10.31.2010

I guess I must have missed that memo

The Christian Science Monitor informs me that I am supposed to be feeling energized today. From the title of the article, I'm supposed to believe that a veritable tidal wave of patriotic fever is going to swell up from America's far-flung expats and make a dent in election numbers:
The last time a political rally in America gained such international traction was during the 2003 protests against the Iraq war, says Timothy Patrick McCarthy, director of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

...

Both American expatriates and foreign fans of "The Daily Show" and its creator, Mr. Stewart, are organizing meet-ups Saturday – everywhere from London to Tel Aviv to Seoul – to concur with the rally on the Washington Mall.
Look. I find the Tea Party deeply problematic, at best, and the Glenn Beck rally more or less obnoxious. But is a little frankly pro-Democratic rah-rah going to have a major impact on the election-day behavior of expats? Please.

If they haven't been paying attention enough to the importance of this election up to this point, the Stewart rally is going to have an absolutely minuscule effect now. The expat vote has been historically fairly insignificant, and that's unlikely to change -- especially considering how close the rally was to the election itself. If an expat decided to vote just because of the rally, he probably still wouldn't have time to procure an absentee ballot.

The funny thing, the entire body of the article pretty directly contradicts the headline:
If Stewart's rally is just "another political performance catalyzed by celebrity icons," however, it is unlikely it can change the super-charged nature of American political debate, says Harvard's McCarthy.

"Perhaps it will have an energizing affect," he says. "A spike in international or expatriate participation, I think, is a great thing. But I’m not super optimistic that will happen."
Uh-huh.

Final Predictions: The Assembly and the Senate

While I think that the Assembly will turn to GOP control, I don't think it will be by a lot. The individual races seem tilted in the Democrat's favor on paper and in the last week the Greater Wisconsin Committee has gone all out to paint some Republican candidates as just pure evil.

They've pulled out all the stops and I don't know what kind of impact it will have on voters.

Still, driving around Northeastern Wisconsin, it is very clear that there is an enthusiasm gap and that the momentum is clearly on the side of the Republicans. There is very little that state Democrats have to run on and most of the campaigns have been how extreme their Republican opponents are. I'm not sure how it will play, but it did work well for Doyle in 2006, and it's worked in other races around the state as well.

My hope is that the political climate is enough to swing some of the tight districts and that the big statewide races tip enough in Johnson and Walker's favor to provide the kind of coattails that Obama and Doyle had in '08 and '06.

I'm not going to go through each race, but the ones to watch for the balance of power in the Assembly are the 2nd, 5th, 42nd, 43rd, 45th, 47th, 51st, 57th, 68th, 74th, 75th and 80th. These races are going to be close and include the must wins the GOP needs.

As for the Senate, the GOP needs wins. They need to win in these districts to have any chance at taking back the Senate: 1st, 5th, 21st, 23rd and 31st. They need at least three of these seats and that's going to be a good night if they pull it off. The Democrats and liberal groups are spending a lot of money to save the 5th and 21st. We'll find out on Tuesday if it pays off.

My best guess though, is that the Assembly will be 52-46-1 in favor of the GOP (I'm also hoping that Rep. Ziegelbauer holds on to his seat as an Independent, though it may be a long shot). Also, the Republicans will pick up at least one, possibly two net seats in the Senate.

Going up




Construction is everywhere here in my neighborhood.

10.30.2010

Mudslinging - 1800-style

I found this quite entertaining...and helpful in contextualizing all the modern-day hand-wringing about negative campaigning.

Under the Bridge























Recently, the City of New Orleans received a multi-million dollar grant to study the impacts of taking down the elevated freeway portion of I-10 through the Treme. 

Installed down a traditional oak-lined New Orleans neutral ground in the 1960s, many believe it marked the long decline of the storied neighborhood.  I agree that it was a poor decision then.  But, in talking with people, I wonder if removing it now would really undo all the harm to the community - I think there are more factors than just the freeway.  Some residents seem to think that stability of the neighborhood is more important at this point - that the tumult of any type of overly dramatic change to the local landscape is the real threat.

It's interesting to see how even the monstrous, imposed construction...can become familiar and even be embraced as a unique part of a community.  Recently, a brass band blowout held beneath the interstate gave a sense of that flipside: members of the brass bands said that the setting provides them with unparalleled acoustics.

And I still think that the move needs to be made only after much deliberation.  The city needs to ensure that a surface boulevard could actually handle the immense traffic volume, and that such a layout would actually be better for the immediately surrounding neighborhood.

Blight Drops Dramatically

In New Orleans.

Part of the problem with the numbers all along, as I've learned, is the complex nature of New Orleans residences: oftentimes, multiple addresses are located in a single building.  Thus, when using "residences receiving mail" as an unofficial metric, the number of blighted or vacant residences is sure to be higher than the actual number of blighted or vacant properties.

10.28.2010

A Sense of Place























I just returned from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's annual conference in Austin, Texas.  It was a good place to hold a conference emphasizing...the importance of a sense of place.

For all of the growing city's distinctiveness - the 1870s limestone storefronts on 6th Street, for example, or the hip vintage hangouts and curious stores in SoCo - some of its finest moments came when it intersected very simply with its natural setting.

A morning on the deck at Mozart's on Lake Austin proved refreshing.  Watching thousands of bats swarm forth from under the Congress Street bridge at dusk was mesmerizing. 

Interesting thought #2

We've got environmental laws that keep people from damaging the environment by dumping nasty chemicals into either the ground or the air. These laws make it more expensive to make stuff, since it so happens that typically the cheapest way to do something is usually the most noxious. (Probably because costs are circumvented by dumping loose which turns them into externalities.)

So, if you want to make a TV set or a computer, you have to keep things clean and spend money to filter out and neutralize what would otherwise become pollution.

However it's perfectly okay to make the TV set or computer in a place that allows the pollution and then import it to here and sell it like it's no different.

That seems to completely defeat the spirit of making the environmental laws in the first place since it's all the same air and water anyway--it solves the issue of pollution as much as transferring the mess from your room into your sibling's room solves having to keep your room clean. In fact, although it's technically valid, it's completely insincere in spirit in exactly the same way as some religious people use automatic elevators and appliances to circumvent the inconveniences in their religions.

If we're going to have environmental laws, it seems they should be comprehensive enough so that when something is imported, there should be a fee to compensate for whatever gap in environmental standards there is wherever it came from. Otherwise, we're not making anything cleaner or solving any problems, we're just shuffling the pollution out of sight.

A possible criticism might be that the argument could be extended to everything that could be different in other countries. For example, saying that if we have such a thing as minimum wage here, likewise all imports should be adjusted to compensate for places with lower standards and wages. However I don't think this applies to more than the environmental aspect because it's the same, single environment everywhere, whereas things like workforces in other countries are separate and distinct.

10.27.2010

Battle for the Assembly: Districts 43 and 45

Next up in my attempt to handicap the races for the State Assembly are two districts I know well. The 43rd District takes up the Northern and Western townships in Rock County - as well as the City of Whitewater - and the 45th District is the one I ran for in 2008 and comprises the Southeast part of Rock County and the City of Beloit.

First, we'll take up the 45th. This is one that I could spend a lot of time on and break it down by ward in Beloit and in the outlying Townships, but I'll try to keep it brief.

I've met both candidates in this race and know the Republican, Amy Loudenbeck, well. I endorsed Amy in the primary and was thrilled when she pulled off a narrow victory. Amy has worked very hard throughout the race and been extremely good at fundraising since the primary. She had literally no money the day after the primary and has raised almost $22,000 in this reporting period. Amy raised more than 2.5 times her opponent did in individual contributions. Can you say enthusiasm gap?

Still, the Democrat in the race, Roger Anclam, had $20,000 in the bank just before the primary. Add that to the radio ads from unions and the Greater Wisconsin Committee in the district - more on that tomorrow - and Amy is going to get outspent by quite a bit when all is said and done.

The numbers in the district are pretty tough, but it is not insurmountable. The 45th district is split between the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts and if you look at the partisan breakdown between them, the total Republican votes for that race outnumber the total Democrat votes in 2002, 2004, and 2006. Even in 2008, the numbers are not out of reach. There is a majority in the district willing to vote for a Republican if they are given a compelling reason to do so.

Now, this requires the Republican candidate to run up huge numbers in the rural areas, but it is not impossible. The City of Beloit is a huge boost to the Democrats, but both Anclam and Loudenbeck are from the townships, Anclam from Turtle and Loudenbeck from Clinton, so there shouldn't be a huge advantage in Beloit for the Democrats. On the flip side, this also makes it tougher for Amy to run up the total in Turtle Township, where Anclam is the Town Board Chair.

If any Republican can do it, it would be Amy with all the hard work she has put in. It goes without saying that I think Amy Loudenbeck is the candidate who would be best for the Stateline Area. Her work at the  Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce gives her unique experience with the business community, yet as a Clinton Town Board member she also has to deal with important agricultural and land-use issues.

I'm really not betting on a huge Republican year - and I don't think the GOP will pick up more than a few seats in the Assembly - but if there is going to be a surprise upset, this is the race. The feeling I get from my friends and family in the district is that there is a ton of energy on Amy Loudenbeck's campaign and that she has been really hitting the trail hard. If she wins, it won't be by much, but I've got a gut feeling that Tuesday will be a good night for Amy.

Now, on to the 43rd.

A new mascot for Illinois

A few days ago there was this brief article saying some students want a new mascot. What happened is a few years ago, the national sports association had Illinois retire the old mascot, Chief Illiniwek, who manifested at half times as a guy who came out in war paint and Indian chief gear and danced around. That's, how to say, a bit inappropriate. Every so often, an independent organization likes to put on a big performance of the old mascot and it seems like since we haven't picked a replacement, people haven't moved on from the old.

So, here's my idea: the Illinois Pioneers!

What's great about it is how on the one hand, it hearkens back to the industrious settlers arriving with little more than their hands to build what became one of the biggest states and cities from wild prairie and at the same time, the name looks forward to all the pioneering that's happened here and yet to happen in such things as technology, from skyscrapers to computers, and vision, like the World's Fair or the ideas of all the great people who've come from Illinois.

Here's a big list of US college mascots. Only one result indirectly comes up for Pioneers and it's a small school in Connecticut.

I had a few other ideas, which seem to be better suited as a motif on a book cover than a mascot. What Illinois mainly makes me think of is tall things like corn, skyscrapers, and Abe Lincoln, however I can't think of anything from that in one word that would make a good mascot. The Towers? Pillars? Stalks? Illinois Stalkers?

Illinois has a strong history in technology and industry. Something that could come from computers and electronics, a completely underutilized field in mascotry, would be the Illinois Resistance. Unfortunately, mass nouns don't make strong mascots not to mention that's pretty nerdy.

Lastly, I really like the Illinois' Sky. If you've ever been to or driven through Illinois, you'd know there's lots of sky here above all the fields and skyscrapers. I like what it conveys: we're big, deceptively serene, inescapable, and going to cover you up. Except how would that be a mascot--an orange and blue cloud? Or maybe have it in the name but go largely mascotless, like a European soccer club.

What other imagery does Illinois conjure up?

Basketball in the park

Basketball is huge here in the Philippines. Like, huge. And today I stumbled on one demonstration of that love -- a giant TV screen set up in the park where I get my daily coffee, sponsored, charmingly enough, by KFC.



The crowd was pretty big, thanks especially to the perfect weather this morning -- balmy but not suffocating, with a pleasantly gentle breeze. The barristas at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, who all know what I need before I walk in by now, seemed to be enjoying the game, and lolled a little before getting me another coffee to go on my way back to work. Not a bad way to spend a morning break.

10.26.2010

Battle for the Assembly: Districts 5 and 80

Given an open gubernatorial race, a competitive US Senate race, and 3 competitive House races it has been fairly easy to overlook the races for State Assembly. With a fairly small Democrat majority, it won't take much to flip control to the Republicans, and most people assume that it will happen. What I'm going to try and do here over the next few days is try and figure out just where those pick-ups will come from.

To me, a good place to start are two open seats: the 5th in Northeast Wisconsin and the 80th in South Central Wisconsin.

The 5th is being vacated by Democrat Tom Nelson who is running for Lt. Governor. In the three elections Nelson won here, he outperformed the top of the ticket in what is normally a Republican-leaning district. It is important to note that the district has been trending Democrat over the last three general elections, just as the state as a whole has, however, the margins are not anywhere near what many other areas of the state have been.

There is certainly evidence that this is a bellwether district in terms of the top races. This year, without Nelson on the ticket as an Assembly candidate, it is hard to believe that this will stay a Democrat seat. Jim Steineke, the Republican in the race, ran unsuccessfully in 2008 and though he severely underperformed John McCain's vote totals in the district should be able to keep the race very competitive. It looks like Steineke's got a good organization and a coherent platform that should resonate this year. While there isn't yet a recent campaign finance report for Mert Summers, the Democrat in the race, Seineke's numbers look pretty impressive with over $18,400 cash on hand and over $33,000 raised since the primary in September.

This should be a lean-Republican district and a pick-up for the GOP, but it will be relatively close and I doubt more than a 52 or 53% victory for Steineke given the recent voting trends.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the 80th Assembly District. Now, if Brett Davis were still running for this seat, it wouldn't even be on anyone's radar. That's just how good Brett was in this district. Unfortunately - and I say this as someone who likes Brett a lot and honestly believe he could have been a serious contender for Speaker - he isn't running, having lost in his bid for Lt. Governor on the Republican side.

This race is very interesting. First of all, on paper, no Republican should win this seat. In 2004, John Kerry won 55% of the vote. In 2006, Jim Doyle won 62% and then in 2008, Barack Obama won 65% - it just doesn't look like a good seat for a Republican. Still, as Brett Davis proved, it can be done - and in far worse political conditions than this year.

The candidates are not necessarily political newcomers and should make for a good race down the stretch in terms of GOTV. Janis Ringhand, the Democrat and former Evansville mayor, ran against Davis in 2006. Republican Dan Henke is a Monroe alderman and President of the Common Council. Based on the most recent campaign finance reports, both candidates are flush with cash. Dan Henke holds a lead on that count with $27,000 to spend over the next week. Janis Ringhand has $19,270 to spend.

I think that given the political climate, this is a competitive race - and Ringhand's loss in 2006 could be a liability. The numbers are so good for Democrats in this district that it makes me wonder if she's out of step with the her constituents. Also, the finance reports seem to show a potentially decisive enthusiasm gap given the partisan breakdown of the district. The people I know in the district that I've talked to are cautiously optimistic and say that the race is closer than people might think. Conventional wisdom suggests that this would be a pick-up for the Democrats and I think this is easily the toughest race for Republicans to hold this year.

I'm betting that this is going to be a nail-biter and potentially a recount race. I'd be surprised to see a blowout either way. If I have to make a prediction, I'm going to be wildly optimistic and say that Dan Henke pulls it out and wins, but by less than 500 votes.

*By the way, the margins are a total shot in the dark. There are no polls that I get to see for Assembly races - though I know some are being done. I've just looked at the past elections and making my best guess. I'm totally willing to admit that I am pulling things out of thin air - and I will gladly admit to being 100% wrong on Nov. 3.

Horse Race - And Balance in Wisconsin's Senate Delegation

Going into the home stretch, things are looking good for Ron Johnson in Wisconsin's U.S. Senate race.

How do we arrive at those numbers?  I don't think it's the Tea Party factor alone.

Talking to a number of swing voter types in the state, I've found a few still-undecided individuals who aren't averse to Johnson, but who find that, when it comes down to it, "Feingold really hasn't ever done anything mean to anyone.  He's pretty independent."

My take: I just don't think that's enough of a justification to retain a U.S. Senator.  And I think some truly independent voters are looking not just at Feingold when they cast their ballots this fall, but the current composition of the state's full delegation.

Part of the calculus, I think, has to include a look at the state's overall representation in the U.S. Senate.  Senator Feingold referenced Senator Kohl in the last debate...and I think it's good he brought him up to remind us that he exists.  Even if one stipulates that Feingold is a more independent Democrat than many, it seems appropriate that the electorate in a purple state like Wisconsin might seek to balance its aggregate representation in the Senate.  My pitch to the moderates and independents out there: Ron Johnson brings that overall balance to the delegation as a whole, even if Feingold appears to be a maverick individual.

In other words, it might make sense for independents and moderates seeking balance to retain Feingold...if the other sitting Senator was someone who fit the mold of Ron Johnson or was even more conservative.  As it is, the state has Herb Kohl - who, last time I checked, was not exactly a Jesse Helms.  Altogether, the state's current representation is rather reliably liberal at present, even with Feingold's quirks.

I think that's part of what makes the decision to support Johnson less difficult for independents and moderates out there.  His election won't skew Wisconsin's overall representation in the U.S. Senate.  If anything, it will balance it out quite well...and reflect the state's electorate a bit more accurately.

For libertarians who see divided government as a healthy check on the power of the federal government (with respect to both the overall Senate balance and the Legislative/Executive balance), the decision should be even easier - again, even if Feingold, as a individual, opposed the Patriot Act on civil liberty grounds.  In the grand scheme of diffusing power, electing Ron Johnson may actually be the best move.

If the state had three seats in the Senate, Feingold might make a decent pitch to fit the seat in the middle with all his mavericking.  But as it is, there are only two slots.  And I think that reality, not just the Tea Party surge alone, undergirds part of the consistent polling strength for Ron Johnson.

Morning train into the city

Here's a cool little video taken on a commuter train arriving to Chicago. It's been sped up to 1.5 minutes.

10.25.2010

I've had some slow time to think lately

China's been on my mind since the most recent thing about how they seem to be limiting the export of rare Earth metals now that they've 95%+ of the supply by undercutting everyone else's prices. If they are determined to keep their currency too low, we could correct that by setting an import tax--but that'll only hurt everyone.

I definitely feel it's wrong that they are actively strategizing to take factory jobs from us, but I think that it's right that unskilled jobs should go to where labor is cheapest because we then are all enriched. Basically, why waste Americans in factories when there are entire countries that can do little more than that?

Our economy needs to rebalance to do more of the high-value things that we Americans are good at--doing thinking, creative and intellectual, activities like design, engineering, research, teaching, innovating, inventing, perhaps also managing, organizing, planning, financing, and so forth.

Honestly, China's unattractiveness is much more due to human rights issues than economic friction. If they want to be a country of factories and factory workers for the next few centuries, we should be happy that they want to do the dirty work. If they decide to allow their people to raise prices, then labor will move to the next poor country. For that matter, they just choked the golden goose by frightening the rest of the world into not allowing itself to be dependent on China in the future.

The actual villain is automation and technology is no villain at all. Since the beginning of time, tools have been saving labor and putting people 'out of work' which means liberating them up to do more advanced activities.

As I've probably mentioned before, the US makes more stuff than ever (from here), it's just done more and more by robots with the complicated cheap stuff that needs to be done by hand moving overseas. From those links, since 1970 while the population of our country has grown by about 50% the amount of stuff we make has increased by 150%! We should be as sad as a century ago when candlemakers were put out of business by a handful of lightbulb factory workers.

[Something that's interesting, at least to me, is to imagine the extreme situation of technology: how things would be if hard-AI were developed. That is, robots with mental capabilities that at least match those of a human. Humans would be economically obsolete and scarcity would be largely solved. Initially all the factories would return with robot "workers" as much as permitted by environmental laws to minimize transport cost and time. Time would become the valuable thing to people since we'd have everything but only one life. Costs of goods would drop to approach the cost of materials, which would be dropping as well since robots would be doing the mining, collecting, and farming. I suppose either we'd have to adapt to an economy of consuming each other's art or we'd end up socializing everything. I think then that'd introduce a new issue of whether people need urgency or a conflict to overcome to operate and that if everyone got an allowance and every want satisfied, we'd all get depressed at the pointlessness.]

Back to reality, the trouble in that is that given the spectrum of people I've met so far in my life, there seems to be a non-negligible amount of people who don't want to be intellectual or creative and would prefer to do simple 'doing' jobs. However in the global economy, those jobs aren't in this country.

The challenge is being able to move into the future, whatever shape it takes, while being able to accommodate everyone.

10.24.2010

About Russ and his "commitment" to Veterans

Sen. Feingold's latest campaign ad about veterans hits a little close to home for me. While Sen. Feingold does have a good record for supporting vet programs and funding for VA hospitals, it is only half the story.

I'm sorry if this offends anyone, but support for our veterans does not begin when our troops come home, it begins at the moment one of our young men or women enlists and swears an oath to defend our nation and our Constitution. It includes support during training, peacetime and while at war. On that last count, Sen. Feingold fails.

I do not fault him for opposing the war in Iraq. Men and women of good conscience can disagree about that and I respect the Senator's position, but his actions after our boots hit the ground are - to this veteran - indefensible. Sen. Feingold was vocal in his opposition to the war and repeatedly voted against funding for the war, opposed the surge and even went so far as to attempt to defund combat operations in Iraq.

In a way, I admire Sen. Feingold's commitment to pacifism. However, if he wants to claim a commitment to honoring combat veterans, he must begin before they return home. The defense supplemental bills he voted against provided body armor and up-armor for vehicles that protected our soldiers in harm's way. The surge he so forcefully opposed brought relative peace and stability to a fledgling democracy in the heart of the Arab world.

I do not say these things to question Sen. Feingold's patriotism or love for our nation. I have no doubt he believes he is right on matters of defense and foreign policy. From my standpoint though, I cannot dismiss or excuse his votes or his positions. I thank him for his support after we came home, but I can't help but wonder, where was that commitment when we needed it most?

10.23.2010

Two views of the French riots

Compare and contrast:

1.) It's all the fault of that evil meanie, Marge Thatcher!
"There is growing bitterness and anger in England," said Tariq Ali, once a firebrand on the barricades, in a posting on the Web site of The Guardian, a British newspaper. "The French epidemic could spread, but nothing will happen from above. Young and old fought Thatcher and lost. Her New Labour successors made sure that the defeats she inflicted were institutionalized."

There may be a sense, too, that, as old Labourites like to insist, the Conservatives are up to old tricks to benefit the rich and trample the poor, to divide and rule.

2.) It's because the French radical fringe is much more mainstream:
In Britain, the fringe is still on the fringe. In France, it is unfortunately more mainstream—hence the need for massive spending cuts. Compare, for instance, the circulation of the Socialist Worker in the U.K. (8,000) to the communist daily in France, L’Humanite (figures range from 50-75,000) or the absence, thank god, of an English equivalent of popular anti-capitalist politician Olivier Besancenot.

Nor does the United Kingdom have a powerful union controlled by the extreme left. The 1984-85 miners’ strike, led by the communist head of the National Union of Miners (NUM), Arthur Scargill, effectively broke the back of radical labor in Britain. (Recent revelations from Moscow and Stasi archives prove what many long suspected: NUM and Scargill solicited money from not just the Libyan dictatorship, but from East Germany and the Soviet Union.) And in France, Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), the second largest labor union, representing some 700,000 workers, has long been affiliated with the communist party and various other utopian left factions.

10.22.2010

I hope

he wins.

Wisconsin roundup

Remember when the Cheddarsphere hosted a rotating roundup of good posts? I think it petered out pretty quickly -- and it's been largely subsumed by WisOpinion -- but why not take a look at some of my favorite posts from around the 'sphere this week?

+Cindy Kilkenny over at Fairly Conservative is musing about France:
What’s clear is that France is preparing to make the hard decisions necessary to salvage their country’s finances. What isn’t clear is the why the American media is spinning this thing.
Just remember, Cindy: only Tea Partiers are angry! When the left burn cars, they're justifiably upset!

+James Widgerson was busy taking apart polls.

+Jeremy Shown is more concerned with taking apart bad arguments:
If you think taxes are too high or the stimulus was a bad idea what do you think the best way to respond is? By having your company avoid doing work it is qualified for or by getting involved in the political process to affect change where it really matters? In this case Reid Ribble chose the latter, and he didn't just write a check, make some phone calls, or write a blog post. He got involved in the biggest way possible, as a candidate. And if you don't think that represents a major commitment, just turn on the television for five minutes and count the attack ads.

+Elliot has been brief lately, but you should still check him out.

+Aaron Rodriguez interviewed Paul Ryan.

+The MacIver Institute has a good laugh about the last train rally.

+Okay, this is more than a week old, but still very much worth noting.

Oddly interesting

Need some ginseng?
Nearly a dozen buyers from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and both U.S. coasts are in central Wisconsin to bargain on prices for the ancient medicinal root during the harvest this fall.

The ginseng root crop is going for an average $40 a pound this season, compared to last year's average of about $27.

...

The ginseng crop in Wisconsin is worth $50,000 to $70,000 an acre this year, making it the state's most lucrative crop per acre.

Wisconsin produces about 95 percent of the nation's ginseng. Marathon County, with its rich topsoil and rock and granite to help drainage, produces about 85 percent of Wisconsin's crop.

10.21.2010

Big tubes

Since I've been here, there have been little whiffs of steam escaping from under the bike lane next to the sidewalk outside the building. Last week a crew was out, trying to figure out where the leak was.

The inexplicable presidency

This article in the New York Times helped clarify some thoughts of mine about the Obama administration and the Democrats more broadly going into the election season.

The thing about Obama's handling of the Don't Ask Don't Tell case is that it actually makes a certain amount of sense. Dellinger argues thus:
The decision will strike some people as odd, since popular belief holds that the president, who has said he opposes the law, can make the policy go away by simply letting the lower court order stand. In fact, the administration is required to comply with the law and defend it in court, regardless of Mr. Obama’s personal views.
I don't think that quite gets to the hear of it, though. Obama has to recognize the danger of pushing DADT through in the courts. Abortion -- the last issue the Dems won in the courts, rather than the Senate -- has been deadly for Democrats for decades. It was the impetus behind the culture wars, and spurred a very important segment of the population to write off the Dems entirely (even the Tea Party hasn't been immune to the movement, despite its arguably libertarian roots).

Remember this article? Obama and his people talk at great length about their failure to "triangulate" -- to play politics. Winning DADT in the courts -- whatever Obama thinks of its ultimate constitutionality -- would be another Roe v. Wade for the Dems, and even more so when we have major deployments in two foreign countries.

The incredible thing is the Democrats' failure to explain. I think I have Obama's motives down about right, but he's been inexcusably weak in explaining himself. If everything is a teaching moment, why not this? Why not pick a fight over a major moral issue going into an election year to kick up your base's obviously decreased enthusiasm?

They can't possibly be worried that they'll do something else controversial. The Tea Party is out for blood and the town hall anger hasn't died down. And the Dems have essentially caved on the issue -- they're running away from the topic at every chance.

Obama can fret about triangulation all he wants -- if he can't give clear explanations that connect with the electorate, which he hasn't been doing so far, he won't win.

10.20.2010

Bad politics in the Tea Party

Living thirteen hours ahead of Central Standard time has its oddities: I caught the Christine O'Donnell kerfuffle* at the same time I read this from David Frum:
This is the point that people like me and Ross (et tu, Ross?) have been pounding for half a decade: The Fox News audience is not the nation. The Tea Party message — cut taxes and preserve Medicare – does not make sense in policy terms and only appears to work as politics because of (1) low turnout in a congressional year and (2) the anxieties created by recession.
Frum seems to be arguing here against a return to libertarianism and toward a return to the religious conservative base -- that there is, indeed, no hope of really denting the New Deal, so why try? -- while Christine O'Donnell seems very clearly to be arguing against any kind of meaningful separation of church and state.

It's an interesting moment for the Tea Party -- has been, of course, for quite some time -- which becomes increasingly distressing as we get deeper into it and the party refuses to budge. You could put together a convincing case that it's a libertarian groundswell directed against expanding spending and government oversight. And that argument is what keeps me from writing the group off entirely.

You could also argue that it's a party being subsumed by the traditional GOP: that the recent Republican "Pledge to America" is the first plank in that takeover. The Tea Party has never put out a coherent message, has chosen not to come together as a national third force in politics -- which has the effect of choosing to be another peg in the Big Tent. I've been arguing for quite some time that the Tea Party is just another budget-conscious group that gets pandered to ever couple of years when the GOP needs to stir up support. At the moment, the insurgent quality of the Tea Party, its willingness to burn an established moderate Republican in favor of an untried outsider who says the right things. That can easily backfire, though.

The third, and to me, most distressing, argument, is that the libertarian wing of the Tea Party has been bought out by the GOP and overwhelmed by a religious right element.

That argument is borne out with O'Donnell, who clearly identifies quite closely with the social conservative wing of the movement. I think it was also evidenced in the Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor campaign, in which the very explicitly socially conservative Kleefisch beat out the more experienced, thoughtful, and libertarian Brett Davis. The numbers are a bit hard to suss -- and I'd very much welcome our readers' input here -- but to my eyes it looks like Tea Party types broke pretty heavily toward Kleefisch. That's an odd choice for a group that would style itself libertarian.

*And I'll say for the record that I disagree with Althouse on her take on this.

10.19.2010

Tom Barrett's "Tough Choices"

A little late on this, but I caught the replay of last Friday night's gubernatorial debate on C-SPAN. A lot of the questions asked for specifics about how to balance the budget and create jobs.

From what I can gather, Tom Barrett just doesn't want to answer those questions. He likes to talk about "leadership" and "tough choices," and then tells the audience and the voters that he's going to be a "straight shooter." But he doesn't answer the questions. In fact Mayor Barrett's, main argument is that everything is a priority and nothing is sacred - oh, and that Scott Walker would gut education, public health and public safety.

Despite the fact that Mayor Barrett won't say how he'll balance the budget, at least not beyond saying he wants to put "government on a diet," the biggest problem is that he is presenting a false choice. Governing is about priorities. Education and public health and safety are key functions of government and I'd be willing to bet that most of the $2.7 billion deficit can be closed without touching those three areas. Even so, the amount of dollars spent in an area or department does not necessarily translate into quality of service.

Our state's budget is riddled with waste and redundant services. To say that we cannot cut some of that and still maintain a high quality of service is idiocy. We spend money on all sorts of things that have nothing to do with core functions of government.

Mayor Barrett has committed to trying to play the "adult." But he falls desperately short. Leadership is setting priorities and following through, not just offering platitudes and generalities. Mayor Barrett is saying all the right words, but there's nothing behind them.

The Democrats' closing argument: The Republicans are evil!

For all of the disagreements I have with Sen. Feingold, I still think he's a decent human being. I think he is out of step with the people of Wisconsin and that his basic philosophy is not really what we need right now. Still, I really do think that he believes he is doing the right thing for the country. I don't buy any of the stuff on the right that liberals and progressives want to destroy the country.

Now, I think that the policies Sen. Feingold and the rest of the Democrats are bad for the nation and its future. Not because they are evil or part of some sort of nefarious plot to destroy the American dream, but simply because they are wrong. Wrong about history and wrong about the role of government in our lives and in our economy.

But if you listen to the ads from Sen. Feingold and other Democrats and liberal groups Republicans don't just have different views of government. They're pure evil.

Take the NewPage "55" ad from Sen. Feingold. Basically, he's saying that Ron Johnson is so heartless and unfeeling that he would gladly send Wisconsin jobs oversees if they aren't able to compete. The Feingold campaign is trying to make you hate Ron Johnson, because Ron Johnson is rich and probably hates anyone who isn't. It's a disgraceful tactic and one that I hope fails.

But it's not just Sen. Feingold. Rep. Kagen and his allies are relentlessly negative. Every ad is an attack on Reid Ribble and his character. If you listen to just his ads Mr. Ribble hates seniors and is a greedy, evil rich guy.

Then you have the over the top attacks on Republicans everywhere for their positions of health care. Rebecca Kleefisch is being vilified for her one and only appearance in a commercial. Now, I'm not really a fan of the ad - I don't like using personal tragedy to score political points - but it is politics and the Barrett campaign has done it, too. That said, she is not saying that everyone who can't afford insurance is screwed. She is not saying that if you can't pay, tough luck.

Conservatives don't want sick people to die. We don't want families to have to choose between food and health care. What we want is to reform the system we have and make it more affordable for families. Problem is that we don't want government to do it or to tell us what we should or shouldn't buy.

But for Democrats this year, the public has already decided that they don't like their policies. So the only strategy left is to vilify and demonize the Republicans. I'm not so sure it will work this year.

Roofscape

My lab is the only lab that opens to the roof. I suppose that makes me lucky?

10.18.2010

Cheap shot of the day

Over at Blogging Blue, Zach is taking shots at Ron Johnson again -- and this shot is predictably tedious:
So let’s recap: instead of actually doing his job as a legislator, if elected to the United States Senate Ron Johnson would instead make it his mission to "re-educate" America. The last time I checked, "re-educating" America wasn’t in the job description of a U.S. Senator, and I’m willing to bet if a Democrat said something along the same lines as what Johnson said, conservatives would no doubt be gnashing their collective teeth as they called said Democrat a threat to the nation (or something along those lines).

There’s no denying this year’s election is important. As a nation we have no shortage of serious problems to try and find solutions for, and it should be more than a little disturbing to any informed voter that Ron Johnson is less interested in finding solutions to those problems and is instead more interested in waging a philosophical message war and "re-educating" America.
This is all, of course, absurd. There's no question that Johnson intends to legislate, and to move America forward. But it's equally crucial that the Republican Party elect to office a group that will be committed on first principles to getting the party itself back on track -- off the pork bandwagon, off the anything-goes self-congratulation of the Bush years. Focusing on his own philosophical foundations suggest to us the ways in which he might legislate. That's something that the GOP hasn't done enough of, and why Johnson is such an interesting candidate at the moment.

"I like taupe."

Was anyone else's first reaction on reading this to think of this?

10.17.2010

The scene

I've been itching for a good indie show since I got to Manila, and last night I finally got to one. I have to say, the scene here is small but absolutely fantastic. There were probably only 40 or so people at the show, including the members of the four bands that played (each one rocking a 45-minute set). In a lot of ways, it seemed more like a family reunion or like a group of friends jamming out in their basement -- everyone knew everyone else (and by the end, so did I), and laughed and joked with each other throughout the sets. The energy and the mood were amazing.

And even better, the event was billed as an early Halloween party -- perfect!

Inside, pictures.

10.16.2010

"When FDR came in, he took over completely," she said. "You can't be afraid. You can't be afraid of being called a socialist. Obama hasn't shown a real commitment."

Ms. Emma Connolly, discouraged liberal and UW senior, is not exactly "turning conservative" like a number of other Wisconsinites who are disenchanted with President Obama.

10.15.2010

Distracting


















I've been posting less frequently here at LIB because I've been distracted.

I've been chronicling the needless destruction of a large swath of historic New Orleans - complete with large scale use of eminent domain - in Lower Mid-City.

While I'll do my best to kick things back into gear on this side, stop by Inside the Footprint for multiple postings per day on the process.  As one observer put it yesterday:  "The City survived Katrina, but now it's having a big chunk of its guts ripped out."

Illinois' governor debate

I caught the debate this evening. Here's a summary. I had no opinion going in.

The most interesting thing was that it there were three candidates: Quinn, the sitting Dem governor of two years, Brady, the GOP challenger, and Whitney, the Green candidate.

Brady did pretty well--then again he isn't pinned down by being the governor (on top of that Quinn's got the taint of Blago) and he also doesn't have to tiptoe around balancing the ensured support of social programs, which are presumably dear to the Dem base, while talking about cutting the budget. Brady mentioned once or twice about getting the state out of the way for the economy to grow. Here in Illinois, the main issue is a huge deficit and they mentioned that they need to cut the budget by 40% or so to meet obligations.

I was intrigued by Whitney. Half by his proposals and half for the break in pace when he completely interrupted the usual back and forth between the D and R every third time.

A majority of what he said was great but a non-negligible amount was out there. Apparently he's got a definite plan to cut the budget. A good point was that he specifically brought up about how core government services need to be funded while all the extra ones need to take the brunt, instead of cutting everywhere since there are certain things the government has to do to maintain an environment that will attract and keep businesses and people.

He made further great points about how neither main candidate actually has any definite, realistic budget plan, ethanol is "a boondoggle," and an interesting point about copying N. Dakota and instituting a state bank that would lend money to help get small businesses, especially green ones, going and helping to facilitate capital for alternative energies for consumers. Great! [I've actually had thoughts about how if the fed gov't really wanted to get money into the economy and help to get it moving forward, it should have set up a system to loan capital to small businesses instead of throwing it at Wall St.]

Then he brought up topics like encouraging farmers to grow crops for local consumption instead of 'importing all but 4% of the state's food from elsewhere'--I can see how that's important, but there are many more important fish. He also supports single payer healthcare in Illinois and free higher education. Nice ideas, but now is definitely not the time for the state to be buying off the wishlist. He also mentioned something about growing hemp. Even though hemp isn't good for drugs, I doubt people in general know that. Furthermore he brought it up voluntarily. Why? That's like proposing "Let's go stomping for landmines in Africa!"

Despite that, I'd strongly consider voting for him just for the spectacle it'd be. Also he might accomplish something somewhat good or at least get the two mainstream parties on their toes for next time around.

Here's a poll from today with Brady at 46%, Quinn at 40%, an independent at 4%, and Whitney with 3%.

It's interesting how different the politics are in places as similar as Wisconsin and Illinois. By the way, for those concerned, I'm definitely a republican, in Illinois at least.

10.14.2010

No man - or woman -

is above the law.

Nightmares come alive!

Check out this short video of the recent military parade in North Korea in slow motion:



It is sublime. The photographer managed to capture a dream. What horror it takes to produce such a spectacle.

"I am deeply worried about an America without Russ Feingold as Senator. "

A friend wrote this on his Facebook wall last night.

I couldn't disagree more.

I am deeply worried about an America where the New York Times presumptuously tells the people of Wisconsin how to vote (and especially one where Wisconsinites submit and comply).

I'm deeply worried about an America where a multi-term public official feels entitled to his seat (and especially one where supporters agree the incumbent is sacrosanct).

I'm deeply worried about an America where just because a politician claims to be a maverick and points to a few things, he's allowed to obscure the reality that he's situated well to the left on the American political spectrum when it comes to most issues and he helps to maintain a Democratic majority.

I'm deeply worried about an America where Russ Feingold's legislative efforts to stifle free and open political discourse in election periods hold sway.

I'm deeply worried about an America where a man like Ron Johnson is impliedly dismissed as a legitimate option for U.S. Senate because he has managed to acquire wealth by running a business.

I'm deeply worried about an America where the New York Times insults the people of Wisconsin by attributing their growing conservatism solely to "misinformation and simplistic solutions propounded by talk radio and the Republican Party" - this while the incumbent administration and congress have done and failed to do a host of things that were likely to provoke a groundswell response.

I'm deeply worried about an America where a major newspaper and a prominent elected official believe that our staggering long term debt and entitlement crises will be solved by creating a new entitlement and voting for an even larger version of the failed spend-money-we-don't-have stimulus.

10.13.2010

Revealing Numbers

A Gallup poll provides some statistical underpinnings to the electoral sentiments out there - many of them, it seems, are similar to things we've been saying here at LIB for some time.  It's a healthy sign for the republic.

"Majorities in U.S. View Gov't as Too Intrusive and Powerful"

Can we talk about social security for a minute?

Once again the "third rail" of American politics has reared its ugly head. Mostly, it's been Democrat incumbents and labor unions scaring retirees all over the state that the evil Republicans will take away their social security. The problem is that it's not true. I see this attack - and I'm sure you do too - against two people in particular: Ron Johnson and Reid Ribble.

First, let's take the attacks on Reid Ribble. To me, Congressman Kagen is running the most dishonest campaign I've ever seen. For starters, he only refers to himself as "Doctor" and his opponent as "politician Reid Ribble." I get that being an incumbent this year is bad, but for crying out loud. Does Rep. Kagen really believe his constituents are so dumb that they won't remember that he's been their congressman for the last four years? I hope not, but he apparently does.

But back to social security. First it was Rep. Kagen and his campaign that hit Ribble with a blatantly out of context ad where Ribble said we need to phase out the current system. What the congressman's campaign left out was that Ribble went on to explain that we need to preserve social security for current recipients and those near retirement, but fundamentally reform it for younger workers.

Rep. Kagen's ad no longer airs, but that's okay, AFSCME jumped in with virtually the same ad. And it's still blatantly out of context.



Next we have Ron Johnson, who made it pretty clear in the debate Monday night that while all options are on the table to reform social security, he would not force anyone to privatize their social security and he would honor our commitment to those currently receiving benefits. What strikes me as odd here is Sen. Feingold's bizarre response. Apparently the only reform he favors is lifting the cap on social security wages. While that will help, it won't fix the system. And the system is broken. Which makes the Senator's latest ad, even more silly:



That's great Senator, you just said that you won't lift a finger to fix social security because "nothing" is on the table. Thanks. For years this worked for Democrats, but now, most people know that something needs to be done or the system will collapse under it's own weight.

Voters want people who will be honest about this and at least try to fix the problem. For Rep. Kagen and Sen. Feingold, that's bad news, because we just can't look the other way anymore.

Sad Mall



"Democrats for Cao"

Yesterday, I was driving along Orleans Avenue here in New Orleans, and I saw a number of "Democrats for Cao" signs in the neutral ground.

That's interesting, I thought.  Oftentimes, I've seen the reverse here in town: an attempt by certain parties to paint Democratic or clearly liberal candidates as "Endorsed by Republicans" - literally putting unauthorized stickers on existing political signs to that effect - to drag down an opposition candidate in heavily African American wards.

I know a good number of Democrats crossed over in 2008 to vote for Congressman Joseph Cao instead of "Dollar Bill" Jefferson.  I also know quite a few Democrats who intend to vote for Cao this time around.  But it still amazed me that Democratic public officials would openly stand up and back the unlikely Republican Congressman.

Cao's record, admittedly, is quite liberal.  And his open and almost disturbing statements of "love" for Obama has been no secret.  But he also seems to be largely free from the taint of corruption that all too often dominates political races here.  One local City Council Member, Stacy Head, put it very well at the press conference held by Democrats for Cao:

"It's a little Hamiltonian, but I want a statesman and an honorable man to represent me even if I don't always like his decisions."

In a year of Tea Party sentiments and Republican encroachment on Democratic strongholds, it's interesting to see this alternate narrative playing out that may lead to a Republican win in a Democratic district: a simple preference for the more upright individual, regardless of party, regardless of the weight and inertia of machine politics.

In my opinion, Cao does seem far less prone to the temptations of power and influence than his competitor (who lost his law license).  And of the two candidates, I will likely support Cao, although his failure to exhibit any sense of fiscal responsibility or concern about the size of government at the national level infuriates me, as does his complete disregard for the many New Orleans citizens negatively impacted by the unnecessary land grab in the Lower Mid-City hospitals push.  Unfortunately, there are no other candidates that provide options - his Democratic opponent would be no better on any of those issues.

10.12.2010

Johnson v. Feingold: Round 2

I was able to watch the last half-hour of the debate on C-SPAN tonight. In that half-hour I think there is a lot to try and unpack.

Sen. Feingold was incredibly animated often to the point of seeming exasperated. It seemed as though he was stunned to be sitting next to a political neophyte who is kicking his butt in the polls and spent a great deal of time defending his record. While Senator Feingold tries to paint himself as a deficit hawk, or a pragmatist, or a defender of civil liberties, if you listened carefully to his answers, that's not his record.

The Senator was adamant that the stimulus was the right thing to do. He was proud of his vote for Obamacare. He even doubled-down on the idea that Social Security is just fine and will continue to be the best piece of legislation ever. We all know that Sen. Feingold is a skilled debater. He knows how to work an audience and how to use the best possible language in his answers, but time and time again the answer in Sen. Feingold's mind is government, government and more government.

There is nothing new or visionary about the Senator's politics. He is an old-school Progressive and when it comes right down to it, on the big issues, Sen. Feingold sides with government, not the average Wisconsinite he speaks so highly of. I think that the most telling exchange in the debate came at the very end. Sen. Feingold trotted out his favorite talking point: denouncing outside groups. He asked Ron Johnson point blank if he'd denounce them and ask them to stop. I think Johnson's response was perfect.

The problem with Feingold's request is that his own landmark law prohibits any coordination between campaigns and outside groups. But Johnson hit on something a little more basic: it's about free speech.

Earlier in the debate, Sen. Feingold dismissed a question by Johnson about not denouncing the infamous "General Betray-us" ad by hiding behind free speech. Sen. Feingold said it was pointless and a waste of time, not to mention he didn't want to risk "chilling" any speech. Ron Johnson rightly pointed out that it seems odd to defend slandering the finest general of his generation, yet then turn around and through McCain-Feingold, and other efforts like the DISCLOSE Act, restrict political speech during campaigns.

I think that exchange and Sen. Feingold's almost childish repetition of  "will you denounce them?" was very telling. Ron Johnson seemed very calm and collected and insistent on the issue of freedom of speech. To me it's a pretty good encapsulation of the choice in this election year. Sen. Feingold is a doctrinaire Progressive whose politics and ideas are better suited for the 20th century. He's a protectionist on trade and in favor of big government control over large swaths of the economy to control the greedy corporations.

Ron Johnson may be new to politics and he is certainly new to foreign policy and diplomacy, but he knows business. He knows the economy and balancing a budget. Johnson has consistently stated his preference for smaller and more limited government. We've been trying big government from both parties for too long and it hasn't worked. I think it's time to let someone else take a shot at it.

CORN BEANS SCALES

10.11.2010

Republican Relevancy?

Here are some intriguing numbers I recently came across:

  • TV viewers are getting older, but "...Fox News Channel's daytime and primetime skeds [are] the absolute oldest, clocking in with a median age above 65."
  • "The dirty little secret of conservative talk radio is that the average age of listeners is 67 and rising..."
  • Tea Party: 47% consider themselves Religious Right, 11% of Americans identify with the Tea Party movement which is the same fraction as the Religious Right.
The GOP is hitching itself to the wrong wagons, especially if they wish to be anything other than the only party to vote for when you're angry at the Democrats.

Has the GOP even stood for anything in the last 5-10 years? As far as I, a typical person, am concerned, they spend tons of money (so about the same as Democrats), but rile people up to vote for them by being against abortion or stem cells or gays or immigrants.

This is a turn off for me. In fact because the GOP is in bed with the Christianists, I feel like they push me to the left because at least the Democrats aren't moving backwards socially and scientifically. Not to mention, if we're going to be spending big bucks, I'd rather have schools and hospitals and green energy (investments! in us!!) than throwing away our wealth to destroy things with warfare.

If the GOP were half as fiscally conservative as they like to tell us they are and simply stayed out of social issues, I would be there so fast as I'm sure a whole new generation of young people would be. The Democrats would be a joke compared to that! All a party needs to do is to get government out of the way of the economy and the people, or at least streamline it, and we can get the rest done as we always have.

Mantis

Last weekend, I came home and noticed this little critter next to the door.


I'd never seen one before in the wild. I'm surprised at how big it was--it must have been as long as my thumb, maybe 3 or 4 inches.


By the next day it had moved up to under the eave. I haven't seen it since.

10.08.2010

On the Feingold-Johnson debate

To me, Feingold came out ahead.

I had little background coming in; I kind of know about Feingold. As far as senators go, he seems okay in that I don't know of anything especially bad he's done. I do know he was the only dissension vote against the Patriot Act in the senate!

Johnson on the other hand, he seems like someone grabbed a local business man/owner? and put him on stage. Also his daughter was in the hospital a lot and he's carried a pocket Constitution for a really long time. He smells like Tea.

They didn't talk much at all about their visions, but at least Feingold brought up alternative technologies and recognized Wisconsin's unique involvement with stem cells. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Feingold's position in support of the second amendment.

Otherwise, I think it was a pretty straightforward debate and nothing out of the expected. If someone is going to beat Feingold, Wisconsin can do better than the other guy.

Knob Noir

10.07.2010

They had jolly well better, if they want to survive

From the Wall Street Journal today, it seems the Tea Parties are starting to band together:
Nowhere is this evolution more vivid than in Virginia, where a federation of more than 30 groups scattered across the state now has the ear of the Republican governor, top state legislators and the state's congressional delegation.

...

Similar coordinating efforts are underway in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Virginia, Texas and Ohio.
Lacking any kind of national cohesion or unity, and with the only real centralizing document having been written by the same GOP that spent like drunken sailors during the Bush years, the Tea Party runs a real risk of being subsumed by the GOP. And that presents the very real threat of becoming a simple "red meat" base section -- a group whose issues occasionally get trotted out around election time and praised rhetorically, but never really taken to heart.

10.06.2010

Another bridge shot

It's the Salt Fork River, although it looks quite a bit like an overgrown ditch. From here, it flows south, the creek in Urbana joins in, then that flows east into the Vermillion River which crosses into Indiana and eventually flows into the Wabash River which flows into the Ohio River and so forth. Altogether Urbana is about 1500 miles up stream from N.O. If rivers flow at about 2 mph, then y'all can expect to see this water down there in about 3.5 weeks, since I took this last weekend.

Here's the spot, looking south. The river is suspiciously straight.

This is the view to the NE from the bridge. I haven't seen a little town on the horizon like this since Germany.

I read somewhere that before the settlers, the region around Urbana was a series of interconnected marshy areas. The Champaign-Urbana area is also in five different watersheds, two of which in western Champaign flow to the Mississippi whereas the other three to the Ohio. All this matches the fact that the area is flat.

10.05.2010

More non-American news

A while back, we mentioned a row between China and Japan over fishing rights in contested islands. It was a story that really didn't get any play in the American press, but was indicative of broader tensions in the region -- and spoke, perhaps, to the complications of China's rise as a regional power and beyond.

Another story has been interesting to watch lately: the Commonwealth Games being held now in India. In the shadow of the success of the Beijing Olympic Games, India is currently playing host to another major sports event.

But things have gone very poorly for the country: construction drastically behind schedule, security worries, and now apathy and confusion leading to poor ticket sales. Of course, there is not a global audience to draw on for these games, but attendance levels have still been embarrassing.

It's an indication of the rivalry between the two growing powers that India has had such a focus on these games, and the image each projects. Both India and China, of course, are vying for regional dominance, and events like these project a very important image of each country to the world. Certainly the competition will continue, but India seems to be one down in this round.

Indiana-way

only 30 miles on the parallel ribbons

westward

10.03.2010

Autumn

on the prarie
looks sort of Impressionist to me

A week and a half in, and I'm already making obscure references.

Manila being as big as it is, I figured there was bound to be an indie scene of some sort here -- and I was right. I've already confused coworkers with band references, and am eyeing a couple of upcoming shows. Most of the bands here seem to lean in the direction of very cheery, pleasant pop: think Kings of Convenience meets The Beetles meets Camera Obscura meets the Gin Blossoms (who are themselves playing an arena here next month), with a splash of OK Go thrown in for fun. There's not a lot of ironic pose here (or ironic facial hair!). After the jump, some of what I'm listening to here:

The Camerawalls: Clinically Dead for 16 Hours
Ernville: Gator Rocks
Us-2 Evil-0: This Mighty Heart Attack
Good Morning High Fives: Inertia (Live)
Your Imaginary Friends: Danger Sign (Live)
Paramita: Tala (Star)


10.02.2010

Railroad


"silly talk and distortion and demagoguery"

As I read Politico's piece on how Democrats are using Paul Ryan's Road Map as a foil on the campaign trail, I thought of terms I would use to describe the twisted logic.  A page or so later, Ryan was quoted using some of the same words to describe the attacks - the words in the post title.

The Democratic response - and the Republican cold shoulder - to Paul Ryan's effort to lay out a plan that addresses underlying, systemic entitlement problems is quite telling.  In one way, it explains the Tea Party phenomenon - citizens have risen up and engaged because both parties have failed to rein in spending, entitlement programs, debt, and growth of government in any meaningful way over the past few decades.  Ryan's own record is far from perfect on these fronts, as Nick Schweitzer has often pointed out.

But in a different way, the Tea Party response is not enough.  Yes, I'm tired of people panning the "Party of No" and getting away with it.  Sometimes we need a Party of No because our country was founded on a need to curb the excesses of the state's power.  And oftentimes, a Party of Yes, even if cloaked in altruism and good intentions, is the absolute worst and most irresponsible approach to running a nation.  But speaking practically, it would be electorally and politically difficult to achieve a sort of Tea Party dream - to eliminate big spending items, like entitlement programs, overnight.

That's where Ryan's "legitimate proposal" is crucial, regardless of how it jibes with his votes in the past.  It actually cuts to the core problems that make our government unsustainable.  And, as I've said, it's actually highly concessionary because it stipulates to the continued existence of some form of a welfare state.  In that sense, Ryan's Road Map fills the gap between the vigorous, flinty opposition of the Tea Party and the realities of entrenched power and bureaucratic and electorate-driven inertia.  It's not perfect because no interested party gets everything it wants.  The Road Map is a painfully slow solution as it reduces the deficit over the course of multiple decades.  And it moves social security, for example, toward a more sustainable path where individuals are asked to shoulder more responsibility for their own retirement plans.  But it does not do so instantly or dramatically - instead, from what I can tell, it gives more than adequate notice to people by giving them multiple years to prepare for the transition.

The Republican failure to even speak openly about the Road Map - and the idea that the new Pledge may actually increase the deficit over time - shows just how short-sighted the party is at the moment in too many ways.  The GOP may recapture power this fall, but it needs to be more than vitriol when it's in charge.  It can be the Party of No, but it needs to be the intelligent, substantive version - the form that builds for long-term success by proving to Independents that it's vastly more responsible, that it has seen its own flaws play out far too many times.

The Democratic bashing of Ryan's plan, however, is much more pitiful.  It's far too easy - hey, let's scare the old folks nationwide into thinking the GOP is going to take away their only source of income.  Demagoguery is really the right word for it.  It reveals a desperation born of a failure by the national party to realize that its blame-Bush emphasis and health care kick were massive canards that distracted focus from the immediate problems facing the country.  If Democrats, including President Obama, can't even manage a rational engagement with Ryan's plan in the face of the clear and deep-seated problems we're facing, our nation's leadership is truly in denial, and we are going to suffer deeply for such shortsighted foolhardiness.

Paul Ryan may be standing alone on an island at this point.  He may seem isolated and marginalized.  But I don't think he should worry all that much.  Sometimes it's best to be the lone sane voice in an ocean of madness.  A people will call upon their prophet in the wilderness when it's discovered he was on to something all along.