Thursday, May 31, 2007

Water Buffalo Strike Back

Andrew Sullivan links to this wonderful, um, nature video. Kind of reminds me of the plot of Revenge of the Nerds, though I'm not sure who the crocodiles represent. Probably U.N. Jefferson.

A Genius Problem in the Immigration Bill

Well this is a new wrinkle to me, and not a good one. It seems that one of the things I like about the immigration bill, that is emphasizes skills and English proficiency and other traits as desirable for citizenship, is partially offset by the loss of EB-1 visas.

No, I hadn't heard of them either. EB-1s allow highly talented individuals (scientific geniuses, top athletes and artists, etc.) to fast track their way to permanent residency. A point system is nice, but there are always outliers with intangibles that get missed, and American companies, universities and the like benefit from their being here.

The Washington Post has the story, where there really is no defense of why it's going away. I may be missing something, but it's hard to see what.

Ocean's Thirteen

It probably won't be a great film, but how could I not have fun watching these guys just have fun on screen?

This I Would Love to See

After being slammed by the Wall Street Journal editorial board over its immigration stance, the editors of the National Review today challenged them to a duel...or a debate, actually. I really hope this comes off, as the two boards ably represent two major factions within the conservative movement, and they strongly disagree on this issue.

Real Clear Politics sums it up well.

Organizing My Taste

So the Moose got the idea from his friend to post his all-time five favorite albums, and since I generally can't resist lists or ranking things, I need catharsis. So for something different today, the next link in a sort of bloggish chain letter (these are favorites, not necessarily best, and are in chronological order):
  1. Bob Dylan: The Royal Albert Hall Concert (1966)
  2. The Beatles: Revolver (1966)
  3. Love: Forever Changes (1967)
  4. The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street (1972)
  5. Big Star: #1 Record (1972)
  6. Tom Waits: Rain Dogs (1986)
  7. Radiohead: OK Computer (1997)
  8. Richard Thompson: Celtschmerz (Live) (1998)
  9. Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs (1999)
  10. Beck: Sea Change (2002)
  11. Brian Wilson: SMiLe (2004/1967)
Ok, I did 11. Sue me.

The Moose also listed his favorite live shows. These are sorta' in order.

  1. Pink Floyd, Boston and Minneapolis, 1995 - how could a stadium show be better?
  2. Violent Femmes, M.I.T., 1991 - played four encores, crowd was as into a show as I've ever seen, and the band fed off it.
  3. Brian Wilson, Minneapolis, 2004 - got to see him perform SMiLe, perhaps the most legendary lost album in rock history, live for the first time to an American audience, and it far exceeded expectations.
  4. Richard Thompson, Omaha, 2002? - could pick several, but will go with this one because it was in a club and I had literally the best seat in the house to watch some of the most amazing guitar work one will ever see.
  5. Green Day, Minneapolis, 2005
  6. Page & Plant, Fargo, 1997
  7. Leon Redbone, Seattle, 2002
  8. George Thorogood, Boston, 1993? - Great live band
  9. Bright Eyes, Fargo, 2006
  10. Foo Fighters/Weezer/Kaiser Chiefs, Minneapolis, 2006
I feel much better.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Barack Obama yesterday released his plan for "universal health care." He continues to impress us good-government types, this time with a plan that is thoughtful, prudently bold, and nuanced.

The plan emphasizes preventative care, something incredibly lacking in much of America's current system. It mandates coverage for children, something hard to disagree with. And it tries to work with the private sector, subsidizing those that need it rather than having the government take over. Far from being a squishy middle solution, this is one area where a prudent mix of private and public sector would be the best answer.

The plan is not universal as it does not mandate coverage, but it gets close. And it doesn't break the vestigial link between employers and employees, an accidental relic of World War II that should have been gone long ago. Doing so would free employers from needless administrative overhead, put small businesses and large corporations on more equal footing, and make health care portable from job to job. The emphasis on prevention and larger single pool market for health insurance should also reduce costs on a per person basis.

Despite those flaws (yes, the Wyden Plan is probably better), it's a big step forward. Like many successful policies, it combines a liberal goal with moderate-to-conservative means.

It will be fascinating to see, especially in light of the memory of 1993, what Hillary Clinton's plan ends up looking like.

Thompson's Early Zenith?

I'd mentioned before that I'm a bit underwhelmed by Fred Thompson's campaign and many changes of position thus far, but I hadn't made the connection Jason Zengerle has: he could be the Republican's Wesley Clark!

I'm already referencing my own blog. That somehow seems pathetic.

Words, Not Actions

That decidedly seems to have been the real message of the Bush administration, so argued in this piece published today in Slate. Based partly on an op-ed written by Price Floyd, a former State Department public relations employee who resigned in frustration last March, quotes him from a more recent interview:

"I'd be in meetings with other public-affairs officials at State and the White House," he recalled. "They'd say, 'We need to get our people out there on more media.' I'd say, 'It's not so much the packaging, it's the substance that's giving us trouble.' "

He recounted a phone conversation with a press officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad who wanted Floyd and his colleagues to sell the media more "good-news stories" about the war in Iraq. "I said, 'Fine, tell me a good-news story, I want good-news stories, too.' There was a silence on the other end of the line," he recalled. "It was like you could hear crickets chirping."

And later, a devastating summation:

The problem wasn't Beers, Tutwiler, or Hughes [people brought in to help wage the PR campaign] personally. Rather, it was the assumption that led Bush to believe that they were qualified for the job to begin with—the assumption that public relations is a synonym for diplomacy.

Things seem to have changed in the short term - witness changed strategies on Iran, North Korea and others - but can they last with so many highly-placed people opposed?

Thoughts on Immigration

I haven't yet weighed, or inveighed for that matter, in on the comprehensive immigration reform package in front of Congress. The problem and legislation are so complex, it makes it hard even for people who have done a fair amount of reading about the issue to authoritatively comment on it. Impossible maybe, but here I go anyway.

Let's begin with this from Linda Chavez:

Some people just don't like Mexicans -- or anyone else from south of the border. They think Latinos are freeloaders and welfare cheats who are too lazy to learn English. They think Latinos have too many babies, and that Latino kids will dumb down our schools. They think Latinos are dirty, diseased, indolent and more prone to criminal behavior. They think Latinos are just too different from us ever to become real Americans.


Stripped bare, this is what the current debate on immigration reform is all about.

What garbage. That such people exist is undeniable, but you believe that even though the country by a strong margin opposes amnesty that this is all driven by a bunch of racists? That most of the sober pundits who analyze this bill come away saying only that it's better than nothing? But no, it's much easier to question someone's motivations than deal with their mostly legitimate arguments.

President Bush added to the chorus yesterday:

"Those determined to find fault with this bill will always be able to look at a narrow slice of it and find something they don't like," the president said. "If you want to kill the bill, if you don't want to do what's right for America, you can pick one little aspect out of it.

"You can use it to frighten people," Bush said. "Or you can show leadership and solve this problem once and for all."

Aside from the obvious incredulity at Bush accusing anyone of using fear as a tactic, one might ask what he could be thinking in so directly alienating conservatives. I don't think it's a stretch to read his quote as accusing immigration opponents of not wanting to do what's right for America, again attacking their motivations. I can only assume that Bush's desire to be seen as the guy who "freed" the illegal immigrants and delivered voters to the GOP. Wooing the Hispanic vote has long been a top goal for Rove and Bush.

Most people are not picking out one "narrow slice" of the bill for criticism. By most accounts the things is a mess. There are some things I like about it and some I don't. Senator McCain agrees, but argues that's the best we can hope for, since it's the only kind of bill that can get the votes to pass. He may be right, and if so the question becomes whether it's better to do nothing.

What I like:
  • An earned path to citizenship for illegals already in the country
  • Giving greater weight to more highly-skilled workers
  • Expansion of the H-1B visa program, from 50,000 per year to up to 180,000, depending on demand
  • Better border enforcement
...and what I don't like:
  • The path to citizenship is expensive and impractical. Who's going to go through with it?
  • Though knowledge of English is rewarded under the new "points system," it isn't made the official language, nor is much else done to reinvigorate a commitment to assimilation. We have to be able to deal with the issues of perpetual bi-lingual education and gaming of the dual citizenship system.
  • H-1B fees go from $1500 to $5000 per company hire, with extra regulation. That's onerous for a lot of small businesses.
And in the end, I'll make an educated guess that most of it just isn't going to work. That we lack the will to enforce the more controversial portions of the bill, that it will continue to depress wages on the low end, and that we're going to start over like we did after the 1986 amnesty bill. And yes, even proponents are admitting this amounts to amnesty.

So listen closely, Mr. Bush and Ms. Chavez: I want a lot of immigrants to come to America. I don't have a fear of "the other" and revel in experiencing different cultures. But I want people who come here to want to be Americans.

At my business, we have a list of six "core values" that includes things like passion, innovation, and creativity. When we hire a new employees, we know people may come from any background and have world views much different than our own. But they need to believe in and practice those six core values, because they are what makes our company what it is.

America has core values too, and they're found written in places like the Constitution, but also as an unwritten code of individual responsibility, a strong work ethic, commitment to rule of law, freedom of expression, and others. I welcome anyone here who subscribes to these virtues because how we practice them is how I measure this country. Let's not pretend that illegal immigrants are either uniformly virtuous or lazy welfare cheats. A good immigration bill should allow in a whole lot of the former and none of the latter. I saying we should pass it or not? I can't give an unqualified answer, but I think McCain is probably about right that it'd be hard to improve it much without losing possibility of passage.

If I felt that what is in the bill will actually be enforced (and please, please rework the guest worker portions...), it would be much easier for me to support it for all its flaws, and resign myself to fixing the rest later.

This isn't a bill likely to truly satisfy anyone. It's not a good bill, but if it's the only choice we have, it will be better than the game we're currently playing.

Zoellick Returns

Steve Clemons has been no great friend of the Bush administration, but gives a big thumbs-up to the announcement that Robert Zoellick will succeed Paul Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank.

Zoellick -- who has served as US Trade Representative and as Deputy Secretary of State in this Bush administration -- is a walking hyper-synthesis of geostrategic and geoeconomic thinking. He is one of the few people I know -- beyond Bob Kimmitt and a few others -- who understands the economic dimensions of national interest as well as the classic military realities of national security and pulls them together brilliantly and articulately.

He also is a coalition-builder who can work beyond the parochial dimensions of America's needs and wants and help meld collaborative international efforts to handle big challenges. He has done this sort of international bridge-building many times, though his perch at the World Bank will now give him his largest platform.

There is a case to be made that Bush's appointments have gotten a lot better since about 2004. People like Robert Gates, Josh Bolton, David Petraeus and Zoellick are adding sober proficiency (sorry, getting tired of using the word "competence") where it was before so lacking. But they will be enough to improve the overall situation, but not to save the remainder of Bush's term.


Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy likes it too. The policy wonks love this guy.

Addendum #2: I don't know why the font style changed below the quote, and am at a loss for how to fix it. I guess I'll live.

Addendum #3: Perhaps I spoke too soon. From Sarah Anderson...

Thompson's Impact

A quick blog entry on how Fred Thompson's expected entry into the GOP presidential race will affect the other three major candidates is here.

I've been a fan of Thompson's for years not so much for his accomplishments, but for his attitude. He was a practical moderate on many issues, and had a good sensibility to him. That said, his recent policy shifts have been startling, and one could argue he's been almost as bad as Romney in cravenly catering to conservatives who don't like Rudy McRomney. He could be an impressive candidate, but I'm not yet sold.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It's Right Below the Stratosphere

Want to know why we humans do the weird stuff we do? Ya' know, things like not feeling the same visceral sense of sadness and anger for a genocide happening overseas as for the cute girl we just met at the bank being killed in a car accident this morning? Or being well aware of the faults of others but rarely seeing our own?

It's all in the
Monkeysphere! Well, not all of it. Some of it is in this fascinating little piece from Reason confirming something Adam Smith wrote about 250 years ago. Anyway, I don't care how passe monkeys have become on the Internet, both of these are good, and one of them does it a lot funnier than I could.

We are the Youth Gone Wild

TNR's Benjamin Wittes observes that young people like Monica Goodling ascended to positions higher than were deserved partly due to scarcity:

The conservative legal youth culture is not difficult to explain. The elite legal academy is overwhelmingly liberal, and conservatism is something of a subculture within it. The talent pool of first-rate conservatives it produces is consequently smaller than the talent pool of elite liberals.


The conservative legal youth culture was by no means the only culprit in their ascents. Also contributing was the flabbiness that can overtake an administration in its second term.

True enough, but the pervasiveness of unqualified appointments throughout the Bush administration suggests other factors counted for more. Goodling's own illegal actions in screening attorney candidates showed yet again that partisan loyalty and ideological purity outweighed talent and competence. How paradoxical, given that so many people became conservatives because of its insistence on meritocracy.

Age is also a factor for a simple arithmetic reason: young appointees have a longer life ahead of them to make an impact. This is especially true of lifetime appointments - surely John Roberts' age was significant in his nomination to the Supreme Court - but even in political jobs, early experience confers a substantial long-term career advantage.

It's easy to make Monica Goodling the villain here. She did a horrible thing. But she also had no people...looking over her shoulder, people..."who are older, who have done it before, ... who know why we did it a different way."

Whose fault is that?

Perhaps I'm naive in seeing Goodling as delusional rather than stupid or malevolent. Actually, that's how I see most members of this administration. Wittes is wrong to absolve her of guilt, but there is plenty of blame to go around.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Is Authenticity Possible?

A passage from TNR Open University's Michael Kazin:

Is it possible for a serious candidate for the White House to be an authentic personality? Or does the pervasive, unending scrutiny of contemporary politics insure that there will always be a large gap between public image and private reality?

To most Americans, the question would probably sound naïve. Of course, all politicians are phonies. But this was not the norm throughout most of our history. So far as we know, in private, such celebrated presidents as Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Truman rarely spoke and acted in ways that directly contradicted how they represented themselves to the world.

Well, that's not quite the case. Lincoln had a somewhat different message on slavery for voters in Massachusetts than Kentucky, but YouTube wasn't there to catch it.

Roosevelt's views on progressive reform changed substantially between leaving office and running as a third-party candidate in 1912, many would argue as a reaction against the conservatism of President Taft. Actually, Roosevelt was arguably the most leftist candidate in the 1912 race outside of socialist Eugene Debs (see for example 1912). How many flip-flops would we have cataloged?

And Truman certainly bit his tongue plenty in public, his famous temper usually vented through letters he never sent (see Truman).

Candidates today may be worse. But let's keep in mind that we have a two-party system, and an electorate that will always have a lot more than two sets of views. Even ideologues don't often agree with each other, though they often convince themselves otherwise. But within this system, a candidate must convince more than half the voters that they'd be truly represented in his or her administration.

As Kazin mentions, today we know far too much about our candidates and what they say for this to work well. Our dissatisfaction with the political process, which shows up in continually lower voter turnout, I think is more the result of improved communication technology than anything. The more we know about our candidates, the more we don't like them. And the more we desire non-compromised third-party candidates.

Given our system, I expect a certain amount of shifting, especially since the elected responsibility of the job entails representing everyone.
That said, the problems of Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney (and perhaps John Edwards) are not just caused by technology. Their positions go beyond even the lowered standards we have set for ourselves to accommodate the times, and that has stopped the former from being able to lock up her nomination race, and the latter from gaining as much traction as one would expect.

I believe we have many good candidates running for president, and two or three with the character and authenticity to possibly even stand with some of America's best presidents. I hope one of them is given the opportunity.

No Miracle in Baghdad

And on the other side of the argument from my previous post today, a feeling of resignation and need for withdrawal from troops in Baghdad. An excerpt:

With few reliable surveys of soldiers’ attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in Delta Company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers over a one-week period with this 83-man unit, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop.

As often, it's hard to get a definitive sense of what's going on, but taken in aggregate, the news leaves no reason to be optimistic.

Are Voters Rational?

I'd expect most scientists (natural or social) would say we usually put other considerations first. Kevin Drum agrees, discussing Chris Hayes's The Myth of the Rational Voter, whose author argues that voting is less rational than economic choices because since voters don't believe their votes mean much, there's not as much of a connection between one's choice and its consequences.

Drum's post contends that rationality is a good thing, but:

...there's a distinction between "rational" and "good," and most of us know it when we see it. Thomas Jefferson, for example, kept slaves because it was, after all, a rational thing to do. He needed the money his slaves brought in and he was too weak-willed to forego that money and free them. However, he also argued that slavery was wrong and should be banned — a position that's usually presented as an unfathomable paradox. But it's not. Jefferson wanted slavery banned because he understood that individuals often lack the willpower to do individually what they know is right. Sometimes it takes the power of community action to force ourselves to do good things that we can't (or won't) do on our own.

There is such a distinction, but the Jefferson analogy isn't apt. Jefferson was brilliant, but famously capable of believing self-contradictory ideas when it suited his personal ambitions. Almost anything can be rational within narrowly-defined limits, but with Jefferson it points out the true distinction between "rational" and "rationalized."

Rationality is purely a tool, a way to try to properly connect facts to a desired end. Some significant part of Jefferson knew slavery was wrong, but another part wanted to allow it to continue. We can argue over the reasons, but ultimately, this was a failure of rationality in allowing obvious contradictions to persist. That this rationalization was practiced by nearly every American at the time is relevant and maybe even partly exculpatory, but doesn't change the facts.

Where societies end up reasonably disagreeing is on desirable ends. Is a clause in the Patriot worth the sacrifice in freedom to gain some expected measure of security? Is it worth reforming Social Security to give up some security for expected freedom and economic expansion?
Whether we can see them clearly or not, there are facts underpinning discussions like these, but determining which road is best is a value judgment.

This issue is far too large for one blog post, but suffice that I agree with Hayes that voters are less rational in voting, but our reasons are complex. Our motives are best understood through frameworks like sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, I think.

The Ramadi Miracle

Here is another report on how former Iraqi insurgents are banding together with American troops to fight Al Qaeda. Allowing this realignment of sides was a major strategic error by Al Qaeda, but I've said it before, one should expect irrationality from fundamentalists. The deluded world view that creates them in the first place likely will end up being their undoing.

Sometimes it seems we're trying to beat them at that game, perhaps because President Bush is a fundamentalist in a way.

Things are not going swimmingly despite this good news. The story is heartening because dropping by 1/3 attacks in Ramadi, one of the heaviest concentrations of the insurgency, is a great achievement, as is getting many former insurgents to switch sides. The article is right to point out that this reversal comes with its own dangers, of course, such as many of our new allies being former insurgents themselves, a lack of pay for new policemen, and the inordinate authority still in the hands of local sheiks.

The report is also maddening because so many of the methods we're using now to improve the situation there were long obvious, and yet we didn't implement them. As Andrew Sullivan writes,

Just to anger up the blood some more, it's now clear, thanks to the latest Congressional report, that this president was warned starkly about the dangers of "a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups" as a result of an invasion of Iraq. He was told that Iraq was "largely bereft of the social underpinnings" for democracy. He was explicitly informed that there was "a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other unless an occupying force prevented them from doing so." And yet he still sent a pathetically insufficient occupation force in 2003 - and refused to increase it for three years of growing chaos and mayhem. Even if you excuse the original recklessness, the persistence in it - until our current point of no return - is and was criminal negligence - a callous disregard for your security and mine.

The emphasis is rightly on the word "persistence." Assuming a further deterioration of our position in Iraq, which is likely but not certain, Bush's mismanagement and seemingly willful blindness, and the strong emotion they have engendered on all sides, will likely prevent a reasonable assessment of proper lessons from the war. That is tragic, terribly frustrating, and yet historically not uncommon.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Senator Fantasy

I have made my low opinion of Senator James Inhofe (R - OK) known. He is a prisoner to dogma and quick to believe the fantastic over the scientific. I will not rehash old arguments here, but only pause to quote from his opening statement yesterday for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, where he is inexplicably ranking member:

"The recreation industry’s true threats come not from climate change – which has always changed and will always change – but from the so-called global warming ‘solutions’ being proposed by government policymakers. Misguided efforts to ‘solve’ global warming threaten to damage the travel and recreation industry. In short, it is a direct threat America’s way of life."

There are impractical outlier proposals on the correct side of almost any debate, which does not make the overall position false. That obviousness aside, can we stop with "direct threat [to] America's way of life" rhetoric? If cars and speedboats were banned, then I'm with you. But any reasonable environmental legislation that ends up passing will hardly do so.

Moreover, a large majority of Americans already support much stricter environmental regulation, and most believe climate change requires immediate government action (a strong majority considers it a serious problem). If Americans want something, does it make sense to call it a threat to their way of life?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rethinking Conservatism

This article by Gideon Rachman in the Washington Quarterly is an excellent and relatively short piece on where conservatives went wrong the last few years, and how they need to adapt.

The issue of American political realignment often dominates my ponderings, so there are too many ways I can go to comment on this. So I'll keep it to just a few.

Rachman quotes Gordon Brown as calling climate change "the world's biggest market failure," and that's about right. Anyone gets into trouble with dogma, and for conservatives, the dogma of free markets and no government regulation blinds them to reality. Such views made much more sense when Ronald Reagan took office with too-high taxation, American defeatism, and failed extreme liberal experiments the order of the day.

But conservatives weren't right because taxation or regulation are inherently wrong, but because they were out of control at the time. To a significant degree, conservative views have ameliorated those concerns, and the direction of focus must be adjusted to include practical environmentalism, a more secular approach to morality, and a return to fundamentals of good, efficient governing, among other things.

The Western political right has been moving in this direction essentially every place but America, and Rachman I think correctly identifies George W. Bush and American religiosity as probably the two main reasons. One way or another, whether through election of one of the four centrist Republicans that are favorites for the 2008 nomination, or via defeat, conservatives would profit greatly from realizing the need for change now rather than dragging it on for years as so often happens.

Uncle Richard

Steve Clemons of The Washington Note yesterday posted something truly unnerving, if it's true. He reports that Vice President Cheney and many of his devotees throughout the government are unhappy with President Bush's move toward the a realist, diplomatic philosophy of late, and are planning "an end run" around the president if they lose the policy argument.

This is relevant primarily for Iran. It's been reported before that Cheney wants direct confrontation with Iran, and an end run could consist of egging the Iranians into attacking us in retaliation for an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

Such stories portray Cheney almost as a cartoonish movie villain, subverting the president from within his own administration. And look, this is hardly substantiated, and I don't accept it at face value. But I won't write it off either, which would have astounded me three years ago. This administration has earned our skepticism and Mr. Clemons has an excellent pedigree. He's no ideological firebrand.

I generally scoff when people throw around loaded words like treason, but if this were to turn out to be true, how would it not be?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Earning the Military Vote

I often disagree with Kevin Drum, but he's a very good blogger, reasonable and insightful. He posts about a fascinating piece from Washington Monthly's June issue where seven war veterans write on how candidates can get their votes in 2008.

They represent only seven opinions, but I suspect they're representative of a good-sized chunk of the military. Republicans still heavily outnumber Democrats there, but the gap has closed. I get the feeling that like many American groups, they are dissatisfied with their traditional party affiliation, but don't see the grass as being greener on the other side. They're looking for leadership and articulation of a set of values and policy goals that is both idealistic and realistic, tough but flexible.

Can any of the candidates in the presidential race offer that? Actually, I think several could, but all of them have much to overcome to get there.

You Make Repentance Harder

I voted for George W. Bush. Twice. I don't blame myself for the first time, but the second I had four years of experience off of which to work. I wasn't able to believe just how bad he had been because I'm a pretty centered guy intellectually, highly resistant to conspiracy theories and extreme views. It's just that in Bush's case, some of those extremes turned out to be true, and they were in my blind spot.

I shouldn't have voted for Bush the second time, but John Kerry wasn't the answer either. To wit, yesterday from The Plank's Michael Crowley on Bob Shrum's (essentially Kerry's campaign manager without title) upcoming book:

"Because bloggy people find him so fascinating, let's start out with one about Time magazine columnist Joe Klein. Klein loomed large over the Kerry campaign, Shrum recalls, and not just for his influential columns:

Klein himself was trying to play many parts. He was not only reporting on the campaign and preparing to write a book about consultants; he was also a constant critic and yet another sometime adviser. After the Kerry appearance at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, he told [Kerry spokesman] David Wade: "Great speech, but it's too late"--then turned around and stalked away. With Klein, it was almost always too late for us, in part because we didn't always take his persistent advice. He would chastise Kerry on the phone when he didn't like a speech, counseling both Kerry and me about what the candidate should say and what our strategy should be. He argued to Kerry, for example, that his health care plan should call for an individual mandate, requiring all Americans to buy health insurance. Rejecting his advice was uncomfortable for Kerry, who liked Joe, craved his approval, and worried what his columns would say when we didn't take his recommendations."

We had a choice between a mediocre intellect who never thinks he's wrong and an out-of-touch intellect who doesn't ever seem to know what he believes. Thanks to the major parties. The choice you presented doesn't seem any better in retrospect.

Oh, OK. Call it Off Boys!

Hey now, it seems President Bush isn't happy about the probe into the U.S. Attorney firings, saying he believes they are politically motivated. And there's no need for Congress to worry anyway. The Crypt reports:

"...he promised that if there was any improper behavior, it would be punished.

'If there's wrongdoing, it will be taken care of,' Bush said."

Well, that's all I needed to hear! There's such a good record of policing this administration internally isn't there? And shouldn't one be worried about the definition of "wrongdoing" here? Filtering candidates based on ideology and loyalty permeates this administration from the top down, so why would they consider it wrongdoing?

Nearly ever aspect of this story has been an embarrassment for the administration.
Please, please leave, Mr. Gonzales.

McCain Pandering?

I was having a discussion with the Bull Moose yesterday about just how much Senator McCain has sold himself out to run for president in 2008. I contend that McCain has made definite symbolic changes to appeal more to the party's base, which seems to have a somewhat irrational fear of him, but that substantively, he's changed little. I don't like that candidates move to the extremes to get their nomination, and that especially now it cries out for more centrist candidates, but it's usually the necessary reality.

The New Hampshire Union Leader gets it right in their editorial today:

"We disagree with the senator about the immigration bill. But we admire his determination to do what he believes is right even at great personal risk. McCain is gambling his political career on his belief that Americans want a leader, not a follower. So far, no other presidential candidate has had the guts to do the same."

I don't know if Americans do want a leader. We always say we do, ask why politicians don't just "tell it like it is," but usually we just mean we want them to tell it like we already think it is. When they try to lead, we almost invariably shoot them down. But we sure need one.

I am in disagreement with many people in that I think both parties have several excellent candidates running for president. It's one of the greatest fields in a long time. And yet every candidate has significant flaws. McCain has his share, but I'm going to give a guy who is reasonable and sticks to his guns on the big stuff more latitude than someone who doesn't.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

No Hope for America's New Mayor?

Politico's Roger Simon yesterday posted this column on a prospective third party candidacy by Michael Bloomberg. In Simon's opinion, Bloomberg has little shot at the presidency.

"Third-party candidates don't win. The two major parties fight like the devil to keep third-party candidates off the ballot, and the American people seem reasonably happy with just two parties controlling the presidency."

True enough usually, but we live in interesting times. Dissatisfaction with both parties, especially Republicans, is astounding, and there is strong desire for a third party. While I don't expect it, the right candidate with the right message could easily start with a lead like Ross Perot had at the outset of his candidacy in the summer of 1992. But nationwide organization would likely be a big problem.

"Everybody uses Ross Perot's 1992 race as an example of the power of third parties. And Perot did get 19 percent of the vote. But he did not get a single electoral vote and, as we all learned in 2000, the Electoral College is the ballgame."

Also true, but what would Perot have done had he not been a certifiable moonbat? That he got even 19% of the vote with that, and his movement in and out of the race, is quite an accomplishment in itself.

What about money? If Bloomberg has indeed set aside $1 billion for a potential run (we really don't know if he will), that means a lot, but let's not take it too far. Money is important, especially for a relatively unknown candidate, but after a certain point, returns diminish sharply and the extra money doesn't mean as much as many believe. As with the New York Yankees, big money guarantees a place at the table, but little else.

Though I disagree that Bloomberg being Jewish is a huge impediment, it would hurt him. And Simon makes an excellent point that the Mayor's message of competence and getting things done sounds a lot like several of the other centrists in the race, including Bloomberg's predecessor, Rudy Giuliani. How to separate himself?

So while I don't take as pessimistic a view as Simon, Bloomberg would face a steep climb to win the presidency should he choose to run. But the fact that we're talking about it is yet one more piece of evidence that much of the American electorate doesn't feel at home in either major party.

Now This is What I'm Talking About

From the Onion News Service, shocking findings:

CHICAGO—In a surprising refutation of the conventional wisdom on opinion entitlement, a study conducted by the University of Chicago's School for Behavioral Science concluded that more than one-third of the U.S. population is neither entitled nor qualified to have opinions.

"On topics from evolution to the environment to gay marriage to immigration reform, we found that many of the opinions expressed were so off-base and ill-informed that they actually hurt society by being voiced," said chief researcher Professor Mark Fultz, who based the findings on hundreds of telephone, office, and dinner-party conversations compiled over a three-year period. "While people have long asserted that it takes all kinds, our research shows that American society currently has a drastic oversupply of the kinds who don't have any good or worthwhile thoughts whatsoever. We could actually do just fine without them."

In 2002, Fultz's team shook the academic world by conclusively proving the existence of both bad ideas during brainstorming and dumb questions during question-and-answer sessions.

Fish Fingers

American scientists have added further to the Jupiter-sized pile of evidence for evolution, showing that fingers apparently came about gradually in fish. Check here.

There may be debate about whether evolution actually happened, but there is no reasonable debate. It is a fact on the level of the Earth rotating on its axis and revolving around the sun. If you choose to believe that it is the process that God used to get humans to our current position, I suppose that is your prerogative.

The study connects with a common and completely fallacious argument of evolution doubters. That is, that scientists have do direct evidence of evolution actually occurring. The argument is wrong many times over. Extensive observation of fruit flies across many generations (we can do that with animals with such short life spans) to note mutations and population changes are only one oft-noted example.

Sorry, every time I read one of those polls that show about half of Americans don't believe in evolution I get a little depressed. And I just read one yesterday.

This is Optimism?

Sorry for the nested quotes, but today's Foreign Policy blog says it succinctly:

Does seizing private property, centralizing the economy, and jailing opposition activists mean that democracy in Russia is in trouble? Not according to Vladimir Putin. He reckons Western observers just need to adopt the famously sunny Russian disposition:

What is pure democracy? It is a question of ... whether you want to see the glass half-full or half empty."


A Bob Kerrey Sighting

I was a bit surprised to see Bob Kerrey, an old favorite senator, pop up in print today, even more so that it was in the Wall Street Journal to defend America's action in Iraq.

The opinions in Kerrey's piece that the Iraq war was justified but terribly prosecuted are fairly close to mine, but it's his general thought pattern I think is most deserving of comment. He reminds us that the debate on not just Iraq, but also health care, Social Security, and many others tend to be defined not by thoughtful analysis, but extremes and false dichotomies.

One can have favored going into Iraq but still feel President Bush has masterfully messed it up. And one can be critical of his policies and be supportive of the troops. Issues like Iraq are extremely complex, and one big problems humans, especially ideologues, have is the tendency to learn only one or two simplistic lessons from important events and trends.

In the case of Iraq, there are innumerable lessons to learn, and no single easy prescription for America's future foreign policy strategy. It is when ideologues rule the debate that we reactively yank ourselves from too far on one side of a position to too far on the other. It's a pattern we can see in Reconstruction, post-World War I indemnification of Germany, and the aftermath of Civil Rights and Vietnam just to name a few.

Passion is easy, reason is hard. Guess from which wisdom springs.

Atlas Got Writers Cramp

From Reason Magazine, could it be that Atlas Shrugged will finally be made into a film? And with Angelina Jolie as Dagny Taggart, no less...

There's a long story behind the aborted attempts to bring the more-than-1000-page book to screen, largely the result of author Ayn Rand's desire for total script control. Its size is also an impediment; as the blog's author hints, one would expect John Galt's almost unbelievably long climactic speech (56 pages in my paperback copy) to not quite all make it into the film.

As much as I loved the book (and yes, I'm aware of the problems of Rand's philosophy), I think I'd be more interested in a film about Rand herself. She was a larger-than-life character (will might be a better word), her time complete with immense achievement and a fascinating personality, flaws and all.

A Needed Piece of Immigration Reform

In Tom Friedman's column today, he repeats one of his favorite themes: altering visa standards for high-end workers. He's right about it, and it's especially relevant in light of possibly passing comprehensive immigration reform.

"It is pure idiocy that Congress will not open our borders — as wide as possible — to attract and keep the world’s first-round intellectual draft choices in an age when everyone increasingly has the same innovation tools and the key differentiator is human talent. I’m serious. I think any foreign student who gets a Ph.D. in our country — in any subject — should be offered citizenship. I want them. The idea that we actually make it difficult for them to stay is crazy."

The current immigration system makes it easy for low-wage workers to enter and stay in the country. It not only rarely punishes illegality (for workers and the businesses that hire them), but depresses wages on the low end.

Far less discussed, our laws make it harder for high-end workers to enter and stay in the country. So many top students from around the world study in America's first-by-a-mile university system, and then head back home. Now there's nothing wrong with that, and it's good for the economies of their home countries, but we should not aid their decisions, and make it harder for those who want to stay here to do so. Highly qualified workers in technology- and science-related fields are key drivers of today's economies.

The low percentage of graduate degrees in those fields go to American-born students is a problem for another day.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Exchanging Sides

Much has been made since the '90s that Democrats and Republicans have exchanged places on economic policy, at least to a degree, with Democrats acting more as budget hawks and Republicans losing their fiscal discipline. That argument is overstated, but it has some truth to it.

Michael Lind, co-author of the excellent The Radical Center, argues in this article that the two parties have changed places to some degree on their military doctrine. Neo-conservatives, he says, are more akin to Democrats like Truman, Kennedy and Johnson, who believed we "could afford both welfare and warfare," while Republicans like Eisenhower and Nixon wanted to keep military spending from crowding out the private sector in resource competition.

I'm not sure what I think about this, but it's interesting, and again I think contains some truth.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

An Unnoticed Victory

David writes that almost nobody noticed that two weeks ago, Congress passed what is called the America Competes Act, which:

authorized an additional $16 billion over four years as part of a $60 billion effort to "double spending for physical sciences research, recruit 10,000 new math and science teachers and retrain 250,000 more, provide grants to researchers and invest more in high-risk, high-payoff research."

Government spending is not created equal. Money spent on infrastructure, research, education, and a few other areas in general give taxpayers a high return on investment, as opposed to the money America loses to purchase security with most safety net programs, for example. This is not an argument against the welfare state, but rather an argument that the money appropriated under this bill will likely pay America back several times over.

Is it the Job?

Wasn't this pretty much the same reason that former Ways & Means chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) got so much flak when he was in charge? Perhaps it's the gavels.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Well, it's Something...

According to Pew Research, 23% of Americans believe that AIDS "might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behavior." As hard for me to comprehend as that is, at least we can take some solace in the fact that 20 years ago, the number was 43%. That's a lot of progress.

Here's the full story.

The poll covers other social issues, and the results show that agreement with social conservatism is also down since 1987, though not as much as the AIDS question. So there is a larger point Republicans should take from this and other trends that are becoming increasingly obvious.

It is that Republicans are right to soul search and question their lost roots, but they should not make an idol of any past era, issue, or individual. Some beliefs, like efficient governance, results-based policy evaluation, and individual responsibility and choice should be re-emphasized. But in other areas, the party must renew itself with fresh insight on issues, including environmentalism, energy, social dogma, and a host of others.

The party needs to find a way to be progressive in a Republican way. This space will flesh out these ideas further in posts ahead.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Obama: Bush + Competence?

Barack Obama gave his first major foreign policy speech last week at the Chicago Council of Foreign Affairs. Though I have been intrigued by Obama, my main complaint has been that we really didn't know where he stands on most issues, which is understandable given his lack of national and international experience.

From a purely political perspective, this is smart. It allows people to focus on his charisma and inspirational qualities, filling their own beliefs and desires into a mostly empty vessel.

I'm glad to see he's started speaking more substantively, and the content of last week's was both surprising and heartening.

Given the almost incredible unpopularity of the Iraq war and America's overall foreign policy strategy, one would expect Democratic candidates to disavow as much of Bush's strategy as possible. Obama did not do this, and essentially argued that Bush has the right overall philosophy of spreading freedom (though we should work more through our allies), but hasn't taken a nearly expansive enough view of what is required to do so.

This is exactly what someone like me wants to hear as someone who believes Bush was right to go into Iraq, but unbelievably (in the literal sense) incompetent in planning, subtlety, management, and overall execution. It is not clear that a well-executed Iraq war would have succeeded, but it is easily arguable.

Though his inexperience and more liberal views on other issues deserve close scrutiny, I give him provisional credit on last week's speech.

Robert Kagan has a good article on the speech here.