Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
Here’s to hoping I don’t have to read any articles like this in the wake of this election.
Sometimes, a position is just so stupid on the face of it that it doesn’t deserve argumentative debate. The only appropriate response is to point and laugh.
Security Guru Bruce Schneier makes an excellent observation regarding the much hyped relationship between photography and terrorism:
Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.
Given that real terrorists, and even wannabe terrorists, don’t seem to photograph anything, why is it such pervasive conventional wisdom that terrorists photograph their targets? Why are our fears so great that we have no choice but to be suspicious of any photographer?
Because it’s a movie-plot threat.
Simply, terrorists don’t do photography. And if they did, I’m quite sure they’d be doing it with something innocuous like a camera phone or even a spy camera, rather than a great big digital SLR with a tripod. Yet I’ve personally been stopped and questioned by security guards or police officers so many times now that I hardly find the incidents worth mentioning anymore. I’ve simply begun to carry around one of these and grown more assertive in my rights, and for the most part I’m left alone after a few short questions. But it’s still ridiculous that I’m bothered at all.
Further, as disturbing as any harassment of civil liberties is, that’s not even the real problem. The bigger issue raised by the War on Photography, as Schneier points out is that it’s an astonishing misdirection of security efforts:
The problem with movie-plot security is it only works if we guess the plot correctly. If we spend a zillion dollars defending Wimbledon and terrorists blow up a different sporting event, that’s money wasted. If we post guards all over the Underground and terrorists bomb a crowded shopping area, that’s also a waste. If we teach everyone to be alert for photographers, and terrorists don’t take photographs, we’ve wasted money and effort, and taught people to fear something they shouldn’t.
And even if terrorists did photograph their targets, the math doesn’t make sense. Billions of photographs are taken by honest people every year, 50 billion by amateurs alone in the US And the national monuments you imagine terrorists taking photographs of are the same ones tourists like to take pictures of. If you see someone taking one of those photographs, the odds are infinitesimal that he’s a terrorist.
America just nominated an African American to be President of the United States. Right here, right now, history is being made.
But Ms. Chemtob’s clients are concerned all the same, she said, because their incomes have shrunk, say, to $2 million a year from $8 million, and they know that their 2008 bonus checks are likely to be much less impressive.
One of her clients recently confessed that his net worth had decreased to $8 million from more than $20 million, and he thinks that his wife will leave him. He has hidden their fall in fortune by taking on debt to pay for her extravagant clothes and vacations.
“I literally had to sit there and tell him that he had to tell his wife that she had to stop spending,” she said. “He was actually scared she would leave him because their financial situation changed so drastically.”
Don’t stop there, it gets even better. I almost dropped my monocle reading this:
THEIR spouses could leave them when they discover that their net worth has collapsed to eight figures from nine. Friends and business associates could avoid them as they pass their lunchtime tables at Barney’s or the Four Seasons. And these snubs could trickle down to their children.
“They fear their kids won’t get invited to the right birthday parties,” said Michele Kleier, an Upper East Side-based real estate broker. “If they have to give up things that are invisible, they’re O.K. as long as they don’t have give up things visible to the outside world.”
“A year ago, he would have only flown Gulfstreams,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Now it’s moving to the point where he’s flying Beech jets and Learjets.”
And perhaps the best excuse for going off your diet, ever:
ONE Wall Street executive, Ms. Bauer said, snacks on nuts in her office all day to manage the stress of potentially losing her position, while another confesses to inhaling four bowls of cereal at 10 p.m. Even their sex lives are suffering, Ms. Bauer said, because of the stress or because the weight gain makes them feel unattractive.
Her clients blame the economy for their out-of-control waistlines.
“The number one concern that they have is the state of the financial market,” she said. “There definitely is a correlation between the stock market and weight gain.”
Suffice to say, the lack of perspective these people have is simply mind boggling. These people are everything that’s wrong with the US economy right now, and a good chunk of what’s wrong with our culture as a whole.
It’s still nowhere near a resolution.
But, having watched it for most of the day* on C-SPAN… I have to say, this is strangely compelling TV. The arguments, the passion of the supporters, even the legalese – it’s, well, engaging. This is surprisingly good stuff. That, or I’m an unashamed political junky with nothing better to do on a Saturday. Not sure which.
Once again, the perfect metaphor can be found in Monty Python:
“I felt so sorry for you when Bill had his affair,” the woman said. “I think the best way to overcome it is to become president.”
I’m fascinated by the “average voter”. It’s kind of like watching a slow motion train wreck… horrific, yet I can’t make myself turn away…
Via Dani Rodrik, this graph:
In a nutshell, under Republican Administrations, the richest see their incomes grow the fastest, and the poorest see it grow the slowest – inequality increases. Under Democrats, every income group gets richer faster, with the poorest seeing their incomes rise the fastest – five times faster than under Republicans. Wow.
Bartels shows in his book that this difference is not a statistical artifact or a fluke. It is not the result of Democrats coming to power during better economic times, or of Republicans reining in the unsustainable excesses of Democratic administrations they replace. (It turns out that the same pattern prevails even when a Republican president is succeeded by another Republican.) These numbers are real and they are the outcome of partisan differences in policy. So if you are one of those who have bought the story that income distribution is the result of pure market forces and technological changes, with politics playing no role–think again.
I haven’t read the book, so for the moment I’m just taking the data at face value, and assuming that Bartels did his homework and controlled for all other variables. But the idea here isn’t new; Paul Krugman has argued often and convincingly that inequality is tied to public policy, especially under the Bush Administration.
The idea that the President has such an influence on policy, which in turn has such an influence on the economy and income distribution is a pretty profound one with some pretty disturbing implications – that’s an insane amount of power vested in one individual. But to be honest, I don’t have the faintest clue what might be done about that and consequently won’t say any more on it.
A more direct and obvious question though (which Rodrik asks) is why the hell do people vote Republican? Like, ever?
There have been a multitude of theories put out there. Thomas Frank put forward the most compelling theory in What’s the Matter with Kansas?, arguing that Republicans use social issues (like abortion and gay marriage) to get people to vote against their own economic interests. Krugman argued in Conscience of a Liberal that it comes down to good old fashioned racism. In my view there’s no silver bullet explanation – politics and voting behavior are complex beasts.
Given that the Republican party isn’t even able to significantly improve the economic outlook for the very wealthy compared to Democrats, it does beg the question of why even that group supports them, given economic history. They’ve got to be fooling themselves before they get around to fooling the lower classes that vote Republican – and that’s damn interesting.
As only Monty Python can explain it:
Remember that infamous 3 AM red phone ad Clinton played right before the Texas primary?
It was wrong on a number of levels, not least of which because the person people want to answer that phone is McCain rather than Clinton. As it turns out, it’s also pretty ironic, because the girl sound asleep at 3 AM in that ad is actually an Obama supporter and precinct captain, and has shot her own ad for Obama:
Thus teaching the Clinton campaign an important lesson about the dangers of using stock footage.
I didn’t have the chance to post this yesterday, because I’d wanted to say something more substantial than what was already being said about it. But since then I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t say anything to either add or detract to it. I can only encourage others to listen to it – in its entirety – and show our fellow Americans that we really are as good, as mature, as intelligent as he believes us to be.
The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind, and greed – you mark my words – will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you. – Wall Street, 1987
Of course, the Reagan-era economy that Michael Douglas’ character summed up so well here looked positively sane and egalitarian compared to the Bush economy now imploding around us.
I honestly don’t know enough about financial markets to comment intelligently upon what’s happening today, other than observing that words like “emergency” and “crisis” are being tossed around by many commentators, joining the talk of “recession” that’s been present for the last few weeks. But I thought it would be worth revisiting the fundamental idea that got us into this mess, which obviously has yet to change in the minds of some on Wall Street.
Greed is not good. Maybe this time we’ll actually learn that lesson.
9/11 man, 9/11 man
Does whatever 9/11 can
Makes bold claims, every size
Just like Bush, they’re all lies
Look out! Here comes 9/11 man.
To him, life is a big terror attack
Even when it comes to Iraq
You’ll find the 9/11 man!
When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.’ The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. – H.L. Mencken, Baltimore Sun, July 26 1920
Q: Mr. President, back to your grade point average on holding the line on taxes –
THE PRESIDENT: Whew, I thought you were going to talk about the actual grade point average. (Laughter.) I remind people that, like when I’m with Condi I say, she’s the Ph.D. and I’m the C-student, and just look at who’s the President and who’s the advisor. (Laughter.) But go ahead.
- George W. Bush, Press Conference, September 20, 2007
It’s interesting to hear Bush sum up exactly what Mencken said in so many words. Look who’s the President, indeed.
And one other quip about his own intelligence from that same press conference:
Q: Do you think there’s a risk of a recession? How do you rate that?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, you need to talk to economists. I think I got a B in Econ 101. I got an A, however, in keeping taxes low — (laughter) — and being fiscally responsible with the people’s money. We’ve submitted a plan that will enable this budget to become balanced by 2012, so long as Congress learns to set priorities. And we can balance the budget without raising taxes. – George W. Bush, Press Conference, September 20, 2007
(Actually, he was more correct in the first quote; he was a C student through and through. And the quip about getting an A in fiscal responsibility… I won’t even dignify that comment with further acknowledgment.)
Of all the peculiarities of human nature, anti-intellectualism is the one that confounds me the most. What is it about being a moron that makes you want to be governed by fellow morons, rather than someone who’s more intelligent? Why would one actively and enthusiastically subvert yourself to that? Yet it seems even more true today than when H.L. Mencken penned that first quote 87 years ago.
Even the most basic explanations of the fall of the Roman Empire never fail to include “reliance on mercenaries” in the laundry list of reasons. I think about that every time contractors and Blackwater’s name in particular come up in the news.
Without any reference to their cover story of a few weeks ago that spawned my post Our Idiocratic Education System, there appeared this blurb in the current issue of Time magazine which briefly discusses groups that are trying to change the No Child Left Behind act to track the smart kids as well, and offers some statistics relating “giftedness” to socioeconomic status. It’s short, but it should of interest to anyone interested in the topic.
I can’t claim a deep understanding of what happened with Shinzo Abe that led to his resignation last week as Prime Minister of Japan. There’s unfortunately a language barrier between myself and the kinds of primary sources that I utilize to gain an understanding of English language politics.
What I gather from the international press is thus: He took office a relatively popular guy with high approval ratings, suffered a series of scandals, events, gaffes, and outright screw ups that led to a dramatic reversal of his approval ratings that hurt his party this past July and forced his resignation this last week. I won’t comment upon the precise nature of any of those events because, as I said, I lack the deep understanding necessary to say anything intelligent on the matter. Instead, I’d like to offer what’s to me the most striking thing about his tenure as Prime Minister, from my American perspective: he resigned.
I can’t help but observe that in many respects, the story of Shinzo Abe mirrors the political decline of another world leader, George W. Bush. But whereas Abe is now out of office and Japan has a chance to correct itself under new leadership, the US is stuck with Bush for another 15 months. Unfortunately, Bush lacks the integrity and honor of Shinzo Abe – or Richard Nixon, for that matter – so it seems a deeply unlikely thing that he’ll just do the right thing and resign before the end of his term in 2009. Further, the Democrats in congress lack the integrity and spine to do the right thing and impeach him. The American people, meanwhile, are left with no other option to remove him from office – which means we’re stuck with him.
The world is at a crossroads, and the US is in a critical state. We’re in desperate need of able, competent, and effective leadership, who can see us through this difficult time of military conflict, an imminent energy crunch, global environmental damage and climate change, and shifting economic fortunes. The notion that we have to wait at least another 15 months before any of the critical issues of the day are truly addressed is disturbing. Somehow, some way, the US needs a mechanism that can make what happened in Japan happen here – the removal of a President from office mid-term, when his continued presence becomes so antithetical to the public interest. We could learn a serious lesson from Japan in this regard.
I heard someone mention this other day, and finally remembered to look it up – it’s pretty remarkable. Emphasis is mine, but other than that here’s the platform of the 1872 Republican party reprinted in full:
The Republican party of the United States, assembled in National Convention in the city of Philadelphia, on the 5th and 6th days of June, 1872, again declares its faith, appeals to its history, and announces its position upon the questions before the country
First. During eleven years of supremacy it has accepted with grand courage the solemn duties of the time. It suppressed a gigantic rebellion, emancipated four millions of slaves, decreed the equal citizenship of all, and established universal suffrage. Exhibiting unparalleled magnanimity, it criminally punished no man for political offenses, and warmly welcomed all who proved loyalty by obeying the laws and dealing justly with their neighbors. It has steadily decreased with firm hand the resultant disorders of a great war, and initiated a wise and humane policy toward the Indians. The Pacific railroad and similar vast enterprises have been generously aided and successfully conducted, the public lands freely given to actual settlers, immigration protected and encouraged, and a full acknowledgment of the naturalized citizens’ rights secured from European Powers. A uniform national currency has been provided, repudiation frowned down, the national credit sustained under the most extraordinary burdens, and new bonds negotiated at lower rates. The revenues have been carefully collected and honestly applied. Despite large annual reductions of the rates of taxation, the public debt has been reduced during General Grant’s Presidency at the rate of a hundred millions a year, great financial crises have been avoided, and peace and plenty prevail throughout the land. Menacing foreign difficulties have been peacefully and honorably composed, and the honor and power of the nation kept in high respect throughout the world. This glorious record of the past is the party’s best pledge for the future. We believe the people will not intrust the Government to any party or combination of men composed chiefly of those who have resisted every step of this beneficent progress.
Second. The recent amendments to the national Constitution should be cordially sustained because they are right, not merely tolerated because they are law, and should be carried out according to their spirit by appropriate legislation, the enforcement of which can safely be entrusted only to the party that secured those amendments.
Third. Complete liberty and exact equality in the enjoyment of all civil, political, and public rights should be established and effectually maintained throughout the Union, by efficient and appropriate State and Federal legislation. Neither the law nor its administration should admit any discrimination in respect of citizens by reason of race, creed, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Fourth. The National Government should seek to maintain honorable peace with all nations, protecting its citizens everywhere, and sympathizing with all people who strive for greater liberty.
Fifth. Any system of the civil service under which the subordinate positions of the government are considered rewards for mere party zeal is fatally demoralizing, and we therefore favor a reform of the system by laws which shall abolish the evils of patronage, and make honesty, efficiency, and fidelity the essential qualifications for public positions, without practically creating a life-tenure of office.
Sixth. We are opposed to further grants of the public lands to corporations and monopolies, and demand that the national domain be set apart for free homes for the people.
Seventh. The annual revenue, after paying current expenditures, pensions, and the interest on the public debt, should furnish a moderate balance for the reduction of the principal and that revenue, except so much as may be derived from a tax upon tobacco and liquors, should be raised by duties upon importations, the details of which should be so adjusted as to aid in securing remunerative wages to labor, and to promote the industries, prosperity, and growth of the whole country.
Eighth. We hold in undying honor the soldiers and sailors whose valor saved the Union. Their pensions are a sacred debt of the nation, and the widows and orphans of those who died for their country are entitled to the care of a generous and grateful people. We favor such additional legislation as will extend the bounty of the Government to all our soldiers and sailors who were honorably discharged, and who, in the line of duty, became disabled, without regard to the length of service or the cause of such discharge.
Ninth. The doctrine of Great Britain and other European powers concerning allegiance—”Once a subject always a subject”—having at last, through the efforts of the Republican party, been abandoned, and the American idea of the individual’s right to transfer allegiance having been accepted by European nations, it is the duty of our Government to guard with jealous care the rights of adopted citizens against the assumption of unauthorized claims by their former governments; and we urge continued careful encouragement and protection of voluntary immigration.
Tenth. The franking privilege ought to be abolished, and the way prepared for a speedy reduction in the rates of postage.
Eleventh. Among the questions which press for attention is that which concerns the relations of capital and labor, and the Republican party recognizes the duty of so shaping legislation as to secure full protection and the amplest field for capital, and for labor—the creator of capital—the largest opportunities and a just share of the mutual profits of these two great servants of civilization.
Twelfth. We hold that Congress and the President have only fulfilled an imperative duty in their measures for the suppression of violent and treasonable organizations in certain lately rebellious regions, and for the protection of the ballot-box, and therefore they are entitled to the thanks of the nation.
Thirteenth. We denounce repudiation of the public debt, in any form or disguise, as a national crime. We witness with pride the reduction of the principal of the debt, and of the rates of interest upon the balance, and confidently expect that our excellent national currency will be perfected by a speedy resumption of specie payment.
Fourteenth. The Republican party is mindful of its obligations to the loyal women of America for their noble devotion to the cause of freedom. Their admission to wider fields of usefulness is viewed with satisfaction, and the honest demand of any class of citizens for additional rights should be treated with respectful consideration.
Fifteenth. We heartily approve the action of Congress in extending amnesty to those lately in rebellion, and rejoice in the growth of peace and fraternal feeling throughout the land.
Sixteenth. The Republican party proposes to respect the rights reserved by the people to themselves as carefully as the powers delegated by them to the State and to the Federal Government. It disapproves of the resort to unconstitutional laws for the purpose of removing evils, by interference with rights not surrendered by the people to either the State or National Government.
Seventeenth. It is the duty of the general Government to adopt such measures as may tend to encourage and restore American commerce and ship-building.
Eighteenth. We believe that the modest patriotism, the earnest purpose, the sound judgment, the practical wisdom, the incorruptible integrity, and the illustrious services of Ulysses S. Grant have commended him to the heart of the American people, and with him at our head we start to-day upon a new march to victory.
Nineteenth. Henry Wilson, nominated for the Vice-Presidency, known to the whole land from the early days of the great struggle for liberty as an indefatigable laborer in all campaigns, an incorruptible legislator and representative man of American institutions, is worthy to associate with our great leader and share the honors which we pledge our best efforts to bestow upon them.
The historical irony is almost painful.
Of course, as a historical note, it should be noted that the Ulysses S. Grant Administration was one of our most corrupt in history, so take this platform with a grain of salt.
It should further be noted that the Republicans had basically become the party of big business by the early 20th century, and the parties basically flipped positions in the 1960′s. The party of Abraham Lincoln would not find themselves welcome in the south until the dixiecrats merged with the Republicans in the latter half of the 20th century.
Still, it’s a pretty amazing transformation. Yes, any student of history knows that the Republicans were once pro-liberty, pro-civil rights, and pro-labor, and that parties evolve and change over time. But here we find that on almost every count the modern Republican stands for the exact opposite of what it stood for at its founding. And this particular document almost reads like the party’s founders reaching through history to smack the Bush Administration – it’s impossible to read some of these points without thinking of “Brownie”, Walter Reed, and the Patriot Act, among other things.