Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reid, Brown Modest; Senate GOP Immature

Drudge today splashes the headline, BROWN VOTES FOR 'JOBS BILL'; JOINS DEM MAJORITY. Oh my God! He voted with Democrats! Say it ain't so, Scotty! We thought you were conservative!

The jobs bill that achieved cloture was the modest one with an estimated net cost of $15 billion and total spending and tax cuts of $125 billion. There are supposedly $110 billion of tax loopholes closed to make up the difference.

So the Republicans opposed this because they didn't want to authorize $125 billion of spending and confusing tax cuts, right? They wanted to close the tax loopholes and decrease the massive deficit, right? Oh no, wait, the GOP supported a nearly identical bill, except it contained $70 billion more net spending! When Harry Reid grew a testicle and kicked in the staves of that pork barrel, the GOP leadership threw a hissy fit.

Now? TPM reports that Repub leader McConnell and his crowd are voting 'no' because "they've been mistreated by Democrats". What a pathetic excuse for legislating.

Throw the bums out! Throw out the Democrats for increasing the deficit, for making tax law even more confusing, for playing favorites with industry, and for electioneering in a recession. Throw out the Republicans for wanting to do all of that, plus opposing legislation they believe is good (even though it's not) because of a playground spat. Two wrongs don't make a right!

A good word for Scott Brown: he stood up against his own party to keep things flowing in the Senate. Voting for mediocre legislation won't make him a shining star, but it's better than voting against mediocre legislation and demanding godawful porkulent legislation (hi, Chuck!).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Politicians & Priorities

I heard Harold Ford, Jr, speak this evening. He wants to join the U.S. Senate; Tennessee rebuffed him, and he might try to unseat Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) here. He was an engaging speaker, a bit folksy, and his centrism came through. His common refrain was to find "what works" - whether it's school vouchers or health reform. His "big thing" is education, especially K-12, and he notes that "we're losing boys, especially minority boys, between 6th and 9th grade." Well noted!

Even better, Ford talked in no uncertain terms about the need to control entitlement spending, and to make hard choices. He spoke about things a lot of politicians live in denial of - that we have to choose between spending priorities, that the older generations are going to cost a ton in their retirement. He also said the stimulus bills are necessary, but it's hard to find anybody these days who hasn't drunk the Keynesian Kool-Aid.

Would I support Harold Ford as a candidate? Perhaps. But more importantly, I had an epiphany discussing his speech with a friend afterward. That is, a politician cannot effectively promote deficit reduction and any other priority. To push seriously for deficit reduction is exclusive. Why? Because working toward any other priority will involve horse-trading, almost all of which is expensive. Ford, for instance, could push for a voucher program to rescue poor kids from even poorer schools. But in order to make it politically palatable, such legislation would have to involve tossing more money at teacher's unions as well as funding the vouchers from scratch - instead of taking money away from the awful urban schools as it ought. That would be yet another budget-buster, even if it accomplished something.

Right now, America needs legislators and executives who are fixated on deficit reduction. We need people who will hack away at spending, means-test Social Security, cut benefits, lay off city workers, close failing schools, shrink the military, and vote "no" on every single bill that contains pork. Other priorities can wait.

2009 Review: Books

Global Review should review things, right? Over the next week or two, I'll review some random places, items, and ideas from 2009.

  1. The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire. This is truly a great work of Western literature, and Edward Gibbon's harsh, incisive wit makes it a pleasure to read. It doesn't feel too detailed while you're reading it - but manages to cover every emperor from Pius Antoninus to the fall of Rome. Gibbon puts the onus for Rome's decline on the demilitarization of the Italians, the Orientalization of the empire by Constantine, and ultimately on Augustus' cooptation of the Senate, undermining the Republic. But he concludes by noting that what's really amazing is how long Roman civilization lasted, despite its weaknesses. Proving that point, he continues for another entire volume discussing the successor states of the Western Empire - Franks, Goths. The culture remained very much 'Roman' long after the last emperor was assassinated (though, notably, not in Britain).
  2. The Innocent Man. John Grisham is better in telling the story of a horribly unfair 'justice' process than he is in most of his fiction. The details are pedestrian, but the injustice he describes makes one scream.
  3. The Princess & the Goblin. GK Chesterton's children's fiction is a self-conscious revival of old-fashioned values: trustworthiness, chivalry, duty. The story is fun, too.
  4. Proust Was A Neuroscientist. This interesting little book describes a nexus of art and science which is notable in that the art preceded the science. It could be interpreted as joyful or as dogmatic, depending on one's point of view. Jonah Lehrer implicitly takes sides on some metaphysical questions by describing how recent developments in neuroscience support one side of the question. His chapter on taste is the most fun - and revealing. Science dogmatically believed that humans could only taste four flavors (despite research from Japan in 1907), until the late 1990's, when scientists finally verified the existence of umami. You already love this flavor.
  5. Dymer. C.S. Lewis' foray into epic poetry is accessible, and displays his affection for pre-Platonist paganism. His other works in "Narrative Poems" are not very good.
  6. Theodore Rex. Teddy Roosevelt is one of the most interesting, larger-than-life presidents in American history. Somehow, Edmund Morris manages to describe Teddy's reign without conveying that magic to the reader. One of the few inspiring passages lists the books that Roosevelt read while he was in office. It goes on for several pages.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Corn-Fed, Gas Guzzling Iowans

From TMQ:
Few people seem to know this, but owing to the congressional mandate, since 2008, the gasoline you purchase contains 10 percent ethanol. Because ethanol has a lower energy density than petroleum, a 90/10 fuel blend reduces miles per gallon by about 3 percent. So if your mileage has seemed a little low lately, that's because it is a little low -- Congress effectively mandated that gasoline become less efficient.
This is outrageous, especially when you consider the well-known (outside Washington) hypothesis that ethanol takes more energy input to produce than it, in fact, outputs.

I'd noticed the "10% Biofuel" stickers on the gas pumps, and I knew about the massive debt-funded subsidies going to rich corporate farmers in Iowa, but I didn't know it was lowering my fuel efficiency.

Memo to Iowa: I'll take my corn on the cob, please, not in the tank. Next time you see an Iowan, ask him for your money back.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Promoting the R-Word

Michael Gerson defends the Special Olympics effort to attach social stigma to the epithet "retard". Their method seems like a sensible, proportional means to a worthy end. Here's another method, perhaps more appealing to philologists and others who hate to see language shrink because of boors: let's use the verb "to retard" in its proper sense. Not with reference to individuals, perhaps, but concepts. E.g., "My blogging habit retarded my progress in grad school."

If nerds can reclaim the word, it will become a lot less cool to use as an insult!

(If you think nerds can never salvage a word, research the history of the word "networking".)


Thanks to Angela Merkel, the EU avoids pledging to a Greek organization (ok, government). Good. The EU would not survive a system under which small countries can spend profligately and send the bill to Aunt Helga and Uncle Francois.

The Pig War

Hat tip to Surviving the World for bringing to light the near-conflict between the USA and Great Britain in 1859. It occurred near Vancouver, over possession of some channel islands, and the military buildup was triggered by a voracious pig, which was the war's only casualty.

With the American Civil War looming, it was vital that open conflict was avoided. Deaths in the Pacific would have made it much easier for the British to openly support the Confederacy two years later, although the first commander of the US forces which would have been engaged was none other than Captain George Pickett, later a Confederate general noted for his eponymous 1863 charge.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cry 'God for Harry!'

This is a Global Review first: Harry Reid (D-Nev) as a profile in courage. He's facing an uphill climb for reelection, and he's unwilling to rubber stamp the monstrosity proceeding from the Senate Finance Committee.
Reid stunned a meeting of Senate Democrats by announcing he was scrapping Baucus-Grassley, replacing it with a much cheaper, more narrowly crafted, $15 billion version... The White House also appeared to be caught off guard...

[A]ides said that Reid was tired of constant lobbying from Democrats who wanted a bigger package and a long list of specific provisions included in the bill. Reid complained that the various requests had "watered down" the Democrats' job-creation message and wanted to present voters with a more streamlined bill.
It's telling that the Senate's liberal leader could identify only 18% of the original spending as clearly 'job creating'. Conservative Republicans and budget hawks from both parties should be leaping to support Reid here. Voters aren't tired of Democrats, they're tired of spendthrifty Congressmen of both parties. Democrats mistook the anti-Washington mood in 2008 for a specifically anti-Bush mood; they didn't change anything in DC except the color of the drapes. Republicans would be fools now to mistake the voters' anger with Democrats for love for Republicans.

Senator, if you have ever spoken about the need to control the deficit and govern responsibly, this is your time to act.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Christmas in February

It wouldn't be Washington without the annual Pork Package from the Senate Finance Committee. Don't worry, America, this pork must be good: it's from Certified Bipartisan Porkers (c).

Christmas comes in mid-February for the Friends of Baucus:
It's a great sign of fiscal restraint that after spending a trillion dollars in debt-funded giveaways to their friends and constituencies over the last two years, lawmakers feel like they can only get away with borrowing $85 billion to pork over in this year's Baucunalia.

For those of you who aren't economists, this is how the magic works: the government takes $85 billion in loans that would have otherwise gone to businesses to create jobs. They then give it to other businesses. Those businesses use most of the money to create jobs, and kick back a few percent to the specified Political Action Committees. There's also some waste in the process, of course. But a jobs bill shouldn't destroy too many jobs, on net, and it will help Max Baucus and Charles Grassley get reelected. And that's what is really important to Americans in a recession!

Breaking News: Red Sox Get Hernandez

The Red Sox got right-handed starter Hernandez from Seattle!

But don't get too excited: it's Gaby Hernandez, not Felix.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Good Step

An excellent government decision shouldn't be noteworthy, but it is. This one comes in the foreign aid department. The U.S. is shifting its funding from an American NGO - Catholic Relief Services - to local South African organizations in its AIDS funding for that country. Read all about it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Perfect Classroom

In a NYTimes editorial, educator Susan Engel outlines the perfect elementary classroom. Her goals are clear:
So what should children be able to do by age 12, or the time they leave elementary school? They should be able to read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers; detect patterns in complex phenomena; use evidence to support an opinion; be part of a group of people who are not their family; and engage in an exchange of ideas in conversation.
And her methods sound attractive, but challenging to produce:
In our theoretical classroom, children would also spend a short period of time each day practicing computation... Once children are proficient in those basics they would be free to turn to other activities that are equally essential for math and science: devising original experiments, observing the natural world and counting things, whether they be words, events or people.
The article is worth reading. The pedagogy she describes - lots and lots of reading, some writing, some applied math - is strikingly similar to the homeschool education I received.

Thanks, Mom & Dad!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why do some journalists write against their interests?

The BBC has a smarmy, patronizing article about U.S. voters "voting against their interests". It is assumed that interests means solely monetary ones, and the author sings the praises of Obamacare. The slip-shod journalist can't be bothered to get a single quote from a conservative, nor to note that liberals can hardly agree on what should constitute "reform".

But the BBC is a British government organ, and in advocating the socialization of U.S. health care, they are hurting their own future health care. After all, most advances in medicine come from the U.S., where innovation is rewarded with money. Why do some journalists write against their interests?

Even Canada, which has a far better health care system than its parent, relies on U.S. advances and uses private U.S. hospitals for the most serious cases. Newfoundland's Premier, a multi-millionaire, is coming to the U.S. for heart surgery. Hat tip to Drudge.

Don't get me wrong: the US healthcare system needs reform. But reform is a process, not a particular bill, and the process has a long way to go.

The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs

Aesopean version:
A family has a goose that lays golden eggs. They decide to kill it, open it, and take the gold that must be inside. However, they find it just like any other dead goose. The End.
Modern version:
A family has a goose that lays golden eggs. One day, it suddenly starts laying only rotten eggs. The family attempts to mollify it. After a week, they are frustrated and kill the goose. The End.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A New Life

I don't know if my sister intended this as a poem, but it is one.
I used to have a life. It is gone. Can you imagine that? Everything that you knew, everything that made up your day – gone. Now, I have a new life, but it does not resemble my old life.

I used to have a job, several jobs actually. They are gone, buildings disappeared into piles of rubble and patients disappeared to the countryside. Now, I have a new job, but it does not resemble my old job.

I used to have friends. They are gone: dead, injured, or evacuated. Now, I have new friends, friends that I love, but they do not resemble my old friends.

I used to have a home. It’s gone, replaced by a dormitory for relief workers and a storage room constantly filling and emptying. I have a home, but it does not resemble my old home.

I used to have a community. It is gone, shattered by death, fear, forced evacuation, and insecurity. Now, I have a new community, made of amazing neighbors and little children, but it does not resemble my old community.
The rest of her post, from which this is drawn, is compelling to the point of tears.


Where's the outrage? A United Nations agency is distributing essential food aid with blatant and absolute sexism:
Also on Sunday, the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) began a large-scale aid distribution at 16 sites across Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince, aiming to feed two million people.

Only men will be allowed to collect the 25kg (55lb) rice ration, enough to feed a family for two weeks.
They can't be serious. Only giving food to the men? Granted, you don't want families to double-dip, but this is an international government organization: it shouldn't be allowed to perform this kind of flagrant social engineering, discriminating against female-headed households.

OK, I lied. That's not what the article says. It says only women will be allowed to collect the rice. That's fine, right? There's no such thing as a family without a mother, right? Earthquakes never kill women, after all.

What's more, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted in 1965, welfare for families channelled through women marginalizes fathers, sending an unsubtle message that they are unneeded, unwanted and not to be trusted in the care of their families. Are we still surprised that female-targeted government assistance increases fatherlessness?

Haitian men are scary to aid agencies. After all, they sometimes are gang members. Worse still, they're black men. We don't want any of those scary Haitian men interfering with our harmonious, postmodern effort to restore Haiti!