Friday, August 29, 2008

Governor Palin

Eschewing the obvious pun on Governor Sarah Palin's name, any analysis of this suddenly-famous Alaskan is basically a comparison to the three men already in the race. Palin was Global Review's favorite for the veep slot (I regret I didn't write that a few days ago), and she brings strengths to the race, in a way perhaps only Governor Bobby Jindal could have matched.

Palin and McCain.
  • Palin's young; McCain is old. Balance.
  • Palin's female; McCain is male. Balance.
  • Palin's a former mayor and sitting governor; McCain is a legislator. Balance.
  • Palin's strongly pro-life; McCain is weakly pro-life. Balance.
  • Palin's warm and cuddly; Cindy McCain is powerful, and quiet about her good deeds. Who's really the first lady here?
  • Palin's a proved reformer; McCain is a proven reformer. Emphasis.
  • Palin's not very loyal to the GOP; McCain is not very loyal to the GOP. The voters are not very loyal to the GOP.

Bottom line: Palin balances the ticket very well and exemplifies the strengths of the next generation of the GOP.

Palin and Biden
  • Palin's a reformist governor; Biden is an old-school senator. Palin wins.
  • Palin's well-spoken and poised; Biden is your uncle after too many drinks. Palin wins.
  • Palin is a woman; Biden is a tough debater. Neutralization of a key Biden strength.
  • Palin has a cute family; Biden has a cute family. Neutralization.
  • Palin has a working class husband; Biden has working class family. Neutralization.
  • Palin's balances her ticket; Biden balances his ticket.

Bottom line: Biden's a bigger, stronger senator than Obama, and there was a risk he could run roughshod over a Romney or a Pawlenty. He can't run roughshod over Palin without looking ungentlemanly; besides, she's spritelier.

Palin and Obama
  • Obama's young, Palin's younger.
  • Obama has no executive experience, Palin's the only executive in the race.
  • Obama's an outsider, Palin's a further-outsider.
  • Obama started in dirty Chicago politics, Palin reformed dirty Alaska politics.
  • Obama's got a brief record, Palin's got a briefer record.
  • Obama has a great public persona, Palin has a great public persona.
  • Obama has a great personal narrative, Palin has a good personal narrative.
  • Obama has a cute family, Palin has a cute family.
  • Obama's a novelty, Palin's a novelty.
  • Obama's African-American (13% of the U.S. pop), Palin's a woman (51% of the U.S. pop).
  • Obama's a loyal partisan, Palin assaulted the corrupt Alaska GOP from within.

Bottom line: I had to reverse the order of the comparisons here. In sketching this, it quickly became obvious why Palin was chosen: she mitigates almost all of Obama's innate advantages. At the bottom of the ticket, of course, she's can't punch her weight, but Obama's a hard candidate to land good punches on anyway. Palin represents a positive way of running against Obama: she can affirm all his personal strengths, but add to them actual executive experience.

Crucially, Palin can speak from personal experience on a number of issues. She has a son in the military - take that, Michael Moore. She's Alaskan, and her husband is an oilman of the blue collar variety, so she can speak knowledgeably about drilling. She's a woman who gave birth to a Down's Syndrome baby, so she can speak compassionately and passionately about children's right to life and the evils of eugenics. She was a mayor, so she can speak about hometown issues with a fluency the three senators in the race seriously lack. She was a governor and a reformist, giving her more executive experience than the three senators in the race combined.

She represents the future of the GOP. Palin-Jindal 2012, anyone?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Following Gustav

Stay tuned to Brendan Loy's Weather Nerd blog for updates on Hurricane Gustav. Loy is the guy who famously predicted cataclysm in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit.

Recession, My Ass

The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3.3% in the 2nd quarter of 2008, which is above the long-term average. Exports increased as foreigners purchased more American goods with the weak dollar.

Can all the politicos and journalists who haven't got a clue please stop talking about the "recession"?

A Few Photos

From recent travels. Click on the images for full-size copies.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On the Issues

The candidates' positions on the issues are not the only criteria on which to vote - governing style, administrative acumen, choice of advisers, interaction with Congress, and crisis experience may be collectively more important - but are probably the most important nonetheless.

Below, I set out to compare the candidates' positions on a few of the key issues they will face. Framing the issues is important: I do so according to goals that I think a majority of Americans would agree with. Readers can certainly differ with which goals to set and emphasize: thus do good people differ.

Goal Obama-Biden McCain
Economic Growth Proposes more than $342.5 billion in stimuli on a single page of his website, which is more than 10% of total Federal spending. Presumably wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to make up the difference. All of this will slow growth. Supports unions and trade restrictions, which lower real income for most Americans. Also, higher corporate tax rates would speed outsourcing and protectionism would cost America friends abroad. Proposes lower taxes and freer trade. Both of these help growth and raise real income. Proposes some loan bailouts and other goodies which would dampen growth. It's unclear whether he will govern as a conservative or only run as one; it's also unclear whether he could do anything but slow the rush to protectionism of an anti-growth Congress.
Energy Independence Opposes drilling, has a menu of subsidies for alternative energy. Short-term goal is 10% alternative energy use by 2012. He's more likely to move toward public transit and walking-friendly development. Some of the loss in economic growth will be traded off against energy/environment gains. Besides drilling here and now, Supports new nuclear plants, a cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels. Also supports curtailing "speculation", which is a bad idea, a menu of subsidies. Honestly, drilling isn't important: we will drill eventually, and drilling later just means we'll have more oil left when the world is running out.
Budget Balance Wants to repeal most of the Bush tax cuts, despite the fact that government revenues increased after the tax cuts. This will hurt the economy (see above) and increase the deficit. He further claims he'll cut pork spending and increase transparency. His website does not mention entitlement programs. This issue is very hard to judge a priori, but Obama will have difficulty fending off spending proposals from Democratic Congress. Emphasizes growth as means to balancing budget. Aims to balance the budget by 2013 (we've heard that one before). Also claims he'll fight pork and entitlement spending. He has credibility on pork, but it's hard to believe Congress will bend to his will on entitlement reform.
Fair Judges Obama's Blueprint and website are silent about judicial appointments. Does anybody imagine he would appoint a moderate? This is where Obama's ties to the far left of the Democratic Party are most worrisome. Issues standard GOP promises about constructionist judges. The Democratic Senate guarantees he'll have to offer moderates. Likely to appoint judges with expansive view of Federal regulatory power.
Health Care Proposes national health provision, which would cover everyone but raise costs (through taxes) for everyone as well. Private insurance and high-quality care would quickly become the domain of the wealthy. His "plan" is a smorgasbord of small-scale reforms and proposals, with the stated goal of insuring everyone. Don't bring a knife to a gunfight, John.
Working with Iraq The choice of Biden hurts Obama's ability to cooperate with Iraqi leadership; otherwise, he should be fine unless the Bush-Maliki withdrawal agreement breaks down, or war breaks out. McCain has many friends in Iraq, but few outside. He earned his stripes by supporting the Surge before it was cool. He also has the trust of the U.S. military establishment, more than Bush or Obama.
Reform Immigration Proposes standard talking points, but emphasizes small-bore fixes. Is unlikely to get the Democrats to agree on any large reform, except to continue to exclude most skilled workers. Chastened into putting security ahead of reform, his heart is still in favor of immigrants. He supports loosening immigration for skilled workers. This is the issue on which the candidates match most closely.
Transparent Government Statements on ethics mainly address the Bush administration. There's much to be said against Bush, but partisan reform isn't reform. Most of Obama's proposals offer information transparency, but few substantive changes. Has made cutting pork a signature campaign issue, and government reform is his biggest legislative passion. He'll use lobbyist reform and pork as a club to beat Congress.

In sum, my overarching feeling about the candidates is that while well-intentioned on some issues, Obama will be dragged down by the many "friends" of the Democratic Congress. Democrats have proliferated small groups that feed off the Federal government - and any policy that benefits the rest of us must hurt one of these special interests. He won't do it. Obama also has a Neanderthal view of the economy, and could do serious damage in that department.

McCain, on the other hand, has generally favorable positions, and is far less beholden to his party and to special interests. Some of McCain's policy areas are shallow, and he's likely to punt health care and serious budget issues to Congress. Still, the issues where the candidates differ most starkly - trade restrictions and economic growth - fall sharply in McCain's favor.

Olympic Champs

So China won the most gold medals, and the U.S. won the most medals overall? Who cares - that's like a quarter of the world's population right there. ESPN crowns the per-capita Olympic champions:
  1. Bahamas
  2. Jamaica
  3. Iceland
  4. Slovenia
  5. Australia
The U.S. comes in at #45, China at #68. Last among the 87 countries to medal is India, with one medal per 382,665,299 people.

The Underground Connection

A new 501(c)4 ad linking Obama to terrorist Bill Ayers is being slammed by the Obama campaign, which is using strongarm tactics to keep it off the air.

The ad may be pulled due, ironically, to McCain-Feingold restrictions on political speech. But it doesn't seem to be spreading falsehood. Everything the ad contains - Ayers' active involvement in bombing the U.S. Capitol, Ayers' affirmation of terrorism ("I don't regret setting bombs"), Obama's quotes about Ayers, and their longtime friendship - are all part of the public record. A bit of background research yields:
  • WaPo Fact Checker Michael Dobbs basically concedes the facts, and wonders whether it will be politically relevant.
  • Michael Barone for U.S. News & World Report runs down the history, casting light on the nature of the Obama-Ayers friendship ("the first organizing meeting for Obama's state Senate campaign was held in Ayers's apartment") and the nature of Chicago politics ("[Chicago] is a city with a civic culture in which politicians...'don't want nobody nobody sent.'")
  • Obama's own website cites many articles giving their side of the story: Ayers is now an upstanding citizen, let bygones be bygones.
Barone concludes by noting,
Ayers evidently helped Obama gain insider status in Chicago civic life and politics—how much, we can't be sure unless the Richard J. Daley Library opens the CAC archive.
Incidentally, the Daley Library has agreed to release those records today. Stay tuned - reporters will have 140 boxes of records to parse, but a better picture of the nature and depth of the Obama-Ayers partnership may emerge today.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Lover v. the Psychologist

Much cited in Planet Narnia*, C.S. Lewis brief essay Meditation in a Toolshed is available online in its two-page entirety. Like the rest of Lewis' corpus, it's worth a read.

* Planet Narnia is currently my favorite non-fiction book ever.

Rochester's "Cinema at Sunset" This Week

Hey Rochesterians, check out this week's schedule of free outdoor movies. The Dryden Theatre is sponsoring "Cinema at Sunset" in Highland Park all week long, beginning with 2001: A Space Odyssey on Tuesday evening.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

U.S. Draws a Line

Don't let the U.S. media get wind of this, but it seems like the Federal government has actually turned down a military purchase order from Israel.
During his most recent visit to the US earlier this month, Defense Minister Ehud Barak requested that America sell the IAF several Boeing 767 refueling planes. However, the White House refused, as it was not prepared to seem as though it was aiding a potential attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, the report, which could not be confirmed by The Jerusalem Post, stated.
This is a small step in the right direction. Defending Israel is an imperative for the U.S., but that doesn't mean the Jewish state gets a blank check for military action.

Hat tip to Drudge.

The Arab World's First Democracy

Yet another wannabe expert offhandedly lists the U.S.-backed government in Iraq as the 'first' democracy in the Arab world. This simply isn't true. Sure, you can discount Jordan, where the elected Parliament still functions under the king's sovereignty, or Palestine, which sometimes has open elections but few functioning institutions.

Lebanon, however, had a robust democratic system from 1943 to 1975, when civil war broke out, and democracy has increasingly been restored since 1990. Certainly, it's not a perfect system - Hezbollah controls almost half the country, foreign governments exercise outsize influence - but it's more representative, participatory, and much longer-lasting than Iraq's.

So can American politicians and commentators please debate whether Iraq will become the Arab world's second democracy? Or perhaps take some humility from their ignorance of the region they presume to dominate?

Global Review is not, of course, the first publication to note this error - the WSJ did in 2006. But since the offending piece today is from a WSJ columnist, the lesson obviously didn't take.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why Biden?

Why would Obama choose - as is being widely rumored - Senator Joe Biden as his running mate? Foreign policy credentials, sure. But there are plenty of smart, and younger, Democrats who could bring credibility and experience without bringing Biden's loose lips. Biden will inevitably cause embarrassment on the trail and in office; like John McCain, his brain/mouth filter has some big gaps.

But Biden will be 73 in 8 years, too old in all likelihood to run for president. Hillary Clinton will be a crucial four years younger. So maybe a Biden vice-presidency is a compromise with the Clinton branch of the party: they understand why Clinton simply can't be Obama's VP, but they can reasonably demand a choice who won't unseat Clinton as the "elder statesman" of the party when Obama leaves.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Obama is a Racist

Against blacks. Conservative blacks, of course. It has long been allowed to denigrate conservative blacks along the lines of 19th-century stereotypes; the unspoken logic is that their choice of conservatism is such a heresy that they do not deserve the protections of political correctness.

In his side of the well-executed candidate conversations with Rev. Rick Warren, Barack Obama basically called Clarence Thomas dumb.
OBAMA: That’s a good one. That’s a good one. I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don’t think that he - I don’t think that he was as strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation, setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretations of a lot of the Constitution. I would not nominate Justice Scalia, although I don’t think there’s any doubt about his intellectual brilliance, because he and I just disagree. He taught at the University of Chicago, as did I in the law school.
So Scalia - who joins more of Thomas' opinions than vice-versa - is unquestionably brilliant, but Thomas is - emphatically - not. And that's not racism?

The Wall Street Journal takes another tack:
Meanwhile, as he bids to be America's Commander in Chief, Mr. Obama isn't yet four years out of the Illinois state Senate, has never held a hearing of note of his U.S. Senate subcommittee, and had an unremarkable record as both a "community organizer" and law school lecturer. Justice Thomas's judicial credentials compare favorably to Mr. Obama's Presidential résumé by any measure. And when it comes to rising from difficult circumstances, Justice Thomas's rural Georgian upbringing makes Mr. Obama's story look like easy street.

Even more troubling is what the Illinois Democrat's answer betrays about his political habits of mind. Asked a question he didn't expect at a rare unscripted event, the rookie candidate didn't merely say he disagreed with Justice Thomas. Instead, he instinctively reverted to the leftwing cliché that the Court's black conservative isn't up to the job while his white conservative colleagues are.

So much for civility in politics and bringing people together. And no wonder Mr. Obama's advisers have refused invitations for more such open forums, preferring to keep him in front of a teleprompter, where he won't let slip what he really believes.
When I write, by the way, that "Obama is a racist", I'm mostly kidding. When I say he's apparently willing to use racially charged insults against conservative blacks, I'm not kidding at all. That isn't funny.

Friday, August 15, 2008

There's a Draft in here

It's that time of year again: middle-aged, unathletic white guys start poring over NFL statistics like a baseball GM. My league (full disclosure: none of us are middle-aged) has its draft on Saturday, and I definitely won the draft lottery, netting the second and seventh picks and keeping Tom Brady from last year.

My big decision is that early pick: I'll most likely get my choice among several good (but not top-tier) running backs. Who would you go with among Clinton Portis, Marshawn Lynch, Ryan Grant, Willis McGahee, Maurice Jones-Drew? I'm interested to hear your feedback.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Six-Mile High Club

So I joined the six-mile high club yesterday. Until you've done it in an airplane bathroom, you simply haven't experienced diarrhea and vomiting! I was incontinent between continents, blowing chunks into the wild blue yonder, losing my single-serving lunch, having the runs on the fly, throwing up, up and away, getting shakes on a plane. You get the picture.

In other news, it's good to be (at my parents') home.

Monday, August 4, 2008

DATELINE: Mount Lebanon

This one actually is written from its dateline! I'm here with my parents for a two-week question. The food is amazing, the women are stunning (you'd fit right in), and the clouds are heavy, which is unfortunate, because we can't see the Mediterranean. Up here above the clouds, of course, there's plenty of sun.

The burning question: was there ever such a man as Nicholas Abu-Elias? And did he live in Ain as-Sindianeh or somewhere else? And what happened to the rest of his family?