Fingers crossed

I'm a fair distance into where the yellow turns golden.

Up to 18" is being forecasted for Chicago.


"Dog Murder" in St. Roch

It was impossible to untangle the stories floating around the caution tape, but apparently a police officer fired the shot I heard this morning, which ultimately killed this dog.

Talking Paul and Paul - Krugman and Ryan

A friend recently suggested on Facebook that "krugman takes ryan to school" in his latest NYT column.

Highly skeptical, I thought I would take a look at Krugman's claims that Congressman Paul Ryan, in his GOP response to the SOTU, was wrong to use European nations as a harbinger of the consequences of government's failure to live within its means.

Off the bat, Ryan was right to use Greece as an example.  Krugman admits that.  It leaves the columnist two possible chances, Ireland and Great Britain, to show that Ryan was saying something "dubious" - or else his entire column is revealed as just another bitchy hit piece.

Let's look at Ireland.  Krugman gets it wrong.  Or at least he doesn't get it entirely right.  He says that seeking a balanced budget in Ireland via austerity measures at this point is besides the point, that the lesson from Ireland is: "that balanced budgets won’t protect you from crisis if you don’t effectively regulate your banks."  He notes, though, that Ireland chose to bail out its banks: "public debt exploded because the government ended up taking over bank debts."

The real lesson should be this: shooting for a balanced Irish budget moving forward makes sense given that the government needs to ensure its own continuation.  A balanced budget (or a sizable surplus) puts a nation in a comparatively better position to deal with catastrophe - the 06-07 surplus in Ireland no doubt staved off an even worse crisis than the one that has unfolded for the country.  Additionally, given the uncertain and enduring nature of the current economic downturn, and given that Ireland's currency does not enjoy the still-sort-of-unique position of the U.S. dollar, it doesn't make sense for the country to engage in a massive, speculative, Krugmanesque, deficit-building, pump priming exercise.  It's just not clear that it would work. 

And if you want to rein in banks, then create a paradigm where there's an ironclad assurance that the government WILL NOT bail out banks.  Regulations like those Krugman supports don't actually get to that harsh reality.  Ireland didn't make that expectation clear enough to banks, the banks acted accordingly, and it ended up eating the risks taken.  Force banks to carry their own risk-taking exclusively on their own backs from the outset, especially in smaller nations like Ireland and Iceland.  That tough medicine prescription is something closer to what I know of Ryan's positions - even though Ryan did vote for the initial financial institutions bailout in the fall of 2008.

Let's look, too, at Krugman's assertion that Ryan got England wrong.  For one, Krugman focuses in very narrowly in order to paint Ryan's implications as erroneous.  He looks at the numbers for one quarter and demands that they show a sudden bonanza of private sector growth to offset cuts in government staffing: "But there’s certainly no sign of the surging private-sector confidence that was supposed to offset the direct effects of eliminating half-a-million government jobs."  Additionally, he labels Cameron's "sharp turn toward fiscal austerity" as "a choice, not a response to market pressure."

In the first case, Krugman demands an immediate return to balance that will actually take some time.  In the second case, he zooms in on a few trees and says they were actually healthy - ignoring the overarching view that the forest of British government was sick, unsustainable, and riddled with accumulated deadwood policies that all but guaranteed crisis sooner or later, even if there was no technical debt crisis at the moment.  It was a choice, but one that had to be made soon to avoid great crisis.  Moreover, Cameron noted at Davos that despite the pain, austerity is working and the country's credit rating, for one, has been saved.

And remember, besides Greece, Ireland, and Britain, Paul Ryan also mentioned the problems faced by "other nations in Europe."  While Ryan didn't mention them by name, Krugman, as he slams Ryan for creating a convenient European fantasyland, doesn't address the debt-related crises faced in the past year by European nations like Portugal, Spain, and Hungary.

Finally, Krugman asks at one point -  "did you know that adults in their prime working years are more likely to be employed in Europe than they are in the United States?"  Without even quibbling with that language (I have all sorts of questions), I'll simply note that there are, in many cases, legal reasons for that, which in turn delineate the divergent values and principles in many European societies and U.S. society.

Overall, Krugman didn't really manage to land an actual blow in the entire course of his column.


Flick of a Switch

While the Egyptian internet landscape may not be analogous to the one in the U.S. (there are only four major infrastructural players serving all the country's providers, apparently), it's troubling nonetheless.

The state simply shut down the informational flow.

It's a chilling reminder of sorts that despite society's ever-deeper, Matrix-like entanglement with the information-based virtual world, there is a physical reality underlying the entire system - one that can be controlled, like a chokepoint.  Servers and lines ultimately exist somewhere, requiring energy, for the dream to stay real.


At work in Manila

Your trivia for the day

After doing hard time in San Quentin and spending much of his adolescence running away from juvenile detention centers he received a full pardon from Ronald Reagan, performed before Richard Nixon and, in 2007, endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.
Do you know who it was?


The single worst line in the State of the Union

"And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  (Applause.)   Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break."

When I first heard it last night there was something that struck me as wrong about it. Not because of the class warfare, socialist quality of it, but something else. It sounded, at least to my ears, that the first draft of this passage probably read: "Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should take more money away from the wealthy." There is something fundamentally wrong with this attitude.

As I have said time and time again, governing is about priorities. The President said last night that government needs wholesale reform. There are massive amounts of waste that can be cut, but statements like this one hint that the President's priority is punishing those who have succeeded to pay for the massive spending he wants.

The best line of the President's speech was: "We do big things." Yes, we do. We are a nation of inventors and innovators who have helped to shape and inspire the modern world. The problem with these to statements is that quite often, if we punish the evil rich we end up stifling the very innovation and leadership that has come to define our nation.

The vast majority of the speech was focused on government creating and innovating through generous spending. Think about it. When talking about Race to the Top, the President said: “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.” This is attitude is government centered and focused on the federal government picking the winners and losers.

Quite a bit different than what the focus should be: removing barriers and getting government out of the way so that the free market can flourish. The President tried very hard to sound centrist and moderate, but in a few sentences continued to reveal that he favors government and bureaucracy over the private sector.


The President should fire his speechwriters

Just a couple of quick thoughts on the State of the Union:
  • The speech overall was flat and boring. There was just something about it that seemed off and it did not flow very well at all.
  • Some of the analogies were horrible. I still don't get the Sputnik moment reference. What is the parallel? Who are we trying to beat? Is it China? Europe? It just seemed weird.
  • I liked the salmon joke. That bit was pretty good - also frighteningly accurate about the absurdity of government regulation.
  • The pitch for immigration reform was odd. Why tie it to higher education? We all want immigration reform, and there are much easier ways to make that argument.
  • Along those lines, the bit about educating non-citizens in our colleges and universities and sending them home "to compete against us" seemed out of place. It was very protectionist.
  • For all the talk about fiscal restraint, there was a heck of a lot of spending in the speech.
  • I agree that we need to reform government, but I doubt very much the President is willing to cut as much of the dead weight as is necessary.
  • Paul Ryan's speech was good (more on that later). Not great, but good. It's a thankless task to follow the President on this night.

Looking for something to resonate

After tonight's State of the Union speech, I'm left wanting.  I just didn't find much that resonated.

The talk about innovation would have gotten traction with me...if I believed it, if I had seen some corresponding actions by the Obama administration indicating that innovation was the crucial response to the economic crisis. 

Overall, the speech seemed to wander.  It just wasn't a high caliber oration.


Paul Ryan's response started off a bit too starched and robotic.  The facial expressions seemed a bit awkward for a while, and almost every word was clipped.  Abbreviated.  But once he got the cadences going - and started to get to the meat and bones of his principled opposition, he made some great points.

His monologue on the need for limited government was excellent - classic, really.  The "Candidly, from one citizen to another..." line resonated.  The alignment of Ryan's prognosis with what many people are actually thinking, from what I know, was clear.

Overall, not bad on delivery.  Speaking as to substance - superb.


Great Concert!

Last weekend I went to a School of Seven Bells concert here in town.

A local band, Common Loon, opened. They're two guys: a guitarist/main singer and a drummer. The local stuff I saw in Madison was quite un-good, so I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

They started to play this song for their opening and I was blown away figuratively and literally (and it wasn't just because the guitar was pounding in my chest):

The rest of what they played was pretty good and after hearing the rest of their debut album I regret not buying it. I'll have to catch them around this spring.

It was an intimate venue and having never been there before, I arrived way too early. I happened to talk to the guitar half briefly while the 20 other people who had also arrived too early were milling about. He said he's got a law degree and does environmental stuff.

School of Seven Bells was great. (They've songs here.) There were 50-75 people in a perhaps 30' square space and everyone was bopping along. Here's a music video from their new album:

They've got two albums out now and both are really good, not a dud song on either. It was awesome to see them play live. The guy is the main guitarist/effects and the girl sings, obviously, and also plays guitar on some of the songs. (One of the sisters recently left, apparently.) They also had a drummer and a drum machine. That was all it took to make magic!

Their songs are all ambiguously mystical, which fits their 'dream-pop' sound. It's fun how they keep it up in concert: they were in all black clothing, even their roadie, with an piece or two of esoteric jewelry, not to mention their cryptic symbol, and there's also the major Cleopatra look the singer has going on.

Both bands were great and if you find yourself with surplus musical love, send some their ways.



You might have seen that the former dictator of Haiti recently returned from exile to 'try to help' the country rebuild. However, did you know that Bob Barr is down there with him? What?

You might remember Bob Barr as the GOP congressman from Georgia turned Borat star turned 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidate.

The CNN article on it says this:

Barr said he returned to Port-au-Prince for the first time in nearly 30 years because he believed Duvalier is genuinely interested in alleviating Haiti's suffering. He said the Caribbean nation was in worse shape now than it was when Duvalier was at the helm.

"I also am reminded of others who have risen from the ashes," Barr said. "The city of Atlanta is the Phoenix city. The people of Haiti, likewise, will rise from the problems created by last year's earthquake and emerge stronger and better than before. That I know is Mr. Duvalier's deep wish and something that he knows in his heart."

What? What does Bob Barr have to do with anything? The only relevant stuff I could find in his Wikipedia article says he's got a masters in international affairs, worked for the CIA on Latin America in the '70s, and then was a US Attorney by the mid '80s.

I can understand wanting to be charitable and to help people, but why would he want to associate himself with this? Why would he want to lobby for a former dictator?


Well, when he's right, he's right

Paul Krugman is talking China:
How bad will it get? Warnings from some analysts that China could trigger a global crisis seem overblown. But the fact that people are saying such things is an indication of how out of control the situation looks right now.

The root cause of China’s muddle is its weak-currency policy, which is feeding an artificially large trade surplus. As I’ve emphasized in the past, this policy hurts the rest of the world, increasing unemployment in many other countries, America included.

But a policy can be bad for us without being good for China. In fact, Chinese currency policy is a lose-lose proposition, simultaneously depressing employment here and producing an overheated, inflation-prone economy in China itself.


Keep in Mind

When Hu says this...there's always this:

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.

- Sun Tzu


The best obits...

...are always in The Economist:
Amid the extraordinary complexity of his chosen subject, Mr Smith kept a childlike simplicity. He did not talk about himself or what he believed in, save books. He was sceptical of the reincarnation-claims of some of the lamas and tulkus he met. But he was deeply moved when he gave one child lama a precious porcelain cup that had been used by Deshung Rinpoche, and found that the child recognised it as his own. In such small things he placed his faith; as in a memory stick, worn round the neck, preserving everything.


January Champaign

Click for bigger! I was driving back into town yesterday and the plume compelled me to talk a picture. This is from the NW.


Law School

As this lengthy article at the NYT makes clear, it's not necessarily all it's cracked up to be - especially in the midst of this particular economic downturn.

I've heard about the article from numerous people.  I think it's finally getting the uncomfortable reality that many of my peers and friends are facing...out to the general public.


6 Years of Letters in Bottles


Fox Valley, Wisconsin - Manila - Champaign-Urbana - New Orleans


A few thoughts on the Arizona tragedy

It goes without saying that my thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims of this senseless act of violence. I mean that sincerely.

The sick and twisted individual - Jared Loughner - who did this deserves as tough a punishment as possible.

I want to be careful with what I say here. This act is horrendous and it rightly frightens most Americans that someone can be so disturbed as to gun down innocent people, but when these things happen it strikes me how quick so many people are to exploit a tragedy like this for their own means.

This is not a Left or Right issue. Political rhetoric on either side can get heated, and certainly cross the line of basic human decency on a regular basis. However, no one - not Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Kieth Olbermann, or anyone else - is responsible for this except Jared Loughner. His decision to open fire Saturday morning came out of his own paranoia and demented worldview, not rhetoric.

I think what may be hardest for people to comprehend is that sometimes very bad things happen and that there is nothing that can be done to stop it. Loughner is a sick man who would have found a way to harm those people with or without a gun. I sympathize with those who will try to find a reason for the tragic loss of life, but sadly, the only one is a product of a sick and paranoid mind.


John Nichols misreads a "misreading" of the Constitution

John Nichols, in lambasting "tea partisans" for reading the U.S. Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives, joined a strangely shrill chorus that has emerged in recent days.  Somehow, merely reading the nation's foundational charter is enough to get people's blood boiling.

I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why the obviously non-binding move left so many people so annoyed, so offended, so cynical, so angry.  I was continually puzzled as the snide, dismissive comments popped up last week on my Facebook home feed.

The griping reminded me of certain hardcore subset of atheists - you know, the type who care so much about noisily taking down anyone who mentions or invokes God that you can't help but be convinced after a while that there must be some real possibility of a deity...or why would they be fussing about it so much?

On Thursday, it seemed that a certain subset on the political Left was genuinely afraid that the Tea Party element of the new Republican majority in the House might actually "capture" the Constitution and claim it as its own.  Nichols, too, went to painstaking lengths to undercut the readers - going so far as to criticize them for reading innacurately, which shows he wasn't at all able to fight this fight on a playing field other than the one that the Tea Party folks had set up, even if unintentionally.  They chose the ground for the contest.

The more I thought about it, the concern and derision occasioned by the reading of the U.S. Constitution seemed to expose a deeper, unspoken truth, which was very much apparent in Dahlia Lithwick's unimpressive piece at Slate: a subset of the American political left has no regard for the concept of limited government.  And that's been the case for some time.  On the right, the GOP, too, went much too far in that direction during the Bush years.  A new emphasis on constitutionalism suddenly threatens the status quo paradigm.

Only at the very end of his column did Nichols touch upon something that might have been the germ of a legitimate column critiquing the Tea Party movement and the readers:

They are not merely unfamiliar with its contents. They are unfamiliar with the intentions of the founders and those who have struggled, since 1787, to use the Constitution as an outline for the formation of a more perfect union.

It may have been tying up the small strands he mentioned earlier, but the piece concluded, snipped off.  And even then, Nichols did nothing to demonstrate what he meant by his vague preference.  Was he hinting at giving non-state territories a greater stake - or a desire for or the propriety of a stronger national government?

While the Constitution was certainly enacted in part to address the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation, as evidenced by events like Shay's Rebellion, it was also most certainly designed to limit government's ability to exercise power over individuals by diluting power and setting nodes of power against themselves. 

As James Madison stated regarding two of the most resorted-to clauses in the document, 1. "With respect to the words general welfare, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators." and 2. "It is very certain that [the commerce clause] grew out of the abuse of the power by the importing States in taxing the non-importing, and was intended as a negative and preventive provision against injustice among the States themselves, rather than as a power to be used for the positive purposes of the General Government."

In that sense, I had absolutely no problem with the reading of the U.S. Constitution (gasp, a link to the Constitution!?) on the floor of the House.  It stood as a potent contrast to the passage of the ream-deep, utterly impenetrable Obamacare bill.  The Constitution should be the touchstone of government action, not part of a nod and wink exercise when legislation is proposed.  Any reminder to the federal government that its power must be canalized is a good thing.

"Our Recovery in Progress"

Evans Playground, January 2011


Chilling - New York's Abortion Figures

The news of a 41% abortion rate in New York City in 2009...is more than a little disturbing.

I tend to agree that it's really not primarily about a lack of education or contraception.  It may stem in part from decision-making influenced by the economic recession, but it seems to me that the numbers represent a phenomenon that emerged despite a metropolitan culture and geographic location awash in contraceptive options.

That's what's truly chilling about the statistics.  While the numbers for New York City are down from 46% in 1998, they're still a darker, deeper reflection of a widespread lack of personal responsibility at a very basic level.  Even in a time of great economic hardship, a decision to abort a fetus, a distinct liberty interest, involves a fundamental moral choice, a choice that's foreseeable.  Such a high pregnancy termination rate in a given area seems to go beyond any arguments about individual choice into the realm of an eerie social problem, one that I believe is more about what is held to be socially or culturally acceptable than about a failure to educate or provide contraception.


Don't be afraid of constitutional amendments

I have to say that I've been impressed with Gov. Walker's administration thus far. Granted, it's exceptionally early on, but I agree with everything Brad said about the make-up of the Governor's cabinet. I think the Governor set an excellent tone with his inaugural address as well - citing the state's constitution to set the tone of the Walker administration:

Article I, Section 22 of the state constitution reads so eloquently: "The blessings of a free government can only be maintained by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."
Today, in this inauguration, we affirm these values and fundamental principles.
It is through frugality and moderation in government that we will see freedom and prosperity for our people.
I think that passage from our constitution is an excellent set of guiding principles for any administration and if Walker does indeed follow them, I think we'll have a good four years.

That said, I think he needs to be careful with legislation like this. While I think it's an excellent idea to require a supermajority for tax increases - or a statewide referendum - this particular legislation isn't the way to go. This really is a watered down version of TABOR or the TPA and anything that would require a supermajority of either house of the legislature should be done as a constitutional amendment. Doing this through an ordinary bill could be portrayed as an end run around the constitution and the citizens of the state.

There are more than enough votes to get this passed as a constitutional amendment and I think we would be much further ahead as a state if we went that route. I know that it may seem like a minor point, but I think it's an important one. The Governor and the legislature need to be focused like a laser on jobs and government spending, but we can't lose sight of the big picture either. Tinkering with supermajorities and the will of the people deserves the honesty of passing a constitutional amendment.

That would stay true to the principles Gov. Walker extolled in his inaugural address:
What is failing us is not our people or our places. What is failing us is the expanse of government. But we can do something about that starting today.
We, the people of Wisconsin, have every right to reclaim our rightful place in history. We will make this a Wisconsin we can believe in.
More than 162 years ago, our ancestors believed in the power of hard work and determination. They envisioned a new state with limitless potential.
Now, it is our time to once again seize that potential. We will do so at this turning point in our history by restoring limited government that fosters prosperity for today and for future generations.
Justice… Moderation… Temperance… Frugality… Virtue. These are the values upon which our state was formed and the values that will drive us forward.

Amidst our many distractions

"...senior Pentagon officials are warning that the Pentagon has been 'pretty consistent in underestimating' Chinese military advances."

Buzz about UW-Madison

Let's continue the trend.


Thank Goodness

Robert Gibbs is stepping away from the podium.

I found he came off, nearly every time I watched him, as condescending, annoying, slippery, and generally not all that believable.  He never seemed to me like much of an asset to the Obama team.


Cabinetry - A Broad Look at Governor-elect Walker's Team

The first thing that struck me as I reviewed the names of Scott Walker's proposed cabinet secretaries and key staffers: wow, so many familiar names.

Huebsch, Jadin, Rhoades, Stepp, Gottlieb, Gunderson, Hamblin.  They're all well-known names in state GOP and legislative circles, but with a smattering of notable county and local officials.  And a variety of Thompson-era names as well.  Gottlieb, in particular, has always struck me as a level-headed legislator with a streak of ingenuity.

As Mordecai Lee, a professor who taught my father over three decades ago, noted:

"This is not a talk radio list," said Mordecai Lee of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "This is not a tea party, ideologically rigid list - this is a governing list."

That could be good.  Functional governance from conservatives will be key, especially in a state like Wisconsin where the red shift this fall must nevertheless account for the state's typically purple politics.  The results will matter.

I just hope that the lean toward figures comfortable with governing and administration doesn't result in a crew that is too cozy, too willing to accept the status quo.  Change in the bureaucracies is necessary.  Developing a new default line of thought on the appropriateness of certain agency actions must be built into an agency's esprit de corps in the first few months on the job. 

In some areas, I don't think we'll have to worry.  Walker's dramatic new approach with the Commerce Department is intriguing.  I wonder about how citizens retain a direct, adequate check over a public-private entity at the statewide level, but I hope it proves to be a good move.  And it's certainly a new, bold approach that seeks to address proactively one of the issues that dominated the campaign trail.  This article also makes it sound like Walkers healthcare team might be looking at some big picture changes.

Overall, the geographic mix is quite healthy - a number of the picks extend well beyond the GOP heartland of Southeastern Wisconsin centered on Waukesha County.  The local papers that picked up on individual appointments made this clear.

The second thing that I noted as I perused the list of proposed appointment was the strange relevance of the GOP Lieutenant Governor primary.  It's suddenly become a talent pool to draw upon, a farm team development program of sorts.  And it makes sense.  Walker is bringing both former Rep. Brett Davis and Superior Mayor Dave Ross into the mix.  In doing so, Walker incorporates individuals who recently rose to some level of statewide prominence.  He reaches out to various constituencies within the GOP, as well as regions statewide.   

Finally, Walker's top staff picks include a number of people I've worked with - Eric Schutt, who will be a more-than-able administrator as deputy chief of staff, and press secretary Cullen Werwie.

It looks like a great start.  Here's my advice for how to make the swing to the GOP stick in the course of the Walker administration:

1.  Don't over-read the mandate.  Remember how fickle the electorate can be, especially in a nationwide period of great - and probably increasing - political volatility.

2.  Don't slash-and-burn excessively - especially at the DNR.  As tempting as it might be to get retribution, try to find fiscally responsible, innovative, limited government-leaning solutions in the agency context that have staying power.

3.  Explain yourself - even when you're making significant changes or taking the agency in a new non-Jim Doyle direction, be sure to buttress decisions with ample facts and reasoning.  And be sure to share it with the public.  Independents and moderates can accept changes in a conservative direction, but the shifts need to be backed with adequate, reasonable justification.  Invite ideas from the public in return as well.

The HOT Tax

What do you think - would this turn out to be a bipartisan opportunity...or just a hot mess?

Republicans should enact the HOT Tax. The Higher-Rate Optional Tax would satisfy liberals who don’t like their taxes cut.

“I am in the highest tax bracket,” an unidentified woman said in a November 30 MoveOn.org commercial that attacks the Obama-GOP tax-cut compromise. “We don’t need the money. The country does.”

No American should be forced to accept an unwanted tax cut. So, the HOT Tax would require new language on IRS tax returns: “If you believe your tax bracket is too low, please indicate the higher rate at which you prefer to be taxed. Multiply that rate by your Adjusted Gross Income. Send in that higher amount.”

The HOT Tax would spare tax-cut opponents from accepting undesired tax relief. The rest of us can enjoy the lower taxes we need to pay our bills and take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Everybody wins.

Republicans should ask congressional Democrats to support the HOT Tax. If they would deny guilty liberals the chance voluntarily to pay even higher taxes, let them vote accordingly.

I'd support it.  While Murdock has been kicking the idea around for some time, I think the confluence of a new Congress and a mounting fiscal crisis gives the concept new relevance.  It's voluntary and it might help address deficits.  I'd also love to see the attempt at a fiscal estimate from the CBO.