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May 31, 2012

On the 8th Day, God Created Roommates!

Idiotic article of the day:

The above graphic exploded on Facebook this weekend. It shows how many minimum wage hours a worker needs to work in order to be able to afford a two-bedroom unit at “Fair Market Rent” in any given state. The FMR is a figure determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The numbers don’t show any discernible trend aside from perhaps 1) states with high cost of living/rent such as NY, NJ, DC, MD require the most man hours and 2) the minimum wage is too low. The latter, of course, is the point of this graphic.

In what universe is being able to afford a two bedroom apartment some sort of human right?

The Editorial Staff have read a lot of dumb things over the years, but this may well represent the absolute pinnacle of poorly reasoned appeals to emotion. When our two sons graduated from college, they moved out and rented apartments. Son #1 had a full time job and shared his first apartment with another FT worker: his wife.

Son #1 wanted to live in an expensive area. He had several roommates, all with full time jobs.

Our first apartment in the DC area was a one bedroom. It had three occupants: myself, my husband, and our 15 month old son. He slept in a walk in closet. Rents were lower for apartments located farther away from work, but with only one car we decided that the convenience factor outweighed the extra expense.

The idea that anyone is owed his or her own apartment (one they don't have to share with anyone else, which would seem to obviate the need for that 2nd bedroom by the way) is just stunning.

Get a roommate, move to a cheaper area, or get a better job. Sometimes it really is that simple.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:58 AM | Comments (129) | TrackBack

We Are Doomed

According to this article, listening to loud music via earbuds is "risky behavior":

Risky music-listening behavior was defined as listening to music at 89 dBA for at least an hour per day, based on a report from the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks. (dBA is short for decibel A-weighting, a measure of environmental noise.) That music exposure can cause noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL; people with this condition often have “increased feelings of isolation, depression, loneliness, anger, and fear,” according to the study.

But that’s not where the health risks end. The researchers found that compared with young adults who listened to music responsibly, those who put themselves at risk with digital music players were:

* 1.99 times more likely to say they had used cannabis in the last four weeks;

* 1.19 times more likely to smoke cigarettes daily; and

* 1.10 times more likely to have sex without using a condom every time.

In addition, compared with the students with safe music-listening practices, those who put themselves at risk by attending noisy concerts and clubs were:

* 5.94 times more likely to have consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in a row at some point in the last four weeks;

* 2.03 times more likely to have sex without using a condom every time; and

* 1.12 times more likely to smoke cigarettes every day.

These young folk had best be careful - this sort of thing could easily segue from merely risky to downright reckless behavior.

Without some authority figure to think for us protect us from our own stupidity, how can we be expected to make the kind of everyday, normal decisions we all face each day? Who among us has not thought to him- or herself (because thinking to other people is hard), "Let see... I've been having chest pains severe enough to consult a cardiologist about. Should I go ahead and have that threesome, or defer until after my stress test?"

A Gwinnett County jury on Tuesday awarded $3 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit to survivors of a 31-year-old husband and father of two who died while having sex one day before he was scheduled to have a heart stress test.

The unusual lawsuit arose after the Lawrenceville man died on March 12, 2009, while engaging in a threesome with a friend and a woman who was not his wife. It was not immediately clear in the verdict whether the patient's wife or his two sons stand to benefit from the judgement.

Plaintiff's lawyers Rod Edmond and Tricia Hoffler, who represented the estate of William Martinez, argued that a doctor at Cardiovascular Group in Lawrenceville failed to take a proper medical history when Martinez consulted him about chest pains that were radiating into his arm. That appointment occurred a week before Martinez died.

Martinez had high blood pressure and other tests showed he was at high risk of having clogged heart arteries.

The attending cardiologist, Dr. Sreenivasulu Gangasani, scheduled a stress test for eight days later, but failed to inform the patient to stop all physical activity until the test was completed, according to a press release issued by the plaintiff's law firm, Edmond & Lindsay in Atlanta.

I'm thinking this guy's family should also sue the media for failing to force him to read this article. There can be no truce in the continual fight for Justice.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:29 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

May 30, 2012

Quality Control Begins at the Top

The Smartest President Evah makes another bold command decision:

His messages have an improvisational feel at times. On the flight to Colorado last week, Jay Carney, his press secretary, read him an online column concluding that he has presided over slower growth in federal spending than any president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mr. Obama liked it so much he inserted it into his campaign speech.

Just like that, an online column, rather than a detailed study by a budget office, became fodder for his argument. “Since I’ve been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years,” he told supporters in a hotel ballroom in Denver. What he did not say is that the calculation did not count significant spending in his early months in office and assumed future cuts that he opposes.

It's a good thing it's only the President of the United States making outrageous claims at odds with the facts. Had Mitt Romney made such a sloppy, egregious error, we would be seeing the kind of impartial, well researched rebuttal we've come to expect from the Fourth Estate:

Newspapers and other media sources insist that their mission is to keep Americans well-informed and cognizant of the facts. Those tasks fall to editors, who are supposed to exercise discretion and judgment on articles that appear in their publication. The Washington Post even employs a well-read fact checker, Glenn Kessler, who receives both praise and scorn from both sides depending on whose ox he’s goring at the moment, but one in whom the editors apparently have confidence.

That brings us to today’s column from Eugene Robinson. Robinson picks up on a MarketWatch report to accuse Mitt Romney of “lies” in his campaigning and of distorting the truth...

*sigh* I suppose it's too much to expect Washington Post associate editors to actually read the Washington Post... or the AP... or ABC News:

...the same newspaper that published it today debunked that claim last week. Glenn Kessler gave the Obama campaign three Pinocchios for adopting MarketWatch’s flawed analysis...

Kessler wasn’t alone, either. The Associated Press ripped claims from the Obama White House on spending a couple of days later. So did Jake Tapper of ABC News. But it’s the complete disregard for the Post’s own analysis that is so stunning in the decision to publish Robinson’s column.

If you beginning to think that all those independent layers of editorial fact checking and control are just window dressing, take heart. The press can be plenty skeptical when it suits them.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:31 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Asymmetrical Skepticism: The Media's Odd Reluctance to Investigate Convicted Bombers

Byron York notices a partisan double standard in the media's willingness to investigate campaign scandals. First up, an uncorroborated accusation from a convicted felon regarding a Republican candidate (and by extension his father, a former Republican President):

"Fortunate Son" attracted attention because it reported that Bush, then the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, had been arrested for possessing cocaine when he was 26 years old. Hatfield wrote that Bush's father, the future President George H.W. Bush, used his influence to cover up the incident. "George W. was arrested for possession of cocaine in 1972 but due to his father's connections, the entire record was expunged by a state judge whom the elder Bush helped get elected," Hatfield quoted a "confidential source" as saying. George W. Bush denied the story, as did George H.W. Bush. Still, even though nobody had ever heard of Hatfield, for some reporters the revelation seemed final proof of a rumor that media types had been kicking around -- and sometimes publishing -- since the beginning of Bush's campaign. The New York Times, which had looked for evidence of cocaine before, looked again. "Reporters for The New York Times, which received an advance copy of Mr. Hatfield's book last week, spent several days looking for evidence that might corroborate his account," wrote Times reporter Frank Bruni, now a liberal columnist for the paper, on October 22, 1999. "But they did not find any, and the newspaper did not publish anything about the claim." Lots of other news organizations did. When both Bushes denied the story, the Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Post, Los Angeles Times, and many others reported Hatfield's revelation. The New York Times also found a way to pass on the accusation without passing on the accusation; the paper published several articles about the controversy over the book, even if it did not directly quote the book itself. Times readers certainly got the idea. The party ended when the Dallas Morning News reported Hatfield was "a felon on parole, convicted in Dallas of hiring a hit man for a failed attempt to kill his employer with a car bomb in 1987." The publisher of "Fortunate Son," St. Martin's Press, quickly withdrew the book.

York contrasts the media's willing suspension of disbelief when handling unsubstantiated accusations against a Republican candidate with their extreme skepticism when the accusations involve a Democrat candidate:

Fast-forward to today. Klein's book reports that in the spring of 2008, in the middle of the presidential campaign and in the heat of the controversy over Rev. Jeremiah Wright's incendiary sermons, a very close friend of Barack Obama's offered Wright a payoff if Wright would remain silent until after the November election. The source of the story is Jeremiah Wright himself. Wright told it, in his own words, in a nearly three-hour recorded interview with Klein. (The author gave the audio of the entire interview to me, as well as to other reporters who asked.)

So here's the standard the media appear to be applying. Uncorroborated allegations from a convicted felon? Passed on uncritically to the public. A recorded allegation from the minister with no criminal record who presided at the President's wedding and had a decades-long relationship with the Obamas? Ignore or play down. But there's another parallel here with relevance to the Brett Kimberlin story. You see, back in 1992 Brett Kimberlin - another convicted felon involved in a bombing that injured 3 people (one so seriously that he lost his leg) - came forward with a story eerily similar to one leveled against George W. Bush and his father:

During the 1992 Presidential campaign Singer wrote a story for the New Yorker about the allegations by Brett Kimberlin, a former marijuana dealer then in prison for a series of bombings, that he had once sold marijuana to Vice President Dan Quayle. (The cartoonist Garry Trudeau was another journalist who pushed this story hard.) After signing a book contract to expand the story, Singer invested more and more time,and became frustrated by holes, inconsistencies and dead ends in Kimberlin's tale.

The deceived journalist was so disgusted that he wrote an entire book about the experience. Once again, how did the media respond? A search of the Washington Post for "Brett Kimberlin" yielded this recent entry:

We’re not sure if his reading list includes stoner bible High Times , but his choice of reading material made us recall those claims on the eve of the 1988 presidential election by Brett Kimberlin, a federal prisoner who said he sold pot to Quayle in the 1970s.

Quayle always denied the allegation--and there was never any evidence to support it--but as he well knows, you can’t spell “potatoe” without “pot.”


A similar search at the NY Times yielded numerous outraged articles about dark Republican conspiracies to silence Kimberlin. Mentions of Mark Singer's searingly honest investigation into how a journalist was conned into smearing a politician on no evidence? One. Relegated to the Arts section. Of course, there was this gem regarding the widely reported Republican plot to "silence" Kimberlin:

Brett Kimberlin, the inmate who alleged that he sold marijuana to Vice President Dan Quayle while Mr. Quayle was a law student, was not silenced by the Government just before the 1988 Presidential election. Our investigation revealed that on the order of the Bureau of Prisons' Director, NBC News was granted an on-camera interview with Mr. Kimberlin four days before the election. That interview lasted some two hours.

Contrary to the implication of your editorial, Mr. Kimberlin was not placed in a "hole." He was placed in detention for protective custody after the Bureau of Prisons' Director was informed that Mr. Kimberlin had reported that a threat had been made against him.

During that detention, Mr. Kimberlin was given access to a telephone, which he used to call a number of reporters and repeat his allegations about Mr. Quayle. In less than 24 hours, it was determined that no credible threat existed and Mr. Kimberlin was released to the general population, where he continued making calls to the media.

Of course this information only made it into the Paper of Record because a prison official felt compelled to help the Times' perennially overtaxed Corrections department.

When evaluating the reliability of scandals involving Republican candidates, the media appear to find convicted bombers to be presumptively credible sources. Investigations by journalists who actually do their job (however belatedly), on the other hand, can be safely relegated to the Arts section or - if you're the Washington Post - ignored entirely.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:21 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 25, 2012

Must Read Post of the Day. Possibly, the Year

Yesterday I alluded to a pathetic, thuggish harassment campaign waged against several conservative bloggers.

Today, one of those bloggers - Patrick Frey (Patterico) - has written a long, thoroughly documented, and utterly chilling account of the intimidation and smear campaign carried out over the last year.

Please go over and read his post if you have not done so already. Send the link to your local newspaper and ask them to cover this story. Send the link to everyone you know. If you are a blogger, please write about this and encourage your readers to spread the word.

If you have been reading me for any length of time, you'll know that my approach to such stories is typically cautious: not because I'm afraid of the consequences (though Patrick's story presents ample cause for such fear) but because I am naturally wary of online disputes and any story that seems sensationalistic.

I found Patrick's account to be well documented, credible, and convincing. Normally I would not link to such a story so soon. My natural inclination is to wait for all the facts to come out. But having had a series of offline conversations with him in the past, I believe him to be a man of good character. He is someone I like and respect, and there aren't many bloggers out there I will say that about. I have no real personal connection with him - we're not close friends. But I know enough about him to have gotten a good read.

We are living in a time where some desperate people are throwing verbal Molotov cocktails at conservatives. They regularly accuse us of the most vile things on little or no evidence. Criticism of progressives is racist or sexist, regardless of whether the substance of that criticism has anything to do with skin color or gender. Opposition to or dissent from public policy decisions is likened to terrorism, rape, hijacking. Conservatism is equivalent to mental illness, pathology, or stupidity. Decades old stories about conservatives are presented as signs of latent sociopathy, while similar incidents involving liberals are dismissed as character assassination.

Speech or conduct that hints - no matter how faintly - at violence or bullying, we are told, threaten the very foundations of our Republic. But real violence, real bullying, real crimes are trivialized or ignored.

This kind of story should not and must not be ignored. There are good people of all political persuasions in this country. Our nation was founded on the clash of ideas, values, and ways of life. It was also founded upon the rule of law. What happened yesterday on the View is evidence that people who disagree with each other still recognize evil when they see it.

We must not lose sight of the fundamental decency of most Americans, regardless of how they vote. The asshats of the world - and they exist on both sides - do not set the standards for how we conduct our lives or run our country. We do.

*************

Welcome, Michelle Malkin readers! And if you're looking for more information on this story, Memeorandum has an extensive roundup of posts.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:24 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

May 24, 2012

Malum in Se

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

—Justice Potter Stewart, Jacobellis v. Ohio

I have not been following the news very closely due to a heavy work schedule. But yesterday I was pleased to receive an email from Donald Douglas of American Power. Long time sufferers readers of VC may recall that Donald and I had quite the dustup over coverage of the Erin Andrews story a few years ago. Back then, while Donald agreed with me that what happened to Ms. Andrews was wrong and offensive, we disagreed about the best way to respond. Donald wrote to alert me to Hustler mag's decision to alter a photo of a female conservative blogger so she is depicted with a penis stuffed in her mouth (presumably to shut her up, or possibly just because such images are aesthetically pleasing on some level I devoutly hope never to grasp in all its complexity):

I'm shocked, and I don't shock easily. But progressives keep finding news ways to dig down deeper.

Hustler's response to the brouhaha over their intentionally shocking photo is that it is protected satire. The word was carefully chosen for its legal significance in the context of the First Amendment. But what is satire, exactly? The word is commonly (and loosely) understood to mean something like, "You can't sue us! We weren't serious. It's all a big joke." Unfortunately for them, the definition of satire is rather more specific:

1: a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn

2: trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly

If this photo is truly satire, whose "human vices or follies" was it meant to expose? The folly of a lovely woman for daring to voice her opinion? The vice of men who find it amusing to fantasize about shutting women up by forcing themselves on her? It seems pretty clear that the latter was the intended message: "Just keep talking - you're asking for it, b**ch." Or, "I know what will shut her up...".

Funny, no? Unsurprisingly, Grim is thoroughly disgusted by the tactic:

Today's example comes from Hustler magazine, which took a photograph of a young conservative journalist named S. E. Cupp and modified it in a way clearly designed to disgust her -- most people would be disgusted by being portrayed this way in public, in any case. The text accompanying the photo clearly label it as not a real photograph of her, so there's probably no legal way to act against the magazine; the text also makes clear that they are doing this to punish her for her political opinions.

It is not only women who are treated this way (although as Hot Air points out, Playboy did much the same thing in 2009). We remember the case of 'Rick Santorum's Google problem,' in which a gay rights activist (and bully) decided to disgust the Santorums by linking their name to a filthy substance associated with homosexual acts. This was also a use of disgust to punish political opinions.

The old saying that 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me' isn't entirely false, but it isn't entirely true either. Many people of good will are also of sensitive natures, who see the disgusting things being done and would never want it to be done to them. So, they will stay quiet and keep their heads down -- which is just what the bullies want. S. E. Cupp is surely brave enough to face it down, as Rick Santorum was, but the example of what was done to them will quiet others. Those others have every right to be in the public space as well.

Dr. Nussbaum intended for her idea to have a humane effect on the law and the public space. I cannot agree that the effect will be anything of the sort. If anything, we are already too far in that direction. There ought to be a mechanism for replying to bullies of this sort. We need a strong enough medicine that it convinces them to do what decency would compel, had not they been born without it.

Here's where I suppose I will get into trouble once again. I don't think it matters one whit which political party Ms. Cupp belongs to, nor what her opinions or views may be. What makes this wrong is not that she is on "our team", nor even (as Grim hints) that she is a woman being subjected to offensive sexualization and veiled threats. As he points out, the same sexual smear tactics were used against Rick Santorum to punish and embarrass him for his views on homosexuality. It is undeniably true that conservative women have come in for more than their share of such demeaning treatment. Michelle Malkin has been attacked in the filthiest, most racist terms by the party of tolerance and diversity:

... “slut” is one of the nicer things I’ve been called over 20 years of public life. In college during the late 1980s, it was “race traitor,” “coconut” (brown on the outside white on the inside) and “white man’s puppet.” After my first book, “Invasion,” came out in 2001, it was “immigrant-hater,” the “Radical Right’s Asian Pitbull,” “Tokyo Rose” and “Aunt Tomasina.” In my third book, 2005′s “Unhinged,” I published entire chapters of hate mail rife with degrading, unprintable sexual epithets and mockery of my Filipino heritage. If I had a dollar for every time libs have called me a “Manila whore” and “Subic Bay bar girl,” I’d be able to pay for a ticket to a Hollywood-for-Obama fundraiser. To the HuffPo left, whore is my middle name. Self-serving opponents argue that such attacks do not represent “respectable,” “mainstream” liberal opinion about their conservative female counterparts. But it was feminist godmother Gloria Steinem who called Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison a “female impersonator.” It was NOW leader Patricia Ireland who commanded her flock to only vote for “authentic” female political candidates. It was Al Gore consultant Naomi Wolf who accused the late Jeane Kirkpatrick of being “uninflected by the experiences of the female body.” It was Matt Taibbi, now of Rolling Stone magazine, who mocked my early championing of the tea party movement by jibing: “Now when I read her stuff, I imagine her narrating her text, book-on-tape style, with a big, hairy set of (redacted) in her mouth. It vastly improves her prose.”

In a column called The Four Stages of Female Conservative Abuse, Ms. Malkin called on right leaning women to fight back:

We can’t and needn’t wait for NOW to weigh in. Conservative women are waging the counter-offensives against leftist degradation for themselves that no one else will wage. Whether it’s Palin or Ann Romney or Nikki Haley or S.E. Cupp or a local grass-roots activist mom, right-wing sisters are pushing back.

I'd like to broaden that call to action a bit. It's not enough for only right wing women to fight back. Progressive women should be just as outraged by such tactics, and they need to follow the example of Kirsten Powers and speak up. Ms. Powers' well argued critique of media misogynism (and double standards) was particularly powerful because it came from a progressive outraged by attacks on conservatives. And she made another powerful point: progressive women have been subjected to similar attacks, sometimes by people in their own party.

Ms. Powers emphasized something that is often forgotten in these cynical times where outrage seems inextricably tied to partisan politics and political advantage and is thus easily discounted or ignored. Though liberals and conservatives disagree on many, many things, there are some things we do agree upon. Fundamental human decency ought to be one of these things, and when decency is violated it should not matter whether the target is male or female, liberal or conservative, gay or straight, someone we like/agree with or someone who makes us cringe every time they open their mouth.

Men of all political persuasions need to speak up as well. Their outrage motivated Playboy to take down their offensive list of conservative women they'd like to hate f**k. Though it's hard (heh... she said... oh, never mind) to imagine what might make Hustler readers feel ashamed, don't discount the power of widespread customer outrage on a for-profit company. I would guess that the vast majority of Hustler readers are men, and your opinion matters to them. It also matters - very much - that it wasn't only conservative men who objected to the Playboy debacle.

This is going to be a nasty election and people on both sides will lose their heads. In their haste to score points, they will do things that make them (or ought to make them) feel ashamed. This week has been particularly ugly, with union flacks taking swings at Nicki Haley pinatas and thuggish attempts to intimidate several conservative bloggers (just head over to Patterico's place and keep scrolling). I get angry when I finally head up into his neck of the woods only to find that Stacy McCain has had to move his family to an undisclosed location due to heavy handed threats.

Are these attacks partisan in nature? I don't think there's much doubt of that.

Is it tempting to smear all progressives with the same broad brush? Undoubtedly, especially when some of them make it so darned easy. I don't have a problem with pointing out the partisan nature of these attacks, because they are partisan. But I think it's important to remember all the times conservatives have been subjected to the same broad brush tactics.

There is no large, political movement that doesn't have its share of nut jobs. Such jackwaggonry, when it occurs, ought to bother everyone because it often leads to a downward spiral of attack and retaliation in which both sides forget who they are and what they believe. Offense follows upon offense in an escalating cycle of filth flinging that leaves everyone feeling soiled and disgusted.

It's too much to ask not to notice when we're attacked, but it's not too much to ask for us to remember all the times we've said that no one should have to denounce or apologize abjectly for every moron on their own side who does something wrong, offensive, or just plain stupid. These kinds of attacks are not wrong simply because the target is female or conservative. They are malum in se - wrong by their very nature, and they ought to disturb anyone with a pulse, regardless of political orientation. I was encouraged when progressives like Kirsten Powers and the gentleman I linked to a few paragraphs back stood up for decency because I think their principled objections underscored the values we do share in a particularly powerful way. Their courage reminded us that there are brave and decent people on both sides of the political fence, but it had another effect: it shamed the media into covering the story. And that's important.

In our justifiable outrage at the behavior of some, I hope we don't forget that they don't speak for all who share their political views.

Update: Well reasoned and well stated:

Most of Kimberlin’s victims have been “right-wingers,” but not all. So while it probably falls to those of us on the right to ask some awkward questions of those who financially contribute to Kimberlin’s front organizations—Justice Through Music and Velvet Revolution—there is a less-political dimension to this story that has to do with simple human decency and the rule of law.

...I also want to see Barbra Streisand, Teresa Heinz, the Tides Foundation, and Fidelity Investments questioned on why they are subsidizing the nexus of evil that surrounds Brad Friedman, Neal Rausauher, and Brett Kimberlin.

Were these organizations and individuals really throwing their weight behind legal harrassment and physical threats? They have some questions to answer—as does Montgomery County, Maryland (see the conclusion to Aaron Worthing’s post, linked above).

As a general rule I'm not a big fan of secondary boycotts, but I don't see anything wrong with encouraging businesses to exercise due diligence. I'm not convinced anyone will ever be able to prevent this kind of thuggery, but exposing it to public opprobrium has a powerful deterrent effect.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:55 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

May 23, 2012

Holy Sockpuppets, Batman!

Sacre bleu! Say it isn't so:

Did you hear the one about the New York state lawmakers who forgot about the First Amendment in the name of combating cyberbullying and “baseless political attacks”?

Proposed legislation in both chambers would require New York-based websites, such as blogs and newspapers, to “remove any comments posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post.”

No votes on the measures have been taken. But unless the First Amendment is repealed, they stand no chance of surviving any constitutional scrutiny even if they were approved.

We are guessing Princess Leia in a Cheese Danish Bikini, Knut the Adorably Psychotic Gay Teen Bear, and a host of similarly regrettable monikers would not approve. Be that as it may, we humbly offer a stuffed marmoset by parcel post to the first commenter to spot the problem with the excerpted passage.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:10 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Double Entendre of the Day

Women and their incessant, unreasonable demands:

Time: Of all the things we talk about women wanting, time with their spouse is it. The vast majority of women in happy relationships get 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with their husbands each day. Twenty-four percent of women who claim to be in unhappy relationships spend fewer than five minutes a day with their spouses.

Ask yourself, “How much time do I spend with my spouse?” Uninterrupted time means time spent without iPhones and Blackberrys, a conversation with nothing else on.

We can dream, n'est pas?

Update: Of course in some circles this sort of thing is viewed as evidence of matriarchal oppression (video at 5:14).

Kind Gestures: Hugs, kisses, unexpected telephone calls to say ‘I love you.’ Simple things. I suggest five touch points a day for one week – any kind gesture that takes 30 seconds or less. If a man can do this for his partner for one week, both will be amazed at how much better they feel in the relationship.

I loved the part in the middle of the article about the need for women not to temper their appetite for conversation to their husbands' lower tolerance for it. I have trouble with that one still.

If only there were a way to have a happy marriage without ever having to think about the other person's needs, what a wonderful world that would be.

Somewhere out there, such a perfect woman is waiting for Bill Maher :p

Posted by Cassandra at 08:03 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Burying the Lede

The Espoused One, having lately returned from San Francisco, alerted the Editorial Staff to this howler, embedded deep within an article from a British doctor laboring to explain why a man given a mere 3 months to live survived for 3 years:

... predicting the course of an illness is like trying to piece together the plot of a ballet after seeing just one still image. Most people in Megrahi's condition would die at three months, but there is a very wide range with a long tail to the curve. Furthermore, there have been significant advances since 2009 in the treatment of prostate cancer that has spread. These include drugs such as abiraterone, cabazitaxel, alpharadin and medivation, which Megrahi probably received and are still not widely available in the U.K. We judged his prognosis based on his treatment as an NHS patient in Glasgow at the time, when not even standard docetaxel chemotherapy was offered.

If Dr. Sikora's analysis is correct, the best thing that could have happened to Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was to have been relocated to a backward, Third World country with a health care system beset by rampant corruption and nepotism.

Go figure.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:24 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Coffee Snorters: Inconvenient Truths Edition

Unexpectedly (!), women's votes may not be for sale to the highest bidder:

President Obama's composite citizen, Julia, may be enjoying the free handouts she's getting under his polices. But new polling data indicate she probably won't be voting for him. At least if she's among the majority of women voters.

The latest CBS/New York Times poll shows Republican Mitt Romney leading Mr. Obama 46-44 among women. That's a big change from last month when a CNN/ORC poll found that the president had a 16-point advantage among women voters.

Mr. Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter tried to explain to NBC's Chuck Todd that the CBS/New York Times poll didn't count because it was "significantly biased." And she was right—the poll sampled 6% more Democrats than Republicans. But somehow women still chose Mr. Romney.

The reversal will come as a shock to those who thought the GOP was conducting a war on women. And it will come as an even bigger shock to Mr. Obama—who is working hard to win the female vote as he did in 2008.

This is bad news for Mr. Obama, but also for tone deaf pundits on the right who have been lamenting the sad fact that half of the American populace are "allowed" to vote in ways they don't agree with. Unexpectedly (!) the facts don't happen to support the narrative:

How would the last 38 years of presidential elections have turned out if only men had been allowed to vote? As it turns out, virtually the same as they did with more women voting than men. An all male electorate would have changed the results of only ONE election in the past 4 decades:


Larger version

How inconveeeeeeeeeeeeeenient....

Posted by Cassandra at 06:43 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

May 22, 2012

Californian, Grecian Debt: Deja Vu All Over Again

In a post titled A Precedent for that California Problem, Grim looks at the response to a Greek debt default in Medieval times:

Apparently this massive-debt-default situation has come around before... oddly enough, also in Greece. Medievalists.net has the article (h/t Medieval News). An heir to the disputed throne of Byzantium asked the army assembled for the Fourth Crusade to assist him in claiming that throne. In return, he promised a lavish payment as well as substantial military support during the Crusade.

Soon after becoming Alexos IV, however, it proved that the newly-made emperor could not pay up.

As the old saying goes, hilarity ensued. I was struck by Grim's use of "oddly enough" with regard to Greece and the threat of sovereign default (the inability or outright refusal of a nation to pay its foreign debt). If anything is odd about Europe's present debt crisis, it is that so few people are talking about just how common it is for nations to default on their debts:

Kenneth Rogoff: There have been hundreds of defaults in countries you might not imagine would have defaulted. So Greece defaulted many many times, Austria, Germany, France has defaulted eight, nine times in its history.

Justin Rowlatt: I have got an extraordinary table in front of me. England has defaulted three times, most recently in 1594. But as you say, Greece has previous record in terms of sovereign defaults. They have had one, two, three, four, five sovereign defaults, most recently in 1932. Why this pattern of default with Greece?

Kenneth Rogoff: Well, it's common to everybody. There are very few countries that don't have a history of serial default doing it again and again. It just takes time to grow from being an emerging market to a modern economy and virtually everyone went through that stage. Imagine that England's last was in the 1500s. That's default on foreign creditors. They have had domestic ones after that. But a country like Spain has defaulted 13 times…

Justin Rowlatt: I was going to come on to that; the Spanish state has the longest record of sovereign debt default, doesn't it?... when you look at the current European situation that record of Spain defaulting again and again; I mean just in the 20th century, they defaulted in 1936, 1937, 1938 and in 1939, why was anyone lending money to Spain in that period?

Kenneth Rogoff: Well, first of all, creditors get a risk premium for making these loans, so they get higher interest payments during the period where they are getting paid. The lenders to Greece were getting a premium for a long time. They want to be paid in full, but if they were so sure they ought to get paid by the Germans, why were they charging higher interest rate in the first place? That's part of it. And there are other countries that everybody thought would default, but never did and Australia is an example where they've borrowed like crazy. When I worked at the International Monetary Fund in the early 1980s, everybody thought Australia was going to default but it didn't.

Justin Rowlatt: Looking at this history, this long history of sovereign defaults, on balance has it been a good or a bad thing for the countries that have chosen to say, "listen guys, we simply can't pay our debt?"

Kenneth Rogoff: I think when your debt gets too high, there comes a point where just defaulting is the best option and that's what countries eventually do where you don't have the political consensus to engage in the austerity measures to do what's needed to pay.

The frequency of sovereign defaults may be one of the great, underappreciated truths of our time. For those who haven't read it, I can highly recommend Rogoff and Reinhart's This Time Is Different. For me, the takeaways were:

1. It's not at all unusual for nations to simply refuse to pay their debts. Risk assessments based on just a few decades of history are fundamentally flawed. They will, for instance, miss the risk of a 100 year flood, often with disastrous results.

2. Sovereign defaults tend to occur in clusters.

3. There is no fixed % of debt to GDP at which nations default. Sovereign default appears to be more a matter of political will - and national character - than anything else.

That last statement may be the single most alarming insight of all, given our current course.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:49 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

May 21, 2012

Grrrrrrrr................

The blog princess is having the Mother of All Frustrating and Confusicating Days.

Will resume normal programming once the sense of humor failure is dealt with.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:33 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

May 17, 2012

Conservatism As A System Default

I thought this was fascinating (and amusing):

Given the amount of resources required to run the average brain, it’s no surprise that it takes a few shortcuts when it can. After all, it’s the ultimate multi-tasker—and needs to distribute its energy in a smart and efficient fashion. And now, a recent study published online in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that one of those energy-saving shortcuts may have us defaulting to more conservative ideology when we don’t have the resources to think through a situation. A finding that got the folks in my circle, conservative and liberal alike, talking.

Scot Eidelman, a psychologist at the University of Arkansas, and colleagues asked study participants about their political opinions in two unique situations: in a bar and in the laboratory. Bar patrons, happily downing their favorite adult beverages, were asked to identify themselves as a liberal or conservative, give their opinions about a variety of social issues and then blow into a breathalyzer. The group found that higher blood alcohol levels were associated with conservative positions—despite the person’s professed political leanings.

In the lab, the group once again asked study participants about social issues—but here they manipulated the amount of time individuals had to answer as well as whether or not they were distracted during their response. When participants were distracted or push to answer quickly, they tended to endorse more conservative ideas including “authority, tradition and private property.” The researchers concluded that low-effort thought, made quicker and less complicated by alcohol or laboratory manipulations, defaults to more conservative ideology.

I asked Eidelman if he was surprised by the results. He told me that he wasn’t—but added a caveat, “I was a bit surprised at how easy it was to demonstrate our effect. Across different ways of measuring or inducing low-effort thought including alcohol and time pressure, community samples and college students, blue states and red states, and measures of political attitudes, the results clearly converged in support of our predictions.”

As a more liberal thinker, this floors me. It’s hard to imagine a situation, even taxed by martinis, that I’d back more conservative ideas. And I can't help but wonder whether there is a difference between a general social policy and something that affects you and your family personally.

I've mentioned several times that I'm reading (and very much enjoying) Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind. In it, he likens human cognition and moral decisionmaking to an elephant (instinct/emotion) with a tiny rider (reason) perched precariously on its back. The rider thinks he's in charge, but it's the elephant who's doing most of the real work. Another evocative metaphor is the emotional dog wagging its rational tail.

The big insight is that left to itself, the elephant gets a surprising number of things right. It knows a lot more than we give it credit for. We don't have time to ponder the minutia of the hundreds of decisions we make each day - if we did, the result would be decision paralysis. So it makes sense to trust the elephant to some extent - we need him. The hard part is training the rider.

These images are particularly interesting in light of the spate of recent studies purporting to prove that more "evolved" beings become liberal because progressives (unlike their backward, unthinking conservative brethren) are guided by reason. But Haidt cites a parade of studies that suggest that reason is not a prime mover, but rather an auxiliary set of responses deployed to provide cover for (rationalize) whatever the elephant has already decided to do.

The study cited above presents an interesting question: if both liberals and conservatives instinctively favor conservative notions of authority, tradition, and respect for private property (perhaps driven by awareness of the conflict between their avowed public policy preferences and what is good for them and their families), does that mean that progressives typically vote against self interest - i.e., ignore their gut intuitions? And if so, is this a good thing?

How often do most of us actually reason our way through major life decisions, as opposed to going with our instinct and rationalizing our decisions after the fact? To what extent does the way we're raised (culture) shape our instincts/aesthetics? I would argue that culture is significant in that it helps to establish boundaries that simplify decision making (and help the rider do a better job of controlling the elephant). I've seen this over and over again with family dynamics: spouses and parents raised in families with healthy relationships find marriage and parenting far easier than parents and spouses raised in dysfunctional families. The former have inherited a set of time-tested values and tactics that take most of the work out of deciding how to respond to various interpersonal conflicts and provocations.

The latter have inherited a set of values and tactics that didn't produce good results for their parents and rarely work well for them, either. Their instinctive responses to conflicts tend to make them worse rather than better. Of course not everyone is lucky enough to be born into a healthy family or have parents with a strong marriage. This is where the surrounding culture used to provide a fallback:

The rise of individualism in the wake of sexual liberation weakened the moral and institutional conventions that dominated before the 1960s. The sexual mores embodied in these conventions were designed to guide most people to stable choices. By establishing "simple rules for simple people"... these strictures functioned not so much by encouraging global thinking as such, but by obviating the need to think, or to think very much, about family formation and sexual choice. Rather, all that was necessary was to follow the script, and the script was simple.

I've been critical in the past of the recent conservative embrace of individualism. I suspect it's mostly a somewhat kneejerk response to Nanny statism, but when it bleeds over from resistance to government limits on individual liberty to resenting any attempt to restrain individual actions (societal, cultural, etc) I begin to think we've lost sight of what made conservatism a good idea in the first place.

Discuss amongst your ownselves, knuckle draggers :)

Posted by Cassandra at 07:20 AM | Comments (58) | TrackBack

*So* Wrong....

...for the blog princess to laugh at this.

Oh well :)

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May 16, 2012

Honoring Cody

From Yu-Ain Gonnano:

12-year-old Cody Green has always admired the strength and courage of the marines. At 12:35 Saturday afternoon, it was the Marines admiring the strength and courage of Cody.

Cody had leukemia since he was 22 months old, but beat the disease three times. Although he was cancer-free, the chemotherapy lowered his immune system and Saturday afternoon, he died from a fungus that attacked his brain. Members of the Marines decided to step in and do something.

"They decided Cody, with the strength and honor and courage he showed through the whole thing, he should be a Marine," said Cody's father David Snowberger.

Cody was given Marine navigator wings and was made an honorary member of the United States Marine Corps. For one Marine, that wasn't enough, so he did even more.

"The night before Cody passed, he stood guard at Cody's door at the hospital all night long for eight hours straight," said Snowberger.

Cody was a fifth grader at Carroll Elementary School and, if you asked anyone, could only be described in one way.

"He was a comedian all the time," said Snowberger. "I mean, nothing was ever negative. He was just always happy, always worried about everybody else."

There is something worth noting here. The anniversary of my nephew's death from leukemia fell a few weeks ago. Like Cody, he had a long battle with the disease. What his life was like during those years is hard for me to imagine, and yet no matter what was thrown at him, he seemed unfailingly calm, upbeat, and more concerned with others than he ever was with his own struggle.

We read a lot these days about how everything - even challenges our parents and grandparents accepted as part of normal life - is too hard; how no one can succeed without help, how it's understandable for people to simply give up unless the world rewards them for every positive thing they do. The idea of developing character - that quiet form of courage that makes a person rise up every time life knocks him down, that focuses on the positive, that rejects self pity and envy - has mostly given way to the notion that we are fragile spirits, easily crushed or dispirited by even the smallest obstacles: a harsh word, an encounter with someone who isn't convinced of our ineffable wonderfulness, a dearth of praise for our actions.

And then you look at children with cancer, and see how they respond to an adversary with the power to end life. At a time when all seems darkest, the power of the human spirit shines forth brighter than the sun.

No wonder these Marines - themselves renowned for their ability to keep fighting, even against overwhelming odds - honor such courage. That refusal to give up is a quality they recognize, and one that could be said to define the United States Marine Corps.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:17 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Income Inequality at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

The WaPo reveals a deeply shocking disparity in assets held by the President and Vice President:

In contrast to Obama, Vice President Biden has from $2,000 to $30,000 in two savings accounts and $2,000 to $32,000 in four checking accounts, the forms show. The Bidens also had income of $21,000 from a residential property in Wilmington, Del.

The forms also underscore that while Democrats may be united in their 2012 campaign focus on “economic fairness,” for Obama, it pays to be a president who has penned several best-selling books.

The Obamas in 2011 held total assets ranging from $2,566,000 to $8,265,000. That’s more than ten times the total assets reported by the vice president and his wife, Jill, in 2011. The Bidens reported assets ranging from $233,000 to $776,000.

The range of the Obamas’ total reported assets is changed – although not necessarily down — from 2010, when the first couple’s disclosure forms showed assets from $2.8 million to $11.8 million. The lack of a specific dollar figure stems from the fact that the forms require only that assets be reported within broad ranges.

Hmmmm.....

Posted by Cassandra at 07:53 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

May 15, 2012

Taking "Obama Everywhere" a Bit Too Far....

Back in 2009, the Obama Permanant Re-Election Committee came up with what may well turn out to be this administration's signature public policy initiative: the loopy "Obama Everywhere" campaign. It wasn't long before even stalwart leg tinglers were thoroughly sick of it (and him):

"Stick out your tongue."

I did so, and the dentist wrapped some gauze around it and said, "I need to explain myself about the public option."

Stunned, I raised myself up in the chair and looked. It was Barack Obama.

"I'm both for it and against it," the president said. I tried to bolt but he had me by the tongue. I squirmed and cursed like Rahm Emanuel, and finally he had to let go. I ran from the exam room, pausing in the outer office to make my next appointment but the receptionist looked a lot like Barack Obama and so I kept on moving. Hitting the street, I jumped a cab. "The Washington Post," I said, "and step on it."

"You got it, buddy," the driver said -- and turned around. It was Barack Obama. "Let me tell you something," he said. "The public option is not what it sounds like. It’s not socialism. This is what I tried to explain on "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," "State of the Union," "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," Jorge Ramos on Univision and, I think, "Sesame Street," although I may not have done that one yet.”

The cab stopped for a light and I opened the door and ran. I did the couple of blocks to my office in record time, and when I got there I switched on my favorite public affairs show, "The View.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. ...I grabbed for the remote control and desperately searched for something else.

I flipped past Barack Obama standing hip high in water doing a stand-up for the Weather Channel, and then someone named Cesar Obama who was whispering to a Mexican Chihuahua about single-payer programs, and then I saw -- I swear I did -- Barack Obama in the arms of Tom DeLay on “Dancing With the Stars," and he was singing a soft song about the uninsured.

Fast forward to 2012. Seemingly not content with overexposing himself in the present, the Campaigner in Chief has discovered a mysteriously underserved venue that has yet to be permeated by Obama Everywhere...

...the past:

I’m sometimes amazed at the depth of the narcissism this President suffers under, but this particular example has to take the cake:
The Heritage Foundation’s Rory Cooper tweeted that Obama had casually dropped his own name into Ronald Reagan’s official biography on www.whitehouse.gov, claiming credit for taking up the mantle of Reagan’s tax reform advocacy with his “Buffett Rule” gimmick. My first thought was, he must be joking. But he wasn’t—it turns out Obama has added bullet points bragging about his own accomplishments to the biographical sketches of every single U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge (except, for some reason, Gerald Ford).

This might seem a bit... oh, I don't know... excessive? Until you recall that we're talking about a guy who wrote not one but two autobiographies during his twenties, before he had actually done anything worth writing about.

The first female/black/gay/Hispanic President is now the first President in history to go back in time and insert himself into the records of his predecessors. It truly *is* all about 'Bam.

Posted by Cassandra at 03:03 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 14, 2012

Zut Alors!!! Again With Ze Conspiracies Most Dire!

Mes amis... once again the Editorial Staff have proved prophetique! Way back in 2005 we warned the assembled villainry of a plot so vile, so sinister and twisted, that it haunts our dreams to this day:

Alert readers will no doubt recall that just a few short months ago, Jeff Rosen was madly flogging the Constitution-in-Exile Conspiracy.

The fiendish members of this plot took the backward view that judges ought to try reading the actual verbiage penned by our Founding Fathers instead of haring off to nations like, say... France in search of a hand-rolled Gauloise and a Derrida primer (the better to deconstruct the Commerce Clause whilst staving off that annoying sense of anomie that comes from eating one too many confits).

Membership in this clandestine Brotherhood must have been an awfully well-kept secret, for the arcane and conspiratorial nature of the plot was such that the rank and file apparently went about their business for decades, blissfully unaware they were engaged in a desperate struggle to overthrow the Republic. But Evil will brook no delay. The Cause marched on. Sans soldiers, sans leader, even...until Gonzalez v. Raich reared its ugly head:

The most radical dissenting opinion was written by Thomas. Thomas has proved to be the most reliable ally of the movement to resurrect what some conservatives call the Constitution in Exile, referring to limitations on federal power that have been dormant since the New Deal. In his dissent, Thomas said that courts should take it upon themselves to decide whether congressional regulations are "appropriate" and "plainly adapted" to executing powers explicitly listed in Constitution. Thomas's logic would uproot more than a century of Supreme Court cases, including the 1942 wheat case, [Ed. Note: 'SWounds!... not the wheat case!] and could paralyze the government's effort to enforce myriad regulations, including environmental and labor laws. As Stevens pointed out, Thomas's reasoning would also call into question Congress's power to regulate the possession and use of pot for recreational purposes, an activity that all states now prohibit.

Thomas. Mein Gott Im Himmel, who would have guessed it! That pudgy, avuncular-looking little man, suddenly rising up in his black robes like the Lord of the Nazgul. Stooping to pick at the flesh of a Woman's Right To Choose and grabbing welfare dollars from the hands of baby-Daddies all over this great nation! Sure, he may look like a teddy bear, but he's [[[shudder]]] worse than Scalia!

Via the highly suspect Walter Olsen, we learn that Justice Thomas is joined in his perfidy by none other than perennial VC fave Judge Janice Rogers Brown and one Michael Greve, Person of Pallor. But perhaps more importantly for those of you who long fervently for that glorious day when the Berobed Nine once more scrutinize the Constitution and discover a wondrous new set of rights lurking beneath a penumbra, the intrepid Jeff Rosen has unmasked the final impediments to our beautiful and natural right to seize and redistribute our neighbour's wife, cabana boy/girl, ox, or ass for the common good:

Jeff Rosen has also found out and now named my recently acquired co-conspirators. Randy Barnett, for example. Rosen’s indictment contravenes the Yale conference’s consensus, reported here, that Randy Barnett does not actually exist but was invented by the New York Times. I can and should clear this up: besides the Times’s made-up Georgetown Law Barnett, there is the real Exile Barnett, who sells mortgage insurance in Dale City, VA and resents Obamacare’s discriminatory mandate for health but not housing (Motto: “Everyone needs a mortgage some day.”).

The other named conspirators are judges Janice Rogers Brown, David Sentelle, and Thomas Griffith, all of the D.C. Circuit. In an April 13 decision, a panel consisting of those judges unanimously, and easily, upheld a New Deal-era scheme that raises the price of milk for consumers.

.... As for Judge Brown, she and I have occasionally met in dark corners of Washington steakhouses. Usually, to avoid detection, we dress as Lillian Hellman and Yosemite Sam respectively. However, the judge has been awful at disguises:

Janice Rogers Brown has long been sympathetic to these [Constitution in Exile] goals. A daughter of sharecroppers, she denounced the New Deal in a series of speeches before her confirmation to the D.C. Circuit in 2005. She called 1937—the year the Supreme Court began to uphold the New Deal—“the triumph of our own socialist revolution.” In the same speech, she argued that “protection of property was a major casualty of the revolution of 1937.”

She somehow escaped detection by the Senate Judiciary Committee; but

Then, in her April 13 [2012] opinion, she dramatically unmasked herself.

And so did I, in that Yale talk a few days later. It’s over.

Perhaps we shall finally be able to sleep at night, secure in the knowledge that we will soon awake to a new America - one in which women are finally free of oppressive gender stereotypes and men are invisible.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:24 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

May 11, 2012

The Perfect Man List (UK Version)

I was looking for something deeply unserious, suitable for a Friday afternoon and the Daily Mail did not disappoint. For your consideration: a list of 30 qualities possessed by the ideal man:

Most women would agree that there’s no such thing as the perfect man, and that true love is all about chemistry and the art of compromise. But there are some things nearly all of us desire in a man — that’s if a survey of 2,000 British women is to be believed. So what actually constitutes Mr Perfect?

According to the research by clothing store Austin Reed, there are 30 boxes a man must tick to be a modern-day Prince Charming. The 2,000 women questioned agreed Mr Right eats meat, drives an Audi and earns around £48,000 a year. He’s also 6ft tall, has short, dark hair, brown eyes and stylish dress sense. He is clean-shaven and has a smooth, hair-free chest.
Mr Perfect also has a deeply sensitive side — he rings his mother regularly, tells you he loves you only when he means it, and will admit it when he eyes up other women.

Are there actually women out there who think this way? Below the fold, I ticked off the items on their list that seem desireable to me and then created my own list.

What struck me most was how superficial most of the items were. Who cares how long it takes a man to get ready to go out, or what kind of car he drives, or how big his paycheck is? And while I will admit that I'm more attracted to some physical types than others, the specificity of some of these things is just nuts. And some things (requiring a smooth chest, for instance, or wanting him to confess when he checks out other women) strike me as just downright weird.

More and more these days I feel like I'm completely out of touch with the world. The fact that people in committed relationships are still attracted to other people seems so obvious to me as to not require further comment. Everything else is just good manners.

I've always thought I had pretty high standards, but my list is a *lot* shorter!

manlist.png

Posted by Cassandra at 12:11 PM | Comments (52) | TrackBack

Mitt Romney: Homeopathic* Hair Bandit from Heck

vidal.jpgImagine our deep unsurprise this morning to find Memeorandum lit up like the 4th of July over the bombshell revelation that what young Mitt Romney really wanted to be when he grew up was Vidal Sassoon. We know this because the WaPo, deeply concerned at the possibility of having overlooked some vast, untapped motherlode of journalistic irrelevance, has offered up this Pulitzer-worthy feat of investigative reportage:

Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

The solution was obvious. Young Romney, showing early signs of the sociopathic tendencies breezy leadership style that would one day shower him with undeserved race, gender, and class privileges, grabbed a pair of scissors, rounded up a few classmates, and...did Lauber's hair. Sadly, this was not to be Young Mitt's last foray into the wild and woolly world of non-consensual makeovers, though the obvious connection to Barack Obama's startling evolution on gay marriage may require a bit of explaining:

It turns out Mitt Romney probably wasn’t discriminating against John Lauber for being gay when he cut his hair off in high school. Romney says he doesn’t remember the incident but it looks like cutting hair was just something he liked to do. Almost like a sick hobby.

From a Washington Post story published in April:

As a kid in Michigan, Sidney Barthwell Jr., a high school classmate, recalled Romney as a prankster driving doughnuts in snowy parking lots. At Stanford, he lured rival University of California students into a trap in which his buddies “shaved their heads and painted them red,” according to a 1970 speech at Brigham Young University by his father, George Romney.

What are we to make of this sudden metamorphosis from socially awkward, goody two-shoes/humorless automaton to seething, homophobic gang leader? To put it mildly, there seems to be a bit of a dispute about which narrative we're to believe this week. Is Romney more like Melanie Wilkes or Scarlett O'Hara? Wendy, or Peter Pan? Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

A more appropriate question might be, why do we feel the need to oversimplify news stories to the point of absurdity; to shoehorn them into a one size fits all mold that explains everything from a candidate's Weltanschauung to where he comes down on the all important boxers-vs-briefs debate?

A number of things jump out at me here.

1. Seldom has a news story offered so many people who clearly have neither read nor understood Lord of the Flies the chance to showcase their ignorance. William Goldman's novel was set on a deserted island where a group of schoolboys, abruptly severed from civilization, struggle to recreate society from the ground up.

What this has to do with the behavior of a group of schoolboys in a tony private boarding school run by adults apparently need not be explained (the eerie parallels being self-evidently self evident).

In my junior year of high school, I moved to Virginia and my parents placed me at a former country day school. The notion that there is any similarity between a private school where students wear ties and follow stricter rules than their public school compatriots and a deserted island with no adults and no rules is frankly delusional.

The usual aim of such schools is to socialize their students: to teach them a uniform set of values and standards. This was so in the late 70s and was even more so in 1965, a time when rock and roll stars kept their hair short and performed in coats and ties. Non-conformity was not a prized attribute, as this author quickly learned, having spent most of her junior year trying to get kicked out of a similar prison environment. If you're determined to throw out a literary allusion, this novel might be a better choice.

2. What you make of this story will likely depend on two things:

* Whether you believe isolated incidents from one's teen years accurately predict an adult's character.
* How you feel about Mitt Romney.

I don't like bullying, but I'm not sure this meets the definition of bullying. What it is, if true, is bad enough: a group of teens decided for reasons we'll never know that it would be funny to gang up on an outsider and cut his hair - possibly to make him fit in, possibly because they could get away with it, possibly as some kind of weird bonding thing, possibly because he was different, or effeminate, or gay. The thing is, we'll never know, will we? But that won't stop us from projecting our imagined motives onto the participants after the fact.

Either way, as Slate's Emily Bazelon (presumably not a Romney fan) observes, it wasn't a nice thing to do:

Let’s assume that the details five other people (most but not all of them Democrats) keenly recall are true. How bad is this, as an example of bullying? Was this just the sort of thing that went on at boarding schools in the 1960s? Or does it show a troubling lack of empathy on the part of Romney? The short answer is that it’s both.

Slate founder Michael Kinsley graduated from Cranbrook in 1968, overlapping with Romney, and remembers the school as fairly progressive. He put the story about Romney into the category of things teenage boys do that they’re later ashamed of—not beyond the bounds of Cranbrook’s culture in those days, if also not good. “He missed an opportunity,” Kinsley said. “If he could go back, he’d have broken up that group rather than leading it.”

In lashing out at kids who were perceived as effeminate, Romney wasn’t alone. Horowitz recounts that when Romney shouted “Atta girl!” at another closeted gay student who tried to speak up in English class, he was using language of the sort even teachers employed. Kinsley says that’s plausible but not typical.

Technically speaking, the Post account doesn’t make Romney a bully. The academic definition of bullying is verbal or physical abuse that involves a power imbalance and that’s also repeated. We don’t have evidence that Romney went after Lauber more than once.

Teen boys and girls are known for doing stunningly callous things to each other. Girls ostracize each other, spread gossip, and destroy the reputations of other girls they dislike. The aggression of boys usually takes a more physical form: pushing, shoving, hazing. But there's another component to this story that has received little attention: society's changing gender roles.

If we were to transport students and teachers from the 1960s into today's classrooms, they would be like fish out of water. Boys of my generation were expected to be tough, to fight back, to stand up for themselves, to hide their feelings and ruthlessly suppress "feminine" emotions like tenderness, sympathy, compassion. Boys who failed to do these things were labeled sissies or Mama's boys. Men in charge of young boys behaved in ways that to modern eyes seem quite brutal, often using ridicule, shame, and intimidation to curb their youthful high spirits and toughen their skins.

One need only look at the startling evolution of military training to see how things have changed. In the 1960s it was not uncommon for discipline problems to be solved by taking the offender behind the nearest Quanset hut for an impromptu thumping. These days, such behavior would land a drill instructor in the nearest brig. Adult men complain about "blaming and shaming" behavior, labeling once traditional behavior as misandry that scars the souls of young boys.

How much sense would it make to go back in time and apply that modern label (misandry) to what was then considered traditionally masculine behavior? Not much, I'm thinking.

3. People change, and the best predictor of their future performance is their recent behavior.

If you believe that Barack Obama at 20 or 22 was the same man he is today, then you should probably apply the same standard to Mitt Romney. This makes little sense to me, but then I haven't paid much attention to stories of Obama's misspent youth. What is relevant to me is his behavior today.

Interestingly, aside from his self-reporting shoving of a younger black girl at his school, no stories suggesting a propensity for bullying have emerged from Obama's youth. Yet during the 2008 Presidential race, the Obama campaign urged its supporters to gang up on (and shout down) an author they disagreed with.

Twice.

Fast forward to the 2012 race where the pattern of intimidation - both direct and by proxy - continues:

Here's what happens when the president of the United States publicly targets a private citizen for the crime of supporting his opponent.

Frank VanderSloot is the CEO of Melaleuca Inc. The 63-year-old has run that wellness-products company for 26 years out of tiny Idaho Falls, Idaho. Last August, Mr. VanderSloot gave $1 million to Restore Our Future, the Super PAC that supports Mitt Romney.

Three weeks ago, an Obama campaign website, "Keeping GOP Honest," took the extraordinary step of publicly naming and assailing eight private citizens backing Mr. Romney. Titled "Behind the curtain: a brief history of Romney's donors," the post accused the eight of being "wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records." Mr. VanderSloot was one of the eight, smeared particularly as being "litigious, combative and a bitter foe of the gay rights movement."

About a week after that post, a man named Michael Wolf contacted the Bonneville County Courthouse in Idaho Falls in search of court records regarding Mr. VanderSloot. Specifically, Mr. Wolf wanted all the documents dealing with Mr. VanderSloot's divorces, as well as a case involving a dispute with a former Melaleuca employee.

Mr. Wolf sent a fax to the clerk's office—which I have obtained—listing four cases he was after. He would later send a second fax, asking for three further court cases dealing with either Melaleuca or Mr. VanderSloot.

Empathy is much in the news these days. The question is, which is more relevant to this contest? Nearly 50 year old "revelations" that show a "disturbing" lack of empathy from a then-teenaged Mitt Romney?

Or a consistent pattern of thuggery and intimidation by a sitting President? Any bets on which stories will be hyped (and which ignored)? If bullying is bad, then it is bad regardless of who the aggressor is. And if empathy is important, then one might expect the media to discern a disturbing lack of empathy when a fully adult man uses his position (and the bully pulpit) to crowdsource his opposition research and gang up on private citizens who have done nothing wrong or illegal.

The President's contemporary acts of thuggery do not mean a story nearly a half century old should be ignored or suppressed. Two wrongs don't make a right. But the question I'm left with is, "What standard is being applied here?"

And to what end?

*malapropism fully intended

Posted by Cassandra at 06:29 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

May 09, 2012

Obama Still Doesn't Get the Military He Commands

Jennifer Rubin notes an interesting double standard from both the Left and Right when it comes to criticizing the Commander in Chief:

It’s not an easy task for a presidential candidate to decide when and how to criticize the incumbent on national security matters. No candidate wants to cede ground to the president, especially one with as troubling a record as this one. But neither should a challenger be excessive in ripping the commander in chief or refuse to acknowledge success.

Now some just want the president’s rival to shut up. President Obama rapped critics of his Iran policy for purportedly engaging in “loose war talk.” Last week, to the shock of some foreign policy hawks, Bill Kristol harshly scolded Mitt Romney for criticizing Obama’s handling of the Chen Guangcheng situation, which Romney had done in terms similar to most every conservative foreign policy guru who has spoken or written on the issue. (Dan Senor, the most prominent foreign policy surrogate, was also dispatched to critique the president’s performance.) Interestingly, on Friday, Chen’s lawyer remarked on the efficacy of public criticism of the president, “I knew Obama would sooner or later have to say something. How was he going to fight a campaign and respond to attacks by Romney? By sitting in silence?”

So what is a candidate like Romney to do?

We know what Candidate "Do as I say, not as I did" behaved when he was in the same situation

It's hard to make sense of President Obama's super secret trip to Afghanistan today without looking back to the 2008 election when President Bush was trying to negotiate a similar agreement with the government of Iraq. Back then, Candidate Obama did everything within his power to undermine the Strategic Framework agreement - up to and including personally interfering with ongoing negotiations between the Bush administration and the Iraqis and then bragging about it...

We also know what President Obama did once elected: continue the very policies he once furiously denounced as morally bankrupt and shameful. It is nothing short of bizarre to see this President claiming credit for having doubled down on Bush-era policy decisions:

President Obama campaigned on a scorched earth critique of the foreign policy he inherited from President Bush. He promised to undo all of it. Some of those promises (withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq in 16 months) barely survived the first few days, while others (unconditional talks with Ahmadinejad or closing Gitmo) were only jettisoned after months of failed efforts. The correlation is almost perfect: the longer Obama hewed to his campaign critique, the less well it has gone in foreign-policy. And, by the way, the supposedly hyper-partisan Republican opposition actually has chalked up a record that compares very favorably with the recent past: where Obama has pursued a genuinely bipartisan policy, he has enjoyed strong bipartisan support.

But when it comes to this President and his performance as Commander in Chief, grading on a steep curve seems to be the new normal. In a stunning display of post hoc apologetics, David Ignatius inadvertently highlights Obama's incoherent and oddly passive performance as Commander in Chief:

President Obama finally seemed to reach his comfort level as commander in chief during his visit to Kabul yesterday — and it probably wasn’t a coincidence that he was signing an Obamesque document that at once mandates the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops — and also allows the continued presence of a counterterrorism force to kill al-Qaeda terrorists.

This is the outcome that Obama probably wanted all along, which was favored back in 2009 by Vice President Biden and other political advisers. The president let himself be talked into a more ambitious counterinsurgency strategy, and a surge of 30,000 troops, but he never seemed happy with it. Indeed, he undercut the surge strategy from the outset by announcing that he would begin withdrawing the surge troops in July 2011 — practically inviting the Taliban to wait him out.

Obama has sometimes seemed a distant, passionless commander, much more comfortable making decisions in secret about covert action than in the flag-waving public role of leading the troops. But that didn’t seem true yesterday, especially during his unscripted, shirt-sleeve speech to troops at Bagram Air Base. He sounded like the military’s advocate and leader, looking fit and youthful as he strode striding the stage. Surely this comfort level was a reflection of the fact that he was outlining a strategy he finally believes in.

Here the Editorial Staff will pause to allow the assembled villainry to pick their jaws up off the floor. Let's walk through what Ignatius just told us:

1. Obama "allowed himself to be talked into" sending 30,000 young men and women into a battle he didn't believe in?

2. Having stepped up the war effort against his better judgment, our Commander in Chief proceeded to support the men and women he had sent into harm's way by "undercut[ting] the surge strategy from the outset"?

Stop and think about that one for just a moment. Think about the American lives - and American families - who paid the price for a change their leader didn't believe in:

Afghanistan.jpg

Of course, David Ignatius isn't the only Obama admirer whose moral compass points in all directions at once. In an even more inexplicable column, another David (Maraniss, this time) proudly trumpets "Obama's Military Connection":

Obama is the first president to whom Vietnam is ancient history. He carries none of the psychological baggage of that war, for better or worse. Every young man in the baby-boom generation of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had to deal with Vietnam somehow, but by the time Obama came of age, the war and the draft were over. His liberal mother felt at home in the peace movement, and he took many characteristics from her, but he also chafed at her idealistic naivete, which he viewed as a relic of the ’60s. From an early age he wanted to be harder and cooler than his mother, less Pollyannaish, more pragmatic. His use of the military option in his foreign policy reflects that dual sensibility. Clinton grew up wanting to be JFK, but Obama thinks more like him.

It was no accident that, during his surprise visit to Afghanistan a few days ago, the president referred to the military men and women there as the new “greatest generation,” skipping over Vietnam again. Obama feels more affinity toward his grandfather’s generation (Stan Dunham fought in Europe during World War II) than to his mother’s, or he at least finds it more culturally appealing. He is an avid viewer of the television show “Mad Men” and told me that some of the characters remind him of his grandparents, with whom he lived as a teenager.

The cultural geography of those formative years also shaped his perspective. Obama was in Honolulu then, surrounded by military installations. Hickam Air Force Base, Schofield Barracks, Fort Shafter, Pearl Harbor Naval Station and Hawaii Marine Corps Base were all part of his adolescent environment. He grew up comfortable with the military culture, not alienated from it. Some friends came from military families. One of his buddies dated an admiral’s daughter, and they would borrow the old man’s car to tool around the island.

"Some of his best friends were military". Now where have we heard that one before? During the Bush years, serving in the National Guard was viewed as insufficient experience for a Commander in Chief. Fast forward to 2012 and a man who may have known some military juniors in high school - who couldn't find the time to meet with his senior commander in Afghanistan - is being lauded for his deep understanding and comfort level with all things military. Of course to him, Vietnam is ancient history. Tens of thousands of Americans died there, but that need not be mentioned (much less remembered). Certainly not praised.

Back in 2009 when her husband was serving in Afghanistan, this Marine wife argued that Obama doesn't get the military he commands:

...where was our Commander in Chief when his top commander in Afghanistan was being viciously attacked? Did he step in and defend his subordinate for doing the job he was ordered to do? Of course he didn't. Harry Truman was obviously no community organizer: the brouhaha over McChrystal ensured that the buck wouldn't stop in the Oval Office this time. The McChrystal leak was followed by the revelation that our stalwart Commander in Chief had only met with his top commander in Afghanistan once. Stung by the implication that his "war of necessity" was very much on the back burner, Obama scrambled to find a mere 20 minutes to spare as he idled on a runway in northern Europe. He spent more time than that conducting a beer summit.

Now the Army's largest base has suffered a devastating attack by a deranged Islamist. And how does our Commander in Chief respond? He gives a "shout out" to Joe Medicine Crow, that noted Congressional Medal of Honor winner.

Tell me something: in a moment of national tragedy is it really too much to expect the President of the United States to forego the "shout outs"? Is it too much ask that he learn the difference between the Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Honor? What we require from our leaders at times like this is not much, really. No one expects them to actually care. What we want is precisely the kind of thing that comes so effortlessly to Barack Obama: honeyed words and a reassuring show of compassion from a man who thinks that quality is the most important attribute a Supreme Court judge can possess. A public acknowledgment that something grave has happened. But for some reason, asking the Commander in Chief of our armed forces to give even the appearance of empathy was a bridge too far.

We lost one of our own in the attack on Fort Hood: Lieutenant Colonel Juanita Warman. That connection can never be severed. The sense of loss can never be forgotten.

I wish I were convinced that our Commander in Chief - or even pundits like David Ignatius - understood one tenth of the pride military families feel in our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. How can anyone praise the "Commander in Chief" for sending 30,000 of America's finest to war for a cause he not only doesn't support but actively tries to sabotage?

Easy. They are, after all, expendable to him (if not to us). They should not be.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:56 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

May 08, 2012

Medical Receptionists are Crushing My Soul

I will be back tomorrow or Thursday morning. Sleepy, and typing is still difficult.

On the positive side, I now know why John Milton wrote Paradise Lost (and why I was forced to read it 4 times in HS and college).

I am sure he was trying to get an ortho appointment in Fredneck... Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

D'oh! That's Dante. Another ortho patient from the People's Republic of Maryland, presumably.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:00 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

May 07, 2012

The Blog Princess is a Giant Dork

Sorry for the lack of bloviation. The Princess had an exciting weekend.

Saturday morning, the Spousal Unit Princess bagged a bat (!) in the grille of her black Subaru WRX.

black_subaru.jpg
The Batmobile


Later that day the Spousal Unit and I were enjoying a glass of wine on the patio when the birds started going crazy. We looked over in our neighbor's yard and there was a 4 foot black snake shimmying (or whatever it is that tree climbing snakes do) up a tree trunk.

I have pictures but need to get them off the camera.

But the grand finale was Sunday morning, when the Dorkitorial Staff somehow managed to take a nasty fall and break her collar bone and ankle.

So now you all know that my real name is definitely not "Grace". Not sure how much posting there will be this week. Am taking a few days off from work for dr.'s appts, etc. We'll see how it goes.

So.... what did you all do this weekend?

Posted by Cassandra at 10:36 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

May 03, 2012

"So... What Did You Do At Work Today, Sweetie?"

Finally, someone whose work day is more surreal than ours:

Posted by Cassandra at 12:37 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

"*I* Would Never Do That..."

'I am saddened that Vietnam has yet again been inserted into the campaign.'

- John Foregainst Kerry

We realize that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but couldn't Teh One have found fresher material?

Speaking in Iowa in 2006, Sen. Barack Obama said, “I’ve had enough of using terrorism as a wedge issue in our politics.” He said the war on terrorism "isn't supposed to crop up between September and November of even-numbered years."

But as president, Obama and his reelection campaign have consistently raised the issue -- repeatedly referring to a 2007 comment by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to suggest that Romney would not have ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden as Obama did one year ago.

Such preening always seems so shameless and self serving... until suddenly, it becomes downright useful.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How Inconveeeeeeeenient!

Has the NY Times been alerted to this? How about the "near poor"?

Our results show evidence of considerable improvement in material well-being for both the middle class and the poor over the past three decades. Median income and consumption both rose by more than 50 percent in real terms between 1980 and 2009. In addition, the middle 20 percent of the income distribution experienced noticeable improvements in housing characteristics: living units became bigger and much more likely to have air conditioning and other features. The quality of the cars these families own also improved considerably. Similarly, we find strong evidence of improvement in the material well-being of poor families. After incorporating taxes and noncash benefits and adjusting for bias in standard price indices, we show that the tenth percentile of the income distribution grew by 44 percent between 1980 and 2009. Even this measure, however, understates improvements at the bottom. The tenth percentile of the consumption distribution grew by 54 percent during this period. In addition, for those in the bottom income quintile, living units became bigger, and the fraction with any air conditioning doubled. The share of households with amenities such as a dishwasher or clothes dryer also rose noticeably.

We consider several possible explanations for these patterns in material well-being. Our analyses indicate that tax and transfer policies have played an important role. Changes in tax policy have raised the resources of both the middle class and the poor. The impact of taxes is particularly noticeable for the poor, a substantial share of whom have been lifted out of poverty by more generous tax credits. Social security also accounts for some of the improvements at the bottom as the real value of benefits has grown. However, noncash transfers such as food stamps or housing and school lunch subsidies can account for only small improvements in well-being for the middle class or the poor over the past three decades. While we find that rising educational attainment accounts for some of the decline in poverty over the past three decades, in general, changing demographics account for only a small fraction of the overall improvement in well-being for the middle class and the poor. Together, this evidence suggests that other factors, perhaps most importantly economic growth, played a critical role in the improved living standards of the middle class and the poor.
Accurate measures of economic well-being are essential for evaluating existing policies and for determining the need for policy changes. The extent of economic progress for both the middle class and the poor is an important factor in the debates over key economic policy issues, including income tax policy, immigration, and globalization. Official poverty is frequently cited by those evaluating the need for and consequences of social programs, which account for a substantial amount of government spending. Programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), as well as food stamps, housing benefits, educational grants and loans, energy assistance, and job training, cost more than $522 billion in 2002. In his opening comments in the debate on what became the landmark 1996 welfare reform legislation, former House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Archer said, "Government has spent $5.3 trillion on welfare since the war on poverty began, the most expensive war in the history of this country, and the Census Bureau tells us we have lost the war."

When you're in a hole...

Posted by Cassandra at 08:17 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Fascinating World of Alternative Explanations

The graph embedded in this post from Mark J. Perry reminded me of some research I did a while back on the changing demographics of the American electorate. Perry's animated graph tracks changes in population distribution by age from 1950-2025. He comments:

Watch the U.S. "population distribution by age" change over time in 5-year intervals from 1950 to 2050 in the animated graphic above, from the Calculated Risk blog. At around the year 2035, the age distribution will make it obvious why the Social Security System is headed for insolvency.

I find these moving charts fascinating for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that they provide insight into the complex forces driving societal change. My earlier post dealt with aging and shifts in the sex ratio (the balance of males to females):

It's hard enough to balance legitimate competing interests without demonizing everyone who doesn't belong to the target demographic. But when we see someone try to pin every social problem on a single cause, we can't help thinking "confirmation bias". Of all the implications raised by the following chart (affordability of entitlements, changes to the tax base, effects on education, the housing market, marriage, and the labor market come to mind) one of the most interesting is the literal feminization of America:

United_States_Population_by_gender_1950-2010.gif

...The following chart tracks the overall sex ratio in America (past, present, and projected) over nearly two centuries:

As the population ages and the center of mass shifts from younger to older people, females begin to outnumber males. It's amusing to entertain the notion that perhaps some of the societal changes we're seeing are due to changes in the underlying demographic mix of society over time.

The end result may well be the same regardless of whether you believe it's all a wicked conspiracy (i.e., a tiny cabal of feminists swiped the collective corn flakes of the patriarchal hegemony whilst they sat rooted to their BarcoLoungers, transfixed by the scantily clad charms of the Dallas cheerleaders) or are willing to consider the possibility that more benign/organic forces may be at work as well (possibly, changing proportions of men and women in the general population?).

Nah... it's so much more fun to identify an Enemy and blame him (or her, depending on your political persuasion). Speaking of interesting alternative explanations, here's another one that examines the possibility that big government is a natural byproduct of technological advances:

Thanks to the half dozen people who sent me copies of Cowen's "Does Technology Drive the Growth of Government?" The paper's even better than I remember...
I start with what Gordon Tullock (1994) has called the paradox of government growth. Before the late nineteenth century, government was a very small percentage of gross domestic product in most Western countries, typically no more than five percent. In most cases this state of affairs had persisted for well over a century, often for many centuries. The twentieth century, however, saw the growth of governments, across the Western world, to forty or fifty percent of gross domestic product... I'd like to address the key question of why limited government and free markets have so fallen out of favor.

Cowen's paper, which I'm still digesting, is well worth your time. I've long believed that big government was an inevitable result of increasing population density. To me, it makes perfect sense that the closer people live to each other and the more they interact, the greater the need for laws and an infrastructure for enforcing them. When families live in relative isolation and are fairly self sufficient (think the family farm), relatively few forces bring them into conflict/competition with other human beings. An individual can, for instance, blast Megadeth CDs at earsplitting volume or play strip poker with the sheep and one's neighbors will be ne'er the wiser.

Transport the same families to cities where they live in apartments, specialize, and participate in an economy that is highly interdependent, and the opportunities for conflict - as well as the impact one person's acts have on another - grow exponentially. Is it really any wonder that government has mushroomed too?

Cowen's paper takes on various theories that purport to explain government growth before pointing out something that meshes well with our discussion about the likelihood of a transformative, re-aligning election. Given that politicians are well known for saying whatever they think will get them elected, how likely is it that we've had big government foisted upon us by malignant forces who hate Amerikka, freedom, and cute puppies? Is it possible that the problem really is us?

No matter how incomplete it may be, there clearly must be something to the voter hypothesis. That is, there must be some demand for big government. If all or most voters, circa 2009, wanted their government to be five percent of gross domestic product, some candidate would run on that platform and win. Change might prove difficult to accomplish, but we would at least observe politicians staking out that position as a rhetorical high ground. In today's world we do not observe this. Voter preferences for intervention are therefore a necessary condition for sustained large government. Democratic government cannot grow large, and stay large, against the express wishes of a substantial majority of the population.

How we change these wishes - or whether such change is even possible given other forces pushing us in the direction of steadily increasing government intervention - is a different question.

What fascinates me in all of this is just how much of what we think of as human nature, may in fact be a complex interaction between human tendencies that are far more mutable than we think them to be and culture, affluence, education, population density....

... and a small but determined cohort of radical, man hating feminists who, despite being stupid, ugly, and incompetent have somehow managed to control every facet of American life over the past 50 or so years.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:06 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

May 01, 2012

History and the Likelihood of a Re-Aligning Election

In the comments to this post, I asked the assembled villainry for practical alternatives to political compromise (that ne plus ultra of dirty words). Elise responded with this comment:

I caught a very small piece of a TV program talking to Jerry Brown (yes, Governor Moonbeam) in the last day or two and he, of all people, has the best answer to what we need (other than either a bloody revolution or a (hopefully peaceful) secession/split): a definitive election, one that firmly and unmistakably ushers one side or the other into power in the both the Executive and the Legislative branches.

I would also add that such an electoral sweep has to hold for a number of subsequent elections both so long-term initiatives can come to fruition and so the Supreme Court can be re-made in the image of whichever side achieves this electoral victory. Given the Senate seats up in November, it is mathematically possible for either the Democrats or the Republicans to achieve a veto-proof majority in the Senate.

The question I want to address is, "How likely is this to happen?", by which I mean, how likely is it that conservatives will control all three branches of government long enough to make a substantial dent in an 80 year trend of steadily increasing federal scope creep? Back in 2009, shortly after we lost the 2008 election, I looked at this very question from a different perspective. Back then, disappointed conservatives were blaming Bush for what - in the light of history - was an entirely predictable turnover of power. Indeed, when looked at in light of the historical recod, it would have been downright odd if Obama had not won that election:

...I decided to take a look at the history of Presidential power sharing over the last century or so:

Our own history can provide valuable perspective on our present difficulties. Over the last half century or so, Republicans have controlled the White House by a 3-2 margin. But more importantly, over the last half century there has been only one case in which the same party held the White House three terms in a row. Why are conservatives feeding the frankly hysterical notion that a typical and not unexpected turnover of power justifies the abandonment of our principles?

power_sharing.jpg

Jim Lindgren has an interesting post up in which he points out that while there's nothing new about the urge to blame the ruling party when the balance of power shifts, election data provides a much more plausible explanation: a phenomenon he calls The Lightening Rod effect.

In the summer of 2006, when some legal scholars feared that President Bush and the Republicans were so powerful that Bush had a king-like status, Steve Calabresi and I published a comment in the Yale Law Journal that pointed out that the existing political science literature had understated the degree to which there typically was a backlash against the party of the president. We showed that the usual erosion of support extended, not just to seats in the House and Senate, but to the states.

When one adds all gubernatorial races to the analysis, as we do in Figures 1 and 2, backlash against the President’s party in state races during a President’s term is actually stronger overall than the coattail effect in the presidential election year. To be more specific, we find that four years after a party wins a presidential election, it holds on average three fewer statehouses than it had before it won the presidential election. Perversely, winning the presidency seems to lead very shortly to losing power in the states. Since 1932 there have been eight changes of party control of the White House (1933, 1953, 1961, 1969, 1977, 1981, 1993, and 2001). In every instance but one, the party that seized the White House held more governorships in the year before it took office than in the subsequent year it lost the presidential election. The only exception is that in 1980, Republicans held four fewer governorships than they held in 1992, immediately before the Republicans were voted out of the White House. Similarly, of the eleven Presidents since 1933, every one except two, Kennedy and Reagan, left office with fewer governorships than his party had before he took office, and Kennedy served less than three years. Figure 1 shows this pattern.

Dem_govs.jpg

During the Clinton administration, Clinton was criticized for losing so many seats in Congress and losing so many governorships. Yet that was more or less par for the course. And Calabresi and I were not at all surprised to see large Republican losses in the 2006 election (the normal losses had been avoided in 2002 by 9/11, much as the normal losses were avoided in 1962 by the Cuban missile crisis).

Now the process seems to be repeating today. President Obama's drop in popularity may be slightly larger than for most Democratic presidents early in their terms, but the process is a normal one. Further, while the contests for state governorships may be decided by local issues, the atmosphere is one in which the Democrats will be blamed for the perceived faults of Obama, yet this process is entirely normal.

...

I believe his study shows something I've long suspected: that the popular support for Republicans or Democrats is counterbalanced by a healthy suspicion of handing either party too much power. When one party has held sway for too long, we instinctively try to "balance" the equation by voting in a counterweight from the other party. This is an intelligent hedge against what we all know of human nature: that unchecked power corrupts.

The consolation for the out-of-power party is that in time, the pendulum will swing back their way. I don't believe the vast majority of Americans are either intellectually consistent or rabidly ideological. Both parties encompass a wide spectrum of political beliefs, and moreover I think that the center of mass in the middle - the political uncommitted or swing votes - provides a natural adjustment to changing political conditions.

I've argued many times that ideological purists are unelectable under normal conditions. Our founding documents were less the result of intellectual uniformity than rational compromise: the ability to negotiate agreements under which neither party got everything they wanted but both parties got something they wanted.

Two points from this post bear repeating:

1. [from my research] ...over the last half century there has been only one case in which the same party held the White House three terms in a row.

2. [from Lindgren's study] Perversely, winning the presidency seems to lead very shortly to losing power in the states. Since 1932 there have been eight changes of party control of the White House (1933, 1953, 1961, 1969, 1977, 1981, 1993, and 2001). In every instance but one, the party that seized the White House held more governorships in the year before it took office than in the subsequent year it lost the presidential election. The only exception is that in 1980, Republicans held four fewer governorships than they held in 1992, immediately before the Republicans were voted out of the White House.

Now let's look at how many times a single party has controlled all three branches of government over the past 65 years:

Contrary to popular belief, most of the time (in modern political history) Congress and the President are at odds; that is, most of the time the same political party does not control the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Only 13 times (26 years) since 1945 have both branches of Congress and the Presidency been controlled by the same party; the Democrats have held this advantage more often than Republicans (11 to 2).

At the same time, Congress has usually been controlled by the same party. The “odd man out” has literally been the President.

So while a sweep of the White House and Congress can happen, it is the exception rather than the norm and perhaps more importantly, that unusual state of affairs (with the exception of the 1960s, which gave us LBJ's Great Society and the War on Poverty) usually doesn't last long. There's a great visual guide at the link.

All of this raises the highly entertaining possibility (be quiet, spd) that the best thing for conservatives would be to cede the White House to the Democrats for the next decade. Release the hounds, as they say...


Posted by Cassandra at 09:03 PM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

More Foreign Policy Wins Inherited from GDubya

It's hard to make sense of President Obama's super secret trip to Afghanistan today without looking back to the 2008 election when President Bush was trying to negotiate a similar agreement with the government of Iraq. Back then, Candidate Obama did everything within his power to undermine the Strategic Framework agreement - up to and including personally interfering with ongoing negotiations between the Bush administration and the Iraqis and then bragging about it:

It's not just Amir Taheri pushing the Logan Act story. Before he ever went to Iraq, Obama's bragging about his meddling in U.S. foreign policy made the pages of the NY Times:
Among the issues being discussed with the two presidential candidates is the long-term security accord between Iraq and the United States. [Ed.note, because this will become important later: this is the strategic framework agreement referred to later in the post] While the Bush administration would like to see an agreement reached before the summer’s political conventions, Mr. Obama said today that he opposed such a timetable.

So it seems The One had already commenced unsanctioned telephone negotiations with Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari back in June. His goal was to prevent the White House from successfully concluding negotiations for a long term security agreement with Iraq. Bizarrely, Obama not only admitted what he was doing, but bragged about it repeatedly over the next few weeks:

My concern is that the Bush administration, in a weakened state politically, ends up trying to rush an agreement that in some ways might be binding to the next administration, whether it’s my administration or Senator McCain’s administration,” Mr. Obama said. “The foreign minister agreed that the next administration should not be bound by an agreement that’s currently made.”

Fast forward to 2012. Here we are in the middle of another presidential election season and President Obama is doing exactly what he tried to prevent his predecessor from doing: negotiating an agreement that will bind whoever wins in November. Back then, not content with conducting unsanctioned negotiations with a foreign power, Candidate Obama openly suggested the Bush administration was trying to circumvent Congress:

Obama and Biden believe any Status of Forces Agreement, or any strategic framework agreement, should be negotiated in the context of a broader commitment by the U.S. to begin withdrawing its troops and forswearing permanent bases. Obama and Biden also believe that any security accord must be subject to Congressional approval. It is unacceptable that the Iraqi government will present the agreement to the Iraqi parliament for approval—yet the Bush administration will not do the same with the U.S. Congress. The Bush administration must submit the agreement to Congress or allow the next administration to negotiate an agreement that has bipartisan support here at home and makes absolutely clear that the U.S. will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq.

In a series of intriguing posts on the Foreign Policy blog last fall come these observations:

... where Obama has continued along policy lines laid out by Bush, he has achieved success, but where he has sought to make dramatic changes, he has failed. The bigger the change, the bigger the failure. Not surprisingly, Friedman presents this as a critique of Bush ("Obama and his national security team have been so much smarter, tougher and cost-efficient in keeping the country safe than the "adults" they replaced. It isn't even close, which is why the G.O.P.'s elders have such a hard time admitting it."). Friedman's sneer about the "adults" is unmistakable and it causes him to miss the obvious: where Obama has embraced that "Bush adult" worldview, it has gone well for him and for America. Where he has not, it has not. Indeed, where he has listened to Friedman and other bien pensant types, it has gone very poorly indeed (cf. Israel-Palestine peace process). And where he attempted a major shift in American grand strategy (elevating climate change to be a national security threat co-equal with WMD proliferation and terrorism) he has made almost no progress whatsoever.

President Obama campaigned on a scorched earth critique of the foreign policy he inherited from President Bush. He promised to undo all of it. Some of those promises (withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq in 16 months) barely survived the first few days, while others (unconditional talks with Ahmadinejad or closing Gitmo) were only jettisoned after months of failed efforts. The correlation is almost perfect: the longer Obama hewed to his campaign critique, the less well it has gone in foreign-policy. And, by the way, the supposedly hyper-partisan Republican opposition actually has chalked up a record that compares very favorably with the recent past: where Obama has pursued a genuinely bipartisan policy, he has enjoyed strong bipartisan support.

Back in 2008, despite all the fulmination about an arrogant, unilateral, secretive Bush White House, the negotiations between the US and Iraq took place in the open. I know, because I wrote about it several times. Now, from a man who excoriated his predecessor and then proceeded to double down on policies he had assured us were morally indefensible, we get yet another demonstration of Obama's real position on bipartisanship and transparency. Peter Feaver again:

... the Obama team has been especially loathe to note any parallels with its predecessor ... except in one particular area. In public and private settings, Obama supporters have taken pains to remind people that it was President Bush who negotiated and signed the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA) Strategic Framework Agreement that obligates U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Indeed, some have claimed that this is an inconvenient fact of its own, at least for Republican critics who want to charge that Obama is being reckless in his Iraq policy.

The implicit message is obvious: "we can't be criticized for ending the war in this way because, after all, we are just following the treaty obligations that Bush agreed to. If they were good enough for Bush, they are good enough for us."

That's not quite fair to the Bush policy, however. The Bush team viewed the 2008 SFA, and in particular the 2011 sunset, as a least-worst deal that they could strike with Maliki in advance of Iraqi elections. It was widely understood - and this understanding was directly encouraged by Iraqi interlocutors - that the SFA would be renegotiated after the Iraqi elections, when the new Iraqi government would have a bit more freedom to take necessary but unpopular decisions like allowing a follow-on stabilization force. Bush officials disagreed amongst themselves as to how forthcoming the Iraqis would be in a follow-on deal, but most agreed that it was imperative that a serious attempt be made to renegotiate the SFA at the earliest possible moment.

You don't have to take my word for it. If the plan all along had been simply to implement the 2008 SFA, why did President Obama send a team to Iraq to negotiate a new agreement? Why did the military plan on leaving a residual force? Indeed, as Tom Ricks quotes a colleague as asking, if that was really the plan then why the heck didn't the military plan on leaving at the end of 2011?

In other words, it sure looks like Obama supporters are trying to hide behind the Bush policy, trying to share credit (blame?) for a policy that might be problematic and in need of a little bolstering.

Now I ask you: does this sound like the Obama we all know and love?

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Check out the great video at the link above!

Posted by Cassandra at 05:53 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Bin Laden Success Yet Another Thing Obama Inherited from Bush

...according to the former chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center:

With some trying to turn bin Laden’s death into a campaign talking point for Obama’s reelection, it is useful to remember that the trail to bin Laden started in a CIA black site — all of which Obama ordered closed, forever, on the second full day of his administration — and stemmed from information obtained from hardened terrorists who agreed to tell us some (but not all) of what they knew after undergoing harsh but legal interrogation methods. Obama banned those methods on Jan. 22, 2009.

This past weekend, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin attacked statements made in May 2011 by me, former CIA director Michael Hayden and former attorney general Michael Mukasey regarding what led to bin Laden’s death. They misunderstood and mischaracterized our positions.

No single tactic, technique or approach led to the successful operation against bin Laden. But those who suggest it was all a result of a fresh approach taken after Jan. 20, 2009, are mistaken.

Betsy Newmark contrasts Obama's stunning lack of modesty with the behavior of his predecessors:

The man from whom President Obama has sought incessantly to distance himself, George W. Bush, also had occasion during his presidency to announce to the nation a triumph of intelligence: the capture of Saddam Hussein. He called that success "a tribute to our men and women now serving in Iraq." He attributed it to "the superb work of intelligence analysts who found the dictator's footprints in a vast country. The operation was carried out with skill and precision by a brave fighting force. Our servicemen and women and our coalition allies have faced many dangers. . . . Their work continues, and so do the risks."

He did mention himself at the end: "Today, on behalf of the nation, I thank the members of our Armed Forces and I congratulate them."

While the orders for the raid on bin Laden's compound included an escape clause that put the responsibility on Admiral McRaven for the "operational decision making and control" and the presentation of the "risk profile" given to the President, contrast that with Eisenhower's behavior on the eve of ordering the D-Day landings.

Dwight Eisenhower is famous for having penned a statement to be issued in anticipation of the failure of the Normandy invasion that reads in relevant part: "My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

A week later, when the success of the invasion was apparent, Eisenhower saluted the Allied Expeditionary Forces: "One week ago this morning there was established through your coordinated efforts our first foothold in northwestern Europe. High as was my preinvasion confidence in your courage, skill and effectiveness . . . your accomplishments . . . have exceeded my brightest hopes.

Eisenhower did mention himself at the end: "I truly congratulate you upon a brilliantly successful beginning. . . . Liberty loving people everywhere would today like to join me in saying to you, 'I am proud of you.'"

Obama's spiked football comment is just the latest in a series of verbal misdirections ("Let me be clear", "This is not about...", "X is my top priority") in which he loudly claims to be doing one thing while doing the exact opposite.

Pay no attention to the man spiking the football.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:54 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack