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November 30, 2012

It's Nearly 5 O'Clock Somewhere....

Sorry no posts today. The Editorial Staff have been working since 6 a.m. and the brain housing group is pretty thoroughly fried. We are about ready to move here.

Is this the most boring dog ever, or what?


Happy Friday, peoples.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:05 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 29, 2012

On Taxes, Hope Continues to Trump Facts and Experience

Cause, meet effect:

In the 2009-10 tax year, more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million to HM Revenue and Customs.

This number fell to just 6,000 after Gordon Brown introduced the new 50p top rate of income tax shortly before the last general election. The figures have been seized upon by the Conservatives to claim that increasing the highest rate of tax actually led to a loss in revenues for the Government.

It is believed that rich Britons moved abroad or took steps to avoid paying the new levy by reducing their taxable incomes.

If there's one thing that unites politicians on both sides of the liberal/conservative divide, it's that no one wants to pay more taxes than they absolutely have to.

Senate Democrats plan to consider a measure Tuesday that would extend lower interest rates for some federally subsidized college loans and pay for the extension by ending tax breaks for firms with three or fewer shareholders — commonly referred to as “S-corporations.”

Democrats call these types of tax breaks the “Newt Gingrich/John Edwards loophole,” because both former politicians took advantage of a federal tax law that allows those with high incomes to avoid paying Medicare payroll taxes on earnings by establishing S-corporations and treating only a portion of their total earnings as taxable wages.

News reports cited by Democrats note that in 2010, Gingrich Holdings and Gingrich Productions paid the former House speaker about $444,000 in wages and declared $2.4 million as profits to his S-corporation, allowing Gingrich to avoid $69,000 in Medicare payroll taxes. Edwards did the same starting in 1995, when he paid himself $360,000 each year for four years and treated the rest of his $26.9 million in earnings as company profits, saving him an estimated $600,000 in payroll taxes.

When public policy starts taking money out of the wallets of wealthy progressives, talking points about reducing income inequality, making the rich pay their "fair share", and economic patriotism are no match for good, old fashioned self interest:

As a multimillionaire married to Teresa Heinz Kerry of the Heinz ketchup fortune, Kerry’s best known tax gaffe was mooring his $7 million yacht outside his home state of Massachusetts. Saving taxes on a pricey yacht might seem unpatriotic anywhere, but cheating your own state was worse. Kerry moored the vessel in Rhode Island so he could save the $500,000 in taxes a Massachusetts berth would trigger. See John Kerry Saves $500,000 By Docking 76-Foot Luxury Yacht Out Of State.

That rubbed people in Massachusetts where he was a sitting U.S. Senator the wrong way. Eventually, Kerry announced he would pay over $500,000 in Massachusetts tax on his $7 million yacht ($437,500 in state use tax, $70,000 in annual state excise tax).

As Thomas Sowell points out, neither party can claim complete consistency with regard to tax rates:

... under both Republican President Calvin Coolidge and Democratic President John F. Kennedy, high-income people paid more tax revenues into the federal treasury after tax rates went down than they did before.

There is nothing mysterious about this. At high tax rates, vast sums of money disappear into tax shelters at home or is shipped overseas. At lower tax rates, that money comes out of hiding and goes into the American economy, creating jobs, rising output and rising incomes. Under these conditions, higher tax revenues can be collected by the government, even though tax rates are lower. Indeed, high income people not only end up paying more taxes, but a higher share of all taxes, under these conditions.

This is not just a theory. It is what hard evidence shows happened under both Democratic and Republican administrations, from the days of Calvin Coolidge to John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. That hard evidence is presented in clear and unmistakable terms in "Who's The Fairest of Us All?"

Another surprising fact brought out in this book is that the Democrats and Republicans both took positions during the Kennedy administration that were the direct opposite of the positions they take today. As Stephen Moore points out, "the Republicans almost universally opposed and the Democrats almost universally favored" the cuts in tax rates that President Kennedy proposed.

Such Republican Senate stalwarts as Barry Goldwater and Bob Dole voted against reducing the top tax rate from 91% to 70%. Democratic Congressman Wilbur Mills led the charge for lower tax rates.

Unlike the Republicans today, John F. Kennedy had an answer when critics tried to portray his tax cut proposal as just a "tax cut for the rich." President Kennedy argued that it was a tax cut for the economy, that changed incentives meant a faster growing economy and that "A rising tide lifts all boats."

If Republicans today cannot seem to come up with their own answer when critics cry out "tax cuts for the rich," maybe they can just go back and read John F. Kennedy's answer.

A truly optimistic person might even hope that media pundits would go back and check out the facts before arguing as if the only way to reduce the deficit is to raise tax rates on "the rich."

...Because so few people bother to check the facts, Barack Obama can get away with statements about how "tax cuts for the rich" have "cost" the government money that now needs to be recouped.

The Big Lie the President keeps telling is that we're in this fix because the rich aren't paying their fair share of taxes. But that's not an assertion that's easy to square with the facts. Regardless of how much money the federal government takes in, it's literally impossible to run deficits unless we spend more than we collect in revenue. It doesn't help the President's blame-the-rich argument that changes to the tax code since 1979 have completely exempted the lowest 40% of earners from paying federal income taxes (they pay zero or NEGATIVE net income taxes) and shifted the entire burden of federal income tax revenue to the highest 60% of wage earners (who account for ALL federal income tax revenue collected).

The facts don't support the notion that the wealthy aren't paying their "fair share"! They're paying not only their fair share, but the share of 40% of their fellow Americans!

The princess took the liberty of adding some reference lines and symbols to a chart showing the average income tax rate paid by each of the 5 income quintiles and the highest earning 5% (top line) over the last 3 decades or so.

A few observations:

1. With the exception of the top income quintile, 80% of taxpayers have paid less than the historic average tax rates for their respective income quintiles for over 20 years.

2. All 5 income quintiles experience a sharp drop-off in average income taxes paid around 2000. This sharp decline bottomed out and then either leveled off or began to reverse itself around 2003-2004 except for the bottom income quintile, whose average tax rates continued to decline.

3. With the exception of the top income quintile, the trend in average tax rates for the bottom 80% of taxpayers is consistently downward. The effect of tinkering with the tax rates paid by the top earners, as this chart from the St. Louis Fed shows, is unclear at best:

It makes sense to suspect (as Sowell and so many others claim, and the experience of countries like Britain demonstrates) that raising taxes on the wealthy only causes them to either flee or avoid the higher taxes as John Kerry clearly had no problem doing, even when it went against everything he claims to believe in.

But I have a hard time believing the wealthy are equally sensitive to tax hikes regardless of the economic conditions or the magnitude of the tax hike. Raising marginal rates slightly during an economic boom probably has a different effect than the same increase during time of economic uncertainty or recession.

There's a lot for both parties to think about here - especially given Sowell's observation about the Democrats and Republicans of today having reversed the positions they took in the 1960s with regard to increases in the tax rate.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:05 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

November 28, 2012

Fredneck, Maryland...

...it is a classy place, populated by enterprising souls:

There are dumb ideas, and there are really dumb ideas.

As Superstorm Sandy hit our region last month, Marvin Lee Kingsbury and Charles Kent Bowers hatched a really dumb idea.

The really dumb idea was this: Let’s make whiskey sours, and let’s get a raft, and let’s float five miles down the Monocacy River — the raging Monocacy River — so we can go shopping at Wal-Mart.

Bowers said they intended to drink the whiskey sours “like the victory cigar” when they reached their destination at Walmart. He said there were more turns and curves in the current than expected. Additionally, Bowers said he had not changed his view about the trip and would do it again.

“Absolutely, better boat next time,” Bowers said.

Better boat because on their first shot they used a rubber raft “rigged with a piece of plywood in the bottom and swim noodles for stability,”

And don't try to pretend you have not attempted similar feats yourownselves, knuckledraggers.

Admit it, peoples. You are jealous.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:20 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

"Oh Yeah, I *So* Went There" Caption Contest

Wethinks they need to work on their messaging. What say you?

Posted by Cassandra at 05:30 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

November 27, 2012

Feeling Shortchanged by the Sexual Marketplace, Part II

Yesterday, La Princesse du Blog broached the twin topics of hookup culture and the more perverse notion of the sexual marketplace. We began with the sad tale of two Dartmouth students, one of whom takes the modern ideal of sex without complications to a ridiculous extreme:

When I asked Nicole if she was still hooking up with the same frat boy, she shook her head. She explained that the entire time she was having sex with him he never once spoke to her or acknowledged her outside of his fraternity's basement. Not in the library, not in the dining hall, not at the bookstore.

"One time, I waved at him in front of the food court and said hi, but he just ignored me."

"Was he with anyone?" I asked—as though that would make a difference.

"A bunch of his friends."

There's a palpable irony here. By definition, hookups are supposed to neatly sever sex from the human emotions that normally accompany it: feelings of warmth or tenderness, connectedness, empathy, obligation, guilt. But the ostensible goal of hookup culture - sexual gratification without moral or emotional complications - seems not to have been achieved by either Nicole or her partner. Après-hookup Nicole feels more used, humiliated, and ashamed than satisfied.

The behavior of her frat-boy partner suggests that he's struggling with a few negative consequences of his own. If their repeated hookups were entirely free of moral/emotional repercussions, why avoid her? The normal reaction upon meeting a casual acquaintance who has no moral or emotional claim upon you is to casually return their greeting and move on. Acknowledging acquaintances is a trivial courtesy - the kind of thing most people handle on autopilot. The required response is minimal and formulaic. Wave, say "hi" back, and go back to what you were saying, thinking, or doing. Deliberately ignoring someone you know, on the other hand, is a conscious decision.

Avoidance is a response to the kind of messy and unpleasant emotions hookup culture is supposed to preclude. If Nicole's only offense was to greet a fellow student she clearly knows but has no intimate relationship with or claim upon, why avoid her? If, on the other hand, his avoidance stems from awareness that she wants more from him (a romantic relationship, perhaps?) then it's not a hookup anymore.

If he continues to have sex with her, knowing that she is falling for him (and that it's no longer a mutually agreed upon interaction with no further expectation on either side) the entire character of the interaction changes. The illusion that sex between them will be emotion-and-consequence free cannot be sustained by either party.

Ms. Esafahani Smith sees the problem thusly:

The balance of power in the hook-up culture lies with the men, an issue that has become more pronounced as women outnumber men on campuses...

While both men and women are disappointed in the quality of hookup sex, women are more - and more often - disappointed than men (there's a joke in here, but I'll refrain from making it). More women than men regret hooking up. They feel "disempowered instead of empowered" by casual sex. They feel less like equals on the sexual playground than like sexual jungle gyms: things to be used and discarded, rather than people to be interacted with.

Her analysis seems broadly true to me with the exception of the part about young women having no choice. This is the argument I can't understand. It's not as though hooking up is designed to result in a relationship. By definition, if you accept the premise, the essence of hooking up is that neither party wants a relationship. Entering a relationship based on the understanding that neither party wants a relationship (when you secretly do) is inherently dishonest. It's a sort of relationship fraud that bases an agreement to have sex on the false pretense that no deeper relationship is wanted. Ms. Esafahani Smith's formulation assumes that women do in fact want more, but don't understand themselves or their own desires well enough to advocate for them. It also assumes something else I don't believe to be true: that boys and man can neatly sever sex from both emotion and morality - that there are no consequences for them, either.

I don't believe that because it doesn't square with my experience or with what I've observed in real life relationships with real men and boys. Males may be even less connected to or aware of their emotions than women, but that's not the same as being completely disconnected from them. If the studies I cited in the preceding post are correct, at least half of men and women enter into hookups secretly hoping they'll lead to a relationship. If there is relationship fraud going on here, it bilateral fraud.

I don't think dating is the solution to the problems inherent in hookup culture because I still remember - vividly - being a young woman in the 1970s. I remember what I thought and how I made decisions, and my naive assumptions about sex were just not that different from those of today's college kids . Being young and very much influenced by the rhetoric of the sexual revolution, I had little or no sense that sex was an inherently immoral activity. I knew sex could be used for immoral ends, but my youthful outlook was influenced by sexually utopian novels like Robert Heinlein's Time Enough for Love and Michener's The Drifters - stories where most everyone meant well, even if good intentions did not assure beneficial outcomes. My ideas about how the world was supposed to work were shaped by both the culture I grew up in and by my parent's values (at least to the extent that I wasn't hell bent on rebelling against them).

And it's my memories of my dating experiences and the culture I grew up with that cause me to question both Ms. Esafahani's framing of the problem and her suggested remedy for inequality on the sexual playing field (withholding sex). "Dating" formed very little of my romantic experiences. I was a serial monogamist who rarely if ever dated casually. My relationships with the boys I dated were usually long term (6 months to a year, which is an eternity to a teen) and happy. I met new boyfriends, not in bars or through drunken hookups but in school. We got to know each other a bit before the romantic aspect kicked in. And though I was never even close to being beautiful, I never had to trick or entice boys into committing - they almost always suggested that our relationship be exclusive. Commitment seemed like a natural progression of the time we spent together (time that notably did not involve gifts or expensive dates). We went to the beach, or to parties, or simply hung out. We were friends who eventually developed romantic and sexual feelings for each other.

The thing is, withholding sex never occurred to me as a bargaining technique. Over the years, I developed a healthy respect for my own tendency to become emotionally attached and the equally natural tendency of boys to value what they had to work for or earn more highly than what came easily. These lessons were learned gradually, by trial and error, the way most relationship skills are acquired and good relationships are built. I learned to throttle back my affectionate nature a bit because many boys feel smothered by overt displays of affection. And I learned to guard my heart a bit, mostly by being hurt (and learning from that hurt). I also discovered that while boys pretended to be unemotional and difficult to wound, the opposite was true. Their feelings were no less strong for being hidden, and their pride was - if anything - far more tender than mine.

Because of my experiences, I don't think dating culture is the answer to the problems presented by hookup culture. Dating, formal rules, and my parent's moral strictures weren't a big influence on my own relationships. They weren't a big factor in the relationships of my female friends, almost all of whom had similarly happy experiences with boys and men. What did matter - enormously - was taking time to know someone's character before becoming intimately involved with them. If a potential boyfriend treated others respectfully, this was a good indicator that he would treat me respectfully. If he was considerate and kind, if he was honest and had self discipline, he was the kind of person I could afford to trust.

This, to me, is what's wrong with hookup culture. It's the same problem that plagues progressive policies that demand we treat perfect strangers as though they were family: there's no personal relationship there. No expectation of reciprocity, no time to find out how the other person responds to threats or adversity. Trust - that most essential of relationship ingredients - is not earned, but rather extended blindly, before it is warranted and before it is wise.

But there's another problem with intentionally withholding sex to gain intimacy. It makes sex into a commodity to be traded for what women value. Unless this trade is made explicit (and it almost never is), it's just as fraudulent as the hookup entered into under false pretenses. Delaying sex until you know someone's character is subtly different from withholding sex as a bargaining tool.

Neither can I endorse James Taranto's hopefully tongue in cheek remedy:

The sexual marketplace was once far more heavily regulated than it is today, and Smith rejects the idea of going "back to 1950s-style courtship, parietal rules, and early marriage." Instead, she wishes to move "forward, to sex founded on friendship, dating, and relationships." As a practical matter, how, in an essentially free sexual marketplace, can like-minded women accomplish this without being undercut by those among their peers who either do not share that objective or do not give it a high priority in the short term?

The only answer would seem to be by exerting social pressure--also one of the weapons in organized labor's arsenal. This columnist has never belonged to a union, but we were once obliged to go on strike. During our collegiate days, we had an internship at a CBS radio station when contract negotiations between the network and the Writers Guild of America broke down. We thought a strike would be a great opportunity to get more experience: Since the station would be shorthanded, that would mean more work for us. Instead, the station manager told us we could not work at all until the strike was settled. If we did, the union would blacklist us.

So today's would-be Lysistratas need to develop ways of stigmatizing young women who too readily say yes to sex, just as unions do to scabs and strikebreakers. What a feminist triumph that would be.

One of the hardest and most necessary lessons I learned from relationships is that you can't make someone like you or value what you value. Relationships based on deceit or pressure or tricks are fraudulent from the start because they aren't based on honest appraisal of what the other person wants or needs to be happy. What does it say about men if, as so many commentators earnestly assure us, men only want sex and have to be tricked or pressured (or even coerced) into giving women what we really want?

And what would it say about women if we bought into that profoundly insulting and reductive view of masculinity? That's not progress.

And it profoundly depresses me.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:20 AM | Comments (67) | TrackBack

November 26, 2012

Feeling Shortchanged by the Sexual Marketplace, Part I

Say you don't need no diamond ring
And I'll be satisfied
Tell me that you want those kind of things
that money just can't buy

I don't care too much for money
For money can't buy me love

- The Beatles

Maybe the idea that sex is a commodity to be bought, sold, or traded for is the problem. A few weeks ago, kavu sent a link to a thoughtful article on college hookup culture. It begins, as so many of these pieces do, with a familiar anecdote. Naive/vulnerable young woman embraces casual sex and gets the worse of the bargain, thereby proving what we all knew before reading the article: women only want relationships and men only want sex. Several things about the story bothered me as I mulled it over during the ensuing days. The first wrong note will probably not surprise anyone familiar with college frat life:

Not long after she arrived on campus in September, Nicole had started hooking up with a guy who belonged to one of the more popular fraternities on campus. As she explained to me over coffee that day, one night in the fall, she got drunk and ended up having sex with this guy in his dingy frat room, which was littered with empty cans of Keystone Light and pizza boxes. She woke up the next morning to find a used condom tangled up in the sheets. She couldn't remember exactly what had happened that night, but she put the pieces together. She smiled, looked at the frat brother, and lay back down. Eventually, she put her clothes on and walked back to her dorm. Mission accomplished: She was no longer a virgin.

This was a routine she repeated for months. Every weekend night, and on some weekday nights, she would drink so heavily that she could remember only patches of what happened the night before and then would have sex with the same fraternity brother. One night, she was talking with someone else at the frat when the brother interrupted her and led her upstairs to have sex. On another occasion, they had sex at the frat, but Nicole was too drunk to find her clothes afterward, so she started walking around the house naked, to the amusement of all of the other brothers. She was too drunk to care. Eventually, everything went dark. Next weekend, she returned to the frat.

It's hard to know whether hookup culture is the chicken (girl drinks to excess to overcome her natural reluctance to hooking up) or the egg here (risky sex happens because girl drinks to excess). The Dartmouth I attended over three decades ago could, at times, be something of a disconcerting environment for women. Boys outnumbered girls three to one, heavy drinking was common, and frat parties were pretty much the dominant form of entertainment. I don't know what it's like now, but depending on the point I wanted to make, I could easily cherry pick my memories to support almost any thesis about relationships between men and women. I knew girls like Nicole in 1977 and found their stories disturbing enough to augment the growing disquiet that eventually caused me to leave Dartmouth. But the vast majority of young women I knew during my freshman year were nothing like her. Perhaps equally importantly, the vast majority of young men I encountered were nothing like her frat-boy hookup.

That's the problem with anecdotes: they show us a small part of a larger picture. We don't know whether this story accurately encapsulates Nicole's sexual experiences. We don't know whether it's an accurate representation of the experiences of most female college students. To her credit, the author attempts to balance Nicole's story with selected statistics about college hookup culture. But like the anecdote, they too are ambiguous:

... anywhere between 65 to 75 percent of undergraduates nationwide have participated in the hook-up culture.

What does this mean? In the 1970s, the term "hookup culture" had yet to be coined but we had our own term: one night stands. Do 65-75% of today's students regularly hook up to the detriment/exclusion of relationships? Or have 65-75 percent of students incorporated a one night stand or two into a more complex set of experiences? As the perennially perky Tamilee Web (of Buns of Steel fame) likes to say, "There's a major, major difference!". A few paragraphs later, the author quotes another study that seems to undercut the "girls lose/guys win" theory of hookup culture:

...66 percent of women and 58 percent of men want their hook up to develop into "something more."

Dr. Helen Fisher cites a similar study of 515 college students that suggests the whole casual sex thing is overhyped:

...I’ve been working with a graduate student named Justin Garcia, and he and I believe that people go into hookups, or one-night stands hoping to trigger a longer relationship. And in fact, in a study that he did of 515 men and women in a college in the northeast, he asked them why they went into this hookup; this one-night stand. Fifty percent of women and 52% of men reported that they went into the sexual experience hoping to trigger a longer relationship, and in fact, 1/3 of them did.

As it turns out, quite a few studies indicate that actual (as opposed to perceived) promiscuity is far less common that articles on hookup culture would have us believe:

Using the robust body of data of 20,000 students gathered by Paula England at Stanford University, feminist sociologist Lisa Wade has concluded the following :
11% of students enthusiastically enjoy hookup culture. 50% hook up, but do it rather ambivalently or reluctantly, some with extremely negative experiences. 38% opt out of hooking up altogether. Less than 1% maintain a committed relationship.

Still, researchers have found that when students are asked what percentage of their fellow students had sex the previous weekend, they often reply in the range of 75-80%, when the real number is closer to 5%.

It's hard to argue with Ms. Esfahani Smith's thesis that hookup culture's promise of consequence-free sex is both unrealistic and harmful. If there's anything more bizarre than the disappointment of young women who think using young men as glorified sexual appliances is a good idea, it's the equally entertaining angst of young men - and all too frequently, their fathers - whining about how unfair it is that they can't have sex with anyone they want to without (Oh!, the humanity!) having to worry about divorce, pregnancy, paternity suits, or false rape accusations.

Sex outside of marriage has always been risky. Before DNA testing and paternity suits, men risked venereal diseases or shotgun weddings to women they didn't love. They risked violent retaliation from jealous husbands or angry fathers and brothers. Women risked pregnancy and the ruin of their reputations and marriage prospects. And then - as now - both sexes risked broken hearts. Technology has made it easier to avoid pregnancy and STDs but has done absolutely nothing to mitigate the risks stemming from our own profoundly human natures.

It's easy to despise the young man Nicole hooks up with, but I couldn't help finding him just as dysfunctional and damaged as she. It's one thing to think one can have sex with another human being - repeatedly - without incurring the messy entanglements of a long term romantic relationship. But what kind of person seriously thinks it is acceptable to treat others with the contempt implied by his every action: never to speak a single word to her, even when they are alone? To refuse to acknowledge that he even knows her in public?

This doesn't seem like a normal response. Would a young man who can easily sever sex from emotion - one who was truly untroubled by the morality of what he was doing - behave this way? If he truly doesn't think what he's doing is wrong, if he is either unaware of or untroubled by the effects of his actions on his partner, why go to such elaborate lengths to disassociate himself from her?

One answer is that he's a bit of a sociopath. A less dramatic one is that he's distancing himself from his own feelings. Or perhaps his conscience.

More on this tomorrow. Meanwhile, discuss amongst yourselves.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:55 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

November 25, 2012

Organizing for Whom?

Given the first line of the excerpted passage below, it's tempting to ask, "Why not just change the name to "Organizing for Obama" and be done with it?

Obama’s vaunted campaign machine, “OFA”—short for “Obama for America” during election season, and “Organizing for America” when the president is trying to pass his agenda—made a point of staying active after his victory, sending supporters an email Wednesday detailing the president’s plan to avert the fiscal cliff of automatic spending cuts and tax increases at the end of the year.

The question is if this time OFA will convert its success on the trail—where the operation got 4.4 million donors to contribute $690 million—to the slog of governing. Campaign manager Jim Messina suggested this week that the machinery will be kept engaged, but hedged when asked just how robust its role will be in the coming fights in Washington.

Even as Democratic politicians and operatives also lobby for access to his huge database of donors, voters, and volunteers for future campaigns, critics on the left are still embittered about how supporters were cut out and grassroots momentum lost during Obama’s first term. They point to the president’s backing away from a cap-and-trade system to control pollution, his decision not to break up big banks or enact “cramdown” measures to reduce the principal owed on mortgages by millions of struggling borrowers and what they see as a host of lost opportunities in Obama’s first two years, when Democrats controlled all branches of government.

“Deactivating OFA was just one small part of an overall policy disaster,” says Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and former financial services staffer to Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL). “Obama wanted to run a conservative technocratic administration on behalf of Wall Street, and he did. And inequality is now at record highs, higher than it was under [George W.] Bush. In terms of superficial notions like electoral politics, it was successful for Obama. In terms of mouths fed, poverty alleviated, and justice, it has been horrific.”

Sounds like a "works as designed" to me. Or maybe just bait and switch.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Grateful for each hand we hold
Gathered round this table.
From far and near we travel home,
Blessed that we are able.

Grateful for this sheltered place
With light in every window,
Saying "welcome, welcome
Share this feast
Come in, away from sorrow."

Father, mother, daughter, son,
Neighbor, friend and friendless;
All together everyone
In the gift of loving kindness.

Grateful for what’s understood,
And all that is forgiven;
We try so hard to be good,
To lead a life worth living.

Father, mother, daughter, son,
Neighbor, friend, and friendless;
All together everyone
Let grateful days be endless.

Grateful for each hand we hold
Gathered round this table

On this day of thanksgiving, I hope your lives are filled with just one small part of the joy you all have brought to this gathering place over the years. May you be surrounded by the love of family and friends and comforted by happy memories of those who have passed before us, but will always come home for the holidays.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:44 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

November 21, 2012

More "Smart Power", Big Brother Style

The President of the United States has collected a LOT of information about you. Now that the election is over, the Democrats are trying to decide who to share it with:

If you voted this election season, President Obama almost certainly has a file on you. His vast campaign database includes information on voters’ magazine subscriptions, car registrations, housing values and hunting licenses, along with scores estimating how likely they were to cast ballots for his reelection.

And although the election is over, Obama’s database is just getting started.

Democrats are pressing to expand and redeploy the most sophisticated voter list in history, beginning with next year’s gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and extending to campaigns for years to come.

...To maintain their advantage, Democrats say they must navigate the inevitable intraparty squabbles over who gets access now that the unifying forces of a billion-dollar presidential campaign are gone.

“If this is all we do with this technology, I think it will be a wasted opportunity,” said Michael Slaby, the Obama campaign’s chief integration and innovation officer.

It has been a never-ending source of amazement to the Editorial Staff how the press that obsessed over privacy concerns during the Bush years now proudly and glowingly lauds the Obama administration for doing the same things and (in some cases) doing far more invasive things. During the Bush years, we were continually warned about the dangers of unchecked power. Nowadays, such natterings are relegated to the status of afterthoughts:

Obama was able to collect and use personal data largely free of the restrictions that govern similar efforts by private companies. Neither the Federal Trade Commission, which has investigated the handling of personal data by Google, Facebook and other companies, nor the Federal Election Commission has jurisdiction over how campaigns use such information, officials at those agencies say.

Privacy advocates say the opportunity for abuse — by Obama, Romney or any other politician’s campaign — is serious, as is the danger of hackers stealing the data. Voters who willingly gave campaigns such information may not have understood that it would be passed on to the party or other candidates, even though disclosures on Web sites and Facebook apps warn of that possibility.

Chris Soghoian, an analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FTC technologist, said voters should worry that the interests of politicians and commercial data brokers have aligned, making legal restrictions of data collection less likely.

“They’re going to be loath to regulate those companies if they are relying on them to target voters,” he said.

Do you really want political campaigns to amass enormous databases with information about the magazines you subscribe to, the value of your house, the political affiliations of your Facebook friends, and your voting history?

We guess it's OK as long as they pinkie-swear only to share your information with their closest friends.

Update: "targeted sharing" through Facebook:

..more than 1 million Obama backers who signed up for the app gave the campaign permission to look at their Facebook friend lists. In an instant, the campaign had a way to see the hidden young voters. Roughly 85% of those without a listed phone could be found in the uploaded friend lists. What’s more, Facebook offered an ideal way to reach them. “People don’t trust campaigns. They don’t even trust media organizations,” says Goff. “Who do they trust? Their friends.”

The campaign called this effort targeted sharing. And in the final weeks of the campaign, they blitzed the supporters who had signed up for the app with requests to share specific online content with specific friends simply by clicking a button. More than 600,000 supporters followed through with more than 5 million contacts, asking their friends to register to vote, give money, vote or look at a video specifically designed to change their mind. A geek squad in Chicago created models from vast data sets to find the best approaches for each potential voter. “We are not just sending you a banner ad,” explains Dan Wagner, the Obama campaign’s 29-year-old head of analytics, who helped oversee the project. “We are giving you relevant information from your friends.”

Early tests of the system found statistically significant changes in voter behavior. People whose friends sent them requests to vote early and register to vote, for example, were more likely to do so than similar potential voters who were not contacted. That confirmed a trend already noted in the political-science literature: online social networks have the power to change voting behavior. A study of 61 million people on Facebook during the 2010 midterms found that people who saw photos of their friends voting on Election Day were more likely to cast a ballot themselves. “It is much more effective to stimulate these real-world ties,” says James Fowler, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, who co-authored the study.

Campaign pros have known this for years. A phone call or knock on the door from someone who lives in your neighborhood is far more effective than appeals from out-of-state volunteers or robo-calls. Before social networks like Facebook, however, connecting a supportive friend to a would-be voter was a challenge. E-mail, for instance, connects one person to the campaign. Facebook can connect the campaign, through one person, to 500 or more friends.

It's a good thing the GOP sucks at this kind of thing, because otherwise the media would be forced to point out just how creepy and intrusive it is.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:27 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 20, 2012

The Humorless Folks at the NY Times

Eminently mockable story of the day. Apparently the enlightened editorial staff of the NY Times wants to protect gullible readers from unauthorized parodies of... the NY Times:

Twitter has suspended a popular New York Times parody account after the Times filed a complaint against it. The @NYTOnIt account — which poked fun at some lifestyle and trend stories in the Times — had over 20,000 followers prior to its suspension late Monday night. Before Twitter took “The Times Is On It” down, the account was known for tweets such as this one from Nov. 13: “GUYS, there are *gasp* fake profiles on Facebook, and The Times is ON IT. http://nyti.ms/TDt1ut ". The Twitter bio read: “Because sometimes stories in newspapers are just *that* obvious.”

“Twitter has suspended my account over a claim from The Times that my avatar violates a trademark,” the person behind the account wrote Monday night on The Times Is On It Facebook page. “I say fair use. Right now, I'm waiting for Twitter to process my request to fix the problem so I can get the account reenabled. But feel free to spread the word over how the country's largest newspaper feels threatened by a small Twitter account right now.”

Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy wrote in an e-mail to POLITICO that “this is not about feeling ‘threatened.’”

“We did file a complaint with Twitter and it is our understanding that they have suspended this account for a violation of Twitter's terms of service,” Murphy wrote. “This is not about feeling ‘threatened.’ However, it is important to The Times that our copyright is protected and that it is clear to all users of Twitter that parody accounts or other unofficial Times accounts are not affiliated nor endorsed by The Times.”

It's not that the Times is trying to suppress free speech or anything. And they certainly aren't too thin-skinned to withstand a little gentle criticism, delivered up with a generous helping of humor.

What they're really concerned about is enforcing Twitter's terms of service. If we allow the Rule of Law to be eroded by unsanctioned parodies, what other horrors might spring up to annoy the Grey Lady?

That, and the deeply scary possibility that their readers actually believe that most mockery of public figures and institutions is officially sanctioned by the intended target. Accept no substitutes: always look for the union label before consuming sarcasm, parody, or spoofs.

The Times' reputation depends on it.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:00 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Boys are Noisy

There is a lot going on around Villa Cassandranita this morning. We are dealing with a severe infestation of small, loud boys and trucks and trains.

Will have a post up later today, but first we need to go outside to see if we can spy the Mad Squirrel who lives in our back yard.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:39 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

November 19, 2012

Quote of the Day

"....if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they're much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded."

- Our Commander in Chief

In other news, war is still dangerous for children and other living things. Not that rocket attacks can properly be described as war, mind you.

CWCID: Judy.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:05 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Mandates and Cost Shifting: First, Do No Harm

During the debate over ObamaCare, the administration repeatedly asserted that the imposition of a health care mandate was necessary to offset cost shifting from uninsured taxpayers (who cannot be denied care) to insured taxpayers. Here, the facts don't support the Obama administration's position:

A major justification by President Obama for the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, which requires everyone to buy health insurance, is that every time an uninsured patient receives care in an emergency room, doctors and hospitals shift the cost to those of us who have insurance.

... when [uninsured] people don’t pay their medical bills, somebody has to bear that cost. But who?

A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that in many cases, it’s other uninsured patients. Many uninsured patients who do pay their bills wind up paying the “list prices” for the services they received. The list price is well above what any provider expects to receive from an insurance company. Physicians collect more from those uninsured patients than they would from insured patients. That extra money often covers the cost of uninsured patients who don’t pay. A study from the University of Southern California in 2008 found a similar phenomenon in California hospitals.

Some of the cost of uncompensated care no doubt gets shifted to patients with private insurance. But the effect is small. Analysts at the Urban Institute concluded that uncompensated care accounts for 2.8% of all health care spending, and that cost shifting due to the uninsured raised private insurance premiums 1.7% “at most.” The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office agrees: “Overall, the impact of cost shifting on payment rates and premiums for private insurance seems likely to be relatively small.”

Other studies show that the costs of government-mandated benefits are often shifted to other members of the group they were intended to help. So mandated maternity benefits come out of the wages of women of childbearing age:

consider the labor-market effects of mandates which raise the costs of employing a demographically identifiable group. The efficiency of these policies will be largely dependent on the extent to which their costs are shifted to group-specific wages. I study several state and federal mandates which stipulated that childbirth be covered comprehensively in health insurance plans, raising the relative cost of insuring women of childbearing age. I find substantial shifting of the costs of these mandates to the wages of the targeted group.

The National Bureau of Economic studied mandatory worker's comp benefits and found (please conceal your shock) that the cost of these programs is shifted to workers in the form of lower wages. And as if that weren't bad enough, these programs also cause employers to hire fewer workers:

...The results suggests that a substantial portion of the cost to employers of providing workers' compensation benefits is shifted to employees in the form of lower wages. Given the similarity between workers' compensation insurance and many proposed employer-mandated health insurance plans, our findings suggest that a large share of the employers' cost of meeting health insurance mandates may be borne by employees. ... Although the nominal burden of mandated employment-based health insurance will be borne by firms, if the experience of health insurance is similar to that of workers' compensation insurance, our estimates suggest that employees will ultimately bear a large fraction of the burden of financing mandated health insurance through lower wages.

In spite of our main conclusion that a sizable portion of the cost of
mandated benefits is likely to be shifted to employees, we should also
stress that the shifting of workers' compensation costs is incomplete.
Employers bear at least some additional cost because of mandated workinjury insurance. As a consequence, we find that increases in workers' compensation costs are associated with reduced employment growth.

Although extremely imprecise, our estimates suggest that every one percentage point increase in workers' compensation rates is associated with an employment decline of .11%. The adverse employment effects of mandated health insurance may well be larger than those in workers' compensation insurance because the minimum wage is likely to be more of a constraint for uninsured workers, especially in view of recent increases in the real minimum.

To really pile on, the administration's waivers (intended to exempt employers of low-wage, seasonal and part-time workers) don't appear to be working, either:

Among the first and most prominent recipients of the Obamacare waivers for favors were large restaurant chains that provide low-wage, seasonal and part-time workers with low-cost health insurance plans called “mini-med” plans. An estimated 1.7 million workers benefit from such plans. Obamacare forced companies carrying such coverage to raise their minimum limits on coverage to no less than $750,000 annually. Another Obamacare provision forces all employers to spend at least 80 percent to 85 percent of their premium revenue on medical care.

The social justice Democrats’ goal was to dictate insurance provider spending not just on coverage amounts, but also on executive salaries, marketing and other costs. The regulation punished companies with mini-med plans whose high administrative costs were due to frequent worker turnover and relatively low spending on claims — not “greed.” Complying with the provision would have meant tens of thousands of low-income workers would lose their benefits altogether.

Darden Restaurants, the Florida-based parent company of Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Red Lobster and other chains, was a member of the Obamacare waiver early bird special. Their get-out-of-Obamacare card helped spare the company’s health insurance benefits for nearly 34,000 employees. Breathing a sigh of relief that it would allow chains to continue offering all employees access to affordable health insurance, Darden said in a statement in the fall of 2010 that “the waiver allows us to continue to do that as the various phases of the health care law are implemented.”

Fast-forward to 2012. Darden announced last month that it would begin shifting full-time workers to part-time status to save money, cut health costs and circumvent Obamacare’s coverage mandate scheduled for full implementation in 2014. The move would reduce full-time employees’ hours to less than 30 hours a week; part-time workers are exempt from the insurance mandate. McDonald’s, another big Obamacare waiver recipient, is considering the same move.

In fact, a survey of members of the Chain Restaurant Compensation Association (CRCA) conducted last year by Hay Group reported that a whopping 77 percent of “quick serve” restaurant operators said they were considering reducing employee hours to change their status from full-time to part-time. At least one Denny’s restaurant franchise owner in Florida is cutting hours and has openly contemplated an Obamacare surcharge. Jimmy John’s and Papa John’s are also slashing work hours. Applebee’s is mulling a freeze on both hiring and expansion.

The constant in all of these stories is that the cost of well intended progressive policies is inevitably shouldered by the very groups they are designed to help.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:16 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

November 15, 2012

Revenge of The Man Bun

Having previously tortured the assembled villainry with various testosterone-themed delights as the mankini, mancations, mandals, meggings, and manscara, we could not resist this item (warning, should be SFW but regrettably, male brazilians are mentioned), in which a hapless Brooklyn resident turns to the Styles section of the NY Times in search of that elusive sense of not-caring that only comes from slavishly following whatever idiotic fad the Times is hyperventilating nattering about this week.

First up, beards as a weapon of patriarchal oppression:

A beard is a must for any aspiring trendsetter, so I discarded my razor and got to growing. Unfortunately, I can't really grow hair on my cheeks, and the ensuing scruff made me look like a mangy Amish man. So imagine my relief when the Times informed me that, when it came to beards, smugness, not bushiness, was the thing. Some men without beards, the NYT’s Steven Kurutz reports, "are ‘extremely distressed’ by their lack of beard-growing capability. They experience ‘pain and suffering’ and ‘face ridicule’ from their bearded friends. They can even be ‘intimidated by the sight of someone with a great beard.’ ”

As a longtime Internet commenter, I have plenty of experience viciously criticizing people who are different from me. So I stored up some insults and went to Williamsburg's Brooklyn Flea—a weekly food festival and junk market for people fond of plaid shirts and artisanal mayonnaise—to razz the clean-shaven. I spotted the beardless proprietor of a stall selling chalkboards, pot holders, and Sharpie drawings of water towers—the most quintessentially Brooklyn kiosk imaginable. "So, why don't you have a beard?" I asked. "Ha ha, what?" he replied. I ran away.

Mocking strangers to their baby faces was harder than I thought. But if trendiness was easy, then we'd all be silk-screening our own postcards. I decided to give it another go, walking over to a fuzzless man selling eyeglasses. After some small talk, I pounced.

Me: Do the other vendors ever make fun of you for not having a beard?
Vendor: What? What are you talking about?
Me (panicking): You know, 'cause they all seem to have beards and mustaches.
Vendor: Oh, I thought you said beer.
Me: No, I said beard.
Vendor: Yeah, sometimes they do.
Me: Should I make fun of you for not having a beard?
Vendor: Go right ahead!
Me: Your hairless face is disgusting to me.

As he laughed to keep from crying, I walked away victorious, having taught him a lesson he wouldn't soon forget.

"Face ridicule" is one of those delightful phrases that almost begs to be taken out of context. Is the ridicule something to be faced? Or is it a particular type of ridicule - face ridicule, as opposed to butt ridicule? Either way, our undoubted fave has got to be The Man Bun:

In seventh grade, my parents sent me to the orthodontist and paid for braces, which, as it turns out, is yet another way they ruined my life. The Style section reports that the year's trendiest fashion accessory is gap teeth: “These days gap-toothed smiles are regarded not just as a mark of fortune or, as they have been since Chaucer’s day, a sign of sexual rapacity, but also as a positively enviable fashion calling card.” And as everyone knows, nothing goes better with gap teeth than a stupid hairdo: “In certain arty neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bushwick, some men are twisting their long hair into a form more famously worn by librarians, schoolmarms and Katharine Hepburn. But don’t call the male version an up-do or a chignon. Call it a man bun.”

Coincidentally, one of my recurring fantasies involves a gap-toothed schoolmarm inviting me to her Bushwick apartment to watch On Golden Pond. I bunned my longish hair, bought a tube of tooth black, and went to the Agenda: NYC streetwear trade show to mingle with designers and purveyors of trendy fashion accessories. I strolled the aisles baring my blackened teeth at everyone I met. A vendor exhibiting crocheted hats went on and on about how each hat was inscribed with the name of the Ugandan woman who made it. “What do you think of my teeth?” I asked when he finally finished. “Do you think they’re trendy?” At another stall, where a barber was giving free haircuts, I scoffed when I was offered a trim. "My hair is trendy as-is," I said. "It's in a bun, you see."

But they didn’t see, and after several similarly frustrating encounters, I realized that my outfit was unconvincing. I had bought cheap tooth black that smeared when it got wet, and it got wet often, thanks to my untrendy salivary glands. At a stall displaying winter hats that were also earphones, the exhibitor appeared nervous when I asked him to assess my teeth. I knew immediately what was wrong. “Don’t worry, I can fix it,” I said, unsheathing the tooth black and smearing it all over my mouth, such that I looked like a fashion-forward railroad hobo. “What do you think? Is it trendy now?" I asked. The exhibitor didn’t immediately respond, but he didn’t need to. The New York Times had told me everything I need to know.

We can hardly wait 'til the Spousal Unit returns to the marital abode. When he retired from the Marines, we teased him relentlessly about growing a ponytail and getting one ear pierced so he could sport a cubic zirconia stud. Regrettably, he seems unimpressed with our earnestly offered fashion advice.

Maybe he'll be more receptive to The Times?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:18 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

November 14, 2012

The Death of Self Control

If there's anything more certain in life than high ranking public officials thoughtlessly wrecking their careers and personal lives over sex, it's that such public train wrecks will generate reams of equally thoughtless rationalization and navel gazing.

When asked to comment on the mess he created by engaging in an affair with a married woman and mother while ostensibly running the CIA, David Petraeus allowed that he had displayed incredibly bad judgment. In layman's terms, he "screwed up".

Sometimes, it really is that simple.

So it's bizarre to watch so many pundits worrying about online privacy (now there's an oxymoron for the ages) or naively wondering why, oh why the poor General can't keep his job. We've been a fan of General Petraeus over the years. Handed a potential disaster in Iraq, he did a fine job without continually complaining about the mess he'd inherited from his predecessor. Afghanistan was always more complicated but he seems to have performed well there, too.

But the idea that conducting an affair with a woman who has so little judgment, self control, or personal discretion that she engages in cat fights with perceived rivals and lets slip juicy inside gossip about national security matters is a pardonable offense is laughable on its face. As hard as it has become to be shocked in the anything goes, standards-free world we live in, I can't help but find many of the arguments I'm reading deeply troubling.

First, the disclaimers: having been married for well over 3 decades, almost 5 years of which have been spent without the blessings of conjugal visitation, it's not particularly difficult to imagine oneself struggling with attraction to someone other than one's lawfully wedded spouse. It's not hard to imagine the small parade of cascading deceptions that starts with spending too much time alone with someone of the opposite sex - someone you're attracted to. Slowly, imperceptibly, one tiny bad decision leads to another. Something you never thought you'd do - that not-to-be-crossed line in the sand - suddenly becomes something you've already done once. It's the new normal.

The problem, of course, is that these small deceptions beget bigger deceptions. Every time you make up a story, invent an excuse, lie about where you've been (or where you're going, or when you'll be back, or why you seem distracted or aren't giving your job or your marriage the same attention you did before The Big Distraction) puts another stone in the wall between you and your conscience: between you and an inconvenient truth you're neither willing to face honestly nor admit to the world.

Every rule you made for yourself and are now willing to break makes it easier to break other rules. It's just a little lie, laid on top of a pile of other little lies.

This is a problem, especially for people in positions of great power. It used to be well understood that power is a corrupting force - with the opportunities power offers come increased temptations. This is why we used to hold our leaders to a higher standard: we understood that the span of influence and control that comes with leadership positions is a doubled edged sword. They can do more good than the average person, but also more harm.

I'm not sure when we lost this insight, but those who are saying "It's just sex" clearly don't get it. It's not the sex - it's the loss of a powerful idea: that from those to whom much is given (much trust, much power, much admiration and respect), much is also demanded.

As a young Marine officer's wife, I often encountered enlisted wives who would say things like, "It's OK for you. You're married to an officer. You can do whatever you like." And there are undoubtedly officers' wives who behave as though their husband's positions bestow a unearned lattitude on them. But there are so many more who feel the slow constriction on speech, behavior, and freedom that accompanies each promotion their husbands earn.

You are still yourself - an individual with your own opinions, feelings, reactions to those around you. You resent it when others treat you badly and are just as irritated by the normal frustrations of dealing with people as anyone else. But it's not really all about you and your feelings. Yes, you're still human but you also represent the Marine Corps to younger wives, both officer and enlisted. Some of them are watching you to see how you will respond to setbacks, frustrations, hardship.

Over the years, I have been inspired by informal leaders who wore no rank. I noticed how they always made time in their busy schedules, how they knew how many children this Marine had, or that that one's wife's father had just died. Or simply that someone was struggling and needed a friendly shoulder to lean upon. I was inspired by such leaders to try (and mostly fail, and pick myself up and try again) to live up to their example. By watching other women, I learned that if you behave rudely or with disrespect to Marines and their families, the integrity of the institution is damaged. Your husband's reputation is damaged. People think, "If he lets his wife throw her weight around, what does that say about him?? It's not fair, but with the privileges and trappings of rank come obligations. There used to be a term for this: nobless oblige. That position of prominence has a price tag.

Leadership, whether formal or informal, is a powerful force. David Petraeus has earned a nation's respect and gratitude for his many years of service. We can praise his many accomplishments and still understand why he could not remain in office.

That would indeed have been a betrayal of the values he worked for so many years to build in the men and women he led, and we honor his service best when we don't undermine the standards he so long encouraged and upheld in others. We can honor the general, and still feel compassion for the man.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:34 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

November 13, 2012

Coffee Snorters and Other Delights: L'Ennui Edition

The Editorial Staff won't have much time to write this morning so in lieu of our usual vapid meanderings, we offer random items from our browsing history.

If Jean-Paul Sartre had a blog:

Thursday, 20 August, 1959: 2:10 P.M.

If Man exists, God cannot exist, because God’s omniscience would reduce Man to an object. And if Man is merely an object, why then must I pay the onerous fees levied on overdue balances by M. Pelletier at the patisserie? At least this was the argument I raised this morning with M. Pelletier. He seemed unconvinced and produced his huge loutish son Gilles from the back, ominously brandishing a large pastry roller. The pastry roller existed, I can tell you that.


President Obama is considering asking Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to serve as his next defense secretary, part of an extensive rearrangement of his national security team that will include a permanent replacement for former CIA director David H. Petraeus.

Although Kerry is thought to covet the job of secretary of state, senior administration officials familiar with the transition planning said that nomination will almost certainly go to Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Truth be told, we are torn about this. As a blogger, we rather miss the windsurfing, Phrench speaking former junior Senator from Massachusetts.


By the end of this week, states must decide whether they will build a health-insurance exchange or leave the task to the federal government. The question is, with as many as 17 states expected to leave it to the feds, can the Obama administration handle the workload.

“These are systems that typically take two or three years to build,” says Kevin Walsh, managing director of insurance exchange services at Xerox. “The last time I looked at the calendar, that’s not what we’re working with.”

When Walsh meets with state officials deciding whether to build a health exchange, he brings a chart. It outlines how to build the insurance marketplace required under the Affordable Care Act. To call it complex would probably be an understatement:

The longer these folks are in office, the more we're inclined to think the best way to oppose them is to cheerfully hand them more rope.

More of the administration's much vaunted Smart Power in action:

Socialist President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is using President Obama's re-election as a time to publicly criticize him.

Chavez -- who opposes U.S. military involvement around the globe -- says quote -- "He should dedicate himself to governing his country and forget dividing and invading other nations."

Yep - they're just lovin' us.

It's 3 a.m. - do you know what your Cabinet is doing?

Senate Intelligence Committee head Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, called it "a lightning bolt," and it was. Congressional overseers of the intelligence community should have been told far earlier about a monthslong FBI probe that -- in its later stages -- was looking at a possible security breach from an affair by CIA Director David Petraeus. The day Petraeus resigned last week was not the appropriate day to tell Congress.

Nor should the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, have been kept in the dark until Election Day. Clapper then apparently informed the White House.

The most transparent admininstration evah sure seems to have kept an awful lot of secrets from the guy who's supposed to be running things. Looks like the old excuse du jour ("I inherited [fill in blank]") is about to give way to the new excuse du jour ("I had no idea this was going on!").

But that's part of being the boss: you're supposed to know what the folks who work for you are doing.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:39 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

November 12, 2012

The Welfare State, By the Numbers

Whilst the pundit class are busily identifying post election winners and losers and pointing the pointy fingers of opprobrium at all and sundry, Robert Samuelson quietly nails what this election was really all about.

Economic literacy:

If you doubt there’s an American welfare state, you should read the new study by demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, whose blizzard of numbers demonstrates otherwise. A welfare state transfers income from some people to other people to improve the recipients’ well-being. In 1935, these transfers were less than 3 percent of the economy; now they’re almost 20 percent. That’s $7,200 a year for every American, calculates Eberstadt. He says that nearly 40 percent of these transfers aim to relieve poverty (through Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance and the like), while most of the rest goes to the elderly (mainly through Social Security and Medicare).

By all means, let’s avoid the “fiscal cliff”: the $500 billion in tax increases and federal spending cuts scheduled for early 2013 that, if they occurred, might trigger a recession. But let’s recognize that we still need to bring the budget into long-term balance. This can’t be done only by higher taxes on the rich, which seem inevitable. Nor can it be done by deep cuts in defense and domestic “discretionary” programs (from highways to schools), which are already happening. It requires controlling the welfare state. In 2011, “payments for individuals,” including health care, constituted 65 percent of federal spending, up from 21 percent in 1955. That’s the welfare state.

If there are really two Americas, surely the single point of division isn't race, class, sex or culture but rather that so few Americans fully appreciate the extent to which government spending on various welfare programs has grown.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:41 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Real Men Don't Drink Craft Beer

A traditional man rages against the machine that is Kraftbierkulturkampf:

I go to a restaurant in Brooklyn and the sommelier des bières saunters over to the table to discuss Estrella Damm Daura and König Ludwig Weissbier. I stop by a pizza chain in Mount Laurel, N.J., and my best friend spends 15 minutes discussing the marvels of Castelain Two Brothers Diversey & Lill(e) with the waiter.

Then the maître de la Jersey bière appears out of nowhere and rhapsodizes about Goose Island Matilda and Stillwater Existent for another 15 minutes. The subject eventually turns to Southern Tier Iniquity and Flying Dog Underdog Atlantic Lager, as it so often will in pizza chains. Meanwhile, I sit there, meekly sipping my Diet Coke. I am an outcast at life's rich fest.

I used to be able to hold up my end in barroom conversations, because I knew a lot about sports. "What'd you think of the Cowboys running a double reverse on fourth and one Sunday?" I would ask. "Did you know that Barry Bonds has a career on-base percentage of .444?" "OK, which brothers hold the record for most career home runs? If you said 'the DiMaggios,' you guessed wrong." But that was back in the day when people in bars talked about sports. Now they talk about beer. Craft beer.

Lately I seem incapable of escaping from the kraftbierkulturkampf. I go joy riding to admire the autumn foliage and get stuck in an hourlong traffic jam just south of the Bear Mountain Bridge. Why? Craft-beer crowds on the way to Oktoberfest. The martini lounge directly underneath my office folded its tent and has now morphed into a classy craft-beer establishment. My son hits me up for a couple of benjamins so he can buy his friends a round of Obermeister Faust Dummkopf at some glitzy craft-beer saloon.

Last Sunday, on a trip to Philadelphia, I happened upon a local magazine called Philly Beer Scene. It looked like Vanity Fair, with such riveting articles as "Viva La Fungi: Beer's Most Important Ingredient" and " 'Beeradelphia': Finally!" I want people to cut this out right away. I don't want to pull into a small town in the nation's breadbasket and come upon a magazine called Peoria Beer Scene or Redneck Riviera Beer Scene or Coeur d'Alene Beer Scene. I want the madness to stop.

I had tears running down my face.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:15 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

"Houston, We Have an Image Problem"

From Stacy McCain. It's so good, I'm not even going to excerpt it. Just go read and digest it in its entirety.

OK, I lied. I am going to excerpt this part because it's just so good:

The problem is not conservatism, nor is it “centrism,” but rather the success of the Democrat-Media Complex in making the Republican label a negative symbol. To the extent that various GOP candidates or spokesmen cooperated in that project – e.g., “legitimate rape” — then they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. To put it another way, the problem is political and cultural, rather than ideological, and we need to learn to distinguish these categories. Constant invocations of ideology — the claim that any Republican we disagree with is guilty of insufficient fidelity to conservative principle — tend to sow suspicion within our ranks and undermine effective cooperation. This is not to say that there are no RINO sellouts, or that the Charlie Crist/Richard Lugar types don’t do damage to the GOP, but rather to say that ideological deviation cannot be blamed for every problem in the Republican Party.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. I've enjoyed my share of disagreements with Stacy over the years, but when the man's right, he's spot on.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:51 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Continuation of Politics (By Insufficient and Ineffective Means)

Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat the enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst.

- Carl von Clausewitz

In today's Washington Post, Jackson Diehl offers this must read analysis:

Contrary to the usual Republican narrative, Obama did not lead a U.S. retreat from the world. Instead he sought to pursue the same interests without the same means. He has tried to preserve America’s place as the “indispensable nation” while withdrawing ground troops from war zones, cutting the defense budget, scaling back “nation-building” projects and forswearing U.S.-led interventions.

Is “leading from behind” an unfair monicker for this? Then call it the light footprint doctrine. It’s a strategy that supposes that patient multilateral diplomacy can solve problems like Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability; that drone strikes can do as well at preventing another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland as do ground forces in Afghanistan; that crises like that of Syria can be left to the U.N. Security Council.

For the last couple of years, the light footprint worked well enough to allow Obama to turn foreign policy into a talking point for his reelection. But the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 should have been a red flag to all who believe this president has invented a successful new model for U.S. leadership. Far from being an aberration, Benghazi was a toxic byproduct of the light footprint approach — and very likely the first in a series of boomerangs.

...Why were Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans murdered by Libyan jihadists? The preliminary round of official investigations may focus on decisions by mid-level officials at the State Department that deprived the Benghazi mission of adequate security, and a failure by the large CIA team in the city to detect the imminent threat from extremist groups.

But ultimately the disaster in Libya derived from Obama’s doctrine. Having been reluctantly dragged by France and Britain into intervening in Libya’s revolution, Obama withdrew U.S. planes from the fight as quickly as possible; when the war ended, the White House insisted that no U.S. forces stay behind. Requests by Libya’s fragile transition government for NATO’s security assistance were answered with an ill-conceived and ultimately failed program to train a few people in Jordan.

A new report by the Rand Corporation concludes that “this lighter-footprint approach has made Libya a test case for a new post-Iraq and Afghanistan model of nation-building.” But the result is that, a year after the death of dictator Moammar Gaddafi, Libya is policed by what amounts to a mess of militias. Its newly elected government has little authority over most of the country’s armed men — much less the capacity to take on the jidhadist forces gathering in and around Benghazi.

The Rand study concludes that stabilizing Libya will require disarming and demobilizing the militias and rebuilding the security forces “from the bottom up.” This, it says, probably can’t happen without help from “those countries that participated in the military intervention” — i.e. the United States, Britain and France. Can the Obama administration duplicate the security-force-building done in Iraq and Afghanistan in Libya while sticking to the light footprint? It’s hard to see how.

Mr. Diehl's essay is the best and clearest distillation of the deficiencies of "smart power" I've seen. Reading it, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my husband in 2008. At the time, he had just finished a year long deployment in Iraq and although we did not know it at the time, would soon be leaving for another year in Afghanistan. He was enrolled in a series of seminars designed for senior military officers, senior level civilian DoD, State Department, national security, and intelligence personnel and had attended one of their sessions the night before.

The topic was the use of drones, and he had been stunned almost to the point of utter disbelief at the naively expressed solution proposed by some members of the group that evening. Apparently, the signal lesson-learned after the invasion of Iraq was to be ignored. Boots on the ground, a scourge the Bush administration's many critics used repeatedly to great effect, morphed in an instant from an insight so obvious it should never have had to be explained to a quaint example of antiquated thinking: the intellectual equivalent of using Stone Age hand axes to fillet a blue whale and serve it a la tartare in wafer thin slices over Melba toast. Such things simply aren't done these days, at least by those in the know.

Thanks to the wonder of modern technology, war could be prosecuted safely, remotely - and above all, antiseptically! - by unmanned drones guided with surgical precision from a safe (and deniable) distance. The adherents of smart power would never have to get their hands dirty again.

My husband's disgusted reaction made quite an impression on me then. He was right to be disgusted. War is an ugly thing, and no one understands this better than the men and women who devote their lives to defending America. The notion that there is some newfangled, antiseptic, cost free method of dealing with the human capacity for violence is a willfully blind one that should appall us to our very core. Technology empowers us, but it also distances us - if only temporarily - from consequences, from morality, from an honest accounting of the nature of the decisions we make. It allows a President to blithely assert at his inauguration that there is no conflict between our ideals and our national security.

This is an assertion so patently false - so stunningly dishonest - that it should have been greeted with the universal derision it so justly deserved. That's not what happened, though.

So it should surprise no one that a man who promised to restore our moral legitimacy in the eyes of the world now openly brags of personally selecting - without a trace of review or oversight - assassination targets from secret kill lists. That this is a not a deal killer for progressives is one of the things this Marine wife will never understand.

Not to worry, though. Under Obama, we have clean hands:

Armed Liberal wrote about the problem of those who 'keep their hands clean,' never hunting, buying meat prepackaged and without an awareness of the moral cost. I disagree: there is no moral cost. We are monsters who butcher though it creates mounds of gore: who sever heads, and find it moves us though we know not why.

But it isn't killing that makes us monsters. We are exactly that same kind of creature, whether we have ever killed or not.

The moral problem of 'the clean hands' is that it is an illusion. It makes people believe they are better than they are, and therefore that others can also be better than they can be. It creates a class of people who feel clean, because they have never felt blood on their hands.

Yet all these things arise from things buried deep in the genetic code. You cannot walk away from them. The failure to experience these things does not mean you would not react to them in just the same way as everyone else: it only means that you cannot understand how you would react, and how others do.

The man with clean hands is just the same as the hunter. It is only that he does not know it. He does not understand that part of his soul, as it lurks beyond his experience. He comes to believe that there is a kind of human that is and can be clean: perhaps that sweet, aged lady on the corner, who in her youth broke necks every night before dinner.

Failing to understand what Man really is, he opens himself more than is wise, and defends himself less. The man with the clean hands believes in diplomacy but not the force that makes diplomacy viable. He believes in staying clean, because he believes it makes him better than you. He does not understand that it only makes him blind.

This is not a call to amoralism, but precisely the opposite. It is a call for true morality, which can only begin with awareness of sin. It can only come from a recognition of how deep-set, how permanent, how personal sin is in each of us.

It is only in that way that we can begin to put real chains on sin: by recognizing the truth about it. We must learn to face the truth about ourselves, so that we can better ourselves: we must learn to face the truth about others, so we will recognize when murder is in their hearts.

I disagree with my old friend Grim thus far: there is a moral cost to everthing we do because the capacity for moral reckoning and accountability is the thing that distinguishes human beings from animals. The only real question is, are we willing to face the cost squarely?

Posted by Cassandra at 08:52 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

November 11, 2012

A Little Ray of Schadenfreude

Because we care, the Editorial Staff have not one, but several unseemly displays of schadenfreude teed up for you. First off, our More Evolved Brethren across the pond are shocked - shocked, we tell you! - to learn that their well intentioned tax on fatty foods backfired in all the deliciously predictable ways haters just like you foresaw:

The measure, introduced a little over a year ago, was believed to be the world's first so-called "fat tax".

Foods containing more than 2.3% saturated fat - including dairy produce, meat and processed foods - were subject to the surcharge.

But authorities said the tax had inflated food prices and put Danish jobs at risk.

The Danish tax ministry said it was also cancelling its plans to introduce a tax on sugar, the AFP news agency reports.

The ministry said one of the effects of the fat tax was that some Danes had begun crossing the border into Germany to stock up on food there.

Mein Gott im Himmel! Who could have guess this would happ.... err... never mind.

Second: where, O where have we heard this sort of thing before?

Do you want to know why the power is STILL off on Long Island, Davenport? Read this ...In it you will find reference to a report from 2006, SIX YEARS AGO, which found that Long Island Power Authority had not done the basic maintenance required to secure the power grid from weather damage. The maintenance they're talking about here is tree cutting mostly, and replacing bad power poles.

...every time they go to cut down a tree, some local Greenies get up a petition or a court order to make them stop. So they stop. So the trees break and knock down the power lines.

Evil, Gaia-raping corporate hegemonist b**tards and their Landscapes of Privilege. Who could have predicted something like this would happ....?

Finally, this story via the always informative Walter Olsen. On election day ignorant, confused Maryland Republicans (was that redundant?) were so overcome by their Pathological Fear and Hatred of a Black President that a fair number of the poor idjuts plumb forgot how very much we are supposed to Fear and Hate gay marriage. If only the Washington Post had been around to remind us of what we think:

On November 6 President Obama carried the state of Maryland by a more than comfortable 62-37 margin over Mitt Romney, while Question 6, the same-sex marriage law, was passing by a much narrower 52-48 edge. The Washington Post, reporting on AP's Election Day opinion survey, gave its story an accurate if unsurprising headline: "Exit polls: Maryland voters who backed Obama also favored same-sex marriage." Yes, Democratic voters did tend to favor the history-making same-sex marriage law, and Republicans did tend to oppose it. But that tends to conceal a more interesting story. The Maryland contest produced extensive "ticket-splitting" in both directions: even as same-sex marriage was being battled over in some solidly Democratic areas, it was winning surprise victories on Republican turf elsewhere.

Olsen points out that majority black PG county and the city of Baltimore went 87-90% for Obama, yet gay marriage garnered between 30 (Baltimore) and 39% (PG country) less support from these diehard Obama voters. Now if these good folks had been Romney voters, this shameless behavior would be proof positive that Republicans are bigoted homophobes. Luckily for the Washington Post, enlightened folks know that only white Republicans (including those who voted for Question 6) can be properly classified as bigoted homophobes. If 'tis a sin not to support gay marriage, the simple act of voting for Obama appears to wipe it clean out of the memory of our hometown paper. Quoth Olsen:

At the same time, though, a significant number of Marylanders were splitting their tickets the opposite way, voting for Romney (or, occasionally, for Libertarian Gary Johnson) and then approving Question 6. In fact county-level results reveal that across wide swaths of Republican territory in Maryland, same-sex marriage actually ran well ahead of Barack Obama and the Democratic ticket. That means there were many, many Romney voters who voted for the same-sex marriage law -- enough, in fact, that without them the measure would almost certainly have lost by a mile.

...Two major bulwarks of Republican strength in Maryland, Anne Arundel and Frederick Counties, went both for Romney and for same-sex marriage. The two counties have been home to some of the state's best- known anti-gay politicians, such as Del. Don Dwyer of Anne Arundel and former Sen. Alex Mooney of Frederick. Frederick County especially, where I live, is famed as a right-wing stronghold: this year, for example, it sided with conservative Republican Senate challenger Dan Bongino, even as Bongino was going down by a two-to-one margin to incumbent Democrat Ben Cardin statewide. And as it backed the Romney-Bongino ticket, Frederick County was breaking in favor of gay marriage 51-49.

Keep in mind that we're talking about Fredneck County, where impoverished black and brown cows paint their faces white and cower in fear of "violent rhetoric" emanating from the rabid packs of elderly, white Republicans who roam our hills and dales looking for trouble. The whole area is frighteningly white, we might say (were we fond of that sort of racially tinged invective). On the bright side, with all the narrative-challenging and unexpected consequences floating around this weekend, we're beginning to believe the next four years might be downright fun.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:01 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 07, 2012

Divide and Conquer

The Editorial Staff went to bed last night well before the election was called. At that time, Romney was ahead in the electoral count but we did not have a good feeling about the outcome. With a migraine coming on and work to do in the morning, we thought it best to get some sleep.

It's remarkable, though not surprising, to see some of the arguments being made this morning by Obama supporters. EJ Dionne seems not only unashamed but openly proud that the President won by "unleashing an army of African-American and Latino voters". That argument, while unarguably true, ought to disturb anyone who believes that we are human beings and Americans first and members of some identity group second. It ought to disturb anyone who, like Martin Luther King, reminded us that our intellect, values, and character ought to matter more than the number of melanocytes in our skin. One of Dionne's commenters raises a compelling objection to his race and gender-obsessed world view: a political strategy based on appeals to subgroup solidarity is inherently divisive - it places the focus on racial or gender identity and self interest rather than the common good.

Citizens who see important public policy issues decided, not on the basis of sober reflection, debate, or compromise but by race-based voter blocs are unlikely to consider such matters as fairly "settled":

Don't see how you can call a nation divided 50-50 one that is settled. The most divisive president has won reelection by scaring the heck out of his constituency: blacks were told they would be returned to slavery and put back in chains, Hispanics were told they would be rounded up and deported, women were told they would no longer have access to proper healthcare, that abortions would become illegal and contraceptives would be taken off the market, and young people were told that being cool was more important than being effective.

It's worth noting that the entire strategy of Obama's successful re-election bid was based on the explicit encouragement of what the Founders considered a profoundly destructive and devisive force inimical to the survival of the Republic - that of faction. Ads from the Obama campaign openly argued that voters should not trust or support someone who was "not one of Us". It was an appeal to hatred, ressentiment, and distrust rather than to common interest or national identity. It emphasized the many things that divide us rather than the many that could bring us together:

As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time; yet what are many of the most important acts of legislation, but so many judicial determinations, not indeed concerning the rights of single persons, but concerning the rights of large bodies of citizens? And what are the different classes of legislators but advocates and parties to the causes which they determine? Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them. Yet the parties are, and must be, themselves the judges; and the most numerous party, or, in other words, the most powerful faction must be expected to prevail. Shall domestic manufactures be encouraged, and in what degree, by restrictions on foreign manufactures? are questions which would be differently decided by the landed and the manufacturing classes, and probably by neither with a sole regard to justice and the public good. The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets.

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.

The inference to which we are brought is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.

There's an opportunity here for conservatives, if we are willing to open our minds a bit and seize it.

If this election proves anything, it's that "armies" of blacks, Latinos, and women can be driven by explicit appeals to fear and distrust. I'm a woman, and if I'm brutally honest, I have to admit just how alienated I've been by the public statements of many conservatives about women over the years. And these are people I mostly agree with on the issues.

It didn't change my vote, but it tested my resolve on more than one occasion.

I have voted conservative for over 30 years, but listening to the rhetoric of conservative politicians I want to support is often disheartening and discouraging. If a voter who has consistently supported conservatives for so many years reacts this way, stop to think for a moment how much more these statements offend the folks we're trying to persuade?

We have been dealt a stunning setback. How conservatives react is up to us.

We can react by doubling down on a strategy that not only failed to persuade enough voters but actively offended loyal conservatives. Or we can learn from our mistakes. Pandering to gays, women, blacks, and Latinos is profoundly un-conservative. We don't want to divide the country - to the contrary, we need to unite it by appealing to something larger than race, gender, or what is narrowly called pure self interest.

What we need is Reagan's big tent. We need to stop being afraid of the fact that people with different life experiences and cultures will naturally have different views and interests and embrace this unalterable fact. Identity groups share certain interests, but they also have diverse values.

Why not turn Obama's racial and sex-tinged divide and conquer strategy on its head by explicitly asking for the votes of women, blacks, gays, Hispanics - as distinct groups - but doing so in a manner that stresses the values we share rather than the ones that divide us?

What I hope for - what I pray for - is that my party will stop assuming the worst about people who don't see things our way and instead, try to find common ground. It exists. I know it does because I have friends and family who are Democrats and they are every bit as worried about the defict and this country's future as I am. We need to learn how to talk to these folks, and we don't do so by turning up the volume and thoughtlessly feeding them back arguments that have failed to persuade them in the past - the ones we find persuasive.

We do it by finding out what arguments they find persuasive. The Obama campaign took the shortcut and appealed to fear, but there are other appeals: love of country, justice, fairness (and an honest discussion of what that entails). Enlightened self interest.

It's remarkable that the Romney campaign only lost a race against an incumbent President by a few percentage points. Romney was widely criticized for demonstrating insufficient conservative ardor, but in hindsight he was at his most effective and persuasive in that first debate when - for the first time - voters saw a different man from the one in all those negative political ads.

The country is changing, but reading Federalist #10 reminds us of a powerful insight: the factions and interests that divide us today have always existed. There is - truly - nothing new under the sun.

But America is founded on a powerful ideal - the desire to be a part of a great experiment in liberty and self governance. That vision is one that asks much of every American. It requires that we foster a sense of common purpose and identity. There are few more diverse groups than the United States military, and yet we work, play, and live together to a far greater degree than our civilian counterparts because we are continually urged to look beyond our own backgrounds and focus on a common purpose and mission. I've seen the military work wonders on people from all walks of life because it appeals to a deep need shared by all human beings: the need to belong to something larger than ourselves; something work working for, sacrificing for, even dying for. It's an appeal to love rather than hate and distrust.

The America we need to build for our children is not one where racial factions vie for a bigger slice of the pie, but one where people of all races and backgrounds are asked to come with us on this journey: to be a part of creating a better tomorrow for our children and grandchildren.

We need to invite them - to appeal to those better angels that attend the nature of every person, be they black, white, Hispanic, male, female, or trangendered Arctic wolf. Reagan got this because for most of his life, he was a Democrat. He knew how to talk to Democrats.

This is a skill we must learn. Discuss amongst your ownselves, haters.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:25 AM | Comments (94) | TrackBack

November 06, 2012

Voting: Possibly the Best Revenge After All

...for having been forced to endure months of moronic and insulting political ads directed at our nether regions.

Plus, there's the whole elephant thing:

Posted by Cassandra at 06:15 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

It's a Conspiracy, I Tell Ya!!!

Election idiocy watch:

A Pennsylvania electronic voting machine has been taken out of service after being captured on video changing a vote for President Obama into one for Mitt Romney, NBC News has confirmed.

Obviously, this means Mitt Romney is trying to steal the election. With his mind....

Never mind the inconvenient fact that there were several reports of uncalibrated voting machines switching Romney votes to votes for Obama earlier this week.

It happened in Colorado:

The Colorado Secretary of State is investigating a situation in Pueblo County, Colorado.

Lindsay Watts reports some voters say the machines automatically switched their votes from Mitt Romney to President Obama.

And Ohio.

As reported by the Marion Star, voting problems sprung up with the touch screen voting machines. When Mitt Romney was selected, Barack Obama was highlighted instead.

Joan Stevens was one of several early voters at the polls on Monday. But when Stevens tried to cast her ballot for president, she noticed a problem.

Upon selecting "Mitt Romney" on the electronic touch screen, Barack Obama's name lit up.

It took Stevens three tries before her selection was accurately recorded.

"You want to vote for who you want to vote for, and when you can't it's irritating," Stevens said.

When Stevens reported the problem, she was initially told that the "machine had been having problems all day." If the machine had been having problems, it should have been taken offline. Continuing to use a machine that is faulty is irresponsible.

Also North Carolina and Kansas.


This is why voting requires the participation of a human being, hopefully one with a functioning brain. The good news is that now that one of these machines has been observed changing a Dem vote into a Republican one, the issue has the full and undivided attention of the unbiased professionals at MSNBC.

A new study from the Pew Research Center found that from mid-August through mid-October, MSNBC's coverage of Mitt Romney and Fox News' coverage of President Barack Obama was drastically negative. Take a look at this incredible graphic from Pew, which shows the split between positive and negative coverage of each candidate:

MSNBC, obviously, has an even more absurd split. On average, for every single positively toned clip they aired of Romney during that time period, they aired 23 negatively toned clips. Fox had about an 8-to-1 negative-to-positive split.

"These made them unusual among channels or outlets that identified themselves as news organizations," Pew deadpanned.

Thank God the press are on this important late-breaking news story. We feel better, knowing we can trust them to report the news honestly and hold nothing back that voters might need to know to cast an informed vote.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


The Editorial Staff could have gone a very long time without contemplating The Firmness of the Presidential Tuckus:

... Lena Dunham didn’t last long as the voice of a newly self-aware generation of young women who openly acknowledged the awkwardness — and, perhaps, the undesirability — of sex sans commitment. First, it was the ad that managed to combine my 6th-grade sex-ed class with my 6th-grade government class; it told us to vote for the president because he cares a lot about birth control and abortion, and we should love men who never want us to have their children, and care that we can always abort them, or something like that.

Today, she was sounding more like my friends circa 8th grade, when she gushed on Twitter that “you could bounce a quarter off [Obama's] butt”...

This is no partisan slight, mind you. Somehow we have managed to get through the entire election season without once pondering the thankfully unrevealed magnificence of Mitt Romney's glutes.

Must be a generational thing. Then again, perhaps not.

What is wrong with these people?

Posted by Cassandra at 03:25 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Election Day Thoughts

Now entertain conjecture of a time
When creeping murmur and the poring dark
Fills the wide vessel of the universe.

From camp to camp through the foul womb of night
The hum of either army stilly sounds,
That the fixed sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other's watch:

Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each battle sees the other's umber'd face;
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
Piercing the night's dull ear,

And from the tents The armourers,
accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation:

The country cocks do crow, the clocks do toll,
And the third hour of drowsy morning name.

- Henry V, Act IV Prologue

There's an odd quiet in the air this morning. Pale sunlight filters weakly through branches turned suddenly bare and wakens glittering hills dusted with the first heavy frost of the coming winter. Even the cows are oddly silent. Most mornings, the jocular mooing of bovine rush hour drifts between the houses across the street as black and white cattle move here and there, doing whatever it is busy cows do of a morning. But not today. Not even the birds seem willing to break the heavy silence.

On Saturday, we flew to California.

As long as I live, I don't think I'll ever get over the sheer wonder of flying. In between reading and working, I gazed out the window as the landscape changed from lush green to thinly forested, rolling hills bisected with rivers to flat plains carved into rectangles or painted with green and gold irrigated circles: crops destined for a table in some far away burg, or for livestock or manufacturing or any one of a gazillion uses conjured up by the mind of man: the domesticating animal. Mountains rose jaggedly and the green turned to black and brown, finally fading into the pale tan of the high desert. Clusters of buildings and roads grew more infrequent, then downright rare.

Mist clung stubbornly to rivers and stream beds or thickened into dense, glowing blankets of clouds. For an instant, I imagined striding across them in my bare feet, knowing I wouldn't fall so long as I didn't think of the ground below. Focus.

And then, suddenly, Los Angeles, sweeping out as far as the eye could see like the Land of Oz. I've flown over so many cities but the sheer immensity of LA never fails to fill me with wonder and a vague sense of forboding. For an instant, I imagined the Pacific rising to cover the dusty, flat expanse. How little it takes to disrupt the elaborate house of cards we call civilization: the delicate supply chain that makes it possible to build a city in the middle of the barren desert; to feed emerald green golf courses thickly forested with palm trees and exotic flowers and luxury homes with terra cotta roofs and private swimming pools.

We forget how interconnected and interdependent we are. The miracle of civilization isn't uppermost in our minds as we cruise the produce aisle at the nearest Whole Paycheck, selecting grapes from Chile, strawberries from just down the road, lettuces from some state a thousand miles away. All this abundance just appears without our having to think about it, and we pull a plastic card from our wallets and pay with digital money and often don't even think about the total.

On the flight back Sunday night, the inky landscape was dotted with stars: the power grid that heats our homes and beats back the dark with lights that magically come on with a simple flick of a switch.

Throughout this election season, I've been struggling to find an organizing construct to help make sense of the relationship between government and private enterprise and industry. The closest I've been able to come is that I want government to do for us those things individual families and people can't do for themselves.

Individuals can take steps to protect their homes and possessions, but we can't protect a territory that stretches over 50 states and thousands of miles. We can take steps to keep ourselves fed, to save for retirement or illness or simply for a rainy day but a family can't build an interstate highway that stretches from sea to shining sea.

We can regulate our own behavior, but individuals and families cannot create and enforce a system of laws that regulates the behavior of millions - making the constant stream of traffic on 12 lane highways flow with amazing speed and order, or ensuring that most of us can walk down most any street without weapons. We send our children off to school or go to work and we expect order: peace. The horrible exceptions to this general rule are just that - exceptions. They are rare, and so we are shocked by them because they violate conditions we have come to take for granted: prosperity, order, plenty.

But somewhere along the line, we forgot the fundamentals. Our parents and grandparents worked hard to keep the wolf from the door.

We have forgotten that the wolf exists at all, and so we vote for politicians who assure us that we shouldn't "have to" struggle - the existential challenges our forebears took pride in mastering are transformed by the alchemy of rhetoric into assaults on our basic human rights. We aspire, not to escape hunger or privation or to build a secure future for our children, but to possess as much as our neighbor does.

Anything less is economic injustice. Inconvenience is hyped until it becomes an unacceptable sacrifice of human dignity.

Yes, you read that correctly. Someone actually wrote those words. Mind you, there are still sane people to be found - ones who understand, for instance, that it costs states money to allow early voting:

A common question I see is, “If people are waiting five hours to vote for early voting, how bad will it be on Election Day?” Actually, there are plenty of legitimate logistical reasons that voters have to wait in line for early voting but may not have to wait that long on the big day. When one goes to vote on Election Day, one goes to a church or a school or community center that is in your precinct, or a similar location that houses several precincts but is still close by. But you can’t have schools and churches open for early voting for an entire month, so early voting necessarily takes place at fewer locations.

Further, you would have a hard time staffing wider polling hours. The kindly old folks who staff our precinct might look like sweet volunteers, but they are pocketing more than $100 a day. That adds up in smaller counties and rural areas with tight budgets.
I still remember going with my parents to vote when I was growing up. Our polling place was my elementary school, and we would stand quietly behind our parents when they went into the mysterious booth and made all those mysterious grown-up decisions. I looked forward to the privilege and responsibility. And I have voted in every election—and almost every primary—since I turned 18, whether it was local or presidential, or whether I lived in a swing state or the bluest of blue states. I think that everyone should have a fair shot at getting to the polls. Early voting and absentee voting are great, and making Election Day a holiday would provide a great civics lesson for new generations of voters. The system could be better, but the system—at least in Ohio—is not broken.

There are even people who understand that we don't actually have a Constitutional right to vote:

... the Constitution never explicitly ensures the right to vote, as it does the right to speech, for example. It does require that Representatives be chosen and Senators be elected by "the People," and who comprises "the People" has been expanded by the aforementioned amendments several times. Aside from these requirements, though, the qualifications for voters are left to the states. And as long as the qualifications do not conflict with anything in the Constitution, that right can be withheld. For example, in Texas, persons declared mentally incompetent and felons currently in prison or on probation are denied the right to vote.

Flying across the country, I was continually awed by the complex network of individual bargains, laws, contracts, and simple handshake agreements that makes the world we live in possible. This amazing human infrastructure exists because - in order to gain cooperation and resources from people who may not share our values - we are required to offer them something they value in exchange for what we value. We cannot force or coerce their participation in this great experiment we call America: the simple requirement to provide value for value provides a powerful limiting force on selfishness and greed. This force is not perfect - we still need some laws to regulate the minority of people who, if given the chance, will run roughshod over anything in their path.

But by and large, it works. The requirements of self interest limit us to what we can gain by bargain or mutual assent.

This President wants to change the system that built the prosperity and plenty I glimpsed from the window of a Southwest airlines jet. Commerce, which has for centuries been voluntary and accomplished by the appeal to mutual advantage, is now to be enforced by a third party whose power and might dwarf those of any business or private entity: government.

The stakes could not be higher. Please vote. Vote to preserve over 200 years of continual human progress. Vote to keep government a servant rather than a master. Vote to distribute power to individuals who cooperate for mutual advantage rather than concentrating it in the hands of a disconnected elite intent upon confiscating the fruit of our productive labor and redistributing it to their cronies or buying votes with it.

Vote for an executive who will uphold the law rather than ignoring it.

No matter who wins this election, your vote and your voice do count.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:01 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

November 05, 2012

"He's Obama...."

"Let me take a moment and think about that":


Posted by Cassandra at 07:19 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Reality Bites Reality-Based Community on Tuckus

Via Memeorandum, early returns on the Obama administration's signal legislative achievement begin to trickle in:

Some low-wage employers are moving toward hiring part-time workers instead of full-time ones to mitigate the health-care overhaul's requirement that large companies provide health insurance for full-time workers or pay a fee.

Several restaurants, hotels and retailers have started or are preparing to limit schedules of hourly workers to below 30 hours a week. That is the threshold at which large employers in 2014 would have to offer workers a minimum level of insurance or pay a penalty starting at $2,000 for each worker.

The shift is one of the first significant steps by employers to avoid requirements under the health-care law, and whether the trend continues hinges on Tuesday's election results.

As if reducing access to full time jobs weren't bad enough, it's beginning to look as though ObamaCare's much vaunted cost controls will also reduce access to medical care for the group of Americans who need it most: senior citizens. But wait! There's more hope and change! It turns out that private insurers are raising their premiums in anticipation of ObamaCare changes:

In Ohio, a study by the actuarial firm Milliman found that Obamacare will increase individual-market premiums by 55 to 85 percent in 2017, relative to what they would have been under prior law. A survey by the Physicians Foundation found that, if Medicare cuts physician fees by another 10 percent, as Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board effectively requires, 30 percent of doctors will place “new or additional limits on Medicare acceptance,” with 24 percent accepting no new Medicare patients altogether.

In Wisconsin, a report by Obama health-care adviser Jonathan Gruber projects that individual-market premiums will increase by 30 percent in 2016 relative to prior law. The Physicians Foundation survey, which polled physicians in every state, found that 27 percent of Wisconsin physicians would limit Medicare access under a fee cut, with 22 percent cutting off new Medicare patients.

In Colorado, Gruber projected individual-market premium increases of 19 percent by 2016. Twenty-nine percent of physicians plan to limit Medicare access, with 29 percent also saying they will stop accepting new retirees.

In Minnesota, Gruber projected individual-market premium increases of 29 percent by 2016, with 25 percent of physicians limiting Medicare access and 19 percent saying they will stop accepting new Medicare patients completely. Minnesotans will be particularly hard hit by Obamacare’s cuts to Medicare Advantage, as 47 percent of Minnesota seniors are enrolled in the program, compared to the national average of 27 percent.

In Nevada, a study by Gorman Actuarial found that individual-market premiums will increase by 11 to 30 percent by 2016. A notably high 44 percent of Nevada physicians say they will place limits on Medicare acceptance, with 24 percent saying they will stop taking any new Medicare patients.

In Florida, 30 percent of doctors say they will limit Medicare access and 27 percent say they will stop accepting new patients. Twenty-eight percent of doctors in Virginia say they will limit access, with 23 percent ceasing acceptance of new patients. In New Hampshire, the percentages are 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

At the company I work for, our health care premiums are going up 19% this year alone. And that's before the new tax on our (now more expensive!) "Cadillac" health plan.
Reducing the supply of full time jobs, reducing access to Medicare, and raising rates on those insurance policies the administration said we'd be able to keep. It's enough to make you think that reality may not have a liberal bias, after all.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:44 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack