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More Lame Reasons to Supposedly Fear the Shutdown

Adam Goldberg in the Huffpo has 11 reasons why a shutdown would be "terrible" for me.   Many of these are absurd [sorry, left the link out originally]

1. HUGE NUMBER OF FURLOUGHS: As many as 800,000 of the country's 2.1 million federal workers could be furloughed as the result of a shutdown

There it is again.  Apparently the most useful thing these 800,000 people do is draw and spend their paycheck.

9. NATIONAL PARKS, MUSEUMS (AND PANDAS!): The country's national parks would be forced to close without a government funding deal

Parks! I think I have made my point here already (here and here)

2. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ON HOLD: The head of the Environmental Protection Agency says that the regulator would "effectively shut down" without a deal to fund the government.

8. WORKPLACE SAFETY: Most Labor Department investigations into workplace safety and discrimination would cease if a deal is not reached to avert a shutdown.

6. FOOD SAFETY: Most routine FDA food safety inspections would be suspended in the case of a shutdown.

This is just playing on the public's ignorance of how these agencies operate.  I suppose there are low information voters out there who think that EPA officials are stationed at each plant with binoculars looking for emissions and once they get furloughed, companies will race to dump a bunch of stuff while they are not looking.  Monitoring is all by data reporting on these issues.  The departments conduct audits and investigations retroactively.  Delaying these investigations that can take years does absolutely nothing in real time to change health or safety.  As for routine food safety inspections, these happen on a timetable of weeks or months, so that a few days delay in an inspection that occurs every 90 days or so is not going to make a difference.

10. STOCK MARKET PANIC: The stock market reacted negatively on Monday amidst worries about a shutdown and an upcoming fight to raise the country's debt ceiling. The lack of a resolution could mean more market madness to come.

Dow up 20 points, S&P up about a half percent as I write this.

7. NO BACK PAY: Employees of one U.S. attorney have been warned that there is a "real possibility" they may not receive back pay if the government shuts down.

Holy crap!  Government workers might not get paid for not working.

11. DOJ DISRUPTION: Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday warned that a shutdown would have a "disruptive impact" on operations at the Justice Department. He pointed fingers at the House of Representatives and stated that there are "good, hard-working Americans who are going to suffer because of this dysfunction."

This is hilarious.  A partisan rant from one of the most partisan knife-fighters in the Administration is not data, and in fact there is no detail at all here.  As it turns out, the DOJ is mostly NOT affected except for some civil litigation, where cases that already drag on for years might take a week longer to complete, and a few lawyers may lose a few days of pay

Under the Justice Department's contingency plan for the shutdown, civil litigation will be curtailed or postponed. The employees of many DOJ agencies will be exempted from furloughs because their roles are deemed "essential."

Wow, Did I Call This or What? Republicans Consider a Narrow Bill to Fund Parks Only

In several recent posts, I have found humor in the fact that no one seems to be able to identify any services they will miss in the partial government shutdown except parks (here and here).  I joked that

I would love to see the government shutdown rules modified to add National Parks to the critical assets that remain open in a shutdown, since this seems the only thing anyone cares about.  Then it would be fascinating to see how the downside of the shutdown would be spun.  I can see the headlines now.   "AP:  Millions of TPS reports go unfiled".

Wow, suddenly I am a political prognosticator.  

Moments ago Reuters and other wire services report, citing Republican Peter King, that House Republicans plan to pass three funding bills today to reopen Federal Parks, veteran programs and fund for the District of Columbia.

Apparently it is going nowhere.  By the way, I have spent most of the day on the phone with supposedly-furloughed employees discussing the parks we operate, which look like they are going to stay open.

A Third of Government is Shutting Down and The Only Lost Function Anyone Can Name is Parks

First, you did not read the title wrong.  A government shutdown means only about a third of the government actually shuts down.  But the more amazing thing is that given multiple opportunities to name what we would lose if this one third goes away, all anyone can name is parks.  This is from a Q&A by the Associated Press via Zero Hedge, which says we would lose parks and have some delays in new disability applications and, uh, we would lose parks.

About one-third of the government will shut down. About 800,000 of about 2.1 million federal employees will be sent home without pay. National parks will close.

NASA will continue to keep workers at Mission Control in Houston and elsewhere to support the International Space station, where two Americans and four other people live. Aside from that only about 3 percent of NASA's 18,000 workers will keep working.

The military and other agencies involving safety and security would continue to function. These include air traffic controllers, border patrol and law enforcement officers. Social Security, Medicare and veterans' benefits payments would continue, but there could be delays in processing new disability applications.

A partial shutdown that lasts no more than a few days wouldn't likely nick the economy much. But if the shutdown were to persist for two weeks or more, the economy would likely begin to slow, economists say.

Extended closures of national parks would hurt hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses. Delays in processing visas for overseas visitors could interrupt trade. And the one-third of the federal workforce that lost pay would cut back on spending, thereby slowing growth.

So there you have it -- we lay off 800,000 government workers and the only two losses the AP can come up with is that national parks will close and those 800,000 people will have less to spend.    Since the NPS employs about 22,000 people, this means that the other 778,000 have a contribution to the economy that consists mainly of drawing and then spending a salary?

I would love to see the government shutdown rules modified to add National Parks to the critical assets that remain open in a shutdown, since this seems the only thing anyone cares about.  Then it would be fascinating to see how the downside of the shutdown would be spun.  I can see the headlines now.   "AP:  Millions of TPS reports go unfiled".

Update:  My company runs parks under concession contract in the National Forest and for other government agencies.  In all previous shutdowns, we have remained open, since we pay money into the government budget rather than draw money out, and since the parks we operate employ no government workers.  This time, though, we are starting to get notices we have to shut down too.  This may be an attempt by the administration to artificially make the shutdown worse than it needs to be.  I will update you as I learn more.

Me & Eliot

In a hard-hitting, incredibly researched piece of journalism entitled "Me & Ted", Josh Marshall polled his progressive friends at Princeton and found that they all thought Ted Cruz was an asshole.

Well, it turns out Ted and I went to college together. And not just we happened to be at the same place at the same time. We were both at a pretty small part of a relatively small university. We both went to Princeton. I was one year ahead of him. But we were both in the same residential college, which basically meant a small cluster of dorms of freshmen and sophomores numbering four or five hundred students who all ate in the same dining hall.

As it turned out, though, almost everyone I knew well in college remembered him really well. Vividly. And I knew a number of his friends. But for whatever reason I just didn't remember him. When I saw college pictures of him, I thought okay, yeah, I remember that guy but sort of in the way where you're not 100% sure you're not manufacturing the recollection.

I was curious. Was this just my wife who tends to be a get-along and go-along kind of person? So I started getting in touch with a lot of old friends and asking whether they remembered Ted. It was an experience really unlike I've ever had. Everybody I talked to - men and women, cool kids and nerds, conservative and liberal - started the conversation pretty much the same.

"Ted? Oh yeah, immense a*#hole." Sometimes "total raging a#%hole." Sometimes other variations on the theme. But you get the idea. Very common reaction.

Wow, so this is what famous journalists do?  Hey, I can do the same thing.

I went to Princeton with Eliot Spitzer.  He was a couple of years ahead of me but had a really high profile on campus, in part due to his running for various University Student Government offices.  So I checked with many of my friends back in college, and you know what?  They all thought Spitzer was an asshole.  I was reminded that we all disliked him so much that when one person (full disclosure, it was me) drunkenly asked who wanted to go moon Spitzer and the governing council meeting next door, we got 30 volunteers.  He was so irritating that he actually inspired a successful opposition party cum performance art troupe called the Antarctic Liberation Front (Virginia Postrel also wrote about it here).

Wow, am I a big time journalist now?  Will GQ be calling for me to do an article on Spitzer?

Look, this is going to be true for lots of politicians, because they share a number of qualities.  They tend to have huge egos, which eventually manifest as a desire to tell us what to do because they know better than we do.  They are willful, meaning they can work obsessively to get their own way even over trivial stuff.  And they are charismatic, meaning they generally have a group of people who adore them and whose sycophancy pisses everyone else off.  In other words, they are all assholes.

Republican Fail on Obamacare

I find Republican strategy in the recent Obamacare and budget fight to have been insanely aggravating, and that is coming from someone who hates Obamacare.

Yes, I understand why things are happening as they are.  From a re-election strategy, their approach makes total sense.  A lot of these House guys come from majority Republic districts where their biggest re-election fear comes from a primary challenge to the right of them.  I live in one of these districts, so I see what perhaps coastal media does not.  In everyday conversation Republicans are always criticizing their Congressmen for not rolling back Obamacare.  Republicans need to be able to say in a primary, "I voted to defund Obamacare".  Otherwise I guarantee every one of them will be facing a primary opponent who will hammer them every day.

But from the perspective of someone who just wants the worst aspects of this thing to go away, this was a terrible approach.  Defunding Obamacare entirely was never, ever, ever going to succeed.  Obama and Democrats would be happy to have a shutdown last months before they would roll back his one and only signature piece of legislation.  They may have caved in the past on other issues but he is not going to cave on this one (and needs to be seen not caving given his recent foreign policy mis-steps that has him perceived as weak even in his own party).  And, because all the focus is on Obamacare, we are going to end up with a budget deal that makes no further progress on containing other spending.

The Republicans should have taken the opportunity to seek targeted changes that would more likely have been accepted.  The most obvious one is to trade a continuing resolution for an elimination of the IPAB, one of the most undemocratic bits of legislation since the National Industrial Recovery Act.  Another strategy would have been to trade a CR for a 1-year delay in the individual mandate, a riskier strategy but one the Administration might leap at given that implementation problems in exchanges are giving them a black eye.  Finally, an even riskier strategy would have been to tie a CR to a legislative acknowledgement that the PPACA does not allow subsidies in Federally-run exchanges.  This latter might not have been achievable (and they might get it in the courts some day anyway) but if one argues that any of these is unrealistic, then certainly defunding Obamacare as a whole was unrealistic.

I think as a minimum they could have killed the IPAB, but now they will get nothing.

Update:  This line from All the President's Men seems relevant:

You've done worse than let Haldeman slip away: you've got people feeling sorry for him. I didn't think that was possible. In a conspiracy like this, you build from the outer edges and go step by step. If you shoot too high and miss, everybody feels more secure. You've put the investigation back months.

The Urge to Control

This is the personality of the people we are electing to higher office.  They have such an urge for control that they will not allow cell phone pictures taken of them in public.  By personality, these people have to control everything.  Is it really any surprise when they turn around and read our email?

From the article at the fabulous Photography is Not a Crime:

Hillary Clinton’s henchmen snatched a smartphone from a man who had photographed her giving a speech in Miami Thursday, deleting the image before returning the phone.

“That’s American politics,” one of the individuals in charge of preventing the presidential hopeful from being photographed told a Miami Herald reporter covering the meeting.

No, that’s Russian politics. Or Chinese politics. Or Cuban politics.

By the way (and I could be wrong here) Carlos Miller strikes me as much more Occupy than Tea Party in his political preferences.  But he obviously doesn't pull any punches on his issue (legality of public photography) when his team is involved.

I Would Really Like To Know: Does She Honestly Believe This, or Is Her Job To Spin This Kind of BS With A Straight Face

I can create a long list of reasons for disliking Republicans, but Nancy Pelosi just seems either totally insane or totally brazen when she makes this observation about Obama and Republicans:

“He [President Obama] has been … open, practically apolitical, certainly nonpartisan, in terms of welcoming every idea and solution. I think that’s one of the reasons the Republicans want to take him down politically, because they know he is a nonpartisan president, and that’s something very hard for them to cope with.”

As a truly non-partisan observer, I would say that I have not seen a President in my lifetime as empty of strategic thinking and substantive ideas.  Jeez, Bill Clinton did more substantive thinking in the shower in the morning than Obama has done in five years.  This man is all hyper-divisive rhetoric.  If Obama supporters want to compare him to a great leader, he reminds me in some ways of Bismark in the sense that Bismark was the master of negative integration, of defining an internal enemy (a Reichsfeinde) on every issue and marginalizing that enemy to unify everyone else on his side.  Of course, eventually, the legacy of that approach did not work out so well.

Corleone-Style Government

This is pretty amazing -- a FOIA and a subsequent string of emails between a USA Today reporter and the Department of Justice.  Like any email string, you need to go to the end and then read up.  Essentially, the DOJ tells the reporter that they have information that undermines the reporter's story but won't tell him what it is.  Instead, they threaten to hold it until after the reporter has published, and then give the information to another media outlet in order to embarrass the reporter, all because the reporter is "biased" which in Obama Administration speak means that he is an outlier that does not dutifully fall in line with the Administration's talking points.

My guess is that this is a cheap bluff to prevent a story from being published that the DOJ does not want to see in the public domain.  Even if it is not a bluff, this is a horrendous approach to releasing information to the public.

The Left Rallies to the Aid of Obama's Legacy

Well, the talking points on Obama and Syria must be out on Jornolist, and we see the results at Kevin Drum's place, among others.  Apparently, Obama's handling of Syria marks him as a great President:

If you want to give Obama credit, give him credit for something he deserves: being willing to recognize an opportunity when he sees it. I can guarantee you that George W. Bush wouldn't have done the same. But Obama was flexible enough to see that he had made mistakes; that congressional approval of air strikes was unlikely; and that the Russian proposal gave him a chance to regroup and try another tack. That's not normal presidential behavior, and it's perfectly praiseworthy all on its own.

In the meantime, it's rock solid certain that Assad isn't going to launch another gas attack anytime soon, which means that, by hook or by crook, Obama has achieved his goal for now. No, it's not the way he planned it, but the best war plans seldom survive contact with reality, and the mark of a good commander is recognizing that and figuring out to react. It may not be pretty to watch it unfold in public in real time, but it's nonetheless the mark of a confident and effective commander-in-chief. It's about time we had one.

Wow, this is so brazenly absurd that if I hadn't lived through the last several decades, I would never have believed it was possible to make something like this stick.  I am so glad that I am not a Red or Blue team member such that I would have to occasionally humiliate myself to support the team like this.

The Problem With Affirmative Action

Janet Yellen may soon be a victim of affirmative action.  I know that sounds odd, but I think it is true.

To preface, I have no preferences in the competition to become the next head of the Federal Reserve, and assume that Janet Yellen and Larry Summers are equally qualified.   I don't think the immense power the Fed has to screw with the economy can be wielded rationally by any individual, so it almost does not matter who sits in the chair.  Perhaps someone with a bit less hubris and a little more self-awareness would be better with such power, which would certainly mitigate against Summers.

But Yellen has a problem.  When this horse race first emerged in the press, many in the media suggested that Yellen would be a great choice because she was a woman, and qualified.  Most of the press coverage centered (probably unfairly given that she does seem to be quite qualified) on her woman-ness.  This leaves Yellen with a problem because many people were left with a first impression that the reason to choose her was primarily due to her having a womb, rather than her economic chops.

This is the downside of affirmative action.

The One and Only Good Thing About Partisanship

Kevin Drum has a post discussing vote counts on Syrian war in the House, and observing that support is coming from Democrats and opposition from Republicans.  Hilariously, Drum comes to the conclusion that the Republicans are the big hypocrites here and are much worse than Democrats.  I think most of us who are not members of the red or blue team see this conclusion for what it is -- a horribly blinkered partisan view.  Republicans who a decade ago were implying it was close to treason not to blindly support our President in a time of war are clearly hypocrites, but no more so than Democrats who filled the streets with people chanting about the fierce moral urgency to avoid war, with the robust and high-profile anti-war movement virtually disappearing once their guy was leading the wars.

But for those (mainly Democrats of late) who have criticized partisanship and gridlock and lack of bipartisan solutions, we are seeing the one and only advantage of partisanship:  That there are people in Congress who will always have an incentive to oppose anything that comes along, if only for narrow partisan tactical reasons.  Nothing is so good of an idea that it does not deserve challenge and push-back before we implement it (likely forever, since we never repeal anything and wars and their consequences take forever to go away).

The US Congress is like those hoarders you see on reality TV shows.  They have built up a 200+ year accumulation of laws and wars and regulations and other crap, until the very walls strain to hold it all.  And still they are out every day trying to add more.   They need an intervention every time they try to add another item to the hoard -- "Are you sure you really need that?"  Providing that intervention, whether out of good intentions or bad, is the one and only aspect of American team politics I can get behind.

For the Left, Do Asians "Count"?

I was filling out my EEO-1 forms the other day (that is a distasteful exercise where the government is leading us towards a post-racial society via mandatory reporting on the race of each of my employees).  For each employee there are five non-white categories:  Black, native American, native Hawaiian, Hispanic, and Asian.  I started to think how interesting it is that the Left supports numerous government interventions in support of the first four, but never mentions Asians.

This can't be solely due to lack of past discrimination.   Watch a movie from the 1930's or 1940's and you will see Asians shamelessly stereotyped** as badly as any other race.  And generations who lived and fought WWII had many members, even a majority, that harbored absolute hatred against one Asian people, the Japanese.  We only sent one group to concentration camps in the 20th century, and it was not blacks or Hispanics.  Of course "Asians" is an awfully broad categorization.  It includes Chinese, with whom we have had a complicated relationship, and Indians, for whom most Americans until recently probably have had little opinion at all one way or another.

One problem for many on the Left is the fact that Asians are considered a serious threat (both as immigrants and as exporters) to the Left's traditional blue collar union base.  Another is that they are an emerging threat to their little darlings trying to get into Harvard.  I have heard the squeakiest-clean, most politically correct liberals utter to me the most outrageous things about Asian kids.  Which is why I was not really surprised that white parents in California who claim to support merit-based college admissions immediately change their tune when they find out that this will mean that far more Asia kids will get in.

I have been working with some data on state voting and voter registration patterns by race in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision vis a vis the Voting Rights Act.  The Left went nuts, saying that blacks and Hispanics would again be discriminated against in the South, and the Obama Administration vowed to get on the case, saying that it would begin with Texas.

By the way, Texas may make perfect sense politically for Obama but is an odd choice based on the data.  Minority voter registration and voting rates as compared to the white population are usually used as an indicator of their election participation and access.  In the last election, according to the Census Bureau in table 4B, blacks in Texas both registered and voted at a higher rate than whites.  In Massachusetts, by contrast, in that same election blacks registered at a rate 10 percentage points lower than whites and voted at a rate about 7 points lower.

But if you really want something interesting in the data, look at the data and tell me what group, if we accept that low participation rates equate to some sort of covert discrimination, deserves the most attention (from the same table linked above):

US Voter Registration Rates (Citizens Only)

White:    71.9%

Black:    73.1%

Hispanic:     58.7%

Asian:     56.3%

US Voting Rates (Citizens Only, last Presidential election)

White:    62.2%

Black:    66.2%

Hispanic:    48.0%

Asian:    47.3%

 

** Postscript:  I am not an expert on discrimination, but I watch a lot of old movies and read a lot of history.  To my eye, stereotyping of Asians has been more similar to anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews than to stereotyping of blacks or Hispanics.  Blacks and Hispanics have most often been stereotyped as lazy and unintelligent.  Asians and Jews are more frequently stereotyped as scheming, plotting, and intelligent-but-evil.  Frank Capra, who directed a lot of good movies also directed a series of heavy-handed propaganda movies for the government during the war.  The one on Japan is interesting -- your gardener's quiet mien is actually masking a nefarious scheme.  Even in the 1940's Japan was portrayed as economically frightening to us.

Update:  Over the last couple of elections, Asians have shifted to voting fairly heavily Democratic.  So a cynical person would suggest that they might suddenly "discover" this group.  We shall see.

Citizen's Initiatives Dealt A Significant Blow

Since I am part of a group working to pass a ballot initiative in Arizona to allow same sex marriage in this state, I was obviously pleased with the decision to strike down DOMA yesterday.

However, the decision not to rule based on lack of standing on the Prop 8 suit creates a real mess above and beyond any implications for same-sex marriage.

Proposition 8, a California initiative to ban same-sex marriage that likely would not pass today, was introduced and passed five years ago because the authors of the initiative knew it was a step legislators would never take but that they thought (correctly at the time) that the voters would support.  In fact, in a nutshell, this is exactly what the initiative process was meant to achieve.  If citizens think the legislative process is broken on a particular issue (e.g. taxes, where legislators have entirely different incentives vis a vis raising taxes than do taxpayers), they can do an end-run.  In a sense, this is exactly what we are doing in Arizona with our Equal Marriage initiative, though of course with the opposite desired end result from Prop 8.  But just as in that case, we do not have high hopes of the current legislator passing such a Constitutional Amendment, so we are doing it through citizens initiative.

The problem in the Prop 8 case was that when the law was challenged in court, neither the governor nor the legislature was willing to defend it in court (remember, that it was passed over their opposition).  Given the very nature of ballot propositions and the reasons for them discussed above, this is likely a common occurrence.  But the Supreme Court refused to rule on the case because, as I understand their argument, only the administrative or legislative branch of the state government has standing to bring the appeal (ie defend the original law that was overturned by a local Federal court).

This is a really bad precedent.  It means that any initiative passed by citizens that is opposed by the current state government is enormously vulnerable to attack in courts.  If the government officials are the only ones who have standing, and they refuse to defend the law, then it will lose in court almost by summary judgement.

There has got to be some process where courts can grant citizens groups who filed and passed such initiatives standing to defend it in court.  Certainly there could be some judicial process for this, almost like the process for certifying a class and its official representative in a class action suit.  Without this, citizens initiatives are going to lose a lot of their power.

Update:  Scott Shackford at Reason writes

So should we be worried? Could the reverse – voters approve gay marriage recognition only to have the state refuse to back it – happen? What if the voters approved term limits for state legislators and they just ignored it?

The majority decision was not unsympathetic to the argument (incidentally, it’s interesting to see how polite these arguments are when you end up with such an unusual combination of justices on each side) but firm in that: 1) Getting a ballot initiative passed does not make you an agent of the state with standing; and 2) If you aren’t an agent of the state who is expected to defend the law, then you have to have proof of a personal harm and the proponents do not. Arguably, if the situation were reversed (the state refusing to defend an initiative recognizing gay marriage), it’s easy to see how they could allow standing and the outcry that would cause. A person denied a marriage license from a same-sex ballot initiative may be able to prove harms from discriminatory policies and earn standing.

I had not thought of it that way, but it is interesting that the Court could not find any demonstrated harm to straight petitioners from the legality of same-sex marriage.  I suppose that is a good sign.

Screwed Up Speech Law

I am not sure the WSJ has the law right (I don't really trust the media any more to get basic facts correct), but assuming for a moment they know what they are talking about, this caught my attention vis a vis the IRS scandal:

Officials explained that the unit had made the change [to their targeting criteria] because it was receiving many applications for groups that focused on lobbying, which is a permitted activity, and that weren't involved in political activity, which is restricted.

So its OK to kiss a Senator's ass but not OK to advocate for his defeat in the next election?  They may screw everything else up, but Congress is really good at making sure it takes care of itself.

"Incivility" Defined: It Means Criticizing Obama

I have had hard time parsing exactly what the intelligentsia means by "incivility."  On the one hand, they often call for more civil discourse and lament the lack of incivility in government nowadays.  But on the other hand, people like Obama very frequently argue by ad hominem attack, preferring to question the motives of the NRA or climate skeptics rather than engage their criticisms of gun control or CO2 limitations.

This has confused me, because I have always defined civility in discourse as the willingness to accept your opponent as a person of good will who merely disagrees or is misguided.  But if this is civility, why the frequent "othering" of political opponents by the same folks calling for civility?

Well, it turns out I have been using the wrong definition of civility.  As Donna Brazille makes clear, "incivility" means criticizing the President or attempting to hold him accountable for missteps of those who report to him.  She actually beings by defining civility in a way with which I mostly agree:

A government of, by, and for the people requires that people talk to people, that we can agree to disagree but do so in civility. If we let the politicians and those who report dictate our discourse, then our course will be dictated.

But then she goes on to say

We, the people, need to stay focused on facts, causes and solutions. Let's begin with the findings of the Treasury's inspector general who uncovered it: That it was bureaucratic mismanagement, but that there was no evidence of any political motivation or influence from outside the IRS.

And that, according to acting Commissioner Steven Miller, who just resigned, the problem started because the Supreme Court's Citizens' United decision created a surge of requests by political groups for tax-exempt status.

LOL - don't let politicians dictate our course - but everyone needs to shut up and take the word for two IRS officials that there is no scandal here (noting that we know from the IRS's own data that the last statement she urges us to accept in the name of civility is definitely false).    Further, she says

Why am I alarmed? Because two "scandals" -- the IRS tax-exempt inquiries and the Department of Justice's tapping of reporters' phones -- have become lynch parties. And the congressional investigation of Benghazi may become a scandal in itself.

So let's of course all be civil, and civility means calling folks criticizing a black President "lynch mobs."

By the way, a bit off-topic, but this paragraph is a textbook example of tricks editorial writers use

The IRS scandal has sparked bipartisan outrage that should require a bipartisan solution. The director who oversaw this was a Bush appointee who was confirmed by a Democratic Congress. Even Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein says he doubts very much that Obama was involved

Each sentence here as a master-stroke of the spinmeister's pen trying to defend her guy in the White House.

  1. Note the effort in the first sentence to shift this to a bipartisan issue.  Both sides are upset.  It is a good government issue.    The implication we are supposed to draw is that this no longer can be a critique of this particular administration.  It has transcended.  This is how red-blue team political invective works.  If the outrage is coming from just one party, it should not stick to the President because because it is petty partisanship.  If it comes from both sides, it should not stick because it is a larger issue for all of us that transcends this particular Administration.  In fact, through the article, she actually makes both arguments simultaneously.  Brilliant!
  2. It's Bush's fault.  This is just so well-worn that Obama officials simply cannot help themselves.   How can a man the Left thought to be so stupid and incompetent still be directing affairs four and half years after he left the building?
  3. This one is really funny.  Is, as implied by the structure of this sentence and the world "even", Carl Bernstein the least likely imaginable person to excuse Obama of such a charge?    I think I am going to start writing this way.  Even Warren Meyer thinks climate change has been exaggerated.  Even Kim Kardashian thinks its important to get a lot of PR.  Even Tia Carrere says its OK to make a bad movie once in a while.  Hey, this is fun.

By the way, as I wrote before, it is unlikely Obama gave a specific order to harass the tea party.  However, he has created a strong culture of "othering" his political enemies and impugning their motives as evil, sending a strong signal to his supporters such that actual orders were unnecessary.  No one ordered from the top that Princeton students harass Yale at every opportunity (or even better, Penn).  The culture takes care of it.

Our Great Political Sport: Scoring Points Off Tragedy

If one needs any skill as a politician, it is the ability -- with a straight face -- to, with no evidence whatsoever or even against countervailing evidence, blame any tragedy that occurs on your own personal bete noir.  Thus the Gabriel Giffords shooting was due to un-civil discourse by Conservatives, Benghazi was due to a YouTube video, the Boston Bombings were a results of too lenient immigration policy, the Newtown killings were due to the excess influence of the NRA, and the Gosnell murders were due to the legality of abortion.

In this same vein I received this email from California State Senator Fran Pavley

The recent Ventura County wildfires were just the latest example of the huge costs of climate change to California, serving as a reminder of the need for continued action, Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) said Thursday. Presiding over a hearing of the Select Committee on Climate Change and AB 32 Implementation, Sen. Pavley noted that the unseasonably early wildfire in Ventura County two weeks ago generated $10 million in firefighting costs. The dangers of climate change are no longer an abstraction, Sen. Pavley said.

“We can’t afford extreme climate, and so California doing its fair share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is incredibly important,” Sen. Pavley said.

Wildfires are one of many costs of climate change, environmental officials and experts said at the hearing. California also faces flooding, heat waves and threats to its drinking water system.

Even before atmospheric levels of CO2 rose, the US had thousands, even tens of thousands of wildfires a year.  So against a backdrop which would expect many fires in California even absent climate change (natural or man-made), it would be heroic to attribute one single fire to the effect of mankind's  CO2 production.  But it is even more astounding given that wildfires in the US are actually down so far this year -- way down.  Here is the data source, and here are two charts the Real Science blog prepared from this data.

screenhunter_275-may-05-05-06 screenhunter_276-may-05-05-07

Undermining Your Own Argument

Apparently Leftist blogger Meg Lanker faked a rape threat against herself in an attempt to Conservatives look bad.  OK, this is sad and pathetic, even more so because it is almost guaranteed that her political allies will first forgive her, and then defend her actions as some sort of brave and necessary action to fight patriarchal... uh, whatever.    It is also an incredibly dangerous action at a university, given that the Obama Administration has demanded that schools eliminate due process from on-campus sexual assault allegations and tilt their judicial process, such that it is, against accused male students.  Had she done this at, say, Yale and actually framed a particular guy, that guy would probably be kicked out of school already.

I won't add any more critique of Ms. Lanker.  Just assume that I am appalled by her actions.  But let me raise an issue with the Conservative critique of Ms. Lanker:  No one seems to be able to resist the temptation to comment on her looks and her weight, two things that (to my knowledge) are absolutely irrelevant to the discussion.  They are just completely ad hominem.  Stacy McCain engages in it, for example.   The posts on this Facebook page (which perhaps is a hoax itself, given the ungrammatical and frankly absurd wording of the header phrase) are even more abusive in this same vein.  Seriously folks, it is rather undermining to your argument that Lanker was exaggerating the boorishness of men with her fake threat when you jump on her Facebook page and engage in boorish ad hominem attacks.

Update:  Holy moly did I get the wrong link for the Stacy MCain post.  I will leave the link above as-is because it is kind of funny.  I had this link on my clipboard because I wanted to suggest them to my teenage daughter as a way to deflect unwanted (by dad) male attention.  The Stacy McCain link is here.

 

A Guide for the Left: Using Abortion to Understand the Passion of 2nd Amendment Advocates

My new Forbes column is up, and discusses the incredible similarity, in my experience, between gun and abortion advocates.  I find this particularly interesting because, in many cases, the occupants of each camp hate each other.

The most important common trait they share is that they both tend to feel (and act) like they are standing on shifting sands.  They both feel that their Constitutional rights (for guns as written in the 2nd Amendment, and for abortion as clarified in Roe v. Wade) are under constant attack by a powerful and vocal minority.  They share almost the exact same sense of paranoia (I don’t mean any negative connotation to that word — as a libertarian, I am paranoid about a lot of things).  As a result, they feel the need to hold the line against every regulation or incursion, no matter how seemingly reasonable, fearing the narrow edge of the wedge that will eventually threaten their core rights.  They know in their hearts that the true intent of regulators is to work towards outright bans, so even seemingly “reasonable” and narrow limits are treated as a Trojan Horse and opposed with an energy and vehemence that seems over-the-top to people outside of the debate or on the opposing side.

Lurching From One Emotionally-Driven Piece of Legislation to the Next

The Left is worried that Conservatives will jump on the fact that the Boston killers were immigrants to slow down immigration reform:

the anti-immigration right has jumped on this morning's news to argue that this is not the time to loosen our immigration laws. After all, the two guys who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon have turned out to be a pair of immigrants. As radio host Bryan Fischer says, "Time to tighten, not loosen, immigration policy." Greg Sargent comments:

It’s unclear thus far how widespread the effort among conservatives will be to connect the Boston bombing suspects to the immigration reform debate. But it’s certainly something that bears watching. If this argument picks up steam, it will be

another indication of how ferocious the resistance on the right to immigration reform is going to get.

I think it's safe to say that this argument will pick up steam. Why wouldn't it, after all? It's a gut punch to the idea that immigrants are no more dangerous than natives, and it doesn't matter which side logic is on. It's a strong appeal to emotions, and it's probably an effective one.

Wow, it would not have occurred to me to justify immigration restrictions (in a nation where we are basically all immigrants) based on the bad actions of a couple of individuals.  But since the Left recently tried to do exactly this with gun control, to justify restrictions on millions of law-abiding people based on the actions of one person, I guess they know what they are talking about.  The whole demagogic tendency is sickening.  While I would love to see radical immigration reform, including the right of most anyone to be legally present and working in this country (though not necessarily in line for citizenship or safety net benefits), I have pretty low expectations.

Drum gives a good answer, but the question he is asked reflects this pathetic kind of political opportunism

A few days ago, someone asked: Who are you secretly hoping the bombers turn out to be? My answer was, whatever kind of person is least likely to have any effect whatsoever on public policy.

Arguing Against Personal Interest

The best time to argue for general principles is when they work against one's own interest, to firmly establish that they are indeed principles rather than political opportunism.  Two examples:

First, from a topic rife with political opportunism, the Supreme Court a three-judge panel recently ruled Obama's NLRB not-really-recess appointments were unconstitutional.  I think that was the right decision,  but a President has got to be able to get an up or down vote in a timely manner on appointments.  As much as I would love to see all of Obama's appointments languish for, oh, four years or so, and as much as I really don't like his activist NLRB, having to resort to procedural hacks of this sort just to fill administrative positions is not good government.  The Senate rules (or traditions as the case may be) that even one Senator may put a hold on confirmations is simply insane.  While I am a supporter of the filibuster, I think the filibuster should not apply to certain Constitutionally mandated activities.  Specifically:  passing a budget and appointment confirmations.

Second, readers of this blog know how much I dislike our sheriff Joe Arpaio.  He was unfortunately re-elected a couple of months ago, though the vote was closer than usual.  This week, an Arizona group who also does not like Joe has announced it is going to seek a recall election against him.  Again, as much as I would like to see Arpaio ride off into the sunset, this practice of gearing up for recall elections just days after the election is over is just insane.  It is a total waste of money and resources.  While I don't like to do anything that helps incumbents, there has to be some sort of waiting period (perhaps 1/4 of the office term) before we start this silliness.

Thoughts On Election Spending

It is pretty standard to read lamentations about how high spending was in the most recent election.  However, it strikes me that election spending was irrationally low.  With stakes literally in the trillions (differences in tax policy, crony protection of certain industries and groups, etc.), it is a wonder to me that more money is not spent.

Political spending is rising because we have given the government insane powers over, well, everything.

The Wasted Vote Fallacy

Republicans before the election worked to convince Libertarians that a vote for Gary Johnson (or any other third party) was a wasted vote -- that Libertarians needed to be voting against Obama and therefore for Republicans.  Some libertarians have argued that the only way to change the Republican Party is from within.  Libertarians need to join the party and then work to make the party less statist.

I thought this was a crock at the time and think so even more now.  Here is the key thought:  Republicans are not going to change their platform and their candidates and their positions to woo voters they are already getting.  After the election, no one in the Republican leadership was talking about what a mistake it was to run a big government Republican like Romney -- the ex-governor of Massachusetts for God sakes -- who authored the predecessor to Obamacare.  No one was wondering about Gary Johnson as a 2016 candidate.

What the GOP did do is panic at the shellacking they got among Hispanic voters.  The ink was not even dry on the ballots before Republican leadership was considering abandoning their anti-immigrant stance in order to win more Hispanic voters.  I am not sure that will get them Hispanic voters, but whether they are right or not, that is the conversation they were having.  They were asking, "How do we attract voters WE DID NOT GET" -- not, "how do we attract voters we are already getting".

The turn of the century Progressive Party (William Jennings Bryant, free silver, etc) never won a Presidential election but both the Republicans and Democrats co-opted many of their platform positions because they sought to attract voters they were losing to the Progressives.

I don't see how Libertarians can look at a party that has fielded John McCain (author of speech restrictions) and Mitt Romeny (author of the proto-Obamacare) as any sort of long-term home.  Heck, the Republicans more seriously considered Rick Santorum and Donald Trump than Gary Johnson or Ron Paul.  I respect what Mr. Paul has done in bringing libertarian issues to the debate, but as long as he keeps reliably delivering his voters to whatever lame statist candidate the party fields, the GOP is never going to seriously address libertarian concerns.

I Don't Get It

I refuse to follow the ins and outs of polls and the horserace aspects of elections.  But I couldn't miss all the blog activity that somehow Nate Silver is purposefully corrupting his election predictions for some partisan reason.

A physics professor once used to tell us that if we don't even know the sign of the answer, then we should assume we have no understanding of what is going on.  Well, I don't even know the sign of the answer here.  Would a partisan inflate Obama's predicted chances of winning, thus giving him some sort of momentum?  Are there voters who just want to be on the winning side and vote on election day for whomever they think is going to win?  Or would a partisan make his man look worse in order to panic the base and make sure they get out and vote?

So I Made The Mistake of Watching Part of the Third Debate...

It was an amazing spectacle.  Two men fighting for 90 minutes to stand on the same patch of ground.  None of the issues I care about -- escalating drone strikes, rendition, indefinite detainment, Presidential kill lists, warrant-less wire-tapping -- were discussed because both men supported all of the above.  Somehow in just 11 years since 9/11, all of these issues seem to be beyond debate.  Amazing.   I have the third party debate Tivo'd, and I hear these issues got more play.  By the way, here I am in my debate gear

PS-  I am increasingly coming to the counter-intuitive conclusion that if one cares about ending these abuses of Executive power associated with the never-to-end-because-it-is-so-useful-to-politicians war on terror, then one should be rooting for Romney to win.  Not because he will end these practices -- no, I would expect him to enthusiastically embrace them.  But because the natural opponents of these practices on the Left will finally start to speak up and oppose them once they are not being practiced by their guy.  Right now, these practices are being expanded in a vacuum with almost no push-back.