7.30.2010

Some poetry for your evening

Vers de Société
by Philip Larkin [1974]

My wife and I have asked a crowd of craps
To come and waste their time and ours: perhaps
You'd care to join us? In a pig's arse, friend.
Day comes to an end.
The gas fire breathes, the trees are darkly swayed.
And so Dear Warlock-Williams: I'm afraid -

Funny how hard it is to be alone.
I could spend half my evenings, if I wanted,
Holding a glass of washing sherry, canted
Over to catch the drivel of some bitch
Who's read nothing but Which;
Just think of all the spare time that has flown

Straight into nothingness by being filled
With forks and faces, rather than repaid
Under a lamp, hearing the noise of wind,
And looking out to see the moon thinned
To an air-sharpened blade.
A life, and yet how sternly it's instilled

All solitude is selfish. No one now
Believes the hermit with his gown and dish
Talking to God (who's gone too); the big wish
Is to have people nice to you, which means
Doing it back somehow.
Virtue is social. Are, then, these routines

Playing at goodness, like going to church?
Something that bores us, something we don't do well
(Asking that ass about his fool research)
But try to feel, because, however crudely,
It shows us what should be?
Too subtle, that. Too decent, too. Oh hell,

Only the young can be alone freely.
The time is shorter now for company,
And sitting by a lamp more often brings
Not peace, but other things.
Beyond the light stand failure and remorse
Whispering Dear Warlock-Williams: Why, of course -

apropos this, at Metafilter.

Today I learned about Income Tax Brackets

I looked into how tax brackets work and it makes a whole lot more sense than it did before.

Before I had heard on occasion, it must have been repeated on tv or maybe in school, that someone turned down a raise to avoid getting bumped into a higher bracket. Even I had thought for instance if the top of bracket were at $50k and you got a raise to $51k, all of a sudden you went from paying something like 20% to 25% on it that'd be crazy. Turns out, if you know anything, this is completely not how it works.

The way it works is that the top of first bracket is currently $8 375 and the rate is 10%, if you're single. So everyone who makes less than $8 375 pays 10% of whatever and they're done. The top of the next bracket is $34 000. So, if you make $30 000 then you pay 10% on the first $8 375, and then the rate of the second bracket, 15%, on the next (30 000 - 8 375).

If you make more than 34k, say 50k, it then repeats again with you paying the max in the $8 375 bracket and the max in the $34k bracket and then 25% on (50 000 - 34 000) and so on.

I made an Excel to see the numbers. Downloadable here. I concluded that with the way it is, at least these two things are true:
  • As salary increases, pay more in taxes
  • As salary increases, take home pay never decreases
Display the graphs!


This first one is the effective tax rate by income. Click for bigger.


This second one has the pre-tax income across the bottom and the blue line, click for bigger. The after-tax income is the red line and I've also drawn the tax rate again.

Now that I know, breaking the income tax up into brackets like this seems to be vary fair--everyone pays low taxes on the first few chunks and then additional taxes on the additional income. Now when I hear about lowering the highest tax bracket for rich people, which is income past $374k, it feels like that's being way too generous to them. It's only 35%! It doesn't seem unfair that it should be higher like 50 or 60%, post WWII levels, since they've already gotten the first few hundred thousands at reasonable rates.

Today there are six brackets. Historically there were many more brackets. Up through the mid 60's, the highest brackets, $200k+ payed 91% tax. (Via the inflation calculator, $200k in 1964 is equivalent to about $1.37 million in 2009.) Then by the 70's it was in the 70's and it's crept down since then.

An Icelandic Book Review: Independent People

Last night, just as the plan touched down at Louis Armstrong International, I finished the English translation of SJÁLFSTÆTT FÓLK, "Independent People," by Halldór Laxness, the only Icelander ever to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Given the rigors of law school and the bar, it took me somewhere around six months to finish the book.  But, in a way, I'm glad it took me a while.  It allowed me to savor and fully appreciate what I found to be a truly good book.

A number of reviews and synopses out there hang themselves on this peg: that Laxness was at one point a decided leftist with socialist and communist sympathies.  They view the work through that prism.  But I found that the book, with its myriad deft insights into and criticisms of human nature, skewered the left just as much as the right, even if a tad more subtly.  In his glorious descriptions of the efforts of the politician Ingolfur Arnarsson Jonsson's efforts to bring co-operative societies to the Icelandic countryside, Laxness is every bit as good as Ayn Rand revealing the vile underlying nature of Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead.  Laxness did, after all, later condemn Stalinism after witnessing some it firsthand in the USSR.






















But I'm getting ahead of myself.  What is this tale about?  It's the story of a poor Icelandic sheep farmer, Bjartur of Summerhouses.  He's a stubborn, unfortunate, but fiercely autonomous man, a sort of Job who decides he's not going to take it anymore.  But, although he almost never shows it (and is downright harsh at times), he retains a soft spot - his adopted daughter Asta, his little flower.

7.29.2010

Why Ron Johnson Is Right About Creative Destruction

Does anyone out there bashing U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson for his comment about creative destruction realize that it's a defined term?  SteelworkersNewswireTom Nelson (who never misses a chance to preen)?  Sly?

I found only one detractor out there who at least had the sense to ask "Schumpeterian? What the hell is that, and who is Joseph Schumpeter?"

Johnson, in referencing creative destruction to describe the painful reality of job loss and economic instability, was clearly referring to the term popularized by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter.

What is this abominable creative destruction that everyone is all alarmed about?
Innovation by the entrepreneur, argued Schumpeter, leads to gales of “creative destruction” as innovations cause old inventories, ideas, technologies, skills, and equipment to become obsolete. The question is not “how capitalism administers existing structures, ... [but] how it creates and destroys them.” This creative destruction, he believed, causes continuous progress and improves the standards of living for everyone.

Ron Johnson's only fault here was in getting too close to the truth - stating an obvious fact of life, namely that economic change is a reality in American society and the modern global economy.  The only thing that's clearly not going to change is that things will always be changing as we move forward. 

Poor Ron Johnson.  How was he to know, as someone new to politics, that stating a harsh reality is entirely too impolitic?  Don't tell people that the way ahead is dynamism and that's what we need to gear ourselves toward.

Instead of encouraging the state's workforce to adapt and engage their ingenuity to get back on course, Tom Nelson and the Steelworkers Union would seemingly prefer stasis and hiding behind trade barriers.  That and they exploited the ease of using a term of art that had the word "destruction" in it to paint Ron Johnson - innacurately - as someone who doesn't care.

If Johnson's detractors want to have a bare knuckle fight on trade policy, then so be it.  As someone who prefers free trade, I still believe sussing out the hard facts of specific free trade deals or world trade groups should not be off the table.  If, say, a series of bilateral trade agreements would make more sense than a global organization or if a particular party isn't upholding its end of a legal agreement, then things may need to be corrected.

But Johnson's detractors in this matter instead seized more on his comment - an intelligent, realistic, pro-entrepreneurial one at that - and have tried to spin it off to the electorate as some sort of shocking revelation.  It's nothing of the sort. 

If anything, it's refreshing.  It's a recognition that economic progress, especially these days, can't be about sitting back and griping defensively anymore.  It's about finding a new path - even if diverting from the old one is less than comfortable.

A little reading

Via Reason, here's a fine list of readings designed to give liberals a better understanding of libertarianism.

I'm slightly pessimistic about the whole "liberaltarian" project, and tend to believe that libertarians need to focus first on expanding their influence within the Republican party, but it is an interesting idea.

St. Patrick Greets the Day

7.28.2010

Thoughts on North Korea

I finished that book on North Korea. It was pretty good and comprehensive and it’s got me thinking.

If Walker doesn't right the ship - and do it soon - it will be Governor Barrett come January

I know that Scott Walker doesn't want to hear what I'm going to say. I guarantee that it won't win me any friends within the campaign or RPW, but I don't much care about that. What I care about is a conservative winning in November and getting Wisconsin back on track.

Right now, I don't think that's going to happen. The problems are best highlighted in the recent controversy over Walker and Barrett's responses to the floods in Milwaukee. I know that Walker has insisted that the county was on top of things from the start, and that's great that it was. It's also great if the county got things under control so that Walker didn't need to be there to get the cleanup underway. Unfortunately - and here's the bad news - it doesn't matter. There were homes on the verge of falling into sinkholes. Over 8 inches of rain in some places had fallen in a matter of a few hours. The county executive needed to be in the county, not on a campaign swing.

In contrast - whether it mattered in terms of getting things done or not - Tom Barrett was there all weekend, touring the damage and publicly asking for disaster relief. That's the template that now exists from the storm. Doesn't matter if it's accurate or not, it's the perception and that is all that matters. If you are an executive and your city/county is in crisis, you stay put and fix it. It's Politics 101, hell, it's Leadership 101.

And this is the problem with the Walker campaign and RPW. Barrett's campaign is running a fairly tight ship thus far. They have put forward a "plan" for the budget and have been trumpeting job creation. Their message has been very focused. Walker's messaging has been rudderless. As far as I can tell, they are more concerned with boasting about the campaign's tactical and organizational success as opposed to any type of coherent strategy or vision for the state.

I know Scott Walker and firmly believe he'd be a good governor. But Scott, you're getting bad advice. Every time you talk to the media or in public you should be talking about jobs. Every thing should come back to that single issue. Talking about taxes? We need to reform the taxes in Wisconsin to bring in more jobs. Talking about spending? Less government - or better, more efficient government - in terms of regulatory climate will make us more competitive to bring in jobs.

We have a $2.5 billion deficit for the next budget right now. You should be rolling out your own budget initiative to close that gap with specific, easy to understand cuts. I know you have people to help you on that. If no one on your campaign wants to do it, fire them and hire someone who will. Hell, I'll work cheap.

My point is this: drop the Brown Bag stuff. Ignore Mark Neumann. Focus on your vision for the state. I know you have one, we've talked about it before.

This year is a great opportunity to enact huge, positive change in the state of Wisconsin but only if we lead. The organization that the Walker campaign has put in place is impressive, but let the campaign take care of it. The candidate's job is to offer a vision; solutions for the problems we face. But we don't hear enough of it from Walker himself. All we hear is how great the campaign is doing - just look at their own press releases, most of the recent ones either tout campaign "success" or blast opponents.

With all due respect, I don't give a damn about the phone calls or lit drops last weekend. Tell me how great Wisconsin will be after 4 years of Governor Walker or how you'll reform the state to bring in good jobs. If you don't focus on that, you end up looking like you care more about the campaign and adoring fans than leading the state. We all know that Tommy Thompson loves adoring fans more than anyone else in Wisconsin politics, but he had a great knack for making it always about the state and her people. He was a cheerleader for Wisconsin, not his campaigns.

That's why people loved him and why he never lost a race. It's what Scott Walker should be doing: he should lead, not campaign. If he doesn't, Tom Barrett - regardless of whether or not he's lying through his teeth about his own "plan" for the budget - will win in November. That would be horrible for Wisconsin and put us on the road towards economic and fiscal ruin.

We are in a great position as conservatives and should win big, but you still must win with a message and vision. That message must be one of economic growth and freedom. Scott, you want us to Believe in Wisconsin again. Give us a reason. Give us a plan and make us believe you first.

7.27.2010

Paul Ryan smacks Chris Matthews on taxes and spending

Watch this whole video, I think it's rather revealing of the liberal mindset going into this election. Even though Paul does a great job of refuting the "party of no" label, Matthews' attack is the danger of winning by default.

As we've all pointed out here - most recently, and perhaps forcefully, by Steve - the GOP needs to win this November on the basis of its ideas, not the incompetency of the Democrats. Let's hope other candidates are taking notes.

A chat with Ron Johnson, pt II: trade and economics

In the second part of my interview, we discussed economic issues, especially trade.

I had hoped to go into a lot more depth on some domestic political questions as well, having hoped for at least half an hour to talk with Ron -- but we only had 15 minutes, so we ended things with the financial crisis.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Kristin Reusch and I knew each other socially through the UW College Republicans -- it in no way affected the content of the interview.

(Part One is here.)

A chat with Ron Johnson, pt I: foreign policy

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ron Johnson and talk about a few of the issues he's facing in the upcoming race against Russ Feingold. I wanted to get beyond the talking points about local politics that we've heard so much about, and hit on a few things that haven't come up as much yet.

The first part of our interview focused on foreign policy, the second on trade. Trade will be coming shortly is here; the first part of that discussion is posted below the fold:

7.26.2010

Partially obscured faces




Period Garden Park, Madison.

A Russian resurgence

Are the Russkies back as bad guys? Maybe so:
And why, I wonder, have the Russians been revived as the enemy? Are Middle Eastern terrorists washed up as villains? The story, by the screenwriter Kurt Wimmer, revives Cold War wickedness, presented without irony. It seems that, years ago, Russian children were kidnapped, taken to an abandoned monastery in Siberia, and trained by a kind of Soviet Fu Manchu to speak English with American accents and idioms... the actual Russian sleepers who were recently booted out of the country seem to have mainly kept a close watch on top-secret goings on in Montclair, New Jersey.

Since y'all seem to be stuck with me...

...let's talk about some more Central Asian stuff! Kyrgyzstan has largely fallen off the radar here in the US, but between flareups of violence and new reports on the role of organized crime in said violence, it's still a very real issue:
Athletes – sportsmen, in local parlance – form the second type of networks. These groups are widely believed to engage in racketeering, money laundering, drug trafficking and fraud. Their leaders reportedly fund youth sports clubs, leisure facilities and private enterprises to attract crowds of young and unemployed men.

Osh-based observers, speaking to EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity due to fear of repercussions, say that while various links between the two types of networks exist, the sportsmen-led networks do not have the same kind of clearly delineated hierarchy and strong code of conduct that exists in the prison networks. Sportsmen are also known to lend muscle to Kyrgyz political factions during protests, and to form groups along ethnic lines.
At any rate, the violence also comes at an opportune moment, and givens another Central Asian state -- this time Kazakhstan -- a chance to take the lead in regional affairs:
As Kazakhstan continues to promote its enhanced role in Eurasia and global affairs, it should clearly see that its OSCE chairmanship is both a challenge and an opportunity. Utilizing each other's capacities to address global and regional security threats, including by supporting reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in Kyrgyzstan, will position both Kazakhstan and the OSCE as serious actors in Central Asia, and particularly in Kyrgyzstan where no other entity appears willing to lead. Only this will reinforce the status of Kazakhstan's regional capabilities -- both perceived and real.

Ghosts of protests past


Remember the days?

7.23.2010

Congratulations to Professor Gordley

Tulane Law's own joins the likes of Coase, Posner, Calabresi, etc. as a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.

Gordley, who won the teaching award from our graduating class this year, taught me property law and guided me through an enjoyable seminar on the history of the civil law.

Hmm

For your consideration:
Can diplomats field their own army? The State Department is laying plans to do precisely that in Iraq, in an unprecedented experiment that U.S. officials and some nervous lawmakers say could be risky.

...

Under the terms of a 2008 status of forces agreement, all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, but they'll leave behind a sizable American civilian presence, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world, and five consulate-like "Enduring Presence Posts" in the Iraqi hinterlands.

Iraq remains a battle zone, and the American diplomats and other civilian government employees will need security. The U.S. military will be gone. Iraq's army and police, despite billions of dollars and years of American training, aren't yet capable of doing the job.
Issues to consider: the militarization of the diplomatic corps, the ballooning national security/ intelligence infrastructure, military-civilian linkages in US politics, military-diplomatic linkages in US war zones (especially consider Afghanistan in light of the Gen McChrystal incident). I'm sure there's more.

Discuss!

Some budget-cutting clarification

A mistake that conservatives make all too often when discussing cutting spending is to completely ignore or gloss-over the Department of Defense. Marc Thiessen, writing at National Review and the American Enterprise blog discusses what he sees as "troubling talk" of defense spending cuts. While I appreciate Mr. Thiessen's commitment to a strong and robust national defense, I think there is a danger in knee-jerk opposition to cutting the Pentagon's budget.

Thiessen himself seems to take a very reasoned approach to the problem and quotes our favorite Congressman, Paul Ryan, in explaining how to treat the Department of Defense:
But we should make sure we take that scalpel to the Pentagon as well. Because I would argue there is a lot of waste to be gotten. But let’s not do so at the expense of our fundamental, primary function of our federal government, which is to secure our national defense. So I believe in a big cap, and I believe in a firewall, so you can’t take money from defense to plow it into all this domestic spending, but under that cap let’s make sure that we can get savings so that we can do more with less—or, what do they say these days? Do more with not as much, I think, is the way Secretary Gates says it.
The danger I see - from the GOP as a whole - is refusing to cut any waste at all. We saw this in last year's defense appropriation when the Senate refused to cut a wasteful and unnecessary - according to Sec. Gates and the Joint Chiefs - fighter jet program. The cuts to defense that need to be made will not be easy, but they are as necessary as any other reform. I wonder whether or not the GOP has the political will to tackle it.

Let me put it this way, think of pruning an apple tree or a grape vine. In order to get the best yield - not just in amount of fruit, but quality as well - you must trim away the unnecessary growth each year. Otherwise the tree or vine becomes overgrown and hinders it's growth. The same is true for defense spending - and government spending in general. The goal is not to see how many programs we can get running at once, but to foster the best quality programs possible. If we cut waste and reform the procurement process, we can go a long way to clearing away clutter and unnecessary growth that ultimately hinders our mission.

I'm not saying bare-bones defense budgeting, but we need some honest cuts. We can't look at parochial interests or pet projects as sacred anymore no matter what department that may be. The Republican Party going forward must certainly put defense at the top of our priority list, but we can no longer act as though there is an unlimited amount of money we can pour into the Pentagon.

Politically I think this is an important point to make. If voters are to take Republicans seriously about reigning in government largess, then we must be consistent. Wasteful spending at the Department of Education, or the USDA, or in Medicare and Social Security is just as bad as waste at the DoD. We have lacked that consistency - and any other consistency, really - in the past and paid dearly in 06 and 08. I hope we learned our lesson and get serious about it now.

I don't think Paul Ryan is sweating reelection...

Ryan's opponent - John Heckenlively - is apparently of the Paul Krugman school of thought on stimulus spending. Essentially, that means that we just need to spend more and more and more until the economy turns around (it's never good when the headline says you want to raise taxes and spending, just ask Walter Mondale).

The political problem for Heckenlively is that he also says that the deficit is a huge problem - it's all George W. Bush and Paul Ryan's fault, mind you - and needs to be solved with tax increases and cutting waste. I'm all for cutting wasteful spending, but fiddling around the edges of a multi-trillion dollar budget just isn't going to get us there. Especially if you toss on more "stimulus" spending.

I just don't see that working out well in the first district this year.

Still, in all seriousness, I give the guy credit for stepping up. It's never easy to run for office, especially when you know the deck is stacked against you from the start.

Friday music video

Check this out:



I happened across this band, Bowerbirds, this week and their first album is pretty good. They sound like Andrew Bird singing with the Decemberists arranged by Beirut.

7.22.2010

Americana


Health mandates and the subsidized state: working at cross purposes

The MacIver Institute noted yesterday that -- hold your breath -- Wisconsin is looking at some new taxes:
State health officials Wednesday released a long-range health vision that proposes increased taxes on alcohol, placing community health centers in middle schools, restricting the sale of alcohol at public events and would begin public schooling for children as young as three years old.

According to the Department of Health Services, the Healthiest Wisconsin 2020: Everyone Living Better, Longer sets out several major health improvement targets, including smoking prevention, lowering obesity rates, ensuring access to good nutrition and increasing exercise levels. The plan also emphasizes the need to improve systems that support health, such as research, health literacy, sustainable funding, partnerships and information systems.
This reminded me of the bit I caught on NPR a few days back about the struggles poor families face when buying food:
"A gallon of milk is $3-something. A bottle of orange soda is 89 cents," she says. "Do the math."
The math we should be doing, though, relates to subsidies:
Under the [2003] Milk Volume Production (MVP) program run by the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, factory farms can receive up to $1 million each for herd expansion – and this is on top of all sorts of other subsidies and incentives. On Oct. 1st Kinnard Farms near Lincoln was awarded $150,000 by Doyle to buy 300 more cows, having already gotten a $3,000 Dairy 2020 grant from Thompson in 1998. On Oct. 7th Doyle awarded another $450,000 to Blue Star Farms near Arlington to buy 900 more cows, following a $5,000 Business Employees Skills Training (BEST) grant from McCallum in 2001. With so much taxpayer swill in the public trough, it’s no wonder there are now over a hundred factory farms in Wisconsin, compared to just two a decade ago.
Getting rid of just one awful subsidy would go much further toward improving the health of those who need it most than raising a host of taxes. Imagine going further and dropping subsidies for things like corn. Without an artificial price floor set by government tampering in the market, healthier food would be available at lower prices. That, far more than an extra 5 cent tax on cheeseburgers, will go a long way toward ending obesity; when milk prices can compete with soda, parents can afford to make better choices.

The legacy of Gov. Doyle and the cowardice of the legislature

The Wisconsin Supreme Court's ruling on Gov. Doyle and the legislature's 2007 raid on the Patients Compensation Fund is absolutely correct. It also highlights the defining characteristic of the Doyle years. Gov. Doyle came into office almost 8 years ago with a budget mess. He promised to fix it. He lied.

For the last eight years we have been subjected to countless Transportation Fund raids, postponed payments, increased bonding, and increased taxes and fees in addition to the illegal $200 million PCF raid. The result is budget disaster. As the Fiscal Bureau just recently reported, if we change nothing in current law and spending for 2011-13, we are facing a $2.5 billion deficit.

To me, it is emblematic of the Governor's complete lack of leadership during his tenure. It is also an indication of the cowardice of the state legislature.

We must remember that the state legislature cooperated with the Governor to raid the PCF. Every single politician who voted for it needs to explain themselves to the people of Wisconsin - including the 23 Republicans. It was irresponsible and we knew it then, just as we know it now. I think any of those 23 Republicans who are pursuing higher office or reelection are going to regret that vote.

Still, as bad as the raid - and the 2007 budget as a whole - was, I think the response by the Doyle administration and the legislature is far worse. In the State Journal's report:
Department of Administration Secretary Dan Schooff blasted the court's ruling saying it "will not benefit any injured patients, it will not benefit anyone's health - it will only benefit the peace of mind of a few members of the state Medical Society."
Schooff threatened to cut rates paid to doctors and providers in the Medicaid and BadgerCare Plus programs as well as other areas to come up with the money needed to repay the fund.
So the response to a Supreme Court ruling is to get pissed off and try to punish doctors and their patients. Very classy. Meanwhile, legislative leaders are shrugging their shoulders and kicking the can down the road. Despite their being a full five and a half months left in the legislative term, Sen. Miller and Rep. Pocan - the Joint Finance Committee chairs - are "unsure" as to whether this warrants a special session. I know that I say this often, but we have a full-time legislature. Get off your lazy backsides and get to work!

I don't care who is to blame. I know that the GOP leadership was complicit and it is one of the reasons I can't stand much of RPW these days. The task now is to fix the problem. We shouldn't have to wait until a new legislature is seated in January, but it looks like that is likely. Since that is the case, this needs to be an election issue and it's a simple one: the Governor and the legislature stole from the PCF. Why did Representative X or Senator Y vote for it? Fixing the $2.5 billion deficit and repaying the PCF ought to be issue number 2 in the gubernatorial race - issue number one, of course, being jobs.

This is not the time to win by default, it is the time to lead. Will Republicans - or Democrats - do it?

7.20.2010

Tempus Fugit III

"This is what I teach students here: Keep your biases to yourself"

That's "former CNN and ABC News correspondent Charles Bierbauer," talking to NPR. He continues:
I don't want to know what they are when I go to the news. If I want opinions, I go to the editorial page, or I turn on one of the political food fights. But [there] I know what I'm getting.
It's an interesting shift, and I'm not entirely sold that the media believes it. But it reflects an interesting trend.

As the blogosphere boomed, ideology became something to wear on your sleeve. Bloggers traded on only one side of a story, of course, but with the immediate availability of a tremendous range of opinion, it made the pundits appear more honest -- sure you were getting the news with a slant, but at least you knew it, unlike those tricky MSM sources who pretended to neutrality but put their slant behind the scenes instead. That was, to a certain extent, the idea behind the Mendota Beacon -- we'll give you the news, and be honest about where we're coming from. No BS.

And the media caught a whiff of that. And given how badly hard news was contracting, it made sense to go the same route. Obviously Fox and MSNBC have succeeded in that route. But it doesn't entirely appear to have made things more honest.

So now we're back to just the facts, ma'am. The trouble is reflected in the quote above though -- the lesson learned has been, "hide your bias," not "set your bias aside when reporting." And so we get cases like Dave Weigel, who thought he'd successfully hidden his bias -- only to be revealed. And so the cycle goes.

7.19.2010

Co-opting

The Washington Post:
Jim DeMint can rest easy. It is unlikely that folks like Mike Lee, Ron Johnson or Sharron Angle will be co-opted if they win. But come November there may be some new Republican senators eager to join the club. While the media has focused on the rise of the Tea Party movement and the success of conservative insurgents in GOP primaries, there is another smaller insurgency taking place under the radar screen -- a quiet insurgency of more moderate Republicans for whom fiscal discipline is not a top priority.
I repeat: we need to win on the issues.

Still life, Menasha

The thunder rumbles off into the distance; the jazz carries on, my brother and his friends swinging into the breathlessly muggy night.


A bold proposition: Menasha is more happening than Neenah.

It's far too early for bed.

Tempus Fugit II

Psst

He's right.

7.17.2010

A modern GOP

David Frum is looking for a one-sentence answer, and comes to this conclusion:
[I]f the Democrats can accommodate both investment bankers and unionists, the GOP should be able to find room for differing views on issues pertaining to sexuality. We always say we’re a “big tent.” But when was the last time we allowed a pro-choice Republican a slot on a national ticket? 1976, that’s when. One reason we got stuck with Sarah Palin for VP in 2008 was that when McCain (wisely) decided he wanted a woman running mate, he bumped into this constraint: all the other Republican female senators and governors were pro-choice, and therefore were excluded from consideration from the start.

Yet it is a fact that many Republicans and (yes!) many conservatives are pro-choice. Many more favor stem-cell research. Many again were appalled by the Terri Schiavo episode. Younger Republicans and conservatives, like younger Americans generally, are moving to acceptance of same-sex marriage.
Certainly my kind of conservatism -- or my kind of GOP, anyway.

Personally, I would propose something along the lines of what Frum lays out. Perhaps, "A return to a classically liberal belief in individual choice in social contexts, free-market-oriented policy to preserve a maximum of economic choice, and an assertion of American interests overseas." How would you answer?

God save us from those who would give us good advice

Althouse asks, "So do the Republicans need any actual ideas...
... or should they just shut up and take advantage of the way we're terrified of the Democrats?" and links to this piece in the Washington Post:
"The smart political approach would be to make the election about the Democrats," said Neil Newhouse of the powerhouse Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, which is advising more than 50 House and Senate candidates. "In terms of our individual campaigns, I don't think it does a great deal of good" to engage in a debate over the Republicans' own agenda.
This is exactly the kind of thing that would absolutely destroy the Republican Party should it happen. If the GOP is to have any chance of becoming an intellectually honest, principled opposition -- as opposed to a crass, anti-intellectual pack of knee-jerk nay-sayers -- the party must win this election on the merits of Republican policy ideas alone. If the GOP is rewarded for its simple intransigence, it will sink back into the intellectual swamp of the late Bush years -- it will remain a party of no ideas, of craven political cowardice, and beholden to a narrow range of corporate interests while paying lip service to the independent libertarians (you can read that as Tea Partiers if you will) who, as swing voters, put the party into power. A GOP victory that puts ideas a distant second to bashing Democrats will be a GOP victory that forsakes both the Tea Party and its libertarian constituency and sinks back into the easy role of the political lout.

That's why the difference between Paul Ryan and Ron Johnson is so important. Because it's easy to pose as someone who champions the Tea Party interests, but who coasts into power by throwing just enough red meat to all of the Bush constituencies to squeak out what would be a totally undeserved victory in a normal election cycle. And that's the kind of candidate who will bring less than nothing to the table -- because he will be too politically fragile to take any stand on any issue, beyond "Obama said it, so we don't like it." We may just as well elect Glenn Beck.

7.16.2010

"mannerly French envoys have found themselves in the unlikely world of rapster-style dissing"

The French try their hand at diplomacy -- between Georgia and Russia:
Two years ago, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy was trying to convince Vladimir Putin to abort the Russian invasion of Georgia, the Russian prime minister reportedly startled his French guest by sharing plans to hang Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili by his private parts. Now that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has instructed Tbilisi to make nice with Russia, Saakashvili has cautioned that Georgia will not “lick" its giant neighbor "in one place as some have proposed that we do."
I can just see the French in an image in my head, agog at the uncouth Caucasians lobbing insults across the dinner table.

Afoot?

Changes may be coming to the Middle East soon -- The Economist dissects, in its usual inimitable style:
Elections, though vital in the end, are not an early panacea. What the Arabs need most, in a hurry, is the rule of law, independent courts, freeish media, women’s and workers’ rights, a market that is not confined to the ruler’s friends, and a professional civil service and education system that are not in hock to the government, whether under a king or a republic. In other words, they need to nurture civil society and robust institutions. The first task of a new Saudi king should be to enact a proper criminal code.

In the Arab lexicon, the concept of justice means more than democracy. In the end, you cannot have the first without the second. But the systems that now prevail in the Arab world provide for neither.

Hot Afternoon

7.15.2010

Don't Believe it for a Minute

"The American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street's mistakes," Obama said moments after stepping off Marine One on the White House lawn.

We're highly skeptical of the financial reform bill, Mr. President:

Almost four out of five Americans surveyed in a Bloomberg National Poll this month say they have just a little or no confidence that the measure being championed by congressional Democrats will prevent or significantly soften a future crisis. More than three-quarters say they don’t have much or any confidence the proposal will make their savings and financial assets more secure.

7.14.2010

A Stitch in Time

This is quite interesting.  Reason interviews Paul Pastorek, Louisiana Superintendent of Education (and father of a law school friend, the artist Jeff Pastorek), about the charter school revolution that's swept through post-Katrina New Orleans in my time here.  As someone who appreciates the notion of local control but sees the value of competition, it's a thought provoking - and ongoing - story to digest.

+ A new CBS poll - with all kinds of revealing numbers about all kinds of things (Obama doesn't fare so well).

+ This could be devastating to the New Orleans area economy.  But don't cry doom yet - there's certainly a chance a different company could buy out the shipbuilding facility.

+ Sure, I'll take some of those.

+ Paul Ryan versus Ron Johnson - what's the difference on the issues?  Look at the pull down bar "Paul on the Issues."  Then look at "Ron on the Issues."  Ron could learn from Paul - this is not the "pander to social conservatives by opposing gay marriage" cycle.  Nor is that approach the best way to ensure that the GOP stays out of the woods going forward.  I understand Johnson is looking to build a coalition without a prior record in elected office, but I think he would do well to heed Ryan's lead - and Mitch Daniels' observation - in avoiding excessive emphasis on social issues like traditional marriage.  There is plenty of additional fodder out there at the moment.

+ "China's new Africa" in South America.

+ Congressman Cao had a primary challenger...but now he doesn't.  At the moment, I think he's the best I can hope for here.  He certainly has a unique voting record that's difficult to categorize offhandedly.  But it's a shame he won't have a gadfly to chide him about voting for so many appropriations bills - and hinging his votes solely on religion instead of any basic sense of limited government.

+ "Some of you will lose your jobs, some of you will call your councilmembers, but we have to do it" - Good for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, on his efforts to resolve a $67 million budget shortfall

+ Great headline.  Could be The Onion.  Actually the NYT: "Enigmatic Jobless Man Prepares Senate Campaign"

Roundup: comings and goings edition

+A Colombian journalist won't be coming...

+...but a Venezuelan drug lord will be.

+Russian super-spy Anna Chapman just can't stay away.

+However he arrived, an Iranian nuclear scientist is departing, but will linger online.

+A state rock on the outs?

Required Reading

For the Letters in Bottles set.

7.10.2010

Congrats, mike h & paula!

7.09.2010

For a wedding weekend

Three of the four of us on the blog will actually be at the upcoming wedding this weekend, so it'll probably be fairly quite around here. In the meantime, enjoy a Camera Obscura video while we're out -- Lemon Juice and Paper Cuts, from the Easter show they played at the High Noon.

Friday music video

Yeasayer--Wait for the Summer

Critique from the right

They say that this is a dangerous year for politicians, and that big-spender Republicans who rely on federal subsidies and cede local control are on the defensive. That certainly seems to be the case -- that the GOP is this year getting back to fundamentals. And it's doing so through groups like the Wisconsin GOP Liberty Caucus, which is going after Roger Roth pretty heavily:
Based on Roth’s policy positions — he supports torture, is against consumer choice and the free market, and favors more state and federal regulations — it is clear he needs to take a comprehensive study course on what the Constitution permits.
There's much more at the link, and it's a pretty damning attack on Roth's record. Such a candidate certainly should hold no credible shot at a Republican nomination.

We should also note that Roth has been rather a protectionist, which, although a nicely pat-yourself-on-the-back political move, is not the kind of thing you'd like to see from a party producing such economic lions as Paul Ryan. Measures like the "buy local" legislation are what got us into the trench -- not measures to get us out.

This kind of scrutiny is the best form of housekeeping, and the GOP should be paying very close attention.

7.08.2010

"The pedagogical approach is as yet unclear, though it seems to be pro-Mormon and pro-McCarthy"

It's not quite what I'd plan for my summer break, but you could go to Glenn Beck University:
Beck, who recently received an honorary degree from Liberty University, the Christian college founded by Jerry Falwell, believes that if the American people only read more history books—specifically, the books that Glenn Beck reads, many of which are infused with a paranoid brand of Mormonism—they would arrive at a collective Kronstadt moment; the zombified products of American public education realizing that the revolution of Adams, Jefferson, and Washington was long ago betrayed by a cabal of progressives-communists-Marxists-socialists (to Beck, the four groups are interchangeable).

I don't know if we needed more proof...

...that Ann Coulter is a worthless moron, but here it is:
Nonetheless, Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney have demanded that Steele resign as head of the RNC for saying Afghanistan is now Obama’s war – and a badly thought-out one at that. (Didn’t liberals warn us that neoconservatives want permanent war?)
There's more (is there ever less?) at the link, but unless you enjoy gross distortions of history and logic, it probably isn't worth reading.

How is it that Republicans ever enjoyed her schtick, and why do they continue to put up with it?

Don't drink milk

An interesting Russian sect in Azerbaijan:
Molokans – known as “milk (moloko) drinkers” for their refusal to honor Russian Orthodox Church fasts -- settled in Azerbaijan sometime in the mid-19th century, after being expelled from Russia for refusing to wear the cross and to practice any ritual, such as fasting or venerating icons, not explicitly stated in the Bible. Molokans are also known for their pacifism and their communal tendencies in social organization.
Their community is falling apart, sadly.

7.07.2010

"Ma'am, you are crossing a POLICE CORDON - I warned you - and THAT IS AN ARRESTABLE OFFENSE!"



"That's MY BABY in that car!"
"Ma'am, GET OUT OF THIS INTERSECTION."

Meaning

So, our latest Borises and Natashas are being shipped out, not even worthy of a good spy trial, to be exchanged for American prisoners.

That's very good news. Mostly, it means that these spies really did not learn anything useful -- nothing was compromised. So the US can deal in a position of relative strength to get back assets of our own, and provides some payoff for the roundup of the ring.

I am very curious to know why the 11th spy, caught late in Cyprus, was released on bail. It seems like an odd move -- he was clearly a big red flag for flight risk, and has subsequently done just that.

Meanwhile, Power Vertical has more on what this means in Russian terms.

Well, yes

I said this quite a while ago.

Just so you know

I realize that my blogging has been extremely light as of late. There's a good reason for it, too. On the 30th I moved from Janesville up to Appleton to live with my fiancee and on this coming Saturday, we are getting married.

Needless to say, it's been a bit hectic. So, this will likely be my only post for the next two weeks - I'm not blogging on my honeymoon. So, for the next couple of weeks, have fun and hopefully no huge, major story breaks in the next 14 days.

Food for Thought on Utilities

One of the things that seems to stand out of place in the Constitution with the rest of the document is the section compelling the government to operate a post office. Especially since there are several companies that are able to profitably compete doing post.

Presumably they chose to have a government post office because then all addresses in the country would be served, no exceptions, and on one uniform system. Furthermore, doing it this way makes the mail system as stable as possible, setting it high above potential business crashes since it will exist as long as the government does, fostering commerce by ensuring long-term stability and confidence.

The twist is that a post office sounds exactly like the main utility of the 1700's and the thing I've always thought that the Constitution was designed for a hands-off central government!

As far as things they could have also made public utilities, the only things I can think of is public fire departments which Ben Franklin first organized or city waters systems or perhaps canals, but FD's and city plumbing seem best left to local governments and canals left to states given the size of states relative to geography.

The post office article leads to post roads, which I didn't know about before and they seem to be the forerunners of the government building highways and interstates, which were officially built for national defense. Of course the military, the government itself, a patent system, and the justice/court system are public utilities.

If the government had been formed a century ago, would they have counted railroads or electricity or telephones as some sort of public utility? If nowadays, would they have explicitly included things like healthcare, education, cell phone networks, or internet access as public utilities, best handled nationally to various degrees? It seems like the same arguments for a post office could be made for any of those things.

Whether or not they intended the federal government to go into business in new fields, the Constitution they wrote is ambiguous enough to allow it to expand to encompass them over time. The government runs and regulates ports and airports, national parks, a space agency, and smart grids.

Despite what I've written, after skimming the history of the British Post Office, in comparison our government looks restrained. Their P.O. had a monopoly over all communication and they nationalized telegraph companies and ran the telephone system. Perhaps a difference in approach is related to how we've always been expanding into wilderness whereas in the same time frame the UK has had the same cities and it was figured that private business could best deploy resources to connect new areas.

7.06.2010

What price stability?

Is there a chance that the recent political upheaval will bring some degree of liberalization to Iranian society? Qua Jeremi Suri's idea that social upheaval spurred detente, it's a fair question to ask -- and the BBC is suggesting an answer:
Strangely, it is the hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has been arguing that it is not the government's job to crack down on people's style of dress.

...

The regulations concerning art galleries, for example, have been relaxed a little. Though any sense of greater freedom has been removed by the arrest of so many of Iran's leading artists and creative talents, such as the film director Jafar Panahi.

When the government runs health care...

...porn becomes a political issue:
"Although I cannot claim to have seen the final picture - as I understand, these things are no longer claimable on parliamentary expenses - it was a big-budget affair and generated substantial income for the hospital."
Wait, viewing porn -- I assume that's what is meant by "these things" above -- was once claimable on parliamentary expenses? I wonder how certain SEC lawyers would feel about that.

"It is highly unlikely Bieber would be given permission to enter North Korea"...

...the BBC advises us. Good to know.

Added: the piece is just too full of good quotes. "Given the fact that almost all citizens of North Korea are denied internet access and there are restrictive controls over all media, it is unlikely that any of the votes have actually come from within the country."

7.05.2010

Secretary Clinton, flexing?

What to make of Secretary Clinton's now-completed jaunt through the former Soviet Union over the weekend?

She began the weekend with a pretty significant muscle flex, reasserting America's aim of building a missile shield in Europe -- and pointedly, in Poland, exactly where Russia hadn't wanted it previously.

I'll suggest the move had two points of significance. Firstly, on the heels of Dima Medvedev's visit with President Obama recently, I expect this was not entirely unanticipated by the Russians. There hasn't been a whole of of discussion of the move coming from Russia. In fact, the move is being posed in a much more conciliatory manner:
"We will continue this dialogue so that Russia and us can work together on the creation of a global missile defense system," [US ambassador to Russia] Beyrle was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency as telling students at the Moscow Steel Institute.
Russia has clearly been benefiting from the "reset" policy, and apparently feels that it has more to lose by ending that progress than by cooperating. Of such is diplomacy made, and I'll say that the "reset" is looking more and more like a real success for Obama's foreign policy and focus on diplomacy.

The move also was undoubtedly aimed at Georgia, where Clinton capped her tour. It was high time for that visit, after President Obama snubbed Saakashvili at the April nonproliferation conference in Washington. But Georgia now seems to think it has also reaped benefits from the reset, and that's a very big deal.

Azerbaijan was a soft spot, and highlights the precariousness of the continuing war in Afghanistan. Clinton was largely laughed out of Azerbaijan by its democracy activists, having done little more than parrot regime talking points and mouthing some platitudes about "democracy." That's saddening to say the least, but it reflects a larger geopolitical reality: Azerbaijan is, in addition to being a major oil and gas producer and transit point, a major hub for materiel going into and out of Afghanistan. And that means that the US doesn't have a whole lot of choice in how we handle the country.

Moreover, she doesn't appear to have made any progress on settling the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia (not that any could really be expected right now, with a fresh round of violence only just cooling off). Clinton has made attempts previously to broker a deal, only to have them undone at the last moment. But the questions remains: are these losses enough to justify shoring up Azerbaijani support for transit missions to Afghanistan?

7.04.2010

Around the bend


Outside of Madison, a couple weeks ago.

Happy Fourth, all!

Clinton in Baku

Here's an interesting report from the Secretary of State's meeting with a group of democracy activists in Baku today:
Though seriously, I don't think that Madam Secretary is a kind of person who can buy this argument. Neither she is the one who invented it. The argument is betraying its creators.

Then there is only one answer - we, the pro-democracy forces are perceived so weak (or we are really so weak?) - that Mrs Clinton doesn't bother to find an argument to answer us, but repeats the one already heard in meetings with Azeri officials or read in a memo penned by a bureaucrat in Azeri MFA.

Yesterday, a friend Vafa rebuked me in Facebook for being overly optimistic regarding this meeting. She said if I went there with high hopes, I would be disappointed.

Actually, I am not disappointed, because I didn't have any high or tall hopes. Vafa had just misunderstood me. To repeat what I wrote to Vafa yesterday - the real change in Azerbaijan has to come from its people only. And the Americans, they are pragmatic people. If they see that we, the pro-democracy forces are strong in Azerbaijan, they will surely support us. As long as we are weak, they will support the current authoritarian government. So simple.

I am just saddened that all we had been doing wasn't worth a flawed argument about Iran.
Much more at the link -- and another reminder of how important our liberty really is.

7.03.2010

Mentioned

Ron Johnson makes the list of "Tea Party candidates" who are shaking up races and threatening incumbents:
Republican Ron Johnson, the owner of a Wisconsin-based company that makes plastic packaging materials, has called for reducing the size of the government, opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants and cap-and-trade legislation, and advocates repealing the health care overhaul law. He's also said man-made global warming hasn't been proved and he questioned how Social Security is different from a Ponzi scheme.

Johnson is willing to spend as much as $15 million of his money to unseat three-term Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.

Repairing

Well, this is a tad schizophrenic:
Poland and the US have signed a deal for a future US anti-missile shield to be stationed in Poland, despite Russian objections.

...

"The United States is deeply committed to Poland's security and sovereignty," Clinton said at a joint news conference with Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, on Saturday.

"Today, by signing an amendment to the ballistic missile defence agreement, we are reinforcing this commitment."
It's an interesting backtrack on the "reset" that brought some real gains for American foreign policy -- especially Russian cooperation on Iran. It seems an odd time to go back on the deal now, especially given that we can deter the real threats in other ways.

New



So Cloud Cult has a new album out. Sadly, I'm past being excited.

I've only heard the one single above. But I can already tell. It's going to be a bad album, stale and inane, lacking all the purity of emotion and sonic drive that made them irresistible in the past. Cloud Cult has gotten almost to the point of being a parody of what they were in the "golden age" of the band. Through their early albums there was a build to the effects of Aurora Borealis and Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus: a raw, bleeding edge to the music, an urgency, and a clearly unresolved, heartrending anguish, brought out by a sort of lo-fi, DIY grunge. That's all been lost now -- faded on Meaning of 8, and all shot to hell by Feel Good Ghosts. In its place has grown up a happy, we're-all-connected-so-let's-just-all-feel-good-about-ourselves-because-life-is-really-wonderful, love-the-earth hippie vibe. But I don't even care about the message -- hell, I thought Neil Young's Living With War was one of the best albums of the year it came out. I'm glad Craig Minowa has gotten past his personal demons, worked through his pain. But the band is resting on its laurels, cannibalizing their own ethos and their past catalog, turning to schmaltz the purity of the past. It comes out in the production: the recent albums are produced to death, entirely unable to connect to the emotional core that makes (or made) the band so great.

Of course, they're poorly served by having their own record label: there's no outside pressure to see what they're doing to themselves, how autopilot the whole thing feels. There's no one to drive them forward as they slowly step back into a mushy comfort zone. And they have enough of a fan base to be able to cruise -- plenty of people will eat this all up.

They're still one of the best live acts you'll ever see, and they have a way of transforming the weakness and stagnation of the albums into driving, crowd-unifying anthems on stage. But I'm long past the point of buying their albums.

It's up to you not to heed the call-up

Rumors abound about North Korean succession. Will there be a new "Party Center"?

7.02.2010

Roundup: Justifications edition

+And maybe he did something he shouldn't have done, and he spent the rest of his life making it up.

+You are, I know, a patriot. So I ask you to consider, over this July 4 weekend, doing an act of service for the country you love: Resign as chairman of the Republican party.

+Why the sudden fee to renounce US citizenship? I chalk it up to American spite—many Americans seem incensed at the very idea that a US citizen would give up his or her passport.

+The irony is that the Administration has opposed Republican efforts to rescind remaining TARP funding to reduce the deficit and debt – while actively using TARP beyond its intended purpose to bail out automobile companies and those failing to pay their home mortgages – and now supports rescinding these funds to finance future Wall Street bailouts.

+At least now we see why California doubled its number of state workers over the last decade.

7.01.2010

The forgotten meeting

With all the hoopla of the ultimately unsatisfying Kagan hearings, the Toronto G20 meetings seem to have been invisible. It was actually a fairly important event, with as much potential impact on the US as the Kagan hearings, and certainly more impact internationally.

And what's more, the US came out of it with a win; although the deal will require real vigilance, American diplomacy and international pressure seem to have finally brought China to curb the Yuan:
China last Saturday announced that it would gradually make the yuan’s exchange rate flexible to its highest level since July 2005 against dollar, indicating that it was ready to break a 23-month-old dollar peg that had come under intense international criticism.

Meanwhile, China is focusing on debt loads and balancing books, which makes sense if it expects its trading position to shift in the face of a currency devaluation:
Advanced economies have committed themselves to at least halving deficits by 2013 or stabilizing and better still reducing government debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016.

Canada, already outstanding among Western economies in reining in its financial sector, has promised to meet the goals by as early as next year.

The United States has promised to honor the deadlines because the country had been proposing the reduction and stability for a long time.
And here again the Democrats should be paying attention -- reigning in spending and balancing our books will be a major step toward improved trade relations with China.