two election's because the Republican party imploded, not because the political pendulum swung to the left.

I actually have a position on this one. I think the country is moving to the left. I think that demography and globalization are providing the momentum, and I think that, like the apparent retrogression of planets in orbit, there will be inevitably some backsliding as the American people adjust to the new equilibrium.

The argument boils down to whether Americans knew that they were voting for the Obama Synthesis. It's hard to make the opposite case, unless they just completely ignored virtually everything Obama said in his speeches and every commercial run by the McCain campaign. Of course the Republican Party imploded. But the implosion wasn't inner directed, as if the party were some atom bomb waiting for a booster. No -- the party collapsed because it could not adapt to the intervention of major external events.
I agree the country is moving to the left and that it's generational.

Long prediction

Decades from now most people will discuss the hysteria of Bush Republicanism and the "War on Terror" with a disapproval in their voice eerily similar to how we currently discuss McCarthyism.

The only thing that may forestall this is an attack on a major city with a WMD. If such a thing were to happen it would make the public more irrational again.

Teacher union lobbyists are harming poor children

I normally mock "think of the children" rhetoric, and deservedly so. But it really is true in this case.  Teacher union lobbying to end DC's popular vouchers experiment is an outrage:
Beltway bandits, defense contractors, influential industries—most of them pale in their influence efforts compared to the teachers unions, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Take defense contractors. Lockheed Martin, the top recipient of military contracts most years, spent more on politics than any other defense firm in the 2008 elections. They still spent less than the American Federation of Teachers, which shelled out $2.8 million in the last cycle—with nearly every AFT dime going to Democrats.

The top two teachers unions—AFT and the National Education Association—spent more combined, $5.27 million, than the top two defense contractors.

The top five lobbying firms, combined, didn’t equal the AFT and the NEA in federal contributions in the 2008 cycle. Both of the teachers unions gave more than any oil company, and the NEA and AFT combined gave more than the top four oil companies combined.

These contributions give the unions clout, and federal lobbying records show they use this clout. Again, on closer inspection, the teachers unions look an awful lot like those corporate special interests Democrats supposedly oppose.

The NEA employs four different lobbying firms in Washington, in addition to their in-house lobbying arm, which includes at least six lobbyists. Over the past two years, the NEA spent $10.7 million on lobbying. Reviewing the filings of the NEA, the AFT, and their K Street hires reveals that lobbying to kill DC vouchers was a priority.


Again, there are substantive arguments against D.C. school vouchers. But with this money trail, it appears that congressional Democrats’ push to kill vouchers is simply a case of the piper playing the tune that the AFT has called.
Wilkinson pounces:
If you believe, as I do, that the returns to further government spending on education, given its present structure, is zero or negative, and that the best hope for increasing the quality of education for the least well-off, and for increasing economic and social mobility generally, is to legalize competitive markets in education, then you will tend to believe, as I do, that this attempt to destroy voucher programs before than can show themselves effective is nothing less than a powerful political interest group screwing over poor people by bending the democratic process to their advantage. The sad thing, from my perspective, is that strong Democratic partisans (and especially members of the teachers’ unions) are likely to violently reject any such argument out of hand on the basis of their deep conviction that the Democratic Party cares about the poor, and so would certainly not allow itself to become captured by groups with interests diametrically opposed to interests of the poor. As time goes on, I think the relevant social science is going to brutalize the standard Democratic position, and the clash between the Democratic Party’s most powerful client and the poor will become increasingly stark. But for now, the unions will probably succeed in temporarily extinguishing the possibility of demonstrating a superior alternative to the status quo system of education.

"Rant of the Year" parody

TNR's response to that Santelli clip

Nicely done

PSA: Avoid door holding inefficiencies

Don't do that of course. But there's actually a more general pet peeve of mine...

You really ought to avoid door holding no matter how far the person is away. 1 foot or 15 feet, it doesn't matter. The only exception is when that person is very encumbered or holding something with both hands -- then it's nice of you to help.

People think door holding for someone behind them is polite, but you're actually wasting real seconds of your own and other people's time. Most often that other person would be able to pass several seconds quicker if it weren't for you slowing down everyone's momentum by standing in their path.

Pushing open an almost-closed door is really easy. So stop slowing everyone down for the sake of "politeness".

Alright, mini-rant over.

Will on climate change

[George Will doubles down].

TPM fires backSo does Chris Mooney.
And more follow, because man-made global warming is an established fact.

The only meaningful question is whether we can tenably do anything about it and whether doing so is worth the cost.

After the first column I briefly considered removing Will's feed. But he has valuable insights on other topics, so even with this double-down on a demonstrably false position I'm just going to call it for what it is and hope he switches topics.

His recent column about repealing the 17th amendment was also disappointing -- but at least that's a matter of opinion, not fact.

The biggest loser here is the Washington Post. It's difficult to take seriously a paper that agrees to print this climate nonsense not once but twice, with no retraction.

Post-speech numbers

After Tuesday's not-quite SOTU, Gallup's overall job approval goes +8. Partisan breakdown:

Democrats +4, Independents +8, Republicans +15

The man knows how to sell a plan, yet before the election people were arguing that oratory isn't an important skill in a president. Bullshit; I never thought that for a second.

TMV comments:
Republicans spent weeks chipping away at Obama from all sides and had managed to at least win over their own party, but with one fell swoop he effectively swatted down the opposition and erased any gains they had made.

Nearly half of Republicans now approve of him. How will the Republican leadership deal with this new political reality? They can keep trying to beat Obama in a PR fight, but they are ill-equipped for that battle and are up against the best in the game. Will they instead try to work with the administration? Or will they stay in the wilderness until they come up with a better strategy than opposing volcano monitoring research?
The speech was excellent oratory. But these approval numbers will surely go down somewhat once new polls come out after the White House released their proposed budget and spending figures.

I estimate the sustainable range of Republican support is closer to 33 than 42.   Independent support will drop several points as well.

Meet the new boss, different but cagy like the old boss

I declared The Who's 1971 hit to be a theme song for the Obama era. It was an obvious call, but the lyrics are becoming even more apropos...
The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that’s all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain’t changed
‘Cause the banners, they were all flown in the last war

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
No, no!


Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
Obama may be the Un-Rove, as Andrew says.

Yet Obama is cagy, just in a different way:
Look at how he's framed the debate since the election. Every single symbolic act has been inclusive and sober. From that speech in Grant Park to the eschewal of euphoria on Inauguration Day; from the George Will dinner invite to the Rick Warren invocation; from meeting the House Republicans on the Hill to convening a fiscal responsibility summit; from telegraphing to all of us Obamacons that he wasn't a fiscal lunatic to ... unveiling the most expansive, liberal, big government reversal of Reagan any traditional Democrat would die for.

Smart, isn't he? He won the stimulus debate long before the Republicans realized it (they were busy doing tap-dances of victory on talk radio, while he was building a new coalition without them). And now, after presenting such a centrist, bi-partisan, moderate and personally trustworthy front, he gets to unveil a radical long-term agenda that really will soak the very rich and invest in the poor. Given the crisis, he has seized this moment for more radicalism than might have seemed possible only a couple of months ago.
He ran on a rediscovery of Clintonomics and said in his speech to Congress on Tuesday night: "As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day… Not because I believe in bigger government — I don’t. Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited — I am."

Yet two days later he puts forward the most progressive populist long-term budget in more than 40 years.

That's not channeling Clinton-era policies.. It's a new amalgam of FDR and LBJ, updated for our times.

We knew some of this stuff was coming. And many decided to vote for him anyway because of the worse-er failures of Bush Republicanism. But we didn't know it would be quite this audacious. Can he pull this long-term growth of government off competently? Quite possibly. But will it be sustainable without The Empiricist at the helm? Because we'll be doomed if in 2016 or beyond we elect another incompetent bumbler like George W. Bush or an incurious demagogue like Sarah Palin to manage a bulked-up federal government. Can you imagine the disaster?

Andrew continues:
The risk is, at least, a transparent risk. If none of this works, he will have taken a massive gamble and failed. The country will be bankrupt and he will have one term. His gamble with the economy may come to seem like Bush's gamble in Iraq. But if any of it works, if the economy recovers, and if the GOP continues to be utterly deaf and blind to the new landscape we live in, then we're talking less Reagan than FDR in long-term impact.

It's going to be a riveting first year, isn't it?
Just the first one?

Wake up America, you're getting a bit more change than you bargained for. It's nice that we're getting the country back on track, but let's try to avoid another derailment shall we?

Just how we'll manage to do so with a hapless, bigoted, morally bankrupt Republican opposition that has literally gone crazy remains to be seen.

Meet your congress

Via Ambers, National Journal has a snazzy web app with their vote rankings from most liberal to most conservative that lets you sort by state, district, etc.
One significant development NJ points out: centrist Republicans are vanishing from both the House and Senate. For the 10 GOP senators who departed in 2008, the median conservative rating was 60.9--left of center for the party. While the median score for the 43 House Republicans who left was 73.3, centrists were more frequently replaced by Democrats, meaning more conservative seats stayed in conservative hands.

So as voters in moderate districts choose Democrats over Republicans, the GOP conferences in Congress get more conservative. Since the rankings are based on 2008 votes, National Journal has not evaluated the ideological consistency of freshman Democrats, though swing district pickups will, undoubtedly, yield some more moderate members of the Democratic caucus--as in 2006, when Reps. Jason Altmire and Patrick Murphy won in Pennsylvania and joined the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats upon entering Congress. Those two accumulated an average liberal ranking of 53.75 in the new report--far to the right of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's liberal preferences.

We'll have to wait and see how the freshmen vote in order to find out whether the Democratic tent has gotten much bigger after '08.
Nate Silver studied this last month.

No to Obama's charity deduction tax

I think Ruffini is right here. There will be bipartisan effort to block this.

No more medical marijuana raids

New US policy: Let's not raid and jail sick people for taking their medication.

Amidst these long-term domestic spending increases it's nice to be reminded of change we can believe in.

Too bad it comes alongside this AG's wrongheaded desire for another arbitrary "assault weapon" ban. Didn't Democrats learn their lesson under Clinton?

Update: They did! Reid and Pelosi both oppose the ban revival. It's not often I get to say nice things about the Democratic Congressional leadership, so I'll grade on a curve here: Brilliant!

Update II: HuffPost on the medicine

More on Joe-the-Plumberization

Freddie thinks it may be unavoidable.

TMV comments on conservatism's path out of the wilderness.

And this four line play is golden.

Krugman had a good assessment earlier:
Basically, the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny. The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead.
And that's just the most common behavior. Some cheer at suggestions the president wasn't born in the U.S., or laugh at Chicago being nuked, in-between spouting gay bigotry and hoping babies get AIDS.

Update: Larison and Douthat chime

Today's conservatism

Update: Since many people are stopping by from an old Culture11 comment, perhaps I can interest you in Scott Payne's blueprint for 21st century conservatism.

In case you're unfamiliar with the Conservative Political Action Committee, speakers in previous years have included Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney, Pat Buchanan, Karl Rove, and Newt Gingrich.

Reagan spoke at CPAC a total of 12 times. So it's saddening to see how far they've fallen during the Bush years:

He suggests that Obama may not have been born in the U.S., because that would make him ineligible for the presidency. The crowd cheers.

Is there a floor on how low the conservative movement will fall?

Because that's not it. Watch this clip from yesterday: (meme)

Here Bush's recess-appointed Ambassador to the United Nations jokes about nuking Chicago. The whole audience erupts in laughter.

I know it's unfair

But I prefer to get commentary on economic policy speeches from people other than white guys in business suits, so here goes:

Females with guns

By searching for "army girls", a reader arrived from Google on the Ukranian army ad below. It may not have been quite what he was looking for.

But his arrival did highlight a sore deficiency in my coverage here.

I shall have to remedy it. Fortunately I know of the Israeli Defense Force's high standards:


Check out the whole Flickr set

Clearly the IDF has the right idea, especially relative to potential foes. (Good thing they aren't fighting the Russians, eh?)

But seriously, when roughly half your population isn't forced to wear beekeeper suits it certainly increases available "personpower".

Don't like the army? Well there's always the air force.

Back in the US, the Center for American Progress has endorsed:
Enlarging the recruiting pool by dropping the ban on women serving in ground combat units and repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law
Now that's some change I can believe in.

"Freebasing free markets"

The Project on Law & Mind Sciences at the Harvard Law School is having a conference on "The Free Market Mindset" next weekend to discuss the "historical origins, psychological antecedents, and policy consequences of the free market ideology that has dominated legal discourse and lawmaking the last few decades." Here's a little sampler from the schedule to whet your appetite:
Recovering free marketeers who plan to attend are encouraged to bring their sponsors, lest they relapse and take another hit of those sweet, sweet incentives.

Ukrainian army ad

This was shown on TV to recruit service men on a contract basis.

Girl 1: Would you take us for a ride in your BMW?
BMW Guy: Even to the end of the world!
Soldier: Hey, I’d like to down some vodka, girls!
Girl 1: Just a second!
Girl 2: Where do you live?
Soldier: Right here - daytime at work, and at night in the clubs!
Girl 1: Which work?
Soldier: Contract of course!
Blonde Girl: Contract? Marriage contract or what?
Girl 3: Army contract, stupid!
BMW Guy: Hey, don’t you wanna ride in my car?
Girls: Forget it, take yourself for a ride!
Narrator: It’s time for new heroes! With contract based service in the Ukrainian armed forces!

Obama's economic populism

NYT: Obama’s Budget Plan Sweeps Away Reagan Ideas
The budget that President Obama proposed on Thursday is nothing less than an attempt to end a three-decade era of economic policy dominated by the ideas of Ronald Reagan and his supporters.

The Obama budget — a bold, even radical departure from recent history, wrapped in bureaucratic formality and statistical tables — would sharply raise taxes on the rich, beyond where Bill Clinton had raised them. It would reduce taxes for everyone else, to a lower point than they were under either Mr. Clinton or George W. Bush. And it would lay the groundwork for sweeping changes in health care and education, among other areas.

More than anything else, the proposals seek to reverse the rapid increase in economic inequality over the last 30 years. They do so first by rewriting the tax code and, over the longer term, by trying to solve some big causes of the middle-class income slowdown, like high medical costs and slowing educational gains.


Whatever happens, though, it has been a long time since any president has tried to use his budget to shape the government and the economy quite as much as Mr. Obama did on Thursday. On that score, he and President Reagan have something in common.
Certainly the problems of today are not the same problems as 1980, but Obama is going further than centrists hoped. His budget plan is much closer to an LBJ than a Clinton.

NYPost makes pies:

Politico has a piece on the winners and losers.

Andrew gets an email:
"A New Era Of Responsibility"

I see in Table 8.8 of the budget that the White House assumes real GDP growth of 3.2% in 2010, 4.0% in 2011, 4.6% in 2012 and 4.2% in 2013. I leave it to your imagination what the deficits would be if they had made more realistic assumptions.

Also: very nearly 50% of expenditure in 2010 will be financed by borrowing. I wonder what that number will be in 2011.
And gathers quotes from Krugman and Clive Crook

Here are some lefty takes via Yglesias:
  1. Dan Weiss on the climate and energy elements.
  2. Cindy Brown and Melissa Lazarín on education.
  3. Larry Korb on defense.
  4. Michael Ettlinger on the big picture.

It’s not Obama’s style to actually say this, but were this budget to be enacted it would be by far the most significant progressive step in over forty years.

Over forty years. That's LBJ land.

We needed a change from Bush, but judging from my armchair this kind of post-recovery domestic spending increase will be a burden on the economy.

I'm unsure what to think about the country's future now; my speculative crystal ball is murkier than ever. But it will at least be interesting. Obama isn't tinkering with the edges.

I don't know how much populist support this first term will gain him for 2012. It all depends on economic factors he can't control. But if this high post-recovery spending budget gets enacted I'm pretty sure he'll lose libertarian leaners. Baring something wondrous like a commitment to end the drug war I don't see much of a future for last year's liberaltarian alliance.

We'll go back to fusionism if Republicans nominate someone competent. We may even grit our teeth and vote Republican even if they have a Bush-Cheney-Palin-style person on the ticket, or we may protest with a third party. I dunno. I just know we won't vote for LBJ's Great Society 2.0

Thursday, February 26

Obama's spending

“As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day… Not because I believe in bigger government — I don’t. Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited — I am.”

–President Obama to congressional joint session, February 24
President Obama said some encouraging words about federal spending in his first major speech as president, but the budget released by his administration today reveals a substantial disconnect between his rhetoric and his policy.

Apart from defense, federal spending has hovered around 16.5 percent of the economy since 1980, through both Democratic and Republican administrations. But under President Obama, nondefense spending is soaring to 23 percent of the economy this year and will remain at historic high levels in the future.

Even after current stimulus spending is supposed to end, nondefense spending is expected to be more than 19 percent of the economy — or 25 percent more than the size of government during the later Clinton years.

Americans need to decide whether they want the European-sized government that President Obama is promising — with all its damaging effects on individual freedom and economic growth — or whether they want to return to the greater prosperity of the smaller-government Clinton years

Here Cato has adopted the typical Republican line that domestic and military spending should always be considered separately. And this is so that Republicans can argue that their high defense spending is a good idea. But why does Cato do this here? I don't know what it will be in GDP terms, but the budget Obama proposed today seeks to reduce defense spending by $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

The chart above shows a roughly 2.5% of GDP increase in non-defense domestic spending, not counting the stimulus peak. Like Cato I think this post-recovery increase is a bad idea and prefer the nice dip Clinton left us with in 2000 -- before Bush came in and ruined it.

But let's bear in mind the military spending that Obama is decreasing, which compensates for part of his other domestic increase.

Still, the picture doesn't look pretty. Andrew gathered reactions and has a post on how it will be payed for. Megan has an interesting post on "big bath accounting".

Back to the future economics

From ten years into the Great Depression:
We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong . . . somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises. . . . I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. . . . And an enormous debt to boot.

—Henry Morganthau, FDR's Treasury Secretary, testimony to Congress, May of 1939
Clearly our high school text books have been wrong on the economics of the New Deal, though unfortunately right on the popularity of the politics. For what economists understand to have actually ended the Great Depression, see the two theories.

Another fun fact: at the time Ronald Reagan was an admirer of FDR and supported the New Deal.

Cato responds to the speech

Or, "White Guys in Business Suits Who Don't Like Government"

This is the Federal Reserve, kiddo

You can forget about them first ammendment rights.

Obamaptimus Prime

Post of the year?

According to Reihan at TAS, The Joe-the-Plumberization of the GOP may be it so far, at least concerning the state of the Republican party.

Wednesday, February 25

Limbaugh's female summit

A new national survey from PPP finds 46% of Americans have a positive opinion of Rush Limbaugh while 43% view him unfavorably.

The numbers break down on demographic lines pretty much as one would expect. Men, Republicans, whites, and older voters like him. Women, Democrats, young voters, African Americans, and Hispanics don’t. The gender gap is one of the largest PPP has seen on any issue it’s polled in the last year, with Limbaugh having a +19 (56/37) net favorability among men, but a -12 (37/49) with women. 31 point gender gaps don’t come along all that often.
Rush himself:
My gender gap between men and women is 31%. Thirty-one percent is the differential between male approval and female approval. So yesterday I said, “What can I do about this? What could be done? What is the explanation for this?”

…the Female Summit must offer constructive criticism and hopefully some solutions…

The purpose of this hour, accept phone calls only from women who do either know somebody who has a big problem with me who is a woman, or as a woman herself has a problem with me, so that I can hear firsthand just what it is that causes women so many troubles with me.
Jill Miller Zimon covers the results and Limbaugh's denial.

More sadly warped Republican traditionalists

(meme) Colorado Springs Gazette:
Debating a gay-rights bill on the floor of the state Senate on Monday, a Republican lawmaker took the rhetoric to new heights by equating homosexuality as a sin with murder.

"I'm not saying this (homosexuality) is the only sin that's out there," said Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley. "We have murder. We have all sorts of sin. We have adultery. And we don't make laws making those legal, and we would never think to make murder legal."
Well hello Mr. Bigot, wanting to make consensual acts you disapprove of illegal. And so uninformed as to think adultery is illegal.

But it gets worse. A Republican colleague of his, two days later:

Democrats were outraged Wednesday morning when Republican state Sen. Dave Schultheis said he planned to vote against a bill to require HIV tests for pregnant women because the disease “stems from sexual promiscuity” and he didn’t think the Legislature should “remove the negative consequences that take place from poor behavior and unacceptable behavior.” The Colorado Springs lawmaker then proceeded to cast the lone vote against SB 179, which passed 32-1 and moves on to the House.

“HIV does not just come from sexual promiscuity, it comes from many other things — contaminated blood, for one,” fired back one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Lois Tochtrop, after Schultheis spoke on the Senate floor.

“What this bill will do and why it’s so important to test the woman when she is pregnant — if she is HIV positive, treatment is started immediately to protect the baby, the unborn baby,” the Thornton Democrat, who is also a nurse, said.

Listen to Schultheis and Tochtrop here.

Reaction to Schultheis’ remarks rippled through the Capitol.

“Sen. Schultheis drew the conclusion that anyone who may have HIV is sexually promiscuous,” said Sen. Jennifer Veiga, a Denver Democrat and the Legislature’s only openly lesbian member. “I find that offensive in the context of this bill and I find it offensive in the context of the gay community.”

“I think [Schultheis] owes the [Legislature] and the public at large an apology,” Veiga said.

Alternatively I think his district owes him a boot.

It takes a pretty twisted minded to argue that preventative testing shouldn't be done because the disease prevention might "reward" a behavior you disapprove of on other grounds.

And then, as if that weren't enough:
State Sen. Dave Schultheis restated his opposition to a bill requiring HIV tests for pregnant women by claiming that infected babies would cause families to “see the negative consequences of that promiscuity.”

The Colorado Springs Republican with a penchant for foot-in-mouth moments tells The Rocky Mountain News in a follow-up story to Wednesday’s Senate floor controversy:

“What I’m hoping is that, yes, that person may have AIDS, have it seriously as a baby and when they grow up, but the mother will begin to feel guilt as a result of that,” he said. “The family will see the negative consequences of that promiscuity and it may make a number of people over the coming years begin to realize that there are negative consequences and maybe they should adjust their behavior.”

Yes, Schultheis really said he is “hoping” people “have AIDS, have it seriously as a baby …”

He hopes people and their babies get sick because he disapproves of how many partners they may have had?

What is this freak doing in a legislature?

The Artoo subtitles

Episode 2 is just as funny

Krugman pwns Jindal


This was really too easy. For the record, even the most conservative of fiscal conservatives can see the benefit of government acting to respond to a natural disaster or, as Krugman points out, monitoring volcano eruptions:

Both sides, I thought, agreed that the government should provide public goods — goods that are nonrival (they benefit everyone) and nonexcludable (there’s no way to restrict the benefits to people who pay.)

I make this banal distinction in The Conservative Soul:

There are public goods that any government must provide. Clean air and safe streets; secure borders; national defense; roads, air traffic control, nature preserves and the like. And one of its core tasks will be to govern effectively during emergencies or natural disasters. In situations like a flood, a hurricane or earthquake, only government can provide certain goods. It should do so efficiently and swiftly and spend a great deal of energy on ensuring that it is always prepared for calamity.

But this too now must be ridiculed. By the man movement conservatives think of as their intellectual. Jesus. surely dead in the flesh, but if he still exists in divine form I think it's pretty clear he's not on the Republicans' side on this one. (and hopefully would never take any sides, but I digress)

Funniest part of Krugman's post:
Basically, the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny. The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead.
Yep...that's sadly close to the truth.

Newt: Clap louder


I think the conservative political establishment’s embrace of Twitter is going to lead to a lot of great blog fodder. For example, Newt Gingrich ten minutes ago:

Bobby jindal got a good national launch out of last night. His story is compelling.his values appeal to most americans

Wonder what a bad launch would have looked like.

Political realignment

I interpret this as appealing to the current center and convincing them to support your goals.

Of the speech, NRO's Rick Lowry wonders if this part is the "scariest passage":

OBAMA: As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President's Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government - I don't.

LOWRY: He’s trying to redefine extensive government activism as simple pragmatism, and if he succeeds, might well shift the center of American politics for a generation.

Me: Bush did much more to shift the center. He tried to redefine US government activism as simple pragmatism, except his activism consisted of prisoner torture, civil liberties violations, and a tragically unnecessary and crazy-expensive war while failing to finish the previous one in Afghanistan.

But he did it all "to keep us safe"! Or did you think we're still in Iraq because Bush loves big wars? -- because I'm sure he'd tell you he doesn't!

The problem for guys like Lowry is that Bush's war of choice is now seen as an outrageous tragedy that should have been avoided -- yet Republicans continue to support having gone into it -- so their imperial adventurism eventually shifted the center left and directly caused an intellectual and foreign policy antithesis like Obama to be elected.

Moreover I personally think this tragic war has been a heck of a lot more scary and harmful than the gov't counter-cyclically deficit spending circa $2,000 per living American. How about you?

Sense of entitlement

I loved this clip.

Dept. of things I didn't know

Via Perry, reason:
For Do-It-Yourself brewers, Prohibition lasted until 1978. But once unleashed, they revolutionized the industry.

If you’re looking for a textbook example of how government can stifle innovation and discourage productive activity, even when operating in Regulatory Lite mode, the story of home brewing in America should hit the spot.
Ewwww. Given this it's no wonder older folks had to develop a taste for Miller & Bud piss water.

Ah, government. Is there any industry you can't ruin?

Happy meal conservatism

John Derbyshire:
Much as their blind loyalty discredited the Right, perhaps the worst effect of Limbaugh et al. has been their draining away of political energy from what might have been a much more worthwhile project: the fostering of a middlebrow conservatism. There is nothing wrong with lowbrow conservatism. It’s energizing and fun. What’s wrong is the impression fixed in the minds of too many Americans that conservatism is always lowbrow, an impression our enemies gleefully reinforce when the opportunity arises….

It does so by routinely descending into the ad hominem—Feminazis instead of feminism—and catering to reflex rather than thought. Where once conservatism had been about individualism, talk radio now rallies the mob. “Revolt against the masses?” asked Jeffrey Hart. “Limbaugh is the masses.”

In place of the permanent things, we get Happy Meal conservatism: cheap, childish, familiar. Gone are the internal tensions, the thought-provoking paradoxes, the ideological uneasiness that marked the early Right.
E.D. Kain agrees

More than an effete librul who pals around with terrorists

Barack Hussein Obama is not just a secret Muslim Arab family man, nor just a Black Messianic Jesus Racist White Terrorist Technocrat, nor just an FDR Fascist Socialist Gay Womanizing Naive Cynical Insider with NO EXECUTIVE EXPERIENCE who's also been a Boring Radical Unaccomplished Elite Gaffe-Prone Pedophile and Pedophile-Seducing Liberation Theology Atheist for most of his life. He doesn't just have a bunch of scary friends from - wait for it! - the Nineteen Hundred And Sixties. And he's not just going to destroy America, but the whole world!

Did I mention he's a nigger? How could we have been so blind?!?

Money blues

David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Daily Star, Tucson AZ

A goodbye to Karl Rove's "win the news cycle" strategy?

Byron York: "A major doctrinal shift for Republicans"

The ideas in this piece are spot on. I doubt the GOP's ability to change course quickly, but let's hope last night's speech helps them see political reality.

Reagan of the Left, revisited


I had only one thought as I drifted in and out of sleep while listening to President Obama's non-State of the Union -- he really is the second coming of Ronald Reagan. I mean that in both good and bad ways.

Obama, like Reagan, has figured out how to drive the opposition party completely nuts without compromising his ability to govern. Like Reagan, Obama is able to communicate effectively directly with the American people. I suspect his "going public" strategy will net him significant legislative accomplishments.

However, Reagan was elected on a platform of massive tax cuts, massive increases in defense spending, and balancing the federal budget. Older readers of might recall that he was never able to reconcile all of these aims, and as a result the budget deficit ballooned.

After listening to Obama's speech, I find it utterly implausible that the United States can fund energy alternatives, impose a "market-based cap" on carbon emissions, engage in comprehensive health care reform, and institute massive education subsidies, while also halving the federal budget deficit in four years.

Seriously, am I missing something? How does that circle get squared?

Via direct infusion of hope-iness, of course! Mere competence helps too.

Others being wrong doesn't mean you're right

Megan tackles government power-happy liberals.

And of course the last eight years of Bush have hardly consisted of policies preferred by Friedman or other laissez faire small government libertarians, particularly of the Austrian school.

What we've had is eight years of big-spending "conservatism" with irresponsible tax cuts, which in many ways seems worse than the left's planned government activism. This hardly means either form of interventionism is a net positive; just that a Clintonesque center-lefty version may be less harmful than Bush Republicanism.

Jet hypocrisy

I've seen this point made several times. But I submit that there's a meaningful difference between traveling on a taxpayer-funded private jet when you're a US Representative and doing so when you're a corporate executive who's accepted a taxpayer bailout.

The not-quite State of the Union

Assorted graphs I'll remember:
In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history.

For seven years we've been a nation at war; no longer will we hide its price.

Living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

Dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.

We are not quitters.
LAT has the full text, AP factchecks

I recommend Politico's translation and Halperin's 15 things (re)learned.

For more diversion, read it in Spanish.

Liberaltarian v. Fusionist

Max Borders has a cheery post:

Which is easier for a libertarian? Trading in the black markets of banned social behaviors or not paying your taxes? Clearly the former. That’s why when it comes to the unsavory business of political team sports, I generally get behind the team that signals a greater likelihood of leaving the economy to heal itself holistically. Whatever team is more likely to stay out of my pocket and tries not to punish performance (as much) will get my vote. That’s why I continue to support “fusionism,” the coalition between conservatives and libertarians. In short, the accretion of state power in economic matters is much more serious to me than concerns about the renaissance of the moral majority. I’d rather have a President with quaint views on sexuality and drug use than a Fabian Socialist with a trillion-dollar credit card.

Me too. But this ignores the Iraq war -- a tragic multi-trillion dollar boondoggle if there ever was one but which Republicans still support. It ignores prisoner torture and indefinite detention in non-warzones as policy. It ignores copious hostility to non-sexual civil liberties. And it ignores the egregious anti-intellectualism, anti-science, and incompetence of candidates like Bush and Palin. Plus the continued stalwart support for drug prohibition. Make some headway into fixing all these HUGE problems and then sure, I'll choose a quaint traditionalist over a Fabian spender.


Jindal's speech sucked

I share all this disappointment.

Ross judges:
Obama was fantastic - worlds better than his inaugural. He laid out the most ambitious and expensive domestic agenda of any Democratic President since LBJ, and did it so smoothly that you'd think he was just selling an incremental center-left pragmatism. I think that he has an acute sense - more acute than most people in Washington, probably - of just how much running room is open in front of him at the moment, and he intends to make the absolute most of it. Burkean temperament or no, this was not a Burkean speech by any stretch: It was the speech of a man seeking to turn a moment of crisis into a domestic-policy revolution, and oozing confidence from every pore along the way. Now all he has to do is find a way to pay for it ...

And Jindal - yeah, he was just as lousy as everybody's saying. As far as themes and messaging went, he basically chose option A on Ambinder's list - government isn't the solution; pork is the problem; etc. - and embedded it in a weak, sing-song delivery that I suspect left even the people who respond favorably to that message cold. Sure, responding to a Presidential speech is almost always a thankless, hopeless job - but shouldn't someone as smart as Jindal have recognized that, and either turned the opportunity down flat, or found a way to sound like something other than a kindergarten teacher delivering familiar GOP talking points? In the event, his speech was the capstone on a lousy night for conservatism: If that's the best the Right has to offer as a rebuttal to Obama, American liberalism is going to be running untouched down the field for years to come.

Update: He was much better on TODAY this morning:

An NRO reader: "THAT was the Jindal I wanted last night. He should never be allowed near a teleprompter again!"

Tuesday, February 24

What are parents for?

The GOP's voice of reason

It's David Frum, as usual:

A federal bank takeover is a bad thing obviously. I wonder though if we conservatives understand clearly enough why it is a bad thing. It’s not because we are living through an enactment of the early chapters of Atlas Shrugged. It’s because the banks are collapsing. Obama, Pelosi, et al are big-spending, high-taxing liberals. They are not socialists. They are no more eager to own these banks than the first President Bush was to own the savings and loan industry – in both cases, federal ownership was a final recourse after a terrible failure. And it was on our watch, not Obama’s, that this failure began. Our refusal to take notice of this obvious fact may excite the Republican faithful. But it is doing tremendous damage to our ability to respond effectively to the crisis.

E.D. Kain adds:
Exactly right, and more conservatives need to be saying this if they want to be taken seriously.

The gaffe machine

Dan Quayle? That's uncalled for.

More from Mr. "we have to elect moderates"

Nate Silver:
Republican chairman Michael Steele took Neal Cavuto's bait and suggested that he might be amendable to punishing the three Republican senators -- Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter -- who voted for the stimulus package by supporting primary challenges and/or cutting off funding.

There's just one problem with this. In Pennsylvania and especially in Maine, having a (R) by your name is a liability, not an asset. With leaners included, Democrats have roughly a 19-point partisan ID advantage in Maine and 16 points in the Keystone State. Collins, Snowe and Specter get re-elected in spite of being Republican, not because of it.

Theoretically, moreover, there would be little to stop any of them from pulling a Jeffords and caucusing with the Democrats. If one assumes that the principal motivation of each Senator is to win re-election -- and that's never a bad guess -- then the three Republicans must already be wondering whether life might be easier in the Democratic Party (or more likely, as independents who caucused with the Dems). If Steele pushes too far, he risks actuating this outcome.
TMV adds its USD $0.02

The end of the NYU occupation

This kid needs some serious pointers on how to protest effectively:

"Excuse me, brutality here. You are on camera! You are on camera. You are on camera. Do not use brutality! You may not detain us! You are on camera. Excuse me, do not use force ... we deserve to have explained what is going on! ... are they armed, do they have devices or tasers?"
I'm all for protesting and being distrustful of police force and such, but this was laughably pathetic.

More coverage: Dorf on Law, HuffPost

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