Friday, June 29, 2012

Forests and Trees: Roberts reconsidered

On February 3rd, 1803 the Supreme Court handed down its decision on the case of Marbury v. Madison, as written by Chief Justice John Marshall. It has become one of the great landmark cases of the Court, for it is here that the implied power of Judicial Review--the power of the Court to declare an act of Congress (or the President) unconstitutional and therefore invalid--was absolutely affirmed by the Court. But at the time, in that moment, did Marshall understand the scope of his decision, how far it would reach and how long it would be relevant? History says yes, he probably did. Marshall--and many other jurists of the time--assumed the power was built into the Judicial branch and merely needed to be awakened, so to speak.

Oddly enough, in asserting the power, Marshall ultimately decided the case in favor of the Administration at the time, though he did so by declaring a provision of a Congressional Act unconstitutional. The President--Thomas Jefferson--was, to put it mildly, peeved by the decision. Jefferson believed the Court had no power to compel the Administration (via a mandamus, a written order of the court) whatsoever. But Marshall held that the Court did possess such a general power, but lacked the jurisdiction to use it in this case because--again--the Act granting it such authority was unconstitutional.

Thus, the Administration got the result it wanted, but the Court changed the relationship between itself and the other two branches permanently, putting it (the Court) in a far more active role, when it came to legislation and other acts by Congress and the President, perhaps bringing things into balance. Some would say it even tipped the balance in its own favor. But either way, it is inarguable that this decision continues to reverberate in the American political system to this day.

Yesterday, I argued--on the heels of the Obamacare decision handed down by the Court--that Roberts had made a very foolish statement in his decision, to the extent that he had potentially established a precedent allowing for any sort of "tax penalty" to be established by Congress in order to create am incentive for a desired action (or inaction). And I think that danger still exists, somewhat. But perhaps the emotions of the day got the better of me and I lost sight of the forest for the trees.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Unlimited Authority to Compel Activity

That's the end-result of today's ruling by the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts has--probably unintentionally, or so I hope--opened the door for the Federal Government to basically compel citizens to do whatever it might deem "helpful."

In a complicated ruling, the Court held that the individual mandate in Obamacare was constitutional because it was basically a tax, even though it also held the mandate was not a tax for purposes of allowing the ruling. Sound confusing? It is. Roger Pilon at Cato lays it out nicely, though:
But Robert’s bought the administration’s second fallback argument — that the penalty for not buying insurance is a tax, even though the administration abandoned that argument during the course of litigation, and even though calling it a “tax” would seem to implicate the Anti Injunction Act, which would preclude the Court from even deciding this case until someone was forced to pay the tax, which won’t happen for another couple of years. Yet the Court apparently brushed aside that AIA impediment — talk about lawlessness — in its rush to uphold ObamaCare.
Roberts--along with Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas--did argue that the Commerce Clause fails to provide Congress with the authority to legislate the mandate. Likewise, the same group argued that the Necessary and Proper Clause fails in a similar fashion. But Roberts--largely on island, wherein he was joined by Sotomayor, Ginsberg, Stevens, and Kagan on the issue only as a matter of convenience--authored an Opinion that gave the Federal Government an avenue to do pretty mush anything it desires, when it comes to incentivizing or de-incentivizing behavior. Roberts argues the following:
By contrast, Congress’s authority under the taxing power is limited to requiring an individual to pay money into the Federal Treasury, no more. If a tax is properly paid, the Govertment has no power to compel or punish individuals subject to it. We do not make light of the severe burden that taxation—especially taxation motivated by a regulatory purpose—can impose. But imposition of a tax nonetheless leaves an individual with a lawful choice to do or not do a certain act, so long as he is willing to pay a tax levied on that choice. 
The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax.
It is true that in the Opinion, Roberts argues for a limit with regard to what kind of "act" Congress may or may not compel an individual to perform, via some form of penalty tax formulation, but he provides no real test for such a limit, only the idea that punitive penalties suggest such a limit is being broached. That's hardly, in and of itself, a meaningful or citable precedent.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Eugene "Draconian" Robinson

Eugene Robinson really likes the word "draconian." I've discussed his use of the word before, the origin of the word, and why liberal-type pundits favor it when discussing things like spending cuts:
The term "draconian," by the way, derives from Draco. No, not Draco Malfoy. Draco was an Athenian, living in the 7th century BCE, who was tasked with compiling the first written law code of Athens. By all accounts--the actual code is no longer extant--the punishments established by this code were harsh. Thus, "draconian" came to refer to overly harsh laws.
The term has since been appropriated to refer to anything one might deem harsh or severe; using "draconian" instead of harsh, however, invokes the sense of punishment. Thus, the reason for its now-common usage among the enlightened ones: spending cuts are equated with punishment. Who is being punished? Why the common folk, of course.
But the original usage--calling laws draconian--still gets a lot of play. With the Supreme Court decision on the Arizona Immigration Laws having been handed down, there has been a flurry of commentary and posturing by pundits on both sides. Initially, there was much rejoicing on the Left, as it appeared the Court had ruled mostly in favor of the Administration. But the realization crept in that the "worst" element of the legislation remained: the requirement for State officers to check the immigration status of people detained for criminal activity or potential activity. Luckily, the Administration came to the rescue by essentially saying it would not honor requests for such info unless its agencies deemed such actions necessary (translation: fee free to ask if Fred is illegal, but we're not gonna tell you, so there!).

It's school yard braggadocio to be sure (by the way, I like the word "braggadocio," but at least I know how to use it properly). And Obama fanboys--like Mr. Robinson--are thrilled to death with this step. But I digress. Back to the draconian world. Robinson calls the legislation "Arizona's draconian statute" and he refers to the portion the Court refused to overturn as "the most notorious section of the Arizona law." Yet, he's happy with the decision. He's at pains to cast it as "win" for the enlightened elites (like himself). Funny stuff.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Manufacturing Concensus

Ezra Klein thinks he knows something significant. And he's not alone in this; he's joined by a host of other liberal and progressive pundits. The something: Obamacare is absolutely constitutional, suggesting that any part of it--especially the individual mandate--is not is just nonsense. But Klein--like all of the others--is wringing his hands, filled with angst that the "unthinkable" might happen, that the Court may strike down parts of the legislation, especially the individual mandate.

To buttress his claims of absolute constitutionality, Klein cites a "poll" undertaken by Bloomberg:
A poll of top constitutional law scholars found that 19 of 21 thought the mandate was constitutional, but only eight were confident the Supreme Court would uphold it.
In Klein's previous piece (from yesterday), he also cited this "poll," saying basically the same thing as above:
Bloomberg surveyed 21 top constitutional scholars and found that, while 19 think the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act ought to be upheld on the basis of legal precedent, just eight think the Supreme Court will actually do so...
Well, not quite the same thing. Klein went from Bloomberg "surveying 21 top constitutional scholars" to "a poll of top constitutional scholars." No doubt, some are scratching their heads, wondering why I'm dwelling on these word choices and why I keep putting "poll" in quotations. So let's get to it. Here's the original article at Bloomberg that Klein has now cited two days in a row. From that piece:
The U.S. Supreme Court should uphold a law requiring most Americans to have health insurance if the justices follow legal precedent, according to 19 of 21 constitutional law professors who ventured an opinion on the most-anticipated ruling in years...
Granted, 19 out of 21 gives a high percentage of legal scholars who think the mandate is definitely constitutional, over 90% in fact. So, the headline could be "90% of Legal Scholars Say Healthcare Mandate Is Constitutional." Except for one small problem. Read the above quote from Bloomberg again and you might notice--or may have already noticed--four words that require some explaining: who have ventured an opinion. What does that mean? The answer is found buried deeper in the Bloomberg article:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Depression sets in...

Depression--as an actual mental disorder--is nothing to joke about. People afflicted with it face severe challenges in their day to day lives. Yet, the term is often tossed about freely, suggesting the actual and severe disorder, while being nothing of the sort. Remember the aftermath of the 2004 Election, when it became clear that Kerry had lost, that Bush had won a second term? Quite a few stories about "post-election depression" appeared in the media. And to be fair, the theme was repeated in 2008, though I can't recall specific complaints about it then, unlike in 2004.

In fact, the idea was kind of a running joke in some circles in 2004, that Kerry's loss had created profound psychological problems among some of his supporters, so severe that they were forced to seek treatment. And this was due--in a large part--to the selling of the election by pundits on the left as a critical moment in U.S. history. Bush had to be defeated, it was paramount, the nation could not survive another four years under his leadership. Remember?

Of course, this was on the heels of the 2000 Election, during which a number of celebrities and the like promised to leave the country if Bush became President. In 2004, many reiterated the promise, if Bush was somehow reelected. Near as I can tell, they're all still here.

Obama's fundraising: new lows everyday

Got a birthday, anniversary, or wedding coming up?

Let your friends know how important this election is to you—register with Obama 2012, and ask for a donation in lieu of a gift. It’s a great way to support the President on your big day. Plus, it’s a gift that we can all appreciate—and goes a lot further than a gravy bowl.

Setting up and sharing your registry page is easy—so get started today.
So goes the sales pitch at the top of the page for the Obama Campaign's latest fundraising effort, the Obama Event Registry. And apparently--as of right now--some 31,000+ people on Facebook "like" the idea.

I've complained previously about the tastelessness of holding sweepstakes to raise money, with the prize being a trip to a dinner party with the President and First Lady. And when the Romney campaign did the same, I chastised it as well. Though I guess joining Romney for a day of campaigning is not on quite the same level, in some ways. Still, both efforts strike me as low-rent, as tasteless.

But the Obama Campaign's latest effort? Well, it takes--or rather drops--things to a whole new level. The basic idea is to have a sort of  "gift registry" page, like one might have for an upcoming wedding. I created one, solely for the purposes of this post. I'm supposed to enter a donation goal (default is $500), a page title, the date of my "big event" (birthday, wedding, vasectomy, what have you), and a personal message. The default message:
For my big day, I'd like to show my support for a cause I believe in -- re-electing President Obama. That's why I'm asking my friends and family to donate to the Obama campaign. Thanks for chipping in!
There's an option to add a picture, as well. Once created, I'm supposed to send out invites for my event, via email, Facebook, and Twitter. Thus, everyone I'm connected with would receive a request to send Obama money, rather than sending me a present.

How thoughtful.

The low road is getting pretty low, to put it mildly.

Cheers, all.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Do you have a pen I can borrow?

One of the great mysteries of life: why do some ballpoint pens work so much better than other ballpoint pens? You buy a pack of twelve ballpoint pens and--invariably--some of them barely write at all, or work for only a few days before the ink flow becomes sporadic. There's a ton of ink left, it's still visible in the tube. But it won't come out, or at least not evenly. There are all manner of "fixes" for this problem, from grinding the point furiously on some hard surface (which never works, in my experience) to holding the tip over a flame. Here's a website with a step-by-step approach. Hard surface (glass), suck on the tip, tap the tip, then finally apply the flame; try each in turn to see if the ink will start to flow again.

I can add another "trick" to that list: get a thin piece of metal--really thin--that will fit into the ink tube. Gently push down on the stopper that keeps the ink in a partial vacuum. As soon as you try writing with the pen, some extra ink is liable to spurt out, but the pen will probably work. For a while. Because--again, in my experience--pens that don't work well from the beginning can never really be fixed.

But then, there are those pens--often obtained by chance or by happenstance--that just keep on working, come hell or high water. I have one of those pens. Here it is:


I believe I've had this pen for about three years now. Maybe longer. And I've never changed the ink cartridge. I'm not exactly sure where it came from, either. Obviously, it was a promo item from a beehive removal company, but I've never heard of them, nor had a beehive removed from my property. But whenever I really need to write something down, something important, I always look for it in the house "pen drawer" (we all have one of those, usually in the kitchen). The ink flow is smooth and generous, not yet a hint of it running out.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Say it ain't so, Mitt!

Earlier this month, I talked about the Obama campaign's attempt to solicit donations by having a contest, with the prize being an invite to a swanky campaign dinner with the President. What I said then:
Obviously, the point is to solicit donations. But come one! "Enter for a chance to win a dinner with Obama"? How unseemly is this for a President? He's actually holding a contest for a chance to meet his holiness? And I have little doubt the contest will be successful. Even now, I can hear the Obama zombies salivating at the prospect of winning the grand prize (second prize is probably having a beer with Biden). Yet, it's just so low rent, so commercial, it saddens me greatly to think of how many of my fellow citizens will fall for this. After all the hubbub over the Citizens United decision and the complaints about money in elections, we have a sitting President publicly pimping himself out for cash.
"Unseemly" and "low rent," that's how I characterized the contest. And I stand by my comments; it's all in bad taste.

But it would seem the Romney campaign doesn't want to get shut out of a possible gravy train, for it has now launched the Believe in America Bus Tour, wherein "two lucky supporters will get the chance to spend a day on the campaign trail with Mitt." The specifics (the specifics for Dinner with Barack are in my previous piece):
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN A PRIZE. No contribution or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win this Promotion. Making a contribution does not increase your chances of winning. To enter by making a contribution, click here. To enter without making a contribution, click here. Void where prohibited. The Promotion begins on Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 12:00pm Eastern Daylight Time and ends on Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 11:59pm Eastern Daylight Time (“Entry Period”). All entries must be received by 11:59pm Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday, June 28, 2012. Two (2) winners will receive the following Prize: one (1) round-trip coach class plane ticket within the continental United States on a date and to a Destination to be determined by Sponsor, with an approximate retail value of $750; one (1) one-night hotel stay at the Destination, with an approximate retail value of $175; and ground transportation at the discretion of Sponsor, with an approximate retail value of $50. Approximate total retail value is $975. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries received. The Promotion is open to citizens and permanent residents (green card holders) of the United States who are legal residents of one of the fifty states, Puerto Rico, or the District of Columbia and are at least 18 years of age or the age of majority as determined by state law. Details and qualifications for participation in this Promotion may apply. Restrictions are listed in the Official Rules. The Sponsor is Romney Victory, Inc., P.O. Box 149757, Boston, MA 02114.
A day on a bus versus dinner with Sarah Jessica Parker. Hmmm, tough to choose. But I entered the Obama contest--or at least I tried to--so I entered this one, too. A small difference: after filling out the form for the Obama contest and submitting it, I was taken to a donations page, with no acknowledgement that my entry was successful (I've never received an e-mail acknowledging that, either); after filling out the form for the Romney one and submitting it, I got a "Thank you, your submission has been received."


But regardless, the Romney contest is low rent, too. Perhaps not so elitist-seeming as Obama's--since there's no promise of an evening with the higher-ups--it still crosses the line of good taste, in my opinion. Jokes and kidding aside, this new development in political campaigning sickens me.

Cheers, all.

Obama was against Executive Privilege before he was for it...

The hypocrisy is fully documented and absolutely indefensible. WaPo reports on the White House's decision yesterday to assert Executive Privilege as a means of protecting Eric Holder from a potential Contempt of Congress finding, as concerns his failure to comply with a Congressional subpoena requesting documents relating to Operation Fast and Furious. The story notes then-Senator Obama's response on Larry King Live to a question about Executive Privilege being used by the Bush Administration. The situation then involved Bush using the power to prevent Congress from questioning Karl Rove--and others--about the firing of some nine U.S. Attorneys. Here's a clip of the question and Obama's response:


King asks Obama if he "favors Executive Privilege" or if he thinks Rove and others should be forced to testify before Congress. Obama responds that the request for testimony by Congress (from Patrick Leahy, to be precise) was "very appropriate," that Rove and others should be compelled to testify. He then provides the money quote:
You know, there's been a tendency on the part of this administration to try to hide behind executive privilege every time there’s something a little shaky that’s taking place.
First, let's consider the word "tendency" here. The implication is that Executive Privilege was used surreptitiously by the George W. Bush Administration. And to be fair, it was used by Bush a number of times. Six times. Oddly enough, the first time Bush used the power was to protect the FBI and the Clinton Administration:
President Bush invoked executive privilege today for the first time in his administration to block a Congressional committee trying to review documents about a decades-long scandal involving F.B.I. misuse of mob informants in Boston. His order also denied the committee access to internal Justice Department deliberations about President Bill Clinton's fund-raising tactics.
Media Matters actually caught on to this tidbit, supposing there's irony here: Bush used Executive Privilege to block the release of internal Justice Department documents, Obama is doing the same thing, yet Karl Rove is critical of the latter not the former. See? Irony. Of course, the clueless buffoons at Media Matters miss the difference: Bush's choice can be characterized as "high-minded." It was about preventing Congress from going on a witch hunt with regard to the previous Administration. Bush wasn't covering his own ass, at all. In contrast, Obama appears to be doing exactly that (well, Holder's ass at the least).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Does ANYONE at the NYT have a clue?

Apparently not.

Thomas Friedman joined the ranks of the congenitally clueless and hopelessly naive yesterday with an editorial entitled Wasting Warren Buffett. I still maintain that Friedman is not this stupid, despite another recent piece wherein he seemed to not understand how insurance works at all, but it's getting harder and harder to hold on to that position.

This new piece is basically a plan Friedman has fashioned that would--to use his terminology--help the President get his "mojo" back. And the plan boils down to one basic idea: run crying to Warren Buffett and ask for his help. He doesn't put it in those words, of course. What he suggests is that Obama fashion a recovery plan to attract the support of serious-minded independents. And in this regard, Friedman details the "key features" the plan should have:
To attract that second look will require a credible, detailed recovery plan that gets voters to react in three ways: 1) “Now that sounds like it will address the problem, and both parties are going to feel the pain.” 2) “That plan seems fair: the rich pay more, but everyone pays something.” 3) “Wow, Obama did something hard and risky. He got out ahead of Congress and Romney. That’s leadership. I’m giving him a second look.”
According to Friedman, such a plan would also sway prominent business leaders like Buffett, thus creating some sort of juggernaut to crush Romney because he's standing in the way:
I’d bet anything that if the president staked out such an Obama Plan, Buffett and a lot of other business leaders would endorse it. It would give the G.O.P. a real problem. After all, what would help Obama more right now: Repeating over and over the Buffett Rule gimmick or campaigning from now to Election Day by starting every stump speech saying: “Folks, I have an economic plan for America’s future that Warren Buffett and other serious business leaders endorse — and Mitt Romney doesn’t.”
And--again, according to Friedman--an endorsement like this from Buffett is huge because he's "respected by many." That's it. Friedman is actually laying out a strategy based on the assumption that many people respect Warren Buffett, nothing more. Apparently ignorant of the credibility hits Buffett has taken after sticking his foot in his mouth with the silliness about his secretary and his willingness to pay more taxes, even as his company fights with the IRS about back taxes owed, Friedman thinks Buffett is still some sort of rockstar to the American people at large. Let's recall Buffett's dopey challenge to House Republicans, after they pointed out that he was free to pay as much in taxes as he cared to. And let's remember that Buffett made his billions in some of the same ways as Romney, but he's been at it for quite a bit longer. Now, at over eighty years old, Buffett says he thinks he's undertaxed. After he's already made his fortune.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Old excuses for Obama's troubles

The GOP, the Republican Party, is being run by extremists, by Tea Party fanatics. They're unwilling to compromise on anything and would rather see the entire nation go down in flames then give an inch on  policy.

Do I have that right? It's the current one-size-fits-all mantra for Democrats near and far, from the halls of Congress to the White House to pretty much everywhere. And the mainstream media is happily repeating the chorus. The mantra is now over two years old, as well. Throw in the racism and the misogyny and the picture is complete. But as Jonah Goldberg pointed out the other day, this stuff is old hat. It really is. Liberal Democrats have been using the same political playbook for decades and this tactic is on page three, right after scaring the elderly with "Republicans want to take away your Medicare and Social Security," and inflaming the poor with "Republicans only care about rich people." Liberal Democrats and journalists are pining for the reasonableness of Reaganite Republicans now, but what were they saying in the days of Reagan? From Goldberg's piece:
The Republican Party got into its time machine and took a giant leap back into the ’50s. The party left moderation and tolerance of dissent behind.
That could have come from pretty much any Dem leader or mainstream liberal journalist in the past couple of years. But it didn't. It came from Judy Mann of the Washington Post, writing in 1980.


Now, as Obama's reelection suddenly appear to be in doubt--when most thought it was pretty much a done deal only four or five months ago--we are hearing a different liberal mantra: the Presidency is too hard to hold these days for two terms; politics have become too divisive; the media has become too complicated. Chris Cillizza makes the case at WaPo, arguing that the Bully Pulpit has weakened considerably:
The bully pulpit may still exist, but it’s far less bully than it once was.  
That’s especially true not only because the fracturing of the media makes it hard to push a clear message but also because roughly half of the American public doesn’t want to hear the message (whatever it is) because it is of the other party.
And right on cue, MSNBC picks up the story from the "great" Chris Cillizza and has a roundtable on whether or not a two term President is still possible:


Alex Wagner of MSNBC and Melinda Henneberger of WaPo even argue that Obama is getting disrespected like no other President in history: "His presidency has been more victim to I think a lack of respect than any other presidency" (Wagner), and "Republicans show no respect for the office in a way that is unprecedented" (Henneberger). The other members of the discussion spin it back to the evolution of the "new media," the idea--offered by Cillizza--that there are simply too many sources now available, thus preventing the President from having any sort of control over his or her message.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Krugman goes to Comic-Con

While reading David Gordon's review of Krugman's new book--End This Depression Now!--at Mises, a couple of thoughts struck me. The book itself is some 250+ pages of Krugman defending his core belief: the more money the government spends, the better off we all are. And the promo line for the book at Amazon--"A call-to-arms from Nobel Prize–winning economist"--gave me a mighty chuckle, as Krugman's Nobel award once again becomes the sole justification for his much-vaunted expertise in government policy and all things economic.

But all of that aside, the "spend more money now!" mantra triggered another idea in my head. Since The Avengers has been out for a while, I don't think I'll be spoiling anything (sorry if I do) by noting that the final battle sequence involves the wholesale destruction of large sections of New York City. And this is hardly the first comic book-inspired movie to show such things. In Thor, a small town was flattened; in Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, destruction was visited on major cities around the world; in X-Men: The Last Stand, the Golden Gate Bridge was mangled and moved to Alcatraz. I'm told there was also a great deal of destruction in The Incredible Hulk, but I have never actually seen the movie, so I can't really say with certainty. In some ways, World War II--as portrayed in Captain America: The First Avenger--was quite tame in comparison.

And these are just the adaptions of a few comic books to the silver screen. For those of us who grew up reading the exploits of Marvel heroes--who lived in the real world, not Gotham City or Metropolis--wanton destruction of cities was quite commonplace. And non-stop. One has to wonder when there was time to clean up and fix everything, before the next super-villain appeared on the scene. Really, cities like New York should have been abandoned wastelands by the late 1980's, if not earlier.

And yet...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Political humor should--at the very least--be funny

Many of the great literary political satirists--like Twain, Swift, Rabelais, and of course Chaucer--were funny. Very funny. Sure, their style of humor could sometimes verge on the tasteless, dark, or obscure, but it was still funny, if you understood it. And that, I think, applied to people on every side of an issue, or person, or persons being satirized.

Recently, on the Facebook page (like us on Facebook!) for this blog, I shared a bit of political satire--in the form of a picture--that was quite funny. It was a take off on the Game of Thrones series on HBO, with various characters being equated to various current political leaders. Here it is:


As frequent readers of this blog are no doubt aware, my sympathies--when it comes to politics--are not with the current Administration, nor with many current leaders of the Democratic Party. Nor are they with several of the now-failed GOP hopefuls. And there's little doubt that in this bit, Obama comes off looking the best (followed closely by Gore), when it comes to actual politicians. Stephen Colbert--as Tyrion Lannister--is completely unscathed. Bush and Paul look pretty bad, but so do Romney and Gingrich. But the point is, there's real, actual humor here, effective satire. To not recognize it--whether it's "true" or not--is to be clueless.

Now when I shared the pic, I also noted that Cheney could have been added too, as Jeor Mormont, Lord Commander of the Night's Watch (for those unfamiliar with the show and/or books, the Night's Watch is charged with protecting the realm from outside enemies, monsters that few believe exist and men that few believe are actually dangerous). That's Cheney to a tee, warning against the dangers of "the others," insisting on a need for a bigger military, taking himself way to seriously, etc.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Remedy

Three very different columns from three of the top media institutions: Tomasky at the Daily Beast, O'Driscoll at the Wall Street Journal, and Kotkin at Forbes. Tomasky offers up a "fool proof plan" (the irony is dripping from the phrase) for Obama to win the upcoming Election and Save the Nation, O'Driscoll addresses the looming (let's get real: it's not looming, it's here) crisis in the EU, and Kotkin pokes at the Golden State. The common thread? Tomasky's plan is that of a child, ignorant of the realities facing the United States, the EU, and the world at large.

The essence of his plan is simple and limited:
Obama should go to Congress and say: “I offer you the following deal. I will extend all the Bush tax cuts for one year—yes, even for the wealthiest Americans. One year. In exchange, I’d like you to agree to fund the initial, startup $10 billion for the Kerry-Hutchison infrastructure bank, and the $35 billion I asked of you last September in direct aid for states and localities to rehire laid-off teachers and first responders. Then, after I am reelected, my administration and I will take the first six months of 2013 to write comprehensive tax reform, and Congress will then have six months to pass it, and we’ll have a new tax structure that we’ve both agreed on.
Tomasky believes that this is actually a meaningful plan, that it will lead to Good Things, one way or the other. He imagines that it would remove the idea of economic uncertainty from the discussion, that somehow a year-long extension of tax rates creates certainty in the business world. Moreover, he imagines out-of-control government spending is not the problem that we all know it to be. In one moment, Tomasky talks of promoting certainty, in the next he essentially argues uncertainty is not a problem:
My idea doesn’t deal directly with budget sequestration, and the huge cuts that are supposed to kick in January 1. Maybe Obama can propose that those be deferred for a while as well. Or maybe he is better off just leaving that to the senators who are allegedly working on it now. It might muddy things up.
Oh, and he also takes it as a given that the American public is six ways stupid, that it will simply accept a one-year extension of tax cuts (which Tomasky clearly believes must last no longer) as equivalent to a new spending initiative (the highly-touted Infrastructure Bank, which will cost the taxpayers far more than is being projected) and a huge Federal giveaway to the States. In short, his plan is to maintain the status quo on taxes, toss in some additional spending, and make a promise of potential future cuts in spending at some later date (when Obama may or may not be in office and such cuts may or may not be made). But of course, that's just for a year. The real meat of the plan hits after that year with an increase on top marginal rates, the progressive panacea for all that ails the world: tax the snot out of the so-called "rich." But as should be crystal clear by now, the "rich" being targeted are not members of the "landed aristocracy," the "filthy rich" as it were, but rather that top tier of income earners who have the misfortune to be hard-working and successful with incomes of $250k or so a year. Take that, American Dream.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Another clueless Jonathan

In my last piece, I had a little fun mocking Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine and his rather pathetic attempt to defend the President's "the private sector is doing fine" gaffe. His restatement of Obama's claim again, which he insists is true:
Obama’s argument is that private sector jobs have grown steadily, but overall job growth has been held back by continuous cuts in government employment (which has dragged down private sector growth as well.
Not to be outdone, Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic authored another defense of Obama's words. Cohn's restatement of Obama's claim:
Broadly speaking, the analysis is correct. The private sector has been creating jobs at a steady pace, but the public sector has been shedding them, slowing growth.
The obvious question being begged: who is supplying these two with their arguments, because it's pretty apparent that they're working off of the same talking points? As I already demonstrated, the "job creation" numbers being touted by the President do not demonstrate "steady growth" because they fail to account for population growth. If the latter is taken into account, the growth has been anemic, at best. In fact, the latest numbers don't show growth at all, but exactly the opposite.

Cohn also goes to a great deal of trouble in "proving" that Obama's gaffe cannot rightly be compared to gaffes by others, like McCain and Romney:
Following three months of disappointing job reports and with unemployment still above 8 percent nationally, critics are likening Obama’s statement to Romney’s statement in January of “I like being able to fire people” and, perhaps more ominously, to John McCain’s statement in the fall of 2008 that the “fundamentals of the economy are strong...”  
Still, an intelligent political environment would magnify such statements only when they seem in, thdicative of what a politician actually thinks. McCain’s statement arguably reflected a real problem: His failure to grasp the magnitude or nature of the financial crisis. Romney’s statement about firing people, by contrast, wasn't even about employment. He was simply making a clumsy metaphor about health care.
Frankly, he's on the money with regard to what McCain and Romney said. Romney's was a clumsy metaphor, albeit one that was continuously misrepresented by Cohn's mainstream media cohorts. Including Cohn, himself. From an article by Cohn on January 10th of this year:
Romney never said he enjoys firing people, although the particular choice of phrase does reinforce doubts about Romney's perspectives on the economy.
Got it? Now--when Cohn is at pains to prove the President's statement was not a real gaffe--what Romney said had nothing to do with the economy, per se. It was just a "clumsy metaphor about healthcare." But then--prior to Obama's gaffe--Romney's words were somehow indicative of Romney's understanding of the economy.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Obama's "fine" economy

President Obama--in what was a colossal blunder--said at a press conference the other day that "the private sector is doing fine," when it comes to job creation. The comment in context:
The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government. Oftentimes cuts initiated by, you know, Governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don't have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in.
On the heels of poor economic numbers, the comment--even in context--seems difficult to defend. And indeed, Obama corrected himself almost immediately after the presser:
It's absolutely clear the economy is not doing fine. That’s the reason I had a press conference. That’s why I spent yesterday, the day before yesterday, this past week, this past month and this past year talking about how we can make the economy stronger. The economy is not doing fine. There are too many people out of work. The housing market is still weak, too many homes underwater and that’s precisely why I asked Congress to start taking some steps that can make a difference.
Any reasonable person--I think--must recognize that the first comment, the one about the private sector "doing fine," is the one that reflects Obama's actual views on the matter. After all, it was made in reference to what Obama perceives to be impressive numbers, when it comes to "job creation" (quite possible the dumbest metric  to ever enter discussions on the economy).

It's a big number, quite impressive. Over four million jobs "created." And note the use of the royal "we." The jobs weren't just created, WE--meaning Obama and his administration--created them. One has to wonder how--in the past--any new jobs appeared in the private sector without someone around like Obama to "create" them. I guess it was just dumb luck then. Because again, over four million is impressive. Right? Certainly, it has to rank right up there, when it comes to recoveries in history. And what makes the number even more impressive is that these private sector jobs were created--apparently out of sackcloth--by the President and his policies. By government fiat, if you will.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wisconsin brings on a Progressive heartbreak

Tom Hayden--a founder of the the 60's New Left,a member of the "Chicago Eight," a longtime Progressive activist, and the former Mr. Jane Fonda--has a new piece at The Nation (where he sits on the editorial board). Entitled "After the Heartbreak in Wisconsin," it's well worth reading.

But before one dives into it, it's important to understand who Tom Hayden really is. He's no politician, despite a few terms in California elected offices. And he's no simple pundit, mindlessly regurgitating talking points from this or that political party. He was on the front lines of both the Free Speech Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. And he was an active opponent of the Vietnam War. He's also a prolific author, having penned well over a dozen books, most recently The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama. He remains an idealist, committed to his visions of society and government.

He is, for lack of a better way to say it, a true believer.

In this piece, largely a lament for the failure of the Wisconsin recall movement, he relates a point of view that is critically important to understand, with respect to understanding the current course of politics and the nation, and the hope--by those in favor of having a limited government--of having some sort of promising future for our children and our children's children:
Given these toxic trends, it is entirely possible that by November, Tea Party–driven Republicans will control the White House, Supreme Court and both houses of Congress, pushing the States towards a 1929-style crisis. Or Obama will be re-elected to govern alone in a sea of conservative followers of Ayn Rand and Democratic lifers too timid to fight.
That's Hayden's conclusion. And the toxic trends he speaks of are both parties seeking money from Wall Street (and greater and greater monies pouring into elections), the steady erosion of the strength of organized labor, and the unhappiness and distrust "lots of white people" (his words) have with regard to government, in general.

And frankly he's right, with regard to the existence of those trends, though the last is not race-based at all. It's class-based.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Heavy turnout always favors the Dem. Doesn't it?

It's official. Governor Scott Walker is still governor of Wisconsin. Final numbers have the Republican incumbent Walker with 53.1% of the vote and his opponent--Democrat Tom Barrett--with 46.3% of the vote, a victory margin of 6.8%, slightly better than his margin in the 2010 Election of 5.8%.

The spin-doctors in punditry land are at it in force, with those on the left insisting that the results are mostly a result of the monies spent by Walker (at least $30 million) and mean nothing when it comes to the 2012 General Election, while those on the right are calling it a bad omen for the President and suggesting that the election is largely a referendum on the Obama Administration.

There may be a little truth in both points of view, but overall I think the results indicate something very basic: people don't generally like being told what to do. The turnout for the recall election was huge, with over 350,000 more people voting in this election than in 2010, an additional 6% of the State's total population. Prior to seeing numbers rolling in, the punditry of the left tended to make a basic assumption in this regard: higher turnout is good news for the Democrat, for Barrett. Witness this piece at Salon by Alex Seitz-Wald:
Most observers think greater turnout overall favors Democrats, as the increase will likely come from demographics that generally vote in lower numbers but lean liberal, especially young people and minorities. Higher turnout also suggests the robust union-backed grand game is working smoothly, the thinking goes.  
While there is certainly a strong headwind blowing against Democrats, the latest polls suggested Barrett had some modest momentum. That, combined with greater-than-expected turnout in liberal precincts, could be enough to sway things. Maybe.
I'm guessing Mr. Seitz-Wald would like to retract this piece, because it makes him look clueless. Granted, the "higher turnout favors the Dem" meme is fairly commonplace, so much so that people using it never bother to look at the specifics of a given contest. But that just makes such people lazy thinkers and bad reporters. The truth was out there, all along:
Sixty percent of Wisconsin voters said in CBS News exit polls that recall elections are only appropriate for official misconduct. Twenty-seven percent said they think they are suitable for any reason, while 10 percent think they are never appropriate.
In those CBS exit polls, that's seventy percent of the voters saying the recall was a bad idea. Obviously, some of them on the left went ahead and voted for Barrett anyway, but the key point here is that a great majority of the people who went to the polls thought the whole thing was bad news, no matter whom they ultimately voted for.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Does anyone actually like SJP?

Previously, I discussed the latest Obama Campaign money maker, the "win a dinner with Barack" promo, wherein some lucky supporters will be whisked away for an evening they might never forget. Fanboy that I am, I immediately signed up for the giveaway (isn't it weird, talking about "giveaways" in the context of a Presidential Campaign?), though I used the "no donation" option, no doubt required by law. And of course, that choice is not supposed to diminish my chances of winning. We'll see.

But anyway, I thought--upon reading the details--that the winners would be having private dinners with the President. It turns out that the winners will just be getting a seat at the table, as it were, at some posh $78,000 a plate fundraising event. As Hot Air reports, the dinners are with the President and a couple of friends:
It offers the opportunity for two lucky people to have dinner with not only the President and the First Lady, but with two of the people I’m sure we’d all like to spend time with. One is Sarah Jessica Parker. The other, and the hostess of this advertisement, is Vogue editor-in-chief and real life inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada, Anna Wintour.
After entering my info--I'm still not certain I'm in the actual sweepstakes--I almost instantly received an e-mail from Sarah Jessica Parker, inviting me to her house for a fundraising event. Well, it wasn't so much inviting me to her house as it was dangling the possibility of being there while simultaneously asking for some more money. So the dinner is actually a dinner party. Clever. Very Clever.

But here's the thing: I don't much care for Sarah Jessica Parker. I mean, I might go to her house if I knew for a fact that her husband--Mathew Broderick--would be there. Absent such assurances, it's a risk I'm not willing to take. And frankly, I don't think I'm alone on this at all. Who actually likes Sarah Jessica Parker? Seriously.

Back when she was younger and just starting out, she was okay. L.A. Story, Striking Distance, those were passable roles. After that? Bleck. Sex and the City made her career, I guess, but her character in the show was so whiny and narcissistic, the show became unbearable for me. And outside of the show, Ms. Parker seemed to be very much the person she was in the show.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Brief History of Price Guns

Back in the day, when I was a young lad bagging groceries at the local supermarket, getting to carry a price gun was a mark of distinction, reserved for the stockmen who filled the shelves with goods. They also got to carry the now-infamous boxcutter, used to slice around cardboard boxes to allow easy access for shelving product. But you couldn't see the boxcutters. The price guns (or pricing guns) were stuck in their back pockets, ready for use, made from yellow plastic and loaded with a roll of labels that jutted from the top. Small dials on the top were used to set the price, which was printed onto a label and ejected at the front end with a click of the trigger.

When I "graduated" to stockman, the thrill of using a price gun was all I expected it to be, and more. Being mechanically inclined, I quickly became something of an expert on the device and in short order, I was the go-to guy for fixing ones that weren't working properly.

It's really a fascinating device, able to dispense small labels with prices--and more--directly onto items as fast as one can pull the trigger. The ones I used had ink cartridges that would sometimes leak badly; I'd guess that's a rare occurrence with the newer ones.

But the entire point of the price gun was to price the items for the benefit of the cashier, in the days before price scanners. If an item had no price label, the cashier would have to call someone to do a price check. Or--more often than you might expect--the cashier might know the price of a particular item off-hand. Of course, there were fewer products in the past, making this possible. Today, it would be very difficult to know every price in a supermarket, especially given how many change on a weekly basis.

With the advent of the bar code scanner at checkout, the need for every item in a store to be individually marked diminished rapidly, though stores that don't stock by tagged location still tend to mark each item, as do specialty stores and clothing boutiques. And oddly enough, it's the clothing industry that provided the impetus for the development of the price gun.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Obama's Zombie Campaign

Must-watch TV, well actually must-watch YouTube:


That bit is from a 1940 movie, The Ghost Breakers, starring Bob Hope of course (yes, before there were ghost busters, there were ghost breakers). In it, he travels to Havana with a friend, Mary Carter (played by Paulette Goddard), to see a plantation she has inherited. They run into what they think is a Zombie and Larry (Hope's character) asks Dr. Montgomery (played by Richard Carlson) about such things in the above clip:
Larry: "Then maybe you know what a Zombie is." 
Montgomery: "When a person dies and is buried, it seems a certain voodoo priest will have the power to bring him back to life." 
Mary: "That's horrible!" 
Montgomery: "It's worse than horrible because a zombie has no will of his own. You see them sometimes walking around blindly with dead eyes, following orders, not knowing what they do, not caring." 
Larry: "You mean like Democrats?"
The clip has been circling the internet for a while now. It's such a great bit that some actually questioned its authenticity, leading Snopes.com to actually take the time to verify it. That was back in 2008. And to be fair, there have been moments where it might apply equally well to Republicans. But as the economy continues to fare poorly and the President slowly (and finally) accrues blame for the failure of his policies, as the November Election creeps closer, Obama defenders are becoming more and more "zombiefied."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Understanding why technocrats fail

In a previous bit, I talked about the technocracy movement, in reference to what I have termed "the Great Conceit," on the part of many people in power or aspiring to be in power (particularly those of a progressive or liberal persuasion):
...they actually believe that the economy springs from and follows the government...To be fair, it's not a nefarious conceit, at all. They truly believe that they have it right, that they can predict and control the economy via government mandate.
Prediction and control are accomplished via policy. Not just general policy, but policy that is specifically designed to make something happen, to create a desired outcome. Some political leaders believe this is realistic because there are experts available to help craft such policy. And a dependence on such expertise is the defining element of the technocrat:
Under this deeply flawed rubric, decisions of policy are made by, in conjuction with, or based on the advice of ...experts. As an ideology, this view has been called the technocracy movement in the past. The driving idea behind it is that things are too complicated, too diversified when it comes to government policies and laws for typical people to understand, thus decisions should be left in the hands of the experts in a given field. As a "for instance," consider climate change and the question of what--if anything--should be done about it. For the technocrat, the answer is simple: climate scientists should decide, end of discussion.

Part of the allure of this view is that those making decisions of policy would be doing so from the outside, as impartial observers. In theory, at least. Who can forget the story of the Harvard economist employed to help Russia, who used his position to make some quick cash? Of course, that could be held up as an anomaly.

Regardless, when it comes to the economy, the experts in the field would be the top tier of economists, the men and women at the top of their game, the ones that know how the economy works and how to make the correct policy choices to improve it.
It was this ideology--that of the technocrats--that informed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Stimulus Bill. And it was this ideology that informed Obamacare, that informed specific policy initiatives like the continued extension of unemployment insurance benefits, the payroll tax holiday, and the various monies spent--and wasted--on green energy initiatives.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Presidential Qualifications

The U.S. economy currently sucks. There's no way around it. The so-called "recovery" has been worse that pathetic, from the get-go. The National Debt has more than doubled in three years and the Social Security Administration has recently--for the first time since its inception--begun paying out more than it takes in on a month-to-month basis.

The European economy sucks even worse, with Greece in flames, a number of nations teetering on the brink, and angst-ridden Germany wondering why it should continue to hold the EU together. The euro is falling against the dollar--a weak dollar, bear in mind--and European investors actually think guaranteed losses sound better than anything else, at the moment.

The news out there is so bad, so disheartening, it's almost Biblical in nature.

Why?

Well, the current Administration--the Obama Administration--would like to blame the previous one--the Bush Administration--for all that ails the nation, indeed that ails the world. Forget for a moment whether or not this is fair (in some ways, it is; in some ways it is not). Remember, instead, what was promised back in June of 2008, when Senator Obama was laying out the case for why he would be a better choice to lead the nation than McCain:
America, this is our moment. This is our time, our time to turn the page on the policies of the past, our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face, our time to offer a new direction for this country that we love. The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge...I face this challenge with profound humility and knowledge of my own limitations, but I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.
Obama of course defeated McCain, in a large part thanks to Obama's oratory prowess, as evidenced in the above speech. But within all of his grandiose speeches are actual ideas and promises. In this one, Obama very clearly indicates that his Presidency will create jobs, "good jobs for the jobless." And with over three years of that Presidency gone, we know that he's failed to deliver on this.

Will Abound Solar lobbyist make the Enemies List?

Previously, I discussed Colorado-based Abound Solar, recipient of a $400 million DOE loan guarantee back in 2010, and it's move to lay off some 280 people, 70% or so of its entire workforce. Additionally, the company has put off building a second facility in Indiana (the DOE loan was largely based on the building of this second facility, by the way) indefinitely. To be blunt, the company looks dead in the water. Luckily for the taxpayer, only $70 million or so of the loan monies have been doled out, though the guarantee remains in place for the rest, as far as I know.

I also delved into the Obama Campaign's Truth Team recently, in particular the "enemies list" on the "Keeping GOP Honest" portion of the website. Again, what the website says about this list of private individuals:
A closer look at Romney’s donors reveals a group of wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records. Quite a few have been on the wrong side of the law, others have made profits at the expense of so many Americans, and still others are donating to help ensure Romney puts beneficial policies in place for them. Here’s a look at just a few of the people Romney has relied on:
And about some of them--identified as "Special Interest Donors"--the site says this:
Romney’s stances on social and economic issues, like his long-standing alliance with Big Oil, attracts the contributions of high-dollar donors who are interested in pursuing a specific agenda. Here are just a few of special-interest donors that Romney is taking money from:
One of the four individuals to make this list--I won't use names--is singled out for being "a registered lobbyist for a wide array of energy clients, including Marathon Oil and Shell Oil." That's it. That's the sum total of the "attack" on this person.