March 31, 2009
Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labor that which they are worth to the men who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgment of the traders. Money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss--the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery--that you must offer them values, not wounds--that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade--with reason, not force, as their final arbiter--it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability--and the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?
..."Let me give you a tip on a clue to men's characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.
"Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter. So long as men live together on earth and need means to deal with one another--their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the muzzle of a gun.
"But money demands of you the highest virtues, if you wish to make it or to keep it. Men who have no courage, pride or self-esteem, men who have no moral sense of their right to their money and are not willing to defend it as they defend their life, men who apologize for being rich--will not remain rich for long. They are the natural bait for the swarms of looters that stay under rocks for centuries, but come crawling out at the first smell of a man who begs to be forgiven for the guilt of owning wealth. They will hasten to relieve him of the guilt--and of his life, as he deserves.
"Then you will see the rise of the men of the double standard--the men who live by force, yet count on those who live by trade to create the value of their looted money--the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue. In a moral society, these are the criminals, and the statutes are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law--men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims--then money becomes its creators' avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once they've passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.
"Do you wish to know whether that day is coming? Watch money. Money is the barometer of a society's virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion--when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing--when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors--when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you--when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice--you may know that your society is doomed. Money is so noble a medium that is does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit a country to survive as half-property, half-loot.
..."When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, 'Who is destroying the world? You are."
March 30, 2009
So Little To Do, So Much Time To Waste
I don't like the current college football ratings system. Don't like it one bit because it seems to favor a select group of colleges over a vast majority of the other Division I schools. I think that a play-off system is the best way to determine an overall champ. "That's why they play the game" is an adage I've heard many times over the course of my lifetime. The logic behind that saying is difficult to argue with because every once in a while Cinderella comes to the Ball with her A-game primed and her confidence beyond *realistic expectations*. And sometimes, Cinderella wins.
The current BCS system is not based on head-to-head competition because, quite frankly, with over 110 teams making up Division I alone, that is impossible. So, absent head-to-head competition, rankings have to rely on a confabulating computer configuration of *current* statistics such as wins and losses, against whom, how did those opponents do against other teams played (strength of schedule), coaches and sports writer's opinions polls, and on and on. This method, in my opinion, is a good start for setting the table for a play-off series, but it's a really lousy way to "select" a champion. And while it's true that currently the championship is decided by a final BCS Championship game, that game's participants are still selected by the aforementioned computer-generated rankings.
Now, though, (cue "Superman" music) because they apparently have nothing else to do, members of Congress have decided government intervention is the only way to correct this injustice. (And, no, they don't have a D behind their names.)
"Now senators are getting off the sidelines to examine antitrust issues involving the Bowl Champion Series.
The current system 'leaves nearly half of all the teams in college football at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the millions of dollars paid out every year,' the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights said in a statement Wednesday announcing the hearings.
Under the BCS, some conferences get automatic bids to participate in series, while others do not.
Behind the push for the hearings is the subcommittee’s top Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. People there were furious that Utah was bypassed for the national championship despite going undefeated in the regular season.
In the House, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, has sponsored legislation that would prevent the NCAA from calling a football game a 'national championship' unless the game culminates from a playoff system."
I guess with the strawman attack on Rush Limbaugh not achieving the results they wanted, Congress needed a new virgin to slay to entertain and distract the masses while they quietly work in the background on their Hope'n'Change agenda.
Aieeeee!!!! Who Will Save Us From This Too! Too Unpatriotic Dissent!
After 8 years of arguing that Der BusHitler needed to defer to Congress, now the shoe is on the other foot and Caramba! it pinches!
What Chait really can't stand is that there are moderates in the Senate who are concerned with the opinions of their states and also like to support the economic interests and businesses located in their states. So Democrats elected from more conservative states like Kent Conrad of North Dakota or Ben Nelson of Kansas aren't jumping all over themselves to push through Obama's health care plans or cap and trade plan in a reconciliation package that would need only 50 votes instead of 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
While I'd disagree with his premise that those vile Republicans are more willing than Democrats to push through their agenda, the major problem that Chait has with the Senate is that whole democracy thing. Dang those senators who are representing their constituents rather than the party. This is why we have a Senate and don't just have representatives elected at large or have the party select all the senators.
Sure the arcane rules of the Senate are a pain and antidemocratic. But you can't have it both ways and decry the filibuster when your party runs the place but celebrate the role of filibusters and holds when the other party is in control.
We have a two-party system and for a party to win it must encompass a very large tent. So the Democrats range from Evan Bayh and Kent Conrad to Barbara Boxer. That's what happens when you win a large majority - you have all sorts in the tent. And they'll have to govern with the party they have, not the party Jonathan Chait would like to have.
Does this sound familiar to anyone... say, on the Republican side of the aisle? It should, because we're sounding more like them (and they like us) every day. Everyone wants to hog the ball all of the time and no one wants to admit they can't win without a diverse coalition of voters who won't all march in lockstep ... especially when they're constantly being accused of Crimes Against Ideological Purity.
The Founding Fathers had much to say on that subject:
So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.
And yet, however just these sentiments will be allowed to be, we have already sufficient indications that it will happen in this as in all former cases of great national discussion. A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives. An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty. An over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretense and artifice, the stale bait for popularity at the expense of the public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.
I'd laugh, but grief has an odd way of killing even the best joke.
“For what it’s worth,” Mr. Roberts added, “Ray Mabus is probably one of the most intelligent, honorable people I know. I can’t imagine a better choice for secretary of the Navy.”
If Mr. Mabus' attorney is experiencing an intelligence failure, allow me to help him out.
Because I can imagine a far better choice for SecNav. I'd like us to have a Secretary who, for instance, possesses the decency not to record a confidential discussion and use it in court:
In 1998, as Mr. Mabus and his wife, Julie (now Julie Hines), sought to work out their marital problems, he surreptitiously recorded a meeting the couple had with the Rev. Jerry McBride, a mutual friend.
Mr. Mabus had told Mr. McBride in advance that he had been advised by a lawyer to tape the conversation, according to court records. Neither man mentioned the recording to Ms. Hines. During the session, she admitted having an affair and told her husband, “I will hate you till the day I die, and I will tell my children.”
An expert psychiatric witness for Mr. Mabus referred to Ms. Hines’s recorded comments as evidence that he should get legal custody of the couple’s two daughters. The judge in the case awarded legal custody to Mr. Mabus and split physical custody between him and Ms. Hines.
Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.
Do any of these people possess the slightest shred of integrity?
March 29, 2009
Thought for the Day
In the New Testament, Paul admonishes us to “pray without ceasing.” I never understood that verse until I had a son deployed to a combat zone. Now I find myself praying for my son, his men, and their families almost constantly. Our Marine son is at a Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan. They have no running water, no heat, and only on occasion, electricity. The other evening I received a short email from him. His battalion lost three more men over the weekend. It was difficult for me to sleep that night, knowing somewhere in this nation mothers and fathers, wives, and children were mourning the death of a loved one.
Obviously, my interest in what used to be called the “Global War on Terror” and now is apparently just an “Overseas Contingency Operation” is more than a historical fancy. I’ve tried to read as much as I can about the decision to launch the war, our efforts on all fronts, and our successes and failures to date. I’ve read the good, the bad, and the ugly.
... Depending upon the author, I can find hope or discouragement. What I have found are heroes.
... I met a Marine who lost the use of his legs and is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He can maneuver pretty well, but he will never chase his children around the yard or at the beach the way you and I can. I met a Marine blinded by an RPG who will never see his children again. He can hear them and he can hold them but will never see them the way we see our children. I know a serviceman who was “present” for the birth of his child. He was deployed to a combat zone and listened over the phone as his wife give birth. I’ve spent time with children who pray every night for their daddy to come home safely. I’ve met the spouses of those deployed and watched them cope with not only managing a family but living with the constant worry the next phone call will bring tragic news.
What is so remarkable is not one Marine, not one serviceman, not one spouse I met asked for your pity or even your thanks. No one claimed victim status. All are volunteers and all believe they are part of a team who answered the call. They are proud and they are strong. Maybe, they too, have found comfort in the words of Moses. They are all my heroes.
Before you go to sleep tonight take a few moments to thank God for your spouse, your children, your home, a comfortable bed, and the servicemen and women who allow you to sleep under the blanket of freedom. I fear too many have forgotten or have never learned the real price of freedom.
March 28, 2009
Have You Paid Your Freedom Bill Lately?
The Root Causes of Income Inequality: Why Bigger Government Is Not The Answer
In November of 2008 a charismatic and gifted politician with little or no executive experience was elevated to what is arguably the world's most difficult and powerful position. Both historically and statistically speaking, Obama's victory was remarkable:
Since the Civil War, 49 men have won a major-party presidential nomination. Only three of these nominees were less qualified, by traditional measures of leadership and experience, than Obama.... None of those men was able to win the White House.
In retrospect it seems obvious no private sector corporation would hire a Chief Executive Officer with no prior experience. It seems obvious that an amateur whose sales pitch consisted of detail-free promises ("Yes, We Can!") and a belief that successful individuals and entities are "greedy" would possess neither the leadership skills nor the financial acumen needed to lead us out of the current economic crisis.
Obvious, that is, to everyone but The Economist:
HILLARY CLINTON’S most effective quip, in her long struggle with Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination last year, was that the Oval Office is no place for on-the-job training. It went to the heart of the nagging worry about the silver-tongued young senator from Illinois: that he lacked even the slightest executive experience...
...Mr Obama has had a difficult start. His performance has been weaker than those who endorsed his candidacy, including this newspaper, had hoped. Many of his strongest supporters—liberal columnists, prominent donors, Democratic Party stalwarts—have started to question him. As for those not so beholden, polls show that independent voters again prefer Republicans to Democrats, a startling reversal of fortune in just a few weeks.
The Economist attributes Obama's disappointing performance to two factors: a tardy and unfocused response to the financial crisis and clumsy handling of Congress. But the deficiencies cited are not the root causes of Obama's failure. They are the symptoms of far more serious problem. Simply put, Barack Obama has no idea what drives the American economy.
If the presidency is a leadership test, Barack Obama has already flunked:
... even before I go into a company, or even if we’re looking at a business here at CCMP, I’m constantly asking the question, “What are the two or three levers that, if done right, if pulled correctly, will really turn this business?”
Obama's scattershot approach to fixing the economy betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how individuals create and hold onto wealth. Recently he cited rising health care costs as "the biggest threat to the U.S. economy". Left unexplained was the precise role rising health care costs played in last Fall's mortgage banking crisis. But to hear Mr. Obama tell it, nationalizing health care will insulate America from fluctuations in the business cycle in much the same way it has protected Europe from the consequences of market instability.
According to Barack Obama, affluence "trickles up" from the lowest earning and least productive sector of the economy to the greedy and undeserving rich. Obamanomics identifies income inequality, not inefficient or unwise economic decisions, as the real enemy of prosperity. In Obama's consequence-free world there are no bad decisions; only unfair outcomes visited upon the the deserving poor by the well to do:
More than anything else, the proposals seek to reverse the rapid increase in economic inequality over the last 30 years. They do so first by rewriting the tax code and, over the longer term, by trying to solve some big causes of the middle-class income slowdown, like high medical costs and slowing educational gains.
...Before becoming Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers liked to tell a hypothetical story to distill the trend. The increase in inequality, Mr. Summers would say, meant that each family in the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution was effectively sending a $10,000 check, every year, to the top 1 percent of earners.
Barack and Michelle Obama tell a heartrending story of stalled progress for America's poor and middle class: one in which gains at the top of the income scale are achieved by stealing from those at the bottom. But the facts tell a different story:
In 1971, only about 32 percent of all Americans enjoyed air conditioning in their homes. By 2001, 76 percent of poor people had air conditioning. In 1971, only 43 percent of Americans owned a color television; in 2001, 97 percent of poor people owned at least one. In 1971, 1 percent of American homes had a microwave oven; in 2001, 73 percent of poor people had one. Forty-six percent of poor households own their homes. Only about 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. The average poor American has more living space than the average non-poor individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens and other European cities.
Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars. Seventy-eight percent of the poor have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception; and one-third have an automatic dishwasher.
For the most part, long-term poverty today is self-inflicted. To see this, let's examine some numbers from the Census Bureau's 2004 Current Population Survey. There's one segment of the black population that suffers only a 9.9 percent poverty rate, and only 13.7 percent of their under-5-year-olds are poor. There's another segment of the black population that suffers a 39.5 percent poverty rate, and 58.1 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor.
Among whites, one population segment suffers a 6 percent poverty rate, and only 9.9 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor. Another segment of the white population suffers a 26.4 percent poverty rate, and 52 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor.
What do you think distinguishes the high and low poverty populations? The only statistical distinction between both the black and white populations is marriage. There is far less poverty in married-couple families, where presumably at least one of the spouses is employed. Fully 85 percent of black children living in poverty reside in a female-headed household.
Poverty is not static for people willing to work. A University of Michigan study shows that only 5 percent of those in the bottom fifth of the income distribution in 1975 remained there in 1991. What happened to them? They moved up to the top three-fifths of the income distribution -- middle class or higher. Moreover, three out of 10 of the lowest income earners in 1975 moved all the way into the top fifth of income earners by 1991.
The facts, when the lifestyle choices of individual Americans are taken into account, are striking. In general, the "greedy rich" owe their ill-gotten gains to three factors: they stay in school, they work longer hours, and they reside in dual income households:
Looking at the median number of wage earners in various income brackets is instructive:
America's most prosperous households do one other thing differently from their poorer neighbors: they are, to an overwhelming degree, married:
One frequently overlooked dimension of the gap between the "rich" and the "poor" is how much it is affected by marital status.20 As Chart 10 shows, only about 30 percent of all persons in Census's bottom quintile live in married couple families; the rest either live in single-parent families or reside alone as single individuals. In the top quintile, the situation is reversed: Some 90 percent of persons live in married couple families. In this case, equalizing the numbers of persons within the quintiles makes little difference; even after each quintile is adjusted to contain the same number of persons, 85 percent of persons in the top quintile continue to live in married couple families compared with one-third in the bottom.
Wikipedia puts it more succinctly:
In the United States the increasing gap between the top 30% and the bottom 70% of society is attributed to the large increase of single parent households.
It stands to reason that any government program purporting to encourage prosperity should encourage behavior that creates wealth and discourage behavior that impedes the creation of wealth. But Obama's proposed solutions get this equation exactly backwards: he proposes that our tax system punish workers who make smart economic decisions and reward those who make inefficient decisions:
...the most astonishing sentence in the op-ed is this one: “His plan would not raise any taxes on couples making less than $250,000 a year, nor on any single person with income under $200,000.” It amounts to a declaration of war on two-income families, a marriage penalty of punitive proportions.
If those two single persons with income just under $200,000 get married, Mr. Obama is going to hammer them with a huge tax increase. If the second earner, who in many cases is the woman, is going to have to give 54% of what she earns to the government, she might as well stay home with the children.
While one may well argue the societal benefits of having one wage earner stay home with the children, it's hard to argue that punishing stable families who have figured out how to create and hold onto wealth encourages fiscally responsible decision making. The fact is that under the Obama's planned restructuring of the American economy, less productive and responsible behavior is rewarded while time-tested and more efficient economic decisions are punished. The Obama plan for economic recovery, in a nutshell: find the levers that move the economy... and then break them.
... why don’t we organize society so that it rewards hard work! We could even see that people who work harder and do better make more money! And then their efforts would pay off in more general societal prosperity, making life better for everyone! And we could . . . Naaaah.
March 26, 2009
Great Moments in Parenting
This is the kind of thing that used to cause the Editorial Staff to tell our progeny, "You know, your real mother is wandering around Wal-Mart, looking for you...":
Rory McInnes, 18, climbed on to the flat roof of his parents' home and daubed the symbol using a tin of white paint, after watching a programme about Google Earth.
Web surfers can view detailed images from satellites using the Google software, enabling them to zoom in on their homes to see them from above.
But parents Andy and Clare did not discover their son's rude artwork until a helicopter spotted it on top of their home near Hungerford, Berks.
The pilot called The Sun newspaper, which then contacted Mr McInnes to tell him.
Mr McInnes, 54, a company director, thought the newspaper was having a joke.
He said: "It's an April Fool's joke, right? There's no way there's a 60ft phallus on top of my house."
March 25, 2009
The Power of a Dream
And a testament to the strength of the human spirit.
March 21, 2009
You've got to love this guy. The laughs just keep on coming:
President Barack Obama says the U.S. hasn't done a good job sorting out who should be released from the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
Because, you understand, though International Law forbids us to hold undocumented freedom fighters absent sufficient evidence to convict them in civilian courts, using rules of criminal procedure designed for American law enforcement officials acting under color and authority of American law, a real president would have told the International Community to "Talk to the hand", thus preserving our legitimacy and moral authority in the eyes of a waiting world.
Obama says in a broadcast interview that some of the people released from the facility in Cuba have rejoined terrorist groups. He also says U.S. officials have not always been effective in determining which prisoners will be a danger once they are let go.
The blinding speed with which this man's mind works is truly soul shattering.
But he says the Bush administration's policy of holding detainees for years on end with no trials is "unsustainable,' and has only fueled anti-American sentiments.
Unsustainable... and yet it should have been sustained... umm... somehow. Without violating International Law.
In a taped interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," he also disputes former Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that plans to close Guantanamo will make America less safe.
Duh. The idea that releasing more recidivist terrorists increases - in any way - the number of whack jobs out there who would like to see the United States go [poof!] is utterly absurd. This is so self-evidently self-evident that even the BusHitler should have flashed on it.
Alas. If only we'd had a president who was smart enough to bring the awesome clarity of hindsight to his decisions. It's enough to make baby Jesus cry.
In Harm's Way
“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau
I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
Whenever I hear the phrase, "reality based community" I have to stifle the urge to laugh hysterically because if there's one thing conservatives can't understand about progressives, it's their dogged insistence on elevating hope over experience. A perfect case in point is the contentious issue of women in the military.
To a progressive, it's a matter of social justice: women ought to have an equal opportunity to serve their country. No one should be denied the chance to defend our way of life simply on account of their sex. These are fine sounding principles in theory.
But to most conservatives there are other considerations to be taken into account. Are women aggressive and tough enough to withstand combat? Will they make good fighters? Who will take care of the kids, and how do women's reproductive choices affect unit readiness? A question that is rarely asked, however, is "Will women who serve in the armed forces be safe from their comrades in arms?
Tia Christopher, a 27-year-old woman who lives in California and works with victims of sexual assault in the military, told me about the time that she was raped when she was in the Navy. She was attacked by another sailor who had come into her room in the barracks.
“He was very rough,” she said. “The girls next door heard my head hitting the wall, and he made quite a mess. When he left, he told me that he’d pray for me and that he still thought I was pretty.”
Ms. Christopher left the Navy. As she put it: “My military career ended. My assailant’s didn’t.”
Rape and other forms of sexual assault against women is the great shame of the U.S. armed forces, and there is no evidence that this ghastly problem, kept out of sight as much as possible, is diminishing.
New data released by the Pentagon showed an almost 9 percent increase in the number of sexual assaults reported in the last fiscal year — 2,923 — and a 25 percent increase in such assaults reported by women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Try to imagine how bizarre it is that women in American uniforms who are enduring all the stresses related to serving in a combat zone have to also worry about defending themselves against rapists wearing the same uniform and lining up in formation right beside them.
The truly chilling fact is that, as the Pentagon readily admits, the overwhelming majority of rapes that occur in the military go unreported, perhaps as many as 80 percent. And most of the men accused of attacking women receive little or no punishment. The military’s record of prosecuting rapists is not just lousy, it’s atrocious.
It is no longer permissible to discuss the physical and mental differences between men and women honestly: as poor Lawrence Summers learned to his dismay, though women are by no means overly emotional, being confronted with unpleasant ideas can send gender feminists into fits of the vapors. Accomodating such emotional blackmail is a shame, because the practice leads to bad public policy decisions predicated on idealistic notions of a perfect world rather than the decidedly flawed one we live in. Even setting aside for a moment the question of false rape reports, advocates of women in the military seem to want it both ways:
Rape is a serious crime. But modern military women would seem to be caught in a Catch-22, wouldn't they?
Here they are, volunteers in a line of work full of testosterone charged warriors whose entire raison d'etre is fighting. Advocates for women in the armed services charge that spiteful, authoritarian males are hell bent on preventing intelligent, fully equal females from moving into the combat arms where (presumably) they can compete with men on equal terms with no detriment to unit performance.
Comes now Rep. Jane Harmon to plead their case eloquently with the searing logic unique to our gender:
These strong, tough, intelligent, fully equal combat flowers need the immediate protection of the federal government because 41% of them have been the victims of sexual assault and 29% of them have been raped by their fellow servicemen. The Editorial Staff does not know about you, but we are not hearing a compelling argument for fuller integration of women into the armed forces.
One of the more unpleasant aspects of being female is that women, by virtue of our smaller size and comparatively weaker physical strength, are always at risk for rape.
It's not something we can get away from. It's not that the risk is all that high, nor are all men animalistic brutes. But the fact is, it only takes one time when a woman is in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong man to make her worst nightmare a depressing and agonizing reality. Women who elide right past this inconvenient truth, like men who think they possess some mystical right to consequence-free promiscuous, unprotected sex with women they barely know, are living in a fantasy world.
A little over a year ago, I read about a young female soldier who was savagely raped and murdered in Iraq. At some point, hopefully after she was dead, her body was doused with a flammable substance and ignited. It wasn't U.S. soldiers who were suspected in her rape and murder, but American contractors. But I'm not sure that matters.
The story has haunted me ever since. Many brave women have volunteered to serve this nation, often placing themselves in harm's way from a laudible desire to serve and protect; to make a difference. I can empathize with that desire, and I admire it.
But moronic statements like illustrate the unrealistic mind set of so many Americans these days. Because we live in a relatively civilized society, we arrogantly think we've waived evil away; that rules meant to discourage and punish can magically change human nature:
The military is one of the most highly controlled environments imaginable. When there are rules that the Pentagon absolutely wants followed, they are rigidly enforced by the chain of command. Violations are not tolerated. The military could bring about a radical reduction in the number of rapes and other forms of sexual assault if it wanted to, and it could radically improve the overall treatment of women in the armed forces.
There is no real desire in the military to modify this aspect of its culture. It is an ultra-macho environment in which the overwhelming tendency has been to see all women — civilian and military, young and old, American and foreign — solely as sexual objects.
This is not only uninformed, but completely false. The military goes to great lengths to counter basic human urges that pervade our society because they're ingrained in our DNA. And though I wouldn't wish rape on my worst enemy, it is very much a crime of opportunity.
The foolish notion that we can bunk men and women together in close quarters in a war zone without completely predictable repercussions ought to be shocking.
It is, instead, a policy mandated on the military from without. And unrealistic idealists like Bob Herbert are partially to blame for the entirely predictable result, because they encourage young women to let down their guards and ignore reality. When it comes to sex, inconvenient truths abound and both progressives and liberals frequently wish away what they prefer not to face: human nature is complex and actions have consequences.
Perhaps it's time for us to face them honestly.
It is a good thing.
I'm sitting by the window in my hotel room, watching the world go by. It's a beautiful morning in lower Manhattan.
I could get used to this.
March 20, 2009
Not going to write anything today, but here are a few good reads:
Rethug-hating Rethug Pundits... heh.
Anything Grim has written lately. He's en fuego. Don't have time to address anything he's said but it's all good. Just keep scrolling.
March 19, 2009
Who's In Charge At 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was the first to announce Wednesday afternoon that the president won’t pursue such a proposal.
She told veterans that Obama decided to scrap the proposal “Based on the respect that President Obama has for our nation’s veterans and the principled concerns expressed by veterans’ leaders.”
Kind of makes you wonder who's in charge, doesn't it?
Bankers are "Suicide Bombers"?
The clue bus
Is calling us...
- Jim Morrison's Evil Twin
The president said, "It was the right thing to do, even though it's infuriating, even though it makes you angry because you're thinking, 'I was responsible and these folks are irresponsible and somehow I'm paying for them.' The same is true with AIG. It was the right thing to do to step in."
"Here's the problem," Mr. Obama said, "It's almost like they've got -- they've got a bomb strapped to them and they've got their hand on the trigger. You don't want them to blow up. But you've got to kind of talk them, ease that finger off the trigger."
Let me see if I've gotten this straight: the President of the United States just compared bankers to homicidal maniacs?
How much sense does this make? Does anyone - anyone in their right mind - seriously believe bankers WANT their own banks to fail? Does anyone believe they're doing this on purpose, that they're willing to blow themselves up just to take the rest of the American economy down with them?
And if Mr. Obama really believes this, why are we paying these people off? Why isn't he trying to stop them - to put them in jail where they can't harm innocent people?
This man doesn't even believe his own rhetoric - either that, or he is the most clueless leader this country has ever seen.
We are propping up the banks because people's life savings are invested in the stock market, and if investor confidence continues to decline the remains of the most prosperous nation on earth's wealth will go up in smoke, taking the retirement funds and savings of million of innocent Americans along with it.
We are doing this because the financial sector is the circulatory system that delivers capital to millions of American businesses. We can't allow it to fail.
The ship of state is on fire and what is our President doing? Picking his NCAA bracket and gleefully pouring gasoline on the flames.
The only plausible explanation for this idiocy is that his Teleprompter must be AWOL.
Replacement vid via Beltway Blips
When Will Obamas Stop Lying to Military Families?
We all know that the sacred trust does not end when the uniform comes off. That’s why it’s time to build a 21st-century VA. No more red tape. It’s time to give every service member electronic copies of their medical records and service records upon discharge so that they can immediately get the services that they’ve earned. No more shortfalls. We’ll fully fund VA health care. No more delays. We’ll pass on-time budgets. No more means testing. It’s time to allow every veteran into the VA system.
You know, I'm becoming extremely tired of Barack and Michelle Obama lying to the American public and military families:
It's been at least 8 years since America has had such a self-absorbed and selfish First Lady. In a recent interview the Far Left wife of the antiwar president was just too impressed with herself for noticing that the military families actually sacrifice for their country here in America.
This is something Michelle Obama picked up on last year during the campaign-- seven years into the War on Terror.
Team Obama even went as far as to suggest that military families "had probably have never been invited to the White House."
The Obamas' stunning arrogance and insularity is nowhere more evident than in statements like this:
...it was just a little disconcerting ...to hear the First Lady explain how she came to this issue during last year's campaign. "I think I was like most Americans," she told ABC News. "Pretty oblivious to the life of military families. Sort of taking it for granted."
During last year's campaign??? By the time the Obamas finally woke up and realized
we could be useful to them we exist, military families had been at war for five years. What took our monumentally clueless First Lady and her husband so long to wake up and smell the coffee?
... the reporting seems to reflect an assumption that if the Obamas haven't done something, nobody else has, either. Certainly the Washington Post did not challenge the First Lady's social secretary when she said, "one idea Michelle had was to have an event for military families -- here they are sacrificing so much for the country and many of them probably have never been invited to the White House."
This uncritical reportage does Laura Bush an injustice. In hundreds of ways -- picnics on the South Lawn, fund-raising for scholarships for the children of sailors on the USS Texas, unheralded visits with the wounded and families of the fallen, the work she did for military kids under her Helping America's Youth initiative -- Mrs. Bush showed our troops and their loved ones how close they were to her heart.
And what kind of nerve does it take, having openly admitted you forgot to pay your attention bill for FIVE YEARS, to turn around and slam those who did remember to acknowledge the contributions of military families while you were at the Mall? Lying to distract the public from your own failures is hardly the kind of leadership this country needs.
As a Marine wife of 28 years, I can testify firsthand that military families were frequent recipients of Presidental visits and attention during the Bush years. We were often invited to the White House and, while there, treated graciously and with warmth and decency.
During the year my husband was in Iraq I met the President many times. I was invited to the White House on no less than three occasions. I was invited to take place in conference calls on military issues, as were many other military spouses and military bloggers. I am no one important, influential, or special. All I needed to be what the wife of a United States Marine serving his country during wartime - that was enough. The Bush White House actively reached out to military families over and over again, and it's about time for the military community to begin setting the record straight.
I don't need Michelle Obama to keep me from "feeling alone". Not once during the administration of George Bush did I doubt the President was intimately aware of the concerns of military families. I knew he had our backs. He was there for us when it counted. He fought for us when Harry Reid and Congress tried to block desperately needed funding for soldiers and Marines in harm's way:
And I was there, along with over one thousand military spouses, when the President of the United States thanked us for the sacrifices we make in support of the military's ongoing operations.
Twice, actually. Because George and Laura Bush never for a moment forgot military families, I have both photos and some wonderful memories I'll one day be able to share with my little grandson. I've seen the leader of the free world get down on his knees to talk to the children of active duty service members. How many ordinary citizens can say they met the President of the United States not once, but several times? I can, and I'm hardly alone among military family members.
The Obamas don't know military families. They don't understand our culture or our concerns. But some within the military community have proven extremely useful to the Obamas as they actively promote a whiny culture of entitlement that undercuts everything the military stands for: every value that make the armed forces one of the few institutions that still retains the trust of the public it serves.
Michelle Obama doesn't help military wives already dealing with admittedly difficult situations to cope:To a woman, their struggles focused on housing, healthcare and basic child care -- all topped off with a big dollop of deployment. "I don't think that many Americans that are not in the military understand just what you've laid out," Obama tells the women. "And that's one of the reasons we're doing this. I don't think people understand all that goes into serving the country, and going to war."
"What you're asking for, it isn't extra; it's the basics that you need to survive. And we should be at the point where you're not just talking about survival, you're talking about thriving. We need families that thrive."
That is utter nonsense. Every military family has the basics they need to survive. There isn't one of those examples which cited a "basic need" or "survival". They all involved people making voluntary choices or people facing the same circumstances or challenges faced by civilians. Some are exacerbated by war, but then again (as I'm about to illustrate) in many cases their lives are no more difficult than those of many of their civilian counterparts and in many cases due to the excellent support systems provided by DoD, they are far, far easier.
I grew up in a career Navy family. My mother coped with long deployments and a war in Vietnam. My husband comes from a career Navy family. Like my Dad, my husband's father served in Vietnam - twice, in fact. And unlike John Kerry (who bailed out of Vietnam 1/3 of the way into a twelve month assignment) my father in law completed both tours. Consequently, he wasn't home when several of his children were born. Yet my mother in law - a life-long Democrat - would never have countenanced the selfishness and shameless opportunism being cultivated by Michelle and Barack Obama.
My mother and mother in law, like so many other military wives, understood the sacrifices of America's armed forces necessarily entail sacrifices by their families, and they were proud to step up to the plate. They realized our shared tradition of service and sacrifice is not something that needs to be "fixed" by the federal government, but a proud and voluntary example others might do well to emulate instead of exploiting.
The Obamas need to stop lying about matters easily rebutted by even a cursory examination of the public record. Their dishonest and self-serving portrayal of the Bush record with regard to military families may provide them with political cover while they renege on long-standing promises made to military veterans. But do these people honestly think we're stupid enough to be deceived by blatantly dishonest lip service as our hard-won benefits are gutted to fund a wholesale war on the very way of life our loved ones fight and die to protect?
If so, they've got another thing coming. America's military families deserve better than a President and First Lady who practice deception under the guise of supporting our armed services.
Update: more photographic evidence via the Armorer (thanks - I was thinking of this photo but didn't have time to find it)
And Blackfive nails it:
The victimization of our military has got to stop. The support, real support, of the military has got to start. Deeds, not words, Mr. President.
March 18, 2009
The Erosion of Trust
Wunderbar. In an economy paralyzed by fear and uncertainty, this is just what we need... more uncertainty:
"A senior executive at one of the nation's largest banks said he had heard from several hedge funds that they would not partner with the government for fear that lawmakers would impose retroactive conditions on their participation, such as limits on compensation or disclosure requirements.
"Other firms want to bide their time to see how early participants in the rescue programs are treated before they decide whether to sign up, said the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"'Why do you think Hong Kong is a better place to do business than Shanghai? Because of the certainty of the contracts,' said another executive at one of the nation's largest private-equity firms. 'Once the uncertainty factor goes up, the less interested you are in doing business because it becomes a more risky proposition.'"
This President doesn't have "the judgment to lead" a sandwich out of a paper sack.
March 17, 2009
St. Paddy's Day Jokes
To help celebrate St. Paddy's day, a few Irish jokes from my Inbox:
Into a Belfast pub comes Paddy Murphy, looking like he'd just been run over by a train. His arm is in a sling, his nose is broken, his face is cut and bruised and he's walking with a limp.
"What happened to you?" asks Sean, the bartender.
" Jamie O'Conner and me had a fight," says Paddy.
" That little shit, O'Conner," says Sean, "He couldn't do that to you, he must have had something in his hand."
" That he did," says Paddy, "a shovel is what he had, and a terrible lickin' he gave me with it."
" Well," says Sean, "you should have defended yourself, didn't you have something in your hand?"
" That I did," said Paddy, "Mrs. O'Conner's breast, and a thing of beauty it was, but useless in a fight."
Brenda O'Malley is home making dinner, as usual, when Tim Finnegan arrives at her door. "Brenda, may I come in?" he asks. "I've somethin' to tell ya".
" Of course you can come in, you're always welcome, Tim. But where's my husband?"
" That's what I'm here to be telling ya, Brenda." There was an accident down at the Guinness brewery..."
"Oh, God no!" cries Brenda. "Please don't tell me."
" I must, Brenda. Your husband Shamus is dead and gone. I'm sorry."
Finally, she looked up at Tim. "How did it happen, Tim?"
" It was terrible, Brenda. He fell into a vat Of Guinness Stout and drowned."
"Oh my dear Jesus! But you must tell me the truth, Tim. Did he at least go quickly?"
"Well, Brenda... no. In fact, he got out three times to pee."
Mary Clancy goes up to Father O' Grady after his Sunday morning service, and she's in tears.
He says, " So what's bothering you, Mary my dear?"
She says, "Oh, Father, I've got terrible news . My husband passed away last night."
The priest says, "Oh, Mary, that's terrible. Tell me, Mary, did he have any last requests?"
She says, "That he did, Father."
The priest says, "What did he ask, Mary? "
She says, He said, 'Please Mary, put down that damn gun...'
Paddy was driving down the street in a sweat because he had an important meeting and couldn't find a parking place.
Looking up to heaven he said, 'Lord take pity on me. If you find me a parking place I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of me life and give up me Irish Whiskey!'
Miraculously, a parking place appeared.
Paddy looked up again and said, 'Never mind, I found one.'
Father Murphy walks into a pub in Donegal, and asks the first man he meets, 'Do you want to go to heaven?'
The man said, 'I do, Father.'
The priest said, 'Then stand over there against the wall.'
Then the priest asked the second man, 'Do you want to go to heaven?'
'Certainly, Father,' the man replied.
'Then stand over there against the wall,' said the priest.
Then Father Murphy walked up to O'Toole and asked, 'Do you want to go to heaven?'
O'Toole said, 'No, I don't Father.'
The priest said, 'I don't believe this. You mean to tell me that when you die you don't want to go to heaven?'
O'Toole said, 'Oh, when I die , yes. I thought you were getting a group together to go right now.'
Paddy was in New York .
He was patiently waiting and watching the traffic cop on a busy street crossing. The cop stopped the flow of traffic and shouted, 'Okay, pedestrians.' Then he'd allow the traffic to pass.
He'd done this several times, and Paddy still stood on the sidewalk.
After the cop had shouted, 'Pedestrians!' for the tenth time, Paddy went over to him and said, 'Is it not about time ye let the Catholics across?'
Gallagher opened the morning newspaper and was dumbfounded to read in the obituary column that he had died. He quickly phoned his best friend, Finney.
'Did you see the paper?' asked Gallagher. 'They say I died!!'
'Yes, I saw it!' replied Finney. 'Where are ye callin' from?'
An Irish priest is driving down from Boston to New York and gets stopped for speeding in Connecticut .
The state trooper smells alcohol on the priest's breath and then sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car.
He says, 'Sir, have you been drinking?'
'Just water,' says the priest.
The trooper says, 'Then why do I smell wine?'
The priest looks at the bottle and says, 'Good Lord! He's done it again!'
Walking into the bar, Mike said to Charlie the bartender, 'Pour me a stiff one - just had another fight with the little woman.'
'Oh yeah?' said Charlie, 'And how did this one end?'
'When it was over,' Mike replied, 'She came to me on her hands and knees.'
'Really,' said Charles, 'Now that's a switch! What did she say?'
She said, 'Come out from under the bed, you little chicken.'
Patton staggered home very late after another evening with his drinking buddy, Paddy. He took off his shoes to avoid waking his wife, Kathleen.
He tiptoed as quietly as he could toward the stairs leading to their upstairs bedroom, but misjudged the bottom step.
As he caught himself by grabbing the banister, his body swung around and he landed heavily on his rump.
A whiskey bottle in each back pocket broke and made the landing especially painful.
Managing not to yell, Patton sprung up, pulled down his pants, and looked in the hall mirror to see that his butt cheeks were cut and bleeding.
He managed to quietly find a full box of Band-Aids and began putting a Band-Aid as best he could on each place he saw blood.
He then hid the now almost empty Band-Aid box and shuffled and stumbled his way to bed.
In the morning, Patton woke up with searing pain in both his head and butt and Kathleen staring at him from across the room.
She said, 'You were drunk again last night weren't you?'
Patton said, 'Why you say such a mean thing?'
'Well,' Kathleen said, 'it could be the open front door, it could be the broken glass at the bottom of the stairs, it could be the drops of blood trailing through the house, it could be your bloodshot eyes, but mostly ..... it's all those Band-Aids stuck on the hall mirror.
Thanks to DL Sly and spd for the laughs. Feel free to add to the collection in the comments section.
Everything Old Is New Again
This is extremely disturbing:
On the otter heiny, we now know what The Unit is getting for our upcoming anniversary. They ought to work for BillT, too. Of course, if The Unit doesn't like meggings, there's always this comfy little number, which seems custom made for someone else we know.
Fortunately, wearing a thong means never having to face the horror of visible panty lines.
March 16, 2009
A Kindler, Gentler War on Terror
I didn't comment on this the other day because frankly I couldn't stop laughing:
"The Justice Department was right to recognize that it should not be holding prisoners as `enemy combatants.' But the new definition of persons who may be held without charge does not differ in any fundamental respects from the old one, and it significantly distorts important traditional Law of War distinctions between international and non-international armed conflict. The concept of indefinite detention without criminal charge continues, and the class of persons to be detained remains ill-defined and overly broad.''
• Elisa Massimino, executive director of Human Rights First
Next up - the President closes Gitmo and unveils a much hoped-for change: Sandals, Guantanamo Bay. An all inclusive hideaway for undocumented freedom fighters.
Nice Double Standard, There...
I love the way the author of the article blames men for women's manipulation and irresponsibility:But, seriously, if a man takes a risk like that, he has to face the consequences. The woman, meanwhile, needs to make sure she has unprotected sex with the right kind of man.
Where is the blame here? I see only a completely rational and uncontroversial assertion: the only way to prevent a baby you don't want is to use birth control. This is not a responsibility that can be delegated - by either sex.
And manipulation? In what rational universe does honestly disclosing the fact that you're not using birth control constitute "manipulation"? Seems to me the man had all the information he needed to avoid a pregnancy if that wasn't what he wanted, yet chose to assume the risk:
I haven't used contraception for years and years - I hate taking the Pill - and I'm always entirely honest about that with the men I sleep with.
As far as I'm concerned, if a guy is having unprotected sex with me, then he knows what he is doing, and if he doesn't, then he is just arrogant and more fool him.
Bingo. There is a word for men who have unprotected sex with women they KNOW aren't on birth control: fathers. Why the double standard? Why is it irresponsible for a woman to have unprotected sex, but if a man knowingly makes exactly the same choice he's not only NOT being irresponsible, but we're supposed to feel sorry for him because he was manipulated by the old full disclosure trick? Good God.
If you're not old enough to know where babies come from, odds are you shouldn't be having sex at all.
The innocent victim in all of this is the child. A woman who is up front about the fact that she's not using birth control is flat out telling the man he's taking the risk of conceiving an unwanted child if he doesn't use some form of contraception.
This is hardly rocket science. We have really fallen as a society when the bar is set this low.
Bottom line: she's wrong and he's wrong too. And all the nonsense in the comments section about how two wrongs make a right is just a race to the bottom of the morality barrel with an innocent child as the victim.
Grow the hell up.
NY Times Watch: "Oh No They Didn't" Edition
Desperation manifests itself in odd ways:
Did you guys read yesterday's "Styles" section story on the orgasmic-meditation cult in San Francisco? We did, and we're still not over it. There we were, having a nice Sunday afternoon. We innocently opened the paper with the expectation of reading a story about how rich people are coping with the recession, and instead we came face to face with this:He invited her to lie down unclothed, set a timer and, while stroking her, proceeded to narrate in tender detail the beauty he saw, the colors that went from coral, to deep rose, to pearlescent pink. “I just broke open, and the feeling was pure and clean,” Ms. Daedone said.
Did the Times just describe that woman's vagina to us? Let's read that again just to make sure.He invited her to lie down unclothed, set a timer and, while stroking her, proceeded to narrate in tender detail the beauty he saw, the colors that went from coral, to deep rose, to pearlescent pink.
I don't recognize the world anymore. There are no boundaries.
That Nuance Thing, Again
... in the next few years, I realized that the Republican party had no interest in reaching out to gay people on the basis of human dignity, individual freedom and economic liberty. My own minority was only admitted into the coalition if it agreed to dehumanize itself.
Since when has admitting there may be tension between unlimited individual freedom and longstanding societal interests amounted to "dehumanization"? Dehumanizers!!!! It seems to me that Mr. Sullivan is once again cheerfully imputing the worst possible motives - on no evidence - to anyone who doesn't happen to share his beliefs. Either you agree with him, or you're an Evil, Wrong/Bad Dehumanizer. There is no middle ground. But on to the review, and the matrix:
This book, better than any other, clearly and thoroughly outlines the four main arguments for and against homosexuality, and critiques their strengths and weaknesses in a prose style that is both highly personal and incredibly reasoned and intelligent.
The Prohibitionists are the one school that is the most decidedly anti-homosexual - seeking to either punish or "cure" gays and lesibans.
OK. That's definitely not it. I don't give a rat's ass what anyone else - gay, straight, bisexual, it matters not a whit - does in the privacy of the boudoir. And I don't want gays punished for having consensual sex any more than I want heterosexuals punished for having consensual sex. In fact, I'd just as soon the government stayed out of my bed (and everyone else's too).
The Liberationists seek freedom from social labels and conventions, but, like the Prohibitionists, do not accept the concept of homosexuality as a valid state of being - there are no real homosexuals, only homosexual acts. Sullivan sees them as well meaning, but misguided.
Not me either. I think many social conventions have evolved over the centuries in order to keep us from killing each other and because they have survival value. That, in a nutshell, is why I'm a conservative. And I don't necessarily have a problem with social labels either. Many times they help us distinguish between things that are fundamentally not the same:
In his book, The Soul Beneath the Skin, David Nimmons cites numerous studies which show that 75% of gay male couples are in successful open relationships. He makes it clear that whatever you decide as a couple you should be up front, direct and honest about what the contract of your relationship is on both sides.
Given that heterosexual married couples differ from homosexual couples in this regard, the argument that allowing gay unions to be called "marriage" may undermine traditional marriage suddenly doesn't look so silly. Once the idea that sexual infidelity violates the explicit promise of faithfulness in marriage gains widespread acceptance (because, after all, 75% of gay male couples do it, so it must be OK), the generally accepted definition of marriage changes as well. Are we really supposed to believe the idea that sexual infidelity and promiscuity - nevermind those pesky marriage vows! - are normal and perfectly acceptable won't spread to heterosexual marriages? Or that if this concept of marriage gains traction, it won't be destabilizing and harmful? Let's test that one.
Tonight I'll casually inform my husband that I've been cheating on him sexually, but he really has no right to object because hey: I'm still emotionally faithful. And if any children result from my dalliances, he's still on the hook to provide for them.
If you buy into the absurd notion that this wouldn't weaken traditional marriages and split up families with children, there's a very large bridge I'd like to sell you.
As far as labels are concerned, it's hard to understand (though the far Left would love this) how anyone can have a sensible conversation about anything by pretending everyone is the same. Labels, though they can be misused, provide a convenient shorthand for discussing objectively observable differences.
The Conservatives believe that homosexuals are entitled to a certain amount of privacy and respect, but homosexuality is still a sin. Homosexuals do exist... but they can't help it. They still disapprove of homosexuality, just not necessarily homosexuals.
Wrong again. I don't think homosexuality is a sin. Your mileage may differ, but that's what I believe. I do respect the right of those who think the Bible takes a stand on homosexuality to have that opinion. A lot of men absolutely do think women are intellectually inferior to them and hysterical to boot. Many women think men are insensitive, violent, and irresponsible cads. But thinking a thing doesn't make it so. In a world where many things cannot be known with certainty, I see little benefit in confusing opinion with reality.
And I don't disapprove of homosexuality on moral grounds. I do disapprove of rampant promiscuity on any number of grounds but then I disapprove of heterosexual promiscuity too, for precisely the same reasons.
The Liberals also mean well, and struggle for the rights of homosexuals, but unfortunately blanket them in their larger agenda of "helping the little people", so to speak - well meaning, but sometimes a bit patronizing.
This is, in large part, what I dislike most about progressive ideology: the condescension. I can see all the ways in which being homosexual makes life more difficult. I just disagree about where we go from there.
Being stupid, ugly, flat chested, or uncoordinated unquestionably makes make life more difficult. Question for the ages: is it "easier" to be a gorgeous, intelligent homosexual or an ugly, stupid straight person?
How do societies weigh, let alone compensate for, the myriad natural impediments to which humans are subjected by birth or fate? And should society even be doing this? Should it seek to level every playing field by making any and all "discrimination" illegal? All these things are qualities we're born with. Not all of them impede our progress through life to an equal degree. But it's hard to argue it's not more difficult to be ugly than attractive, nor that it's harder to be gay than straight in a majority-straight culture.
So where do I fit?
I don't think people can help being gay.
I don't think being gay is anything to be ashamed of. I don't think being gay is anything to be celebrated either. It just "is".
I don't want gays punished or harassed on account of their sexual orientation.
But I do think there are valid reasons for distinguishing civil unions from traditional marriage. I think things that are inherently different can be treated differently. I think marriage, though demonstrably not all married folk have children, is an institution societies have traditionally supported to encourage procreation and promote stable families.
And I still don't buy the fact that only calling a union between two people of the same sex (formed for a different purpose) exactly the same as a union between two people of the opposite sex is the only path to societal acceptance of homosexuality. The fact is, if you genuinely believe homosexuality is a sin, calling gay unions "marriage" isn't likely to change that opinion one whit.
And if, like me, you think society has a strong interest in promoting commitment and monogamy in the homosexual community, it doesn't matter a bit to you whether we call it "marriage" or a "gay union" - either way, you don't disapprove of gay couples and in fact, wish there were more of them.
What I can't get past is that I think, since survival of the species is a biological imperative, society has plenty of reasons to distinguish between unions likely to result in children and those which aren't. I also think we ought to be extremely careful in tinkering with institutions that have developed over centuries, especially when we don't know what the consequences will be and especially where children and families are concerned.
I also think that the rationale for changing longstanding social conventions needs to balance the competing claims of individual rights/freedoms with societal stability and well being. How we do that in a democratic Republic ought to be something we address via debate, not judicial fiat.
The 'Let Them Eat Grapes' Caption Contest - Updated
I know, I know....scary stuff happening in the world these days. The Blog Princess has thrown a set of keys into the Dark Side of the Corner (with nary a nick on her perkily painted digits, nonetheless) and this:
And, in keeping with the Blog Princess' own suggestion: "Whoever wins, I'll make a donation to Soldier's Angels in your name, OK?"
So, have it at. Here's the first thing that came to my mind (well, the first printable thing, anyway....heh):
"After a long and extensive search, the Mardi Gras King Selection Committee narrowed their search by only including actors who had previously played spandex-clad superheroes. Once having done that, there was really only one obvious choice. Said King Kilmer upon being notified of his selection, "It's good to be da King!"
Update -- Results!
Yes, I know it took two weeks to get these up, but I believe I'm still ahead of a certain
slave driver Blog Princess in the Contests Judged category.
So, without further ado.....
1st place - Our own loveable afe with his spew-worthy entry: "Greetings peasants and lower classes! I am your Hollywood royalty! Let my dingleberries spew upon thee!"
For his entry, Soldier's Angels received a $50 donation. Thanks for everyone who played, and for those who gave their eyesight due to our shortage of brain-bleach. I can assure you that a resupply requistion form was immediately dispatched via Mongo-mail. I expect to receive confirmation of my order any day now......
On Kathleen Parker and Rebuttals from "Real Conservatives"
I don't agree with Kathleen Parker much of the time.
But when I disagree with something she has written, I generally find it more persuasive to address her reasoning or the factual basis for her conclusions on a point by point basis than to airily dismiss her with a meretricious put-down that fails to demonstrate why her arguments are wrong.
If this sort of thing epitomizes the principled and muscular defense of conservative principles we've been hearing so much about lately, we're in more trouble than I thought.
I'm not interested in controlling the terms of the debate; mostly because I believe the notion that we can "control" a conversation in which different parties filter what is said through their respective biases to be a bit silly. The fact is, none of us can control how other people interpret what we say. We can articulate our ideas as clearly as possible. We can, if misunderstood either willfully or due to some ambiguity in our communications, attempt to clarify our intent.
But short of performing the Vulcan Mind Meld on every single member of our audiences, I don't know of any way to force other people to accept our arguments, agree with what we say we meant, or substitute our perspective for theirs.
What we can do is argue our principles forcefully and unapolagetically. We can argue in clear and unambiguous language that doesn't needlessly antagonize those we are trying to persuade. We can argue from a solid set of facts, using credible sources as persuasive authority to support our arguments. We can, without surrendering or compromising our principles, recognize what every sensible person understands: that people are both emotional and rational creatures and that if you're pitching an argument to a broad audience and want to maximize the number of people in that audience who are persuaded by our arguments, it's probably a good idea to avoid needlessly antagonizing them. Viewing a conversation about ideas as a turf battle where the object is "control" doesn't seem terribly productive if your goal is to persuade free men and women.
The real irony here is that the problem many conservatives have with Parker owes just as much to the way she argues as it does with what she's saying (though on many occasions they've disagreed with her analysis, too). Like Rush Limbaugh, Parker's rhetorical style is sometimes unnecessarily contempuous and confrontational:
The biggest challenge facing America's struggling newspaper industry may not be the high cost of newsprint or lost ad revenue, but ignorance stoked by drive-by punditry.
Yes, Dittoheads, you heard it right.
There's no getting around the fact that Parker chose to begin her argument with a put down. If she's trying to convince conservatives (as opposed to impressing those who enjoy conservative bashing) that's not helpful. There are many ways to demonstrate your supposed neutrality. Insulting a little under half of your audience doesn't do that effectively.
That said, how many conservatives, if they honestly attempt to put aside their annoyance with Parker's style for a moment, would argue with this statement?
... the greater truth is that newspaper reporters, editors and institutions are responsible for the boots-on-the-ground grub work that produces the news stories and performs the government watchdog role so crucial to a democratic republic.
Though I disagree with Parker's analysis of the facts and dislike her presentation, it's hard to argue the world would be a better place without reporters. Where would the news come from, if all the newspapers in this country folded tomorrow? What about all the great small town reporters who do such a fantastic job of supporting soldiers and Marines? I couldn't write the tributes I've been writing for years without reporters like these. Is Jules Crittenden's work worthless? Does anyone seriously believe TV news, in general, does as thorough a job of covering the news as print journalists?
I don't. And I think many conservatives have lost sight of a competent and useful forest on account of some biased and intellectually dishonest trees. And then there's this:
Unfortunately, the chorus of media bashing from certain quarters has succeeded in convincing many Americans that they don't need newspapers. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press recently found that fewer than half of Americans -- 43 percent -- say that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community "a lot." Only 33 percent say they would miss the local paper if it were no longer available.
Now one may well take issue with Parker's assertion that it is "media bashing" that has convinced Americans they don't need newspapers. But to be fair, isn't the public's rising distrust of the media due (at least in part) to the fact that they've been successfully fact-checked so many times by alternative media like blogs?
Are we really disputing that? Or are we just disputing the impolitic moniker Parker assigned to that activity (media bashing vs. fact checking)? It's hard to bash anything persuasively without evidence. What we object to is the the implication that media bashing is unjustified.
And then there's this:
A younger generation, meanwhile, has little understanding or appreciation of the relationship between a free press and a free society. Pew found that just 27 percent of Americans born since 1977 read a newspaper the previous day.
Does anyone think it's a good thing that most young people can't be bothered to read newspapers? Haven't conservatives been complaining about the ever shrinking attention spans of younger voters?
And for those of you who say, "Well, they're just getting their news from newer, more accurate sources", does anyone seriously maintain that the vast majority of content we bloggers comment upon each day doesn't come from newspapers, or that we frequently rebut more biased mainstream media coverage via less biased mainstream media coverage?
And did Parker argue that there's no such thing as media bias? No, she didn't:
There is surely room for media criticism, and a few bad actors in recent years have badly frayed public trust. And, yes, some newspapers are more liberal than their readership and do a lousy job of concealing it.
Bias is part of the problem. But it's hardly the entire problem, and though I've relentlessly critiqued the media nearly every day since 2003, to blame the decline of the news industry entirely on media bias requires one to completely ignore other factors such as a stubbornly outmoded business model that hasn't figured out how to turn a profit from online readers - a rapidly growing demographic.
As a blogger, I don't want to see newspapers die. I use newspapers every day and they are vital to the functions bloggers perform. I'm also honest enough to admit that there are many fine journalists out there and that some (like David Gregory and Jake Tapper) appear to be playing it down the middle. There's nothing wrong with refuting bad reporting when it occurs, but intellectually honest critics must be willing to acknowledge good reporting or they lose all credibility.
And while I disagree strongly with much of Parker's analysis, she makes several excellent points. It will be interesting to see if conservatives who argue that in order to 'control the terms of the debate', the audience's subjective interpretations must be subordinated to the speaker's intent will admit that as soon as Parker insulted the intelligence of Rush and his listeners, most conservatives stopped listening to anything she had to say, regardless of whether it had merit?
I doubt Parker meant to insult anyone. Nonetheless, she did. And they stopped listening to her as a result. Any way you look at that, it's not a good outcome.
March 15, 2009
Stoking Class Warfare by Cherry Picking the Evidence
I have to admit it: this fellow makes a nearly irrefutable argument for doing away with pesky freedoms like the right to keep what you own:
People who become wealthy are certainly very lucky, but they also must have done something which some people consider very useful. Maybe they are good at business, or very smart, or they can hit a baseball very well, or whatever - I doubt anybody really deserves to make $1 million a year, no matter what they do, but obviously the wallets of America disagree with me here. But being born rich is not a useful skill, and anyway, most rich kids are huge douchebags (I speak here as an expert, having seen every Bad News Bears movie multiple times).
I must say that I'm not sure I've ever seen an appeal to authority done better. I don't know about you folks, but I know an argument-ender when I see one. Pancritical rationalists everywhere must be peeing their pants in terror.
But wait! There's more dispassionate and non-partisan analysis where that came from:
Think about the rich kids in public life: George W. Bush, Jonah Goldberg, Bill Kristol, George Steinbrenner, Paris Hilton, etc. Dumb, angry, entitled, douchebags. So, when you think about it, taking away a burdensome inheritance and forcing them to deal with life’s problems like the rest of us is a kindness, and will help our nation’s fortunate sons and daughters be happier, more productive, and more connected to the lives and concerns of their fellow citizens.
Well darn it all, that settles it! Rich people suck and should be forcefully deprived of their ill gotten gains for the good of us all! I say, "Let's extend this heaping helping of common sense to Congress, where fully 70% of the wealthiest members in 2007 Democrats":
Jane Harman (D-Calif)
Darrell Issa (R-Calif)
John Kerry (D-Mass)
Mark Warner (D-Va)
Herb Kohl (D-Wis)
Jared Polis (D-Colo)
Robin Hayes (R-NC)
Vernon Buchanan (R-Fla)
Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass)
Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa)
The exact same proportions have held true for every single year since 2004 (this is as far back as the data goes): 70% of the richest legislators were Democrats. What's even more interesting is how they amassed their fortunes:
Here is how the top ten got to be super-rich:
1. Harman (D) married it.
2. Issa (R) earned it by founding a company.
3. Kerry (D) married it - second wife.
4. Buchanan (R) earned it by co-founding a company.
5. Kohl (D) inherited it and ran the family business.
6. Kennedy (D) inherited it and has little or no experience outside of government.
7. Rockefeller (D) inherited it.
8. Hayes (R) inherited it.
9. Feinstein (D) married it.
10. Lautenberg (D) earned it by found a company.
Admittedly this is a small sample, but of the wealthiest Congressmen/women fully 2/3 of those who actually earned their fortunes happen to be Republicans. And when you broaden out the list of wealthy public servants to include state executives, the same proportions hold: 60% of the wealthiest politicians in America are Democrats. The same is true of a sample that includes both legislators and executive branch appointees.
It's amazing how easy it is to reach silly conclusions when your thought process doesn't include looking at the actual evidence. How Reality Based of you.
But I have to say this is the argument I found most compelling:
The nasty politics, the drug habits, the superior attitude - these are all signs of profound social and spiritual alienation. So while society would be taking away “their” money, they would be receiving something infinitely more valuable in return: LOVE. Because that’s what life is all about.
And also because f**k them.
Going After Honey With Balloons
"It's like this," he said. "When you go after honey with a balloon, the great thing is not to let the bees know you're coming. Now, if you have a green balloon, they might think you were only part of the tree, and not notice you, and if you have a blue balloon, they might think you were only part of the sky, and not notice you, and the question is: Which is most likely?"
"Wouldn't they notice you underneath the balloon?" you asked.
"They might or they might not," said Winnie-the-Pooh. "You never can tell with bees." He thought for a moment and said: "I shall try to look like a small black cloud. That will deceive them."
"Then you had better have the blue balloon," you said; and so it was decided.
The trick is to blather on and on about bipartisan outreach and how wonderful you are for rejecting politics as usual while practicing the exact opposite of what you preach.
Most folks never bother to measure the rhetoric against the reality. Then again, you never can tell with bees...
The Sweetest Words of All
Grim poses a fascinating question:
The finest words in the English language are, I am convinced: "You've earned it."
If you've another suggestion, post it below. Yet beware: What can match it? Here is a recognition that what you have is won by right, given by men of equal standing. We are Americans, after all: this admission is granted freely, by free men. What matches it?
This is great discussion fodder. Go over and put your two cents in.
March 14, 2009
Karl Rove nails it:
Presidents throughout history have kept lists of political foes. But the Obama White House is the first I am aware of to pick targets based on polls. Even Richard Nixon didn't focus-group his enemies list.
Team Obama -- aided by Clintonistas Paul Begala, James Carville and Stanley Greenberg -- decided to attack Rush Limbaugh after poring over opinion research. White House senior adviser David Axelrod explicitly authorized the assault. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel assigned a White House official to coordinate the push. And Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gleefully punched the launch button at his podium, suckering the White House press corps into dropping what they were doing to get Mr. Limbaugh.
...Why did the White House do it? It was a diversionary tactic. Clues might be found in the revelation that senior White House staff meet for two hours each Wednesday evening to digest their latest polling and focus-group research. I would bet a steak dinner at Morton's in Chicago these Wednesday Night Meetings discussed growing public opposition to spending, omnibus pork, more bailout money for banks and car companies, and new taxes on energy, work and capital.
What better way to divert public attention from these more consequential if problematic issues than to start a fight with a celebrity conservative? Cable TV, newspapers and newsweeklies would find the conflict irresistible. Something has to be set aside to provide more space and time to the War on Rush; why not the bad economic news?
Can you imagine the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth that would have ensued, had the Bush White House launched a coordinated assault on Keith Olbermann?
This was a guy who made a career of shouting to the rooftops that we were living in a fascist police state in which our civil rights were slowly wending their tortuous way through the large intestine of Barney the White House terrier.
In Keith's world, conspiracies and crimes against humanity lurked in every shadow. Some might have detected minor logical inconsistencies between Keith's million dollar salary, his frenzied nightly truth-to-powering, and the notion that under George W. Bush our free speech rights had been reduced to little more than fertilizer for the rose bushes on the presidential lawn.
Some might even have wondered: if, as Keith claimed, the White House was brutally repressing all forms of uber-patriotic dissent why wasn't Mr. Olbermann - illegally and in defiance of evolving international standards of decency - promptly rendered to an airless dungeon at Gitmo to have the frilly panties of fascist oppression stretched over his screaming maw?
But I digress.
Everyone understands that the rhetoric of politicians rarely conforms to the reality on the ground. They preach comity and practice division and vicious partisanship. But even a parliament of whores has some standards. Mr. Hope and Change has been scolding his opponents representing the concerns of the voters who elected them (it being a fairly safe assumption that Republican congressmen have largely Republican constituents who want them to fight for Republican ideas).
Going after your political opponents is one thing. But a Republican president who purposely targeted the media would have been accused of intimidation at best and censorship at worst. Even more troubling is Mr. Obama's seeming lack of respect for the office to which he's been elected.
The President of the United States does not stoop to attack private citizens for exercising their First Amendment rights. It is both improper and unseemly. Countering arguments is legitimate.
Attacking the person who makes them is conduct unbecoming the leader of the free world. The last President understood that.
This one carves out time every Wednesday night to stick his finger into the wind. It's hard to imagine Abraham Lincoln focus grouping while the Civil War was tearing the country apart. But since Mr. Obama's legacy is in the hands of a media firmly in the tank for him, this most unpresidential behavior will no doubt be quickly consigned to the rubbish bin of history.
Judge Orders Mother to Cease Home Schooling
am still trying to decide what I think about this situation:
A judge in Wake County said three Raleigh children need to switch from home school to public school. Judge Ned Mangum is presiding over divorce proceeding of the children's parents, Thomas and Venessa Mills.
Venessa Mills was in the fourth year of home schooling her children who are 10, 11 and 12 years old. They have tested two years above their grade levels, she said.
"We have math, reading; we have grammar, science, music," Venessa Mills said.
Her lessons also have a religious slant, which the judge said was the root of the problem.
"My teaching is strictly out of the Bible, and it's very clear. It is very evident so I just choose to follow the Bible," Venessa Mills said.
In an affidavit filed Friday in the divorce case, Thomas Mills stated that he "objected to the children being removed from public school." He said Venessa Mills decided to home school after getting involved with Sound Doctrine church "where all children are home schooled."
Thomas Mills also said he was "concerned about the children's religious-based science curriculum" and that he wants "the children to be exposed to mainstream science, even if they eventually choose to believe creationism over evolution."
In an oral ruling, Mangum said the children should go to public school.
"He was upfront and said that, 'It's not about religion.' But yet when it came down to his ruling and reasons why, 'He said this would be a good opportunity for the children to be tested in the beliefs that I have taught them,'" Venessa Mills said.
All sides agree the children have thrived with home school, and Vanessa Mills thinks that should be reason enough to continue teaching at home.
This is one of those odd situations where I can see both sides of the argument.
It is hardly unreasonable for a father to want some influence over his children's upbringing. A child's school curriculum and religious training play an enormous role in his intellectual and moral development.
The article didn't state how much child support this gentleman is paying, nor does it spell out the custody arrangements. But presumably since neither parental rights nor parental obligations terminate upon divorce, he is paying child support. And it would be next to impossible for the mother to home school 3 children who are constantly shuttling back and forth between two households. So it seems reasonable to conclude the mother has full custody and the father, visitation rights.
I'm leery of the notion that paying child support "buys" the right to participate in the upbringing of your own children. Children are not commodities. On the other hand, a parental interest in child rearing doesn't magically go away simply because two adults choose to walk away from their marriage vows.
But even though I can understand the father's concerns, the judge's rationale strikes me as almost spectacularly dishonest. In family courts the controlling issue is supposed to be the best interest of the child. This is so because children don't choose to have their families broken into pieces: this unpleasant turn of events was foisted on them by their parents.
I see little rational justification for concluding the only way to provide exposure to evolution based science texts is to remove three children from a challenging curriculum which provides lots of individual attention and place them in a less challenging one where they will receive very little. It also makes little sense to uproot these kids from the secure and familiar social environment they've enjoyed for years (they attend a church where most families home school) and force them, in addition to dealing with the pain and loss of divorce, to adjust to yet another upheaval simply because one class the father wants them to have is missing from the curriculum.
Could the father's concerns not be addressed by adding a evolution-based science text to their studies? If science is such a priority to the father, can he not take his children to museums? Or buy them books and videos which expose them to these concepts?
Full disclosure: I home schooled my sons for a year. The curriculum I used, though I'm an Episcopalian, was a fundamentalist Christian one. We dealt with the disparity between our beliefs and my sons' curriculum by talking to our children about values. You know: that whole parenting/teachable moment thing?
After one year in this curriculum both my children's test scores shot through the roof even though they'd previously attended the best private school in the area. The science and math texts in particular, though they did include some fundamentalist sermonizing, were far more rigorous and thorough than anything they experienced before or subsequently - either in public or private school. I looked at the situation a net plus: an opportunity to discuss what we believe - and why - with our children.
It's not hard to turn this scenario on its face and imagine the judge's ruling if the children had been in public school, the mother was not religious, and it was instead the father who objected to the evolution-based science text used in the school. Let's assume the mother still has full custody and the father visitation rights.
Does anyone seriously believe that judge would have ordered the mother to remove the children from public school and change to an entirely faith-based curriculum simply to ensure their exposure to creationist science texts?
If you do, there's a very large bridge I'd like to sell you. Something tells me the policy preferences of the father and judge played a far larger role in the disposition of this case than the best interest of the children.
What say you?
March 13, 2009
The Reagan Standard: Is a False Narrative Destroying the GOP?
"When I began entering into the give and take of legislative bargaining in Sacramento, a lot of the most radical conservatives who had supported me during the election didn't like it.
"Compromise" was a dirty word to them and they wouldn't face the fact that we couldn't get all of what we wanted today. They wanted all or nothing and they wanted it all at once. If you don't get it all, some said, don't take anything.
I'd learned while negotiating union contracts that you seldom got everything you asked for. And I agreed with FDR, who said in 1933: 'I have no expectations of making a hit every time I come to bat. What I seek is the highest possible batting average.'
If you got seventy-five or eighty percent of what you were asking for, I say, you take it and fight for the rest later, and that's what I told these radical conservatives who never got used to it.
- Ronald Wilson Reagan
If there has been any consistent theme to my writing over the past 5 years, it has been the importance of perspective.
We humans turn to the past when deeply troubled by events moving too swiftly and unpredictably for our comfort. The perspective of bygone days seems to offer a handhold on current events. For unlike the still uncertain future and the constantly changing present, the past is controllable, frozen, fixed. It's settled: one of the few things we can count on not to mutate in unpredictable and frightening ways.
Or so we think.
Much to our discomfort, observers of history quickly learn that even the past is subject to interpretation. More often than not I find myself surprised and unsettled when looking to history to clarify and make sense of the present.
My preconceived notions about what was are rarely reinforced by journeying back in time. "Wow! That's not how I remember it!", I think to myself (as opposed to thinking to someone else). But history exists not to confirm our biases, but lend context to our understanding of the present. Thus it is that despite the disparate vantage points from which conservatives and liberals view men long dead and controversies long ago settled, I nearly always find common threads in the perplexing and competing views of what was: conclusions even those with diametrically opposed views of history reach seemingly against their will. Often these agreed-upon commonalities undermine the author's most cherished assumptions. Regardless of political affiliation, rude history will snatch the Raisin D'Etre right out of your breakfast bowl and harsh your mellow every time.
The great danger of looking backwards is that the rear view mirror of history is a rose-colored one in which contentious issues are simplified and complex or contradictory information 'disappeared' by those wishing to either villify or lionize imperfect and conflicted men. Fortunately for us, even the most partisan observers generally discover (notwithstanding the personal and political filters we clutch at so desperately) a few inconvenient home truths.
And so it has been with Ronald Wilson Reagan.
During the Republican primaries Reagan's name was invoked so often and so shamelessly that I began to wonder how many debates it would take for his ghost to materialize like a genie conjured from its bottle. I imagined the Gipper rising up in a wisp of smoke, grabbing Mike Huckabee by his shirt collar and body slamming him to the floor before stalking off stage with the Republican nomination clenched in his manly fist. Certainly, pundits and the party faithful seemed far more interested in resurrecting a dead man than supporting any of living, breathing candidates who'd thrown their hats into the ring against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It was then I realized that many Republicans preferred an idealized vision of the past to their disappointing present.
I realized right then and there that we were going to lose this election.
For too many conservatives no mere mortal could hope to live up to the mythic memory of a man long dead and darn it all, if they couldn't have Reagan or his clone, they would stay home.
What they got for their pains was Barack Obama. The magnitude of that mistake; that stubborn refusal to order from the menu, is perhaps best conveyed in pictures:
Daniel Henninger comments:
One finds many charts in a federal budget, most attributed to such deep mines of data as the Census Bureau or the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The one on page 11 is attributed to "Piketty and Saez."
Either you know instantly what "Piketty and Saez" means, or you don't. If you do, you spent the past two years working to get Barack Obama into the White House. If you don't, their posse has a six-week head start on you.
Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, French economists, are rock stars of the intellectual left. Their specialty is "earnings inequality" and "wealth concentration."
Messrs. Piketty and Saez have produced the most politically potent squiggle along an axis since Arthur Laffer drew his famous curve on a napkin in the mid-1970s. Laffer's was an economic argument for lowering tax rates for everyone. Piketty-Saez is a moral argument for raising taxes on the rich.
Not even John McCain's fiercest critics can honestly maintain that he would, had he been elected, set about implementing the most radical restructuring of the basic relationship between the federal government and those it governs since the Great Society. Decades after that well-intentioned initiative, the human wreckage continues to pile up. Far from eliminating poverty or equalizing an uneven playing field, LBJ's misguided legacy has wrought 70% black illegitimacy rates and persistent multi-generational poverty. After more than forty years, the exit strategy for the war on poverty is nowhere in sight and we're no closer to winning.
And contrary to comforting Republican mantras, we've failed to roll back the tide. Regardless of who controlled the White House or Congress, federal spending has risen at a constant and accelerating rate.
The truth hurts. And yet it is only by looking at hard facts that we can hope to free ourselves from this mess.
And the truth is that, contrary to the idealized image constructed for Ronald Reagan by conservatives looking for someone to lead us out of the wilderness, the Gipper's factual record is far different from the rose-colored view we cherish because it seems to offer hope. For one thing, while Reagan was a deeply principled man, he never forgot the value of compromise. Both modern retrospectives and contemporaneous commentary confirm this time after time. In "The Reagan I Knew", no less a conservative icon than William F. Buckley, Jr. admitted it was Reagan's principled compromise - not inflexible and doctrinaire ideology - that won the Cold War for us:
Buckley's disagreement with Reagan regarding Gorbachev highlights the contrast between the two men.
An ideologue with political savvy, Buckley packaged his ideas to popularize them but ultimately cared more about staying consistent.
A politician with an ideological edge, Reagan rooted his policies in a broader vision but cared more about staying popular -- and winning. Reagan's surprising nimbleness was a key to his success; he was far more willing to compromise and change than his allies or his opponents expected. Reagan governed in America's great centrist tradition of muscular moderation, balancing the ideal and the real, the politics of what should be done with the politics of what could be done.
A contemporaneous source shows a president who quickly learned that priorities and reality often trump even the strongest principles:
On August 2, 1988, President Ronald Reagan announced that he had changed his mind about the pro-union plant-closing bill. He had vetoed it three months earlier, but now let it become law without his signature after intense pressure from presidential nominee George Bush and former Treasury Secretary James Baker, now Bush's campaign chairman. Reagan claimed that only this action would enable him to sign a Congressional trade bill almost unequaled in its anti-consumer protectionism.
Ronald Reagan's faithful followers claim he has used his skills as the Great Communicator to reverse the growth of Leviathan and inaugurate a new era of liberty and free markets. Reagan himself said, "It is time to check and reverse the growth of government."
Yet after nearly eight years of Reaganism, the clamor for more government intervention in the economy was so formidable that Reagan abandoned the free-market position and acquiesced in further crippling of the economy and our liberties.
A colleague from his California days recalls Reagan's rejection of hard line politics:
How do modern conservatives reconcile Reagan's domestic legacy as California's governor, such as legalizing abortion and radically increasing welfare spending in the state?
They don't. Largely they ignore it.
Because he abandoned these positions when he became president?
Not really. For example, he said he was against Roe v. Wade, but he never once in eight years spoke to the annual meeting in Washington of the Right to Life Coalition. Never once. He would send a message. So I think one must look at his practice, both as governor and as president, as not hard line - certainly not as hard line as some in the religious right would have wished him to be.
That's an important part of why he was able to govern so effectively. He took what might be perceived as the rough edge off of conservatism, but at the same time he certainly did capture the support of the social conservatives, largely by running against President Gerald Ford [in 1976, for the GOP presidential nomination].
What do you mean by the "rough edge"?
The sense that if you're not with us, you're against us. That we cannot reasonably reach an accommodation, which is of course the nature of compromise and the nature of the American political system. For some, the issue of abortion does not admit compromise. But President Reagan never seemed to have that view, no doubt dating from his days as governor. So people ignore it. The social conservative wing tends to make Reagan more of an absolutist on the social issues than he really was.
An analogous situation is Senator Barry Goldwater's support for gay rights. It's probably not widely known, but he made the comment [in the early 1990s] that you don't have to be straight to shoot straight. He thought it was fine to be gay and be in the military: why should we have a rule against gay people serving our country in the military. You'll never hear that from a social conservative. I suppose all of us do this: we take our icons and try to make them more in the image of what we wish them to be.
As governor of California, Reagan's may have talked the talk, but he didn't always walk the walk. His willingness to bow to reality even when it conflicted with his deeply held principles refutes the view of him as inflexible and uncompromising:
An avowed opponent of big government, Reagan, during his gubernatorial tenure, coined one of his most famous declarations: "Government is not the solution -- government is the problem."
Yet, despite promises to slash bureaucracy, state spending increased from $4.6 billion to more than $10.2 billion when he left office in 1974.
He personally opposed abortion on religious grounds, yet signed the state's law legalizing abortion, the most liberal in the nation at the time.
He promised never to raise taxes, and then agreed, in his first year in office, to nearly $1 billion in tax increases. He had the last word, however. By the time his tenure ended, he had signed almost $6 billion in tax rebates and, despite the growth in government, more than 300,000 names had been removed from the state's welfare rolls.
"He was a pragmatist from the beginning," said John Bunzel, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, who was appointed president of San Jose State University during Reagan's governorship.
"He allowed a lot of the people around him to do the dirty work of politics. He never really did the dirty work. He was able to stay above the fray, essentially, I think, because he was always sure of himself," said Bunzel, who also served as head of the political science department at San Francisco State during the student protests and riots of the mid-1960s.
"He never carried his ideology to the point where it became bitter or inflexible. The strength of the man was his ability to get along with people and settle for half a loaf," Bunzel said.
Hmmm... a strong ideologue who was forced to compromise when he found his constituents didn't all agree with him. Where have we heard that before? What is perhaps most discomfiting is the actual record of an icon renowed for his ardent defense of (and supposed effectiveness in bringing about) fiscal responsibility and reductions in the size of government. Here again, a few pictures are worth a thousand words:
Fred Barnes refutes the cherished notions of both conservatives and liberals regarding Ronald W. Reagan. What is revealed is a complex picture. In reality, Reagan was neither the uncompromising giant of conservative myth nor the compliant pragmatist of liberal lore. What he was, was a shrewd politician who understood that sometimes one must verbally champion one thing while doing exactly the opposite; one who understood the role of compromise in preserving priorities:
Conservatives attack Mr. Bush most vehemently on excessive government spending, and there they have a point. He could have been more frugal, despite the exigent circumstances, especially in his first term. But it's also on the spending issue that the Reagan myth--Reagan as the relentless swashbuckler against spending--is most pronounced. He won an estimated $35 billion in spending cuts in 1981, his first year in office. After that, spending soared, so much so that his budget director David Stockman, who found himself on the losing end of spending arguments, wrote a White House memoir with the subtitle, "Why the Reagan Revolution Failed."
With Reagan in the White House, spending reached 23.5% of GDP in 1984, the peak year of the military buildup. Under Mr. Bush, the top spending year is 2005 at 20.1% of GDP, though it is expected to rise as high as 20.7% this year, driven upward by Iraq and hurricane relief.
Mr. Reagan was a small government conservative, but he found it impossible to govern that way. He made tradeoffs. He gave up the fight to curb domestic spending in exchange for congressional approval of increased defense spending. He cut taxes deeply but signed three smaller tax hikes. Rather than try to reform Social Security, he agreed to increase payroll taxes.
The myth would have it that Reagan was tireless in shrinking the size of government, a weak partisan always ready to deal with Democrats, and not the hardliner we thought he was. The opposite is true. Reagan compromised, as even the most conservative politicians often do, to save his political strength for what mattered most--defeating the Soviet empire and keeping taxes low.
Reagan won two terms in office because he was - first and foremost - a politician. He was a gifted communicator whose rhetoric refused to compromise on some conservative ideals; but when viewed dispassionately through the lens of history, both his foreign and domestic policy balanced idealism with expediency:
Viewed in the post-George W. Bush era, Reagan seems a greater president than ever. Not because all he touched turned to gold—far from it—but simply because the contrast in demeanor between Reagan and his most recent Republican successor is so great. No one would accuse either man of being detail-oriented, but the Great Communicator had a charm that worked wonders.
Nonetheless, since Reagan is deified by conservatives today it’s unfortunate that the Republican Party hasn’t learned that what worked in 1980 is not necessarily applicable or directly transferrable to 2009. America—and the world—have changed. The GOPs declarations of fealty to the Reaganite Ideal would be more impressive if the party didn’t seem to have failed to learn from the essentially pragmatic approach Reagan pursued. Even Iran-Contra, after all, was a marriage between pragmatism (get the hostages home) and principle (support the Contras). Nor, for that matter, was Reagan the champion of small government or fiscal rectitude that his admirers sometimes pretend he was. Once again, the Idea of Reagan has trumped the reality.
Though foreigners saw Reagan as an ideologue, it’s now clear that he was much less rigid in his thinking than the GOP is now. Withdrawing from Lebanon and dialogue with the Soviets were twin episodes that showed the practical, realistic side of Reaganism. His successors prefer the comforts of dogma to the inconvenience of compromise.
With the Republican party in disarray and the prospect of titanic changes to the fundamental structure of the economy and the federal government looming over us, it's understandable to wish for an idealized comic book hero to rescue us from the wilderness. But Ronald Reagan's strength was not his inflexibility but his sense of priorities.
He understood that you need to possess power before you can wield it and that in the long run, no one living in the real world can avoid trade-offs. Everything has a cost.
It's a shame that Reagan's true genius - clear sighted, pragmatic leadership - has been obscured by a myth no modern candidate can hope to live up to. We don't need a myth to regain the White House.
We need a strong candidate who can see the forest for the trees. Sadly, I'm not sure we're capable of recognizing such a candidate any more.
Ronald Reagan was a politician. And politicians — smart ones at least — understand that a dogged determination to follow a straight line, particularly in foreign policy, is not always the shortest route to victory. This is something critics, in both parties, of George Bush's Iraq compromises should keep in mind.
Still, it is a sign of the poor repute of ideas and idealism in this country today that so many people believe there's a contradiction between being humane, decent, and practical and being "ideological."
Ideology, properly understood, is a checklist of priorities and principles. And conservative ideology explicitly accepts that compromise is part of life, since this world can never be made as perfect as the next.
March 12, 2009
Stupidity on Stilts
Apparently Democrats, along with some people in my own party, don't do nuance well. The usual cast of nitwits (via memeorandum) have their Hanes Ultrasheers all in a wad about Michael Steel's latest "gaffe".
Except I don't see anything at all inconsistent in his statements. As a matter of fact, they happen to coincide with my own beliefs on the matter. I'm a conservative. Do you want to throw me out of the party for failing to toe the line, or is anyone within the Republican party able to grasp the simple concept that any large group of people who come together because they share a core set of beliefs may not mirror each others' beliefs on 100% of the issues?
Here's the supposed conflict from Steele:
How much of your pro-life stance, for you, is informed not just by your Catholic faith but by the fact that you were adopted?
Oh, a lot. Absolutely. I see the power of life in that—I mean, and the power of choice! The thing to keep in mind about it… Uh, you know, I think as a country we get off on these misguided conversations that throw around terms that really misrepresent truth.
The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.
Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?
Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.
Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?
I think Roe v. Wade—as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.
Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?
The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states.Let them decide.
It's plain from reading Steele's original remark that "do women have the right to an abortion" refers to this nebulous concept called reality.
The fact is that women do currently possess the legal right to an abortion in this country. They can choose to bear a child or have it killed. They don't have to ask Michael Steele for permission.
Steele's personal opinion is that abortion is wrong and Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. But he recognizes that his personal opinion is not synonomous with the law of the land.
Moreover, he recognizes that in the unlikely event that Roe were overturned, the issue would pass to the states and they would decide on an individual basis the form in which abortion rights would vest in any individual woman. You know, that whole democracy thing?
And this would happen in all 50 states. Even if Michael Steele didn't like it.
It's truly not that difficult, folks. Try to keep up.
More thoughts here from a reality based Republican.
Res Ipsa Loquitur
Blogging is a strange occupation.
The morning search for blog fodder often finds the Princess zipping and darting about the Intertubes, following an erratic breadcrumb trail that fails to result in one of her now-legendary attacks of logorrhea. One such journey began with what may be the only known portrait of Shakespeare.
In 2002 Jonathon Keats held a petition drive to pass 'A = A' as statutory law in Berkeley, California. Specifically, the proposed law stated that, "every entity shall be identical to itself". Any entity caught being unidentical to itself was to be subject to a fine of up to one tenth of a cent.
As some wag once noted, "The mind is a terrible thing."
Scott Johnson notes Walter Pincus' whitewashing of the Chas Freeman withdrawal brouhaha:
One would never know from the article that Freeman ascribed his withdrawal to "unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country," to "a special interest group," to "a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired," to "the Israel Lobby," to "a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government - in this case, the government of Israel," or to any of the other variations Freeman worked into his statement.
Pincus's article does reveal that one of Freeman's congressional critics is named Israel. I'm sure that makes Freeman happy. Pincus's article does not report on any of the opposition to his appointment by Chinese human rights activists and sympathizers (including my old teacher Jonathan Mirsky), or the reasons for their opposition. I'm sure that makes Freeman happy too.
Freeman's parting shot combined falsehoods, misdirection, and anti-Semitism combined with imputations of dual loyalty (at best). It is not only newsworthy in itself, it also raises serious questions about the Obama administration's judgment. In short, the Washington Post has expurgated this story in a most discreditable manner.
Though this may be disappointing, it is hardly surprising. Pincus has long urged reporters to use their positions as filterers of the news to build support for their personal political objectives:
Pincus does something rare for any mainstream journalist: he openly argues for a more political press. He even uses the word “activist,” which is forbidden in the mainstream newsroom code. And he says that courage in political reporting sometimes means the courage to admit you’re a participant—a player, a power in your own right—within the struggle for self-government, the battle for public opinion and the politics of the day.
This view of "the press as players" rather than unbiased filters is echoed by Jay Rosen:
The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst… the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for. So while the press likes being a player, it does not like being asked: what are you for?
In fact, the instructions are not to think about it too much, because to know what you are playing for would be to have a kind of agenda. And by all mainstream definition the political reporter must have no kind of agenda. The Washington Post, National Public Radio, CNN, Newsweek, the Des Moines Register, and all similar competitors, are officially (and rhetorically) committed to “no agenda” journalism, also known as the view from nowhere. So while it might be recognized that the press is a player, journalists also see an unsolvable problem if they take one more intellectual step. So they dare not.
Except that some do because it’s patent. “No longer are we just the messengers, observers on the sidelines, witch’s mirrors faithfully telling society how it looks,” said Mike O’Neill, former editor of the New York Daily News. “Now we are deeply embedded in the democratic process itself, as principal actors rather than bit players or mere audience.”
Amongst themselves, the press openly admit they're using news reportage as a blunt weapon to gain political power. And then they turn around and tell us they're honest brokers whose sacred First Amendment calling (which must never be interfered with even if this means shielding criminals or obstructing justice) is to tell it like it is and keep government honest.
But if there are to be no limits on the press, where is the check on their enormous power? Are we seriously to believe the media alone, of all institutions on earth, are magically immune to the age old maxim that absolute power corrupts absolutely?
The press would have you think they're impartial and unbiased. Amongst themselves, however, they sing a different tune entirely.
March 11, 2009
Oh For Pete's Sake...
President Barack Obama invoked the travails of women in his family as he signed an executive order on Wednesday establishing a new interagency panel devoted to the concerns of women and girls.
“I sign this order not just as a president, but as a son, as a grandson, a husband and a father,” Obama told a mostly female audience of activists and lawmakers in the East Room of the White House. “I saw my grandmother work her way up to become one of the first women bank vice presidents in the state of Hawaii, but I also saw how she hit a glass ceiling—how men no more qualified than she was kept moving up the corporate ladder ahead of her.”
Obama credited his wife, Michelle, for “juggling work and parenting with more skill and grace than anybody that I know.” But the president said he was also aware that those burdens often weighed on his wife.
“I also saw how it tore at her at times. When she was at work, she was worrying about the girls. When she was with the girls she was worrying about work,” he said.
There's a convenient solution to that. It's called staying at home with the kids.
If women are fully equal to men in talent, industriousness and intelligence (and I happen to think we are) we shouldn't require special commissions to study why we can't compete with our equals in the workplace or why we can't handle the tradeoffs inherent in any life choice.
The Austin American-Statesman has fun with numbers:
An editorial in the Austin American-Statesman contains an especially silly rendition of an antiwar trope:More than 4,100 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since Bush ordered the invasion six years ago this month. By comparison, the entire Civil War was fought in four years, the U.S. involvement in World War I lasted less than two years, and the United States and its allies crushed both the Empire of Japan and Nazi Germany in just under four years.
Also by comparison, according to the Information Please Almanac, 364,511 Union troops (and at least 133,821 Confederates) died during the Civil War, 116,156 American troops perished in World War I, and 405,399 met their end during World War II.
Apparently the AAS is unhappy that the casualties have been coming so slowly in Iraq.
As I've observed far too many times to count, right down the road from Villa Cassandranita is Sharpsburg, MD - home to the battlefield where Antietam was fought. During a single day of fighting:
The Union had 12,401 casualties with 2,108 dead.
Confederate casualties were 10,318 with 1,546 dead.
This represented 25% of the Federal force and 31% of the Confederate force. More Americans died on September 17, 1862, than on any other day in the nation's military history.
Of course, had it been possible, the Austin American-Statesman would have been there with a stopwatch and an abacus. On the bright side, now they'll be able to photograph returning coffins so they can at last reveal the "hidden" cost of war.
Welcome Back... For Now
It is a strange thing to come back from that world to this one. They would be hard-pressed to be less similar. The world in Iraq is a world of work: from the time you wake until the time you lie down is uninterrupted labor. Thirteen hour days are normal, fifteen not unusual, longer yet not shocking. There is no weekend, though you may be given a few hours of Sunday morning for worship services if you like. There is otherwise no rest of any kind. Every moment is employed.
It is also a world of crisis. The war has reached the point at which it is, frankly, no longer a war at all: it is now what is properly called a Foreign Internal Defense mission. The war is over. Yet the crises continue, because now there are new problems -- like how to reduce forces. The brigade I work with is now occupying the space of what was, a year ago, four brigades' space -- a division. When it arrived, it had one brigade's space, then three (as it replaced a brigade that had already assumed a second brigade's battlespace), then four. The operating environment has constantly expanded as it has taken over land where other brigades were leaving and not being backfilled. The planning and logistical and operational challenges of that kind of continual movement and expansion are not small.
It is also a world without tenderness, although there is plenty of companionship between comrades. At home, when you grow tired or sad or any of a host of other things, there is a wife or a loved-one to comfort you. At least there is a dog or a cat! Not so in Iraq, where there is no whining permitted. Drive on.
This is what my husband said about his year over there.
I remember a few months before he came back. Every now and then he would send me photos: him in a Humvee in some caravan, in a helicopter, standing in the palace with a group of Marines, watching an impromptu wrestling match.
I watched his face change slowly over the months. On the phone or in emails he was always upbeat and uncomplaining, but in each photo (though he was smiling) I watched helplessly as his smile morphed into a grimace and the tight expression around his eyes deepened. Finally, one day as I sat in the living room talking to my parents, tears just began running down my face.
I was powerless to stop them. I thought he was dying; that something was very, very wrong. All the fears I'd bottled up for the past 9 months just washed over me like a summer storm.
And then just as suddenly, they were gone.
Go welcome him back. For now.
Another Time Waster
Your result for The Ultimate Shakespearean Romance Test...
Passionate (66%) and Low Infatuation
"Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said thy edge should blunter be than appetite."
Your romance quotient is 66% and you have a low propensity for infatuation. You enjoy romance considerably, and it still can control your outlook. This is something you need in your life. Since you don't tend to become overly infatuated, you make sensible choices and can be an ideal partner for someone who enjoys a romantic relationship.
Bad News for The Won?
Who knows - something may be skewing it. Still, not good.
When Judges Meddle
Today the Court strikes down as inadequate the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants. The political branches crafted these procedures amidst an ongoing military conflict, after much careful investigation and thorough debate. The Court rejects them today out of hand, without bothering to say what due process rights the detainees possess, without explaining how the statute fails to vindicate those rights, and before a single petitioner has even attempted to avail himself of the law’s operation. And to what effect? The majority merely replaces a review system designed by the people’s representatives with a set of shapeless procedures to be defined by federal courts at some future date. One cannot help but think, after surveying the modest practical results of the majority’s ambitious opinion, that this decision is not really about the detainees at all, but about control of federal policy regarding enemy combatants.
The majority is adamant that the Guantanamo detainees are entitled to the protections of habeas corpus—its opinion begins by deciding that question. I regard the issue as a difficult one, primarily because of the unique and unusual jurisdictional status of Guantanamo Bay. I nonetheless agree with JUSTICE SCALIA’s analysis of our precedents and the pertinent history of the writ, and accordingly join his dissent. The important point for me, however, is that the Court should have resolved these cases on other grounds. Habeas is most fundamentally a procedural right, a mechanism for contesting the legality of executive detention. The critical threshold question in these cases, prior to any inquiry about the writ’s scope, is whether the system the political branches designed protects whatever rights the detainees may possess. If so, there is no need for any additional process, whether called “habeas” or something else.
- Chief Justice Roberts, dissenting opinion in Boumediene v. Bush
Last June in a decision I and many others predicted would come back to haunt us, a split Supreme Court arrogantly set aside the Constitution, the separation of powers doctrine, and the last remaining vestigies of judicial modesty:
Instead of an elected Commander in Chief as outlined under our Constitution, we now have a committee of nine unelected jurists who wish to prosecute war by bringing in international law; ignoring their own precedent and the text of the Constitution as the urge strikes them...
As the Court continues to render citizenship and sovereignty increasingly irrelevant, one wonders what will be left to defend and more importantly, whether we will be left any means of defending it?
Sadly, rather than realizing their error, a reckless judiciary has chosen to further erode the Constitutionally mandated structure of our federal government: that of three separate but co-equal branches necessarily operating in tension with each other to check and balance the powers asserted by each alone:
Last June, in its cataclysmic Boumediene decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled — against the weight of precedent, tradition, and common sense — that non-U.S. nationals, held by the military outside sovereign American territory (i.e., beyond the writ of American judges) as prisoners captured in a war authorized by Congress, are nevertheless vested with a constitutional right to challenge their detention as enemy combatants in our courts. The decision was a calamity on many levels, but two merit our immediate attention.
First, the 5–4 majority dramatically and dangerously revolutionized the separation-of-powers doctrine that is the cornerstone of our liberty. For more than two centuries, we proceeded under the assumption that a self-determining people makes its most significant decisions through the political process, with policymakers answerable to voters and therefore removable if they fail either to protect our security or to respect our freedom. ...
Boumediene cast all of that aside. It did not merely vest constitutional rights in hostile aliens with no claim on them. It supplanted Congress and the commander-in-chief in prescribing the entitlements of enemy prisoners, a function hitherto understood to be military and diplomatic — not legal. And worse still, the Court refused to concede its duty to defer to the supremacy of the political branches in their realms of constitutional responsibility, or, indeed, that there are any areas in which politically insulated judges are institutionally incompetent. Rather, in the breathtaking decree of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the “Executive’s powers as Commander in Chief” are “vindicated” when they are “confirmed by the Judicial Branch” — that those powers are assigned by the Constitution to the executive rather than the judiciary apparently is irrelevant.
But even more alarming than the Court's evisceration of the separation of powers is its stunning refusal to recognize the implications of judicial overreach. Not only has the Court done violence to the Constitution; it has, by virtue of three successive decisions, fundamentally changed the concept of a nation-state: a political entity composed of citizens who live within defined borders and who enjoy rights intended for those who submit to the social contract and whose jurisdiction (literally, power to speak the law) does not and cannot be willfully extended by judicial fiat to non-citizens at war with the United States.
In a recent and related decision (al Odah) the Court has now reached the preposterous conclusion that in addition to possessing Constitutional rights, wartime detainees should be handed MORE protections than United States citizens. Where American criminal defendants are due only discovery that is exculpatory in nature, the Court in its infinite wisdom has the protections afforded to American citizens are not good enough for our sworn enemies. They must be allowed access to all evidence, even if such evidence is classified and even if it does not provide evidence that they are innocent. This is madness.
Given that the New York Times regularly discloses classified material to our enemies, the Court has effectively given the keys to the vault of national secrets to those with an avowed desire to destroy us. Back in June I linked Victoria Toensing's compelling testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ms. Toensign, a co-author of the FISA statute, testified that the rules which protect criminal defendants were never designed for the battlefield, much less for application in nations with laws which fundamentally differ from our own:
A federal trial in the United States may preclude reliable evidence of guilt. When the evidence against a defendant is collected outside the United States (the usual situation for international terrorism investigations) serious problems arise for using it in a domestic trial. The American criminal justice system excludes evidence of guilt if law enforcement does not comply with certain procedures, a complicated system of rules not taught to the Rangers and Marines who could be locked in hand-to-hand combat with the putative defendants. For sure, the intricate procedures of the American criminal justice system are not taught to the anti-Taliban fighters who may capture prisoners. Nor to the foreign intelligence agencies and police forces who will also collect evidence.
At just what point is a soldier required to reach into his flak jacket and pull out a Miranda rights card? There are numerous evidentiary and procedural requirements of federal trials that demonstrate the folly of anyone thinking such trials should be used in wartime for belligerents.
It was in recognition of these very real constraints, not out of any desire to trample the rights of detainees, that Congress stood up an alternate set of courts to review the detention of wartime prisoners; a system the Court arrogantly set aside without bothering to demonstrate how it failed to protect the rights of non-U.S. citizens detained during a time of war. Now, with the prospect of forced disclosure of classified information, the option of detaining rather than killing foreign combatants is recklessly swept aside - all in the name of "protecting" their rights. In the Court's learned opinion, it is better to be dead than to be tried by a military tribunal:
The primary reason enemy combatants may be detained under the laws of war is to prevent their return to the battlefield. The depletion of enemy assets brings the war to a more rapid, more humanitarian conclusion. American courts now stand this principle on its head. Henceforth, the price of detaining an enemy operative will be the coerced disclosure of intelligence that may be more valuable to the enemy than is the combatant himself. Factor in the enormous resource drain the litigation requires, and holding prisoners becomes a net loss for the war effort. And the war effort becomes a waste of time unless you only kill rather than capture — which is al-Qaeda’s way of doing things, but not ours.
This outcome has always been the fondest dream of the anti-war Left. That is why the Democrat-dominated Congress turned a deaf ear when, after Boumediene, the Bush administration (especially Attorney General Michael Mukasey) implored lawmakers to fashion rules and procedures for combatant-detention hearings. “We don’t have to pass anything,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler told Newsweek. “Let the courts deal with it.” Democrats knew that, if they sat on their hands, the courts would do their dirty work for them. And so it has come to pass. The war is over, at least until the next 9/11 — we can make ourselves defenseless, but radical Islam is not calling off the jihad.
Congress' shameful failure to act and the Court's reckless arrogation of judicial modesty, far from yielding a kindler, gentler, more just war, will render us little better than those we fight. As the military gentleman who sent this to me so cogently remarked:
...this why I don't think I will ever tell any of my people to go to any great length to capture a bad person [rather than simply killing him]
Can you blame him?
When priests are more in word than matter;
When brewers mar their malt with water;
When nobles are their tailors' tutors;
No heretics burn'd, but wenches' suitors;
Then shall the realm of Albion
Come to great confusion.
When every case in law is right;
No squire in debt, nor no poor knight;
When slanders do not live in tongues;
Nor cutpurses come not to throngs;
When usurers tell their gold i' th' field,
And bawds and whores do churches build;
Then comes the time, who lives to see't,
That going shall be us'd with feet.
March 10, 2009
I Hate To Be The One To Tell You This...
But Rush is not a popular guy. He just isn't. The evidence isn't the slightest bit ambiguous on this point. Janny Mae comments:
[The media] do not "know" that Rush is widely disliked. They BELIEVE that, because they believe their own propaganda.
No, they believe that based on long-standing empirical evidence. The fact is that outside the conservative bubble, Rush Limbaugh generates more negative than positive reactions:
From another source:
Rush burst onto the scene in the early 1990s, and immediate enjoyed a base of favorable supporters, amounting to 25-30% of the public. Initially there was substantial lack of awareness of him as well, as we'd expect with new media figures. Those unaware or unable to rate him were over 40% initially. But as his visibility exploded, this lack of awareness shrank sharply to about 20%, where it has remained ever since 1995.
But growth of awareness was not accompanied by a gain in favorable audience. Instead, favorable response has remained virtually unchanged since the early 1990s. Favorability has fluctuated between 25 and 30%. What has grown is unfavorable evaluations--- from 30% before awareness expanded to a stable 50% unfavorable rating that has also been largely stable since 1995.
So the first point of perspective is that Rush's base has remained stable and consistent from the beginning. He has not gained any share of favorable evaluations since 1993. That strong base of listeners has been hugely valuable to him but his influence does not rest on gaining widespread admirers. Rather it rests on devoted listeners who have stayed with him for 15+ years, which is a remarkable achievement.
Second point of perspective: The PPP survey is way out of line with 16 years of polling on this. PPP finds only 10% unable to rate Rush, while other polls remain around 20% unaware. Gallup in January found 11% not heard plus 16% unable to rate. Democracy Corps in November found 13% not heard and another 13% neutral. So PPP seems to have tapped a population more willing to rate or more aware than other national polling. This is an IVR poll with the very low response rate such polls generally have.
As a result, while discussion of the demographic breaks in the PPP survey are interesting, the levels of favorability reported among both men and women is substantially greater than any other poll taken over the past 16 years. PPP found 46% favorable. The highest since 2000 is 34% by Gallup in 2003, and the three polls since then have been 26%, 23% and 28%.
Bottom line, PPP has substantially overstated the level of favorability Rush enjoys among the public. His popularity and influence don't rest on the size of his supporters as a percent of the population but rather their loyalty and their share of radio listeners, a different population than adults nationally.
No one else even broke 20% highly unfavorable. [Ed. note: damn these Costco reading glasses!!! Both Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly broke 20% highly unfavorable. Thanks for the correction.] Rush's highly unfavorable score nearly twice as high as Coulter's and O'Reilly's. This isn't a close question.
FAV/UNFAV RATING VERY FAVORABLE SOMEWHAT FAVORABLE SOMEWHAT UNFAVORABLE VERY UNFAVORABLE
TIM RUSSERT 50% / 22% 20% 30% 14% 8%
KATIE COURIC 48% / 42% 16% 32% 24% 18%
BILL O'REILLY 44% / 41% 22% 22% 18%
23% BRIAN WILLIAMS 41% / 26% 16% 25% 18% 8%
PAULA ZAHN 41% / 31% 11% 30% 23% 8%
WOLF BLITZER 40% / 36% 12% 28% 22% 14%
CHARLES GIBSON 37% / 31% 12% 25% 25% 6%
SEAN HANNITY 37% / 30% 20% 17% 13% 17%
JON STEWART 37%/ 34% 14% 23% 25% 9%
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN 36% / 32% 9% 27% 20% 12%
LARRY KING 35% / 46% 8% 27% 28% 18%
BRIT HUME 34% / 31% 14% 20% 20% 11%
ANN COULTER 33% / 40% 11% 22% 16% 24%
RUSH LIMBAUGH 33% / 62% 14% 19% 21% 41%
CHRIS MATTHEWS 26% / 37% 7% 19% 26% 11%
MAUREEN DOWD 27% / 31% 7% 20% 20% 11%
ALAN COLMES 24% / 35% 5% 19% 19% 16%
MATT DRUDGE 20% / 36% 4% 19% 22% 15%
Ideology doesn’t appear to be the determining factor when it comes to ratings for reporters. While Couric tops the list of favorables, Bill O’Reilly is in second place at 46%. The highest unfavorables are earned by Rush Limbaugh (62%) and Larry King (46%). Couric (42%) and O’Reilly (41%) are the only other reporters to top the 40% mark in unfavorables.
I'm not pointing this out to piss anyone off.
I'm pointing it out because that's what the evidence supports. Lots of evidence. From many different sources. And I don't see how it profits us to huddle down inside our own echo chamber and scream "La la la la, I can't hear you" every time someone tries to point out that not everyone agrees with us. Elections are not won and lost inside an echo chamber - they play out in the real world.
It's generally a better tactic to find out what people think rather than assuming everyone thinks like we do. I know people don't want to hear this, but Rush isn't widely approved of. He just isn't.
Setting The Terms of the Debate?
You know, I'm sick to death of the silly bickering over a radio talk show host's choice of words. How many days now has the right wasted arguing over whether Rush ought to be more careful in his choice of words or not? This whole debate seems to have devolved into a cage match between two positions that don't make much sense. On the one hand, Rush has every right to say whatever he wants and though it would be helpful if he didn't go out of his way to be outrageous, he isn't going to change anytime soon.
Which makes any debate over whether he ought to be more circumspect a moot question. He isn't going to change, and that's really not the point. The point is, how much time do we want to waste defending him and others like him? Apparently, some people seem to think the future of conservativism is inextricably bound up with defending the casual utterances of a radio talk show host. Since Rush isn't running for office, I happen to think that's a distraction that chews up time we could be spending talking about what WE want to talk about: conservative ideas. And I don't understand the utility of defending Mount Rushbo. Shorter Goldstein:
1. The media will dishonestly misquote, mischaracterize, or Dowdify conservatives, no matter how careful their phrasing.
This is undoubtedly true. But the point consistently overlooked by too many conservatives is that some people make easier targets than others and that those people (in addition to making remarks that are misquoted) have a reputation for making Olbermanesque statements like this one:
... in his CPAC speech, [Rush] went out of his way to describe liberals as “deranged”:I have learned how to tweak liberals everywhere. I do it instinctively now. Tweak them in the media. And no reason to be afraid of these people. Why in the world would you be afraid of the deranged?
Using the word “deranged” to describe liberals as a whole is just silly. It’s true of some of them. But not all of them. Calling liberals deranged may make you feel good, and it may make you laugh. But many of you consider Limbaugh to be the spokesman of the conservative movement — and if our spokesmen regularly say stuff like that, we’ll alienate voters.
2. Therefore, conservative leaders should "control the terms of the debate" by vigorously defending each other's every utterance.
Oh really? How is it "controlling the terms of the debate" to allow yourself to be manoevered into defending statements like these?
The difference between Los Angeles and yogurt is that yogurt comes with less fruit.
“When a gay person turns his back on you, it is anything but an insult; it's an invitation”
[to a Black caller] "Take that bone out of your nose and call me back"
Last time I checked, the Va Tech shooter was also mentally ill. There have been killers who displayed liberal and conservative leanings. What are we reasonably to infer from that? That both liberals and conservatives are psychotic? Why even make such a statement?
Remarks like these are just plain stupid. They require no mischaracterization in order to do damage to the image of conservatism. But somehow we're "controlling the terms of the debate" when we allow the media to play them over and over and over again and then fuel the controversy by responding to them (often generating negative second order brouhahas in the process?).
The fact that Rush says perceptive things conservatives agree with doesn't alter the fact that he also intentionally makes inflammatory remarks no reasonable person wants associated with the Republican party and if your idea of "controlling the terms of the debate" is to exhort the leaders of the Republican party to defend a guy who openly admits his aim is to enrage listeners, I'm going to question your reasoning:
What's even more depressing is that so many conservatives seem to lack the fundamental ability to look honestly at themselves and see how offensive this type of statement would be if directed at conservatives by a liberal. Janeane Garofalo anyone? It doesn't matter whether Rush is joking or not.
Most people aren't going to bother to check for themselves.
There's a reason Rush is a lightning rod for the left. He openly admits trying to piss people off.
How is this a "win" for those of us who would prefer to see the Republican party control the terms of the debate by refusing to be held hostage to juvenile attempts to trap them into commenting on the ramblings of every ostensibly conservative pundit in a cast of hundreds? That's a full time job. When do we make time to promote what the party wants said?
Do we defend Kathleen Parker? How about David Frum?
Do we reflexively defend any conservative pundit, regardless of the fact that conservative pundits are all over the map? That strikes me as a fool's errand.
There's a reason the media and the DNC engage in this tactic: it presents them with one more opportunity to associate an entire party with sensationalistic quotes most of the population are never going to bother to research for themselves. The fact that some of these quotes are easily disprovable doesn't change the fact that few people's minds are changed by defending these twits. The right answer is not to get trapped into perpetuating the uproar, but to firmly move on to what WE want to talk about. If you seriously believe you're going to change minds (much less the way the media report the news) then please demonstrate how successful conservatives were in refuting the imminent threat or 16 words memes?
Sorry, but controlling the terms of the debate means not allowing ourselves to be lured off message by defending intentionally controversial pundits - by defending any pundit at all. If we want to position ourselves as the party of serious ideas, Republicans need to focus on the party platform and refuse to comment on the utterances of anyone who isn't an actual player.
To do anything else plays right into the hands of manipulative journalists who are more interested in promoting their own agenda than giving air time to ours.
Time Waster for the Day
Via Metafilter, someone with way too much time on their hands compiled a few amusing lists from Facebook entries. First, he correlated average SAT score with the favorite book listed on Facebook pages.
Pretty funny. Atlas Shrugged rates near the top (average SAT score: 1228). My favorite novel isn't on the list. He did the same thing for music. Several bands I like made the list but again, my favorite band wasn't included. Not surprising. They're kind of a niche band: Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
I like them because they're hard to pigeonhole and they rarely bore me. Here are a few clips, in case you've never heard them. This wistful song is one you may have heard on the radio:
You probably haven't heard this one, but it's one of my favorites. A little of Todd Park Mohr's blues-y guitar work:
If you're in the mood to explore, metafilter also had a link to the top 3000 recommended albums of all time. They have an extensive list of recommended songs, too (use the menu near the top of the page). If you're into jazz, there was a good a link to yet-another-jazz-blog that features rare/out of print clips. I'm not sure how closely taste in books and music correlates with intelligence, but there you go.
March 09, 2009
Working Affluent *DO* Work Harder
Not that this is anything new for Matt Yglesias, but this latest post takes his habitual illogic to new heights:
... there’s the obscene implication that if people are poor, it’s because they don’t work hard and certainly not as hard as those long-toiling business executive. As I wrote back in October 2008:I’m a veteran of several moves of a “let’s get a bunch of friends together and all move a bunch of stuff” variety. Today, I hired a moving company. It was a good choice. It’s also the kind of thing that, on a more political note, really dramatizes how bizarre it is that people often characterize current levels of inequality in the United States as reflecting a desire to reward hard work or say that in the United States you can get ahead by working hard. I’m sure the partners at Jones Day and the wizards at Goldman Sachs work hard, but I don’t think you can seriously deny that moving furniture for a living is hard work.
Indeed, one of the main advantages that professional career offer is precisely that, money aside, they don’t involve the sort of taxing physical labor associated with many low-skill jobs. Guys who move furniture are, of course, working extremely hard. And even your basic retail employee needs to be on her feet for hours and hours at a time while “executives” comfy chairs. And, again, I don’t think the Salvadoran guys who moved my bed found themselves in that line of work because they were too busy partying in college.
Look, I'm the last person in the world who is going to tell you manual labor isn't "hard". But that's not the point most of the "revolting overclass" are making. They're not saying that no one else works hard.
They're saying that contrary to some of the insinuations casually being tossed by the Obama administration and its defenders, affluent workers are affluent for a reason.
Several reasons, to be precise:
1. On average they work longer hours.
2. They made smarter choices with their lives. Labor prices (that's "wages" to the folks at home), like any other commodity sold in a free market, are subject to the laws of demand. If you choose to do something anyone can do: a job that requires no special training, knowledge or skills, you're not going to command as high a price as someone who can provide a rare skill or talent. This is not exactly rocket science.
I can testify to this first-hand.
During the years my sons were small, I had no college degree and because I couldn't command a salary high enough to offset the cost of child care, I chose to earn money by performing jobs that involved manual labor: painting houses, providing home day care, mowing, trimming and landscaping my neighbors' yards.
And I'll be the first one to tell you that is hard work. To this day, I am prone what I euphemistically call 'heat prostitution' as a result of too many days spent pushing a lawn mower in the N. Carolina sun with a 35 pound child on my back in a child carrier. When you're 24 you think you'll live forever. You don't count on the fact that the human body can only take so much abuse.
3. They deferred present gratification to maximize future rewards.
Again, throughout my life I've worked mostly in manual labor or low-skilled jobs. Who do you think were my friends whilst I was engaged in these endeavors? Other folks with no college education who worked at manual or low-paying jobs.
And I can tell you a few things about these folks:
1. Many of them are smart. Very smart, in fact.
2. None of them worked the hours traditionally expected of white collar high earners. Not a one.
3. Many if not most of them preferred to work fewer hours. They liked not having the stress involved in managing other people, and they liked not having to take their work home with them.
Any job comes with benefits and drawbacks. My husband is tethered to a Blackberry 24/7. I call it his Vibrator. It goes off at 3 am when we're sleeping. It has this obnoxious blinking light that I have secretly dubbed The Lidless Eye of Mordor. It has, in consequence, been banished from the Boudoir. If I have to hear "Bzzzzzt! Bzzzzzzzzt!" at the moment just before attaining Shangri-La, I expect it to be a sex toy and not some bozo who can't wait to tell my esteemed spouse about an impromptu staff meeting that could just as easily have been planned during the work day (aka: that magical time during which people traditionally get paid for doing work).
The point of Tigerhawk's video was not that no one else works hard. The point was that the working affluent work longer hours on average than the working poor or even the working middle class. The data happen to back him up whether we're talking about the U.S.:
During most of the 1900s, the hours of work declined for most American men. But around 1970, the share of employed men regularly working more than 50 hours per week began to increase. In fact, the share of employed, 25-to-64-year-old men who usually work 50 or more hours per week on their main job rose from 14.7 percent in 1980 to 18.5 percent in 2001.
This shift was especially pronounced among highly educated, high-wage, salaried, and older men. For college-educated men, the proportion working 50 hours or more climbed from 22.2 percent to 30.5 percent in these two decades. Between 1979 and 2002, the frequency of long work hours increased by 14.4 percentage points among the top quintile of wage earners, but fell by 6.7 percentage points in the lowest quintile. There was no increase at all in work hours among high-school dropouts.
As a result, there has been a reversal in the relationship between wages and hours. In 1983, the most poorly paid 20 percent of workers were more likely to put in long work hours than the top paid 20 percent. By 2002, the best-paid 20 percent were twice as likely to work long hours as the bottom 20 percent. In other words, the prosperous are more likely to be at work more than those earning little.
Professionals who are usually on a salary are particularly vulnerable to employer demands for longer hours. Hours at work are supplemented by extra hours spent travelling on behalf of the company and attending business functions.
Some professional groups and management executives work 70-80 hours per week with extra work in times of heavy demand. Over eighty percent of professional scientists and engineers surveyed by the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists, and Managers of Australia (APESMA) said they regularly worked unpaid overtime. In such situations those who refuse to work these hours will be passed over when it comes to promotions because it is taken as an indicator of lack of commitment to the company.
...or the EU. What's more, the fewer hours worked by Europeans seem to be a response to... guess what?
Europeans pay a price for their extravagant leisure. The average Frenchman produces only three-quarters as much as the average American, even though productivity per hour is slightly higher in France.
This raises more than one interesting question. First, why do Americans choose to work so much? (Or, if you prefer, why do Europeans choose to work so little?) Second, who's happier?
One thing to keep in mind is that all of this is new. As recently as the 1970s, Europeans worked slightly more than Americans. So the right question is not just "Why is Europe different?" but "What changed?"
What changed, according to Nobel laureate Edward Prescott, is tax policy. In the early 1970s, European and U.S. marginal tax rates were comparable--and so were European and U.S. labor supplies. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, the U.S. marginal rate (inclusive of payroll taxes) stayed fixed at about 40%, while the French rate rose to 59% and the Italian rate to 64%. On a country-by-country basis, steeper marginal tax hikes are closely correlated with shorter workweeks and expanding vacations.
Why do high wage earners work longer hours? Two words: marginal benefit:
After declining for most of the century, the share of employed American men regularly working more than 50 hours per week began to increase around 1970. This trend has been especially pronounced among highly educated, high-wage, salaried, and older men. Using two decades of CPS data, we rule out a number of factors, including business cycles, changes in observed labor force characteristics, and changes in the level of men's real hourly earnings as primary explanations of this trend. Instead we argue that increases in salaried men's marginal incentives to supply hours beyond 40 accounted for the recent rise. Since these increases were accompanied by a rough constancy in real earnings at 40 hours, they can be interpreted as a compensated wage increase.
Food for thought for those who think raising taxes on the working affluent will motivate high wage workers to keep their incomes at the present level in order to fund Obama's transformation of the American economy.
Obama's "Honest Budget"
My Dad and I are huge fans of Robert Samuelson. Dad has been reading him longer than I have. He writes:
Robert Samuelson has never before in my memory taken to criticism of a President . He has always been very even in his criticism of the government, sticking to issues that affect the economy.
Now I will be the first to admit that I haven't had time to validate my Dad's observation regarding Samuelson's columns, but what I can say is that one of the reasons I have read him for as long as I have is that, like David Broder, he strikes me as one of those rare beasts: a pundit who puts his operating principles first and then even-handedly applies them to the situation at hand, accepting wherever this process leads him even if he doesn't like the conclusion. Too many others seem to start from a predetermined conclusion and reason backwards until they can justify it.
What Samuelson has to say is devastating:
To those who believe that Barack Obama is a different kind of politician -- more honest, more courageous -- please don't examine his administration's budget. If you do, you may sadly conclude that he resembles presidents stretching back to John Kennedy in one crucial respect. He won't tax voters for all the government services they want. That's the main reason we've run budget deficits in 43 of the past 48 years.
Obama is a great pretender. He repeatedly says he is doing things that he isn't, trusting his powerful rhetoric to obscure the difference. He has made "responsibility" a personal theme; the budget's cover line is "A New Era of Responsibility." He says the budget begins "making the tough choices necessary to restore fiscal discipline." It doesn't.
With today's depressed economy, big deficits are unavoidable for some years. But let's assume that Obama wins reelection. By his last year, 2016, the economy presumably will have long recovered. What does his final budget look like? Well, it runs a $637 billion deficit, equal to 3.2 percent of the economy (gross domestic product), projects Obama's Office of Management and Budget. That would match Ronald Reagan's last deficit, 3.1 percent of GDP in 1988, so fiercely criticized by Democrats.
As a society, we should pay in taxes what it costs government to provide desired services. If benefits don't seem equal to burdens, then the spending isn't worth it. (Exceptions: deficits in wartime and economic slumps.)
Now that line of reasoning might not be welcome to soem conservatives. For those who didn't support the Bush administration's deficit spending, it will be be music to their ears. But when you put partisan sniping aside, this isn't a Bush-is-right, Obama-is-wrong issue. The fact is that Bush is gone and Obama's leadership must be evaluated on its own merits, not using a two wrongs make a right retroactive justification. By that reasoning, there is never any reason to depart from Washington's dishonesty-as-usual rhetoric.
After all, no matter what you do, it's justified by what the last guy did. Samuelson echoes the points I made earlier this morning:
A prudent president would have made a "tough choice" -- concentrated on the economy; deferred his more contentious agenda. Similarly, Obama claims to seek bipartisanship but, in reality, doesn't. His bipartisanship consists of including a few Republicans in his Cabinet and inviting some Republican congressmen to the White House for the Super Bowl. It does not consist of fashioning proposals that would attract bipartisan support on their merits. Instead, he clings to dubious, partisan policies (mortgage cramdown, union card check) that arouse fierce opposition.
Obama thinks he can ignore these blatant inconsistencies. Like many smart people, he believes he can talk his way around problems. Maybe. He's helped by much of the media, which seem so enthralled with him that they don't see glaring contradictions. During the campaign, Obama said he would change Washington's petty partisanship; he also advocated a highly partisan agenda. Both claims could not be true.
I'm not sure I ever had a whole lot of trust in Barack Obama, but I have been willing to give him the benefit of some doubt because unlike Rush Limbaugh, I don't want to see him fail. I may disagree with him on the best way to fix the economy, but I'm not willing to see my country go up in flames in order to prove a point. I remain confident, despite my worry over the road we're taking, that America can survive even misguided policies. Eventually we muddle through and learn the hard lessons of history.
But I'm rapidly losing trust in the fundamental honesty of this president. Say what you will about George Bush: you always knew where he was coming from.
Obama's Thousand Yard Stare
As most of you know, my husband is a Marine officer.
After nearly three decades of active duty he's been promoted a few times. Unsurprisingly, as one moves slowly up the ranks (and promotions tend to be slow in the Marine officer corps) both the range of jobs and the scope of authority change. The available jobs for a senior officer fall into two broad categories: command of a large battalion or facility - a school, for instance, or some other large organization -- and what I'd call "chief of staff" or aide de camp jobs. This natural bifurcation of responsibility corresponds to a structural division in the Corps itself. Throughout their careers. Marines alternate between operational or fleet billets and admin/staff billets.
The chief of staff billets are there for a reason. Wikipedia defines the role thusly:
A chief of staff is the coordinator of the supporting staff and primary aide to an important individual, such as an Office of the Prime Minister.
In an organization that prides itself on its fighting spirit, it's easy to dismiss such jobs as "pushing paper". But the fact is that, while a battalion or regimental commander may guide the fate of a large number of Marines, the Generals supported by senior administrators make decisions that affect far more people. They direct the fate of the entire Marine Corps, deciding where battalions and regiments will go; which supplies and equipment they will receive; how many bodies the Corps needs to meet projected end strength goals; how much money the Corps will request from Congress each year. These are enormous decisions, without which the entire organization would quickly come to a screeching halt.
Over the years as my husband has risen through the ranks, I've noticed something: a look one sees on the faces of Generals everywhere. Not all the time, but often enough for me to notice it. I call it the Thousand Yard Stare.
That's a battle metaphor. But anyone who thinks wrestling with the truly bewildering array of decisions faced by senior leaders at DoD isn't a constant struggle doesn't know what they're talking about. Of course it's not anything like actual combat. But it tends to produce the same prophylactic response: a tendency, at times, for the mind to shut out as much as possible. The risk of great responsibility is myopia and the paralysis that results from too many things to do and too little time.
This is why senior leaders have a chief of staff. The job is literally so big and the number of daily decisions so overwhelming that even the best leader can't possibly take it all in. So he needs capable "lieutenants" (in this case, normally senior Colonels) to help prioritize tasks, organize resources, and delegate some of the work; a process much akin to eating an elephant one bite at a time.
With the support of an effective aide, senior leaders are freed to focus on whatever task is truly important at the moment rather than getting bogged down in the sheer volume of demands made on his time and attention. On any given day, no person in this type of position can do everything that is asked of him. The problems are too numerous and too diverse. The only way to maintain focus and lead effectively is to prioritize and delegate.
Which leads me to Obama: a brand new president with no previous executive experience facing a truly daunting financial crisis. As I mentioned during the campaign, despite the "experience" argument posed by both Hillary Clinton and John McCain (or perhaps because of it) the media paid little attention to just how rarely America puts legislators with no executive experience in the White House:
Americans have only elected 6 U.S. Presidents who had no previous executive experience. Notably, since the Civil War, we have only elected one: John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
But we are not allowed to notice this. You see, that would be racist.
Now that we've elected an ambitious and energetic man with no previous experience to the biggest job in America, it seems not out of place to wonder: did we focus on the wrong things? Because faced with two truly existential crises (the war on terror and the financial crisis), Obama's administration, rather than prioritizing and addressing the hardest problems first, has launched itself upon an aggressive campaign to remake America in the progressive image. They openly admit they're using the financial crisis to enact their policy preferences. But when the house is on fire, you don't stop to redecorate the living room:
"Never waste a good crisis..." Says Hillary Clinton.
What if George Bush or Dick Cheney had said something like that openly? It's the kind of line that people used to imagine Bush people saying in secret.
IN THE COMMENTS: jayne cobb says:
Didn't Rahm Emanuel say the exact same thing?
He did. And who's Rahm Emmanuel? Obama's chief of staff: the guy who's supposed to be helping him prioritize and focus the enormous power wielded by the Executive branch. When the house is on fire, you don't have time to check off items on your "honey do" list. First you put out the fire. Then you can change the drapes and remodel the kitchen.
In a crisis, it's more important than ever to prioritize. And to all appearances, the Obama administration seems to be focusing on the wrong things. We're told, for instance, that he's "indifferent to the stock market":
With the stock market in a practical free fall since he was sworn in to office Jan. 20, Mr. Obama seemed to dismiss the plunge in equities Tuesday in an Oval Office conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, suggesting that he was unconcerned about Wall Street's daily fluctuations.
"What I'm looking at is not the day-to-day gyrations in the stock market, but the long-term ability for the United States and the entire world economy to regain its footing," he said.
"The stock market is sort of like a tracking poll in politics, it bobs up and down, day to day. And if you spend all of your time worrying about that, then you're probably going to get the long-term strategy wrong," he told reporters.
But Mr. Wyss and some of his colleagues on Wall Street - where investors have lost trillions of dollars in savings and the market is not so much bobbing as dropping straight down - think Mr. Obama could have shown more concern for the markets, which represent the economy and signal its future direction...."I agree with him that you can't obsess about it day to day, but you cannot ignore it, because it's telling you something," he said.
Harm Bandholz, an economist at UniCredit Research in New York, called this attitude toward the stock market, "one of the big problems with the administration, that they underestimate the role of the stock market in the current recession, because without the stabilization or recovery of the stock market, the U.S. economy won't be able to get out of this recession."
This is lunacy of the first order. The nest eggs of millions of Americans are rapidly vanishing. Who's going to start a business or invest in our recovery when they have no reliable safety net? With stock prices currently in the penny range, how will American corporations raise much needed operating funds? In the current climate they certainly can't borrow it. And what about that other existential issue - the war on terror? Here, too, Obama is inexplicably "indifferent":
Allies of Mr Obama say his weary appearance in the Oval Office with Mr Brown illustrates the strain he is now under, and the president’s surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk.
A well-connected Washington figure, who is close to members of Mr Obama’s inner circle, expressed concern that Mr Obama had failed so far to “even fake an interest in foreign policy”.
Maybe part of the reason the White House is frazzling itself into the ground is that they’re trying to remake everything. Everything has now become part of the delta. Everything is changing. Now they are facing the revenge of the second derivative: the rate of the rate of change. They are trying to restructure the government so it is run with Czars instead of cabinet secretaries; “engaging” hostile nations with little or no preconditions and getting blown off; changing the basis of the economy to conform to their untried vision of the future; creating the single greatest expansion of government since FDR; redesigning health care; holding consultations on everything and planning to save the world from Climate Change. They’re busy because crisis creates an “opportunity” for their own vague revolution
The cumulative consequence of these actions is a vast increase in the amount of risk the entire system has to endure because variables are being added faster than they are being solved. The margins are gone — removed by design. The margins are in the way. But while things might hold together for so long as the road ahead is smooth, what happens if things hit a bump? What happens in the Obama administration, too preoccupied to “even fake an interest in foreign policy meets a sudden challenge?
So far the Obama administration has only had to deal with the economy. And despite their campaign handwringing about how much less safe America has become, its foreign enemies, perhaps still picking themselves up off the ground from the pasting they received at the hands of George W. Bushchimp, have not yet made a move. But one day they too may notice that nobody is at home.
We're facing urgent problems which require every ounce of skill and care the Obama administration can bring to bear. But instead of focusing his attention on putting out the fires, he's not only changing the drapes, but playing with matches.
Perhaps it's not Wall Street so much as the White House that could learn a few things about leadership from the Marines:
The White House this week was consumed by extreme interest in a celebrated radio critic, reportedly coordinating an attack line with antic Clinton-era political operatives who don't know what time it is. For them it's always the bouncy '90s and anything goes, it's all just a game. President Obama himself contributes to an atmosphere of fear grown to panic as he takes a historic crisis and turns it into what he imagines is a grand opportunity for sweeping change. What we need is stabilization—an undergirding, a restrengthening so things can settle and then rise. What we're given is multiple schemes, and the beginning of a reordering of financial realities between the individual and the state.
The Obama people think they are playing big ball, not small ball, and they no doubt like the feeling of it: "We're making history." But that, ironically, was precisely the preoccupation of the last administration—doing it big, being "consequential," showing history. Watch: Within six months, the Obama administration will be starting to breathe the word "legacy."
What they're up to will win and hold support, at least for a while, until the reaction.
But is it responsible? Or is it only vain?
This President is not "tired". He's out of his depth, and his chief of staff had better get him focused before we find ourselves in a world of hurt.
CWCID: CW4 for calling my attention to Richard Fernandez' excellent analysis.
March 08, 2009
This Just In: Greg Mankiw Smoking Crack... Again
Please conceal your shock:
Fans of David Hume and G.E. Moore will recognize that Mankiw's first argument falls face first into the naturalistic fallacy. Mankiw cannot get an 'ought' from an 'is.' A description of the current tax code has absolutely no implications -- zero, zip, zilch -- for how progressive the tax code should be. The fact that we already have a progressive tax code is not an argument against making the tax code more progressive.
It is if your argument is that the rich aren't paying their "fair share" or that taxing the rich more will bring about increased "fairness". What a progressive tax code does is tax the rich more heavily than the poor. Not because they use more services or get more from the government (that would be "fair") but because they have the temerity to have more money than their fellow citizens.
And as I mentioned the other day, when you factor in government spending per household the tax code is revealed to have far more of an income equalizing (read: redistributive) effect than simple examination of marginal tax rates would indicate:
Some households clearly benefit much more from current tax and spending policy on a dollar-for-dollar basis than others. Overall, households in the bottom three quintiles are net beneficiaries from tax and spending policies.
They received more than one dollar of government spending for every dollar of taxes they paid in 2004. In contrast, households in the top two quintiles are net fiscal payers, receiving less than one dollar of government spending for every tax dollar paid to governments.
When all government spending is included, households in the lowest quintile received about $8.21 in spending for every dollar of taxes paid. Households in the middle quintile received $1.30, and households in the top quintile received $0.41.
That, my friends, is what's known as a transfer of wealth. Or, if you're Barack Obama, as the rich finally paying their "fair share". But wait! There are more of Prof. Mankiw's drug-induced rantings to rebut!
As for Mankiw's second question -- well, I think the answer is pretty clear: No. Redistributive decisions within the United States have no necessarily implications for redistribution outside the United States. The reason has something to do with a thing called "democracy." I suspect Mankiw has heard of this because we live in one. Our constitutional democracy isn't a system in which some poor schmo can "lay claim" to his rich neighbor's garden hose. It's a system in which we make majoritarian decisions about issues of fairness and distribution and submit to be governed by them. One such majoritarian decision came around last November.
Surely the gentleman can't be referring to this kind of "majoritarian decision", under which Constitutional rights were automagically conferred upon non-citizens (some of whom have openly declared war upon us)?
In a stinging defeat for the Bush administration, the Supreme Court ruled today that detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a constitutional right to challenge their detentions in federal court and that congressional legislation has failed to provide a reasonable substitute for such a hearing.
As we all know, that sort of thing could never happen in America. The only law that applies to Americans is American law arrived at in a "majoritarian" decision making process:
The Court further noted that that the execution of juvenile offenders violated several international treaties, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and stated that the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty provides confirmation for the Court’s own conclusion that the death penalty is disproportional punishment for offenders under 18.
I tell you: you have to keep these neo-cons in check. They're everywhere.
Words Have Meaning...
Now where have we heard that before?
In a reminder of Rush Limbaugh's famous rejoinder that words have meaning...
The question is, what did Rush mean to say? Turns out, even those who defend his absolute right to make sensational and ambiguous statements aren't quite sure.
...he phrased his comments poorly — because a lot of people think he meant #2. Not just the drive-by media; not just idiot Americans who didn’t listen to him; but a lot of you. Plenty of commenters chose option #2. So don’t tell me that people are dishonestly distorting his comments by reading them as saying #2. Because a lot of you did.
Maybe this is why it's not such a good idea to accede to the media's constant efforts to force Republicans to defend/explain other people's comments. Sorry, I know a lot of you disagree with me on this issue but it's hard enough in public life defending your own statements from media distortion.
Allowing the press to trap you into commenting on statements you didn't make doesn't strike me as "controlling the terms of the debate".
Obama Exhaustion Watch
Ah... more of that flinty Chicago toughness we've been told to cultivate:
Sources close to the White House say Mr Obama and his staff have been “overwhelmed” by the economic meltdown and have voiced concerns that the new president is not getting enough rest.
British officials, meanwhile, admit that the White House and US State Department staff were utterly bemused by complaints that the Prime Minister should have been granted full-blown press conference and a formal dinner, as has been customary. They concede that Obama aides seemed unfamiliar with the expectations that surround a major visit by a British prime minister. …
That doesn't sound like tired. It sounds more like clueless and unprepared.
Allies of Mr Obama say his weary appearance in the Oval Office with Mr Brown illustrates the strain he is now under, and the president’s surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk. A well-connected Washington figure, who is close to members of Mr Obama’s inner circle, expressed concern that Mr Obama had failed so far to “even fake an interest in foreign policy”. …
The American source said: “Obama is overwhelmed. There is a zero sum tension between his ability to attend to the economic issues and his ability to be a proactive sculptor of the national security agenda.
Considering that Mr. Obama was overwhelmed by the constant demands of running for office, is this really surprising?
"You know, really soon, Obama's excuse that he was tired... is going to get tired."
"Do you get the feeling that if Obama becomes president, we're going to need somebody to handle the night shift? Picture it, somebody awakens him at 2 a.m. with some foreign crisis and by dawn we've accidently invaded Paraguay."
There seems to be a pattern developing. Maybe a little music will help:
It's exhausting, being The One
Sure, I thrill your leg
But it's no fun!
At the White House, constant parties
With stars and smarties
I'm just undone!
Sick and tired of Gov
Tired of the push and shove
From below and above
Tired, tired of being admired
Why is this (*&*^% mic always wired?
Let's face it
Tired of playing the game
Ain't it a crying shame
I'm so tired
G(* dammit I'm exhausted!
He's tired (He's tired)
Tired of the push and shove (Give him a break)
From below and above (He's only One man!)
Tired, tired of being admired (Can't you see he's sick?)
Why is his (*&^ mic always wired? (Where's his teleprompter?)
He's so tired (Don't you know the man is pooped?)
Never read Dan Riehl while drinking coffee:
As for Republicans, they are so damned dumb and undisciplined when it comes to messaging, one or more of them always falls into the trap and gets their fifteen minutes of fame and shame looking like the idiots they are.
If they had the intelligence and discipline to side-step things like the Limbaugh attack they might have a prayer. Instead of engaging it, they should come back with, This is simply the Democrats trying to prevent a discussion of how much their programs will cost, how much taxes are going to go up, and why you don't re-build health care, energy and fundamental economic policy during a financial crisis.
But as a group, the current crop of Republicans remain rather useless in this regard. The few smart ones never even get heard because so many other idiots have Schumer's disease and can't stay away from a microphone, even when they have so little of value to say.
That's controlling the debate: not letting your opponents throw you off message by introducing irrelevant sound bytes that don't further your objectives.
March 07, 2009
Missing the Point on Rush Limbaugh
Wunderbar. This is just what a party already in disarray needs! Instead of making reasonable, serious arguments pitched to appeal to issues large numbers of Americans can agree upon, let's indulge in polemicist rhetoric that turns off even those who agree with the underlying ideology!
Here’s my considered (and no doubt extremist) response:* In suggesting that the trouble here is that Republicans are straddled with the burden of having to explain Limbaugh’s nuance, Patterico (and Allah) are not only conceding the linguistic ground to the left, they are now actually helping perpetuate what, at least on Patterico’s part, he knows to be a lie** — an out of context quote whose real meaning he admits to understanding, but whose complexities will be lost on those of, well… let’s just say lesser intellectual stock — in order to avoid confusing people who can’t be bothered to get the actual context correct, or who aren’t at all interested in getting it right. All so these folks might find it more difficult to despise the right for the way the left has decided to portray it.
Is that about the gist of it? — that it’s just too damn difficult to demand that what we mean be presented honestly, and so rather than fight that kind of complicated battle, it’s best just to learn to self-edit in a way that placates those who don’t do nuance well — while simultaneously castigating those willing to do the work of fighting the difficult battles?
You can "demand" less shallow/more accurate media coverage all you want, Jeff, but at some point it's probably not a bad idea to factor reality into the political calculus. The conservative blogosphere spent the last 8 years "demanding" honest and unbiased coverage of the war, the Republican administration, and several elections from a media who, by and large, lean left and want us to fail.
That worked out well, didn't it?
Now all of a sudden, conservatives who have the temerity to point out the obvious are the enemy?
... Americans have short attention spans and don’t always do nuance well. Just by writing the title of this post the way I did, I’ll get an angry reaction from some — even though, if you read the post, I haven’t said anything particularly negative about Limbaugh. As Allahpundit says:It’s Republicans who are suffering from having to thread the needle between defending Limbaugh and rejecting the “I want him to fail” rhetoric. What harm has Rush suffered? His stature’s never been greater, as he himself acknowledges right here.
...Michael Steele and other Republicans need to say: “Rush Limbaugh is an articulate man who expresses conservative principles well. But when he says he wants Obama to fail, he’s putting things in a deliberately controversial way to draw attention to himself. I wouldn’t say I want Obama to fail. I would say simply that I think conservative principles are better for our country. That’s how I feel — and I’m not apologizing for saying so.”
The Marines have an old saying: fight smarter, not harder. The thing is, you have to do a bit of both. You have to actually fight if you mean to win.
But shooting yourself in the foot isn't helpful, because as we learned in Anbar, that whole "hearts and minds" thing is often the decisive factor that makes victory possible. It's the difference between fighting an uphill battle with no support and forming an effective coalition of folks who don't agree with every single one of your objectives, but have decided their interests are better served by throwing in with you, rather than the other side.
So exactly how does polemicist rhetoric that is easy to mischaracterize win us allies?
Answer: it doesn't. In point of fact, it turns away potential allies. Hell - when I heard Rush had said that, I was disgusted and I happen to agree with most of the points he made.
The message is important, but delivery is important too. It's quite possible to say the same thing in two completely different ways: one will piss people off and make them think you're a self-serving partisan, and the other rationally appeals to interests most people have in common.
Centrist is not a dirty word. It doesn't mean apologizing for or abandoning your principles. It just means we need to do a better job of articulating our ideas in a way that de-emphasizes our differences and capitalizes on the things we agree on. Obama just won a national election because he was better at that than John McCain. Turns out he was lying about a lot of what he said, but that's beside the point.
He's sitting in the Oval Office right now and we're fighting amongst ourselves and flailing about ineffectually rather than keeping our eyes on the freaking ball. Not helpful.
And all the folks in the party who can't seem to stop attacking the centrists have issues with electoral math. Pissing off and alienating anyone who fails to demonstrate sufficient reich wing ardor won't help us put together enough votes to win back Congress and the White House.
In the 1990s, the Republicans under Newt Gingrich succeeded in building just such a coalition, but they did it by avoiding divisive topics and concentrating on issues which had broad appeal to the majority of voters:
During the construction of the Contract, Gingrich insisted on "60% issues", intending for the Contract to avoid promises on controversial and divisive matters like abortion and school prayer. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon would characterize the Contract as having taken more than half of its text from Ronald Reagan's 1985 State of the Union Address.
And let's not forget that Ronald Reagan, historical revisionism aside, was widely considered too liberal and too centrist by his own party... until we needed an icon who embodied "success". Then we disclaimed the means but took credit for the end.
Again, not helpful. I didn't like John McCain as a candidate, but the truth is that he was perceived as being closer to the majority of American voters (you know, that whole winning elections thing?) than the rest of the candidates on offer:
Probably the biggest meme going around right now is that John McCain's just a bleeding-heart liberal, no better than Hillary Clinton.
Of course it's not true. Folks are entitled to their views, of course, but for many brain-addled, anti-McCain talk-radio Rush-bots, there's little of practical reason that might break through the prejudice.
But I'll make a stab anyway: Take a look at this chart, from Andrew Kohut, over at the New York Times. I just love this graphic!!!
I'm getting a kick out of it, mainly because this is Political Science 101. I draw this image on the chalkboard every semester when I cover political ideologies, particularly during classrooom discussions on the differences between Democrats and Republicans.
Although it's quite common for people to chant, in exasperation, "there's not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties," in truth the American political parties offer dramatically different ideological orientations and policy programs. The U.S. does not have a tradition of multiparty democracy and true radicalism, as in European history. But our distinct culture of individualism and markets is often challenged quite vigrorously by left-wing preferences for expansive governmental intervention (i.e., the Great Society), and more recently by the upsurge of postmodern leftism following the cultural and rights revolutions in the 1960s.
But look at the graph: For all the fulminations against McCain and Huckabee and the alleged threat they pose to the GOP, it's interesting that the median voter clumps McCain, Huckabee, and Mitt Romney all together - nice and neat - on the right of the spectrum (hint: the right wing's conservative folks). Indeed, Huck's further to the right than is Mitt Romney, to whom many conservatives gravitated following the withdrawal of Fred ("Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act") Thompson.
We need to send some talk radio hosts back to school!
But what's even more important is that John McCain's position on the right of the scale rests closer the country's media voter, and hence the hypothesis from this spatial model is that while he's conservative, he's more likely to capture moderate-to-liberal voters in a general election matchup against the eventual Democratic nominee.
We have to live in the real world. This is what the real world looks like:
Notice how differently Democrats perceive things. Now let's indulge in a little electoral math. Registered Republicans aren't numerous enough to hand an election to a conservative candidate. We have to pull moderates and even conservative Democrats over to our side. Unless and until we can do that, we will continue to lose.
Now if that's what you want, then go ahead and help Rahm Emmanuel identify a controversial and polarizing talk show host as the de facto leader of the Republican party. Go ahead: knock yourself out.
But it's a huge mistake (as well as a tour de force of political tone deafness) to think that we're going to win the next election by allowing ourselves to be perceived as extremists.
What we need is to perceived as credible, competent, honest brokers who have a better plan for this country. You don't see Newt Gingrich flaming out the opposition, and yet he's broadly perceived as being all of these things.
We don't need to compromise our principles. We just need to articulate our platform competently in a way that emphasizes common interests and avoids handing a knife to our opponents. That takes discipline, and there's nothing wrong with people pointing that out. I'm happy to have people in the party who disagree with me on both issues and tactics.
I'm not so keen on turning them into enemies right after we just lost an election and I'll be damned if I'll support a party that turns on anyone for suggesting we might not be headed down the right track.
We're supposed to be on the same team, here.
March 06, 2009
We'll Have None of that Perspective Nonsense Around Here
OMB does this all the time. It's part of their job to do so, coming up with dramatic proposals, which are rarely implemented as-is, and provide much fodder for discussion and horse-trading.
You don't say? I guess it just depends on whose ox is being gored.
Through a Dark Lens
"Man's love is of man's life a thing apart,
'Tis woman's whole existence."
- Lord Byron
I like men. I like them a lot. This may well be because my Dad and I have a loving relationship though frequently (because we are both strong willed and stubborn) we argue about stuff. Growing up in a household with an affectionate and engaged father trained me to see men as caring and good people who just happen to be very different in some ways from my own sex.
As a little girl living in the only duty station I ever thought of as home, my best friend was a boy my own age. His name was Steve and of all my friends I liked him best because we could - and did - talk about anything. He was patient and thoughtful; intelligent and funny. Good at baseball, fishing, and building things but not as cute, flashy or athletic as his little brother, Steven was the guy a lot of men are mistakenly afraid of being: the kind who, in high school, doesn't particularly stand out in a crowd of shallow and self-absorbed teens awash in a sea of hormones. Guys think this because being respected and admired - feeling like a winner - is just about the most important thing in the world to them.
But at the 20th HS reunion mark when the basketball stars and teen heartthrobs are on their nth divorce and talk too loudly and listen too little, the people we thought as kids were "winners" don't always look so good. Standing off to one side is the guy no one recognizes at first. He's handsome and happy and successful. He carries himself with a quiet confidence that has every women in the room secretly eyeing him and thinking, "Why on earth didn't I notice him" way back then?
That's easy. We didn't notice because like so many men and women, we were focused on the wrong things. Looks, perhaps. Or charm. Or simply the appearance of being a "winner". We didn't bother to look beneath the surface, and while we weren't watching the race a dark horse came out of nowhere and walked off with the prize.
I liked Steve because even at eight years old I saw enormous potential in him. The strength that didn't need to spend itself in pointless showing off; the controlled intelligence that didn't boast or brag but merely waited for a quiet moment - exactly the right moment - when others had said their piece and then spoke into the silence with an answer that seemed so obvious it amazed me that no one else had thought of it.
In many ways Steven was the dream I fell in love with nine years later, when I first spoke with my husband.
My husband is all the things I am not. He is a pessimist whereas I am eternally, gloriously, unrepentantly optimistic and hopeful. He is careful and cautious and sometimes a bit cynical where I tend to live for the moment, confident that nothing and nobody can hurt me. He plans for things to go wrong and likes to have a road map. I feel hemmed in when things get too structured; I like to keep my options open and excel at adapting to the unexpected lemons life seems to hand out with disturbing regularity. Unlike a lot of people, I rather enjoy lemons. Sure they can be sour, but they also wake us up. They get our attention. In the kaleidoscopic shifting of priorities troubles often bring, I often see as many new opportunities as I do problems.
And my husband reminds me to take my umbrella, my gloves, my cell phone because he knows without asking that I didn't check the weather report... again. He pays attention to a thousand things that aren't even on my radar screen, but which have the potential to wreck my world. And in return I pay attention - close attention - to many things that are little more than blips on his radar screen, but which have the potential to wreck his carefully constructed and prudently planned life just as surely as the things he diligently and faithfully guards me against.
I suppose that's why I find this sort of thing, which I see all the time on the Internet from men I like and whom I consider intelligent and likeable, totally bewildering:
"The List" is the bane of testosterone-driven humans. "The List" is kept in the secret mental lock-box of human beings of the estrogen persuasion. Some believe that "The List" is a social construct, while others believe that "The List" is hard-wired into the DNA of the human female. I favor the latter theory since it seems to me that "The List" is merely a subset of "The Plan" -- and "The Plan" is not only part and parcel of the basic makeup of the human female regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, or historic epoch, it is also the reason that -- over time -- women triumph over men. Women, in short, always have a life plan while men are stuck with something that looks like a cross between a spread sheet without a recalc button and a really slick marketing idea.
In short, men might have a plan for making a rocket-propelled street luge, but they have none at all when it comes to human activities that stretch across decades -- unless it involves such trifles as national defense or energy policy. Men seem to see items like this as actually important, but women know that what is really important is the command and control of male behavior. Hence, "Your Permanent Conduct Record" aka "The List."
Women reading this essay are, of course, not the type to ever keep an indelible list of male transgressions, large and teeny-tiny. But trust me, there are many that do. Why? Because it works.
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Did I say "wrong"? Oh good, because sometimes I'm not so good at speaking up when something strikes me the wrong way.
Before I begin here, let me make a few things clear. I don't know Vanderleun so nothing I say should be taken as applying to him or to his life. My reflections are meant to serve one purpose only: to shed a little light on what the female half of the world are doing when we do things that make you grit your teeth in frustration.
My dear Vanderleun: I love your writing. I often see a vast gulf between our perceptions of male-female interaction, but that's a yawning, often painful gap that treacherously opens up beneath my feet all too often when reading what men really think about the women in their lives. I end up shocked, and pained, and more than a few times in tears over the waste.
Because what he describes is totally, utterly foreign to my experience. Oh, don't get me wrong: I fight with my husband and my male friends from time to time, though it never fails to tie my stomach into knots and thoroughly ruin my day. But I don't like fighting and certainly nothing could be farther from the truth than the notion that I (much less most women of my acquaintance) secretly harbor some malicious desire to control the men in their lives.
The thing is, we don't respect men we can control. So what good does it do us to gain what we don't want?
What we want is, to understand and be close to you. We want things to go smoothly. We want to be happy, and for you to love us as we love you. But because both men and women often see each others words and deeds through the lens of how we feel and how we react to life, we end up with a picture that contains some elements of truth, but is also badly distorted.
Reading Vandereun's post I recognized some things that many women do indeed do and in places, I laughed. What puzzles me is the contradictions that seem so obvious to me; ones that undermine his assumptions about why women do things that so clearly annoy and frustrate him.
Reading his post with a woman's eye, I don't see a woman who is trying to control her man. I see a woman who is worried; who senses something wrong but doesn't know how to bridge the yawning gap that so often separates even people who truly care for each other. I see one who is trying to head off problems, not cause them.
Women often continue to bring up past transgression for one of several reasons:
1. A man won't stop doing something that greatly distresses her (and which she doesn't understand). Now if a man was doing something that pissed off another man, he would of course object strenuously and then they'd punch each other out OR (if they value their friendship) they'd each try to be a bit more careful until the next time one of them had a bad day. But when the same thing happens between a man and a woman, often he doesn't want to deal with it at all. If she insists on confronting him and trying to solve the problem, he either dismisses her concerns (There she goes! Being 'emotional' or 'controlling' again! Women are so irrational... sheesh.), shuts down completely, or apologizes even though he's really not that sorry and has no intention of changing.
2. If he won't talk to her, she doesn't know where his boundaries lie. Often, he may have no intention of changing his behavior but since he never bothered to explain how important it is to him in terms she can understand, she thinks he doesn't care or is being unreasonable. Or, he may just be doing these things from unconscious resistance to behavior he thinks is meant to rein him in.
3. She's a nagging, controlling bitch. But this begs the question: what are you doing with such a woman in the first place? Perhaps things aren't quite as clear as they always seem when we only look at life through a lens that reflects our own motivations and experience.
Guys, because they're more attuned to competition and rank, tend to interpret a woman's desire to talk as either criticism, a demand for action, or an attempt to be the top dog. Women are mostly unaware of the way men see human interactions. We want to talk out a problem so we can understand why the man keeps doing what he's doing and effect some compromise that keeps us from killing each other. If the man cooperates in this worthy endeavor, we then have several options: we can negotiate a compromise, agree to disagree, or maybe (in light of the fact that he has reasons of his own that - once considered - render our objection moot) re-examine our position entirely. But nothing - and I mean nothing - annoys us more than playing out the same scenario over and over with no prospect of FINALLY putting it to bed and getting on with the make up sex.
Women are good with words. So good, in fact, that men often ascribe to us an eerie ability to know all and see all. Seeing the bad effect "The List" had on its intended recipient, this clearly isn't the case. Reciting "The List" didn't achieve the desired effect, did it?
It didn't make him want to open up and talk about what was upsetting the female half of the equation. It didn't make him more receptive to her distress. It didn't make him think, "Gosh, I never understood this was so important to you. Is there some way you can get what you want without my giving up what I want?" Instead of understanding and compromise, she got resentment, anger, and resistance to her point of view.
Successful relationships - whether they are friendships, business relationships or love relationships - are all about negotiation and compromise. Not abject and unconditional surrender, because trust me, whatever our shortcomings (and we do have them!) most women know that a man who isn't getting what he wants is far more trouble to live with than a man who feels he's respected, understood, and treated fairly.
The idea that women want to be in charge is not one rooted in either reality or female psychology, but somehow modern society has drifted so far into rejecting the concept of roles that we fail to consider age old truths that stood couples in good stead for generations before we came along:
I turn now to Peter's brief and very insightful summary of a husband's duties in marriage, found in First Peter 3, Verse 7:Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 RSV)
I can just see the heads of a thousand female readers exploding :p
But all this is just a fancy way of saying, "Respect a woman for what she is or you don't have a snowball's chance in Hell of getting laid". All that "weaker" nonsense is a not-terribly-precise way of saying that women are sensitive creatures. We pay more attention to our relationships than men do because they're important to us. That a woman with even an ounce of self-respect will nearly always assert herself should not surprise anyone who's been married for longer than 5 minutes. But that doesn't mean our object is to seize your immortal soul and crush it like a grape.
And if you are joined at the hip to such a woman, let me strongly suggest that perhaps you were focused more on her appearance than her character. In other words, find someone whose interior is as pretty as her exterior. Men all too often fail to even consider that a woman's character is of any import, and that's a fatal mistake.
I know it is popular to make jokes about bossy wives and henpecked husbands (and there are such in evidence around us, I do not deny that), but having observed the marriage scene for considerable time, and having personal involvement in it, the problem is not so much due to the demand of wives to assert leadership as it is the refusal of husbands to assume their responsibilities. This is borne out by studies made along this line by competent scholars. It is difficult to understand how men can give themselves to careful, responsible leadership in business, but when they get home they expect everything to rock along all right and turn out well in the end -- without any thought, direction, or leadership on their part. We call women the homemakers, but women are homemakers only within the general pattern determined by the husband. It is the man who is to choose the values that go into a home. It is the father who ought to decide the emphases that are to be expressed within a home. True, it is often the mother who implements this choice and upon her falls the responsibility for carrying out much of it in application and implementation, but, by and large, it is the man who makes the choice of what the home shall be, whether he does it consciously or unconsciously. There is built into his male nature, by divine fiat, not only a responsibility but a desire to do this.
It is the man who determines whether the family shall be sports-minded or book lovers; whether they are travelers or stay-at-homes; a family that emphasizes personal integrity in their relationships, or are clever manipulators who get along by their wits; whether they are social climbers or quiet introverts. Almost always the stamp of the family is determined by the man. This is also, therefore, where men most frequently fail in marriage. They do not exert leadership, they do not give intelligent direction to the home. Even if they do give some kind of leadership, it is not thoughtful, it is not intelligent, it is not "according to knowledge," as Peter says. It is simply a drifting along, making the best of things according to the way they feel at the moment. Thus there is no leadership at all, or, what there is, is lopsided.
Many marriage counselors dealing in this area have pointed out that in our American life, for some strange reasons, we do not teach men to be men. Therefore, many men grow up and get married who are nothing more than grown-up little boys, still looking for mothers rather than wives. They want someone to minister to their physical needs, keep them well fed and happy, and soothe their egos when they get hurt. But that is not the proper role of a wife, and that is why Peter's first word to men is: Learn what a marriage ought to be, what the rules are, what is expected of you. What a home will be is determined primarily and responsibly by the man.
If the man does not exert leadership at all, then the wife must take it on, thereby forcing the woman to assume a role for which she is not made, and, as I have already suggested, she does not basically and essentially desire. One way men do this is by lopsided leadership. They feel that their major concern is to make a living, and it is the wife's job to run the home. They give their whole attention to the business of acquiring material gain, of making money so they can provide the comforts of modern life for their family. Most American men do a very commendable job along this line. They take this responsibility (properly part of the responsibility of marriage) very seriously, but they leave the rest of it to their wives. This, frequently, engenders the attitude, "I let my wife decide whether the children are to go to Sunday school and church. That's her job." The moral values of the home are left for the woman to incorporate. A slice of life is made of primary male concern while the rest of life, with great and important values within it, is left wholly for the woman.
...To show how women instinctively desire [the active involvement of men], let me quote a brief paragraph from an article by a woman on the subject of man's role in the home. She says,Don't yield your leadership, that's the main thing. Don't hand us the reins. We would consider this an abdication on your part. It would confuse us, it would alarm us; it would make us pull back. Quicker than anything else, it will fog the clear vision that made us love you in the first place. Oh, we will try to get you to give up your position as Number One in the house, that is the terrible contradiction in us. We will seem to be fighting you to the last ditch for final authority on everything for awhile, but in the obscure recesses of our hearts we want you to win.
I wouldn't put it quite that way, and yet I see the truth of it. Women aren't children - they're adults. And yet we are human and children are, after all, just small humans. When children act spoiled and throw tantrums, it is almost always (unless they're tired or sick) because their parents have not firmly shown them the limits of proper behavior. Likewise, when a man consistently refuses to respect or show consideration for his wife or a woman consistently throws emotional tantrums, they are looking for guidance as to what you are willing to accept. If we human beings - male or female - aren't shown the limits, we tend to act up until someone lowers the boom on us.
I am about as stubborn and strong willed a person as you can find anywhere. I secretly think I know it all and most other people are complete cretins. And yet I married my husband because, unlike most of my boyfriends up until that point, I sensed we were evenly matched. He loves me more than anything on this earth, but he will never allow that love to make him do a single thing he doesn't truly want to do.
And I don't want him to, because if he did I'd lose respect for him.
That doesn't mean I don't let him know when he does something that pisses me off. And it doesn't mean he never compromises when our wishes bring us into conflict. It just means I truly don't want him to be anything less than a man. Neither do I want to control his behavior because common sense tells me a man who thinks he's being controlled becomes resentful and won't tell me the truth.
But respect is a two way street and it assumes two fully present, assertive, and actively engaged partners who both value the relationship enough to compromise when compromise is called for. That kind of relationship requires an enormous amount of trust on both sides, because the first instinct both men and women have when we're hurt is to withdraw or retaliate.
Over a nearly 30 year marriage, we've both changed a lot; mostly in response to problems that needed solving. I've become more able to let things go and my husband has become more adept at not ignoring problems until they're so big they escalate into unneeded conflict. On both sides, we've had to give up some things we wanted and be nice when what we really wanted to do was axe murder each other.
But there is no one I trust or respect more than my husband.
No one. And a good part of that is because, like my long ago childhood friend, he has been willing to try to understand me even when I don't make sense to him. Because of that willingness, I bend over backwards to understand his point of view. It's an imperfect world and men and women see each other through a dark lens.
But if we keep looking, even when it's difficult or painful, we learn about each other and often about ourselves. I know I wouldn't trade an instant of that journey.
Not even for a big old diamond ring :p
March 05, 2009
So Much for "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism"....
Suddenly, the precious right of dissent is a threat to the Republic and the American way of life? This is a presidency (and a party) on the defensive:
Team Obama is continuing to push back against critics on talk radio and cable TV, prompting some observers to wonder if the White House is instead giving the complaints a wider audience.
Conservative radio king Rush Limbaugh, who recently said he is hoping the president fails in his efforts to "restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation," took the first hits. Obama challenged House Republicans not to let Limbaugh, with a weekly audience of more than 13 million arch conservatives, direct their votes.
Today, the drumbeat continued. In an Op-Ed article in this morning's Washington Post titled "Minority Leader Limbaugh," former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe warned Republicans:If the GOP sticks with its strategy of failure as the only option, further eroding its brand with the people who decide elections, we may find out what it means for a political party to hit rock bottom.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also weighed in this morning with a website mocking GOP leaders like Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele for first criticizing Limbaugh and then, in the face of an enormous brush back from his fans, apologizing. The website allows visitors to create their own apology to Limbaugh but offers this template:You and I both know that in reality, you simply want President Obama to fail in this time of economic collapse. How can I disagree with that? Please accept my sincere apologies, oh great leader of the Republican Party.
What on earth are these folks so deathly afraid of? Their opponents have broken the 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Criticize The Won.
If someone had told us before the election that a mere talk radio host could provoke an entire party to fits of paranoid jibberish, I'd have said you were smoking crack. Apparently, I would have been wrong:
Once upon a time, you could drive to the most remote reaches of the United States and escape Rush Limbaugh. But from the Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico to the Badlands of South Dakota, where only the delicious twang of a country tune or the high-pitched pleadings of a lone lunatic came over the AM dial, there is now the Mighty El Rushbo.
As someone who spends a lot of time on the road, I used to find Limbaugh to be an obnoxious but entertaining companion, his eruptions more reliable than Old Faithful. But now that Limbaugh has become something else — the face of the Republican Party, by a White House that has played him brilliantly — he has been transformed into car-wreck-quality spectacle, at once scary and sad.
Scary??? Someone needs to get a grip. Try turning off the radio. Put a CD in - maybe some Zamfir. What - exactly - is the complaint here? That too many people are listening to something you don't agree with? I think Keith Olbermann is a gigantic horse's ass, but I don't go into paroxysms every time he makes an ass of himself on national TV.
After mocking him mercilessly a few times, I got bored and just decided to ignore him.
The President needs to develop thicker skin. Wasting time firing off spitballs at every pundit or journalist who doesn't approve of you only demeans the office of the Presdency. If Obama can't take a little criticism, he doesn't belong in the job.
Why do they like danger so much?
If any of the miscreants who frequent this blog know how to silence a snarky container of Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream, the Editorial Staff would be extremely grateful.
In our opinion, comestibles should have the good sense not to speak unless they are spoken to.
March 04, 2009
Calling All Cooks!!! Updated
We are in week two of recipe submissions for the Milbloggers' Cookbook to benefit Honor Their Service activities such as Operation Fresh Air.
Recipes are more than just a list of ingredients and cooking methods. They evoke memories of friends. They remind one of particular events.
When I cook a friend's recipe, I feel just a little bit closer to them no matter if they are next door or on the other side of the world.
So when you submit a recipe, please feel free to tell me a little about where it came from or when you first had it.
So far, I've received about 150 recipes. My goal is to include at least 200 in the cookbook. These have come from the following blogs:
Lisa in DC
The USO Girls
And a huge thank you to Old Blue for coming up with the coolest widget evah!!!
If I've missed anyone, please give a shout and I will add them to the list. The deadline is now March 16th.
Details below the fold. Keep those recipes coming, please!!!
Honor Their Service, inc., the home of such great projects as Operation Fresh Air and Operation Santa at the Hospitals, is putting together a Milbloggers' Cookbook.
The cookbook proceeds will go to helping us support wounded/injured servicemembers and their families with fishing events as well as some soon to be announced projects.
We need submissions from milbloggers and commenters alike in all catagories (appetizers, sides, salads, soups, main dishes, desserts, drinks, etc.) If you have a recipe (or two) that you are particularly proud of, we'd love to put them in the book.
In addition, you can submit pictures if you like. I ask only that you don't submit pictures of people in speedos. Speedophobia is not a joking matter, people.
We will also be featuring favorite recipes as well as memories from some Gold and Silver star families. These folks, as well as our active duty (Blue star) folks, are the very reason why Honor Their Service exists.
Here are the details:
Send your recipes (and any questions you might have) to HTScookbook@yahoo.com. OR
Some folks are getting their emails bounced back from the first email address and other are not.
We are accepting recipes from today until March 9th.
The cookbook will be made available for sale after we negotiate and have them printed. The price is going to depend on how many recipes we are including and what type of binding we want. Juat as our events are modest proposals ($500 for an Operation Fresh Air event), we will make sure that the cost of the cookbook will reflect the same attitude.
I'm excited to see what you all like to cook!!!
The Importance of Perspective
Via Tigerhawk, a neat graph of personal savings as a percentage of disposable income over time.
The ten year view looks fairly flat, and the effect of spikes is magnified:
It's only by backing off to the fifty year view that the overall trend emerges: personal savings increased throughout the sixties and most of the seventies. The savings rate peaked in the early eighties and have declined rapidly ever since:
There's a lesson in here. I leave it to you to decide what it is.
Update: because I can't resist....
Of course you really need to look at the whole thing, but it is amusing, no?
The Beagle or the Turtle?
For the past few days a memory has played repeatedly in the back of my mind like a scene from an old movie, watched so often that certain scenes evoke an overwhelming sense of deja vu.
I'm not sure it has any intrinsic meaning. On the other hand, it's hard to shake the notion that such visions lie suspended just beneath the waterline of awareness for a reason. Unable to dismiss it or divine its purpose, I'm transfixed by an odd sense of passivity as it bobs elusively in the swells of my unquiet mind.
In my vision, I'm looking out the window of our first house in Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Outside, a year-old beagle puppy dashes frentically around our newly fenced in back yard, tracing a series of perfect spirographical loops around a small object in the bare spot beneath a group of towering pines.
Closer inspection reveals the object to be an eastern box turtle.
Though I can't hear her in my vision, Molly emits a constant stream of exuberant beagle yelps. They burst joyously from her tiny body each time she executes a bombing run on the oblivious target of her excited attentions. Meanwhile, the turtle (unfazed by the impressively energetic attempts of our family pet to elicit some undefined turtle-ish reaction) continues its majestically slow trek across the back yard.
Amused, I imagine a thought bubble over its painted head:
I'm reminded, perhaps irrelevantly, (but then when has my mind ever been easily disciplined?) of one of the existential questions of the 1970s for young women of a certain age and background: Are you a Scarlet or a Melanie? As the product of a culture steeped in self-absorbed dimestore psychoanalysis I can't help wondering: which am I? The beagle? Or the turtle?
Last year at this time the turtle would have won out hands down. But now I'm not so sure. Confronted by massive and intractible forces I neither understand nor control I feel more like my beagle: inconsequentially yapping at the edges of problems too big to comprehend in their entirety.
That's a feeling I share with many conservatives these days:
Responding to a crisis of identity, Rush Limbaugh explains that "We conservatives have not done a good enough job of just laying out basically who we are because we make the mistake of assuming people know." And just basically who are you?
I defy anyone to extract an identity from the linked speech. Conservatives are for opportunity, but not equality of outcomes, but we are born equal, but we succeed or fail on our own merits, but conservatives will try to stop you from failing, but if you do, that's too bad, and we need everyone to succeed as an individual for the country to succeed, except for those who don't, because it's their fault, and the fault of the war on poverty, or . . . some such. The Donk is deluded by the allure of technocracy, by the notion of scientific government; the Gopster is a set of cultural phobias, affected regular-guy affinities, and catch phrases. It's probably appropriate that they draw their inspiration and spokespeople from the ever-more-irrelevant and anachronistic medium of radio.
The Donk complains that the Republicans are crass obstructionists. Would that it were true. The contemporary GOP wears the guise of obstructionism but lacks the wherewithal to oppose effectively. Superjesus Black Reagan rules the airwaves, and the supposed opposition is sequestered away in a chintzy hotel ballroom listening to C-list newsmedia celebrities extemporize around the posthumous legacy of Romulus and Remus Ronald Reagan. If there is anything we need right now, it's a cranky minority party that reacts with zealous incredulity at the vast outpouring of expenditure and views with innate suspicion the claims of managerial liberalism. Instead we get awkward governors mumbling anathemas at the US Geologic Survey and talk-radio hosts giving recursive stemwinders to the choir. The Donk spent eight years under George Bush getting along by going along, but as polite acquiescence seems to have been bred out of the rightward faction of national politics, they'll endeavor to continue the trend by creating the most thunderously loud irrelevance the world has ever known.
For someone who traveled the path from passionate liberalism (before I had a husband and children to care for) to guarded and yet equally passionate conservatism, the current financial crisis poses challenges: not to my core beliefs but to the efficacy of applying principles that assume enlightened self-interest to the seemingly irrational behavior of a market and a nation in crisis. I reject the knee jerk reactions of unthinking pundits, both on the reich and left, who conflate volume with intellectual relevance. Rush gets some things right but when a talk show host (and no rational person sees Mr. Limbaugh as the intellectual equivalent of William F. Buckley) becomes a convenient straw man for those who prefer sneering dismissal to honest debate, the marketplace of ideas becomes debased and dysfunctional.
We face serious problems that require the active participation of both liberals and conservatives. Willfully dismissing one side of America's centuries-old tradition of vigorous debate because "we won" is less a refutation of their ideology than a smug and self-satisfied refusal to think. The incoherence of political debate these days reflects a loss of confidence in not only the markets; it reflects waning confidence in the marketplace of ideas. Faced with the prospect of a prolonged economic downturn, all but the most dogmatic thinkers find themselves questioning notions they once thought rock solid.
This is not an irrational response. When the consequences of seeing your policy preferences enacted suddenly become more costly to your fellow Americans, it seems rash not to exercise a bit of intellectual caution. But though caution may be called for, a retreat into inaction would be deadly. I've been talking with my Democrat friend again about the financial crisis. She points out the more rational side of the progressive argument for government intervention: many people who did nothing wrong or irresponsible have been harmed by the financial crisis and their suffering is quite real. Why not ask those who can well afford it (and she and I both fall into that category) to step up to the plate and help out?
Like Tigerhawk, I'm not inured to the suffering out there. It's just that, like him, I'm not convinced by proposed remedies that refuse to acknowledge either human nature and the role of incentives in shaping behavior:
... a big part of the question is whether the intended remedies *will* fix the economy. Let's not forget the salient example posed by the war on poverty. It harmed more than it helped b/c it incented all the wrong behaviors. Persistent, multigenerational black poverty and 70% illegitimacy rates that didn't exist before we altered the incentive structure don't argue well for the idea that government is an efficient mechanism for solving every societal problem.
I think the biggest problem with Obama is that he is using this crisis and the fear it engenders to enact sweeping changes to the basic incentive structure that drives our economy, based on the assumption that we "have to" do something to mitigate present discomfort and distress.
But what if some of that discomfort and distress constitute necessary feedback for a sick economy? What if they're actually important corrective measures that align individual behavior more rationally? If we tell our children hot stoves *shouldn't* be allowed to burn them (and further that if they are burned, we'll magically take away all that "unfair" pain) have we not produced an irresponsible and unrealistic world view that disincents natural caution? If they believe there are no negative consequences, what will prevent them from touching the stove again?
If we take away the pain that results from irresponsible borrowing and trading, what prevents morons from going right back out and doing the same things that crashed the economy?
I think that contrary to his rhetoric, Obama is presenting a false set of choices that defers or minimizes present suffering at the expense of healthy and responsible decision making. I'm not convinced that we "have to" do anything - there's a whole body of evidence that stimulus packages hit too late to do any good and fail to achieve their intended effects.
A while back I linked to a lecture by Jonathan Haidt. I've been meaning to get back to it.
Haidt postulates that morality has several dimensions:
Haidt argues that ... political liberals rely primarily on two of these systems, involving emotional sensitivities to harm and fairness. Conservatives, however, construct their moral understandings on those two systems plus three others, which involve emotional sensitivities to in-group boundaries, authority and spiritual purity. "We all start off with the same evolved moral capacities," says Haidt, "but then we each learn only a subset of the available human virtues and values. We often end up demonizing people with different political ideologies because of our inability to appreciate the moral motives operating on the other side of a conflict. We are surrounded by moral conflicts, on the personal level, the national level and the international level. The recent scientific advances in moral psychology can help explain why these conflicts are so passionate and so intractable
I found this idea intriguing. It aligns with Eric Posner's theory that most judges don't decide cases according deeply held principles, but rather according to gut feel. In other words, they judge first and justify in order to rationalize their decisions:
Modern theories about rational choice and information processing don’t adequately explain weakness of the will. The older metaphors about controlling animals work beautifully. The image that I came up with for myself, as I marveled at my weakness, was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him.
* * *
The point of these studies is that moral judgment is like aesthetic judgment. When you see a painting, you usually know instantly and automatically whether you like it. If someone asks you to explain your judgment, you confabulate. You don’t really know why you think something is beautiful, but your interpreter module (the rider) is skilled at making up reasons, as Gazzaniga found in his split-brain studies. You search for a plausible reason for liking the painting, and you latch on to the first reason that makes sense (maybe something vague about color, or light, or the reflection of the painter in the clown’s shiny nose). Moral arguments are much the same: Two people feel strongly about an issue, their feelings come first, and their reasons are invented on the fly, to throw at each other. When you refute a person’s argument, does she generally change her mind and agree with you? Of course not, because the argument you defeated was not the cause of her position; it was made up after the judgment was already made. If you listen closely to moral arguments, you can sometimes hear something surprising: that it is really the elephant holding the reins, guiding the rider. It is the elephant who decides what is good or bad, beautiful or ugly. Gut feelings, intuitions, and snap judgments happen constantly and automatically . . . , but only the rider can string sentences together and create arguments to give to other people. In moral arguments, the rider goes beyond being just an advisor to the elephant; he becomes a lawyer, fighting in the court of public opinion to persuade others of the elephant’s point of view.
* * *
In my studies of moral judgment, I have found that people are skilled at finding reasons to support their gut feelings: The rider acts like a lawyer whom the elephant has hired to represent it in the court of public opinion.
...Studies of everyday reasoning show that the elephant is not an inquisitive client. When people are given difficult questions to think about—for example, whether minimum wage should be raised—they generally lean one way or the other right away, and then put a call in to reasoning to see whether support for that position is forthcoming. . . . Most people gave no real evidence for their positions, and most made no effort to look for evidence opposing their initial positions. David Perkins, a Harvard psychologist who has devoted his career to improving reasoning, has found the same thing. He says that thinking generally uses the “makes-sense” stopping rule. We take a position, look for evidence that supports it, and if we find some evidence—enough so that our position “makes sense”—we stop thinking. But at least in a low-pressure situation such as this, if someone else brings up reasons and evidence on the other side, people can be induced to change their minds; they just don’t make an effort to do such thinking for themselves
When you stop to think about it, this theory goes a long way towards explaining the vitriol and viciousness of modern debate. It's axiomatic on both the left and right that ideas have consequences. Between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial crisis, the consequences of applied ideology have never seemed more consequential. In a sense, the transaction costs of public debate went up dramatically.
That we decide first and rationalize only later doesn't necessarily invalidate our conclusions. Gut instinct often reflects unconscious lessons we've picked up along the way. But it does pose a challenge to those entrenched in their own world view.
Do we have the courage to question our assumptions and put aside intellectual arrogance and insularity? I suspect not.
We are, after all, only human.
Well Al-righty Then...
Your result for The New Greek Goddess Archetype Test...
You are Aphrodite!
The Goddess of Love and Beauty
March 03, 2009
The Filthy Rich
If you do nothing else today, you owe it to yourself to watch this.
Flinty Chicago Toughness Alert!
If this kind of thing didn't happen with disturbing regularity, the Editorial Staff would have to make it up.
Strange goings on surrounding the programme for the first day of Gordon Brown's visit to Washington.
No sooner had the Prime Minister's plane touched down at Andrews Air Force on Monday evening when word was passed to travelling Westminster correspondents that the press conference they'd been told to expect had been called off "because of snow".
Hours earlier, at around 4pm EST on Monday, a British official had told me that there would be a "press conference" after the PM and President Barack Obama had met in the Oval Office and before they had their working lunch in the Old Family Dining Room. Exact timings, however, were vague.
By 8pm, the press conference - if there'd ever been one planned - was officially off. The White House press schedule stated: "There will be a pool spray of the meeting." In layman's language, that means a small collection of reporters and perhaps two or three quick questions. That means something very short and ample opportunity to dodge anything difficult.
As Ben Brogan of the Mail puts it, this is "not the standing podium-to-podium with the Messiah image that Mr Brown imagined". Trying to spin as best they can, the British Embassy is describing it as a "press availability" while Downing Street officials are apparently saying that "we are still negotiating".
Good thing the administration is so obliging.
March 02, 2009
You have to love the lefto-sphere. This is exactly the mind set Obama is feeding with the constant "us vs. them" rhetoric (which completely contradicts his do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do yammering about unity and rejecting stale, divisive partisanship). Sadly Lame dishonestly summarizes a VDH column about the rising costs of health care:
The best way to manage increasing health care costs is simply to stop treating old people completely because no matter what you do, sooner or later, they all die.
What did VDH actually say? Not that we should stop treating old people and let them die, but that when Obama complains about the (intolerably) high costs of health care, he's overlooking two things:
The cost of health care is spiraling out of control, and not just because the proverbial evil “they” (fill in the blank: pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, medical corporations, trial lawyers, etc.) charge too much. Such profit-mongering entities may well gouge us, owing to a lack of competition, fear of lawsuits, or government mandates and interference. Yet the larger culprit is, of course, we the people. The cost of our health care is soaring because, to be frank, that health care is usually very good, and it does things routinely that almost no one else in the world contemplates — such as providing 83-year-olds with heart-valve replacements, 78-year-olds with hip and knee replacements, and those who drink, smoke, and are chronically obese with drugs and weekly doctor visits.
Saying we're getting a good return on investment for rising health care costs (with good reason) is a far cry from saying we should let old people die.
The friend who sent that to me (a Democrat who voted for Obama, by the way) had this to say about that comedy clip I posted earlier today:
People have completely lost touch with reality in our society — and we’re exporting that point of view around the globe, since it exists now all over the first world.
I loved his Conan interview and his rant about the way people complain about the experience of taking flights here or there...how we are furious if the on-board internet service is not working or if we have to circle and airport waiting to land and then end up late. “You’re flying in a chair in the air!,” he finally bursts out. It’s just great stuff. And TRUE.
She's right. And that's why we can talk, though we disagree about the ultimate conclusions a lot of the time: our basic values aren't that far apart and neither of us (though we're both passionate about what we believe) is so wedded to a political party that we won't entertain a point of view that pokes fun at human foibles which know no party affiliation. Of course, I'm not perfect. I get my Hanes Ultrasheers in a wad on a regular basis. But I can admit when someone of the opposing party makes a good point:
If we wish to get health-care costs under control, then we should at least be honest with the American people and admit that we are all paying a collective fortune largely for three reasons: (1) to keep functioning into their 60s those who drank, smoked, and ate too much and in a past era would have passed on at 60; (2) to give us all an extra three to five years of mobility and functionality after we reach 75; (3) to fit us up with IVs, feeding tubes, and respirators so that in our last six months of life we can die in a rest home or among machines and specialists in a hospital rather than in our own home with a few morphine tablets for pain and a bowl of soup with a straw on the nightstand.
...Again, health care is expensive because Americans, with some good reason, have decided that the ancient tragic view — we all age and break down, and pay for the sins of our 20s and 30s in our 50s and 60s — can at last be replaced by the therapeutic promise of vigor and health into our 80s.
What could be done? President Obama could try some honesty. Thus he might say, “We are spending hundreds of billions to keep us healthy, vital, and alive in ways unimaginable a few years ago. To keep our part of the bargain, we must then encourage the aging to remain active and working — and delay retirement. If we are living to 80 rather than 65, then surely we can start receiving Social Security benefits at 67 rather than at 62. What we save in postponed payouts can go to the greater cost of keeping us alive to 80.”
IOW, there's no free lunch. Every choice we make involves tradeoffs.
My grandparents were all dead by the time they were 65. My Dad will be 80 this year and is in excellent health. My Mom is 77.
As a little girl I recall watching one Granddad die of cancer at home and the other struggle with massive strokes that made him shake with frustration when the former research chemist couldn't even perform basic tasks like lifting a spoon to his own lips. Or simply making himself understood when his Grandaughter visited.
My Grandparents were mostly dead by the time I was 5. My parents spoke at my youngest son's wedding and now have a great-Grandson.
Is health care expensive?
Damned straight. And it's worth every precious day I get with my loved ones.
The Demonizer in Chief: because when it comes right down to it you're either with him or against him!
How refreshing to see a President who, in the name of bipartisanship, is willing to put aside the recriminations and worn out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.
Yes and No
Dear God this is hysterical:
On the otter heiny, I have to quibble with this:
It's what you're called on to do that makes you great. We haven't been called on to do anything but buy shit and get fat. Even after 9/11, during the darkest moment of our recent history, the President told us, “Go shopping.” That's how we were told to uphold American values; go out and fucking buy more shit. So what were we supposed to do?
It's what you're called on to do that makes you great.
No. It's how we decide to respond to adversity that illuminates and often refines our character.
If you're still sitting around waiting for someone else to tell you to do the right thing, you're passing the buck. Moral responsibility can't be delegated.
No, wait. Apparently, it can.
Quotes for the Day
...the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have “condemned” lifting the ban. American Legion National Commander, David K. Rehbein said this:Photographing the caskets that contain the remains of the men and women who have made the supreme sacrifice on behalf of our country and its freedom, is little short of sacrilege. The practice would be intrusive and hurtful to the warriors’ families. The return of our heroes is also a sacred moment for our armed forces, and should respected.
Glen M. Gardner, Jr., National Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S., and a Marine veteran of Vietnam:…the return of America’s fallen warriors in not a media event.
Gardner points out that that in our country “only seven-tenths of 1 percent of the population wears the uniform: “I maintain that those Americans who are in this war - the military and their families - know the true picture.Secretary Gates gave little time to resolve the many questions and procedures. Our country has been thrown into this - one more critical and sensitive decision to be made too quickly to be made soundly.
- Maggie Thornton
When DoD manages to dismiss the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, seven in ten respondents to the Military.com poll and the 85% of Military Families United families who wanted the ban left in place, it's hard to argue the views of the military community were taken seriously.
Let alone heard. But hey, we understand. There was a deadline.
Most Clueless Column Ever
Shorter Michelle Singletary:
"Sure I've always said people ought to be financially responsible... except for those who take out loans they can't repay to buy houses they can't afford on their present income."
Because those people created an artificial "need" (as in "I *need* to stay in a home I shouldn't have bought and can't pay for rather than moving to a home more in line with my income) others who lived within their means need to hand over a higher percentage of their take-home pay to ensure these folks can continue to live beyond their means:
My children have WAM. I see them looking as I pour juice or cut a piece of pie. They watch closely to see whether their siblings get more. If I give one child a little extra of something, the other two pout and whimper, "What about me?"
But I expect this from children. They often don't understand that sometimes one person -- whether he or she deserves it or not -- will get more. They can't comprehend that life isn't fair.
Trust me, Ms. Singletary.
My husband and I understand that life isn't fair.
That's why we're careful with our money - so that if one of life's many "unfairnesses" were visited on us, we could still pay our bills on time.
What we object to is having our public servants add injustice to the natural unfairness with which we all must contend. Expecting me to fund someone else's continued irresponsibility when it was their actions that caused my investments and retirement account to dwindle and the resale value of my home to decline amounts to punishing me twice for someone else's mistakes.
But I suppose I should be happy to pay up, if my sacrifice will prevent my fellow Americans from facing the consequences of their own poor judgment. That's a lesson they won't soon forget.
Update: Go now and read Elise's excellent post on this subject. Talk about perverse incentives:
Obama’s proposed change to the bankruptcy laws will set up an asymmetry in which a lender can be forced by a judge to eat part of the homeowner’s loss while the homeowner will still be able to simply abandon the house whenever he chooses. To redress that imbalance, we could change the other side of the equation so that any mortgage that can be changed by a bankruptcy judge is always a recourse loan. However, this would probably just encourage generous judges to be even more generous.
That'll help unfreeze the credit market. But wait! There's more where this came from!
... how will the first two elements of Obama’s plan work? Let’s consider two couples who are recent homeowners. Look first at John and Mary. They were both working a year ago making identical salaries when they bought a house. They had saved up their pennies for a few years beforehand and made a 20% down payment. The monthly house payments accounted for 25% of their combined take-home pay. Miraculously, they live in an area where the value of their house has not declined and after making payments for a year the amount of their mortgage is now 79% of the house’s market price. John loses his job. The house payments now account for 50% of the couple’s take-home pay. Nonetheless, they have cut other expenses to the bone and are still current on their payments. They do not qualify for Obama’s help. Because their mortgage is less than 80% of their income they can probably refinance without government help but there’s no guarantee of that since their income is now greatly reduced.
Right next door live Sam and Jane. Through an eerie coincidence they, too, were both working a year ago making identical salaries when they bought a house. Since they hadn’t saved their pennies, they only made a 5% down payment on their house but since they made more than John and Mary their monthly house payments also accounted for 25% of their combined take-home pay. Like John and Mary’s house, Sam and Jane’s house has held its value and after making house payments for a year the amount of their mortgage is now 94% of the house’s market price. Sam loses his job. The house payments now account for 50% of Sam and Jane’s take-home pay. Like John and Mary, Sam and Jane have cut expenses to the bone and are still current on their payments. Unlike John and Mary, however, Sam and Jane do qualify for Obama’s help because the amount of their mortgage is more than 80% of the current value of their home. The government will encourage their lender to refinance their mortgage perhaps at a lower rate than John and Mary could obtain without government sweeteners.
Now let’s imagine that instead of cutting expenses to the bone and staying current, Sam and Jane stopped making their mortgage payments when Sam lost his job. They are now in danger of foreclosure. That means they qualify for even more government help. Not only will the government encourage their lender to refinance, it will take on part of the interest payments to get their mortgage payments down to only 31% of their income.
The probable result is that John and Mary, who arguably made the more financially responsible decisions - a larger down payment and staying current on their mortgage - will be forced to sell their home. Yes, they will get back their down payment but if they can even manage to buy another house it will have to be a cheaper one partly because their income has been reduced and partly because they may have to pay a higher interest rate than Sam and Jane. Sam and Jane on the other hand will see some of their indebtedness paid by the government, will be able to stay in their more expensive home, and will never have to repay the taxpayers - including John and Mary - for their help.
From each according to his ability [to pay and pay and pay] to each according to his 'need'.
But don't you dare call that "socialism".
'Don't try to predict it. Love never happens according to plan'