Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 10 Reads of the Week – December 30, 2011

The (B)end of History – John Arguilla [Foreign Policy]

Where have all the leaders gone? So much has happened in 2011, but there is precious little evidence of world events being guided by a few great men and women. From the social revolution in Egypt's Tahrir Square to the impact of the Tea Party on American politics, and on to the Occupy movement, loose-knit, largely leaderless networks are exercising great influence on social and political affairs.

Networks draw their strength in two ways: from the information technologies that connect everybody to everybody else, and from the power of the narratives that draw supporters in and keep them in, sometimes even in the face of brutal repression such as practiced by Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria. Aside from civil society uprisings, this is true of terrorist networks as well. The very best example is al Qaeda, which has survived the death of Osama bin Laden and is right now surging fighters into Iraq -- where they are already making mischief and will declare victory in the wake of the departure of U.S. forces.

The kind of "people power" now being exercised, which is the big story of the past year, is opening a whole new chapter in human history -- an epic that was supposed to have reached its end with the ultimate triumph of democracy and free market capitalism, according to leading scholar and sometime policymaker Francis Fukuyama. When he first advanced his notion about the "end of history" in 1989, world events seemed to be confirming his insight. The Soviet Union was unraveling, soon to dissolve. Freedom was advancing nearly everywhere. Fukuyama knew there would still be occasional unrest but saw no competing ideas emerging. We would live in an age of mop-up operations, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq -- for which he had initially plumped -- and this year's war to overthrow Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi. As Fukuyama noted in his famous essay, "the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world." … Read the Rest

Demonizing Wal-Mart – Michael Kinsley [Los Angeles Times]

In cultural commentary about the American economy, one company at a time always seems to be the goat. Everything it does is interpreted as evil. In the 1950s it was General Motors. GM's CEO, Charles "Engine Charlie" Wilson, became a national figure of ridicule for telling a congressional committee, "What's good for General Motors is good for America." Except that he actually said, "For years I thought that what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa" — which is quite a different proposition.

In the 1990s the goat was Microsoft.* That famous antitrust case looks a bit silly in retrospect, don't you think? Turns out it wasn't Microsoft that was about to take over the world: It was Google… Read the Rest

Doctors Say Obamacare Is No Remedy for U.S. Health Woes – Sally Pipes [Forbes]

America’s doctors have conducted a full examination of the president’s health reform law — and their diagnosis of its effects on our healthcare system isn’t good.

Nearly two-thirds of doctors expect the quality of care in this country to decline, according to a new survey from consulting giant Deloitte. Just 27 percent think that the law will lower costs. And nearly seven of every 10 doctors believe that medicine is no longer attractive to America’s “best and brightest.”... Read the Rest

Midlife Crisis Economics – David Brooks [New York Times]

The members of the Obama administration have many fine talents, but making adept historical analogies may not be among them.

When the administration came to office in the depths of the financial crisis, many of its leading figures concluded that the moment was analogous to the Great Depression. They read books about the New Deal and sought to learn from F.D.R.

But, in the 1930s, people genuinely looked to government to ease their fears and restore their confidence. Today, Americans are more likely to fear government than be reassured by it… Read the Rest

Diversity, Inc. – Victor Davis Hansen [National Review]

‘Affirmative action” was the logical sequel to the civil-rights legislation of the 1960s. The initial reasoning was attractive enough. New guarantees of equality of opportunity were insufficient to achieve the promised social parity, given the legacy of slavery and the existence of ongoing racial bias. Therefore, to counteract the effects of historical discrimination, the race of individuals must be weighed into contemporary hiring and admissions practices. The key was to avoid the word “quota.” That did not sound very “affirmative” for a program that supposedly was about growing (or “enriching”) the pie, not a crass zero-sum game of taking a college spot or a job from one person and giving it to another on the basis of race.

Second, although slavery was confined to the Confederacy, there was the general assumption that, as blacks in the postbellum era had migrated northward, they were subjected to all sorts of bias, and so the recompense was to be a national, not just a southern, obligation… Read the Rest

The GOP’s Answer to Union Money – Fred Barnes [Wall Street Journal]

When Steven Law was deputy secretary of labor in the George W. Bush administration, he routinely scrutinized the disclosure forms of labor unions. Unions had recently been required to report new details about how they spent their members' dues money. Mr. Law discovered that organized labor was contributing millions to a variety of liberal groups—environmentalists, gay-rights advocates and left-wing blogs, among others.

For Mr. Law, it was a revelation and a lesson. He concluded that the labor movement had enlarged and strengthened the coalition that helped produce Democratic landslides in 2006 and 2008.

Now, as president and CEO of the independent pro-Republican group American Crossroads (AC), Mr. Law is preparing to fund seven or eight conservative organizations and create a broad front of support for Republican candidates in 2012. As a trial run, AC gave $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business, $4 million to Americans for Tax Reform, and $1.5 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee in last year's midterm election campaign. Republicans won a massive victory, and Mr. Law decided it was money well spent… Read the Rest

2011: You Can’t Win For Losing – Jonah Goldberg [National Review Online]

Charlie Sheen was clearly the man of the year.

You’ll recall that 2011 began with the oafish actor celebrating his own narcotic and sexual crapulence like a victorious gladiator working the crowds. He was egged on by a media with as much decency as the cons on the top tiers of the prison who chant “fresh fish” as the new inmates walk into general pop, their eyes stinging from delousing powder.

Sheen succeeded at turning his own debasement into a national pseudo-event by calling the very definition of losing “winning.”

  And that’s what 2011 was all about: pretending to be winning while really losing… Read the Rest

North Korea’s Human Rights Abuses Must End – Kim Moon-soo [Washington Post]

Not long after South Korean economist Oh Kil-nam was enticed into entering North Korea with his family in 1985, he realized he was in trouble. The opportunities they expected were illusory; instead, Oh and his family found themselves trapped. About a year later, Oh was ordered to abduct two Koreans studying in Germany, much as he had been lured to the North. Although she knew it would endanger their family, Oh’s wife, Shin Sook-ja, implored him to disobey the orders and try to escape. They must not lead other innocents to a fate as horrible as theirs, she argued.

When Oh was sent abroad, he did not follow orders but sought political asylum. North Korean authorities reacted by confining Shin and their two daughters, just 9 and 11, to the Yoduk concentration camp in 1987. Twenty-four years later, Oh lives in South Korea. Retired now, he clings to the faint hope that he can be reunited with his family… Read the Rest

Conservatives Confusing Corporatism With Capitalism – Timothy P. Carney [Washington Examiner]

One cause of government growth is confusion, on behalf of pro-free-market people, of policies that free up the market and policies that subsidize Big Business. Many conservatives fall into the trap of thinking that if liberals hate Big Business or lobbyists, then Big Business and lobbyists must be good.

Yesterday we got a great example of this from conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt.

Kevin Williamson of National Review wrote an excellent essay on Wall Street, and how the big banks use their political connections to make profits without adding value to society. Williamson also suggested that Wall Street's generosity to the campaign of Mitt Romney ought to make us suspicious of Romney, because these Wall Street guys are neither economically free-market nor culturally conservative… Read the Rest

Thatcher vs. Decline – Rich Lowry [National Review Online]

Margaret Thatcher is on the cover of Newsweek, or — the next best thing — Meryl Streep is on the cover as the former British prime minister in a new biopic.

Thatcher is a rich theme. If the types who expound on such things didn’t so hate her politics, she’d launch a thousand dissertations on those inexhaustible academic themes of class and gender. As the daughter of a grocer, she was looked down upon as the personification of, in the words of one highfalutin critic, “the worst of the lower-middle-class.” As a woman in a man’s world, she was venomously attacked by her opponents as a “bitch” or “the bag.”… Read the Rest

The Funniest Thing I Saw This Week

 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The SJC's Cape Wind Decision

Late last year the Patrick Administration's Department of Public Utilities determined that a power purchase deal between National Grid and Cape Wind was reasonable and in the "public interest," despite a price tag that will force National Grid rate payers to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars above what they would otherwise pay for electricity.

Anti- Cape Wind groups including the Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the New England Power Generators Association brought suit challenging the determination.  Earlier this week the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the DPU's determination.

Cape Wind's developers are hailing the ruling as a major victory in their long slog to construction.  In truth, however, the court's decision is entirely unremarkable.  In finding that "there was clearly sufficient evidence on which the department could base its conclusion that the special benefits of (the Cape Wind power deal) exceeded those of other renewable energy resources," all the court did was confirm that the Department correctly followed its procedures and arrived at a subjective decision that is within its broad statutory authority to regulate energy rates in the Commonwealth.

What is remarkable about all of this is the same thing that has always been remarkable about it: our state government is forcing consumers (us) to pay a huge premium on the cost of our energy - already among the highest costs in the nation, by the way - to buoy a project that is politically popular on the left, but increasingly untenable without government support.

Listen to Richard Sullivan, Governor Patrick's Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.  The DPU ruling upheld by the Court, he said, “assured that ratepayers could get renewable power at a fair price.”  The unspoken addendum to that statement?  "... a fair price hundreds of millions more expensive than energy from other available sources, including renewable sources."

Read carefully, and buried in the news of the SJC's pro-Cape Wind decision you will also learn that developers have pushed back construction by another year, to 2013.  Why?  Because more than a year after National Grid agreed to buy half of the project's power output, developers have been unable to find a buyer for the other half.

And why is that?

Because no other utility is yet willing to follow National Grid's example and impose a huge rate hike on its consumers merely to make some politicians feel good about themselves.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Political pundits drive me nuts

My folks are visiting this week, which has been a lot of fun - especially for my four-year-old who is enjoying every minute of their undivided attention.  One side-effect of their presence is that political pundits, especially those in the employ of Fox News, are spouting their opinions and prognostications into our family room with much greater regularity than when my apolitical wife and I are the ones running the remote.

So it is that tonight I learned Rick Santorum has surged 11 points in Iowa, a development to which a fan of the former Senator might reasonably be expected to react with a relieved "It's about TIME!"  I doubt Senator Santorum has ever actually deluded himself into thinking he is destined to be the Republican nominee in 2012, but it must have been tough to watch Ron Paul promoted from the also-ran division to temporary media phenom just before Christmas.

Political pundits are drama queens
The pundits on my television are understandably excited.  ANOTHER surge!  What does it mean?  Where will it go?  Could there be life for Santorum after Iowa?  Could he be the next anti-Mitt?  More, could he be the first anti-Mitt with more than two weeks' sticking power?  Anything seems possible.  It is a Brave New Santorum-surging World.  Re-start the cycle.

All of which prompts me finally to type a post that I have had in my head for a while now:  Political pundits are drama queens

A lot of the drama is deliberate of course.  The 24-hour news beast must be fed, constantly, and for the 18 (20? 24?) months prior to a national election there is no greater source of fodder than the political news division.  Unlike, say, reporters who cover the natural disaster beat, political reporters are able to create their own news.  Rick Santorum's 11 point surge will be meaningful because the pundits will spend the next 48 hours talking about it relentlessly, and it will thereby become meaningful - self-fulfilling prophecy.  Pundits will predict a Santorum surge, observe a Santorum surge, and then report breathlessly on the next poll (which will evidence a media-generated Santorum surge).  None of this would be possible without a hefty dose of drama.

Political pundits are kind of like meteorologists.

Meteorologists have been a pet peeve of mine for years, a fact that never ceases to amuse/annoy my sainted bride.  Each time the weather press works itself into a lather over the latest impending snowpocalypse I waste untold time and energy ranting first about their collective, contrived hysteria; then about we sheeple's unfailing buy-in to said hysteria; and finally about their universal refusal to own up to / apologize for said hysteria when the weather event in question fails to live up to the hysteria.

Political pundits are exactly the same.  Think about the Republican primary season to-date.  How many pundits have declared how many different candidates the "likely" or even the "inevitable" nominee?  How many times has Mitt Romney been declared dead and buried?  And yet when they are wrong - and they are nearly always wrong - 99 percent of the pundits plow confidently on to the next unequivocal prediction, never acknowledging, much less apologizing for, the last. 

Perhaps the best anaolgy is to sports analysts.  Recall week three of the NFL season, when the Patriots lost to the then-resurgent Buffalo Bills.  The analysts were apoplectic.  The torch had been passed.  The Dynasty (which has already been declared dead more times than Mitt) was dead.  Could the Bills be the new kings of the AFC? They could, we were told.  They could.  They probably were.  Bellichick was a boob, a micro-manager who ruined both his reputation and his team by taking on too much responsibility for personnel decisions.  The D couldn't play; Tom Brady wasn't enough; a dreaded "rebuilding year" was imminent.

Since then?  Well, the Bills have gone back to being the Bills; and the Patriots (weak D and all) have kept on being the Patriots.  Each week one dominant team or another is put metaphorically in the earth, only to rise again the next.  Just look at the ESPN Power Rankings, which are the football equivalent of the Real Clear Politics poll round-up.

Which brings me back to the drama queen thing.  Does anyone thing John Dennis and Gerry Callahan really think all is lost each time the Pats drop one in the L column?  Does anyone think those talking heads on Fox really think Rick Santorum stands a chance in Hell of making a viable run for the nomination?  No and no.  But the actual drama inherent in an outlier poll result or a single defeat on the gridiron is insufficient to drive ratings.  The drama must be amped up artificially.  Hence the End of Days rhetoric on the sports pages.  Hence the utterly pointless speculation about a Gingrich Administration.  Come to think of it, the very same thing (ratings) also explains the monthly meteorological melt-downs to which we've all become accustomed over the past decade.

This is why despite my status as a certified political junkie, I spend barely any time at all watching political television or listening to political talk radio.  The endless manufactured drama annoys me in the political context (whereas I enjoy it as much as the next guy when it comes to sports) because in politics the drama has consequences. It influences - and in many cases drives - voting behavior.  I makes and breaks candidates.  And so much of it is totally and completely fake.

If you have read this far thinking I might have a point, I owe you an apology.  I don't.  This is a rant, not an analysis.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Top 10 Reads of the Week – Christmas 2011 Edition (December 23, 2011)

Santa’s Not Pagan – Jonah Goldberg [National Review Online]

…While it’s absolutely true that there are sincere and committed Christophobes and joyless atheistic boobs out there, one of the major culprits is capitalism itself. I like capitalism — a lot. Heck, the best Christmas present I could get would be a Scrooge-like conversion on the part of the president after a visit from the Ghost of Socialism Past. But the downside of capitalism is that it will, eventually, encourage the commercialization of everything sacred. For instance, there’s an online “dating” company dedicated entirely to facilitating adultery. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a holiday symbolized by a man who gives presents would be exploited. That doesn’t mean we have to surrender to the trend, but we should recognize all of the trend’s sources, not just the convenient ones.

On a different note, the supposed champions of making Christmas more “inclusive” should at least ponder the irony that they are being intolerant. If you take offense when someone says “Merry Christmas,” you, quite simply, are the jerk… Read the Rest

Obama’s simplistic view of income inequality – Charles Lane [Washington Post]

Statistics show rising income inequality in the United States. But, contrary to the impression created by the Occupy protests, and media coverage thereof, statistics also show that Americans worry less about inequality than they used to.

In a Dec. 16 Gallup poll, 52 percent of Americans called the rich-poor gap “an acceptable part of our economic system.” Only 45 percent said it “needs to be fixed.” This is the precise opposite of what Gallup found in 1998, the last time it asked the question, when 52 percent wanted to “fix” inequality… Read the Rest 

 What kind of society does America want?  - Mitt Romney [USA Today]

In less than a year, the American people will go to the polls and choose a new president. A matter of great moment is at stake in this election. The question we will decide is this: Will the United States be an Entitlement Society or an Opportunity Society?

In an Entitlement Society, government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk. In an Opportunity Society, free people living under a limited government choose whether or not to pursue education, engage in hard work, and pursue the passion of their ideas and dreams. If they succeed, they merit the rewards they are able to enjoy… Read the Rest

Capitalism and the Right to Rise – Jeb Bush [Wall Street Journal]

Congressman Paul Ryan recently coined a smart phrase to describe the core concept of economic freedom: "The right to rise."

Think about it. We talk about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn't seem like something we should have to protect.

But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck… Read the Rest

‘The Great Successor’ – John Bolton [Wall Street Journal]

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's death opens a period of intense danger and risk, but also potentially enormous opportunity for America and its allies. Kim's health had obviously been poor for some time, and his regime has worked to ensure an orderly transition to his son, Kim Jong Eun. The Kim family and its supporters, with everything obviously at stake, will work strenuously to convey stability and control. Indeed, the official North Korea news agency has already referred to Jong Eun as "the great successor to the revolutionary cause."

But the loathsome Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) is not a constitutional monarchy like Britain. While DPRK founder Kim Il Sung was powerful enough to impose his son, no guarantees exist that the North's military, the real power, will meekly accept rule by his utterly inexperienced grandson… Read the Rest

Politifact’s 2011 Lie of the Year is Democrats’ claim on Medicare – Angie Drobnic Holan and Bill Adair [Politifact.com]

Republicans muscled a budget through the House of Representatives in April that they said would take an important step toward reducing the federal deficit. Introduced by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the plan kept Medicare intact for people 55 or older, but dramatically changed the program for everyone else by privatizing it and providing government subsidies. Democrats pounced.

• Just four days after the party-line vote, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released a Web ad saying that seniors will have to pay $12,500 more for health care "because Republicans voted to end Medicare.".. Read the Rest

Chevy Volt Costing Taxpayers Up to $250K Per Vehicle – Tom Gantert [Michigan Capitol Confidential]

Each Chevy Volt sold thus far may have as much as $250,000 in state and federal dollars in incentives behind it – a total of $3 billion altogether, according to an analysis by James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Hohman looked at total state and federal assistance offered for the development and production of the Chevy Volt, General Motors’ plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. His analysis included 18 government deals that included loans, rebates, grants and tax credits. The amount of government assistance does not include the fact that General Motors is currently 26 percent owned by the federal government… Read the Rest (and weep)

 

Cue the Voter ID Scaremongering – Jason Riley [Wall Street Journal]

You know it's election season when the political left starts attacking voter identification laws as racist measures that have nothing to do with ballot integrity. Last week the Obama administration and civil rights leaders once again were sounding this theme.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told an audience in Austin, Texas, that photo ID requirements hurt minorities. "Are we willing to allow this era -- our era -- to be remembered as the age when our nation's proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended?" said Mr. Holder. "Call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes," he added. "Urge policy makers at every level to re-evaluate our election systems and to reform them in ways that encourage, not limit, participation."… Read the Rest

Who Was Steve Jobs – Sue Halpern [New York Review of Books]

Within hours of the death of Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs, people began to show up at Apple stores with flowers, candles, and messages of bereavement and gratitude, turning the company’s retail establishments into shrines. It was an oddly fitting tribute to the man who started Apple in his parents’ garage in 1976 and built it up to become, as of last August, the world’s most valuable corporation, one with more cash in its vault than the US Treasury. Where better to lay a wreath than in front of places that were themselves built as shrines to Apple products, and whose glass staircases and Florentine gray stone floors so perfectly articulated Jobs’s “maximum statement through minimalism” aesthetic. And why not publicly mourn the man who had given us our coolest stuff, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, and computers that were easy to use and delightful to look at?

According to Martin Lindstrom, a branding expert writing in The New York Times just a week before Jobs’s death, when people hear the ring of their iPhones it activates the insular cortex of the brain, the place where we typically register affection and love. If that’s true, then the syllogism—I love everything about my iPhone; Steve Jobs made this iPhone; therefore, I love Steve Jobs—however faulty, makes a certain kind of emotional sense and suggests why so many people were touched by his death in more than a superficial way… Read the Rest (and then read the book)

Smoke Screening – Charles C. Mann [Vanity Fair]

Not until I walked with Bruce Schneier toward the mass of people unloading their laptops did it occur to me that it might not be possible for us to hang around unnoticed near Reagan National Airport’s security line. Much as upscale restaurants hang mug shots of local food writers in their kitchens, I realized, the Transportation Security Administration might post photographs of Schneier, a 48-year-old cryptographer and security technologist who is probably its most relentless critic. In addition to writing books and articles, Schneier has a popular blog; a recent search for “TSA” in its archives elicited about 2,000 results, the vast majority of which refer to some aspect of the agency that he finds to be ineffective, invasive, incompetent, inexcusably costly, or all four.

As we came by the checkpoint line, Schneier described one of these aspects: the ease with which people can pass through airport security with fake boarding passes. First, scan an old boarding pass, he said—more loudly than necessary, it seemed to me. Alter it with Photoshop, then print the result with a laser printer. In his hand was an example, complete with the little squiggle the T.S.A. agent had drawn on it to indicate that it had been checked. “Feeling safer?” he asked… Read the Rest

The Funniest Thing I Saw This Week

 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chevy Volt: It exists!!

Sitting in traffic this morning, I saw it creeping by to my left.  A Chevy Volt.

I felt like I'd just spied a Yeti or a Jackalope.  Or the Tooth Fairy.  A Chevy Volt, on the same road I was driving!  I had to grab my phone and snap a quick picture (traffic was stopped. I swear).  Otherwise who would ever believe me?

They Exist!
Just stop to consider the odds.  According to the US Bureau of Transit Statistics, in 2008 - four years ago now - there were more than 254 million passenger vehicles registered in the United States.  GM estimates that a grand total of 6,000 Volts have been sold to date. That means the chance of sliding up next to a Volt on the Pike - or any other roadway - is approximately one in forty-two thousand.

Coming the very day after I'd read this analysis by the esteemed Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the sighting felt like serendipity at work.  Mackinac's James Hohman crunched the numbers and determined that US taxpayers subsidize production of the Volt to the tune of around $250,000 per vehicle.  Let that sink in.  $250 thousand, per car, to allow a handful of people wealthy enough to shell out $40K on a crank-up version of Chevy's most stripped-down compact sedans to indulge their moral superiority complexes. (Related Post: Pols Preen In Green... and we pay).

I felt compelled to roll down my window and demand that the driver thank me (as a self-designated representative of all taxpayers) for our generous support of his personal green fetish.  I didn't, because that would have been - you know - a little too Planter's Cocktail Mix.  And besides, with the length of the traffic back-up we were both sitting in the poor guy was probably stressed enough wondering if he'd make it to the nearest EV charging station in time. 

I hope he made it.  Honest, I do.  Can't have "our" investment sputtering out on the Pike.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On payroll tax: Rs right on policy, SO wrong on politics

Like most Republicans I know who do not live and work in the DC bubble, I am beyond exasperated with how this whole payroll tax holiday mess is playing out on the national stage.  This headline from Bloomberg is fairly representative of the media's - and therefore the public's - take: "House GOP rejects 2-month payroll tax cut."  Bad enough.  This one is even worse:  "Obama urges public help pushing payroll tax cuts."  Somehow in the space of just over a week, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama have managed to put themselves squarely on the side of tax cuts, battling doggedly against REPUBLICAN opposition.  

Down is up.  Right is left.  Hot is cold.  And people are buying it. DC has slipped into the Bizzarro World.

Of course the hypothetical headline: "House GOP insists on year-long payroll tax cut" would be equally accurate, and in fact "truer," covering more context.  As would "Obama urges public help pushing political delaying tactic."  But you aren't going to see those headlines anywhere outside of the conservative media.

I don't think the mainstream press is actually rubbing their hands in glee and giggling, "let's stick it to the Republicans."  Not most of them anyhow.  They are just constitutionally predisposed to buy into the Democrats' preferred narrative, and to view the Republicans' with suspicion.

This is not a moan about 'media bias.'  That predisposition is simple political reality - has been for a long while, looks to be for a long while more.  As Bruce Hornsby might sing, "That's Just the Way It Is" (try to get that out of your head now.  You're welcome).  The gleeful hand rubbing and giddy giggling is emanating from the Reid/Pelosi/Obama press offices, where the staffers doubtless cannot believe they have managed to get to the House GOP's right on tax cuts.  Tax cuts.  The mind reels.  What galls is less the rampant bias evident on this issue than the House Republicans' apparent failure to predict how their intransigence would play in the press.

Yes, earlier this very month the President was insisting on a long-term extension to the payroll tax holiday (it isn't a "cut," no matter how many times the term is mis-applied).  Yes, Speaker Boehner is absolutely correct when he argues that a two-month extension is ludicrous on its face, will only add to uncertainty and instability, and represents nothing more than another gentle kick to the can that has been bouncing down the road ever since the Democrat-controlled Senate took the unprecedented step of declining to file a budget plan.  Yes, the Democrats took Obamacare right up to midnight on Christmas Eve, giving obvious lie to the notion that Congress has passed the point of no return for a final vote on long term extension of the payroll tax holiday.  And yes, there are perfectly coherent arguments to be made against the choice of this particular tax (unique in the specific dedication of its proceeds to fund social security) for reduction.

None of that matters.  At all.  President Barack Obama is posturing as a tax cutter.  Nancy Pelosi is scolding Republicans for turning their backs on middle class tax cuts.  And it is working for them.  The Wall Street Journal's editorial page got it exactly right today:
The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.

Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he's spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible.
No doubt the genesis of the House Republicans' colossal blunder can be found in the assumption that this was in fact impossible.  In their DC bubble, the Rs forgot two things: the media's preference for D talking points, and the fact that most people just don't pay that much attention.

That last fact might just be the primary source of my/our frustration.  Not the mere fact that most people don't pay attention - especially at a time when it seems Congress would take a proposal to order pizza to the brink of a government shutdown in a dispute between pepperoni and veggie, the public can be forgiven for tuning out.  The most frustrating - and appalling - thing about all of this is that the Democrats' entire messaging strategy assumes and depends upon the fact that most people aren't paying attention.

An engaged voter base would look at the current dispute and ask the eminently reasonable (and obvious) question: wait a sec... if the Republicans are insisting on a year-long extension, and the Democrats won't move off of two months... how exactly are the Democrats standing up for middle class taxpayers?

But we do not have an engaged voter base, and our media is by and large disinclined to question or criticize the Democrats' narrative.  So nobody asks that question.  And the DC bubble Republicans are getting beaten to a pulp on taxes.

Culture of Corruption: Dueling Breaking News Banners

From both BostonHerald.com and Boston.com this afternoon come dueling reminders of the sad fact that Beacon Hill's infamous culture of corruption is alive and well.


First the Herald: Ethics Board Fines Middlesex Deputy Sheriff $5,000
Another lawman has been slapped with a fine for throwing a political fundraiser for former Middlesex Sheriff James DiPaola, who committed suicide at the height of a burgeoning ethics scandal.

Middlesex Senior Deputy Sheriff Michael Jackson was fined $5,000 for hosting a campaign fundraiser at his house in October 2009 for DiPaola. Jackson admitted soliciting campaign donations during work hours from sheriff’s department employees who worked under him, state ethics officials said today.

A total of $4,800 was raised at the fundraiser, which was attended by 30 people, most of whom were Middlesex Sheriff’s Office employees and their spouses, officials said.
You'll recall the sad, mysterious death of Sheriff DiPaola.  He's the one who back in November secretly resigned just before being reelected, so that he could simultaneously collect a pension and a salary.  Shortly after the scheme was outed in the press, DiPaola traveled to Maine and committed suicide.  A terrible, ugly chain of events that may or may not have anything to do with the fact that today's fine was the fourth such penalty handed down in connection with the late Sheriff's fundraising operation.

Then we have Boston.com:  Former probation chief arrested in hiring scandal probe.

That's right, folks.  The federal investigation into the rampant patronage in the Commonwealth's probation department is ongoing, and scalps are yet being collected.

A former acting chief probation officer in western Massachusetts was arrested and charged with intimidating and harassing a witness today as part of the federal investigation of the patronage hiring scandal at the state Probation Department.

The arrest of Christopher Hoffman, 39, who ran the probation office in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton until he was suspended in October, marks the first criminal charges stemming from the federal investigation into the department’s allegedly rigged hiring system that funneled hundreds of jobs to politically and personally connected candidates.

The scandal, initially reported by the Globe’s Spotlight Team, led to the resignation of the entire probation leadership, including former commissioner John J. O’Brien. O’Brien is already facing state criminal charges.

Hoffman is accused of pressuring an underling not to cooperate with federal authorities. He is charged with intimidating a witness and, if convicted, faces up to 20 years in prison.

He allegedly said to a probation officer who was about to be interviewed by the FBI, “I’m going to tell everyone that you are a rat.”
Apparently there are people who actually talk like that in real life. 

I tripped over these dueling banners, by the way, when I first saw and read the Boston.com article.  Thinking the Herald might have another take, I clicked on over there - only to find that paper preoccupied with a different scandal entirely. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, about to enter into its sixth consecutive year of complete one party rule.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Next they'll be using computers!

I'm not a huge fan of slippery slope arguments.  For one thing they are too easy.  Nearly every decision of any consequence carries with it the potential for infinite unintended (or intended) consequences, and some sub-set of those is always a parade of horribles.

So I read this afternoon's dispatch from the State House News - "Lottery Poised to Allow Debit Card Purchases in 2012" - and I consciously sprinkle a few grains of salt over my gut reaction.

The way of the future
Which is: this is just the first of what is likely to be a series of reactions, large and small, to the decision to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts.

Oh there is no reason in the world why lottery tickets - legal for purchase and sale in Massachusetts - should not be available to consumers on precisely the same terms as any other legal product.  No reason, in other words, why ticket vendors should not be allowed to accept payment via debit card, or credit card, or check, or whatever (though drawing the line at EBT cards seems a reasonable policy decision).

So it isn't the merits of the decision I'm reacting to.  It's more the context.  We're barely a month into our new casino era and already the stewards of the lottery - heretofore the Commonwealth's gambling monopolist - are reacting.  The move will increase ticket sales by some marginal amount; not nearly enough to cover the impact that casinos will have on the lottery's bottom line, once a couple of them are up and running.  So then the Lottery Commission will do something else - broaden their advertising, maybe.  Or issue more vendor licenses.  And so on.

Meanwhile, once casino revenue projections have been definitively revealed as the pure fantasy that they've always been Massachusetts will follow the path trod by a bunch of casino states that preceded us.  We'll loosen restrictions, increase bet limits, reduce budgets for addiction treatment, etc., desperately trying to wring a few more dollars out of a stubbornly finite pool of gamblers.

Call it a slippery slope, call it a race to the bottom.  Whatever.  We have started down the path, and it leads nowhere good.

A bit of gallows humor in today's announcement (from the SHNS):
Lottery officials said 33 of 42 state lotteries around the country already permit debit card purchases.

"It's the way of the future," said Lottery executive director Paul Sternburg said during the meeting.
Debit cards are "the way of the future?"  Sure - maybe in the first term of the Reagan Administration.  But I suppose that should provide some small bit of comfort.  With this degree of tech lag we won't see the lottery on smart phones until somewhere around 2040.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

To Our Armed Forces: Thank You

How jarring the headline sitting unobtrusively in the middle of the page on Boston.com last week: "US formally ends Iraq war with little fanfare."

I cannot help but wonder what that headline - and the Associated Press article beneath, which emphasized the costs of the war to the virtual exclusion of its results - says about our culture at this particular moment in history. 

Thank You.
Eight years, thousands of lives lost, countless acts of bravery and heroism (heralded and not), profound personal, financial and societal sacrifices.  And in the end, what?  A lot.

The foe our armed forces went overseas to fight in 2003 is no more.  The foe that arose in his wake, and that many (including here in this country) thought would out-last us?  Defeated also.  A country that in very recent memory was home to a brutally repressive dictator with aspirations of regional and even global dominance and all-too-cozy relationships with global terror networks now boasts a fledgling democracy; imperfect for sure, but orders of magnitude more promising than most dared hope as few as four years ago.

And yet now, as the "US formally ends Iraq war," the press coverage (such as it is) seems almost... embarrassed. 

On the Today Show recently Vice President Biden had this to say about the end of the Iraq War:
We're not claiming victory... What we're claiming here is we've done our job the administration said it would do. To end a war we did not start, to end it in a responsible way ... and to leave in place the prospect of a trained military, a trained security force under democratic institutions where the disparate parties for the first time are actually working together. 
Start with that pregnant "we."  There was a time when the Vice President speaking on matters of war and peace spoke by default as a representative of the entire nation.  With that "we" he deliberately relegated himself to spokesman for the Obama Administration.  Which is fine I suppose, except that in point of fact Biden's was one of the ninety-eight votes in the U.S. Senate that authorized the Bush Administration to go into Iraq in 2003.  "We" did start that war, for reasons that became controversial but that at the time were as close to universally agreed-upon as one is likely to see in such a context.

And ultimately we won the Iraq war.  "We," as in the United States of America, via our valiant, courageous and eminently praiseworthy armed forces.  That the Vice President of the United States was compelled - one imagines by a deliberate policy decision - to expressly disclaim that victory is deeply unsettling.   

To his credit, the vice President teared up during the same interview when discussing the sacrifices made by our service members and their families, suggesting that on an individual level he is cognizant and appreciative of the profound debt of gratitude owed to the fallen, the veterans, and their families.  I imagine (and hope) the same is true of the President.  And to be sure both the President and the Vice President have given speeches in recent days praising our military and its accomplishment in Iraq.  Still, underlying it all is an official ambivalence that found its clearest expression in the Vice President's disclaimer on the Today Show.  When he says "we" did not win in Iraq, what Biden is saying is they - the members of our Armed Forces who sacrificed so much to defeat first Saddam and then the insurgency - did not win.  That they are simply pulling out and going home.  

Where Iraq goes from here is up to Iraq, which is of course both as it should and as it must be.  In such volatile times and such a volatile region the prospects for stability - much less lasting democracy - are anything but certain.  But that fact does exactly nothing to diminish the astounding accomplishment of our armed forces, whose members earned our victory at a human cost that - while tragic in the way that even a single death in war is tragic - was lower by orders of magnitude than in any like-scaled conflict in human history.

Our service members returning from Iraq deserve more than our government and our media are giving them. They deserve our admiration, our deep gratitude, and our profound and heartfelt thanks for their service and their sacrifice.  And they deserve to be praised for the victory that they earned.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Top 10 Reads of the Week – December 16, 2011

Winnowing the Field – Editors [National Review Online]

A hard-fought presidential primary campaign is obscuring the uncharacteristic degree of unity within the Republican party. It has reached a conservative consensus on most of the pressing issues of the day. All of the leading candidates, and almost all of the lagging ones, support the right to life. All of them favor the repeal of Obamacare. Most of them support reforms to restrain the growth of entitlement spending. All of them favor reducing the corporate tax rate to levels that will make the U.S. a competitive location for investment. Almost all of them seem to understand the dangers of a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and of a defense policy driven by the need to protect social spending rather than the national interest. Conservatives may disagree among themselves about which candidate most deserves support, but all of us should take heart in this development — and none of us should exaggerate the programmatic differences within the field.

Just as heartening, the White House seems winnable next year, and with it a majority in both houses of Congress, so that much of this conservative consensus could actually become law. A conservative majority on the Supreme Court, a halt to the march of regulation, free-market health-care policies: All of them seem within our grasp. But none of them is assured, and the costs of failure — either a failure to win the election, or a failure to govern competently and purposefully afterward — are as large as the opportunity.

We fear that to nominate former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the frontrunner in the polls, would be to blow this opportunity… Read the Rest

Regulation for Dummies – Editors [Wall Street Journal]

The White House is on the political offensive, and one of its chief claims is that it isn't the overregulator of business and Republican lore. This line has been picked up by impressionable columnists, so it's a good time to consider the evidence in some detail.

Jan Eberly, an Assistant Treasury Secretary, kicked off the Administration campaign with a white paper in October that purported to debunk the "misconceptions" that "uncertainty is holding back business investment and hiring and that the overall burden of existing regulations is so high that firms have reduced their hiring." Then the Administration mobilized some of the worst offenders, such as Kathleen Sebelius of HHS ("There has been no  explosion of new rules") and Lisa Jackson of the EPA (her opponents are "using the economy as cover")… Read the Rest

 

Newt Gingrich commits a capital crime – George F. Will [Washington Post]

Newt Gingrich — the friend of his detractors, to whom he offers serial vindications — provided on Monday redundant evidence for the proposition that he is the least conservative candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination: He faulted Mitt Romney for committing acts of capitalism.

Gingrich did so when goaded by Romney regarding his, Gingrich’s, self-described service as a “historian” for Freddie Mac, which paid him more handsomely than anyone paid Herodotus. Romney was asked by an interviewer about the $1.6 million Gingrich earned, or at any rate received, from Freddie Mac, the misbegotten government-backed mortgage giant. In the service of Washington’s bipartisan certitude that too few people owned houses, Freddie Mac helped produce the housing bubble and subsequent crash. It did so even though it paid Gingrich $30,000 an hour. That is about what he received if, as he says, he worked for Freddie Mac about an hour a month, telling it that what it was doing was “insane.”… Read the Rest

Obama on jobs: Words, not action – Steve Huntley [Chicago Sun-Times]

President Barack Obama rolled out his 2012 campaign theme the other day, a populist message with the tired mantra of Republicans as the party of the wealthy while casting himself as the defender of the middle class. “This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class,” he declared. The problem is that, as usual, his record doesn’t match his rhetoric.

A make-or-break moment for the middle class “and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class” would cry out for immediate decisive action to protect that cherished status and give a boost to all those knocking on the door of the American dream.

But that’s not the case when it comes to good-paying energy jobs… Read the Rest

Anyone but the guy who could win – Kathleen Parker [Sacramento Bee]

"Anybody but Mitt" has become a familiar mantra throughout the Republican primary campaign.

It is also weird and self-defeating for the Republicans apparently wanting to nominate anyone except the one person who can defeat Barack Obama. And for the strangest reasons… Read the Rest 

Exactly What Is Crony Capitalism, Anyway? – Bill Frezza [Real Clear Markets / Competitive Enterprise Institute]

President Obama, progressive politicians, Occupy protestors, and leftist intellectuals are having a field day attacking what they call the failures and excesses of capitalism. They declare wealth to be prima facie evidence of perfidy, making no distinction as to how it was obtained. They preach equality, not just in opportunity but in economic outcome. In their eyes, all members of the 1% are already guilty, so economic justice demands that the rich be heavily taxed, not just to lift others up, but to bring them down.

Some defenders of capitalism draw a sharp distinction between those who obtained their wealth through government favors and those who created their wealth by satisfying willing customers through free exchange. The former are called Crony Capitalists. The latter, interestingly enough, don't have a name. Let's call them Market Capitalists… Read the Rest

GOP Campaign Strategists Worry About Gingrich’s Downballot Effect – Joshua Miller [Roll Call]

Top Republican strategists are increasingly worried that a 2012 ticket led by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) — instead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — could hurt the party downballot, especially in the Northeast.

The region is expected to be a top battleground in the fight for control of Congress. Although redistricting has shifted many lines, in 2010 Republicans won 61 House districts that were carried by Barack Obama in 2008… Read the Rest

Mitt’s Moment – Holman W. Jenkins [Wall Street Journal]

Week 3,334 of Mitt Romney's quest for the presidency hasn't been a good one. Newt Gingrich has seized the lead in the polls. The voluble front-runner has even lined up with Ted Kennedy, Paul Krugman, Obama's campaign brain trust and the Pulitzer department of every major newspaper in assaulting Mr. Romney as a job killer for his role in private equity.

Oddly, though, these are now the discordant media notes. For the first time, and perhaps here we can blame the Gingrich phenomenon, the press has suddenly found Mr. Romney a fascinating, nuanced figure… Read the Rest

Climategate (Part II) – Stephen Hayward [Weekly Standard]

The conventional wisdom about blockbuster movie sequels is that the second acts are seldom as good as the originals. The exceptions, like The Godfather: Part II or The Empire Strikes Back, succeed because they build a bigger backstory and add dimensions to the original characters. The sudden release last week of another 5,000 emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of East Anglia University​—​ground zero of “Climategate I” in 2009​—​immediately raised the question of whether this would be one of those rare exceptions or Revenge of the Nerds II.

Before anyone had time to get very far into this vast archive, the climate campaigners were ready with their critical review: Nothing worth seeing here. Out of context! Cherry picking! “This is just trivia, it’s a diversion,” climate researcher Joel Smith told Politico. On the other side, Anthony Watts, proprietor of the invaluable WattsUpWithThat.com skeptic website, had the kind of memorable line fit for a movie poster. With a hat tip to the famous Seinfeld episode, Watts wrote: “They’re real, and they’re spectacular!” An extended review of this massive new cache will take months and could easily require a book-length treatment. But reading even a few dozen of the newly leaked emails makes clear that Watts and other longtime critics of the climate cabal are going to be vindicated… Read the Rest

And the Crisis Winner Is?  Government – David Malpass [Wall Street Journal]

Across Europe and the United States, the fiscal crisis is setting up an epic battle among government services, pensioners, government employees, creditors and taxpayers. There is simply not enough money coming in to pay all the promises politicians have made. The shortfalls and fights are challenging our democracies and shifting wealth from the private sector to ever bigger government.

The hope has been that Europe's debt crisis would force government downsizing in time to meet cash flow requirements. Newfound fiscal discipline would provide a silver lining to the debt crisis. But that's not working out… Read the Rest

The Funniest Thing I Saw This Week

[Warning: Language]


Tim Tebow Becomes First Christian To Play In NFL - Sports Year in Review

Thursday, December 15, 2011

From the "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished" file...

... comes this new web video from the Romney campaign, featuring some kind words about Mitt spoken by Newt at last year's CPAC.



I suppose some might think it unfair to use a guy's generic podium flattery against him down the road.  But Gingrich opened the door with his ill-advised (and oh-so-Obamaesque) slam on Romney's business record Saturday night.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Top 10 Reads of the Week – December 9, 2011

The Terrorists Have Won – Mark Steyn [NRO, The Corner Blog]

Yesterday, we learned that the crack operatives of the TSA had prevented a teenage girl from boarding her flight to Jacksonville because her handbag has a gun design on the front of it. But don’t worry, after she’d been put through the wringer, SouthWest were able to get her on a later flight to Orlando, a mere 300-mile round-trip detour for her distraught mother and, in the scheme of things, a relatively modest transfer of man-hours from the productive class to the great sucking statist behemoth.

Today brings the news that, fresh from that triumph, TSA agents decided to strip-search an 85-year old, 4′11″, 110-pound grandmother in a wheelchair… Read the Rest

Must See Vid of the Week

Fast & Furious Lies – Michael Walsh [New York Post]

It was all a lie. The angry denials, the high dudgeon, the how-dare-you accuse-us bleating emanating from Eric Holder’s Justice Department these last nine months.

Operation Fast and Furious — the “botched” gun-tracking program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — did, in fact, deliberately allow some 2,000 high-powered weapons to be sold to Mexican drug cartel agents and then waltzed across the border and into the Mexican drug wars — just as Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa, who are leading the congressional investigations, have charged all along… Read the Rest

Vetting Newt Gingrich – Editors [Washington Post]

VOTERS MUST ASSESS every presidential candidate’s character, including his or her propensity to exploit public service for private gain. It’s not always easy to judge. Newt Gingrich, though, comes pre-vetted; he has a long record both in and out of office. And while the former House speaker insists that he never stooped to lobbying per se in his 13-year post-congressional career, he clearly did cash in on his status and connections, whether as a high-priced speechmaker or as an “adviser” to Freddie Mac — the ill-fated “government-sponsored enterprise” (GSE) in housing finance that is now sucking up taxpayer bailout money. All told, Freddie paid Mr. Gingrich a reported $1.6 million.

How forthright will Mr. Gingrich be about this now that he has surged to the front of the GOP pack? So far, not so good. At the Nov. 9 Republican debate, Mr. Gingrich claimed his job at Freddie was speaking truth to power: “I said to them at the time this is a bubble. This is insane.” But former Freddie officials told Bloomberg News they hired Mr. Gingrich in 2006-07 “to build bridges to Capitol Hill Republicans and develop an argument on behalf of the company’s public-private structure that would resonate with conservatives seeking to dismantle it.” Indeed, Mr. Gingrich proclaimed, “I like the GSE model,” on Freddie’s Web site in 2007. He added that “making homeownership more accessible and affordable is a policy goal I believe conservatives should embrace.” He likened Freddie to the Homestead Act and suggested a health-care GSE… Read the Rest

‘Tis the Season to Cut Down P.C. – Jennifer Braceras [RedMom-BlueState]

What do you call an evergreen tree adorned with decorations and lights? Is it:

A) A Christmas tree.

B) A Holiday tree.

C) A Hanukkah bush.

The answer, it seems, may depend on where you live… Read the Rest

Meanwhile, in Paul Krugman’s model society…

The Xinjiang Procedure – Ethan Gutmann [Weekly Standard]

To figure out what is taking place today in a closed society such as northwest China, sometimes you have to go back a decade, sometimes more.

One clue might be found on a hilltop near southern Guangzhou, on a partly cloudy autumn day in 1991. A small medical team and a young doctor starting a practice in internal medicine had driven up from Sun Yat-sen Medical University in a van modified for surgery. Pulling in on bulldozed earth, they found a small fleet of similar vehicles—clean, white, with smoked glass windows and prominent red crosses on the side. The police had ordered the medical team to stay inside for their safety. Indeed, the view from the side window of lines of ditches—some filled in, others freshly dug—suggested that the hilltop had served as a killing ground for years. 

Thirty-six scheduled executions would translate into 72 kidneys and corneas divided among the regional hospitals. Every van contained surgeons who could work fast: 15-30 minutes to extract. Drive back to the hospital. Transplant within six hours. Nothing fancy or experimental; execution would probably ruin the heart… Read the Rest

The Two Left Coasts – Editors [Wall Street Journal]

New York and California were once America's economic growth engines, but their political leaders seem determined to keep them sputtering. Their Democratic Governors are now pushing big new tax increases in the name of soaking the rich and balancing their budgets, as if that same strategy hadn't put them in their current fiscal straits.

In New York, Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that he's agreed with legislative leaders to rewrite the state's tax code to create four new tax brackets and rates. Mr. Cuomo is pitching this as "tax reform," but that's a ruse to disguise the fact that he's repudiating his 2010 campaign pledge not to raise taxes on anyone while letting a previous income-tax surcharge expire on schedule at the end of this month… Read the Rest

When Obama Music Ends, Class Warfare Begins – Michael Kinsley [Bloomberg]

“This isn’t about class warfare,” President Barack Obama said this week, in his speech at a high school in Osawatomie, Kansas.

But in fact, the president dived into many of the themes that have been urged on him by left-wing class warriors: the disappearing middle class, “the breathtaking greed of a few,” “insurance companies that jacked up people’s premiums with impunity,” “mortgage lenders that tricked families into buying homes they couldn’t afford,” and so on. We can’t “go back to business as usual”: a universally endorsed principle at all times… Read the Rest

The Chump Effect – Andrew Ferguson [Weekly Standard]

Lots of cultural writing these days, in books and magazines and newspapers, relies on the so-called Chump Effect. The Effect is defined by its discoverer, me, as the eagerness of laymen and journalists to swallow whole the claims made by social scientists. Entire journalistic enterprises, whole books from cover to cover, would simply collapse into dust if even a smidgen of skepticism were summoned whenever we read that “scientists say” or “a new study finds” or “research shows” or “data suggest.” Most such claims of social science, we would soon find, fall into one of three categories: the trivial, the dubious, or the flatly untrue… Read the Rest

Gingrich is Inspiring – and Disturbing – Peggy Noonan [Wall Street Journal]

I had a friend once who amused herself thinking up bumper stickers for states. The one she made up for California was brilliant. "California: It's All True." It is so vast and sprawling a place, so rich and various, that whatever you've heard about its wildness, weirdness and wonders, it's true.

That's the problem with Newt Gingrich: It's all true. It's part of the reason so many of those who know him are anxious about the thought of his becoming president. It's also why people are looking at him, thinking about him, considering him as president.

Ethically dubious? True. Intelligent and accomplished? True. Has he known breathtaking success and contributed to real reforms in government? Yes. Presided over disasters? Absolutely. Can he lead? Yes. Is he erratic and unreliable as a leader? Yes. Egomaniacal? True. Original and focused, harebrained and impulsive—all true… Read the Rest

Do Democrats Face More Trouble from Occupy Wall Street? – Stuart Rothenberg [Roll Call]

It’s hard to say exactly when the Occupy Wall Street movement fizzled, but so far it has failed to become the politically potent force that the tea party was during the 2010 election cycle.

But even if the Occupy movement has not yet broadened its appeal or redefined our politics, it could still be a factor in 2012. The question, of course, is what kind of factor?… Read the Rest

The Funniest Thing I Saw This Week

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Matzorian Candidate
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The DNC is with Newt

So are the unions.

Not literally, of course.  But that is both the motivation behind and the effect of the relentless liberal assault on Mitt Romney that has only increased in intensity as Newt's primary support grows.

Here's Boston.com, an outlet that is all too happy to disseminate anything and everything Romney-critical:

Democrats and their support groups are unrelenting in their criticism of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The labor-backed Americans United for Change is today unleashing a multimedia campaigning linking Romney, a former venture capitalist, with Gordon Gekko, the fictional, greed-crazed titan from the 1987 Oliver Stone film “Wall Street.”

The effort includes a new website, www.RomneyGekko.com, which offers an interactive quiz challenging readers to decide whether Romney or Gekko uttered a phrase; a fake Twitter account, @RomneyGekko; a plan to station “Romney-Gekko” supporters outside the candidate’s big-ticket fund-raisers; and web videos led by one pivoting off Ronald Reagan’s famed “It’s Morning in America” theme....

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee is releasing its own web video pivoting off reporting by the Globe and other news organizations about efforts to purge state computers of electronic records as Romney concluded his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2007.
This comes quickly on the heels of a DNC anti-Romney television ad campaign targeted to six primary states, which ran at the end of November.  

If there is precedent for this level of intensity - and spending - against a candidate who has not yet even secured his party's nomination, I'm not familiar with it.

So which of these possible explanations seems more likely to you?  (A) The unions and the DNC have all the money they could possibly need for the general election; so much, in fact, that they need to spend some of it now and chose their target at random.  Or (B) The unions and the DNC have a considered preference among the GOP candidates - either as to the candidate they do not want to see emerge to take on Obama (Romney), the candidate they MOST want to see emerge (Gingrich), or both?

Casinos: Not that it matters now...

Not that it matters now that the Commonwealth's casino bill has passed into law, but the Wall Street Journal is carrying a must-see front page article today on the various measures cash-strapped casino host states are taking to try and boost gaming revenues to cope with persistent budget gaps.  Another look into our likely future, now that we've placed our collective bet on casino gaming:
A key vote in Missouri Wednesday will decide whether to relax measures aimed at keeping gambling addicts out of casinos, the latest push by a cash-strapped state to make gambling restrictions less stringent.

The Missouri Gaming Commission is deciding whether to scrap a voluntary lifetime blacklist for problem gamblers and replace it with a five-year suspension. That would allow nearly 11,000 self-banned gamblers back into the state's 12 riverboat casinos. The self-exclusion list, implemented in 1996, has been a centerpiece of Missouri's efforts to manage gambling addiction, and has been emulated in at least eight other states—usually without the lifetime ban.

Several states have sharply increased betting limits since legalizing gambling. Colorado changed its maximum bet in 2009 to $100 from $5, and allowed casinos to operate 24 hours a day. Previously, they were required to close from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. South Dakota raised maximum bets in 2000, and Florida last year eliminated its limit altogether.

Such changes to gambling safeguards are driven in part by a push to boost tax revenue, as state governments balance their efforts to protect gambling addicts with the need to address fiscal woes. In addition, the gambling industry argues that the rules hardly curb gambling addiction.

States including Missouri, Iowa, New York and Nevada have also reduced funding for treatment of gambling addicts. In Florida, officials cut funding for the Council on Compulsive Gambling, a nonprofit group that coordinates treatment programs, to a tenth of the $2.6 million it was to receive this year so they could fill budget gaps elsewhere.
Once again the irony is too rich to be ignored.  Just like the gamblers on whom they prey, busted casino states glance about with bleary eyes and decide impulsively to up the ante.  If they bet more surely they will win more, and all of the prior losses will be wiped away.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

Top 10 Reads of the Week – December 2, 2011

The Future of the Obama Coalition – Thomas B. Edsall [New York Times]

For decades, Democrats have suffered continuous and increasingly severe losses among white voters. But preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.

All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment — professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists — and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic… Read the Rest

It’s the Numbers, Stupid – Charlie Cook [National Journal]

On Friday at 8:30 a.m., the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the November unemployment figures. Like many other economic statistics and poll numbers, their impact on 2012 may now seem theoretical or hypothetical. But with the general election less than 12 months away, they are becoming more and more relevant.  

Economists expect the November jobless rate to be around the same 9.0 percent rate it was in October, which was down one tick from 9.1 percent in the three previous months. Unemployment had been 8.9 percent in February and 8.8 percent in March. Otherwise, it has been 9.0 percent or higher since May of 2009, topping out at 10.1 percent in October 2009. Not so closely watched but more politically telling will be the U-6 rate. This is a measurement that adds the unemployment rate with the percentage of people working part-time but seeking full-time work, along with those who have given up looking all together.  For October, the U-6 rate was 16.2 percent, down three-tenths of a point from 16.5 percent in September… Read the Rest

The Great Global Warming Fizzle – Bret Stephens [Wall Street Journal]

How do religions die? Generally they don't, which probably explains why there's so little literature on the subject. Zoroastrianism, for instance, lost many of its sacred texts when Alexander sacked Persepolis in 330 B.C., and most Zoroastrians converted to Islam over 1,000 years ago. Yet today old Zoroaster still counts as many as 210,000 followers, including 11,000 in the U.S. Christopher Hitchens might say you can't kill what wasn't there to begin with.

Still, Zeus and Apollo are no longer with us, and neither are Odin and Thor. Among the secular gods, Marx is mostly dead and Freud is totally so. Something did away with them, and it's worth asking what.

Consider the case of global warming, another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen… Read the Rest

Keep Fear Alive – Noemie Emery [Weekly Standard]

The tendency of liberals to define the Republican party, the conservative movement, and most recently the Tea Party movement as the latest iteration of the Old South has been persistent, if not always sane. It survived the failure to convince voters that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were political scions of Jefferson Davis, survived the appointment by George W. Bush of two black secretaries of state in succession (and the failure of his base to sulk or burn crosses), survived the Tea -Party’s electoral embrace of blacks, Latinos, and immigrants’ children. But will it survive the sight of the most right-wing branch of the right-wing party (no doubt clinging to God and to guns out of bitterness) not only adopting Col. Allen West as its favorite congressman but cheering itself hoarse for a black man running for president as the “anti-Obama” in 2012?… Read the Rest

A strangely desperate new Obama campaign speech: Urgent, dramatic, about him – Andrew Malcolm [Investors.com]

Suddenly, President Obama is inserting a stark new tone of drama and urgency into his campaign speeches to loyalists at political fundraisers.

After talking up his payroll tax cut in Pennsylvania Wednesday afternoon, Obama flew Air Force One to New York City for not one, not two, but three money gatherings from Gotham liberals… Read the Rest

First, they came for our 100-watt bulbs – Claudia Rosett [New York Post]

Include me among those crazed Americans who can’t walk into Home Depot, Target or my local grocery store right now without wanting to grab a king-sized shopping cart and stuff it to the gunwales with 100-watt incandescent light bulbs.

Maybe it’s the sheer thrill of buying bulbs that in just a month, as of Jan. 1, 2012, will be banned for sale in America. What fun, in this incandescent twilight, to acquire legally what the federal government will soon treat as contraband. Or maybe it’s that gut sense that with the dollar teetering, those beloved old 100-watt bulbs will at least provide a decent store of value, even if all I do is use them to read by for the rest of my life… Read the Rest

Rearranging the Deck Chairs in Europe – Warren Meyer [Forbes]

The profusion of plans and proposals to “solve” the European debt crisis certainly have me confused.  At first I thought this was simply because I am a financial neophyte and simply did not understand what was going on. But  clearly even experienced financial folks must be confused as well, as the US securities markets have been on a roller coaster over the past several months — up one day on news of a new plan, down the next as the holes in the plan become evident.

At the end of the day, the problem with the European debt crisis is not that the solutions are really complex, but that they are simple.  The confusion comes from a political desire to hide these stark choices and pretend there is some other low-pain option… Read the Rest

Reality Check of the Week

 

Mitt vs. Newt – Charles Krauthammer [Washington Post]

It’s Iowa minus 32 days, and barring yet another resurrection (or event of similar improbability), it’s Mitt Romney vs. Newt Gingrich. In a match race, here’s the scorecard:

Romney has managed to weather the debates unscathed. However, the brittleness he showed when confronted with the kind of informed follow-up questions that Bret Baier tossed his way Tuesday on Fox’s “Special Report” — the kind of scrutiny one doesn’t get in multiplayer debates — suggests that Romney may become increasingly vulnerable as the field narrows… Read the Rest

Romney’s the One – Ramesh Ponnuru [National Review Online]

Even though nobody has yet cast a vote in the primaries, Republicans are increasingly resigned to Gov. Mitt Romney’s winning the party’s presidential nomination. Every week he gets a few more endorsements from Republican officeholders. He has never had a commanding lead in the polls, but one by one the other candidates who have occupied the top tier with him — first Rep. Michele Bachmann, then Gov. Rick Perry, then Herman Cain — have fallen back out of it. The current surge for Newt Gingrich looks like one last fling before Republicans settle down with Romney.

Republicans should not be gloomy about this prospect. Romney isn’t merely the candidate who is likely to win the Republican primaries. He’s the candidate who should win them. That’s why he’s likely to win… Read the Rest

The new China Syndrome: Andy Stern writes one of the worst WSJ op-eds ever – James Pethokoukis [AEI Enterprise Blog]

Call it the China Syndrome. An American visits Rising China and is immediately gobsmacked by the place. Giant airport terminals, speedy bullet trains, ubiquitous construction cranes, the Shanghai skyline. Everywhere you look, Stuff is Happening. And it’s all shiny new. Compared to China and its seemingly perpetual 10-percent annual growth rate, New Normal America just doesn’t rate. Then the gobsmacked American comes to a realization: America Must Become More Like China. Free-market capitalism is out, state-managed capitalism in. I have seen the future and it works!… Read the Rest

The Funniest Thing I Saw This Week