Sunday, May 31

How far we've come

"Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren...Provide everything necessary for them on the road."

— Gen. George Washington, American Revolutionary War
Photo: An enhanced interrogation in the Baghdad Correctional Facility.

(ht Above the Borderline)

Relative sadness

Daily Beast says:
Sad news: The last survivor of the Titanic died Sunday at the age of 97.

If I were to survive a disaster like the Titanic and lived to be 97, I'd hope it be cause for celebration.

Painting a picture

Link o' the day

The Science and Pseudoscience of Global Warming by Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

From the intro:
The case for human-caused global warming is simultaneously a lot clearer than George W. Bush believes, and a whole lot less so than Al Gore does.

They're still

Killing abortion doctors.

Via LG, some comments at Free Republic:
"It’s too bad the suspect didn’t poke a roto rooter through his skull and then suck him into a vacuum cleaner instead of just shooting the bastard."

"No doubt this ‘man’ is responsible for thousands, maybe tens-of-thousands of needless and wanton deaths. If you think his ‘passing’ is a bad thing in the cause of speaking out and ending the practice of abortion, I don’t know what to tell you. I can only say that I shall not mourn his demise, nor shall I judge others."

"Sounds like a post-birth abortion to me."
A much better response:
"Whoever murdered George Tiller has done a gravely wicked thing. The evil of this action is in no way diminished by the blood George Tiller had on his own hands. No private individual had the right to execute judgment against him. We are a nation of laws. Lawless violence breeds only more lawless violence. Rightly or wrongly, George Tilller was acquitted by a jury of his peers. "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord." For the sake of justice and right, the perpetrator of this evil deed must be prosecuted, convicted, and punished. By word and deed, let us teach that violence against abortionists is not the answer to the violence of abortion. Every human life is precious. George Tiller's life was precious. We do not teach the wrongness of taking human life by wrongfully taking a human life,"
Not as good:
George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama Administration will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder.

Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches.

Focus on the Family praises Obama adoption outreach

Yes, that Focus on the Family...
It's striking to think Focus representatives and Obama administration officials would get together to discuss policy, and have a fruitful discussion, but that's apparently what transpired. To put this in perspective, imagine George W. Bush aides agreeing to meet with representatives of the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and/or People for the American Way, to explore common ground on any issue.

Saturday, May 30

Friday, May 29

Judicial empathy explained

David Brooks takes it away.

Hating politics

Wilkinson sums up my feelings of late:
God, I hate politics. It really does make people stupid, especially those whose tribe is out of power. When Sonia Sotomayor was nominated, I knew nothing relevant about her judicial philosophy or, much more importantly, about her actual record as a judge. You’d think you’d wait to learn something about this before saying something about her, but no. People just proceeded to go crazy on cue.

Like Damon Root , I’m in favor of libertarian judicial activism. But I know that Barack Obama is no libertarian, and I knew he wasn’t going to nominate Kozinski or Posner. Too bad! So I was hoping for a relatively centrist liberal who sees some merit in libertarian arguments, especially about the protection of economic rights. As far as I can tell, there is nothing especially worrying about Sotomayor. She’s obviously super-qualified. And from what I’ve read, she seems like a highly competent, fairly moderate liberal who sticks pretty close to the law (which nobody really likes when they don’t like the law!) and is perfectly willing to side with Republican-appointed judges when that seems to her the right thing to do. What are people going batshit crazy over? I don’t get it. And I really don’t get why many Republicans have taken this opportunity to reinforce the already widespread impression that they are morally odious morons. God, I hate politics.
Hence why my posting has died down—I'm not reading much political fare and don't know how soon I'll want to start again.

The last two cycles (2006, 2008) were exhilarating in a "throw the bums out" kind of way. And Obama was probably the most amazing presidential candidate ever, so following the primaries, general, and his first few months in office has been pretty interesting.

But I think the novelty has passed. He's The Man now—unlikely to foul things up nearly as badly as his predecessor—and covering the day-to-day insanity of the party out power is becoming repetitious.

Just remember Jane's Law:
The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.
I'd say it's standing up pretty well, what with Democrats' new spend-o-rama and the right's lunatic flailings.

Meanwhile the WSJ wants Republicans to play grown up.  If only...

Thursday, May 28

Deep thought

If Sonia Sotomayor isn't an intellectual heavyweight, what does that make Harriet Miers?

Wednesday, May 27

2nd order straw men

Library Grape and publius address a teachable moment from the Times.

Voice of experience

"I know lots of stupid people who went to Ivy League schools."

—Karl Rove, arguing that Obama';s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor may "not necessarily" be smart.

DIA notes:
Mr Rove is most famous for managing the two gubernatorial and two presidential campaigns of George W Bush, who graduated from Yale University (1968) and Harvard Business School (1975).

Monday, May 25

For Memorial Day

Via Wilkinson:

I don’t trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It’s always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it’s always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades … we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows’ weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. My brother died at Anzio – an everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud.
Good discussion at LewRockwell.

Thursday, May 21

On vacation

I have internet, but I'm spending my time doing things other than browsing news and blogs, so posting will be lite-to-none for a week or two.

I don't have much of a readership and don't expect to be missed much—this being more of a personal journal/rantspace than anything else.

But feel free to say 'hey!' in the comments.

Tuesday, May 19

Why Obama didn't release the abuse photos

White House pollsters must have gotten similar results:
The poll suggests that 87 percent of Republicans are against the public release of the photos, as are 62 percent of Democrats. Three out of four independent voters would also prefer for the photos to stay under wraps.
That doesn't mean it was the right thing to do, and I think Obama may understand this, but a politician must choose his battles and in the grander scheme of things making these photos known must be pretty low on his priority list. They're only important for holding the Bush administration accountable, something Obama would rather not be sidetracked by.

Tent size

Republicans have lost ground in all demographic groups except self-described conservatives, churchgoers, and senior citizens.

Faux small governance vs. borrow-and-spend

"Jordan" wrote:
I’m pretty sure the never-ending debacle that was the Bush administration turned the Millenials off to the idea of ’small government’ for good.
In terms of political perception, I think this is true. The Bush administration's "compassionate conservatism" managed the remarkable feat of both:

(A) Giving us a larger and more intrusive government.
(B) Badly tarnishing the name of small government conservatism.

Jordan continues:
The debate among people my age, largely, is about government’s effectiveness, and how it can best interact with business to achieve the policy goals we want (green energy is a prime example). I think we view corporations and government as a continuum of institutions, not in the sense that they’re all “the man,” but in the sense that they all have a particular role to play in support of one another.
"Druder" opines:
This is not exactly surprising. Big government looks much more attractive when it’s free. People are getting a pretty nice return on their tax dollars currently with our massive deficits, while the national debt is something no one feels. Assuming we don’t have a Zimbabwe style debt currency crisis (fingers crossed), eventually people will have to be taxed to pay for all this stuff. This is not to say that we shouldn’t tax more and provide all this government action to make a better society. I’m just curious as how views will change when people actually have to pay for it.
That's the problem with government: it does not create wealth, it only regulates its distribution.  Within sensible limits--e.g. providing for the common defense, building a transportation network, mandating that food have nutrition labels--this can be a good thing.

Meddle with goods and services, however--like regulating and subsidizing uncompetitive schools, agriculture, healthcare,  and energy technologies--and you end up with the many nasty boondogles we have today.


The Anonymous Liberal summarizes:
Pelosi-gate, in a nutshell: What did one member of the minority party know about the majority party’s illegal war crimes and when did she know it?
TPM says:
Focus, people. Let's not get distracted by what happened and lose sight of who was briefed about it.

Fisking Michael Steele

He writes in Politico:
The Republican Party finds itself the minority party in America for the first time in more than 15 years. I’ll be the first to admit it has taken some adjustment. Republicans have engaged in some healthy soul-searching since Election Day, trying to come to grips with our minority status and debating the best way forward as we point out our differences with the Democrats and chart our return to the majority.
I don't know about healthy, but it sure hasn't been pretty. You need to stop defining yourself against your opposition, though, and start offering policies that actually appeal to people. This will require addressing what you've done wrong, and learning from mistakes.
This has been an important debate within the Republican Party, particularly because of the place in history America currently finds itself. Last year the Democrats told voters they would bring “change” to Washington, but their version of change has been to push America to the left farther and faster than I think anyone could have imagined.
It's been painful to watch, but surely we could have imagined it. I admit to hoping otherwise--during the campaign I naively gushed over a "return to Clintonomics". Instead we got LBJ 2.0. But one does not have to imagine pushing America farther to left this quickly--one need only look at historical examples. At the beginning of FDR's term, Congress was a rubber stamp. Bills were written in the White House and passed on the same day without even being read.
That is why I believe America needs the Republican Party now more than ever before. We may be America’s minority party at the moment, but Republicans represent the views and concerns of a majority of Americans.
So you think parties get voted out of office because they better represent the views and concerns of voters? You think Republicans lost the last two elections because of unavoidable twists of fate like "war is hard", the media "wouldn't report the good news", or simply "teh economiez accidentally blew up" ?

I realize it's your job to spin defeats, but parties don't lose when they better represent the views and concerns of voters.
Republicans across America – from our national and state leaders down to our local activists and grassroots supporters – have to get about the business of telling families how Republican principles of less spending, lower taxes, responsive and responsible government, personal freedom and strong national defense stand in stark contrast to the reckless policies we’ve seen from the president and Congressional Democrats in four short months.
Point by point:
  • less spending: Republicans increased spending quite dramatically. What good is a principle that doesn't get applied?
  • lower taxes: Yes, you did. But in a time of prosperity without commensurate cuts in spending, lowering taxes is irresponsible deficit spending.
  • responsive and responsible government: If by responsive you mean overreacting to terror threats and if by responsible you mean grotesquely incompetent, o.k.
  • personal freedom: Really? And here I thought you were the party of socially intolerant bigots and dominionist nutjobs. My mistake.
  • strong national defense: Eh, welcome to the 21st Century. You already won the Cold War. Overreacting to a terror threast less deadly than the number of auto fatalities that year is not a sign of strength, but insanity.
Holistically, I don't think the contrast is stark at all. In fact--taken as a net whole--I considered Democrats to be better on these principles than Bush-Cheney Republicans were.

(i.e. Democrats are worse on some, but on the ones where they're better they are more significantly better, meaning a net plus)

Steele continues:
Republicans will not be afraid to agree with the president when we believe he is doing what is best for America, but neither will be afraid to disagree with him when we believe his actions are wrong for America.
A political party isn't afraid to have opinions and explain how it differs from their opposition; film at 11.
To accomplish this goal Republicans are turning a corner in three important ways:

First, the Republican Party will be forward-looking – it is time to stop looking backward. Republicans have spent ample time re-examining the past. It has been a healthy and necessary task. But I believe it is now time for Republicans to focus all of our energies on winning the future by emerging as the party of new ideas. Republicans are emerging once again with the energy, the focus, and the determination to turn our timeless principles into new solutions for the future.
Translation: We've spent enough time arguing amongst ourselves without any camp admitting that its overbearing social and national security conservatism and corporate supply-siderism has become toxic to the center. So let's brush it all under the rug and pretend everything's fine. Ignore the past and present, look forward!
Second, the Republican Party will not shy away from voicing our opposition to the president’s policies. His honeymoon is over. As a candidate, President Obama sounded moderate in his views. But as president, he is presiding over the most massive top-down expansion of government bureaucracy and spending our country has ever seen.
Yes, Obama has deftly claimed the rhetorical middle ground. That's smart politics. Pointing out that his mouth is in the center while his feet are walking left may be true, but it's not smart politics, particularly when the alternatives you offer have become toxic to the center.

Until you increase your own appeal to the center, yelling about how left Obama is while offering diametrically opposed alternatives is not going to help you persuade the center.
Candidate Obama talked about fiscal responsibility, about government living within its means. But President Obama is spending with reckless abandon and saddling our children and grandchildren with mountains of debt. Candidate Obama boasted about cutting taxes. But President Obama will have to raise taxes to pay for his massive top-down government explosion. Candidate Obama talked a lot about being bipartisan, but he has yielded his legislative agenda almost entirely to Nancy Pelosi who has repeatedly shut Republicans out of negotiations on important legislation, from economic stimulus to the budget to health care.
You know what's worse than hypocrites?

Hypocrites who call out other hypocrites for being hypocritical, i.e. Republicans who fail to govern according to their supposed principles (see list above) yet whine when Democrats do the same.

It's a second-order hypocrisy, and it won't sell. Voters will happy go with the Democrats' first-order hypocrisy which is at least rhetorically centrist and conciliatory.
Let me make one point clear – Republicans will not make our opposition to the president personal. Republicans will challenge policies of the president that we believe are wrong, but our opposition will be done in very sharp contrast to the classless way that the Democrats and the far left spoke of President Bush.
Ah, yes, I have a whole series from the campaign on Republicans staying classy. What lovely contrast.
Third, the Republican Party will seize upon momentum for a GOP resurgence that is already under way in states and local communities. I have traveled extensively since being elected RNC chairman, meeting with state party leaders and grassroots activists alike. There is genuine enthusiasm for a Republican balance to the reckless excesses of the president and congressional Democrats. I believe the Republican Party can ride that wave of local enthusiasm to victory in upcoming elections.
I'm sorry, was I interrupting your pep rally?
The Republican Party has turned a corner, and as we move forward Republicans should take a lesson from Ronald Reagan. Again, we’re not looking back – if President Reagan were here today he would have no patience for Americans who looked backward. Ronald Reagan always believed Republicans should apply our conservative principles to current and future challenges facing America. For Reagan’s conservatism to take root in the next generation we must offer genuine solutions that are relevant to this age.
Invoking Reagan in the context of not looking backward to Reagan's anachronistic policy proscriptions, i.e. recognizing that the problems of this age are not 1980's problems? Well done--seriously, I like this argument.
Republicans are getting about the business of America’s future, because our vision for America is far different than what the president and Congressional Democrats have shown thus far. And I fear the Democrats are just getting started.
Word of advice: stop spreading fear, stop trying to define yourself as being against Democrats, and concentrate on putting forward a coherent set of believable and actionable principles and policies that appeal to the middle.

Play him off, keyboard cat...

Yeah, Bush-Cheney Republicanism happens.

The GOP needs libertarians more than libertarians need the GOP

TheNextRight concludes:
Libertarians are used to wandering in the wilderness like political nomads. We know we'll be called upon from time to time to act as tour guides in order to lead the Republican leadership towards some safe small-government oasis or waterhole of individual liberty. We don't even need maps or compasses, as the routes are permanently etched within our minds. Being tough and hearty political travelers, another forty years in the wilderness doesn't scare us all that much.

We are, however, becoming increasingly annoyed with Republican leaders who have established a pattern of stiffing us on the bill for our services -- making us significantly less inclined to help out in the future.

We warned Republicans in 2004. We showed some resistance in 2006. We showed most of our cards in 2008. Months after the election, the John Cornyn/Mike Huckabee/Lindsey Graham wing of the party continues to hurl insults at us. At this point, any reasonable person might ask why libertarians would even care to lift a finger to help.

Without enough allies to fight the Democrats or even the skills to find the path to small government and individual freedom, the current Republican leadership may not be destined to forty years in the wilderness. Without libertarian assistance, they may not even make it to the next oasis.

With or without the GOP, libertarians will somehow survive. Can the GOP survive without libertarians?

Monday, May 18

What are Israelis thinking?

The percentage of Israelis who think Barack Obama is "pro-Israel": 31%

The percentage of Israelis who called Mr Obama's predecessor "pro-Israel": 88%

Barack Obama's overtures to Arab nations have come with a price. So far it's been just enough to deal with.

Facts of the day II

Ezra Klein at his new perch:
A small milkshake at McDonald's has more calories than a Big Mac. And tuna salad sandwiches? Way worse than roast beef.

Too big to fail

Factoid of the day: $670 billion so far

According to the National Priorities Project, the War in Iraq has now cost American taxpayers $670 billion. That stands in stark contrast to the $100 billion to $200 billion pricetage estimated by President Bush’s chief economic advisor in September 2002 or the $50 billion to $60 billion estimate offered by the White House Office of Management and Budget Director in 2002.
I think $670 is a lowball estimate, as I've seen estimates in the $2-3 trillion range for the final costs of the war, which takes into account costs to individuals that don't appear on the government's war spending budget.

But this is why it's difficult to get worked up about Obama's $787 billion stimulus. Both boondoggles to feed the respective party's interest groups, but I know which I'd prefer.

Link blag

New Hampshire's 'Live Free or Die' UNIX plate turns 20. I suppose the WINDOWS one should say 'Live, Freeze, and Die'.

Perry: Drug laws correlate with drug strength. Essentially, everyone who argues that we shouldn't legalize pot because "It's not like your father's weed" have made the problem they're complaining about worse. It's similar to how high drinking ages contribute to binge drinking, because underage drinkers try to drink all they can, when they can, in a short period of time.

BBC: A database which holds the details of every child in England has now become available for 390,000 childcare professionals to access. Brilliant! ...what could possibly go wrong?

Canadian Parliament sends takedown notice for video of their hearings posted on YouTube.

Cafe Hayek: How health care decisions are really being made.

Fallows admires Obama's speeches.

Cato: Washington DC's Union Station has an Obama shop.

Sunday, May 17

Speech highlights

A passage like this is always welcome:
there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It is no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. To serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.
For previous acknowledgments of godlessness, see Obama at the national prayer breakfast, the inauguration, and an excellent speech from before he was a candidate. Yes, I'm keeping score.

Andrew highlights two statements from the transcript. One of fact:
Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.
One of faith:
In this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. Stand as a lighthouse.

But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds
Andrew concludes:
I believe that these sentiments will resonate with all Catholics of good will and serious purpose. When we are called by God to oppose the evils of abortion or torture or terror, we need to remain civil and fair and attuned to the calm that comes from knowing that we fight the good fight...if we do not try to do better, in the passionate and righteous pursuit of peace and justice, we will advance neither one nor the other.
Here's what Obama said of abortion earlier in the speech:
That’s when we begin to say, “Maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions. So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.”
Contrast with what recently appeared at, a place supposedly trying to further the right's cause among moderates:
Why are so many Catholics so offended by Notre Dame’s honoring President Obama with a doctor of laws? It is not just abortion (though that matters). It is the threat that the Obama administration poses to Catholic institutions that heal the sick and teach the young. The age old question of how far Catholics must go in opposing evil approved of by the State is present here. Barack Obama threatens the conscience of Catholics, and the mission of the Catholic Church in America, more than any President before him. He threatens by legislation and court appointments, in fact, to be an American Henry VIII, destroying Catholic institutions,"
For more nonsense, I direct you to the ever-unhinged Gateway Pundit.

Animated Bach

(ht Libertarian Alliance)

Contrasting hatred

some comments:
You know, while I was working for Sky News Ireland I was despached to Rome to cover Pope John Pauls funeral. Whilst I was there we interviewed a lot of gay men and women who waited in line for over 12 hours to see the pontiff laid to rest, rainbow flags flying.... and when asked why, despite the popes dismissal of their rights, would they want to see him the all replied the same. "We loved him even though he couldn't love us"

Some where along the line God got hijacked by religion and religion got hijacked by bigots...
The essence of all human difference issues is that stupid idea we have to understand it all, so in this case, if a person cant understand homosexuality, than it's bad ... when the truth is that everything is not ment to be understood by everyone... the thing is too just accept the fact, because either way the fact is what it is and that will never ever change.
...somewhere in history religion really seems to have diverted from the beautiful potential it had for positive change and reformation. Somewhere along the lines it turned from a mechanism that could have been used for enrichment, into a mechanism utilized to deliver hatred under the guise of faith.
I was raised in a religious cult (Jehovah's Witnesses), and was taught to abhor and fear homosexuality... and that gays were going to be destroyed in a literal "Armageddon". I have since left that way of life, and have learned differently. I had to lose my friends and family in the process, but it was worth it. Everyone deserves love and life, not just the people who profess one God over another.
I mesmerized by it. I think it's moving because of the juxtaposition of "hate" speech with images of gay people who are happy, well-adjusted, loving one another and living beautiful lives on their own terms.

There is also the "ugliness" of those that claim to speak for god juxtaposed against the beauty of god as revealed in nature.
I enjoy how you juxtapose the beauty of life/living with the harshness of a person's rhetoric/point of view. Amazing how some believe 'they are sooooooooooo right' about their point of view when really, its simply an opinion. I'm tired of people who choose to cast stones of judgment toward other precious citizens. They are really revealing their cold hearts, prejudice and unwillingness to love their neighbor as themselves.
Almost daily when I hear similar bigoted comments on tv, I get filled with rage and despair. Its really not fun to say the least. But while watching this video I remain calm, despite the horrible words. The visuals show the truth that I usually forget at that moment. When confronted with hate, I can always just remember the good and joyful things in my life and be more at peace.

Notre Dame commencement

I'll take a more detailed look at the transcript later. For now, the contrast with those who loudly politicize their own theological convictions as a matter of good vs. evil (previously covered) is marked.

This speech was a success on every level. Substantive and conciliatory, the crowd loved it. I expect Obama's approval numbers to be up among all groups who watched it, including Catholics.

I also appreciated a subsequent speaker who basically said: "We can all agree torture is wrong...this view is shared by the civilized was not always so." That's true, or at least it should be true. Those who seek to justify torture today are an anachronism, and can only compete for public support with the Orwellian "enhanced interrogation techniques for terrorists".

Link blag

TMV: There are legal consequences to defining "life" (really, personhood) to begin at conception. Abortion opponents—particularly Republicans who support a Human Life Amendment—ought to consider the actual ramifications of their quixotic position.

Conor wonders how anyone can insist that Obama is a radical with ties to terrorists who wants to turn the country into a socialist dictatorship and that he should be asserting more executive power.

Daily Beast: Did Rumsfeld ruin Bush? A disturbing profile of what happened when at the highest levels we had an incompetent reporting to an ignoramus—and the reason people like Bush and Palin should never serve at such levels.

LA Times: Kuwait elects women.

Yglesias advocates free market sports.

NYT: Nick Gillespie wants to legalize and tax everything.

The Eiffel Tower at dusk.

Your tax dollars at work: The Social Security Administration has a very special announcement.

SNL Cheney open

Saturday, May 16

Far-right nonsense

“Intelligent design” creationist Denyse O’Leary interviews Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar (aka Harun Yahya); bug-eyed insanity ensues: Interview with Turkish Darwin doubter Adnan Oktar.

O’Leary calls Oktar’s book The Evolution Deceit: “the most succinct and comprehensive of the critiques of overblown claims for Darwinian evolution that I have ever read.”

Other books by Adnan Oktar include Holocaust Deception and Global Freemasonry. No word from O’Leary on whether she also considers those works “succinct and comprehensive.”

Bring on the political messiah snickers

Indecision Forever:
Disappointed soldiers in the Ron Paul Revolution, take heart. Your leader may have been defeated in '08, but He was not vanquished. For He hath given unto you a Son to continue His work.

And He shall be called Rand Paul. And He shall run for U.S. Senate in Kentucky. And He shall have gloriously curly locks of salt-and-pepper hair that shall drip with the oil that shall fuel a libertarian uprising!
(Heh, I used star wars)

Link blag

ShadowGov: Is Obama getting rolled by the U.S. military? Not really, he's taking into account their advice but also postponing dealing with them.

Greg Mankiw: Long-term fiscal strategy at the White House is based on wishful thinking.  In sum, we traded a wishful thinking foreign policy for a wishful thinking economic one.  What joy.  At least we're catching up with the 20th century on social issues and associated science.

OpenMarket: Stimulus starts trade war.

NYT, Dept. of lagging indicators: Mexican emigration is down.

WSJ: British Parliament pay scandal.

Bald dollars. Lots of garbage.

Ten reasons to not fuck with a libertarian. 'Tis good to laugh at oneself, I say.

(incidentally, though, as should be obvious the reason most skeptic dudes trend libertarian is because we apply the same skepticism to gov't.  And given how badly the state tends to foul things up, that makes us want less of it.)


DNC response:
We understand the RNC is frustrated with their lack of coherent message, but going negative on Bo isn’t going to help, and neither is blatant hypocrisy.
It says "political satire" at the top of the ad, and MasterCard commercials do normally include several small-ticket items at the beginning. I suppose the DNC aren't known for their sense of humor.

Friday, May 15

Help has arrived

Wingnuts of the week

Macroeconomic words to live by

I do understand the basic instinct of "this problem is really bad so we must do something...and now!" I would suggest that we keep in mind the less obvious, but no less important intuition: "this problem is really bad and that means a lot of what we are tempted to do could make it even worse."

Tyler Cowen on taxing China

What a difference 30 years does not make

“Voters want action on energy,” one congresswoman told The Washington Post. “They don’t really care how much it costs.” A Democratic president was on the verge of signing “the most important energy legislation in a decade,” with tens of billions of dollars dedicated to jump-starting a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels and helping the United States achieve “energy independence.” For too long, most analysts agreed, America had put off the hard choices necessary to prevent the next oil shock and wean the country from petrodictators in the Middle East. Now was the time for bold investment and leadership from Washington.

The year was 1979. At the time I was a low-level regulator in President Jimmy Carter’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It was a boring agency, but I got to work in its most exciting division: the special cases branch dealing with exotic new sources of power. From that perch I witnessed firsthand the sad, expensive, and now-forgotten saga of the Great Plains Coal Gasification Plant in Beulah, North Dakota. Like many projects being discussed in Washington today, Great Plains was hailed as the vanguard of a new domestic alternative to foreign oil.

In 1979, as lines at gas stations snaked for blocks, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 368 to 25, created the U.S. Synthetic Fuels Corporation, an “independent” federal entity charged with creating new fuel sources by spending $20 billion in seed money ($57 billion in 2009 dollars) during its first five years. Originally, the Synfuels Corporation was projected to spend $88 billion ($250 billion in today’s dollars) over 12 years to build the capacity to produce the equivalent of 1.5 million barrels of oil per day from coal.

That was just one element of Carter’s ambitious energy plans. In July 1979 he announced, “I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation’s first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.” In 1980 Congress authorized the Department of Energy to spend $1.3 billion on ethanol research and loans to produce fuel for automobiles. In May of that year, Carter declared, “For the first time in our nation’s history, we will have a national energy program to put us on the road to energy security. It’s more ambitious than the space program, the Marshall plan, and the Interstate Highway System combined.”
Sound familiar? I'll say this for liberalism: it's consistent about aiming the federal money hose at ambitious, hope-filled projects.

Dennis Dale goes off the rocker:
The single most distressing result of Barack Obama's election is not the looting of your grandchildren's economic prospects to pay for the new administration’s Great Lurch Forward into insolvency. It isn’t the accompanying loss of liberty. Nor is it the mass decampment of “anti-war” leftists now silent or openly supporting the escalation of the war in Afghanistan (so that’s what they mean by “MoveOn”). No; it’s the ascendance of shameless kitschmeister Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas, whose “Yes We Can” video on behalf of the Obama campaign took the cliched political cant that is rap’s tertiary stock-in-trade (after gangsterism and narcissism) to surreal and sinister levels, putting it directly in the service of power. The natural process of his passing down through the Dante-esque circles of celebreality television obscurity is now delayed by at least four years.
That distressing? ...

I must admit I still enjoy it in the context of so many Americans longing to fix the mess Bush made of things—and thinking Clinton-McCain-Palin weren't up to the job.

As for Will.I.Am's 'ascendance', I haven't seen much to get worked up about. His sequel was incredibly bad.

Friday video blag

WolframAlpha looks amazing.

HD video of Atlantis shuttle launch. (for reliable playback of the 185MB version, right click here and "save link as")

They call it a Chinese car test crash failure, but it seemed like a pretty successful crash to me.

TMV: Harmonizing with oneself.

Ah, French music! Who can object?

Horridness of the cap-and-trade racket

Via Andrew, Frum lays it out:
As the cap-and-trade bill has progressed through committee -- a draft is expected any day now -- more and more pollution rights have been allotted in advance to favored interests, free of charge. The final committee bill will probably give away at least 50 percent of all allotments, maybe even 75 percent. The freebies blow a huge hole in the budget plans of the White House, which has been counting on cap-and-trade payments from industry to help cover the enormous deficits the administration will run in coming years...

Cap-and-trade legislation will not only be contorted to favor the Democrats’ regional loyalties. In addition, it will be skewed to favor the preferred energy sources of the Obama administration -- wind and solar. These two sources face daunting technological hurdles and unforgiving economics on their own. Consequently, the measures to promote them must be hidden from sight, since no Congress would pass the taxes otherwise necessary to make them viable.

Waxman’s committee looks likely to include a straightforward quota for wind, solar and other renewable power. Utilities will ultimately be required to derive up to 25 percent of their power from these sources -- without regard to cost or the existence of cheaper, non-carbon emitting alternatives. The massive extra cost will be spread across power bills in ways that consumers will never see.
Cap and trade's political viability is the same as the political viability of tax deductions: it creates a complex system that gives politicians the ability to pick winners and losers and favor certain constituencies and technologies over others.

It increases political power while distorting the market. This distortion poorly allocates resources, stifling innovation and slowing progress, thus increasing the cost of low-carbon energy beyond what it would be with a simple, across-the-board carbon tax.


YAL comments: "Not to make light of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but this photo from Reuters is hilarious."

Heir to the revolution?

Yoda voice: Sigh. Told you, I did. Senior citizen is he. Now matters are worse.

Obi-Wan: That geezer was our last hope.

Yoda: No. There is another.
Dr. Ron Paul's son, Dr. Rand Paul, 46, may run for Senate in Kentucky...

Polling numbers... we need polling numbers!  If it takes off, I pledge to follow this race with only a moderate degree of obsession.

Because, well, seriously, it's exactly what the GOP needs... something to get more young people excited and interested in shaping the party's direction again.

Thursday, May 14

Addressing misconceptions of evolution

Quote of the day IV

I predict that allowing gays to serve openly [in the military] will be like allowing women on navy ships or even gay marriage. Lots of people fight it. Then it happens, it’s no big deal, and everyone forgets what they were so upset about.

Benjamin H. Friedman

Republican incongruity

Daniel Larison hits the nail on the head:
The faction most responsible for the GOP’s political failure is national security conservatives. Yet within the party, they remain unscathed, their assumptions about the use of American power largely unquestioned, and their gross errors in judgment forgotten or readily forgiven. Among the mainstream right, the foreign policy of the Bush administration is barely a subject of debate. Rather than reorienting Republican foreign policy towards a political center defined by realism, humility and restraint, the GOP’s leadership and activists have redoubled their commitment to Bush and Cheney’s hawkish stances and to a lock-step defense of the Bush administration’s policies.

This situation creates a strange incongruity. In one breath, conservatives will invoke a baseless claim that Bush’s excessive spending lost them the country, and in the next they will defend to the last Bush’s decisions as Commander-in-Chief. Yet these were the decisions that, more than anything else, led to Democratic victories and the GOP’s now toxic reputation. What is more, everyone outside the conservative bubble knows the narrative that mainstream conservatives tell themselves is false, which makes conservative professions of fiscal austerity and continued hawkishness even less likely to win public support.
As much as I would like to see some real fiscal austerity and defense of personal liberty, I'm not so deluded as to think Republican deficiencies in these areas are why they've fallen so low.

National security conservatism is a largely unmitigated disaster, clearly (See: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz) but general incompetence and lowbrow anti-intellectualism bear their share of blame (See: Bush, Palin, Huckabee)

Eight signs Dick is running for president

Daily Beast has the lulz.

Quote of the day III

"When Democrats lose, they're pathetic. When Republicans lose, they're bitter and mean.

...When the Republicans lose a presidential election, it's a shock to their system. When Democrats lose, it mostly just confirms their tragic view of life."

—Timothy Noah in Why Republicans Make Sore Losers

Vintage media bashing

The Iraq-torture connection

TPM floats what Ben Smith calls a "grand unified Iraq-torture theory":
[..] you have a flurry of claims that a key motive behind the push to torture was to elicit 'confessions' about an alliance between Saddam Hussein and al Qaida, which was of course the key predicate for the invasion of Iraq. That again has to create much more pressure to clarify what happened. The basis of most of the anti-torture push has been the assumption that torture was used for the purpose of eliciting information about future terrorist attacks. Whether it was illegal, wrong-headed, misguided, immoral -- whatever -- most have been willing to at least give the benefit of the doubt that that was the goal. If the driving force was to gin up new bogus intel about the fabled Iraq-al Qaida link, politically it will put the whole story in a very different light. And rightly so.
It's a serious charge, and the publicly available evidence is far from conclusive. But that's exactly why there should be an investigation or truth commission. We need facts, not partisan posturing over scraps of information that may or may not have been released.

Happily, Ambers lists ten reasons why a torture probe is more likely.

Bush first rejected the awakening

Via Andrew, David Rose reports:
The so-called Sunni Awakening, in which American forces formed tactical alliances with local sheikhs, has been credited with dampening the insurgency in much of Iraq. But new evidence suggests that the Sunnis were offering the same deal as early as 2004—one that was eagerly embraced by commanders on the ground, but rejected out of hand at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

[..]The Sunni Awakening, when it did finally come, provided welcome relief, says Jerry Jones. But the cost of delay is quantifiable. “From July ’04 to mid-’07,” he points out, “you can directly attribute almost all those K.I.A. [killed in action] in the Sunni regions of Iraq to this fatal error, and if we hadn’t been fighting the Sunni, we’d have had a lot more resources for dealing with Shia militia leaders like Moqtada al-Sadr in places such as Baghdad. It didn’t have to happen. Those lives did not have to be lost.” To put the matter concretely: if the compromises accepted later by the Bush administration had been accepted when a rapprochement was first broached by the Sunnis, in 2004, some 2,000 Americans and thousands more Iraqis might not have died.
But it's ok—because by the time the administration was realistic enough to do this, the surge worked!

Thinking outside the bun

Via Bruce McQuain:
Officials say a suspected drug dealer who led police on a 90 mph chase in Indiana was arrested after he stopped suddenly at a Taco Bell parking lot.

Fort Wayne police Sgt. Mark Walters says 36-year-old Jermaine Askia Cooper told officers he “knew he was going to jail for a while” and wanted to get one last burrito.

Rasmussen numbers are bogus

Look at the red dots above the purple line. They are all Rasmussen polls, 15 points off the average.

Yet conservative blogs seem to be in the habit of citing approval/favorability numbers from Rasmussen and dismissing the others as outliers. Gee, I wonder why.

Link blag

George Will: The Obama administration's economic lawlessness.

NM: Flunking school for welfare.

Cato: Torture sucks. Don't do it.

NYT: Training the future police state.

TNR takes a peek at what health reform will look like.

NYT: How life began with RNA.

A creative solution for Social Security solvency.

Take the Dick Cheney quiz

Daily Show vs. ASU

Let's face it: they're just pissed McCain lost.

Quote of the day II

...conservatives should abandon their silly effort to peg Democrats as socialists.

This is a strategy to repel, not attract, new voters. It is the conservative equivalent of the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” branding the Bush Administration fascist.

NM's Henry Clay

The long game

Dish reader:
I think [Andrew] hit the nail on the head. Obama does not make willy-nilly decisions. While the Administration’s decision to release the photos is certainly a great disappointment, I still think it may be a long play. That is, it’s a no-lose situation for him right now. He strengthens his position with the CIA and military at a time when he needs their full backing; he quells the media narrative that he won’t take on the Left of the Democratic Party; and if the ACLU or other groups win their battle to have the images released (which maybe he fills they will), he has reasonable distance from the decision. He is not going to lose the support of Democrats over this and he may gain some additional support from Independents and Republicans. This is a sound strategic decision for him.
I suppose we shouldn't be surprised when a politician puts politics over principle. It does not mean, of course, that the principles are unsound—principles can't always triumph, politics is not philosophy.

As Andrew concluded:
I will note this too about the politics. If Obama wants to get the truth out, and does not want to be slimed as a partisan avenger (the propaganda line from the Rovians), it helps him to have symbolic spats with those of us who believe we have no choice but to confront the war crimes of the last administration. This has long been his mojo: give symbolic gifts to your opponents while retaining the core issue. These gestures - Rick Warren dinner with Bill Kristol, summits with Cantor - help insulate him from being drawn into them kind of partisan fight the Rove right likes to fight. In this rope, in other words, the anti-torture movement is the current dope.

Fine. Rope-A-Dope us. But let us not let the responsible parties get away with torture, abuse and murder. And let us play a smart and relentless long game as well.

Good news! The war on drugs is over!

We're changing the name.

Quote of the day

I hear that the Republican Party plans next week to rename the Democratic Party the “Democratic Socialists”...

...And to rename themselves the “National Socialists.”

Brad DeLong

The allure of high speed rail

[..] $8 billion in stimulus money and $5 billion over the next five years for high-speed and intercity passenger trains.

Richard Florida, an Atlantic correspondent, has a long, thoughtful and information-rich post about high-speed, intercity rail networks in America. He presents a map that shows the potential links, but the real gem is a table down below showing travel time between cities at French TGV speeds. As Mr Florida notes, putting Philadelphia 36 minutes from New York, and San Diego 46 minutes from Los Angeles—and that is 36 and 46 minutes of train-time, meaning productive time, not 36 and 46 minutes in the air, meaning 3 hours of airport misery—would effectively make those cities into suburbs.
Among all the things we're throwing money at, this sure seems like one of the better ones.

Free speech interlude, ctd.

We killed them? Or, some killed them? If a society had exactly one person who wished abortion were illegal, would that person be part of a 'we' that's responsible for the killing?

The video closes with "we have faith in our sovereign God"—great, but don't many not have the particular faith that leads some to think fertilized eggs are people with eternal souls? What of them? Why should one faith trump others?

Wednesday, May 13

Curiouser and curiouser

I'm not entirely sure what to make of Obama's supposed "Sister Souljah" moment.

Like the ACLU, I pretty much favor full disclosure of all torture-related information and evidence, because I think it's important to put these dark years behind us, retake the highest moral ground that's practical for a superpower, and confidently tell the world 'never again.'

However, a Dish reader suggests:
Obama's not saying he's going to continue any of the practices you and millions of others have rightfully condemned. The justice department is currently investigating the Bush administration, and has been good about revealing what went on, with more revelations to come. Also, it's not as if Obama is going to destroy the pictures or never release them. He's just saying that it might be a good idea, for the safety of not just our troops but of hundreds of thousands of others, if the United States did not release these photos to the public right now. That may very well be true, and if it is he's behaving the way a responsible commander in chief should behave. I see nothing immoral in that decision.
Maybe...and if so, perhaps the Obama administration can persuade the courts.

Yet lawyers are scoffing at the idea of introducing new arguments, so Sens. Lieberman and Graham are planning to attach a legislative rider to prevent the release.

It makes me wonder all the more just what's in these photographs that some people are so desperate to hide.

Burmese shenanigans

UK's Independent:
Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years, will be charged in connection with an alleged visit by an American man to her Rangoon home. Her detention was set to end later this month.

The 63-year-old Nobel Prize-winning opponent of the ruling military junta will be moved to Rangoon's Insein Prison today, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy said.

Reports emerged last week that John William Yettaw, from Missouri, had been arrested for swimming across a lake to Suu Kyi's compound and spending two days there. The US Embassy has requested access to the detained man, which has not been granted, embassy spokesman Richard Mei said. He confirmed that Mr Yettaw had made a previous visit to Burma, and said his family had been told of his arrest.

Pro-democracy activists and diplomats in Rangoon have voiced suspicions that the incident may have been concocted by the government.

[..] The NLD won a landslide victory in elections in 1990 but the military refused to let the party assume office. The country has been under military rule since 1962.

Quote of the day

"Cuba represents everything we're against: It's a totalitarian, repressive, Communist state that, unlike China, can't lend us money."

Stephen Colbert

Too big to fail

Clever use of the phrase.

Man-made global warming is a fact—and one I must always preemptively emphasize because of all the know-nothings still in denial.

However, being a Dysonist I'm quite skeptical of all the doomsday predictions—I don't think we're anywhere close to having conclusive evidence that the planet is in danger of "failing", given how warm it has been in past periods.

Furthermore, I don't think there's much we can do to stop warming. Even the most efficient carbon tax system imaginable isn't going to put much of a dent in our emissions, especially given all the developing economies across the world.

But, I do think a non-burdensome carbon tax would be useful to price this negative externality and encourage the market to produce efficient technologies. It'll surely be far more effective than subsidizing asinine boondoggles like ethanol biofuel.

Beinart and Goldberg are back

Topics: Exploiting crisis for domestic agenda, spending trillions, "empathy" vs. the Constitution, legislating from the bench, resisting change.

Succinct distillation of GOP absurdity

Via Andrew, A.L.:
...let's review the basic GOP position. Torture (sorry "enhanced interrogation") is good and saves lives. It does not incite or radicalize the Muslim world or help al Qaeda recruit. Releasing pictures of it, however, does do all of these things. Also, if we stop torturing people, this leads to an al Qaeda recruiting bonanza.

To say that none of this makes any sense is an extreme understatement.

Meeting Republicans at their level

hilzoy's wit goes there:
I have just concluded a special extraordinary session of me, in which I unanimously adopted the following resolution:

WHEREAS the Urban Dictionary defines "Poopyhead" as "The single most offensive thing you can call someone. It's like the atom bomb of arguments. Men fear it's omnipotent and awesome power. It it literally unmatched and all humble themselves in the presence of it's divinity. Few have survived to tell of it..." [sic];

WHEREAS the Republican Party, in its present incarnation, is deserving of any number of schoolyard epithets;

WHEREAS something has to stop them from making fools of themselves, and neither reason, decency, good sense, nor the prospect of an endless series of electoral defeats seems to do the trick;

WHEREAS the time therefore seems ripe to deploy "the atom bomb of arguments"; therefore be it

RESOLVED: that I, the member of me, recognize that the Republican Party is dedicated to reorganizing American society along poopyhead ideals; and be it further

RESOLVED: that I, the member of me, do call upon the Republican Party to be honest and truthful with the American people by acknowledging that they have devolved into a party of schoolchildren and should, therefore, agree to rename themselves the Grand Old Poopyheads.
Clearly the party needs to raise its level of discourse and take liberalism seriously; mere socialist monikers aren't going to fly.  The conceit that government intervention is a force for good leads to many bad ideas, and if conservatives keep resorting to name-calling instead of explaining why economic populism does not work well, they won't be persuasive.

The days when Republicans could get elected just by painting lefties as pinkos and promising to cut taxes and save us from terrorism are over. Grow the hell up, people.

Logical fallacy of the day

No True Scotsman is a logical fallacy by which an individual attempts to avoid being associated with an unpleasant act by asserting that no true member of the group they belong to would do such a thing.

The term was coined by Antony Flew, who gave an example of a Scotsman who sees a newspaper article about a series of sex crimes taking place in Brighton, and responds that no Scotsman would do such a thing. When later confronted with evidence of another Scotsman doing even worse acts, his response is that no true Scotsman would do such a thing, thus disavowing membership in the group "Scotsman" to the criminal on the basis that the commission of the crime is evidence for not being a Scotsman. However, this is a fallacy as there is nothing in the definition of "Scotsman" which makes such acts impossible.

A modern example may be found at the would-be Conservative encyclopedia, Conservapedia. The founder of the site, Andrew Schlafly, has repeatedly used this fallacy to defend his personal concept that Conservatives, by definition apparently, do not practice deceit. When confronted with examples of deceit on the part of Conservatives, he routinely disavows that these individuals are Conservatives at all, on the basis that Conservatives do not practice deceit. He instead assigns them to the group liberal, regardless of evidence to the contrary. The use of this fallacy is underlined by the fact that prior to revelations of deceit, the same individuals would have been hailed as good Conservatives.

Phrases such as "un-American", "unChristian" or "inhuman" are widely used in politics and media to distance onself from a subject, defining them as outside the bounds of what the speaker considers to be truly 'American', 'Christian' or 'human' behaviour. These phrases strongly suggest the No True Scotsman fallacy, since the use, for example of "un-American" to describe specific political activities by some American citizens implies some special definition of "American" beyond mere nationality.
(Via LGF)

Of have and have-nots

São Paulo, Brazil

Link blag

The entitlement crisis is dreadful and Democrats are duplicitous.

Obsidian Wings gathers examples of how badly 9/11 and the Bush administration's torture policy warped conservative thinking. Many movement luminaries were ones emphatically against torture.

Bill Kristol is still crazy. But you knew that.

Conor explains the problems with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity to NROites.  Jerry Taylor's follow-up is fantastic, by NRO standards.

LGF moans at yet another example of the GOP being anti-science.

That which wasn't in the brochure...

Want to be the party of ideas?

Max Borders has some. I'm largely on board, though I've seen no evidence most Republicans would be.

But firstly, let's not let perfect be the enemy of good. One of his proposals is civil unions for all, civil marriage for none. Civil equality must happen, and this approach would be useful to help religious devotees understand that their right to believe and practice whatever they want about marriage isn't being infringed. However, due to Republican failure to engage on this issue much earlier, this horse has left the barn: we've got equal marriage in 5 states and all momentum seems to be in this camp.  I don't think we can now reverse course on the grounds of pleasing some bigots with semantics. 

Secondly, funding green technologies is something out of liberal La La Land. Conservatives should understand that picking winners and losers via government subsidies is exactly the wrong approach. Max says no new taxes, but why not a revenue-neutral carbon tax? Tax it early before it reaches the consumer--this is fairly transparent and easy to implement.  Then, return all carbon revenue via an across the board payroll tax cut. This lets the market do its thing and price technologies seamlessly, with no net tax increase.

The fearmongering will continue, ctd.

From Newt Gingrich's reading list:
One Second After, by William R. Forstchen:

"A gripping account of the first year after an electromagnetic pulse attack has eliminated all electricity in America."

The Silent Man, by Alex Berenson:

"This is a gripping and frightening story of an Islamist terrorist group developing a small nuclear weapon to be used in Washington during the State of the Union to wipe out the entire elected American government."
Why not Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears, too? It's in the title!

I enjoy thrillers as much as the next guy, but I don't base my politics off them.

Tuesday, May 12

Evaluating the stimulus

Greg Mankiw has a question for 'senior administration officials':
Going forward, what macroeconomic data would you have to observe before you concluded that the stimulus bill has been a failure? Or will you conclude, no matter how bad things get, that the economy would have been in even worse shape without the stimulus? And if the latter is the case, aren't these quarterly reports just a bit surreal?

Decline of the conservative intellectual

Richard Posner writes:
it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.

(from Nate Silver)

My takeaway: lambasting academia, intellectualism—and dare I say, non-economic reality—as having a liberal bias has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Quote of the day

Conor Friedersdorf on Obama's magical healthcare policy:
My aspiration is to one day vote for a president who gets the nation to go along with his trillion+ dollar policy proposal by persuading us the trade off is worth it, rather than pretending that there is no trade off. But it seems instead I’ll be forced to choose between Republicans who act as though military spending isn’t real, Democrats who act as though social services spending isn’t real, and George W. Bush, who managed on this issue to be a uniter, not a divider, by pretending that all spending wasn’t real.

Link blag

Compared to the US itself and previous presidents, Obama is popular among Muslims. Yglesias puts it in chart form. I don't know how pronounced the effect is among extremists, but it seems to me that in the aggregate, the more Muslims we can convince that the US isn't [being led by] an enemy, the more they'll be deterred at the margins from resorting to suicide bombing and other extremism. Contrast this with the right's approach of torture-as-policy, which has the opposite effect.

Megan explains Obama's magical healthcare savings. Keith agrees it's silly. But that won't stop the administration from producing hope-filled-charts and plotting the y-axis from 2.5 trillion for extra zazz.

Politico suggests moderate Dems will be a decisive factor. Huzzah for Clintonomics, we need these budget-balancers to restore some sanity and keep the starry-eyed leftists from burning the nat'l credit card and raising taxes to pay for it.

GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney seeks to keep the world safe for democracy, one golf shirt and water bottle at a time.

BBC: Eco-sailors rescued by oil tanker. Ha, irony wins.

The ACLU offers to defend an "ACLUSUX" license plate. If nothing else, you gotta appreciate their consistency.

Monday, May 11

When dogs meow...

Douthat's latest

Op-ed: Faking left

Spoiler: It's about abortion.

[ Douthat? Write about abortion? Say it ain't so! ]

Ok, so he covers Obama and 'ending' the culture wars, too.

His new RSS feed, not yet linked from the Times main directory, is here.


Matt Steinglass asks:
Isn’t the Prime Directive’s doctrine of non-interference in the affairs of (particularly underdeveloped) alien civilizations a classically paleo-con non-interventionist position?
Larison's answer:
Indeed it is, which is why most Star Trek plotlines are so annoying. If the most important principle is non-interference, why is the moral of almost every Star Trek story that this or that Federation captain is right to violate the Prime Directive in order to “do something” whenever there is a crisis? Surely the stories should drive home why non-interference is the better, wiser course, but instead they routinely show the Prime Directive to be the invention of moral and political idiots. It is hard to think of another fictional world in which its heroes so regularly disrespect the core values that they are supposed to espouse. Anyone who watched very many of the original episodes with Kirk would come away with the impression that the Prime Directive was a rule mostly observed in the breach, and most TNG episodes and movies would tell you that non-interference is either misguided or actually morally corrupt. The entire ninth movie was one big celebration of so-called humanitarian intervention. The advocates of non-intervention–the people invoking the Prime Directive most often–were portrayed in that feature as corrupt collaborators with the worst of the worst.
A commenter retorts:
You’d have to be an extraordinarily doctrinaire non-interventionist to advocate anything like a Prime Directive approach to US foreign policy. Non-interference in other state’s domestic affairs is one thing. A policy of deeming other states too primitive to even be graced with the knowledge that the United States exists is a bit more extreme. Similarly, you can respect a state’s desire to protect its most important industries without going further and arguing that any economic or cultural exchange at all is too dangerous to the less-powerful culture. According to the Prime Directive it makes sense for an entire civilization, including all its people, to perish in a natural disaster, since saving anybody would halt that civilization’s natural progression towards extinction. I know paleo-conservatives aren’t known for their sentimentality, but I don’t think they’re quite that, uh, mean.

The Prime Directive is routinely disregarded on Star Trek because it’s so hard for a rational or moral person to take it seriously. A more flexible approach (like the way the crew on TNG actually makes decisions when the Prime Directive clashes violently with common sense, morality, ethics, etc.) seems more reasonable.
I'm decidedly against intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries (e.g. toppling Saddam Hussein) but I think the commenter is right about the Prime Directive becoming morally absurd when it means not being able help a civilization avoid extinction when it's of little cost to us.

There are multiple areas of intervention:  military (force), trade, and migration.

Larison, being a paleocon, is opposed to them all—which is why he likes the Prime Directive.  Some paleocons aren't quite so obtuse on trade. But they definitely oppose migration, because they despise multiculturalism.

Once, the American right agreed with Larison on avoiding military intervention, and it was the bleeding heart Left that would propose boneheaded freedom-spreading, nation-building exercises.  Times change, huh?  And it's all the neocons' fault.

Now the Left is better on military non-intervention, better on migration, and tolerable* on trade.  Which is why they have a superior foreign policy now.

*The talk last year of renegotiating NAFTA was fodder for stupid Democratic primary voters. The leadership is, thankfully, not so dumb as to follow through on that. All they'll do is stand in the way of new trade deals with e.g. Columbia. So basically we're just treading water on trade for the foreseeable future.

What's killing the newspaper business? Advertising competition.

This may be a banal insight, but I hadn't quite put the pieces together until recently.

Firstly, realize that the bulk of newspaper revenue doesn't come from subscriptions or newsstands. It comes from selling ads.

Thought experiment: Suppose all newspapers cease printing and are henceforth only available electronically. Further suppose that anyone who might wish to read a newspaper has a laptop, Kindle DX, or other good way of accessing them. Why will the ad revenue for these electronic papers never reach the ad revenue they once got in print?

Compared to their portion of the print-with-ads market (shared with magazines and the yellow pages, mostly), newspapers are only a small corner of the web-with-ads market. There are very many new, high-traffic websites that run ads.

The market for ad revenue has limits. Companies who advertise only wish to field a certain portion of revenue for it. Often, competition with the products and services of other companies will cause them to advertise more, but only to a point. Eventually, there are diminishing returns and neither they nor their competitors will increase ad spending.

Electronic newspapers now have to compete in a wider advertising market, meaning a smaller chunk of available ad revenue will be directed at them than was the case when they had a relatively large portion of the print ad market.

Additionally, major newspapers require a substantial staff for quality reporting and editing. Any website that can get traffic with lower operating costs is at a competitive advantage and can afford to offer web ad space at lower rates than newspapers would prefer.

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