27 May 2010

Isn't This What You Expected All Along?

NY Times: BP Used Riskier Method to Seal Oil Well Before Blast
Several days before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, BP officials chose, partly for financial reasons, to use a type of casing for the well that the company knew was the riskier of two options, according to a BP document.
LA Times: Rig mechanic says BP was in a rush despite problems

Maybe They Are Nuts

Mother Jones: Why Did North Korea Do It?

Why? Even by North Korean standards, torpedoing a South Korean ship is nuts. What on earth were they thinking?

Incompetency In Washington

Forbes: The Inept Financial Reform Bill

Politicians who vote for it aren't serious about fixing the U.S. banking system.

Anger Grows Against Washington Politics

CBS News: Poll Finds Americans Pessimistic, Dissatisfied with Washington

Americans are frustrated with nearly everyone in Washington - including President Obama, Congress, and the Democratic and Republican parties - and have become increasingly pessimistic about what the future holds, according to a new CBS News poll.

Seven in ten Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in Washington, including 22 percent who say they are "angry" about the situation. Just 15 percent overall approve of the job being done by Congress.

Opinions of both parties, meanwhile, are at or near historic lows: 55 percent of those surveyed hold unfavorable views of Republicans, and 54 percent hold unfavorable views of Democrats.

Here's One We Can Squarely Pin On The Baby-Boomers

This is something that the rest of us noticed over a decade ago. But its good to see the NY Times finally realize it ...

NY Times: 2010’s Debates Still Trapped in the 1960s

Why then ... is our political debate so stuck in a moment it cannot get out of? In part, it is probably because so many of the Americans most engaged in politics — as well as those who run campaigns and comment endlessly on them — are old enough to remember Altamont.

It is your classic self-fulfilling prophecy: the more the ’60s generation dominates the political discourse, the less that discourse engages younger voters, and the longer the boomers hold sway over our politics.

26 May 2010

Video From Poli-Tea

Ayann Hirsi Ali Against American Doctors Who Want To "Nick" Girl's Clitoris

Why Are American Doctors Mutilating Girls? by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently put forward a proposal on female genital mutilation. They would like that American doctors be given permission to perform a ceremonial pinprick or “nick” on girls born into communities that practice female genital mutilation.

There is a more sinister meaning to the word “nick” if you consider the fact that in some cases it means to cut off the peak of the clitoris. Proponents compare “nicking” to the ritual of boy circumcision. But in the case of the boys, it is the foreskin that is all or partly removed and not a part of the penis head. In the case of the girls, the clitoris is actually mutilated.

Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) recently introduced a bill to toughen federal laws by making it a crime to take a girl overseas to be circumcised. He argued, rightly, that FGM serves no medical purpose and is rightfully banned in the U.S.

To understand this problem, we need to begin with parental motives. The “nicking” option is regarded as a necessary cleansing ritual. The clitoris is considered to be an impure part of the girl-child and bleeding it is believed to make her pure and free of evil spirits.

But the majority of girls are subjected to FGM to ensure their virginity—hence the sewing up of the opening of the vagina—and to curb their libido to guarantee sexual fidelity after marriage—hence the effective removal of the clitoris and scraping of the labia. Think of it as a genital burqa, designed to control female sexuality.

When the motive for FGM is to ensure chastity before marriage and to curb female libido, then the nick option is not sufficient.

Even if we were to consider tolerating it in its most limited form, how could we tell that parents who want to ensure that their daughter will be a virgin on her wedding night will not have her (legally) nicked and then a few months later (illegally) infibulated? I applaud the compassion for children that inspires the pediatricians’ proposal, but they need to eliminate this risk for little girls.

Quote of the Day

The fact is, Mexico has two big exports, oil, and their second-biggest export is poverty to the United States, from which, in remittances sent back to Mexico, they get $21 billion a year. Mr. Calderon has a stake in illegal immigration to our country. -- George Will

Now We Must Carry On Without North Korea's Help

Telegraph: North Korea leaves the South to struggle on alone

There is magnificence in the headline North Korea cuts all ties with the South. As if the apparatchiks of Pyongyang have had enough of propping up the capitalist world, and are determined to let it fend for itself.

To show that it is in earnest, North Korea has expelled southerners from joint industrial projects: that’ll show ‘em.

25 May 2010

F1 Racing comes to Texas

Formula1 racing hasn't visited the United States since 2007 at Indianapolis. Several venues have been negotiating for the venue and with the United States being the number one market for many of the teams and suppliers such as Ferrari and Mercedes, the pressure for F1 to return to the states was high. Austin, Texas was not on anyone's radar based on anything I've read. It should be great.

Formula One racing is coming back to the United States in 2012 with a long-term
deal to race in Austin on a track built specifically for the event.
Formula One, city and Texas state officials announced the agreement Tuesday, saying Austin would host the U.S. Grand Prix until 2021.
The race was dropped after an eight-year run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 2000-2007 with mixed results. The most notable blemish occurred in 2005 when 14 of 20 drivers pulled off the track just before the race started as a protest over concerns about tire safety.
Formula One president Bernie Ecclestone said the race in the Texas
capital would mark the first time a course would be built specifically for an F1
race in the United States.
Before its run in Indianapolis, Formula One had been hosted by Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix on city street circuits. The race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was run on a road course built inside the oval track.
Tavo Hellmund, managing partner of race promoter Full Throttle Productions, said the Austin track and grandstand would be built "within 10 miles" of the Austin airport. Hellmund said the track will be at least 3 miles long. He declined to release further details, including the size of the grandstand and total cost.
Austin city officials and Texas Comptroller Susan Combs helped promoters pitch the location. Hellmund said the facility would be privately financed and will not use public money.
"The visibility and prestige of this event will spotlight our state on an international stage," Combs said in a statement.
Austin, with a metro area population of about 1.7 million, is a three-hour drive or less from Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Hellmund said Austin had to compete with interest for the race "from New York to Miami."
F1 officials who visited Austin were impressed with the city and the
plan to build a Grand Prix-specific course, Hellmund said.
"You don't put Austin in same sentence as Monaco or Singapore, but everyone was blown away," Hellmund said. "Austin has grown up ... I think they fell in love with the city. It isn't a one-trick pony where we're going to set up a street
course."Formula One officials have not yet set a date for the 2012 race.

24 May 2010

Concerns Of Political Class Out Of Sync

To me, there are three big stories right now:
  • First: The catastrophe of the Gulf oil spill, which is making be more angry and frustrated by the day. BP's efforts to downplay the problem irritates me even more. The blame game is even more frustrating. What is needed is some real leadership. It is becoming increasingly clear that they were operating without any backup, and have little idea how to stop the biggest environmental disaster of our generation (so far).

  • Second: North Korea. Once upon a time, their attack would have been seen as an act of war. Now, the chances of a full-blown war are still remote, but it illustrates how rational, civilized nations can be held hostage by the irrational and desperate. A few years back, two American servicemen tragically and accidentally ran over and killed two South Korean schoolgirls during a military exercise. The result was anti-American protests, and much vitriol directed at the U.S.A.

    Now, the North Koreans intentionally attacked and killed 46 Korean sailors, and the response from the South Korean public is muted.

    Now of course, it is because the South Koreans realized what is at stake. Not just their prosperity, but their lives are at risk. But doing nothing, or too little, will surely embolden the North Koreans?

  • Third, the financial problems with the Euro and European debt are still at risk of spreading. Not good. This has the potential for some serious economic disruption. Hopefully, someone in charge in Washington will wake up and see the problems that come from running up too much debt. But I doubt it.

So I turn on the TV tonight, and what are the talking heads discussing? The Democratic Congressional nominee Sestak was offered a job at the White House as a lure for him to drop his run against Specter. This is the most important problem to our media and political class?

You have got to be kidding me.

21 May 2010

BP Tries To Coverup Disaster, Turns It Into Catastrophe

Reuters: BP swamped by criticism; spilled oil keeps coming

* Company denies coverup, says providing information
* Revises downwards oil amount being captured from leak
* BP faces mounting U.S. government and public anger

Anger, skepticism and accusations of lying washed over energy giant BP Plc on Friday as it desperately pursued efforts to contain a month-old seabed well leak billowing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. lawmakers and scientists have accused BP of trying to conceal what many believe is already the worst U.S. oil spill, eclipsing the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska. It represents a potentially catastrophic environmental and economic disaster for the U.S. Gulf coast.

The Need For America To Inspire

Car and Driver: From Orbit, You Can’t see America Sliding Backward into Mediocrity

NASA’s slow stall parallels Detroit’s. The new Constellation moon program was just canned in President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal, and 7000 jobs will evaporate at the space center when the shuttles are parked. Expertise will boil off like liquid hydrogen on a hot plate, and America’s manned space glory will begin to fade in its rear view.

Politicians often tell us that the U.S. is No. 1, but occasionally the rank and file needs proof with something besides the per-capita consumption of chicken nuggets. Call us simplistic; say we’re drunk on the tonic of superficial symbology, but We the People need occasional collective amazement as much as we need an affordable doctor. We need feats and triumphs and technological wow moments, so we can point and say, “We did that.” It’s even better if those triumphs light up a night sky.

Or an auto-show stand.

You may not get warm reading technical briefs on a hydrogen-powered vehicle that seats seven and goes 17,500 mph, but there’s a good chance the people engineering your next car do. A country that desires its engineers and technicians to keep the pace must demonstrate that it values their work, that it offers a future to them besides continuous frustration and third-place finishes.

Mike Ger, an old friend sharing the damp grass with us, is master’s degreed in mechanical engineering and bonkers for cars. While we wait, he tells us how he was begged, literally begged, by his faculty advisor at the university to stay on and get a doctorate because the advisor hadn’t had an American Ph.D. engineering candidate in seven years. Ger eventually left hidebound GM for the greater opportunities offered by the still-innovating software industry.

What, we wonder in the idle hours of a near-freezing night in February, will our politicians tell us if China stages the next moon landing? Or builds the first usable electric car at an affordable price?

At 4:14 the next morning, Endeavour rode its own sunrise into space, Old Glory branded on the starboard wing. Four-and-a-half minutes later, it was 65 miles high, a flickering pinpoint dropping to the horizon.

At the height of the Apollo moon program, it consumed half the world’s output of integrated circuits. Anybody use a cell phone lately?

If we lose our appetite for technical audacity and dismiss the people who supply it, it seems logical to expect all of our native industries, including our automakers, to fall further behind.

How do you get a kid to look up from a Malaysian-made game console and consider becoming an engineer? Give her something stunning to see.

Synthetic Life? Maybe Not.

Lots in the news today about the creation of wholly artificial life. However, there is some dispute as to what exactly has taken place.

Discover: Did Craig Venter Just Create Synthetic Life? The Jury Is Decidedly Out

But the reactions to Venter’s accomplishment have been mixed–while some celebratory headlines trumpeted the creation of artificial life, many scientists said the reaction was overblown, and took issue with Venter’s claim of having created a truly synthetic cell.

[M]any experts note that the experimenters got a big boost by placing the synthetic genome in a preexisting cell, which was naturally inclined to make sense of the transplanted DNA and to turn genes on and off. Thus, they say, it’s not accurate to label the experiment’s product a true “synthetic cell.”

Is North Korea Bluster A Sign Of Instability?

BBC: US vows punishment for North Korea over ship sinking

The US state department says there "will definitely be consequences" for North Korea following the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

The North is facing international condemnation after investigators blamed it for the sinking of the ship, in which 46 sailors died.

Pyongyang has rejected the claim as a "fabrication" and threatened war if sanctions were imposed.

The Diplomat: Get Ready for DPRK Collapse

What is most worrying about a possible North Korean collapse is that the key players in the region are not talking to each other, even informally, about such an eventuality. It’s almost certain that these powers—China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and, possibly, Russia—have all drawn up their own contingency plans for Pyongyang’s quick collapse. However, they’ve done nothing to explore a collective response to what is without doubt a geopolitical game-changer.

For Kim Jong-il’s Chinese hosts, even such a modest proposal may be anathema. But they would be in denial. All they need to do is to take a look at the photo of the sickly Kim and ask themselves a simple question: should we have a Plan B?

Pakistanis Question Shutting Itself Off

BBC: Pakistanis divided over internet restrictions

Pakistanis woke up on Thursday to find access to popular websites Facebook and YouTube blocked after a government crackdown on websites seen to be hosting un-Islamic content.

Many here see the bans on Facebook and YouTube as an over-reaction. It is not the first time it has happened.

In trying to block access to a particular YouTube video in early 2008, the Pakistani authorities disrupted access to the entire YouTube website globally for several hours.

Congress Can't Face Their Deficit Mess

The Hill: Next year's budget sinking in deep red ink

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Obama’s policies would lead to deficits averaging nearly $1 trillion over the next decade.

The chance that the majority Democrats will pass a budget this year is “fading,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Tuesday.

He is pessimistic because House Democrats don’t know whether they want to pass a resolution that would officially acknowledge the certainty of big deficits.

Gallup Poll Shows Satisfaction Historically Low

Gallup: Satisfaction With U.S. Historically Low for Midterm Year

So far in 2010, an average of 23% of Americans have been satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. That is well below the 40% historical average Gallup has measured since 1979, when it began asking this question. The 2010 average is also the lowest Gallup has measured in a midterm election year, dating to 1982.

20 May 2010

Tea Partiers, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the Media

The Atlantic: Rand Paul and Civil Rights: The End of the Tea Party?

Here's one thing that can, plainly, be said about the controversy over Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act: this is exactly what Democrats hoped would happen.

The Democratic campaign and message apparatus has been banking, for months, on the rightward tilt of the Tea Party to damage the Republican Party in November's midterm elections. They put out a strategy memo to this effect in January. The idea is, basically: Tea Partiers are crazy, right-wing extremists. If the Republican Party elects them to run in November, the Republican Party will lose. Democrats have been saying this for months.

Paul's statements about the Civil Rights Act, brought up last night by Rachel Maddow and discussed at length, in an interview, have dominated the news cycle today. It has not looked good for Paul, or for the Tea Party.

One thing's for certain, in all this: other Tea Party-backed candidates will be asked, by Democratic campaigns and by debate moderators, what they think of desegregating private businesses. Part of the Democratic plan has been to ask Tea Party-backed candidates about controversial views and get them on the record. Paul's stance has become a big enough story, however, that the media will probably do this on its own.

Depending on what Tea Partiers say about Paul's statements, and how the public debate over Paul plays out, this moment has a chance to further alienate the movement as a whole from the mainstream.

If It's Not The Crusades, It's The Cartoons.

Thoughts on Draw Mohammed Day: Everybody Draws Mohammed Day

I initially had mixed feelings about Everybody Draws Mohammed Day. Provocation for its own sake is one of the dreariest features of contemporary culture, but that's not what this is about. Nick Gillespie's post reminds us that the three most offensive of the "Danish cartoons" — including the one showing Mohammed as a pig —were not by any Jyllands-Posten cartoonists but were actually faked by Scandinavian imams for the purposes of stirring up outrage among Muslims.

As Mr Gillespie says:
It is nothing less than amazing that holy men decrying the desecration of their religion would create such foul images, but there you have it. It is as if the pope created “Piss Christ” and then passed it off as the work of critics of Catholicism.
So, if it really is a sin to depict Mohammed, then these imams will be roasting in hell. (Unless, of course, taqqiya permits Muslims to break their own house rules for the purpose of sticking it to the infidels.)

But, that aside, the clerics' action underlines what's going on: the real provocateurs are the perpetually aggrieved and ever more aggressive Islamic bullies — emboldened by the silence of "moderate Muslims" and the preemptive capitulation of western media.

I was among a small group of columnists in the Oval Office when President Bush, after running through selected highlights from a long list of Islamic discontents, concluded with an exasperated: "If it's not the Crusades, it's the cartoons." That'd make a great bumper sticker: It encapsulsates both Islam's inability to move on millennium-in millennium-out, plus the grievance-mongers' utter lack of proportion.

I'm bored with death threats. And, as far as I'm concerned, if that's your opening conversational gambit, then any obligation on my part to "cultural sensitivity" and "mutual respect" is over. The only way to stop this madness destroying our liberties is (as Ayaan Hirsi Ali puts it) to spread the risk. Everybody Draws Mohammed Day does just that.

Various websites are offering prizes. I only wish we could track down those sicko Danish imams* who drew their prophet as a pig, and send them the trophy.

It's Not Over Yet

WSJ: Jobless Claims Jump, Leading Indicators Fall

New claims for jobless benefits soared last week, a worrisome sign for the slowly recovering labor market.

Separately, an index of leading economic indicators fell in April, pulled down by a sharp decline in building permits.

The number of workers who filed new claims for unemployment insurance climbed by 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 471,000 for the week ended May 15, the Labor Department said Thursday.

"We are left with the uncomfortable possibility that the trend in claims has not only stopped falling, but may be turning higher," Ian Shepherdson, a High Frequency Economics Ltd. economist, said in a note to clients.

A labor department economist said Thursday that, unlike early April, when jobless claims surged due to seasonal and holiday factors, this time there was no indication that any special factors were at work. Last week's jump in claims reversed most of the declines since April 10, when claims were at 480,000.

Radioactive Euro

There's not a fight
And I'm not your captive
Turn me loose tonight
Cause I'm radioactive

WSJ: The Euro Turns Radioactive
Longer-Term Investors and Companies, Not Just Hedge Funds, Shun the Currency

Some of the world's largest money managers and central banks have become increasingly skeptical of the euro, presenting a threat to the common currency's prospects.

So far during the euro's months-long descent, attention has been focused on hedge-fund selling of European assets but central banks and large managers have a much-larger influence on foreign-exchange markets. Even if they don't dump euro assets, a mere pause in their buying could weigh heavily on the currency.

Please. Just Stop With Olympic Mascots.

Looks like the blue one has wet himself. And the orange one is having a heart attack.

What Is Going On In Thailand Explained

Here's a link to an explanation of the current political mess in Thailand. Once appearing to be a stable democracy, they have degenerated into military coups, stolen elections, violent protests, and now the government is gunning down people in the streets.

Foreign Policy: What the Heck Is Going on in Thailand?

Thailand's idyllic image has overshadowed serious tensions that have been building for nearly a decade and finally exploded this month.

Demonstration Of Picking A Sound For Your Hybrid Car

Autoblog: Report: Washington to require that 'quiet' cars get alert sounds

A coalition of automotive manufacturers and advocacy groups for the blind have joined forces to make sure that silent-running vehicles will make more noise in the future. The logic is that the blind and other pedestrians are at risk of being struck by quiet hybrids and EVs.

If passed, the bill would have the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration propose regulations for an "alert sound" within a year and a half, and finalize the rules within three years. Drivers would not be able to turn off the noise.

So far, there's no word as to how loud the noise would be or what it will sound like, but the technology already exists to make that sound signature variable – concept cars like the Brabus Smart High Voltage EV ... can simulate the sound of everything from a buzzing bee to a good ol' American V8 with hidden speakers inside and outside of the vehicle, with the sound varying according to engine speed.

If we absolutely have to be making a racket while we drive on all-electric power, we vote for sounding like George Jetson's daily commuter, but we're not exactly crazy about user-selectable EV 'ringtones,' lest one's daily commute become an auditory assalt of Star Wars Tie Fighters and clydesdales.

The video above demonstrates some sample sounds for your hybrid.

19 May 2010

Iraqi Police Disrupt Plans To Attack World Cup Over Danish Cartoons

BBC: World Cup bomb plot detailed by al-Qaeda suspect

An alleged al-Qaeda militant detained in Iraq has given details about a plan he had to attack the World Cup in South Africa next month.

The Saudi man, Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani, told reporters he had suggested an attack on the Dutch and Danish teams in revenge for cartoons drawn of the Prophet Muhammad.

On Monday Iraqi police claimed to have prevented an attack on the World Cup. Mr Qahtani was arrested after Iraqi forces found a note detailing the plan in a hideout used by two senior al-Qaeda figures, killed in April.

"We discussed the possibility of taking revenge for the insults of the prophet by attacking Denmark and Holland," Mr Qahtani told the Associated Press.
"If we were not able to reach the teams, then we would target the fans."

Frustrated Unhappy Voters Leave Commentators Confused

I've read a couple of articles from the mainstream press about the elections yesterday. They understand that people are unhappy, but that voters seem determined to vote against everyone seems to leave the commentators confused. How can both Democrats and Republicans both be voted out of office, they ponder helplessly.

Confusion is what it will look like when your choices are so constrained by our miserable two-party system. You vote one entrenched party out, the other slips right in. It only looks confusing to those who still hold on to the idea that there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans. Voters are frustrated, but they are presented with so few choices the frustration looks incoherent to conventional, two-party analysis.

Voters hold both entrenched parties responsible, and vote against whoever. But the professional commentator class is so well trained to think only in two party terms, that they get all discombobulated. They see, but they do not understand.

They say the ablishment is rattled. If there were any justice in this world, they would be rattled right back to where they came from. They need to be rattled, shaken, broken, bounched and drop-kicked into the history books.

Here's an example of the conventional take:

Washington Post: Voters' anger at Washington may overpower any fixes

Voters sent a clear message on Tuesday: They don't like the way Washington works. But they sent a mixed message on what would make it work better, which adds up to a virtual guarantee that it might be a long time before Washington actually does work better.

Their victories speak to the broadest trend shaping the political climate, which is voter anger. Voters have lost faith in their politicians, whom they see as a privileged class that has lost touch with the concerns of Main Street. But in today's ideologically polarized environment, left and right are joined only by their disgust with the status quo. What the supporters of Paul and supporters of Sestak want couldn't be farther apart.

Britain Reaps Benefits of Having Moderate Political Force Between Left And Right

Ah, the benefits of having a moderate political party to mediate between the left and the right. It seems that the Liberal Democrats (the British successors to the Whigs) are already receiving rave reviews here in the United States:

Houston Chronicle: Britain's fresh start: Coalition government offers a contrast to partisan dysfunction plaguing Washington

... [W]e can't help but notice the obvious contrast: The coalition between conservative and liberal forged by Cameron and Clegg is quite unlike anything that seems even remotely possible in today's divided Washington. More's the pity. The issues troubling both British and American voters are much the same: Jobs. Immigration. Mounting debt.

The Cameron-Clegg coalition offers the hope of accomplishing at least one constructive thing that seems out of reach here — turning down the rhetorical volume on the most divisive issues.

Some observers are already predicting early failure for the Cameron-Clegg political marriage. But the signs of cooperation are encouraging: In preliminary discussions, the conservative positions on preserving the nation's nuclear system and denying benefits to illegal immigrants prevailed, while the Liberal Democrats won out on tax reform.

The policy stakes facing the new government in Westminster may just be big and bad enough to trump politics as usual.

Maybe Washington should take a lesson.

Now that we have seen the benefits, let's do the same thing here in America.

I could go for a government "not insecure about relinquishing control", for the public to nominate laws to be repealed, as part of a "power revolution" and to "transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state".

The Continuing Threat Of North Korea

Washington Post: South Korea to officially blame North Korea for March torpedo attack on warship

South Korea will formally blame North Korea on Thursday for launching a torpedo at one of its warships in March, causing an explosion that killed 46 sailors and heightened tensions in one of the world's most perilous regions, U.S. and East Asian officials said.

South Korea concluded that North Korea was responsible for the attack after investigators from Australia, Britain, Sweden and the United States pieced together portions of the ship at the port of Pyeongtaek, 40 miles southwest of Seoul. The Cheonan sank on March 26 after an explosion rocked the 1,200-ton vessel as it sailed on the Yellow Sea off South Korea's west coast.

California Proposition 14 Locks Out Minor Parties

Sacramento Bee: Minor parties fear extinction under Proposition 14

For registered members of California's minor parties, Proposition 14 isn't just about winning or losing elections. It's a matter of survival.

Proposition 14 would create a "top two" primary in which candidates of all party affiliations run on one primary ballot. The two candidates who win the most votes, regardless of party, would face off in the general election.

The proposal to eliminate party primaries has drawn criticism from the state Democratic and Republican parties. But it's also opposed by members of California's qualified minor parties, who say they would be locked out of the new political process.

A nearly identical primary system approved by Washington state voters in 2004 has hurt minor parties.

Third parties recognized before the measure passed saw a significant drop in candidates for state and federal office.

"It takes all the energy and enthusiasm out of the sails of minor parties," said Richard Winger, a Libertarian who advocates for greater ballot access. "People just give up, drop out."

Another Blogger Discovers The Modern Whigs

From the blog, Moderate Third Party: Common Sense

I title this post "Common Sense" based on my initial classification of this blog. It is also the Title of a great writing by Thomas Paine, which he wrote anonymously and boldly calling for a declaration of independence. We now have a party called "Modern Whig Party" that echoes Common Sense in our political discourse. I find myself very excited about this party, which stands for the beliefs I have and the need for our country to bring common sense back to the American people.

The Modern Whig Party was created by war veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in 2008, as a veterans advocacy group. It has expanded into a moderate party that has a basic common sense platform on the issues.

I know it is hard, because I feel the emotional tug inside myself about stepping away from our two party system and supporting something totally new and different, even something called "Whig".

Believe it or not we have so much power to make this happen, power in numbers, power in common sense platform. All we need is the individual power to ACT NOW without fear or hesitation.

NOW is the time, do not fear what will happen if the "other" party wins because I voted for a third party. We need to be strong and broaden our shoulders and take the step away from R & D, and vote for ourselves.

Crappy Economy The "New Normal"

If we Americans have any cojones left at all, we will demand politicians and policies that will keep this bleak future from happening.

The Hill: Top Fed Official Offers Dire Forecast, Says Economy Will Suffer For Years

A top Federal Reserve official warned Tuesday that one consequence of the Great Recession will be a "new normal" in which Americans have lower expectations for a better life.

In a speech, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland President and CEO Sandra Pianalto said that she expects "our journey out of this deep recession [to] be a slow one" because of the loss of skills jobless Americans have experienced as a result of prolonged unemployment, and the "heightened sense of caution" consumers and businesses are operating under as they navigate the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Citing the fact that the average unemployed worker is out of a job for more than 30 weeks -- a new record -- Pianalto told the Economic Club of Pittsburgh that "the longer someone is out of work, the harder it is to find a job." About half of those currently unemployed have been out of work for at least six months.

Two More Hypocrites and Liars Exposed

Here's a link to the video of Indiana Republican Rep. Mark Souder talking about abstinence education with his aide, Tracy Johnson, with whom he admitted an affair.

In the video, she pretends to interview him, and he pretends he gives a damn about abstinence.

They probably had sex right after they made the video.

At least he resigned, unlike that joker in Connecticut who has been lying about being a Vietnam Vet. That Richard Blumenthal guy is full of excuses. I mean, how can you not be clear on whether or not you fought in Vietnam? You would think you would remember.

What amazes me is that some Democrats are still backing him. The guy a liar. He should feel right at home in Washington.

18 May 2010

Primary Results Arrive

Rand Paul wins in Kentucky.

Specter loses in Pennsylvania. Of course, anti-incumbent sentiment was overwhelming, but it leaves Pennsylvania voters with candidates from their parties' edges.

The Arkansas Democratic primary was actually a three way race, and this may go to a run-off. Still, the primary candidate from the middle is on the defensive.

Earmark Lobbyists To Lobby For Earmarks

You can't make this stuff up.

The Hill: Earmark lobbyists mount effort to defend practice of bringing home the bacon

Lobbyists who pursue congressional earmarks are planning a public-relations campaign to defend the practice, as voters signal they no longer want lawmakers to direct millions of federal dollars to pet projects back home.

The Ferguson Group, one of the largest earmark lobbying shops in Washington, is seeking donations from other appropriations lobbyists to establish a group that would promote the benefits of earmarks ...

The campaign could include writing op-eds, press releases and story pitches to selected reporters to influence how earmarks are covered leading into the 2010 midterm elections.

The effort comes as voters register their discontent with appropriators who “bring home the bacon,” a practice that historically has been one of the surest ways to win reelection. But rising federal deficits and negative news reports have transformed earmarks into examples of wasteful government spending for many voters.

Don't Forget To Add Social Security Deficits To The Federal Deficit Projections

The American: When we properly account for Social Security, our national deficit proves worse.

This year for the first time since 1983, Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes and is hence running a cash-flow deficit. This is an important threshold. It was also not expected for another six years.

Some observers argue that the situation shouldn’t cause alarm. As the theory goes, when Social Security starts registering a cash deficit, the shortfall is made up by withdrawals from trust fund assets. In addition, in spite of the cash-flow deficit, the trust fund will continue to show net growth until 2023 because of the interest generated by its bonds.

In practice, however, the trust fund and interest payments it receives are simply accounting fiction. For years, the federal government has been borrowing the Social Security Trust Fund assets for its daily spending. The fund has nothing left in it except IOUs from the federal government. In fact, even the interest is paid in IOUs.

Hence, the only way Social Security will not go into the red this year and in future years is if the federal government pays back Social Security. But since the money has long ago been consumed, it must borrow money from the public or raise taxes to pay its Social Security debts.

Rest assured, concerned citizen, for your Congress is on the case. They aren't planning on actually, you know, doing anything. But a committee has studied the issue, and is issuing recommendations to a commission, who will then issue a recommendation to Congress for further study.
No, I did not make that up:
msnbc: Can tiny changes save Social Security?
Report: Tweaks to taxes, benefits can eliminate shortfall

Social Security faces a $5.3 trillion shortfall over the next 75 years, but a new congressional report says the massive gap could be erased with only modest changes to payroll taxes and benefits. The longer action is delayed, the harder it will get to address the program's finances.

  • The entire $5.3 trillion shortfall over the next 75 years would be wiped out if payroll taxes were increased by 1.1 percentage points for both workers and employers.
  • It would also disappear if Congress started taxing all wages, not just those below $106,800, said the Senate report, citing projections by the actuaries at the Social Security Administration.
  • On the benefits side, more than three-fourths of the shortfall would vanish if Congress reduced annual cost-of-living increases by 1 percentage point each year. Social Security recipients get annual increases based on inflation.
  • About 23 percent of the shortfall would be gone if Congress gradually increased the age when retirees qualify for full benefits from 67 to 68. Nearly a third of the shortfall would disappear if the full retirement age were gradually increased to 70.

The Senate panel's report will be presented to President Barack Obama's deficit reduction commission, which is expected to review all entitlement programs in the search for savings.

Unfortunately, all great plans must eventually degenerate into action.

The NeoWhig Blog Returns

Excerpts From The NeoWhig: We Whigs Are Still Here!

It has been over a year since my last blog post here and a lot has changed in the political landscape since then, not least the ever-growing presence of the Modern Whig Party and the continued expansion of its state chapters.

As we have seen from the rise of the tea party movement, a lot of people are not happy with the government or how our system has been working lately. Not all of us, however, are near-anarchist libertarians prone to credulous parroting of GOP talking points.

So, it seems that the building coalition of moderates and independents who are put-off and disenchanted with the divisive partisanship that has taken hold of the political discourse (which appears to have no end in sight as it stands) has gone unnoticed as the louder, more aggressive swell of extremists have taken center stage in the media.

The Democratic party, as it became painfully obvious during the healthcare bill debacle, is far more beholden to corporations and moneyed interests than the public they have been elected to represent.

And the Republican party, no less in service big businesses which give little or nothing back to America, have also shown themselves to be cynically dishonest and disgustingly uncaring about the governing process of our nation.

But this situation is no longer intractable. The democrats can continue to pass laws written by corporate lobbyists and the republicans can continue to sit on their hands and be do-nothing obstructionists, intellectually empty and venomously partisan -- this no longer need bother the American people. Because we have, and have had for a while now, a real third alternative - the Modern Whig Party.

And we're not going away and us whigs are not going to be absorbed or annexed or co-opted. So while we might seem quiet, as cool heads and moderate voices rarely get much press, we are not gone. In fact, we are still growing!

Welcome back, NeoWhig, I look forward to more blogging.

Texas Governor Rick Perry Lives It Up At Your Expense

Texas Watchdog: Public records reveal Rick Perry's $700 coat rack and the governor's pricey living expenses

Hope you like that $700 coat rack the governor uses. After all, you paid for it.Texas taxpayers have shelled out almost $600,000 in the past two years in rent and other living expenses for Gov. Rick Perry's mansion in West Austin.

Along with the $700 coat rack, Root writes, there's the grand the gov (or, we assume, his wife or someone working for him) plunked down for window dressings from Neiman Marcus and $70 for two years of Food and Wine magazine.

The irony, though, is that all this spending is being revealed at a time when the state has looming financial problems -- big looming financial problems, as in a shortfall of $11 billion with a B. (That number could go as high as $18 billion, the Texas Observer reported today.)

If You're The Kind Of Person Who Thinks Too Much Is Not Enough ...

We Could Use This Attitude Over Here

To those who are still stuck on the idea that a third party would cause instability, look at Britian. A moderate third party turns out to be -- well -- a force for moderation. The LibDems have moderated the politicies of the Conservatives, and are now focused on promoting freedom and reform.

BBC: Deputy PM Nick Clegg promises to 'shake up politics'

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg will pledge the "biggest shake-up of our democracy" in 178 years later as he expands on plans for political reform.

According to pre-released extracts, he will say the government would "transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state".

This would include scrapping the ID card scheme and accompanying National Identity Register, all future biometric passports and the children's Contact Point Database and ensuring CCTV was "properly regulated" and restricting the storage of innocent people's DNA.

This government is going to persuade you to put your faith in politics once again Mr Clegg will say: "I'm talking about the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th Century.

"The biggest shake up of our democracy since 1832, when the Great Reform Act redrew the boundaries of British democracy, for the first time extending the franchise beyond the landed classes."

He added: "Incremental change will not do. It is time for a wholesale, big bang approach to political reform."

He will also accuse the previous government of "obsessive lawmaking" and pledge to "get rid of the unnecessary laws" and "introduce a mechanism to block pointless new criminal offences".

He will also pledged to ask the public "which laws you think should go" as they "tear through the statute book".

Mr Clegg will add: "This government is going to persuade you to put your faith in politics once again."

17 May 2010

I'm Sure Being The President's Aunt Didn't Hurt

NY Times: Obama’s Aunt Is Granted Asylum

An immigration judge has granted asylum to President Obama’s aunt and will allow her to stay in the United States, her lawyers said Monday. She could become a citizen in about six years.

Zeituni Onyango, 57, who lives in public housing in Boston, is the half-sister of Mr. Obama’s late father and is from Kenya. She moved to the United States in 2000 on a valid visa and has been seeking asylum since 2002.

[Her lawyer] said Monday that following the granting of asylum, a person can receive an A5 Work Authorization, which allows for application for a work permit, a social security number and a driver’s license or state identification card. After one year from the date of the decision, the person can apply for a permanent green card and then in five years could apply for citizenship.

The English Language, Uniting The World

The Guardian: How English erased its roots to become the global tongue of the 21st century
Already multinational in expression, English was becoming a global phenomenon with a fierce, inner multinational dynamic, an emerging lingua franca described by the historian Benedict Anderson as "a kind of global-hegemonic post-clerical Latin".

In The Last Word, his dispatches from the frontline of language change, journalist Ben Macintyre writes: "I was recently waiting for a flight in Delhi, when I overheard a conversation between a Spanish UN peacekeeper and an Indian soldier. The Indian spoke no Spanish; the Spaniard spoke no Punjabi. Yet they understood one another easily. The language they spoke was a highly simplified form of English, without grammar or structure, but perfectly comprehensible, to them and to me. Only now do I realise that they were speaking "Globish", the newest and most widely spoken language in the world."

This is the interactive, ever-changing world of global English. At the beginning of the 21st century, rarely has a language and its culture enjoyed such an opportunity to represent the world. In crude numbers alone, English is used, in some form, by approximately 4 billion people, one-third of the planet, and outnumbered only by the speakers of Chinese, approximately 350 million of whom also speak some kind of English.

Stories like this cause me to believe that efforts to promote multilingualism in the U.S. will fail, and why I am bewildered by those who fight making English our official language.

Middle Class Fades Away

I read this article last week, but I have been thinking about it since.

The Economist: As jobs fade away

Americans were keenly aware of growing inequality even before the recession; in 2007, the top 1% of earners took home 23.5% of all income earned, the highest share since 1928. Since the crisis, they have been incensed, and frustrated, by the return of good times to Wall Street while Main Street languishes.

Stratospheric salaries in the financial sector are a meaty target, but middle-class weakness has more to do with deeper economic shifts. In recent decades the American economy has become increasingly polarised. Jobs have been plentiful for low and high-skilled workers, but employment opportunities for middle-skilled labourers have become much scarcer. While the Great Recession dealt a blow to Wall Street oligarchs, it greatly accelerated the withering of the broad middle.

Technology is the main culprit. Automation and outsourcing have claimed whole classes of jobs. Among them are routine but vital tasks that were labour-intensive before the computing revolution: manufacturing and number-crunching jobs that used to pay handsomely. The economy now needs workers to do what can’t be done by machines or call-centres in Bangalore, which leaves iPad design and caretaker work but not enough in between.

How to maintain a stable middle class amid sweeping technological change is a problem the developed world is only beginning to appreciate.

The middle-class has been shrinking slowly for years, but in the fallout from the Panic of 2008, the process has accelerated. I remember from history class the upheaval caused by the Industrial Revolution, and wonder if we are now in for stormy times as well.

At first, industrialization caused even greater disparities of wealth, but fortunately, that became less permanent, and a broad middle class developed. But the process was painful, and often bloody.

What if our new technology-based economy does not lend itself to a broad middle class, but the historical divide that mankind had always endured -- most very poor, with a few rich?

Can All Problems Be Blamed On Student Loans?

This article makes the case. The idea is that student loans have enabled colleges to raise tuition rates at a much higher rate than inflation. Students are always behind the curve, and keep accumulating more and more debt to obtain a degree. After graduation, funds that could have been been pumped into the economy are funnelled through big banks into the pockets of wealthy investors.

Via Instapundit: How Student Loans Helped Destroy America

The student loan burden on today´s working population has already destroyed the economy, practically removed any last semblance of freedom in our workplace and just served to fatten the wallets of the bankers, lawyers and corporate suits that now run the country. The virtues that once made America a great nation have been abused by those entrusted with its care, and even $61 billion will not reverse the situation that we now find ourselves in.

The colleges have been increasing the cost of tuition by far more than the increase in the Consumer Price Index for over three decades.

It is not to say that students would not have found themselves in a debt situation after they graduated, but had college tuition fees stayed in line with the Consumer Price Index, you might have been able to slash these figures by 90%.

Is The New British Government Setting An Example For The U.S.?

The problems our nations face are similar, but the Brits seem to be facing up to their problems. I will be watching, as I expect that they are developing policies that we will have to enact shortly. The main problem is that our politicians still seem more interested in spending. Well, the markets will force these issues eventually ...

Telegraph (UK): David Cameron declares war on public sector pay
David Cameron has vowed to crack down on "crazy" bonuses paid to civil servants as the new Government seeks to reduce the costs of the bloated public sector.

Reject The Entrenched Parties

One of the reasons I became involved in the Modern Whig Party was my reaction to the emotional base of our politics.

At the time of our founding, politics were based on a concern over promoting the common good. Using the Enlightenment values, problems were addressed by reason and analysis. The goal was to produce a rational response that would promote the liberty, property, and well-being of the greatest number. Long term solutions were promoted, and the short-term costs were accepted under the concept of enlightened self-interest. This system had its short-comings, notably when strong personal ambitions clashed (think Adams and Jefferson), but this period of politics also produced the "Era of Good Feeling" and the quieting of partisan rancor.

However, in the 19th century, this period came to a close. These new politics saw the rise of politics based on emotion, and campaigns based on symbolism. Rational policy debates receded. Interestingly, this era saw the founding and the rise of the Democratic Party, which continues to plague us to this day. Originated as an emotional-based political party, and to serve political bosses, the Democrats are the most successful political effort in American history.

The 19th century Whig Party was the last gasp of an attempt to base politics and policy on rational analysis and the common good. Interestingly, they had to use emotion-based rhetoric to counter that of the Democrats, and an age of partisanship began which has never ended.

Can this process be reversed? Can we again have politics based on dialogue, analysis, and the common good? Can we get away from emotional appeals, and develop a political party that promotes reason, freedom, science, and a free market? How about promoting egalitarianism by making an inclusive political process open to all?

Or are we doomed forever to a political process closed to those without big money backers? Are we stuck watching blowhards yell at each other on television while calling it a political debate? Are anger and vitriol here to stay?

Politics indeed makes strange bedfellows: public spirit and goodwill are buried beneath an unholy alliance of big money and moral posturing. Compromise, necessary in a nation as large and as varied as ours, becomes impossible. Unifying principles give way to passionate single-interest agitators. Meanwhile, effective politics has disappeared.

The demand of the screaming fringe for conflict without end with their partisan foes, shouting for supposed principles and "To Hell with the consequences!" has produced a generation of politicians whose only concern is short-term comfort. The disastrous long-term consequences of which are building to nothing less than an economic collapse. Doesn't the other side have principles as well? If you won't compromise yours, why should they compromise theirs?

Workable, equitable government demands alliances and compromise. But the entrenched parties promote economic insecurity and radicalism. Party activists hope to reap the whirlwind that they have sown.I want no more of those games. The excusing of the behavior of your partisans while lambasting those of the opponents. The fabricated outrage. The phony concern over the "regular guy."

America is a great country, that is superior to our benighted politicians. It is time for all of us to reject our entrenched parties, and work for something new.

Partisan Squabbling Goes Zen: Arguing About Something That Is Not There

The Hill: Partisan sparring continues over non-existent budget

The Influence of Hugh Hefner

Commentary: The Playboy and His Western World

Hugh Hefner, the inventor of Playboy, has sold his idea of what sex should be with the winning fervor of a true believer, and while not exactly everyone has bought into it, he has enticed multitudes into his fold with the promise of as much pleasure as a body can manage in a lifetime, all of it perfectly innocent, of course.

Hefner himself is the Great Emancipator and the most influential figure that American popular culture has produced; no actor or movie director or singer or athlete has moved the life of our time as potently as he. Indeed, one is hard pressed to name more than three or four figures from the more serious precincts of our modern public life who have had an effect of comparable magnitude.

Only in America can a man whose declared ambitions were to bed innumerable beautiful women and get rich in the process make a mark deeper than those left by great writers or leading thinkers or most presidents. That this should be so might well appall writers and thinkers and most presidents, but they would have to acknowledge that Hefner got hold of the fundamental American longing as no one else had before.

Americans have always pursued happiness, usually without any clear idea of what they were after; Hefner demonstrated that it could be not only pursued but also captured, and he posted photographs of the quarry for proof.

Interview With John Avalon About Wingnuts and Politics

The Economist: Democracy in America: Six questions for John Avlon
A wingnut is someone on the far-right wing or far-left wing of the political spectrum—the professional partisans, the unhinged activists and the paranoid conspiracy theorists. They’re the people who always try to divide rather than unite us.

In this environment, there is no such thing as too extreme and political entertainers use conflict, tension and resentment to fire up their audience. What’s different now is that while political leaders used to give talking points to talk radio, now talk-radio hosts are giving talking points to political leaders. It’s all part of the suffocating spin cycle we’re in. In media, politics and publishing, the conventional wisdom is to play to this base.

But I think in the long run this creates an opportunity for a real alternative—only 15% of Americans define themselves as conservative Republicans and 11% call themselves liberal Democrats, according to a Pew survey released last year. That means that there is a massive untapped market in America for something other than bitter and predictable partisanship.

Independents are the largest and fastest growing segment of the American electorate. There are more independents than Democrats or Republicans, and their numbers have reached over 40% of the electorate—an historic high. This is a direct reaction to the polarisation of the two parties. If you study independent voters on an ideological spectrum, they are consistently between the Republican and Democratic parties, which are more polarised than ever before. But its not a simple split the difference position—independents tend to be closer to Republicans on economic issues and closer to Democrats on social issues.

There is a mainstream of views that runs beneath independents. Of course, there are outliers—conservatives who are too conservative for the GOP and folks on the far-left who are off the grid entirely. Nonetheless, independents more closely mirror the American people as a whole than either party—they feel politically homeless, but it’s an exile on main street.

DiA: Do you anticipate the end of the two-party system? (If so, how do you see it playing out?)

Mr Avlon: Not in the near term, but the two parties should consider themselves put on notice by the American people. They can’t indefinitely ignore the fact that a plurality of Americans are proactively rejecting them. In the past, the two-party system was able to correct itself, with opposition parties reaching out to the centre and reviving themselves politically in the process. But the special interests controlling both parties now are not allowing this to occur—the religious right blocks any substantive outreach to libertarian-minded voters on social issues, while the power of groups like public-sector unions makes the Democratic Party inhospitable for fiscal conservatives.

If you’re fiscal conservative but socially liberal, as many independents and centrists are, you’ll find that the parties are hostile to your full participation, and in fact we’ve seen an increase in RINO hunting and DINO hunting (attempts to ideologically purify the parties by purging centrists). Eventually this disconnect will be resolved or it will rupture.

Whatever scenario, social media is a new tool that could help such a realignment take place. One impact of the internet on our economy is that it disaggregates middle-men. That’s what the parties essentially are—they were enablers of democracy but they are increasingly obstacles to it.

Our constitution doesn't mention political parties. They are still playing politics by industrial-age rules. They haven’t woken up to the information-age reality. Younger generations have grown up with a multiplicity of choice on every front, which can be tailored to suit their individual beliefs. Politics is the last place where we are supposed to be satisfied with a choice between Brand A and Brand B.

Hat tip: Poli-Tea.

16 May 2010

Illegal To Be Illegal?

From Friends of Irony.

The Establishment Wins In The End

Slate: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
The myth of the "anti-establishment" candidate.

But for all the pitchfork-sharpening, what happens when anti-establishment candidates arrive in Washington? One of two things, usually: Either they quickly adapt to the establishment, or they serve for one term.

Everyone promises to change Washington. And everyone compromises when they get there.

[T]here's what Shor calls the "basic re-election imperative." "Whatever you want to accomplish," he says, "you can't do it in a single term." Re-election itself requires becoming part of the Washington establishment—candidates have to raise money for fellow party members in hopes that they'll return the favor, and they have to keep their heads down so as not to tick off the leadership. "Outsider" candidates often say they'll serve only one term, as Bob Bennett did in 1992. But those who have a good shot at re-election almost always take it, as Bob Bennett did in 1998 and 2004.

There's always a tension between the Washington establishment and the district back home. But it's a flexible one. When politicians "make the system work" for their district by bringing home goodies, constituents tend to give them some ideological leeway. Sometimes, though, the ideology gap becomes too great, the rubber band snaps, and suddenly Bob Bennett is looking for a job. His "outsider" replacement might better reflect his district's ideology.

But by the time he's in a position to change the way Washington works, he will be, by definition, the establishment.

Did Richard Nixon Save The World From Nuclear War?

Telegraph (UK): USSR planned nuclear attack on China in 1969
The Soviet Union was on the brink of launching a nuclear attack against China in 1969 and only backed down after the US told Moscow such a move would start World War Three, according to a Chinese historian.

Soldier Citizens Step Forward

Real Clear Politics: Soldier-Citizens to the Rescue?

Usually a handful of ex-soldiers seek political office every election cycle. But well over 20 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are running this fall for Congress alone. Almost all are riding a wave of public anger at incumbents over a profligate government and dishonest Wall Street -- and a general feeling that the current Democratic remedy has proven as bad as, or worse than, the recent Republican disease.

The shenanigans of the previously Republican-controlled Congress -- the "Culture of Corruption" -- simply continued under the congressional Democrat majority, thanks to the likes of Chris Dodd, William Jefferson, Eric Massa, Charles Rangel and the late John Murtha.

Reform candidate Barack Obama has run up more debt in 15 months than unpopular spendthrift George W. Bush did in eight years. Obama once talked of a new unity, but he has polarized America far more rapidly than did the cowboy-sounding "decider" Bush.

In other words, the public is desperate for civic-minded leaders who are untainted by Washington, but who have a proven record of competent service on behalf of the nation.

We live in a wartime of economic crisis, crushing debt and endemic political corruption. Rules, obligations and laws don't seem to matter. Personal honor is an archaic, fossilized concept.

But suddenly, amid public malaise, dozens of nontraditional soldier-citizens have stepped forward out of the shadows to argue that right now in America, neither money nor incumbency matters as much as civic duty and the old idea of public service. And unlike most of us, they once put their lives on the line to prove just that.

Pushing Right

McClatchy: Jim DeMint leads rightward shift of GOP candidates nationwide

In Kentucky, GOP voters will choose between Trey Grayson — the handpicked choice of the state's most powerful Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — and DeMint-backed Rand Paul, son of former Libertarian Party presidential candidate — and current Texas congressman — Ron Paul. In Pennsylvania, Democrats will select Rep. Joe Sestak or incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, who bolted the Republican Party last year after DeMint became the first Republican senator to endorse Specter's opponent, former Rep. Pat Toomey, in the GOP primary.

DeMint's impact — through endorsements and money from his Senate Conservatives Fund — has also been felt in recent weeks in Florida, Indiana and Utah, and it will reverberate throughout the summer in California, Colorado and beyond. Around the country, DeMint is backing conservative underdog challengers who are running against more moderate Republican establishment candidates such as Carly Fiorina in California and Jane Norton in Colorado.

Such tensions reflect a deeper struggle among Republicans. Moderates say the party must court independent voters, seek bipartisan solutions and reverse declines among Hispanics.

Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said DeMint's promotion of ultraconservative candidates might make it harder for the GOP to regain control of Congress.

As they've watched DeMint's growing national profile among hard-line conservative activists, some analysts think his ultimate target is a more powerful post than Senate Republican leader.

"He is cultivating a movement," said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University. "I think he sees himself as a presidential candidate. With the intensity of people on his side, he can nudge aside people like (Mitt) Romney and Tim Pawlenty."

Primaries Push Partisan Politics

One of the arguments against the need of a new political party is the assertion that party primaries make a new moderate party unnecessary. As the argument goes, since political parties have primaries, the voters get a say in who a party nominates, thereby removing the need for a new, moderate political party.

Such an argument fails in reality. Political party primaries tend to favor the extremes of each party, as the voters in the primaries are self-selected and do not represent the needs or desires of those in the middle. Party primaries are dominated by activists with an agenda, who prefer purity to the advancement of the common good. This phenomena is present in both the Democratic and Republican parties.

As a result, party primaries tend to push the candidates to the extremes. Combine with gerrymandered districts, and you have removed a majority of Americans from effective political decision-making. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the sensible, pragmatic, common-sense, moderate majority are the ones who are excluded.

Take at look at the results of the primaries so far. Here in Texas, the relatively moderate Hutchinson was defeated by the more conservative Perry. In Connecticut, Lieberman was forced out of the Democratic party by the far left. In Florida, Christ was forced out by the far right. This Tuesday, it is anticipated that the party extremes will triumph in the party primaries.

While these results will please those seeking howling to run out the "DINOs" and "RINOs" of their own parties, the impact is that fewer politicians who seek compromise and the common good are in office. This will have further implications down the road, as like-minded moderates decide to not even bother to run. Self-reinforcing behavior will magnify, and the "conventional wisdom" will determine that the only way to win will be to pander to the extremes.

Must the end result be the transformation of our nation-wide politics to that of California? Politics there has become toxic, with extremely gerrymandered districts ensuring that the only competition occurs in the primaries, where candidates seek support from foaming-at-the-mouth party activists.

Somewhere, I guess, Tom Delay and Howard Dean are smiling, but these developments should give the rest of us no joy.

Little Nicks Add Up

NRO: Nicking Our Public Discourse
Listening to Attorney General Holder, one is tempted to modify Trotsky: You may not be interested in Islam, but Islam is interested in you.

[T]he very same day that Eric Holder was doing his “Islam? What Islam?” routine at the Capitol, the Organization of the Islamic Conference was tightening its hold on the U.N. Human Rights Council — actually, make that the U.N. “Human Rights” Council.

The OIC is the biggest voting bloc at the U.N., and it succeeded in getting its slate of candidates elected to the so-called “human rights” body — among them the Maldives, Qatar, Malaysia, Mauritania, and Libya.

And they will support the U.N.’s rapid progress toward, in effect, the imposition of a global apostasy law that removes Islam from public discourse.

The U.N. elections are a big victory for the Organization of the Islamic Conference. By the way, to my liberal friends who say, “Hey, what’s the big deal about the Organization of the Islamic Conference? Lighten up, man”: Try rolling around your tongue the words “Organization of the Christian Conference.”

Would you be quite so cool with that?

Fifty-seven prime ministers and presidents who get together and vote as a bloc in international affairs? Or would that be a theocratic affront to secular sensibilities? The casual acceptance of the phrase “the Muslim world” (“Mr. Obama’s now-famous speech to the Muslim world” — the New York Times) implicitly defers to the political ambitions of Islam.

But along with the big headline victories go smaller ones. These days, Islam doesn’t even have to show up. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has quietly pulled representations of Mohammed from its Islamic collection. With the Danish cartoons, violent mobs actually had to kill large numbers of people before Kurt Westegaard was sent into involuntary “retirement.” Even with South Park, the thugs still had to threaten murder. But the Metropolitan Museum caved preemptively — no murders, no threats, but best to crawl into a fetal position anyway.

Last week, the American Association of Pediatricians noted that certain, ahem, “immigrant communities” were shipping their daughters overseas to undergo “female genital mutilation.” So, in a spirit of multicultural compromise, they decided to amend their previous opposition to the practice: They’re not (for the moment) advocating full-scale clitoridectomies, but they are suggesting federal and state laws be changed to permit them to give a “ritual nick” to young girls.

A few years back, I thought even fainthearted Western liberals might draw the line at “FGM.” After all, it’s a key pillar of institutional misogyny in Islam: Its entire purpose is to deny women sexual pleasure. True, many of us hapless Western men find we deny women sexual pleasure without even trying, but we don’t demand genital mutilation to guarantee it. On such slender distinctions does civilization rest.

15 May 2010

Link to Poli-Tea: Moderate Thinking and the Modern Whig Party

Over at Poli-Tea: Moderate Thinking and the Modern Whig Party

You're everything we've come to expect from years of Ivy League training

LA Times Opinion: Evidence of a Supreme Court bias
Almost all the Supreme Court justices attended law school at either Harvard or Yale, as did President Obama's latest nominee.

If confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, Elena Kagan will bring greater diversity to the court by adding a third woman. What she will not bring is educational diversity. Her confirmation will leave the court entirely composed of former law students at either Harvard or Yale.

Why should we care? When you virtually exclude all but two of the nation's 160 law schools as sources for justices, it not only reduces the number of outstanding candidates but guarantees a certain insularity in training and influences on the court. This bias is not only elitist but decidedly anti-intellectual. Moreover, there is no objective basis for favoring these two schools.

If Obama had looked more broadly at outstanding graduates from other schools, he might have found someone with more professional experience, a more extensive writing record or some actual experience in the judiciary.

The favoritism shown Harvard and Yale should be viewed not just as incestuous but as scandalous. It undermines educational institutions across the country by maintaining a clearly arbitrary and capricious basis for selection. It also runs against the grain of a nation based on meritocracy and opportunity.

If there is one place in the world that should be free of such baseless bias, it is the Supreme Court of the United States. But that would require looking a bit west and south from the banks of the Charles River.

Long Term Unemployment A Growing Problem

Full size chart of the duration of unemployment from the blog, Calculated Risk.

Socialism Fails Again. This Time, In Venezuela.

NPR: Economic Woes Threaten Chavez's Socialist Vision

Venezuela's economy is in trouble despite the country's huge oil reserves. Blackouts plague major cities. Its inflation rate is among the world's highest. Private enterprise has been so hammered, the World Bank says, that Venezuela is forced to import almost everything it needs.

This is not the way it was supposed to be. Venezuela is one of the world's great energy powers. Its oil reserves are among the world's largest and its hydroelectric plants are among the most potent.

But these days, Venezuela is being left behind: The rest of Latin America is expected to grow at a healthy rate this year, according to the World Bank.

The U.S. Has A Budget Hill To Climb

US gross debt as a percentage of GDP:

Telegraph (UK): US faces one of biggest budget crunches in world

[The International Monetary Fund-published] cross-country Fiscal Monitor is not easy reading and is a VERY big pdf (17mb), so I’ve collected a few of the key points. The idea behind the document is to set out how much different countries around the world need to cut their deficits by in the next few years, and the bottom line is it’s going to be big and hard...

But the really interesting stuff is the detail, and what leaps out again and again is how much of a hill the US has to climb. Exhibit a is the fact that under the Obama administration’s current fiscal plans, the national debt in the US (on a gross basis) will climb to above 100pc of GDP by 2015 – a far steeper increase than almost any other country.

Another issue is that, according to the IMF, the cost of extra healthcare and pensions will increase by a further 5.8pc over the next 20 years. This is the biggest increase of any other country in the G20 apart from Russia, and comes despite America having far more favourable demographics.

But level of debt isn’t the only problem. Then there’s the fact that the US has a far shorter maturity of government debt than most other countries, meaning that even if it weren’t borrowing any extra cash it would have to issue a large chunk of new stuff each year as things are.

What does this mean? Basically with a large financing need, you are particularly vulnerable if the market suddenly decides it doesn’t want your debt, since those extra interest rates they charge you mount much more quickly.

[T]he US, according to the IMF’s projections, has more to do than any other country in the developed world (apart from Japan) when it comes to bringing its debt back towards sustainable levels. ... [T]he US needs a 12pc of GDP chunk chopped out of its structural deficit (ie adjusted for the economic cycle). That’s $1.7 trillion. Wow – ...

Finally, some might be tempted at this point to cite the fact that the US has the world’s reserve currency in the dollar as another bonus. ... However, the flip side of this is that because it has yet to feel the market strain, the US also has yet to face up properly to the public finance disaster that could befall it if it does not do anything about the problem.

America is not Greece, but if it does not start making efforts to cut the deficit within a few years, it will head in that direction. The upshot wouldn’t be an IMF bail-out, but a collapse in the dollar and possible hyperinflation in the US, but it would be horrific all the same. America has time, but not forever.

Obama's Nixonian Plan For Re-election

I have compared Obama to Carter many times before, but maybe I should have compared him to Nixon instead ...

Foreign Policy: This Week at War: Obama's Nixonian Withdrawal Strategy

During his news conference with Karzai, Obama reaffirmed his intention to begin withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011. Obama undoubtedly wants to run for re-election in 2012 with the message that he wound down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He may be using Richard Nixon's first term as a model. Nixon reduced the U.S. head count in Vietnam from more than 500,000 to just a few thousand by election day in 1972. That wind down of the war, combined with an economic rebound and a weak opponent, resulted in a landslide re-election.

The dangers of Obama's July 2011 withdrawal declaration are well known. The Taliban, with ample sanctuaries, can easily conserve their resources and adjust the tempo of their operations to extract maximum political effect. Once a U.S. withdrawal begins, it will become irreversible. Political events might even lead to its acceleration. The United States' remaining coalition partners surely won't dither on the tarmac. Another risk is that Afghanistan's security forces will not be ready to accept heavy responsibility in 14 months.

Some may see Obama's withdrawal plan as a cynical move to get reelected in 2012. If it works, he will have to live with the consequences. Obama and his advisors have apparently concluded that a smaller advisor-based and open-ended security assistance program will keep Afghanistan from becoming a headache in his second term. If he gets re-elected, he will get a chance to experience that theory.

13 May 2010

Call For A Moderate, Independent New Party

Huffington Post: Third Party, Party

With the partisan dethroning of Florida's Republican Governor Charlie Crist and the open challenge to standing Republican Senator Bob Bennett's incumbency, a window is opening for third party politics and the flexing of muscle of the "middle ground."

What is clear is that the inertia of the chauvinistic zealotry that today prevails in far right-wing Republican politics has produced an opportunity.

Clearly, the far right wing, bolstered by the orchestration and organization of corporate dollars, has puffed itself up to a size greater than it actually is.

Thus moderate Republicans are now in danger of either losing the true ethos of their party to zealots or altering their own political aspirations to a point where what they originally sought is no longer recognizable as viable desirable policy.

In the process, the trumpeted "liberal controlled press," that is actually controlled and directed by moneyed interests decidedly committed to maintaining the status quo, has blown "tea bag" political activities out of proportion without holding their efforts to standards of accuracy, efficacy or objective examination.

Moderates and independents seem to have no appreciation of the imminent demise of the principles for which they are aligned in the first place. Sour personalities and negative mind-sets have replaced those few vestiges of reason that once surfaced in the Republican offering.

Quote of the Day

Saw someone say they preferred big government over big business. Isn’t big government just big business with the power to imprison you? -- Frank J., IMAO.us

Government Of, By, And For, The Harvard and Yale Alumni

Chicago Boyz: Intellectual Nondiversity

David Bernstein observes that if Elena Kagan is confirmed then every single Supreme Court Justice will have attended Harvard or Yale law schools. He also observes that:

The president went to Harvard, and barely defeated a primary opponent who went to Yale. His predecessor went to Yale and Harvard, and defeated opponents who went to Yale and Harvard, and Harvard, respectively. The previous two presidents also went to Yale, with Bush I defeating another Harvard grad for the presidency.

..and asks, “Isn’t this a bit much?”

His post reminded me of something that Peter Drucker wrote, way back in 1968:

One thing (a modern society) therefore cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale…

By contrast, one of the strengths of American education is the resistance to any elite monopoly. To be sure, we have institutions that enjoy (deservedly or not) high standing and prestige. But we do not, fortunately, discriminate against the men who receive their training elsewhere. The engineer whose degree is from North Idaho A and M does not regard himself as “inferior” or as “not really an engineer.”….

And five or ten years later, nobody cares much about where the fellow got his degree…

From the comments to the linked post:

If confirmed by the Senate, Elena Kagan — President Obama’s choice to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens — would be the third native New Yorker now sitting on the high court, along with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. (Plus, Antonin Scalia grew up in Queens.)

Answer: Pretty Bad

Cosmic Log: How bad can the spill get?

Arizona Immigration Law The Wrong Approach

msnbc: Poll: Nearly two-thirds back AZ law

Nearly two-thirds of Americans back Arizona's new anti-illegal immigration law, which makes it a state crime for a person to be in the country illegally. The law also requires local and state law enforcement officials to question people about their immigration status if they suspect they’re in the country illegally.

Sixty-four percent favor this law, while 34 percent oppose it.

I have had my say on immigration and my previous posts still represent my views.
Personally, I am against the Arizona law, and not because I don't see illegal immigration as a huge problem. I do. The wanton lack of enforcement of out immigration laws breeds contempt for the concept of law and order, and opens the door to violent criminals, and terrorist attacks, and damages the earning potential of low-income Americans.
But the Arizona law is an infringement of and a danger to the liberty of American citizens. We have already seen a degradation of our rights resulting from the War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism. Now it seems as our rights must further yield to the War on Illegal Aliens.
Never mind that all of these so-called domestic "wars" are the result of government mismanagement and political ineptitude. If I were the paranoid type, I could believe that these crises were allowed to develop in order to facilitate the acquiescence to the depletion of our rights.
Perhaps you are inclined to think that I exaggerate. I wonder what you reaction will be the first time you are stopped, informed by a police officer that they believe you may be here illegally, and that you need to show your papers. No problem, you think, as you hand the officer your -- what? Perhaps a drivers licence?
Now, as I understand it, if the officer is not satisfied that what you produced is adequate (or maybe you left your licence in the pocket of your pants at home) you will be held in custody until immigration authorities can verify that you are here legally. And with the coming budget crunches, don't think they will be putting in the overtime on nights and weekends.
And just like that -- your liberty, citizen of this fair land -- is legally at the mercy of the whims of any police officer, and a faceless bureaucrat. That should make you uncomfortable. Do we not have the right to walk the streets unaccosted? Do we not have the right to not have to carry government-issued identification papers at all times? If liberty does not allow for this, than what does it allow?
The standard for the officer is "reasonable suspicion." If a police officer can't come up with that low standard, he's not earning his pay.
The public support for the Arizona law is due to the two entrenched parties' failure to properly manage immigration.
Historians note that the Romans would repass legislation, or pass more severe and harsher laws on the same subject. Historians conclude that the laws weren't having an effect, and weren't being enforced. So it is with us.
Why don't we try enforcing some of the laws we already have? Let's go after employers of illegal immigrants. They're probably exploiting them anyway, and dodging taxes to boot. Let's try enforcing the border. Let's check the immigration status of people who have already been arrested. Let's stop releasing immigrants on their own recognizance while they await hearings. Let's reform the mess of bureaucracies that are involved in this problem, and adopt a more rational organization. These simple things would satisfy most, and upset few.
Let's try to do those things, before we start putting you in jail for the night because you forgot to carry your papers when you left the house.