Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Newt? Really?

I never took Gingrich's candidacy seriously. Why should I? Some of his top staff members quit because they felt that he was not taking his campaign seriously. But he suddenly vaulted to near-front-runner status as the current anti-Romney.

What are you thinking, people?

Newt's main qualification is that he was speaker of the house for a while. He wasn't particularly successful and was forced out by his fellow Republicans. While he was speaker the government shut down twice. The rumor at the time was that Newt shut down government because he wasn't given special seating on Air Force One. This was false but the fact that the Clinton administration managed to tar him with it shows how easily he can be out-maneuvered.

Newt has so much baggage that he needs a porter. Romney switched positions on abortion. Newt switched on nearly everything. He supported a federal mandate on health care while Obama was still a community organizer. He made a joint statement with Nancy Pelosi about the hazards of global warming.

Newt's personal life makes Bill Clinton look like a boy scout. Clinton strayed repeatedly but he never left his wife. If Edwards and Cain have been disqualified from running because of their affairs, how can anyone support Newt? Electing him brings back the possibility of a new presidential affair. A lot of social conservatives will stay home or vote for Obama rather than endorse Newt's infidelities.

Newt has worse baggage. He has earned millions as a lobbyist for recipients of federal bailouts.

Newt describes himself as a historian although he left academia rather than publish original research. That makes him a guy who got a history degree by reading the books published by actual historians.

Newt has a long history of shooting from the hip. This often gets him into trouble. It would be better if he was not in a position of importance.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Climategate 2

A new set of emails from climatologists has been released. Like the Climategate emails from two years ago, there are no smoking guns but there is confirmation of what many skeptics believe. I admit that I have not dug through the archives so I am only going from the nuggets that others have found. From those, it is possible to make some conclusions:

1) The scientists who advocate action to stop global warming are sincere in their beliefs. They really do believe that catastrophic warming is going on.

2) They are under a lot of pressure from politicians who want simple yes-or-no answers. Politicians are trying to sell the public on drastic change that will affect the lives of everyone. They need to be able to say confidently, "The consequences of not taking action are worse than the actions needed to stop climate change."

3) The actual science is not as sure as the climatologists are claiming. Data sets that don't match expectations are dropped and figures are massaged. Some of this is because of political pressure and some of it is because they are true believers. If results come up "wrong" then there must be something wrong with the readings, not the underlying data. I remember doing the same thing in high school physics but we knew that our test equipment was unreliable.

4) The system as it currently exists prods scientists into being true believers. True believers find it easy to get grants. This makes it profitable to be a true believer. At the same time, there is some worry about what will happen if they are wrong.

5) The true believers questions the motives of skeptics. There is one email speculating on "undiscovered ties" between a noted skeptic and big oil. To the true believers, the truth is so obvious that skeptics must be ignoring it for money.

6) Because #5, climatologists are very reluctant to allow outside review of their work. Both sets of climategate emails contain discussions on how to get around Freedom of Information requests. Many climatologists refuse to let people they consider paid hit men to review their work. There is probably a  large amount of defensiveness, also since they know that they have fudged some of their figures.

In summary, we have an insular group who know that they are exaggerating their findings and refuse to let their work be reviewed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Super-committee failure - who won?

As part of last Summer's debt ceiling extension bill, a super-committee was supposed to identify $1.3 trillion in deficit reductions by Thanksgiving. They didn't.

A lot of finger-pointing is going on about which side is to blame. The Democrats insist that the Republicans were trying to use the super-committee as a way to cut taxes. Republicans respond by pointing out that they made a serious offer which included $300 billion in new taxes. Democrats rejected this as too small. They also objected because it would have locked most of the Bush tax cuts in place permanently. The Democrats' best offer was for $1 trillion in tax increases accompanied by $1 trillion in spending cuts and $300 billion in new stimulus spending. The two sides started making progress a couple of weeks ago then collapsed after details were leaked.

So, who won?

Progressives are sure that they have. In fact, they are pretty unanimous in declaring victory. The reason for this was that, at times, the super-committee had talked about "going big" and fixing out of control entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid). The automatic cuts triggered by the super-committee's failure will leave those programs untouched.

President Obama also seems to be a winner. He kept the committee at arm's length. His main contribution was a sternly worded statement that they needed to produce some results and a threat to veto anything that didn't include tax increases. By keeping his distance, Obama wanted to look like the grown-up when compared with Congress's squabbling children.

The failure also helps Obama's message. He is already saying that the failure is due to too many Republicans in Congress who are unwilling to compromise. What he really means is that there are too many Republicans in Congress. We will be hearing that message for the next 11.5 months.

This is part of a larger pattern of avoidance for political gain. Everyone knows that the deficit and the entitlements are major problems but the Democrats refuse to address them. It has been a year since Paul Ryan issued the Republican suggestion for reforming Medicare. The Democrats promised a counter-proposal but never issued one. Instead they ran ads showing Paul Ryan shoving a grandmother over a cliff.

The Democrats know that no matter what reforms they suggest, a large number of people will see decreased benefits. Rather than risk losing the support of those people, the Democrats prefer to ignore the problems and criticize the Republican efforts to be responsible.

The failure of the budget deal means automatic cuts but those will not happen until after the next election. Most parts of Obamacare will not go into effect until the next election. The XP Pipeline decision has been put off until after the next election.

So, the winners are the people who want to put off tackling real problems as long as possible 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

So long to the Occupation

OWS overstayed their welcome by a few weeks. A month ago they were getting good press. The liberal commentators loved it. "OWS is twice as popular as the Tea Party" they bragged. But the mainstream press got tired of writing about the 99%. Then came a few weeks of stories about violence and filth. Public opinion changed.

A month ago the Occupiers were new while the Tea Party was more than two and a half years old. Remember that the Tea Party was fairly popular its first year. OWS's popularity fell off much faster. A recent poll asked: Do you have a higher opinion of the Occupy Wall Street movement or the Tea Party movement?
Occupy: 37% (-3)
Tea Party: 43% (+3)
That's not a good basis for a new party to match the Tea Party.

And that assumes that a real organization could be built on the OWS. There are inherent problems with that. One is that many of them believe that having leaders is wrong because everyone's views are equally valid. That is also why they use the jazz hands (known as up-sparkles) instead of cheering or applauding. Cheers and applause might drown out someone.

Another problem is that the basis of the OWS is that the government has been hopelessly corrupted by the 1%. The 99% are powerless so forming a political party is a waste of time.

Of course, some Occupiers are trying to create a party which has started a split in the movement, weakening it further.

The various Occupiers should have broken camp when asked. That way they could have kept up their narrative. Instead they resisted and tarnished their movement.

"Somehow, we lost the high ground, we lost the narrative," said Kalle Lasn, co-founder of Adbusters which organized the OWS. "Tactically, the moment was right to declare victory, have a big global party and come back swinging next spring."

OWS overplayed it cards. Conservatives should breath a sign of relief that the movement is pulling itself down.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The End of the Occupation

Earl Tuesday morning New York police broke up the OWS camp. Other camps have been broken up in the last few days. Michael Moore sees this as a coordinated action, possibly overseen by President Obama himself. I see it as the natural course of events.

Two factors converged to end the camps. The first was the increasing violence and health risk of the camps. In New York they had an ailment known as "Zuccotti cough". Drug-resistant tuberculosis is becoming associated with the camps, caught from the homeless who moved in with them. Drug use is common. The camps are becoming known for rapes and body counts. With all of this going on, it is hard for a mayor to condone the camps.

The second factor is that all of these problems made the mainstream news. Most sites began lumping all of the OWS coverage into a daily roundup that was seldom sympathetic to the movement. Without public support the camps were vulnerable.

Keep in mind that there is no free speech issue here. Someone cannot take public land and insist that the land it forfeit in the interests of free speech. The Occupiers planned on making their camps as permanent as possible. The light, nylon tents were to be replaced with heavier military tents for the winter. Possibly by spring they would be building solid structures.

Also, camping in public spaces is not a recognized part of speech. It was invented for this event. The Occupiers can still assemble in the parks, the just cannot camp.

Friday, November 11, 2011

OWS's biggest victim

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been protesting for a couple of months now. Their message (the main one) is that the government is controlled by the richest 1%. They also spent a lot of time complaining about student debt and capitalism. So, who have the hurt the worst? President Barack Obama.

The damage done to Obama is on several levels. OWS has gotten a lot of press. At first it was completely favorable and the movement had a high approval rating in the polls. At that point President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and other Democrats gave OWS their approval. As time has gone on, the various Occupiers have had violent confrontations with the police and their approval rating has dropped. It is too late for the Democrats to disown them. The movement is still popular with the far left crowd and any politician distancing himself from OWS will offend them. But the swing voters will react the opposite way. A politician who approved of the Occupiers will be tarnished in their eyes.

Obama has been engaging in mild class warfare since his inauguration but OWS has stolen his thunder on that. Obama wants to raise taxes on the rich by 4%. OWS wants to confiscate their money. This may help Obama with the moderates but it still makes him look weak.

Currently, when Obama isn't in Europe insulting the heads of France or Israel, Obama is on the campaign trail running against the rich. He is trying desperately to get his jobs bill passed. The trouble is that the press is bored with this and quit giving it any coverage. Instead the are covering the Occupiers. The worst thing that can happen to a politician is to be ignored, especially when that politician is on the campaign trail. This is where OWS hurts Obama the most.

The one thing that could hurt Obama even more is if OWS starts protesting politicians along with the Wall Street. OWS hates the bailouts and crony capitalism that defines the Obama economic team. The OWS is convinced that the government is being run for the benefit of the 1% and Obama is the head of the government. At some point they might decide that he is a big part of the problem.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Culture Wars 2011

Getting an early start on the culture wars...

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker sent out a press release about the lighting of the annual Christmas Tree. This has the easily offended in an uproar. It seems that Walker is the first governor since 1985 to call a decorated evergreen a "Christmas Tree" instead of a "holiday tree".

To put this in perspective, this week also had news reports about the National Christmas Tree starting its journey to the White House where President Obama will light it.

So, Walker is playing to an extremist theocratic base and Obama is not, even though both are lighting official Christmas Trees. Obama is the 5th US president to light a Christmas Tree since Wisconsin decided that the term was too inflammatory.

I don't know about Wisconsin, but Ohio started calling its tree a holiday tree after the KKK sued to be allowed to erect a cross on the statehouse grounds. Being the KKK, it was not a religious cross. Instead it was white with epithets on it. That should have been enough to disqualify it. Instead Ohio dropped all references to Christmas. Apparently they believe that no one will realize that it is a Christmas Tree if we call it a holiday tree. It had nothing to do with other religions.

I am sure that some religious minorities will be offended by Walker's action, not because he did anything wrong but because they have been told that they should be offended. Here is an example:

The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has opposed the term Christmas tree, saying it offends nonreligious people and amounts to a government endorsement of Christianity.

The president of that group, Annie Laurie Gaylor, called Walker's decision rude and insensitive to non-Christians.

"The reason that it was turned into a holiday tree was to avoid this connotation that the governor chooses one religion over another," she said. "It's essentially a discourtesy by the governor to announce that. He intends that to be a slight and a snub to non-Christians, otherwise he would not do it."

The vast majority of America celebrates Christmas. A greater number of people celebrate Christmas than are Christians. No other religion decorates a tree in December. At the same time, decorated trees are not part of Christian doctrine. For Gaylor to say that it is alright to erect a Christmas Tree as long as we call it something else and that giving it its proper name endorses Christianity is hypocritical and downright silly.

Since people seems to accept Obama using the term, I can only assume that this is faux outrage by people who suffer from Walker Derangement Syndrome.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Occupy and the Libertarians

Hard-core Libertarians tended to hate President Bush. This is not surprising since he was a big-government Republican. He waged two wars, increased the rate of spending, passed a Medicare drug benefit, and the Patriot Act. Many Libertarians saw McCain as worse than Bush and decided that Obama was the lesser of two evils. They hoped that Obama was a pragmatic centrist who only talked liberal while winning the nomination. They figured that they could make common cause with the Democrats over social issues. They even came up with a name for this fusion: Liberaltarians.

 That didn't work out so well. Obama continued Bush's war strategies, increased spending beyond Bush's records, passed his own expansion of health care, and renewed the Patriot Act. It turned out that the Democrats looked down their noses at Libertarians, even when they had issues in common.

These Libertarians are at it again. Now they are suggesting making common cause with the Occupy movement. They reason that both groups are against bail-outs and crony capitalism. The disconnect is the proposed solutions. Libertarians see this as an example of a government grown too powerful and would try to cut it back. The Occupiers want an expanded government and an end to capitalism. Trying to reconcile the two movements is impossible. They may start at the same place but they are diametrically opposed on what to o about it.

The real issue here is Libertarians who want to be cool. In 2008, it was cool to support Obama so they invented reasons to do so. Now the Occupiers seem cool so they want to hang out with them. It appears that just being a Libertarian isn't enough. At the same time, the Tea Party isn't cool enough for them. The same people who want to embrace an anti-capitalism movement sneer at a grass-roots, limited government movement.

Enough is enough. It is ok to stop being a Libertarian. Go ahead and convert. But don't try to convince us that you are still a Libertarian. Any Libertarian who hangs out with the Occupiers is a Libertarian In Name Only.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Strange World of Robert Reich

When the Greek Prime Minister announced a referendum on the debt plan, Robert Reich cheered. What matter if the world economy crashed? At least the people would get a say. And the evil bankers who were going to forgive 50% of the Greek debt would be foiled from their dastardly plot. He then went on to complain about the American bailouts and the TARP. His complaint was that Bush, and later Obama, said that it had to be paid and Congress voted the money. The people had no say.

Reich ignores that fact that there is no provision for a referendum in the Constitution. Funny thing about that since he swore to uphold the Constitution when he was sworn in as Secretary of Labor under the Clinton administration.

But that's small potatoes compared to his recent explanation for the Great Recession. Most people see it as a result of the housing bubble bursting and taking a couple of trillion of national wealth with it. But in Reich's version the problem is that the rich have stolen all of our money so that there is nothing left for the rest of us to spend.

He also strongly opposes any attempt at introducing fiscal sanity, anywhere. The Greeks borrowed so much money that they cannot make interest payments on the loans. Spain is close to that point and the US will be there in less than a decade at current trends. The rich just don't have enough money to make up the difference. The only serious solution to this is to cut spending.

Reich does not see this. He sees the need for more government redistribution and spending. He even marched with the Oakland occupiers as they closed down one of the nation's busiest ports - an action sure to hurt the average worker.

Friday, November 04, 2011

OWS and the WTO Riots

When the Occupy Wall Street protest began it was fairly popular. It had a strong message with the "I am the 99%" campaign. It looked quirky with the human microphones, jazz hands, communal dining and charging stations.

Things took a darker turn with the Oakland protests. The movement closed down the nation's fifth largest port. The protest quickly degenerated into a riot. Even Men's Warehouse which had a sign in their window announcing their support for the movement had their window broken and anti-capitalism graffiti scrawled on their building.

OWS is beginning to look like the protest movement of 1999-2001. This started in Seattle in 1999 when the World Trade Organization met there. At least 40,000 anti-globalism and anti-capitalism protestors showed up and trashed the city. Over the next year and a half meetings of the WTO, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the G8 were met with similar protests. The leaders of the movement made it clear that they were against these entities and intended to trash any city that allowed them to meet.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 brought this movement to an end.

Now the seem to be back in a new form. OWS has its own set of issues but there is a strong overlap with the Seattle issues. Both are protests against world trade and capitalism with environmental and pro-union groups thrown in. In the wake of the 2007 economic crisis and bail-outs, OWS has different priorities but that is inevitable after a decade.

Public support for OWS has fallen. When they started they were twice as popular as the Tea Party. To put this in perspective, when the Tea Party was that new it had similar poll numbers but it took a couple of years for these to drop. In New York, public support for OWS is down to 44% with 50% wanting the government to end the protests now.

If OWS continues to degenerate into violence then it will totally discredit itself before it has time to become a political force.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

OWS and the Homeless

The Occupy movement is having to come to terms with the homeless. The Occupy camps is a draw for the homeless with free food and the promise of less crime than normal homeless camps (there have been reports of theft and violent crime including rape at the Occupy camps). At the same time, the homeless add numbers to the camps which is important as winter approaches.

But, there are problems. The homeless are not part of the movement. They are just opportunists. They may add numbers but they dilute the message. If the homeless begin to outnumber the Occupiers then the movement will lose credibility.

Many homeless have mental problems or engage in substance abuse (which is why they are homeless in the first place). They may also be contributing to crime in the camps, especially theft.

There is a poor fit between the Occupiers and the homeless. The Occupiers may not be the 1% but, with their smart phones and other gear, they are not in the bottom 50%, either. At minimum, they aspire to be in the top 10%.

There is also a disconnect between the protesters goals and the homeless. OWS is all about income redistribution but they do not seem ready to redistribute their own wealth to those with nothing. This is a dilemma. Any attempt at pushing the homeless out of the camps makes a mockery of their redistributionist demands. "Tax the rich and give it to us!" is not an inspiring message.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Cain and the Sexually Threatening Black Male

Twenty years ago Clarence Thomas seemed headed for certain confirmation as a Supreme Court justice. Anti-abortion activists were upset since they were certain that Roe v Wade would be appealed and Thomas would vote to overturn it. Something had to be done to stop his confirmation.

Acting on behalf of the NOW and other women's groups, Senators Kennedy and Metzenbaum leaked secret testimony from the judiciary panel. It seemed that a former employee of Thomas's had made accusations of sexual harassment. The committee had dismissed them. There was no corroborative evidence and the employee had felt comfortable enough working with Thomas to follow him to a different job. Never the less, the accusations were leaked and, in an unprecedented action, the witness was brought back to testify before the entire Senate (an the nation on TV). When Thomas's turn came he called it a "high tech lynching".

Thomas was qualified to be on the court so this was an attempt to "Bork" him. The term comes from a prior confirmation battle. As with Thomas, the goal was to keep a qualified candidate off of the bench because of his expected vote on abortion. In Robert Bork's case, he was unfairly portrayed as being outside the mainstream.

Thomas was a victim of a decades old stereotype that black men should be feared because they have a stronger sex drive. In the racist South, black men were often lynched on the slightest hint that they might have touched a white woman.

Nearly a decade later, President Clinton had sex with a young intern in the White House. Conservatives wanted to know where the outrage was? Feminists admitted that the outrage over Thomas had all been show. One feminist leader was quoted as sayign that she would be willing to give oral sex to Clinton for keeping abortion legal.

But, the Thomas accusations dramatically changed the definition of sexual harassment. Previously it meant a supervisor pressuring a subordinate for sex using threats of being fired or offers of promotion. After the Thomas confirmation, it meant anything that could make an employee uncomfortable. Some women complained about men engaging in locker-room behavior in their presence. Other women complained about men stopping this behavior when the women got close. There was no clear-cut standard for behavior.

That is the period that Herman Cain is accused of harassing women. The fact that the restaurant association he worked for paid settlements means little. With a complete lack of standards, accusations were impossible to fight. All accusations were treated as valid. The only standard was that a woman felt uncomfortable. The fact that she filed a complaint was proof that she felt uncomfortable. It appears that in Cain's case, the complaints were filed and settled without him even being aware.

Which brings us back to the image of the sexually threatening black male being used against a conservative. If this sort of accusation had been brought against Barack Obama, the accusers would have been labeled racists. As with Clarence Thomas, the goal is not to enlighten, it is to disqualify by any means.