Monday, April 28, 2008

Meme Tag

So the good folks at the Detritus Review have tagged my lazy ass. So be it!

These are the rules, apparently:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

OK. So, nearest book: Jazzology: The Encyclopedia of Jazz Theory for All Musicians, by Robert Rawlins and Nor Eddine Bahha. (It's way over my head. Like, stratospheric, dig?)

Page 123:

Try playing the changes to a tune you are working on a few times with a variety of left-hand voicings before you start trying to practice solos on it. When comping for yourself, make it a rule that your left hand plays only when your right hand doesn't. This will help to get away from just thumping chords in on the downbeat all the time, and can also help your right-hand phrasing.

I tag Alterdestiny; Bravo, Omar, Bravo; Marooned on Federal Street; Jon Swift; and Bats Left, Throws Right. If any of those guys read this thing, I'll be shocked beyond belief, but there it is.

I was tagged by the Detritus Review.

Yay for conformity, or some such nonsense.

Friday, February 08, 2008

So Long, Mittens!

So Mitt Romney dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination yesterday. His farewell to the campaign was ... well, let's take a look:

Governor Romney’s Address to the Conservative Political Action Committee –
February 7, 2008

I want to begin by saying thank you. It’s great to be with you again. And I look forward to joining with you many more times in the future.

I can't tell if the double entendre there is intentional. Normally I'd say he just misspoke, but see what he does next:

Last year, CPAC gave me the sendoff I needed. I was in single digits in the polls and I was facing household Republican names. As of today, more than 4 million people have given me their vote for president, less than Senator McCain’s 4.7 million, but quite a statement nonetheless. 11 states have given me their nod, compared to his 13. Of course, because size does matter, he’s doing quite a bit better with his number of delegates.

Keep those mildly risque one liners coming hard and fast, Mitt!

To all of you, thank you for caring enough about the future of America to
show up, stand up and speak up for conservative principles.

As I said to you last year, conservative principles are needed now more than ever. We face a new generation of challenges, challenges which threaten our prosperity, our security and our future. I am convinced that unless America changes course, we will become the France of the 21st century—still a great nation, but no longer the leader of the world, no longer the superpower. And to me, that is unthinkable.

Clever use of the "France sucks!" meme, Governor. Although I do have two questions here:

1) You're saying we need to "change course" by adhering to the conservative principles that, for better or worse, are held by the very people currently running the country. Can I get a "WTF" here?

2) Whether or not you're right that "unless America changes course" we're destined to become just like France, since you've expressed that thought, it is "thinkable" that this could happen. Proofreading is your friend. Your speechwriter, alas, is not.

Simon Peres (sic), in a visit to Boston, was asked what he thought about the war in Iraq. “First,” he said, “I must put something in context. America is unique in the history of the world. In the history of the world, whenever there has
been conflict, the nation that wins takes land from the nation that loses. One nation in history, and this during the last century, laid down hundreds of thousands of lives and took no land. No land from Germany, no land from Japan, no land from Korea. America is unique in the sacrifice it has made for liberty, for itself and for freedom loving people around the world.” The best ally peace has ever known, and will ever know, is a strong America!

The Native Americans, Mexicans, and Spanish would like to have a word with you about what happened in the previous century, Governor. And, while it's technically true that we "took no land" from Germany or Japan, we do still have tens of thousands of troops on military bases in those countries. While I'm picking nits, I'll point out too that the Korean War (1) isn't really "over," (2) involved us fighting for our ally, South Korea - so taking their land would have been an unusual exercise in colonialism, and (3) we have tens of thousands of troops there, too.

And that is why we must rise to the occasion, as we have always done before, to confront the challenges ahead. Perhaps the most fundamental of these is the attack on the American culture.

Yes, we face threats from global warming, the possibility of having reached "peak oil," challenges to our economic hegemony from China, the prospect of a global recession, continuing military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and (as your party unceasingly reminds us) from terrorists like Osama bin Laden - but the "most fundamental" challenge facing the country is an "attack" on "the" American culture. Way to keep your eye on the ball, guy.

Over the years, my business has taken me to many countries. I have been
struck by the enormous differences in the wealth and well-being of people of
different nations. I have read a number of scholarly explanations for the
disparities. I found the most convincing was that written by David Landes, a
professor emeritus from Harvard University. I presume he’s a liberal–I guess
that’s redundant.

Heh, nice one. "Liberal Harvard professors" are almost as good a gag as "France sucks!" Although - wait, you're convinced of something by a liberal professor? Rush ain't gonna be happy about that, dude.

His work traces the coming and going of great civilizations throughout history. After hundreds of pages of analysis, he concludes with this:If we learn anything from the history of economic development, it is that culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference.

Wait, what makes all the difference again?

What is it about American culture that has led us to become the most powerful nation in the history of the world? We believe in hard work and education. We love opportunity: almost all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who came here for opportunity—opportunity is in our DNA. Americans love God, and those who don’t have faith, typically believe in something greater than themselves—a “Purpose Driven Life.” And we sacrifice everything we have, even our lives, for our families, our freedoms and our country. The values and beliefs of the free American people are the source of our nation’s strength and they always will be!

So, to recap: American culture makes us awesome; American culture consists of hard work, education, opportunity, and God. Also our willingness to sacrifice for our families, freedoms, and country. I'm having a hard time seeing anything on that list that doesn't apply equally well to ... anywhere else on Earth, actually. I guess it's true that most other places don't have the same freedoms or opportunities that Americans have, but that doesn't mean the people living there aren't willing to sacrifice themselves for what freedoms and opportunities they do have.

And while I do appreciate the shout out to Americans who "don't have faith" I'm not sure that Rick Warren is the "something greater than themselves" that they belive in. Just an FYI!

The threat to our culture comes from within. The 1960’s welfare programs created
a culture of poverty.

Hold up, man. Is the "culture of poverty" related to "the American culture"? If not, are you saying poverty is un-American? Because if you are, I'm probably down with that. Poverty sucks.

Some think we won that battle when we reformed welfare, but the liberals haven’t given up. At every turn, they try to substitute government largesse for individual responsibility. They fight to strip work requirements from welfare, to put more people on Medicaid, and to remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever.

Ah. So, no. You're saying that attempts to alleviate poverty are un-American. I'm not so much down with that, I'm afraid. Allow me to point out that it was Bill Clinton who signed welfare reform into law; I'm pretty sure you're not claiming him as a conservative, so technically "we" didn't reform welfare. Allow me further to snicker at your outrage over the alleged liberal conspiracy to keep "more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever" after your man W. and your fellow Republicans in Congress enacted dramatic tax cuts whose permanence you're collectively fighting for. How is it OK - laudable, even, mark of a True Conservative - to reduce taxes on rich and middle-class people and then be offended at reducing taxes on poor people?

Mitt? Little help?

Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity. Dependency is a culture-killing drug—we have got to fight it like the poison it is!

I can see how dependency is "death" to initiative. But how does dependency reduce risk-taking and opportunity? Aren't the people who are dependent on government support precisely the people with nothing to lose for whom taking risks and gambling on the opportunities they have makes the most sense? For the sake of argument, let's say you're right that dependency on government handouts is bad - doesn't it follow that we should stop giving handouts to business, since we're killing their initiative, risk-taking, and opportunity?

The attack on faith and religion is no less relentless.

Didn't you just say that people without faith were OK, because they believed in something greater than themselves? And if that's true, is an attack on faith really that big a deal? If faith is under attack, how come a big majority of Americans are Christians, including an overwhelming majority of our Congressmen and Senators. Three of the sitting Justices on the Supreme Court are conservative Catholics. The President is an evangelical Baptist. What on Earth are you talking about?

And tolerance for pornography—even celebration of it—and sexual promiscuity, combined with the twisted incentives of government welfare programs have led to today’s grim realities: 68% of African American children are born out-of-wedlock, 45% of Hispanic children, and 25% of White children. How much harder it is for these children to succeed in school—and in life. A nation built on the principles of the founding fathers cannot long stand when its children are raised without fathers in the home.

So.... tolerating/celebrating porn = kids born "out of wedlock"? I ... don't think that's how it works, dude. While we're talking about the twisted incentives of government programs, let's take a moment to consider the "abstinence-only" sex ed programs the current Administration pushes, as well as their reluctance or outright refusal to subsidize birth control or abortion. Say what you will about abortion, it leads to fewer "out-of-wedlock" children being born. Let's also consider how single mothers tend to be younger, less well-educated, and poorer than the population at large, and wonder about how the very poverty-alleviation problems Romney derides could help their children (who after all didn't ask to be born into a poor single-parent household) acquire the education and opportunities that are crucial to "the" American culture he's so proud of.

The development of a child is enhanced by having a mother and father. Such a family is the ideal for the future of the child and for the strength of a nation. I wonder how it is that unelected judges, like some in my state of Massachusetts, are so unaware of this reality, so oblivious to the millennia of recorded history. It is time for the people of America to fortify marriage through constitutional amendment, so that liberal judges cannot continue to attack it!

Setting aside the unsupported assertion that having a mother and father is "the ideal" - it's not the "liberal judges" who attack it. Assuming that there's an attack on marriage at all, it's coming from either legislatures - elected by the people - that draft laws about marriage, or individual plaintiffs who think those laws are wrong/bad/dumb. The judges, liberal or otherwise, aren't leading the charge to make marriage illegal or whatever it is Romney thinks they're up to.

Europe is facing a demographic disaster. That is the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of
human life and eroded morality. Some reason that culture is merely an accessory
to America’s vitality; we know that it is the source of our strength. And we are
not dissuaded by the snickers and knowing glances when we stand up for family
values, and morality, and culture. We will always be honored to stand on
principle and to stand for principle.

To the extent that Europe is facing a "demographic disaster" because the good Christian people aren't having enough babies and the scary Muslims are breeding like rabbits - well, the Muslims have faith in the Creator, love their families, respect the sanctity of human life, and by their lights are extremely moral. What's the problem?

I don't think anyone really objects to the notion that our shared identity as Americans is a source of strength. What those of us providing the snickers and knowing glances object to is your definition of that identity, which seems cramped and exclusionary. I'd also like to point out that, while principles are fine things to have, they only get you so far. Abstract moral rules are a good guide to proper behavior, but in life as it's lived we have to accept the fact that it's not always clear how they apply.

The attack on our culture is not our sole challenge. We face economic competition unlike anything we have ever known before. China and Asia are emerging from centuries of poverty. Their people are plentiful, innovative, and ambitious.

Both China and Asia.

And there are so. damn. many. of them!

If we do not change course, Asia or China will pass us by as the economic superpower, just as we passed England and France during the last century. The prosperity and security of our children and grandchildren depend on us.

Asia or China. I'm anticipating an economic throwdown sometime in the 2040s between China and Asia for economic supremacy. I note, again, that according to Romney we need to "change course" to keep our economic edge on those inscrutable Chinese. Yet his party has been in charge of the government's economic toolbox for nearly eight years. If they think a change in course is needed, they can do it right now.

Our prosperity and security also depend on finally acting to become energy secure. Oil producing states like Russia and Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Iran are siphoning over $400 billion per year from our economy—that’s almost what we spend annually for defense. It is past time for us to invest in energy technology, nuclear power, clean coal, liquid coal, renewable sources and energy efficiency. America must never be held hostage by the likes of Putin, Chavez, and Ahmendinejad.
"Siphoning" is an interesting way to put it. You'd almost think we weren't paying them for goods and services they willingly provide. You'd also almost think that the dirty libs weren't encouraging the development of alternative energy sources for the last 20 or 30 years precisely because they could see this coming after the energy crisis of the '70s. So, when Romney has a good point, he's taking it from the good old liberal agenda. I won't tell Ann Coulter if you don't!

And our economy is also burdened by the inexorable ramping of government
spending. Don’t focus on the pork alone—even though it is indeed irritating and
shameful. Look at the entitlements. `They make up 60% of federal spending today.
By the end of the next President’s second term, they will total 70%. Any conservative plan for the future has to include entitlement reform that solves
the problem, not just acknowledges it.

I agree, Mitt. We should raise taxes a bit to pay for what we spend. Problem solved!

Most politicians don’t seem to understand the connection between our ability to compete and our national wealth, and the wealth of our families. They act as if money just happens–that it’s just there. But every dollar represents a good or
service produced in the private sector. Depress the private sector and you
depress the well-being of Americans.

I have to admit I don't really understand what he's talking about here. We're all better off when the economy is doing well? I think?

That’s exactly what happens with high taxes, over-regulation, tort windfalls, mandates, and overfed, over-spending government. Did you see that today,
government workers make more money than people who work in the private sector.
Can you imagine what happens to an economy where the best opportunities are for

It's totally true, too. I work for the government and I wipe my ass with hundred-dollar bills. I call up Bill Gates all the time just to brag about how much more money I make than he does.

Just because it's been all over the news for at least a year, I'll call your attention to the fact that the subprime mortgage mess and the sale of these high-risk mortgages to third parties was aided and abetted by a lack of adequate regulations. I'll also point out that, by the standards of other first-world countries, we have incredibly low taxes.

It’s high time to lower taxes, including corporate taxes, to take a weed-whacker to government regulations, to reform entitlements, and to stand up to the increasingly voracious appetite of the unions in our government!

As I said, our taxes are already wicked low. Government regulations exist in almost every case because, in the absence of regulations, someone did something that caused a lot of harm, and we can see in the subprime-mortgage market an excellent example of how regulations come to be needed. As a member of a government union, I can assert that at least my own union is not so much "voracious" as "content with what it has." It's hard to stand up to someone who isn't asking you to do anything you're not already doing.

And finally, let’s consider the greatest challenge facing America—and facing the entire civilized world: the threat of violent, radical Jihad.

Whoa. Wait, dude. You just said the "most fundamental challenge" was the attack on "the" American culture. I'd think "most fundamental" would also be "greatest" in this context.

In one wing of the world of Islam, there is a conviction that all governments should be destroyed and replaced by a religious caliphate. These Jihadists will battle any form of democracy—to them, democracy is blasphemous for it says that citizens, not God shape the law.

From Mike Huckabee, Republican:

"[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I
believe it's a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change
the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the
Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's
standards," Huckabee said.
Just sayin'.
They find the idea of human equality to be offensive. They hate everything we believe about freedom just as we hate everything they believe about radical Jihad.

Pretty broad statement. I'm pretty sure I don't know everything "they" believe about "radical Jihad," and I'm not even sure I know everything "we" believe about freedom. I'm almost certain that the things I personally believe about freedom are different from what, say, John Yoo or George W. Bush believe.

To battle this threat, we have sent the most courageous and brave soldiers in the world. But their numbers have been depleted by the Clinton years when troops were reduced by 500,000, when 80 ships were retired from the Navy, and when our human intelligence was slashed by 25%. We were told that we were getting a peace dividend. We got the dividend, but we didn’t get the peace.
I thought we were the best ally peace has ever known!

While we're on the subject, Republican Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld advocated making the military even smaller. And, during the Clinton years, we did get the peace. We would be at peace right now if we hadn't invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Choosing to go to war with (according to Romney here) an inadequate military doesn't seem like the kind of thing that can be properly laid at Clinton's feet. To the extent that the Surge has been successful at reducing violence in Iraq, it appears that the size or quality of our military isn't the problem so much as the use to which it's been put. And, if the size of the military is insufficient, the President (a Republican, by the way) has various tools at his disposal to increase its size. That he's chosen not to do this over the past seven years is something Romney might want to bring up with him.

That's if you even accept the premise that fighting "radical Jihad" is properly a military issue. Diplomacy with other threatened governments, law enforcement, and the targeted use of Special Forces troops all seem like they might be more effective at combating enemies who aren't states than invading states that aren't attacking us.

In the face of evil in radical Jihad and given the inevitable military ambitions of China, we must act to rebuild our military might. Raise military spending to 4% of our GDP, purchase the most modern armament, re-shape our fighting forces for the asymmetric demands we now face, and give the veterans the care they
China's military spending is a very small fraction of ours. We almost spend more than the rest of the world combined. The problem is not the size or quality of our military, and having a bigger, badder military is not going to do anything to address the rise of "radical Jihad." Giving the veterans the care they deserve is a great idea, which I strongly encourage Governor Romney to raise with the man who can get it done - Republican President George W. Bush. We don't need to change Administrations to fix that problem.

Soon, the face of liberalism in America will have a new name. Whether it is Barack or Hillary, the result would be the same if they were to win the Presidency.
Arguably true. There's not a lot of difference, policywise.

The opponents of American culture would push the throttle, devising new
justifications for judges to depart from the constitution. Economic neophytes
would layer heavier and heavier burdens on employers and families, slowing our
economy and opening the way for foreign competition to further erode our lead.
Judges can't, by definition, depart from the Constitution. You may not like the way a particular judge reads or interprets the Constitution, but they're not "departing" from it. And I don't think you want to get into an argument about who's the bigger economic neophyte while you're conceding the Republican nomination to a man who publicly admits he has little knowledge of, or interest in, the economy.

Even though we face an uphill fight, I know that many in this room are fully behind my campaign.” You are with me all the way to the convention. Fight on,
just like Ronald Reagan did in 1976. But there is an important difference from 1976: today… we are a nation at war. And Barack and Hillary have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror. They would retreat and declare defeat.
I don't recall either of them saying that. Eventually remove (most of) the troops from Iraq, yes; but the goal was to have an independent, democratic Iraq. The withdrawal going to have to happen sooner or later. It's also the strategy most Americans prefer; I'll be charitable and assume you didn't mean to tell the majority of Americans that they favor "retreat and defeat."

And the consequence of that would be devastating. It would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that make Afghanistan under the Taliban look
like child’s play. About this, I have no doubt.
You should share your secret information sources with the Administration, so they can take out these safe havens. Unless you're just speculating wildly to freak people out.

I disagree with Senator McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating Al Qaeda and terror.
Really? "Whatever it takes"? What if it takes a draft, or rationing oil and gasoline? What if it costs so much money that taxes need to be raised? What if it takes negotiating with other interested parties, like the Iranian government? I can't imagine anyone seriously disagrees with the goals of capturing bin Laden and destroying Al Qaeda; the question is how you think any candidate from your party will be able to do it when seven years of Republican leadership haven't been able to.

If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.
Don't hurt yourself patting youself on the back there, buddy. Setting aside the baseless slander of Clinton and Obama (and, practically speaking: is that even logically possible? To whom would they "surrender"?), how is your presence or absence from the race at this point even a consideration? McCain was already in the driver's seat; presumably he'd be making the same case for his policy vis-a-vis the Clinton or Obama policies regardless of whether you stay or go.

This is not an easy decision for me. I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our supporters… many of you right here in this room… have given a great deal to get me where I have a shot at becoming President. If this were only about me, I would go on. But I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, I feel I must now stand aside, for our party and for our country.
If only America loved you back, Governor.

I will continue to stand for conservative principles; I will fight alongside you for all the things we believe in. And one of those things is that we cannot allow the next President of the United States to retreat in the face evil extremism!!
I like how the transcript uses the double exclamation points. If only they'd included an appropriate lolcat.

It is the common task of each generation—and the burden of liberty—to preserve this country, expand its freedoms ...
Pardon me while I pause for laughter at the recent Republican "expansion" of our freedoms.

... and renew its spirit so that its noble past is prologue to its glorious future.
To this task… accepting this burden… we are all dedicated, and I firmly believe, by the providence of the Almighty, that we will succeed beyond our fondest hope. America must remain, as it has always been, the hope of the earth.

Thank you, and God bless America.

"It has always been, the hope of the earth"? Really? I love my country, but ... wow. Maybe if we didn't have such a grandiose notion of our nation's role in the world, we wouldn't find ourselves embroiled in the kinds of messes the next President is going to have to deal with.

Smell you later, Mittens. Don't call us; we'll call you.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday

It’s Super Tuesday; if you can vote, I encourage you to do so.

If you’re voting in the Democratic primary, I’d also like to encourage you to vote for Barack Obama, but before I get into exactly why I think he deserves your vote, I’d like to say a word or two about the remarkably ineffective way supporters of Obama and Clinton alike have been going about persuading people to vote for their candidate.

I start with this piece, which I came to on Matt Yglesias’ blog at the Atlantic. He says it “does a great job … of highlighting both the arguments and the underlying dynamics in play.” I disagree; I think it does a great job of highlighting bad arguments for just about anything. In the piece, Son tries to convince Mother to vote for Obama because, essentially, she’s only voting for Clinton because she’s a middle-aged white woman who identifies with Clinton. Mother responds that Son is only voting for Obama because of illogical and emotionally grounded assumptions about Clinton (and, in the end, Mother). The piece does touch on some of the experience-related issues that the campaigns have been using to distinguish themselves from each other, but the main argument consists of Mother and Son telling the other that he or she is behaving irrationally.

This is something that, if you’re reading this now, you’ve probably seen a lot of over the past month or so. It’s not just on the Web, either; it shows up in op-ed pieces in prestigious papers and on the talking-head shows on the teevee. It’s not effective; the only people persuaded by the argument that supporting Kang is logical and supporting Kodos is irrational already support Kang. The people who support Kodos are only confirmed in their belief that supporting Kang is totally ridiculous. Kang supporters “just don’t get it” and can be dismissed as dumb or irrational partisans.

This mirrors the debate style used to deepen the conservative/liberal divide in the country, a phenomenon that’s been aided and abetted by Karl Rove-style politics over the last seven years. You can see, I hope, how counterproductive it really is. Telling someone that their opinion is dumb or irrational and if they really knew what they were doing they’d do things your way is most likely to get them to tell you to go piss up a rope. And that’s true even if it’s true that the Other Dude is actually being totally irrational and/or stupid by voting for Kodos. He’s got to figure that out himself. He’s not going to engage in a thorough self-examination about his real motives and his real interests because someone tells him he’s an idiot.

He might, though, be persuaded by someone making a convincing, reasonable case for the candidate that doesn’t insult people who take the opposite view. That’s obviously more difficult and time-consuming than coming up with clever putdowns, which is probably a lot of the reason why you don’t see it done much in comments on blogs. It’s much more effective at making a case for the candidate, though.

In this case, the candidate I’d like to make a case for is Barack Obama. This year’s Democratic contenders do not have extreme policy differences, for the most part. Their policy goals are similar or identical in most respects. Where they do have differences – whether a universal health care plan should include a mandate, whether it’s a Good Idea to talk with the leaders of countries we’ve shunned over the past seven years, whether we should issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, whether we should set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq – it’s very hard to say who has the better argument, and they are really questions of means, not ends.

That doesn’t mean the discussions about those issues aren’t worth having, just that there aren’t clear-cut policy differences from which it’s possible to make a call for Obama or Clinton. If you disagree – if you think that a mandate for insurance coverage is absolutely essential, for example – then probably you’ve already made your choice. Even if you think that Clinton’s position on these issues is better, though, I think it’s worth wondering whether she’ll be able to deliver on those policy promises. I think the decision about which candidate to vote for in this year’s Democratic primaries comes down to questions about which candidate is most likely to be elected, and which one, if elected, could deliver on the issues that Democratic voters care about. The answer to those questions is, in my opinion, clearly Obama.

Clinton’s strongest arguments for her candidacy come down to experience. She means a couple of different things by that, and it’s worthwhile unpacking her argument a bit.

First, she says she’ll be “ready on Day One” because she was First Lady when Bill Clinton was President and therefore she understands both how to run the government and how to deal with the kinds of issues that a President has to address more or less daily. To the extent that this is true, it’s definitely a point in her favor. Bill Clinton’s first year as President was rocky, in part precisely because he had to learn on the job, and it would be good to avoid that kind of thing in 2009.

The questions, though, are how much of that experience Hillary Clinton actually has, and whether anything really prepares you to be President. She has not been forthcoming about what her role was in her husband’s Administration. She took charge of the attempt to provide universal health care in 1993 and 1994, and it was a spectacular fiasco. Maybe she learned from that. We don’t really know, because for the remainder of her husband’s term she largely kept out of the spotlight. Did she have some input in policy decisions? Almost certainly. But what was that influence? How did it affect what Bill Clinton accomplished in office? We don’t really know, and they’ve been reluctant to tell us. So while it’s probably true that she understands the problems a President faces better than any of the other candidates, we don’t know how significant that understanding is.

It’s an open question, for me at least, whether any experience is relevant to being President. Either candidate would be surrounded by people with years of experience in government, so it’s unclear exactly how much the new President’s personal experience matters on a day-to-day basis. As a matter of big-picture policy background, the Democratic primary featured several candidates with far more experience in government than either Obama or Clinton, and none of them attracted significant support. In 2000, Al Gore had eight years of Vice-Presidential experience under his belt, and lost a tight race to a man whose only experience in government was as Governor of Texas – a state whose Governor is not unduly burdened with duties and whose legislature only meets every other year. Nonetheless, George W. Bush’s first nine months in office went by fairly smoothly. It’s worth noting, too, that the architects of many of W.’s least successful policies – Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz – all had decades of experience in government – including, in some cases, having argued convincingly against precisely the policies they later advocated. Experience is something, sure, but it’s awfully hard to say exactly what it is, or how much weight it should be given.

Clinton’s experience also includes eight years in the Senate. That’s something, too, arguably more important than her eight years as the wife of the President. Obama has four years in the Senate, though; is an extra four years in the Senate a significant edge? I’m not convinced. Clinton, after all, voted as a Senator in favor of giving Bush the authority to go to war, and she’s never said that vote was a mistake. She’s apparently done a good job for the people of New York, and it’s true that she’s been able to work with Republican Senators to get legislation passed. Obama has also been an effective legislator, working well on specific issues with Republican colleagues. It’s not clear that Clinton’s legislative experience gives her an edge over Obama, either as a demonstration of effective leadership or of good judgment.

Of course, the other thing Clinton means by her experience is that of being the target of 16 years of conservative vitriol. “I’m still here,” she says, and it’s true. She is. What she doesn’t say, perhaps because it’s obvious, is that so are they. She alludes frequently to her experience fighting conservative smears and claims that that experience makes her better able to fight for Democratic policies as President. She also claims that, although Obama hasn’t yet had the same level of venom directed at him, if elected, he will. The inference is that either candidate will have to deal with the same kind of attacks, and that she’s uniquely qualified to respond to them.

This may be true, but I think it’s fair to wonder about how effective she’s really been at responding to the attacks. After 16 years, conservatives still loathe her. She hasn’t defanged their attacks so much as endured them. It speaks well of her that she’s had the courage to continue her political career under what I think we can all concede have been pretty much relentless attacks. But the fact remains that even if we grant her unique experience dealing with Republican attacks, she also attracts them. She unifies conservatives in a way no other figure – not even her husband – is able to do. The attacks she endures aren’t simply because she’s a prominent Democrat (there are plenty of others, none of whom have inspired conservative anger on the same scale) or that she’s a liberal (which, depending on the issue, she’s not at all). It’s personal.

That means that, although Obama will surely have a tough road ahead of him as the nominee, it almost by definition cannot be as bad as what she has gone through and will go through as the nominee. He's got 16 years of catching up to do on that score. It’s certainly possible that dirt could be dug up against Obama, but so far the worst we know about is a somewhat shady deal to buy part of a vacant lot and Obama’s own admission that as a younger man he did some blow. It’s small potatoes compared to the Whitewater investigation that sprawled across both of Bill Clinton’s terms in office, or McCain’s involvement in the late-80s savings-and-loan scandals.

There is another side to Clinton’s experience that she doesn’t bring up, and of which she may be unaware. Judging by her own comments and her husband’s, they have survived increasingly vicious, hostile political environments. Those circumstances forced them to become defensive, suspicious, and secretive. The recent New Yorker profile of Hillary suggested that she has not simply shrugged off the years of political warfare that she was exposed to in Arkansas and Washington. She’s been changed by them. Probably that was inevitable, and unfortunate. I do think it’s reasonable to wonder whether we want or need another President after the current one whose political instincts are toward secrecy and paranoia. It’s true that just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean people aren’t really out to get you; while the “vast right-wing conspiracy” may not have been as vast as the Clintons think, it was and is real enough. I just don’t know that we’re best served by a President whose political instincts have been shaped by fighting it.

Nonetheless, even if Clinton isn’t the obviously better candidate on policy grounds, and doesn’t have a clear edge in experience, and has some unfortunate if understandable political habits, she might still be the better candidate on electability grounds. If Clinton was able to unite the Democratic party behind her agenda and attract widespread support, she would be the more convincing candidate, particularly if she could help get more Democratic Congressmen and Senators elected. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Partly as a result of her long exposure to the nation, there are relatively few people who don’t already like and admire her to whom she can appeal. Republicans, particularly conservatives, despise her. There will be very few “Clinton Republicans” if she is the nominee, and she does not significantly expand the reach of the party. At best, I think an election with Hillary as the candidate will have record turnout for both parties, but I don’t think such an election will attract many new or undecided voters. She might pull out a win – the last two Presidential elections have been very, very close and McCain is a flawed candidate himself. I don’t think she’s likely to increase the Democratic majority in Congress by much, and if elected I think she’ll have a hard time persuading Republicans to get her agenda passed.

In contrast, consider Obama. His policy positions are very close to hers. He can’t claim to have spend eight years living with the President, it’s true, but his legislative accomplishments, both in Illinois and in Washington, demonstrate that he can be effective in getting legislation passed with votes from Republicans. Many Democrats I know feel queasy about “bipartisanship” – particularly with the example the Congress has set over the past year. If I thought Obama’s rhetoric about inclusion and working with Republicans meant that kind of “bipartisanship” – that is, passing the Republican agenda with the briefest resistance – I would share those doubts. What his record demonstrates is an ability to find common ground with particular Republicans on specific issues, and that’s a skill any Democratic President will need to get any legislation passed. Because of the reaction she inspires in the conservative base of the Republican party, I think it’s doubtful that Hillary Clinton will be able to do that.

Obama has demonstrated in every state in which he’s campaigned so far an unusual (as far as I know, unprecedented) ability to get younger voters and independents to the polls. He expands the pool of votes available to the Democrats if he’s the nominee. That’s nice for him, but it will probably be even better for other Democrats on the ticket with him. In close races for open seats – of which there are an unusual number this year – the extra votes could determine whether the seat goes to a Democrat or a Republican. Even a few extra seats in the House or the Senate would make it much easier for President Obama to get his agenda passed. Since the two candidates are largely in accord on their policies, I think Obama is more likely to get Clinton’s agenda passed than Clinton is.

I don’t think Obama will be able to transcend partisan politics the way some of his more enthusiastic admirers do, and I’m not convinced that, if elected, he will be transformative in the way FDR and Reagan were. I just think he presents the best possible chance for the nation to have a better, more effective government with a sober foreign policy. If you’re voting in the Democratic primaries today, I hope you’ll give him your vote.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Track of the Day: 1-31-08

Today's Track of the Day:

Thelonious Monk - "Bemsha Swing"

The version that concludes Brilliant Corners, to be precise. I can't think of many pianists - heck, many musicians, period - as instantly recognizable as Monk. This track has it all; it swings with Monk's trademark off-kilter rhythms and idiosyncratic phrasing, and the melody is unforgettably catchy. His sidemen on this cut include Sonny Rollins and Max Roach; it's tasty stuff.

The Trouble With Rudy: The Final Chapter

Apparently the biggest problem with Rudy is not being able to get enough people to vote for him.

So long, Mr. 9-11. Here's to a long, happy, and most importantly complete retirement for you. If you can take some of your foreign policy advisors along, that'd be swell.

New Adventures in Music Criticism

It's hard to write good music criticism, but it's unintentionally hilarious when paid professionals don't even make a good-faith effort at it.

The Detritus Review. It's both funny and edumacational. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Track of the Day: 1-23-08

Track of the Day: 1-23-08

Cat Power - New York

I made a New Year's Resolution to blog more.

You can see for yourself how that's been working out.

Nonetheless, here's a new track I enjoy. I like covers of songs by artists other than the ones who wrote the song or made it famous, because they often do something interesting or at least new with the song. That's not always a good thing, of course; Tori Amos' cover of Heart of Gold is almost criminal. Still, I mostly enjoy hearing familiar stuff in a new way. In a way, actually, it allows me to hear both the artist and the song as distinct things. It's harder for me to separate the singer from the song on the original recording.

Today's track comes from Cat Power's new album, Jukebox. It's a cover of the song we've all heard a thousand times, made famous by Frank Sinatra and played after Yankee home victories. "Overplayed" is a huge understatement, but Cat Power finds new stuff in the old tune. It helps that neither she nor the band sound anything remotely like the Sinatra version. Imagine a kind of country/soul version of it played by a rock band with totally different phrasing and you'll be fairly close. This version conveys a sense of almost desperate longing, which I can't say I've ever associated with the upbeat, optimistic Sinatra tune. It's all right there in the lyrics, but I'd never heard it that way before. It's like listening to it with new ears.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Trouble With Rudy: Part the Third

I don't know how I missed this when it came out, but in case you were thinking "Yeah, Rudy, kind of a nut on the foreign-policy side of things, but I bet his fiscal policies are pretty good" - well, not so much:

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said Friday that the
alternative minimum tax — which is expected to generate as much as $1 trillion
over the next 10 years — could be eliminated over the long term by balancing it
out with even more tax cuts.


The alternative minimum tax, or AMT, was enacted in 1969 to ensure that
a handful of wealthy taxpayers could not exploit a series of loopholes to avoid
paying any income taxes. But the tax was never indexed for inflation. It
now applies to more than 4 million taxpayers and has been the target of tax
reformers who say it will soon unfairly target middle-class taxpayers, if it
hasn't already.

But eliminating the AMT would be extremely expensive, costing $100 billion
in 2010 alone. Giuliani told the 700-member audience of the Northern Virginia
Technology Council that he wants to cap the tax, and perhaps eventually
eliminate it altogether.

"Over time we can figure out how to eliminate it. ... If we were going to
eliminate it, though, we'd have to balance it with additional tax
," Giuliani said, leaving confused expressions on his audience.
"That might be by making the Bush tax cuts permanent."

Emphasis added.

This is an extreme version of what's become a seemingly universal belief among conservatives that cutting taxes usually, or always, results in greater tax revenues. Exactly how this became the pet economic theory of Republican Presidential candidates is the subject of a recently-published book, but the basic theory is something like this:

Tax revenues don't automatically increase as tax rates increase, because at some point the tax rates become so high that people either leave the country or find more ways to hide their income from the tax man. At some point, it becomes counterproductive to raise taxes, and in theory, at very high rates, a tax cut could actually increase tax revenues. That's not crazy. The principle behind the Laffer curve isn't completely nuts.

What is crazy is the way a surprising number of people use it. The biggest problem with the Laffer curve is that nobody really knows where that point is, and the second biggest problem is that they frequently assume that, no matter how much taxes are cut, we're still on the wrong side of it. Income tax rates for the highest income brackets have declined steadily from a high of (IIRC) 91% under that pinko Eisenhower. Today they're roughly 35%, less for lower tax brackets. For the U.S. to be on the wrong side of the Laffer curve (so much so that tax cuts would increase tax revenues significantly), we would have to think that the optimal tax rate is well south of that.

Giuliani's big idea - which he later confirmed was not a misstatement - is that (1) we should cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans and (2) if that reduces government revenue, we can pay for that by cutting other taxes even more. It does not seem to occur to him that if the government loses revenue by (1), it is past the point on the Laffer curve where (2) even kind-of makes sense. Not to mention that, if we're on the side of the curve where raising taxes raises tax revenue, doing either one is objectively nuts without also significantly cutting government spending. Since his foreign-policy positions envision a robust use of the U.S. military, explicitly contemplating a war with Iran, we are left to conclude that he will be cutting domestic spending sharply even as most of the country favors some form of universal health care.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Michael Medved Should Stick To Movie Reviews, Too.

I have vague memories, as a kid, of reading The Golden Turkey Awards and the Hollywood Hall of Shame. Making fun of bad movies is entertaining stuff, and reading people make fun of bad movies is almost as good, especially if you are, as I was, a smartass 14-year-old. Those two worthy tomes were the work of Harry and Michael Medved, the latter of whom was at the time a pretty well-known film critic. Sometimes I'd catch him on "At The Movies," which if I remember right had as co-host Rex Reed. Which must have been pretty weird on the set, given the kind of homophobic projection Medved displays here:

The ignominious fall of Senator Larry Craig casts new light on the importance of the nation’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning open homosexuals from military service.

It ... does?

If preventing public sex in airport men’s rooms is important enough to
justify the deployment of undercover cops, isn’t it similarly significant to
avoid, at all costs, sexual encounters in military latrines?

Not sure about this "at all costs" business. Using undercover cops seems like a pretty low-cost solution to the airport-men's-room problem, really, although you could certainly argue that there are more important things for the airport police to be doing. Likewise, I hear the military has "Military Police" - perhaps they could look into this problem at little additional cost.
Imagine the impact on morale and unit cohesion if two guys from the same barracks engaged in toe-tapping hanky-panky (and perhaps much more) while occupying adjacent bathroom stalls in the military facilities?
Yeah, good thing that's never happened. Also, what if two guys from entirely different barracks did it? It'd be like the Sharks and the Jets, only with M16s and hand grenades.
Of course, advocates for gays in the military will insist that any such indulgence would involve a violation of the rules, with offenders facing stiff, severe consequences. But the impact of gay GI’s on bathroom atmospherics doesn’t just stem from the real chance of actual sex acts in the latrine, it involves whole sexualization of one of the most frequented and important conveniences on any base.
"Stiff" consequences? "Whole sexualization"? What are you trying to say, Mike?

Also, "bathroom atomspherics"? Your objection is aesthetic? I would have gone with "Sex in public is bad, mmmkay?" but ... let's see where you're taking this.
If openly gay males do nothing to compromise restroom integrity and security, why not invite female soldiers into men’s bathrooms, or open the door of women’s facilities to males? Surely, the same rules that would, theoretically, prevent gay men from hassling other men in the head would prevent hetero males from harassing women (or vice verse). Just as a gay male in the military would receive punishment for bathroom misbehavior, so to a straight guy could be busted for making improper overtures to women in the ladies room – but that wouldn’t make him any more welcome in a female facility.
There are a lot of responses to this, but the first one that springs to mind is that there are already gay soldiers using the same latrine as their straight brothers-in-arms. Thus far, I've not heard of any cases where gay soldiers hanging out in the barracks toilet raped someone. There are, however, lots of reports of female soldiers being raped when they use the latrine at night. Which suggests that being gay isn't the same thing as being a woman, which Medved apparently needs to have pointed out. He also needs to have it pointed out that Craig and men like him don't identify as gay; letting openly gay guys serve in the military has no bearing on whether repressed closet cases serve, now or tomorrow.

I've said this before, and I'll probably have to say it again, but fear of punishment is not the only or most important factor in keeping people in line. It's socialization. The social structure of the military isn't going to be conducive to gay cruising anytime soon, and if it were - well, again. They're called "Military Police."
The problem isn’t just the chance of molestation, it’s the radical change of mood and sensibility if you know you may be checked out as a sex object at a very private moment (of urination or defecation) when most normal people prefer to avoid any and all thoughts of physical intimacy. A bathroom becomes a vastly more uncomfortable and even menacing place if it’s used for sexual encounters, whether those connections involve gay or straight sexuality.
I'll defer to his apparently greater experience in this area, but I think it's appropriate to note that women get "checked out as a sex object" all the time. He doesn't seem to understand how, if the bathroom is uncomfortable and menacing if it's used for either gay or straight sex, his point about how "teh gayz r destroye amerika!" is invalidated. It's the "sex in public," not the "gay," that's the problem.
In a column in Sunday’s New York Times, Laura MacDonald insists that toilet sex never involves one-sided, unwanted attentions. According to the research she cites (based on “a groundbreaking dissertation” of a doctoral candidate at Washington University nearly 30 years ago) “a straight man would be left alone after that first tap or cough or look went unanswered. The initiator does not want to be beaten up or arrested or chased by teenagers, so he engages in safeguards to ensure that any physical advance will be reciprocated.”
Certainly in the case of Larry Craig, the arresting officer did nothing to discourage the Senator’s attentions until the very moment of the arrest and almost certainly invited his advances. The near unanimous revulsion regarding the incident (from Republican and Democrat, gay and straight alike) therefore has nothing to do with sexual assault or attempted rape, or any notion of the mild-mannered, bespectacled 62-year-old legislator somehow forcing himself on the burly, buff and much younger cop.
Since the cop was there undercover as part of a sting, discouraging Craig would have been pretty counterproductive. Also, the cop just sat on the toilet until Craig slipped his hand under the stall; at what earlier point does Medved think he should have said "Whoa, there. I'm not like that!" I submit (again) that at least the liberal disgust with the behavior has nothing to do with the sex per se, but with the "in public" part of the program.

Also, that last sentence is kind of hot. Maybe Medved can rework it into a film treatment.

The disgust for the three term Senate toe-tapper arises instead from the very association of men’s rooms and amorous meet-ups, of toilet stalls and sex acts. We have a common and compelling interest in keeping such places free of erotic tension and that’s why we dispatch police officers to patrol public rest stations—even though they’re hardly needed to prevent outright assaults.

I'm not sure we have a "compelling interest" in keeping anywhere "free of erotic tension." Free of public sex, maybe.

And if regular users of airport or public park facilities have a right to escape suggestive glances or inviting gestures that can poison an already fetid atmosphere, how much more so do young recruits (many of them eighteen or nineteen years old) the same right to avoid similar attentions (or even suspicions) from their fellow soldiers in the intimate quarters necessitated by military service? It’s no wonder that despite some fifteen years of relentless propaganda, most high ranking members of the armed services remain unconvinced that we should alter regulations to allow participation of open homosexuals.
I submit that no "right to escape suggestive glances" exists, and if it did you could probably arrest half the country every Friday night. It's not clear why the age of the soldiers is relevant - presumably all the hot gay sex Medved is worried about would be just as rampant among the older soldiers. Maybe the younger guys are also "burly and buff," like the cop. And although it's true that "most high ranking members of the armed services" are opposed to openly gay servicemen, it's mostly a generational thing. Those guys are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. They grew up in a much more homophobic society, and they were socialized to that standard. Younger soldiers, surveys show, don't much care. Most younger Americans don't much care; they've been socialized in a culture that's been partially shaped by that "fifteen years of relentless propaganda" Medved refers to.
The national shudder of discomfort and queasiness associated with any introduction of homosexual eroticism into public men’s rooms should make us more determined than ever to resist the injection of those lurid attitudes into the even more explosive situation of the U.S. military.

Again, Mike, it's not the homosexuality. It's the "public" part of "public men's room."

Medved was a sometimes funny and insightful movie reviewer. It's a shame he doesn't demonstrate the same gifts as a political and cultural commentator. Perhaps he should go back to the gig he's good at.