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Funny how people talk about how they want compromise and results from their government, then reelect the most strident partisans (Bachmann, Grayson, Webster, Warren) and vote out moderates (Scott Brown). Gee, no wonder things don't get done. Fiscal cliff, here we come...

(analysis of the "demography is undermining the GOP" argument)
(I note that six of the eight named Congresspersons in that last article won last night(only Richardson and Walsh lost).)
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Popehat ‏@Popehat
Just been shown some top-secret exit polls. Very disappointed. The victor is a guy who will continue the War on Drugs. He's a guy . . .
. . . who will continue to grow the security state unabated. He's a guy who offers only lip service to the constitution. He's a guy . . .
Popehat ‏@Popehat
. . . . whose economic plan is fanciful nonsense. You know who.
tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
I was rereading Bowden's "Blackhawk Down" this week, and this passage seems as relevant today as it was back then, for a lot of different places: Libya, Palestine/Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, etc.:
"(Somalia) was a watershed," said one State Department official, "The idea used to be that terrible countries were terrible because good, decent, innocent people were being oppressed by evil, thuggish leaders. Somalia changed that. Here you have a country where just about everybody is caught up in hatred and fighting. You stop an old lady on the street and ask her if she wants peace, and she’ll say, yes, of course, I pray for it daily. All the things you’d expect her to say. Then ask her if she would be willing for her clan to share power with another in order to have that peace, and she’ll say, 'With those murderers and thieves? I’d die first.' People in these countries - Bosnia is a more recent example - don’t want peace. They want victory. They want power. Men, women, old and young. Somalia was the experience that taught us that people in these places bear much of the responsibility for things being the way they are. The hatred and the killing continues because they want it to. Or because they don’t want peace enough to stop it." (pg 334-335)
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My contribution to the http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/whose_parties_are_they.html discussion on the Tea Party:
While massive government cuts sound good in the abstract, there's a couple points that come to mind:

1) The ideal is to get government to do better/more with less resources. This is usually referred to as reform or increasing efficiency, and is the best solution where feasible. The problem is that there's only so much stretch before breakdowns start happening. As an example, the culture in NASA of "faster, better, cheaper" as a means of doing more with less led almost directly to the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter and more indirectly to the Columbia disaster. "Get more efficient" just isn't the panacea we'd all like it to be.

2) So, that leaves us with shrinking government as a goal. OK, sounds good. But, this also means the next time a Katrina-level disaster happens, people need to lower bigtime their expectations of what the government can do. When you cut an agency the way FEMA was cut pre-Katrina, one can't expect there to be cavalry riding over the hill to the rescue, and it was clear from the reaction to Katrina that that's pretty much people's level of expectation right now whenever anything really bad happens. I also note the hit that Obama took for the Deepwater Horizon spill, which suggests if anything that expectations have risen since 2005, not decreased. A lowered level of expectation will have to apply to a whole lot of governmental functions that we take for granted today: customer product protections, environmental preservation, weather forecasting, Social Security and Medicare, defense spending, etc.

In the end, it comes back to we as a people. As long as we continue to punish politicians at the ballot box for showing backbone whenever such painful things as Social Security means testing or Medicare rollbacks are brought up, this is all merely an academic discussion. Per de Tocqueville, we do get the government we deserve.

I think there will also be a temptation to outsource a lot of current governmental functions to the private sector via contracting, which started to be a big thing during the Clinton administration and is huge in DoD logistical operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The question is, can a private company be found that can deliver services at the same quality for lower costs? Maybe, but the history of contracting as a service provider replacement has been mixed at best. See (1) for the problems that go along with idealizing contracting as an approach. Also, without tight oversight and management (which also costs $$$) on behalf of the taxpayer, you can get disasters of a different sort. There's no magic wand that'll solve the vice of fewer resources to meet more needs, and nobody wants to hear that. So, here we are.
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* This comment from a Megan McArdle post on contemporary political dialogue on the Internet was worth repeating:
comment by slocum:
...Megan wants civil discourse, but I don't think there's any reasonable hope of her getting it either now or in the future because civil discourse depends on a degree of respect that is being deliberately, strategically withheld. The idea seems to be that treating a political adversary with respect is a sucker's game, that it betrays a lack of toughness and street smarts, that to treat the person with respect would be to mistakenly grant her ideas a minimum level of legitimacy (as ideas that a respectable person might hold in good faith). Maybe it's an effective strategy, I don't know, but it does seem wholly incompatible with the kind of civil discourse Megan is hoping for.

* Along with that, I recommend a NYT article today titled "The State of Conservatism." There's a lot to digest in it, including some good insights into the Tea Party as it stands today relative to the two primary parties. Discussion at Winds of Change.net
tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
If one wonders how we got into the current economic morass, here's some numbers to consider:

  • 9/11 cleanup and reconstruction: $100,000,000,000+ (over $100 billion, $2 trillion if counting losses in stock market wealth)
  • Iraq war and reconstruction: $748,000,000,000 ($748 billion)
  • Afghanistan war and reconstruction: $304,000,000,000 ($304 billion)
  • Katrina cleanup and reconstruction: $110,000,000,000 ($110 billion)
  • Stimulus Act of 2009: $787,000,000,000($787 billion)
  • Deepwater Horizon spill cleanup and reconstruction: $30,000,000,000 ($30 billion est.)

    The really sad thing is how none of these performed the way they were projected to: there still is a hole in the ground at Ground Zero, Afghanistan is more dangerous than ever with no clear road to "victory", whole sections of New Orleans have been basically abandoned, unemployment is higher than ever with no recovery on the horizon, and Iraq and the Gulf look uncertain at best.

    Add in $39.5 billion/year in foreign aid, plus the costs of special projects like 2004 Indonesian tsunami relief ($~1 billion) and 2010 Haiti earthquake relief ($1.15 billion), and its no wonder that isolationism sounds more and more attractive, and there's something of a weariness when yet another disaster, like Pakistan, comes along.
  • tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
    Gregg Easterbrook's latest Tuesday Morning QB column is devoted mostly to wrapping up the Super Bowl, but near the end he has some smart things to say about our budget quandry in the section "Borrow-and-Spend Replaces Tax-and-Spent." An excerpt:
    The younger Bush was hammered in the press because his two tax cuts reduced the rate paid by the rich: But the same cuts nearly eliminated federal income taxes on the working class and lower middle class. That is, George W. Bush's tax cuts were progressive. Last year, 43 percent of Americans paid no federal income taxes -- in 2009; this year, as many as half of Americans are expected to pay no federal income taxes. Yet public discourse is full of complaints about taxes, and many people claim to hate Washington because of taxes, while practically everyone demands more federal benefits and services.

    As middle-class taxes are being eliminated, the top 20 percent of filers -- the well-off -- pay for a steadily higher share of federal government, last year paying 70 percent of total federal taxes. The well-off are financing most of the federal government, and that will intensify next year as taxes go up on household income above $250,000. Other than the spending paid for by the well-off, the rest is being billed to the young, via deficit spending and borrowing.
    Understanding government note: Here is a fantastic graphic showing how the federal budget is spent. Entitlement spending for individuals -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other health care -- totally dominate. The ticking time bombs are Social Security and Medicaid costs, both of which increase as Boomers retire, and "net interest," which could increase by hundreds of billions of dollars annually if interest rates rise, which seems close to inevitable. Today's undisciplined federal borrowing is happening before pension and Medicare costs will shoot up, owing to Boomer retirements. If Congress has already tapped out the national debt in order to give every interest group everything it demands today, how is the country going to finance the approaching retirement wave?

    RTWT (in that section)
    tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
    As sometimes happens, a reply to an entry gets overly long. Since I typed this up anyway, figured I'd post it here. Originally a reply to this post at WoC which started out as a reaction to this essay by Peggy Noonan in the WSJ on how neither party is in particularly good shape right now.

    The great danger for the Democrats when they assumed control of both Congress and POTUS was overreach, the temptation to pander to their special interests rather than tending to the needs of the nation. Unfortunately for them, the sheer number of "sweeteners"/bribes included in the health care bill, not to mention the whole mishmash of bailout programs which haven't yielded tangible relief as far as the average voter sees, have given the GOP a huge number of issues to go after, if they are competent enough to do so. Obama needed to assume control and prevent the usual pork-ladeling from happening, but it seems as though he has held himself aloof from the whole process, allowing Pelosi and Reid to set the tone and the agenda.

    As Noonan says, the best thing that could happen for Obama's 2012 election odds is for the GOP to resume control of Congress, which would give him political cover for taking the more moderate and pragmatic approach that he campaigned on. Considering how long it will take for the health care bill to start helping (or hurting) the average American, it is unlikely it will impact his '12 chances much. The big factors will probably be how well the economy has rebounded by then, and how the voters think he's doing on the "keep the nation safe" measure. Charisma is necessary but not sufficient.

    I sometimes think that both parties have gotten so skilled at operating as the opposition that they've forgotten how to get out of that mode once they're actually at the controls. Both are quite competent at criticism and counterpunching and using the media to get that message out, but not so good at managing (or even understanding) the ever-more-complex systems which they find themselves in charge of running or regulating.

    In one of Noonan's other essays she said that she feared that this will be remembered as an age where our leaders weren't quite of a caliber to meet the challenges facing them. As we pong from one party to the other being in charge without significant improvements or reforms, I think she may be proven correct. There's a large opening for a populist message of changing business-as-usual, and Obama's failures to deliver on his promises to be that leader will be the hardest thing for him to deal with in 2012.
    tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
    I've mainly been doing most of my daily postings over at Facebook. The format of short entries there I find much easier to do than the longer entries which are the norm here at LJ. However, collecting some of the individual "hey, this is interesting!" links I put up at FB may make for a decent LJ post from time to time, so I thought I'd try one now.

  • I finished moving all of my web pages over to either Verizon or Tripod last night, as the Comcast account is scheduled to expire at the end of the week. I set up forwards on the Comcast pages and pointed Google to the new homespace URL, hopefully that'll take care of getting folks directed properly. Tom Gryn's Homespace
  • A good read, provides some useful context. Despite everything we're actually winning, hard as that may be to believe: The Jihadist Strategic Dilemma | STRATFOR
  • I was co-author on this report, released yesterday.
    U.S. Census Finds Increase in Foreign-Born Workers - NYTimes.com
  • Conan O'Brien: "In the year 3000" skits
  • Balanced view of the whole CRU/climate change data controversy...
    Climategate III: The Mystery of the Missing Data - Megan McArdle
  • Where Should I Eat? Chain Restaurant Edition (Flowchart) « Eating The Road
  • "What to be thankful for in 2009" from a political/foreign policy perspective: drezner.foreignpolicy.com
  • Wow, talk about an anchor's ego: "...watch from around 6:00 to 10:30 just for the sheer spectacle of this guy refusing to let his guest get a word in edgewise. Even as a veteran cable-news viewer, I’ve never seen anything like it." Hot Air » Blog Archive » Video: Chris Matthews talks over Catholic bishop for four and a half minute
  • New Trunk Monkey commercial!
  • Police say Kentucky census worker's bizarre death was a suicide
  • Even the Maya are getting sick of 2012 hype
  • By the dean of the Harvard Medical School: Health 'Reform' Gets a Failing Grade
  • tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
  • We had a good harvest this weekend, I got 7-8 tomatoes off the plants, plus three green peppers and a couple jalapenos.

  • Google Maps has posted images of Disneyland Paris to their StreetView feature. From seeing them, I can already tell that seeing it in person is going to be a surreal experience. Its Disneyland in most details...but its not California. Other neat shots from DLP: Phantom Manor, Skull Rock.

  • Julia Ecklar has a new puppy!

  • I finally finished Zerg Mission 7 in Starcraft. That was hard. I found the solution somewhat unsatisfying, basically requiring a final banzai charge where you throw all your units at the final goal and hope the bad guys are so busy killing off all your remaining forces that your character can slip through, akin to in the DS9 episode Sacrifice of Angels where a lot of ships are sacrificed to create a small opening for the Defiant. I don't know if I want to invest much more time in this game, given that the remaining missions are supposed to be much harder than this. sigh.

  • Megan McArdle at Atlantic Monthly touches on whether portraying the protesters at the health care town hall meetings as insane is a useful strategy for the Democrats. I fully agree with one of her responses in the comments section:
    If you've managed to convince yourself that the only opposition to your plan comes from crazy people, you are not going to communicate very effectively with those whom you wish to persuade.
    Basically, its a lazy strategy of dismissing all critics as nuts, rather than doing the much harder work of crafting a message which can persuade those with concerns that reform is a worthy idea.

  • There's been an interesting cross-blog discussion going on regarding Catholic's beliefs on Communion and when it is appropriate to receive it. Rick of "Brutally Honest" decided to receive Communion after years of not attending Church and without going through the traditional preparation step of Confession, then returned the next week and also encouraged his (non-Catholic) wife to partake as well. He represents an 'ecumenical' viewpoint towards Communion, and his retort to critics has been "What would Jesus have done? Would Jesus have turned my wife and I away?" The Anchoress provides a 'traditionalist' answer to Rick's question. As with certain threads, the comments are really worthwhile to get a diversity of viewpoints on this.

    I will say, if I don't get to Confession in the week before a Sunday, I don't receive Communion at that Mass. I'm not saying Confession is at all easy, not at all (1), but I think it is a necessary precursor for Communion to be received properly. I also think Rick is missing the larger statement that Communion makes, which is that one is by and large gemutlich/in accord with the beliefs of a particular faith, and that you are part of the body of believers that one is sharing Communion (and hence communion) with.

    (1) - the only thing that makes Confession at all easier is for one to remind oneself that God already knows everything you confess, so the process of the sacrament is more for cleansing one's own being, rather than to make an admittance of guilt, which I think too many people tend to view it as.
  • tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
    Peter Bergen urges the West to go all-in in Afghanistan:
    Afghanistan will not be Obama’s Vietnam, nor will it be his Iraq. Rather, the renewed and better resourced American effort in Afghanistan will, in time, produce a relatively stable and prosperous Central Asian state...
    I respect Bergen's experience, but in this case I think he's bending over backwards too hard to try and justify the expansion of Western commitment in Afghanistan because he really, really wants it to succeed (in part, I suspect, in order to allow a success-vs-failure/compare-and-contrast option for those who were vehemently against the Iraq effort and still view it as an ongoing catastrophe). To his credit he doesn't just ignore the skeptics points, but I think he's being way too optimistic the other way, though. I've written before about how Afghanistan is a more daunting task than Iraq because of its logistical challenges, something Bergen doesn't tackle. Also, while he's correct that the Taliban have always been a small force, historically the real domino that shifts who controls the country are the tribal and regional warlords. The Taliban didn't win control of Afghanistan until guys like Dostum shifted to what they perceived as the "winning side," and the Coalition and Northern Alliance couldn't have won against the Taliban if the warlords hadn't changed sides again once they saw staying with the Taliban as a worse option. The prevalence of the local warlords is also the reason the Coalition has had problems ramping up the Afghan armed forces, the best of Afghan fighters are more likely to be working for a warlord than the military, and the central government just isn't strong enough to make leaving the warlords a more lucrative opportunity than staying.

    Frankly, his essay sounds eerily similar to some of the more rosy essays on how Iraq was going to become a beacon of democracy to the Middle East. Bergen doesn't go that far, but I think his prediction of a stable and prosperous Afghanistan anytime soon isn't reasonable, either.
    tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
    Megan McArdle over at atlantic.com has a good writeup on whether budget deficits matter or not, and how each political side uses them for their own goals (which usually flip around depending on whether the party in question is in power or not). RTWT.
    tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
    "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." - Proverbs 16:18

    40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation by James Carville (2009)

    Painting the Map Red: The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority by Hugh Hewitt (2004)
    tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
    Permanent Democratic Majority: New Study Says Yes!

    Now, where have we heard this before? Ah, yes: from the GOP in 2006...

    As I wrote here, I can easily see the Democratic party taking the opportunity to go down the path the CA Democrats took of purging the party of their moderates once they don't have any legitimate challengers for power. Indeed, the party loyalists are already setting up litmus tests for their candidates to jump through.
    tagryn: (Death of Liet from Dune (TV))
    Well, this by Jim Jubak was sufficiently depressing, going into some of the questions the public might be asking of Congress if the latter hadn't successfully distracted everyone by howling about the AIG bonuses.

    Also, good point by XKCD here.
    tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
    Jim Jubak writes that Obama's $500,000 cap on executive pay for corporations taking federal TARP money sounds good, but upon close examination of the actual terms, finds is it'll be fairly easy to for executives to circumnavigate around and still get huge bonuses while taking taxpayer bailouts.


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