Posts tagged ‘GOP’

Republican Web Folks Still Suck

Somehow I managed to get on the NRCC email list.  I don't generally mind these things, as I am on several lists from both parties and it is kind of interesting to see what marketing come-ons they are using at any particular moment.

But the NRCC has been spamming the hell out of me.  This in and of itself I think shows a lack of understanding about the medium.  You lose effectiveness really fast if you send, say, five emails in five minutes, which is what I just received.  Worse, though, is that there is no opt-out link in the email.  Who in this day and age is dumb enough to send out even quasi-legitimate marketing material and not include an opt-out?  Morons.  I am one of the those people who actually can and do write rules to sort my email box, so I can take care of the problem, but this is just bush league.  If you are a GOP member, I would not be fooled by your parties happy talk that it is closing the gap on digital communications with the Dems.  I see no such evidence.

During my brief foray into politics Chairing Equal Marriage Arizona, we were trying to message from the center right on the gay marriage issue.  We found out, to our dismay, this is not at all a comfortable approach for established gay rights organizations (to say the least), but we thought it an intelligent and necessary approach to win on the issue in a red state.  Anyway, one thing we found quickly is that there is no bullpen out there of talented web people on the Right, at least in Arizona.   They are all on the Left.  If I were a member of the GOP and actually cared about their fate, I would sure be looking for a way to fix this, perhaps with some sort of internship program to start developing a bench.

Republican Incompetence

I am just floored at the political incompetence of the Republicans in Congress.  Conservatives are arguing that it is all about how the media unfairly  makes Republicans the bad guys in all budget fights, and I think there is some truth in that.  But this was something that was known in advance, and which could be planned for.  I am not a political expert, but if the press really creates a messaging headwind for Republicans, then that means that they need to begin early and push often on a consistent message.

I thought the attempt to roll back Obamacare altogether was an absurd overreach that was merely attempted to help Congressmen head off primary challenges from the Right.  But even so, the GOP only settled on this approach to the budget battle at the absolute last minute.  What they really needed to do was pick a realistic item they were going to fight for, all agree to it 3-4 weeks ago, and then press like hell at every opportunity on the message for that one thing.

Now even political insiders can't name what is in the mish mash bill the House sent yesterday to the Senate.  I know it has a one year individual mandate delay (just in time to bail the Administration out of dire implementation issues) and a few other random things.  Of COURSE Republicans are going to lose the messaging war when they have not even bothered to message at all, even to those of us who could be convinced to start cutting government almost anywhere.

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.

More Corporate Welfare, in the Form of a Currency War

From the Hill, the ghost of Hawley-Smoot returns

 The Senate voted Monday to advance legislation pressuring the Chinese government to stop undervaluing its currency, a practice most economists agree is giving the country an unfair trade advantage and is costing the U.S. jobs.

The Senate voted 79-19 to end debate on a motion to proceed to the bill, the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011. While the vote does not mean the bill has passed, the strong show of support suggests it could well be approved in the upper chamber by the week’s end. Passage through the House is less clear, however, and GOP leaders have given no indication they will move forward with it.

Senate Democratic leadership, responsible for bringing the legislation to the Senate floor, heralded it as a way to create jobs and right a long-standing trade imbalance with China.

“China is by far the biggest exploiter of predatory currency practices,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday. “[T]hese currency policies artificially raise the price of U.S. exports and suppress the price of imports into the United States, undermining the economic health of American manufacturers and their ability to compete at home and around the globe.”

This is a great example of how a group, in this case the Democratic Party, can say they are against corporate welfare, but in fact be 100% behind it simply by changing the terms used.

Look at the sentence in bold.  Another way to write this would be "we want a law to help a few visible and influential manufacturers who most compete with China, but hurts consumers (ie every single American) and every business that uses imported raw materials.

Protectionism like this is corporate welfare for a few large manufacturers.  I find it amazing the reporter can say that "most economists agree" an undervalued Chinese currency is costing us jobs.  My sense is that most economists don't agree with this statement.  All this law will do is unilaterally increase consumer prices and raw material costs, and I know few economists who think this is stimulative.

A cheap yuan is a direct subsidy of American consumers by the Chinese, and I am not sure why we shouldn't let it continue as long as they are dumb enough to keep doing it.

If GOP Candidates Can't Make It Here, They Can't Make It Anywhere

It's hard to see populist, wacky GOP candidates making much progress nationally if they can't get any traction in Arizona.

A poll of 623 Arizona voters released today reflects a couple things -- almost nobody likes Donald Trump, and most people would prefer Sarah Palin not move here.In the poll -- from Public Policy Polling -- opinions are recorded about possible GOP nominees for the 2012 presidential election, and how they'd vote if they ran against President Barack Obama.

Donald Trump was the most unfavorable of five possible GOP candidates -- with a full 2/3 of people dissin' the Donald with an "unfavorable" ranking.

Remember that whole thing about former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin moving to Arizona for a possible Senate campaign?

Most people would prefer that not happen.

Palin was the second-most-disliked candidate -- with 62 percent having unfavorable opinions -- and a later question revealed 57 percent of people would prefer that she not move to Arizona.

Trump also suffered the biggest blowout in a hypothetical match-up against Obama, garnering votes from only 36 percent of respondents.

Who Makes the Price-Value Tradeoffs?

I have written a ton in the past on what I consider the fundamental problem in health care:  The taking of price-value tradeoffs out of the hands of consumers, first through encouragement of first-dollar employer plans and now through a Federal government takeover.  For example:

The computer keyboard I am typing on right now costs about $55 on Amazon.com.  Is that a fair price?

At some level, the answer must be “yes.”  Why?  Because I bought it – simple as that.  No one was compelling me to buy this particular model, so if I thought the price too high or the features too skimpy, I would have just passed on the purchase.  If I desperately wanted or needed a keyboard, I might have bought one of literally hundreds of others for sale at Amazon, priced from a low of $1.49 (used) to a high of $2400 (I kid you not).  After shopping through the various options, I chose my keyboard as the best match, for me, of price and features.

For decades, this seemingly prosaic act of individual “shopping” has been steadily eroded in health care with the growth of third party payers, particularly Medicare.   How much did you pay for you last doctor visit?  Your last x-ray?  Your last blood test?  Believe it or not, it is still possible to price-shop medical care — I do it myself, because I have a high deductible health insurance plan under which I pay all but the most bankrupting bills out of pocket.  As an example, three x-rays last month of my son’s ankle would have been billed to my insurance company at over $100, but I asked for their cash price and they pulled a separate book from a hidden place under the counter and quoted me $35.  I got a 70+% discount merely for caring about the price.

But my health plan, which includes this seemingly positive incentive to shop, will soon be illegal as high-deductible insurance plans, as well as medical savings accounts, are effectively banned.  Under Obamacare, virtually all individual payments for medical products and services will cease — the government and a few large, highly regulated insurers will pay for nearly every visit, drug, or procedure.  The government will be making price-value trade-offs for our care, and they will be doing it incredibly imperfectly, because by eliminating individual shopping they have cut off a, excuse the pun, priceless source of information.

And here:

If we are all forced to have the same, low deductible, first-dollar health plans, what incentive is one going to have to stay out of the health care system, even for something minor?  What is to stop you from going to the doctor every day because you are hypochondriacal, or you are lonely, or bored, or just because you want to save on buying your own subscription to Highlights Magazine?  The buffet will be open and everything will be essentially free – what’s to stop people from gorging themselves?

You might say that you are more responsible than that, and perhaps you are.  But think about this:  Twenty years ago we used to all complain about the 2 or 3 pieces of junk mail we might find a day in our mailbox.  That was when the each piece of mail cost real money to send.  Today, junk mail in the form of email is essentially free to send.  How many pieces of junk mail do you get today?  Even if you are not hitting the system up for free health care, you know someone else will be spamming the system, and eventually all of us as taxpayers will have to pay for it.

The only way to stop this behavior is for the government to create a department of “No” to head off this behavior — what Sarah Palin so famously called “Death Panels.”

Both Tyler Cowen and Megan McArdle discuss individual vs. the government in making price-value tradeoffs for health care in the context of Paul Ryan's proposal to voucherize Medicare.

McArdle:

Expect there to be a lot of angry back and forth over this in the next week or so.  But one thing to keep in mind is that this Medicare plan is not effectively very different from what the Democrats claim ObamaCare is going to do:  which is to say, cap the amount of money spent on providing health benefits to those who are not rich enough to opt out of the public system.  The Democrats want to do so by having a central committee of experts decide what our health dollars get spent on; the GOP wants to put those decisions into the hands of consumers.  But this is not an argument about who loves old, sick people more.  Both parties are promising to halt the rapid growth of government health care expenditures, which is definitionally going to fall hardest on old, sick people....

There are also the tradeoffs to consider.  It seems quite likely to me that vouchers are going to be better at controlling health care cost growth than a central committee.  Every committee decision that cuts off a potentially useful treatment (and I'm afraid it can't all be back surgery and hormone replacement therapy) will trigger a lobbying explosion from affected groups.  Each treatment is a decision with a small marginal cost to the taxpayer; it's in aggregate that they become expensive.  Which means that the congressional tendency is always going to be to override--and while there are supposed to be structural barriers against this in the bill, they aren't very strong . . . about like trying to quit smoking by hiding your cigarettes from yourself.

Here is the Key Bait and Switch

Bill Clinton joined a number other leftish writers of late trying to marginalize those who criticize the government (and in particular, I think, the Tea Party folks).   I am really not going to comment much on this attempt, except to say that we endured something identical during the Iraq war, with the BS about not criticizing the President during wartime.

Here is the key bait and switch in Clinton's argument:

But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.

The government that guarantees our freedoms?  I suppose this sounds sort of good if one just lets it roll by, but in the context of our country's formation, this is absurd.  The only threat to freedom that the founders of this nation were concerned about was the government itself.

The government is the only entity with the power to use force and the power to grab money without permission.  As such, the founders recognized it as the single most potent threat to freedom that could possibly exist.  All their efforts were aimed at constructing limitations and protections from the power of government itself.

It would be far more correct to say "the Constitution that guarantees our freedoms" by limiting the power of government, but in fact that is exactly what the left is trying to overturn, with a hundred years of efforts to slowly whittle the Constitutional limitations on the power of government down to zero.

Update: Wow, this is an amazing excerpt from a 1995 memo from Dick Morris to Clinton just after the Oklahoma City bombing.  Seems like he is still following the same playbook:

Later, under the heading "How to use extremism as issue against Republicans," Morris told Clinton that "direct accusations" of extremism wouldn't work because the Republicans were not, in fact, extremists. Rather, Morris recommended what he called the "ricochet theory." Clinton would "stimulate national concern over extremism and terror," and then, "when issue is at top of national agenda, suspicion naturally gravitates to Republicans." As that happened, Morris recommended, Clinton would use his executive authority to impose "intrusive" measures against so-called extremist groups. Clinton would explain that such intrusive measures were necessary to prevent future violence, knowing that his actions would, Morris wrote, "provoke outrage by extremist groups who will write their local Republican congressmen." Then, if members of Congress complained, that would "link right-wing of the party to extremist groups." The net effect, Morris concluded, would be "self-inflicted linkage between [GOP] and extremists."

Is Compulsion OK if We Mean Well?

Kevin Drum thinks John Shaddeg (who is actually my representative) is crazy because he equates the current health care proposals, which Drum says are just to make sure that everyone has decent health care, to "Soviet gulag health care."  Further, Drum concludes that Democrats in Congress are sane and would never ever engage in such over-the-top loony rhetoric as Mr. Shaddeg

But it's a good example of what I mean when I suggest that today's right-wing lunacy is different from left-wing lunacy of the Bush years.  Sure, there were lefty bloggers who went over the top about Amerika and how the NSA was bringing 1984 to life and so forth, but for the most part you didn't have members of Congress taking to the House floor and joining in.  They largely managed to keep a slightly more even keel.

Wow, that will be blood in the water for Conservative bloggers - I can think of a number of Democratic loonies in Congress but I don't want to do the Republican's job for them.  Instead I wrote:

I have no doubt that you have the best of intentions, and that you only want healthy people and two unicorns in every garage. But you are, no matter how well intentioned, achieving your ends through compulsion. You compel person A to pay for person B's health care. You compel doctors and medical suppliers to provide services at costs or at quality levels they would not have provided otherwise. You compel everyone to get insurance -- and not just insurance, but exactly the insurance with the coverage you want, not what they want.

To folks who cherish individual liberties (and who don't look to the Republican party for much leadership on this or any topic) it is all soviet-style compulsion, no matter how pure your motives.

PS- as a libertarian without a horse in the wars between the Coke and Pepsi party, I find this kind of post hilarious. Team Elephant thinks you guys are insane and they are normal, and you think the opposite. You think that calling their president Hitler is fine while they are wrong to do it to yours, and vice-versa. I will give you a big hint. You guys all sound exactly the same. You all use the same tactics. You both have thoughtful members and loonies, both on the sidelines and in positions of power. You both have honest people and corrupt ones. It's like watching Apple vs. PC ads, except those two actually have some differences.

Update:  This from a later Drum piece is exactly what I was referring to.  I am positive the Republicans think the exact same way about Democrats, in fact I hear them all the time saying "We need to get down and dirty like the Democrats and stop being the ones always following the rules."  Apparently Democrats think the same way:

Is it really true that the Democratic leadership acts like a high school social club while the Republican leadership acts more like the mafia?  Step out of line in GOP-land and they'll make you pay dearly: money, committee assignments, and more will be savagely withdrawn if you vote the wrong way.

Self-awareness seems to be in short supply in Washington.

Missing the Whole Point

The Bill of Rights were originally restrictions on government power.  Period.  Many people do not want to read them this way today, because they have a strong interest one way or another in the increase in government power.

Take the First Amendment.  "Congress shall make no law..."  In other words, there can be no justification of any kind for the government taking away free speech, press, association, religion, etc.

Unfortunately, forces have been at work for decades from both political parties to undermine this hard and fast protection.  Our most recent assault comes from the Democrats in the guise of the hate crimes bill:

Republican Sam Brownback offered an amendment to the Senate version which said the bill could not "construed or applied in a manner that infringes on any rights under the First Amendment" and could not place any burden on the exercise of First Amendment rights "if such exercise of religion, speech, expression, or association was not intended to plan or prepare for an act of physical violence or incite an imminent act of physical violence against another."

With that amendment, GOP Senators supported the final bill. However when the bill went to the conference committee, key changes were made to the Brownback amendment by the Democrat controlled committee:

Where Brownback had insisted, and the full Senate had agreed, that the bill could not burden the exercise of First Amendment rights, the conference changed the wording to read that the bill could not burden the exercise of First Amendment rights "unless the government demonstrates "¦ a compelling governmental interest" to do otherwise.

That means your First Amendment rights are protected "” unless they're not.

"A compelling governmental interest" leaves the door wide open for your free speech rights to be trampled on the government's whim. Where the First Amendment was designed as a limit on government power (as was the entire Constitution), this law is a blatant attack on those limits and an attempt to expand government power.

So, the government's power is checked unless there is a "compelling governmental interest" in not having its power checked. We're doomed.

Thought on Mike Huckabee

I generally don't do horserace style political blogging on strategy between the Coke and Pepsi parties, and I am not going to start now.   However, I did find it funny that it was Mike Huckabee threatening Sarah Palin that she should not leave the GOP.  It's funny to me because of all the things the GOP could do to potentially attract me to the party, having Mike Huckabee leave the party would be close to first on the list.

So Rich People Don't Count?

I generally like the work that Factcheck.org does, and am perfectly willing to believe that McCain's claim that Obama has voted "for higher taxes" 94 times is exaggerated.  However, some of their rationale leaves me flat:

Twenty-three [votes] were for measures that would have produced no tax increase at all; they were against proposed tax cuts.

Uh, OK.  It strikes me that voting against 23 tax cuts is voting for higher taxes 23 times.  I know that politicians work very hard to establish a sort of taxation Stare Decisis, wherein once a tax is in place it can never be questioned, but many of us think that tax cuts are fair game.  But then Newsweek, in reporting this story, goes on to repeat this claim over and over, as if that makes it correct:

By our count, about a quarter of these votes for "higher taxes" "“ 23 to
be exact "“ are votes Obama cast against changing tax rates from what
they were at the time. Taxes would not have gone up. They would have
been "higher" only compared to the cuts being proposed.

Sorry, but this does not sound like independent fact-checking.  This sounds like political spin and hackery by folks in Obama's camp.  Voting against a tax cut is a vote for higher taxes.

Eleven votes the GOP
is counting would have increased taxes on those making more than $1
million a year "“ in order to fund programs such as Head Start and
school nutrition programs, or veterans' health care.

The implication here, I guess, is that the rich people don't count as people, and that raising taxes only on the rich does not count as a tax increase?  We see this same bias that rich people don't count in their summary:

It's true that most of the votes the GOP counts would either have
increased taxes for some, or set budget targets calling for such
increases. But by repeating their inflated 94-vote figure, McCain and
the GOP falsely imply that Obama has pushed indiscriminately to raise
taxes for nearly everybody. A closer look reveals that he's voted
consistently to restore higher tax rates on upper-income taxpayers but
not on middle- or low-income workers.

The other interesting pice of the previous quote is that tax increases don't count if they fund programs such as Head Start that the author of the study, presumably, supports.  The article goes on to say:

And in many cases, the legislation in question called for increasing
taxes in order to fund popular programs, a fact not mentioned by the
Republican opposition researchers. One such amendment
by Sen. Christopher Dodd to a 2006 bill, for example, proposed the
creation of a "veterans hospital improvement fund," financed by
increasing the capital gains and dividend tax rates on those earning $1
million a year or more.

You get it?  Its not a tax if it is on the rich or funds a liberal program.  By the way, I find this increasing reliance on taxes on people making $1 million or more an enormous threat to the very basis of our demacracy.  It is always a danger in democracy to have 51% of the people vote themselves benefits at the expense of the other 49%.  But this becomes increasingly seductive as the numbers skew, until every politician is crafting programs that take from the top 1% and give to politically influential portions of the other 99%.  Here is a great example of that in California, with a program the majority of voters were not willing to pay for, but accepted when it was funded by a millionaire's surcharge:

Already, we see many states funding new programs with surcharges on the rich.  Here is but one example:

California voters agreed to tax the rich to support public mental health
services. 

More than half of them (53.3 percent) voted last month in favor of
Proposition 63, which will impose a tax surcharge of 1 percent on the taxable
personal income above $1 million to pay for services offered through the
state's existing mental health system. The initiative will generate an
estimated $700 million a year....

Richard A. Shadoan, M.D., a past president of the CPA, wrote in Viewpoints
in the September 3 issue of Psychiatric News, "The scope of the
program and its tax-the-rich source will provoke a debate. But it's an
argument worth having to make California face the neglect of not providing
treatment to more than 1 million people with mental illness."

So
what happened?  I don't know how many people make a million dollars in
California, but it is certainly less than 5% of the population.  So the
headline should read "53.3% of people voted to have less than 5% of the
people pay for an expensive new program."  If the 53.3% thought it was
so valuable, why didn't they pay for it?  Well, it is clear from the
article that the populace in general has been asked to do so in the
past and refused.  So only when offered the chance to approve the
program if a small minority paid for it did they finally agree.  This is the real reason for progressive taxation.  (by the way, these 53.3% will now feel really good about themselves,
despite the fact they will contribute nothing, and will likely piss on
millionaires next chance they get, despite the fact that they are the
ones who will pay for the program).

That example reminded me in turn of this story from history, one of what I call "great moments in progressive taxation,"  and the ultimate logical end of this desire to have fewer and fewer rich people fund services for everyone:

My story today comes from the Roman Empire just after the death of
Julius Caesar.   At the time, three groups vied for power:  Octavian
(Augustus) Caesar, Mark Antony, and republican senators under Brutus
and Cassius.   Long story short, Octavian and Antony join forces, and
try to raise an army to fight the republicans, who have fled Italy.
They needed money, but worried that a general tax would turn shaky
public opinion in Rome against them.  So they settled on the ultimate
progressive tax:  They named about 2500 rich men and ordered them
killed, with their estates confiscated by the state. 

This approach of "proscriptions" had been used before (e.g. Sulla)
but never quite as obviously just for the money.  In the case of
Octavian and Antony, though nominally sold to the public as a way to
eliminate enemies of Rome, the purpose was very clearly to raise
money.  All of their really dangerous foes had left Rome with the
Republicans.  The proscriptions targeted men of wealth, some of whom
had been irritants to Octavian or Antony in the past (e.g. Cicero) but
many of whom had nothing to do with anything.  Proscribed men were
quoted as saying "I have been killed by my estates."

I wonder how many of today's progressives would be secretly pleased by this approach?

Postscript:  I can't tell if this Newsweek article represents some sort of strategic alliance or deal with Newsweek, or just a one-off.  If it is some kind of alliance, I think we can write off any notion that Factcheck.org is still non-partisan.  I predict if this is the case we will see more pro-Obama spin out of Factcheck, or as a minimum, a cherry-picking by Newsweek of which checked facts it wants to publish and which it does not.

Paybacks are Hell, John McCain

I really try not to be vindictive, but I cannot tell you how happy this story, rife with irony, makes me:

John McCain has a campaign finance problem.
When his campaign was down and out, he agreed to take public funding
for the primaries. Public funding comes with spending limits overall
and by state. Also, a candidate who accepts funding cannot raise money
from private sources. Now that it is possible he will be the
nominee, McCain will want to be free of those fundraising and spending
limits, but he cannot withdraw from the public system. Or perhaps he
could but only with the approval of the FEC, which is not operating
because of a struggle over its nominees. The FEC does not now have a
quorum to meet and regulate. (The lack of a quorum was caused by Barack
Obama's hold on a nominee to the FEC, but never mind).

McCain will want out of the public system because he is probably
close to hitting the limit, and he could not get more money for his
campaign until he received public funding after the GOP convention
during the summer.  His "dark period" would thus be a period without
campaign funding that would run from spring until after the GOP
convention. During that "dark period" Obama or Hillary, both of whom
have not accepted public funding for the primaries, would be able to
continue spending money; some of that spending would be directed
against McCain after Obama or Hillary have secured their party's
nomination.

HAHAHAHAHA.  OMG that is great.  Read it and weep, Mr. McCain-Feingold.  McCain has argued for years that money and speech are not the same thing, and that limiting campaign money is not equivalent to limiting speech.  He can comfort himself with that thought as he goes silent for three or four [update: seven?] months  while his opposition yaps away.

Democrats and Republicans United In Grabbing Power

This weekend, the Democrats in Congress passed legislation legalizing the Administration's previous grab for new wiretapping powers.  Further proving that the minority party in the US government does not really object to power grabs, they just get in a huff that the other party thought of it first.  Other examples of such behavior include the Patriot act, currently supported by Republicans and opposed by many Democrats, but most of whose provisions were originally proposed by Bill Clinton and opposed by a Republican Congress  (opposition led by John Ashcroft!)

I really don't want the president, of either party, listening to my phone calls without a warrant, and that answer does not change if I am talking  to my friends in Arizona or my friends in London.

John Scalzi has a great post reacting to the line in the article above where Democrats vow to, at some time in the future, "fix" the flaws in the law they just passed.

They wouldn't have to "fix" it if they hadn't have passed it.
Once again I am entirely flummoxed how it is that the Democrats, faced
with the president more chronically unpopular than Nixon, and so
politically weakened that the GOP candidates for president can barely
bring themselves to acknowledge that he exists, yet manage to get played by the man again and again.

If the Democrats honestly did not feel this version of the bill
should have been passed, they shouldn't have passed it. I don't see why
this is terribly complicated. And don't tell me that at least it has a
six-month "sunset" clause; all it means at this point is that in six
months, the Democrats are going to allow themselves to get played once
more, and this time they'll have given Bush the talking point of "well,
they passed it before."

My only objection to this statement is the implication the this is just a matter of the Democrats getting played.  I actually think it's exactly what the Democrats want -- they want to retain a reputation for caring about government intrusiveness without actually reducing government powers (just like Republicans want a reputation for reducing economic regulations without actually doing do when they were in power).  After all, the Dems expect to control the administration in 2 years, and they really don't want to take away any of the President's toys before that time.

Vote For Me Because I Care

How many politicians have you heard say that they care deeply.  I hate politicians who care.  You know why?  Because the way they demonstrate that they care is by using my money against my will to help someone else.  It is a freaking slap in the face every time I hear this.

Now, government employees in Massachusetts are getting a new way to demonstrate they care at taxpayer expense:

A much-hyped program that
gives state workers up to a dozen paid days off per year to "volunteer"
in a wide variety of community activities gives another perk to
employees who already have one of the most generous benefit packages in
the country....

   A Herald analysis
shows that if the 80 employees in the governor's office took full
advantage of the program, the one-year cost would be $217,000. The
taxpayer cost just for Patrick, who makes $140,000, to take all 12 paid
volunteer days would be about $6,400. There are 50,000 state workers
eligible to participate in the program.

    "Beyond
the loss of productivity for days off, consider the cost of tasking
other state employees with making sure their co-workers aren't just
extending their weekends," said state GOP spokesman Brian Dodge. "With
bright ideas like this one, the stream of wasted money directly
attributed to Deval Patrick is quickly becoming a raging river."

Its not "volunteering" if you get paid to do it, any more than its "charity" when you give away other people's money.  (HT:  Maggie's Farm)

We Still Love You Jeff

When the Democrats lost control of Congress in such dramatic fashion in 1992, many thought it would be a wake-up call for the party, forcing it to check some of its premises.  In fact, the Democrats never really changed much after 1992 and really have only recovered power because the Republicans have done such a fine job of blowing their own foot off.

Likewise, the Republicans after losing power in 2006 are showing absolutely no hints of dealing with the issues that got them tossed out of office.  In fact, they seem hell-bent on purging their brightest reformers, announcing recently that Jeff Flake will be stripped of his judiciary committee post.  Sorry Jeff, but you are still Coyote Blog's favorite Congressman.  Why?  Here is a sample:

Reason: What policies could a GOP-run Congress enact that would appeal to libertarians?

Flake: At this late date? Adjournment.

You gotta love the reliably liberal Tucson Citizen, which bends over backwards to (almost) blame Flake for his own dismissal because, well, because his uncle Jake*, a prominent state politician, once did the same thing to someone else.  Think about all your uncles and aunts -- would you want to be held accountable for all their actions?

*For an Arizonan, the elder Flake is best known as "Jake Flake from Snowflake" if you can believe it.

Parties are Partisan, so Get Over It

There is nothing I think is dumber than the standard post-election plea for bipartisanship you see in newspapers after every election.  This election is no exception.  Get over it.  The Democrats won, they have been out of power for a while, and have a backlog of stuff they want to do.  I won't agree with a lot of it, which will put me in the same place I was with the Republican Congress.  I'm going to be pissed when the Democrats try to increase the minimum wage, roll back NAFTA, impose oil windfall profits taxes and raise income taxes.  Just as I was pissed when the Republicans passed McCain-Feingold, the prescription drug boondoggle, steel tariffs, and gave up on social security reform and any meaningful ethics and earmark reform.

Chris Edwards at Cato agrees:

That's nonsense. In a closely divided legislature, partisanship and
attacks on the other team are the logical course for both parties.
Because both parties know that either House or Senate could easily
switch back over in 2008, they will do their best to deny the other
side any legislative victories. The GOP's strategy now will be to show
that the Dems can't get anything done, so they block, filibuster, and
veto. They are the opposition in the House, so their job is to oppose.

The Dems will use their chairmanships and control of the House floor
to schedule partisan hearings and votes to try and make the Republicans
look bad any way that they can. The most important thing for Nancy
Pelosi will be to hold onto the majority and line up some divisive
issues to hammer on to help the party's 2008 presidential nominee. Note
that she won't be scheduling votes on tax hikes anytime soon, because
that would immediately revive the GOP and jeopardize 2008.

I do think the two parties are going to have to figure out how to get some judgeships filled, but I am not holding my breath.  My real wish is that Pelosi would pursue impeachment, not because I think it is justified but because it would tie Congress up into a magnificently entertaining gridlock.  Unfortunately, she has pledged she would not do so.

Postscript:  McCain-Feingold limits expired yesterday, so you have your free speech back.  You may criticize politicians again.

Slavish Devotion to Political Correctness

With the proviso that I don't know anything about the people involved, I will say this controversy seems to be about nothing. 

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele accused a leading Democratic
congressman yesterday of racial insensitivity for saying the Republican
candidate has "slavishly" followed the GOP.

Steele, an African
American running for the U.S. Senate, was reacting to remarks by House
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, who characterized Steele this week as
having had "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party."

To say someone is "slavishly following" or showing "slavish devotion" is so common that I think you have to give the benefit of the doubt that the intention was not racial.  Here are some Google searches:

This is perhaps the dumbest fake-racial-gaffe since the kerfuffle in Washington about the word "niggardly" or the airline passenger lawsuit against saying "eenie meenie minie moe."  I could not find even one article in a quick scan that seemed to have any racial context -- these are merely very common phrases used in political discourse because they imply someone is somehow an unthinking tool of some organization rather than a person who thinks for himself.

By the way, it's illuminating to see the Republicans play the race / political correctness card in the
heat of political battle just as fast as the Democrats would.  Which, ironically, seems to be just as fast as Democrats are willing to play the "Don't vote for the gay guy" card, which is usually thought of as a Republican political tool.  Can anyone still believe that there is any real difference between the two parties?

Limiting Free Speech Unifies Congress

Anyone who actually believed that McCain-Feingold was about cleaning up politics rather than just protecting incumbent political jobs can now disabuse themselves of that notion.  It has become clear that election finance laws are pure Machiavellian politics, passed by those who think it will work to their benefit (ie help them in the next election) and opposed by those who think they will be hurt by it.  Principle almost never plays a part any more.

On April 5, House Republicans voted to limit the speech of 527 groups, who up until now were exempt from McCain-Feingold speech restrictions.  Republicans generally supported the restrictions, despite years of saying that money does not tarnish politics, because, well because Democrats were better last election than Republicans at raising money via 527's.  Democrats, who historically as a party have supported campaign finance and speech restrictions and eagerly voted for McCain-Feingold, oppose the legislation for no principled reason except that 527's are working for them.  Democrats will therefore likely prevent this bill from passing the Senate.

George Will has a nice column lambasting the Republican Congress:

If in November Republicans lose control of the House of
Representatives, April 5 should be remembered as the day they
demonstrated that they earned defeat. Traducing the Constitution and
disgracing conservatism, they used their power for their only remaining
purpose -- to cling to power. Their vote to restrict freedom of speech
came just as the GOP's conservative base is coming to the conclusion
that House Republicans are not worth working for in October or
venturing out to vote for in November.

The "problem" Republicans
addressed is that in 2004 Democrats were more successful than
Republicans in using so-called 527 organizations -- advocacy groups
named after the tax code provision governing them. In 2002 Congress
passed the McCain-Feingold legislation banning large "soft money"
contributions for parties -- money for issue-advocacy and
organizational activities, not for candidates. In 2004, to the surprise
of no sensible person and most McCain-Feingold supporters, much of the
money -- especially huge contributions from rich liberals -- was
diverted to 527s. So on April 5, House Republicans, easily jettisoning
what little remains of their ballast of belief in freedom and limited
government, voted to severely limit the amounts that can be given to
527s.

He captures a priceless quote that gets at the heart of why Congressional incumbents love these campaign finance laws:

Candice Miller (R-Mich.) said that restricting 527s would combat
"nauseating ugliness, negativity and hyperpartisanship." Oh, so that is
what the First Amendment means: Congress shall make no law abridging
freedom of speech unless speech annoys politicians.

Props, by the way, to my Representative John Shadegg for his no vote, as well as to my favorite Congressman Jeff Flake, who voted no as well.

George W. Bush: Champion of the Left

I've made this point myself, but David Boaz says it great:

So here's your challenge, lefty bloggers: If you don't like the
tree-chopping, Falwell-loving, cowboy president - if you want his
presidency fatally wounded for the next three years - then start
praising him. One good Paul Krugman column taking off from that USA Today story on the surge in entitlements recipients under Bush, one Daily Kos
lead on how Clinton flopped on national health care but Bush twisted
every arm in the GOP to get a multi-trillion-dollar prescription drug
benefit for the elderly, one cover story in the Nation on how Bush has
acknowledged federal responsibility for everything from floods in New
Orleans to troubled teenagers, and maybe, just maybe, National Review
and the Powerline blog and
Fox News would come to their senses. Bush is a Rockefeller Republican
in cowboy boots, and it's time conservatives stopped looking at the
boots instead of the policies.

Yes, Exactly

From Robert Bidnotto, echoing thoughts I had here and also here, but he writes much more eloquently:

Okay, I have had it.

Not a damned thing distinguishes the Republicans from the Democrats
anymore...not a damned thing. "No Child Left Behind" in essence, and
unconstitutionally, federalized education. The GOP-engineered federal
prescription drug subsidy program for seniors was another huge and
costly step toward total socialized medicine. The Administration's
response to recent natural disasters -- here and abroad -- establishes
the premise of federalizing all local emergencies globally, and  reducing the U.S. military into becoming the logistics wing of the International Red Cross.

And so on, and so on....

To the Left, government should whip individuals into collective
lockstep regarding its PC-egalitarian agenda on such issues as smoking,
diets, guns, cars, nature-worship, land use, political speech and
rhetoric, equality of income and "access" to things that don't belong
to you, drafting kids for "national service," using schools to push PC
propaganda, etc.

To the Right, government should whip individuals into collective
lockstep regarding its traditional moral agenda, including abortion,
sex, Darwin, cultural speech and rhetoric, marriage, national
demographic purity, drafting kids for military service, using schools
to push religious values, etc.

Neither side wants a government of limited powers, and
rejects the initiation of force against others. Neither side respects
individual rights, and rejects using the "fearful" power of government
to compel the independent individual to toe its party line. Neither
side recognizes property rights, and rejects the redistributionist
welfare state.

More fundamentally, neither side rejects the cannibalistic "morality" of sacrificing the individual to the group.

Left and Right both agree that the individual is their private
plaything, a sacrificial lamb for their respective pet causes. The only
thing that they really disagree about is which individuals they are
going to sacrifice, for whose benefit, and in the name of what cause.

Valeria Plame Affair and the Law of Unintended Consequences

I must confess to being at a loss over the whole Valerie Plame leak affair, which strikes me as mostly a political battleground between the two parties, so I have not really tried to figure it out. 

However, one thing struck me reading a story about it the other day:  The only thing that was clear to me was that folks on the left seem to envision an ultimate goal of bringing down either Karl Rove or Dick Cheney.  From a short-term political standpoint, I suppose this might be satisfying.  From a longer-term view, say out to 2008, it seems stupid to me.

Let's take Karl Rove first.  I have to take the left's word for it that he is an evil political genius.  But if so, why would you want the guy out on the street.  Right now he is wasting his talents on a lame-duck president who can't run in 2008, and neither can his VP.  Why do you want to put this powerful piece of electioneering artillery out on the street, available to a Republican candidate several years in advance of 2008?

The backfire from bringing down Cheney seems even worse.  As I pointed out a year ago, 2008 will be the first election in 50+ years where there is no incumbent VP or president running for either party.  There is nothing Republicans would love to do more than have a VP spot they could fill with a 2008 candidate.  The GOP Party apparatus would love it, because both Parties secretly long for a return to the day of smoke-filled rooms (rather than primaries) for selecting their candidates, and this would give Party leaders more control of the outcome.  There is nothing either party hates more than having Iowa select its candidates from an open slate - being able to choose a new VP would allow the GOP to effectively choose a front-runner.  The GOP would benefit no matter who is put in the position, because the suddenly have an incumbent running, with the advantages of being an incumbent, in 2008.  Does anyone doubt that the VP would suddenly get extra visibility over the next few years, as Clinton did for Gore?  Finally, Bush would love it, because it would give him another Miers-type opportunity to reward a friend (or crony, as your perspective may dictate) such as Condoleeza Rice.

I Couldn't Have Said it Better

Jeff Taylor at Hit and Run:

It is official. The GOP is now exactly in the same position Democrats
were in circa 1993 -- the disconnected, unapologetic party of bloated
federal government. Only demographic trends and the Democrats'
steadfast refusal to evince a lick of sense will keep 2006 from being
1994 in reverse.

We Won't Respect You in the Morning

Again, small government libertarians like myself, who held their nose and voted Republican in the last election, have been used.  From the NY Post today:

THE Republican promise of smaller,
less-intrusive government is getting harder and harder to believe.
Especially when a more plausible plot line is unfolding every day: that
the GOP has put aside the ideals of Reagan and Goldwater in order to
pursue a political strategy based on big spending.

For the latest, check out a report just released by the
libertarian Cato Institute that tells a striking story about just how
out-of-control spending has gotten under President Bush.

Cato finds that:

* Bush has presided over the largest increase in federal spending since Lyndon Johnson.

* Even excluding defense and homeland security spending, Bush is the biggest-spending president in 30 years.

* The federal budget grew from 18.5 percent of the Gross
Domestic Product on President Bill Clinton's last day in office to 20.3
percent at the end of Bush's first term.

Add to that Bush's massive Medicare prescription-drug
benefit, expected to cost $720 billion-plus over the next 10 years.
(The money for that new entitlement, the first created by a president
in a generation, will start flowing this year.)

It is not in the least bit comforting to have my suspicions confirmed by Cato, whose whole report is here.  Bring back divided government!  I will take Reagan-Democrat Congress or Clinton-Republican Congress over this any day.

 

On Totally Losing Perspective

I had this turly over-the-top article from Mark Morford in SF Gate forwarded to me via email, with the forwarding comment "This about sums it up..." After today, I will return to more business topics from politics, but this article gives me the excuse to write my own post-election recap.

Its hard to do this article justice in excerpting it, so I encourage you to follow the link above and read the whole thing, but hear are some choice highlights (bold emphasizes some particular passages I will comment on)

And now Kerry's conceded and the white flag has been raised and we are headed toward the utterly appalling notion of another four years of Bush and another Republican stranglehold of Congress and repeated GOP chants of "More War in '04!"

Which is, well, simply staggering. Mind blowing. Odd. Gut wrenching. Colon knotting. Eyeball gouging. And so on.

You want to block it out. You want to rend your flesh and yank your hair and say no way in hell and lean out your window and scream into the Void and pray it will all be over soon, even though you know you're an atheist Buddhist Taoist Rosicrucian Zen Orgasmican and you don't normally pray to anything except maybe the gods of really exceptional sake and skin-tingling sex and maybe a few luminous transcendental deities that look remarkably like Jenna Jameson.

It simply boggles the mind: we've already had four years of some of the most appalling and abusive foreign and domestic policy in American history, some of the most well-documented atrocities ever wrought on the American populace and it's all combined with the biggest and most violently botched and grossly mismanaged war since Vietnam, and much of the nation still insists in living in a giant vat of utter blind faith, still insists on believing the man in the White House couldn't possibly be treating them like a dog treats a fire hydrant....

This election's outcome, this heartbreaking proof of a nation split more deeply and decisively than ever, it simply reinforces the feeling among much of the educated populace: It is a weirdly embarrassing time to be an American. It is jarring and oddly shattering and makes you rethink what it really means to be a part of this country. The answer: It doesn't mean much at all. Not really. Not anymore...

Maybe we're not all that sophisticated or nuanced or respectable a nation as we sometimes dare to dream....

Maybe, in fact, we're regressing, back to the days of guns and sexism and pre-emptive violence, of environmental abuse and no rights for women and a sincere hatred of gays and foreigners and minorities. Sound familiar? It should: it's the modern GOP platform....

So then, to much of Europe, Russia, Asia, Canada, Mexico, the Middle East -- to all those dozens of major world nations who want Bush out almost as much as the educated people of America, to you we can only say: We are so very, very sorry. We don't know how it happened, either. For tens of millions of us, Bush is not our president and never will be. That's how divisive. That's how dangerous. That's how very sad it has become.

We are not, with another four years of what we just endured, headed toward any sort of easing of bitter tension, a sense of levity, or sexual openness, or true education, or gender respect, or a lightness of spirit and of step.

It is important to recognize that this article is insane. Not slightly over the top or humorous exaggeration, but a truly insane loss of perspective.

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