Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday PG ... (always good for a snark)

In today’s Post-Gazette, Jack Kelly is still trying to whip up that sense that conservative internet bloggers and commenters express that Democrats have reached up from behind to influence destroy the economy and cause a recession/depression. Yes, the Democrats have held the Congress for the last two years, but as I have pointed out previously and elsewhere, Harry Reid has done an insufficient job confronting the Senate Republicans. The Republicans threatened to change the rules of the Senate because four of President Bush’s more radical appointments to the federal courts where held up (while literally dozens of seats were left unfilled during the Clinton years, causing a case back log in the federal courts). But Harry Reid has chosen to remove legislation from consideration just because Republicans threaten filibuster. Reid could force the Republicans to make good on the threat to filibuster, make Republicans stand up for hours or days talking. Sure, Congress would get less done, but it has not gotten much done now. The Republicans blocked the auto bailout that even President Bush realized was needed, so President Bush was forced to dip into different money to provide it. My point being that the Democrats have been so far unable to initiate reforms needed for the current crisis the economy faces.

Jack Kelly’s point is that things are bad now, but the Democrats will (future tense) probably make things worse. “An example of moral and intellectual bankruptcy is the $1 trillion "stimulus" package Congress is contemplating to encourage us to continue the behaviors that got us into this mess in the first place.” Key word: “contemplating”. Meanwhile, who was in charge in the last eight years while the “behaviors that got us into this mess in the first place” were taking place? Well, Bush was in the White House and the Republicans held Congress outright from January 2003 to December 2006. Yet Kelly says: “Democrats will run things for the next four years, so the recession should last at least that long.” (obviously Kelly thinks that Congress, even if it changes hands in the midterms, is not terribly important). But he sees the period of our excesses as a longer time “We're like alcoholics who've been on a 30-year bender.”. In other words, we went off course in 1978, when credit cards were first made available nationally. During that time we had twenty years of Republican Presidents and ten years of Democrats, but whose counting. Kelly also says “The stimulus package Congress passed last spring didn't work, and this one probably won't either. But it will delay necessary reforms and could make the inevitable crash more painful.”. Necessary reforms? You’ve got to wonder why the necessary reforms weren’t put in place in the last eight years. We did have Congress deciding that people couldn’t take a deduction on their credit card interest, more then ten years ago. Kelly does say “America can't in the long run be prosperous unless we make things other people want to buy, and finance most of our investments through our own savings.” So Kelly is an old fashioned isolationist. We need to sell everybody else stuff, but allow no foreign investment or imports into our country. I suspect he also wants the results of the election overturned and John McCain and Sarah Palin put in charge. It’s an interesting image, but not exactly practical.

Meanwhile, just to point out, the Cutting Edge section of the PG has simply given up trying to find local blogs to quote from. The PG has decided that no one around (online) here has anything interesting to say.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What will it look like?

Back sometime in my sophomore or junior year at Oberlin, I took an environmental economics class from a visiting professor who happened to be a real economist. Not that the econ faculty weren’t real economists, but Oberlin students were sometimes hostile to real life, and it affected things. But this guy (and I can’t for the life of me remember his name) did his best to bring an economic take to the nascent environmental movement (we are talking somewhere between ’80 and ’82). He talked about hydrogen powered cars (he liked fuel cells) and creating and trading pollution credits. He also talked about how, if we were/are serious about reducing waste, we need to create one or two or more types of re-usable containers. One container, specifically for food, could be a cube like thing with a cylindrical lid on a wide mouth opening. It could hold, say, a quart and one could bring a bunch of them to the store. It could be easily stackable in (canvas) bags or on bikes or in specially designed trunks in cars. In the store one could step up to the various rice or pasta dispensers and use one or more of these containers to get what you wanted. The containers could have RFID chips to record how much and what is in them (as programmed by the dispenser). The idea would eventually be to have all the food in dispensers, or if fresh, with some setup to identify it. I remember the professor saying the thing would need to be built like a tank, so if it was thrown away it could simply be retrieved (I suspect people would want them light). Obviously this type of container could revolutionize packaging as we know it, and we could dramatically reduce our waste. And technology is getting more and more sophisticated, so I expect someone could create the reusable containers with advertising that would appear on the sides when the food was dispensed into it.But would people accept these containers? Already some of us are carrying reusable canvas bags to the grocery store to use instead of paper or plastic bags, but I have to say there are a lot more reusable bags at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods than at Walmart (how many at the Giant Eagle probably depends on which iggle you go to). Although we are getting more accepting of canvas bags, the reusable containers would still be a radical departure from what we do now.

Another thought that passed across my brain had to do with cattle and red meat. Now, we are starting to learn that grass fed beef is better for us, in part because grain (corn) fed beef has to be fed antibiotics to enable them to digest corn. Also, the way the market for red meat has developed, cattle are now fed steroids to make them bigger, and the amount of corn they are fed makes them fatter (and fatty). Anyone who has read the Omnivore’s Dilemma remembers Polyface farm (and some people may have heard about it other ways). The book describes a method of rotating a herd of cattle so that grass land is not overmunched (the right word escapes me at the moment). In fact, all sorts of animals are rotated along with the cattle, to cultivate the land as wisely as possible. The wisdom is not the genius of man, though, it is the natural rhythm of wild animals, that move in herds and don’t stay in one place and eat. Well, to be perfectly clear, this is an idealized sort of farming using domesticated animals and grass meadows surrounded by trees. There is an artificial diversity created by the farmer, Joel Salatin, that has been carefully worked out. The funny thing is that when Salatin’s father bought the land originally, much of it was considered too hilly to be useful. Salatin takes environmental issues seriously, he refuses to ship the meat his farm produces (he has a good business with Virginia locavores).

But how could we produce all our meat in this way. It’s not impossible to imagine a conveyor belt with grass (in several varieties) on it, or some such kind of thing. It is possible to imagine a new kind of factory with grass fed cattle. The thing is, our meat might get more expensive (as might other foods if our farmers grew less (subsidized) corn). But if our food is no longer subsidized, parts of out taxes could go down, or be used to offset the cost of national healthcare (which needn’t cost that much more than our current system, but that’s a subject for another day). But we might not continue to be the bread basket for the rest of the world. I think that they might not mind, as long as they could get some help starting to grow their own food.

But we are talking about a relentless sort of pragmatism. We don’t generally do that sort of thing (except on Star Trek). Maybe Obama will start to help us move along that direction. Meanwhile, you can do your part (as can I). You can do some things I have already done, such as replace light bulbs with compact fluorescents. You can use canvas bags for groceries. You can recycle plastic bags at your local grocer or Walmart. You can drive more carefully to save gas. And you can do things I have yet to do, like grow your own vegetables and compost your food waste (I think I’ll stop there in my list of shortcomings). All these things are steps along the way towards what probably should be a different future. How it will look is up to us, but we should try to think about it rationally.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday's offerings

There are a couple of easily digestible nuggets in today's PG forum section. First, in the "Cutting Edge" section, a quick quote from the President via "The American Prospect": the thing Bush most regrets from his term is the failure of intelligence in Iraq prior to the invasion. So not the invasion based on the faulty intelligence, not the (tens or hundreds of) thousands of deaths, but the bad intelligence. I would take that a step further. Would it be a good thing if there had been WMD's in Iraq? If Saddam had smuggled one into the US? Or, more likely in my estimate, smuggled one (or two) across his border and detonated it (them) in Jordan next to Israel or/and in Iran in Tehran? Bush's way of thinking is once again startling.

The other small piece worth looking at is once again Jack Kelly's column. Kelly looks at the Thirties, where he advances the claim that the Nazis were able to take power only after the US, looking at the depression, called in loans it had made to Germany. Kelly states that the Nazis only won a handful of seats in 1928, and then won a majority in 1932. I would note that's when FDR, a neophyte in foreign policy and a Democrat, came in. Kelly does not mention Obama by name in the entire column, but clearly that is who he has in mind as he mentions (current) Pakistan having a huge number of men of military age and Islamic fanatics, and Iran, Venezuela and Russia, suffering as oil prices fall. Incredibly, Kelly seems to be arguing the US needs to increase its foreign oil dependence by using and thus buying more gas, and I guess increase our foreign aid to Pakistan. Mostly he is calling us (again) idiots for having elected Obama over McCain. Go figure.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Car blather ...

When surveyed, most Americans as a group show more sense than more legislators as individuals. On abortion most Americans in surveys support a middle of the road approach, not supporting an out right ban, but supporting limits like a ban on partial birth abortions (except in the case of danger to the health of the mother, which is the only time I would hope doctors would perform this procedure anyway), they support parental notification and so on. In the case of gun control, most Americans do not support a ban on guns, not even on handguns. But they do support "reasonable" gun controls, like bans on assault weapons, rules and licensing for carrying guns, records and licensing for gun purchases, etc.

But I suspect when it comes to cars it has not sunk in yet for most Americans that gas is a finite resource, so using as little of it as possible is a good idea. Most people probably thing that bigger cars and SUV's give them better protection in crashes (sometimes, but not always) and that if they own an SUV, they are prepared for "emergency" situations that will never arise. The closest most Pittsburghers get to off-roading is when the park in the grass at Hartwood acres or Star Lake for a concert. And SUV's have the considerable potential to roll, because of their high center of gravity. Once they start rolling, the roof can sink down some and the person in the SUV can bang the top of their head against the roof repeatedly.

Never the less I believe the big three have decided that Americans want bigger cars, SUV's and pick up's, all with bigger engines and automatic transmissions. And as far as I can tell, Americans agree. They still seem to buy the bigger cars, SUV’s and pick up’s. Of course, the best selling car in America is the Toyota Camry, and the Japanese hybrids have sold briskly (faster than the Ford Hybrids). And a Pew poll found that Americans seem to overwhelmingly support higher mileage standards (in the form of higher CAFÉ standards).

But that doesn’t seem to matter to the big three. They make better cars in Europe, including a new version of the Ford Fiesta or Festa, or something. A diesel that does as good or better than the Volkswagen TDI, get something like 50 or 60 mpg. But it is not coming here, at least not in that form. It will be a gasoline engine, and bigger. In fact lots of car companies send cars with smaller engines to Europe, and cars with bigger engines (or just bigger cars) here. Now I hear that Chrysler is going to shut down for a month. It is hard to get too upset about that.

I have heard some people say American cars are just s good as anything made by the Japanese. Maybe, but what we seem to be able to count on is that the American car is bigger.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Burr(gh) Repore(t)

So all of a sudden it is the Burgh Report's turn (to disappear). No extended story about being outed. I know some people have wondered about the Burgher's incredible access to City Council (including me), but now what does it matter? Another pretty popular Pittsburgh blog appears to have bitten the dust. I might have to write more.

Pretty scary.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Global warming as religion ...

Truth to tell, I am sort of an agnostic about Anthropomorphic Caused Global Warming (I think an especially apt term, since Conservatives accuse liberals of making AGW a religion). To extend the metaphor, I will say I subscribe to a version of Pascal’s Wager concerning global warming. It may exist, it may not, and if it does it may or may not be caused by man. I am not enough of a scientist and I don’t have the time to put in the research to read all the different views. But I figure we should behave as if AGW does exist. Yes, it will be expensive to reduce carbon emissions and then get off fossil fuels all together. But let’s face it, there are other kinds of pollution caused by burning fossil fuels besides the effects of global warming, and the fossil fuels are finite anyway. Yes, we won’t be able to force everyone to stop driving cars right away, we won’t be able to get buses and trains in place right away to take the place of cars, we will be using gasoline for perhaps fifty years to come. And yes, China and India and other countries are going to want to develop and their citizens are going to want to be able to own cars. But we can start reducing the size of our new cars right now, we can implement speed limits and enforce them. We can do things now so that in fifty years our grandchildren will have oil for things they really need it for. And the planet will not be choked with pollution. Oh yeah, and the polar ice caps won’t have melted, assuming they were actually going to.

But I am willing to listen to the skeptics, or the adherents. I think seems like a sensible web site, for example. Did you know we are in a La Nina (however that’s spelled) year? If I did I had forgotten, but it is one of the reasons why I guess things were cooler last year and this year (although the winter has been quite mild so far). It was in an AP story. I caught it because I looked at a blog entitled “Democrats-Lie”. The blog post was complaining about how Democrats/liberals act as though global warming is a religion and are insane. There was one sentence quoted from the AP Story: "While skeptics are already using it as evidence of some kind of cooling trend, it actually illustrates how fast the world is warming." From this one quote, the blog author decided that the media is in the pocket of the global warming mafia. However, the rest of the paragraph mentions that we are in a La Nina year. In fact, we have seen something of an increase in El Nino and La Nina years, and this may be because of global warming. That was the actual meaning of that sentence.

Because I am something of an agnostic here, I am more in favor of taking steps that save people money (even as they change their life styles). So more bicycles, more mass transit, more CFL’s and LED lights, and as I said smaller cars and enforced 55 mph speed limits on the highway. I’m not saying that you should get rid of your SUV (unless you want to), but when you go to replace it, unless you have a job that takes you off road, you should think about downsizing. Various taxes, on gas or carbon, are not a bad idea, but they should be refunded at set intervals, at least to poor people. Our approach to global warming should be to try to change behaviors, not punish people. If we (the US) do that well, the Chinese and Indians will follow suit when they start to get tired of their own pollution.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Racism, Sexism, whatever-ism ...

The Obama team now faces a different crisis, one of their own making. Obama has made noises, as we know, about bringing people together. The problem with that was always that Obama’s chief rival for the nomination was a woman, Hillary Clinton. Now there is a story (from the Washington Post, and to me via 2 Political Junkies) that Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau was caught in pictures fondling a cardboard cutout of Mrs. Clinton. This was apparently at a party, pictures made their way to Mr. Favreau’s Facebook page for a few hours Thursday afternoon before being taken down.

Maria at 2PJ’s suggests the guy would be fired if this happened at a private corporation. Commenters argue that’s too harsh, it was a private party (but public pictures). I think Maria might be wrong in the sense that corporations might excuse the behavior of lesser employees and think that higher level employees were too valuable. But Maria is not wrong in her assessment of what should happen. The Clinton team is laughing off this incident (what else can she do), but they shouldn’t have to.

Maria goes on to comment on how Clinton and Sarah Palin were characterized during the campaign. Personally I don’t believe I used sexism in my criticisms of either woman, but particularly with Sarah Palin, it was hard not to criticize her for being uncurious without stepping very close to the “dumb broad” line. The sole saving grace here was George W Bush, the most uncurious George who was a man and also President.

But the larger point is quite valid. I think sexism (and our progress on it) can be likened to racism (and our progress on it). Racism still exists, not only in the lives of the people who live in Garfield or Homewood, but in the lives of lawyers downtown who happen to be black, or doctors or college professors. As for sexism, there are no ghettos of women, but in every family and every business, there are the subtle dynamics of power. Women have been more common in every facet of the workplace since the 1970’s, but the glass ceiling still exists and is well understood. I suspect a female Secretary of Defense nominee would raise a hail of protest. I think both open racism and open sexism have become unacceptable in certain parts of “polite society” (i.e. wealthy parts), but other parts of society still cheerful indulge in either or both. But more importantly institutional sexism and racism are still both thriving, which would include making it not unacceptable to make fun of Sarah Palin in a sexist manner (i.e. her head on a nude woman’s picture). But that should be unacceptable. Whatever Sarah Palin’s failings that might make her an inferior candidate for President at this point, they do not include simply being a woman. Because being a woman is not a failing, just like being an African American is not a failing.

Now, I should point out that both women and African Americans muddy the issue somewhat. Many women dress and wear makeup in such a way as to be generally attractive to members of the opposite sex. Some African Americans dress in a distinctive “gangster” style, including wearing clothes so baggy they can conceal weapons. Many women take off time form work to raise children, and then are upset because they feel penalized for it. Many white people say that if African Americans dressed and spoke like white people, they would be accepted and not discriminated against, many African Americans are suspicious of this.

But the qualifiers should not justify sexism or racism, to me they just mean we have more work to do. The important thing is to speak out against racism and sexism where ever it exists.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

One opinion

I remember reading that William Ayers biography (the name of which escapes me, but I am sure you can find if you care) was an imaginative piece of history, which is to say the reviewer thought Ayers changed the facts of history to suit his (Ayers) own cognitive dissonance (my phrase). That came to me as I read Ayers' essay in the NYTimes this morning (, titled "The Real Bill Ayers". We probably all do that, change our personal history to assuage our conscience. As I was reading Ayers saying he never killed anyone, I thought of the (blog) commenters who had accused Ayers of being a murderer, instead someone who had just damaged property (did he also steal or rob to stay on the run; I'm not sure). During the election, Obama was also accused of various failings, being a communist, a Muslim, a terrorist.

I could say something about how none of us (bloggers) profit from the accusations we make or the praise we give, but to avoid facing my own issues here I will avoid addressing the culpability of others (the beam in my own eye). I will just say that I thought Ayers essay is probably largely true, and certainly a worthwhile read in any case.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Obama the ... what?

Well, I notice I haven’t posted in December, and its already the fourth, so …

I have been thinking that it seems like a lot of conservative bloggers and commenters characterize Barack Obama as a communist or socialist (as well as a Muslim or terrorist). Truly I am not sure how they get this stuff. Apparently there are people who spend all day just digging up dirt on other people, comb through records and probably make stuff up too. So Obama received a letter of recommendation from an PhD with an Arabic sounding name to get into Harvard Law, I think it was (K something) and apparently financial assistance from this K something as well. I thought recommendation letters were confidential, but I guess the right can appeal to people's patriotism or something. I guess the community organizing was part of his communist training as well; you know, ACORN and all. I think this is all supposed to come from the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) or the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) or something. The New York Times (a front, clearly) did a story recently about how the office of the Communist Party in New York was like this two (tiny) room setup in Brooklyn, filled mostly with leaflets. But, whatever, they are the threat, not that the Soviets are gone and the Chinese are … capitalist?

Obama is different from other US Presidents – he’s black. But he’s not really American black, in the sense that he spent his early school years in Indonesia, where he was also different, in being American and not Muslim. So Obama spent his years from six to ten as a curiosity. He probably was assumed to be smart, and probably found he was. When he returned to the US he was enrolled in a private school, where he was one of three black students (out of a couple of thousand), so again he didn’t pick up any American black culture. The point being its not surprising Obama is comfortable around a lot of different types of people.

I haven’t read his book, but I gather in some senses Obama was a troubled youth, doing drugs in high school. I’m not surprised, he had that odd childhood, a father he didn’t really see much of, a step father, life in a foreign country, coming back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents. But as far as I can see his issues didn’t move him towards politics. I don’t know what he studied at Occidental, but he graduated in Political Science from Columbia.

It’s hard for me to see where Obama would have found the time to become a secret communist, or some part of an American terrorist group. It’s also hard for me to see how a communist group would know that Obama would be a good choice for such a project. Obama did not really get national attention until his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention. Even then, no one really saw as much more than a rising Democratic star. By then he was a US Senator, someone who a) would be hard to reach and b) hard to convert.

This business about Obama being a communist and his election part of a plot really does seem like the height of paranoia and silliness. With all the issues facing the US, and the huge need for intelligent policy, the right is giving away its credibility with this stuff.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gun Control and n'at ...

So there is an ordinance being debated in City Council to require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns. You would think this would be common sense, that guns are this very dangerous tool that can kill many people at a considerable distance. Gun owners, however, see this as a threat to their rights to own guns and an indication that our government is turning into a dictatorship. At least, that is the way the debate has shaken out on the Burgh report. It doesn’t help that Tonya Payne said (out loud, instead of just thinking it) “Who really cares about it being unconstitutional?". The measure had six votes, which is enough to overcome a Mayoral veto. But perhaps this legislation will lose a vote or two before the final vote next week.

So what is the big deal, why do we care if I report my gun stolen? Actually, this law is designed to reduce straw purchases, buying a gun (or several) and turning around and reselling them to criminals. The original buyer would then say, if they were ever asked, that the gun was stolen at some time in the past. The notion would be to expose straw purchasers, force them to identify themselves (by indicating that 100 percent of their gun purchases were stolen or lost). But it is likely to be difficult to enforce the law just within City limits, it really needs to be a state, or better still, federal law. But this very law was defeated at the state level by rural legislators, including Daryl Metcalf of Cranberry.

During the course of the debate, someone mentioned a similarity to the abortion debate. That didn’t really resonate with me until I read this on the wikipedeia entry on gun control “The American public strongly opposes bans on gun ownership, while strongly supporting limits on handguns and military-type semi-automatic weapons” with a footnote, referencing a “Gun Control Handbook”. That strikes me as similar to what people say in polls about abortion, opposing partial birth and late term abortions, and supporting parental notification, while opposing total bans on abortion. But the advocates on both sides of both issues are much clearer, taking the absolute positions. My own personal position on gun control is similar to what polled Americans say. I think sensible limits ought to be placed on gun ownership, particularly limits on carrying concealed handguns (which have no role in hunting, by the way), and certainly on this straw purchasing business.

Now, the Wikipedia article suggested that guns are used in defense of home and businesses perhaps as much as two and a half million times a year. Perhaps this is so, but I would like to see sources for that (and none of the Wikipedia sources in footnotes were linked). Also, guns are cited as helpful in preventing domestic violence. Many of the murders and injuries using guns in the home are between husband and wife or boyfriend/girlfriend. Those were the victim is a male are apparently assumed to be a case of domestic violence. My own research into this can’t confirm these findings (and may never be able to). My personal thought is that if someone is threatening you at your business or home with a knife or club, you could probably threaten them back with a baseball bat or other sort of club-like or edged weapon. If you assailant has a gun and you respond with a gun, the situation has escalated and several bad things could result. Similarly, we need to encourage women to feel they can come forward if there is a domestic violence situation. If you think the situation can only be resolved by killing the other person, that solution is drastic enough that we should be able to step in with other solutions, legal remedies.

Of course, gun rights advocates might say legal remedies for domestic violence don’t work. But on the other hand we don’t need additional laws for gun control if we just enforce the ones on the books. There is an obviously convenient view of the law here.

Depressingly, most efforts at gun control have produced few if any positive outcomes. Apparently the problem is that if DC and Baltimore ban guns from their cities, criminals will buy guns from Virginia residents. Our hodgepodge of laws create gaps in enforcement possibilities big enough to drive trucks (full of guns) through.

But I persist in my belief that intelligent gun control, limited in scope but applied all over the country, would have a positive effect on the outcomes if not the incidence of crime in the US.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jack's still around...

Well, I never did get to Ruth Ann, but now I have a little time and some desire to say something about Jack Kelly column today. I’m probably motivated by a desire to steal the thunder of 2PJ’s, but I shan’t bring in links from Huffington Post or Daily Kos (because I almost never read them).

So Jack Kelly commits a couple of mistakes, in my opinion, in today’s column. First, he cites a poll of Obama supporters as proof that liberals don’ know as much as they think they do. The poll was conducted by the Zogby organization, but commissioned by a “conservative documentary maker” John Ziegler. I don’t know anything about John Ziegler, I’ll et others poke any holes to be found there. But I do wonder if Mr. Ziegler gave Zogby at least the subject matter if not the form of the questions to ask the 512 Obama supporters. There were the obvious questions, such as who had the pregnant teenage daughter and who spent $150,000 on their wardrobe as well as a gothcha question – who can see Russia from their house (correct answer, Tina Fey lampooning Sarah Palin, and I didn’t catch this one as read the column).

But there was also questions like what percentage of Obama supporters knew that Obama started his political career in the home of two former Weather Underground members, what percentage knew that Biden had to end a previous Presidential run because he plagiarized a speech, a question about who controls both the House and Senate, a question about how Obama won his first election by getting all his opponents removed from the ballot, a question about the 57 states remark by Obama, and a question about how Obama said his energy policy would bankrupt the energy industry.

I’m not going to bother with the quotes taken out of context (the 57 states that was apparently supposed to be a joke, the energy policy issue part of a much larger, complex discussion), the first election thing is ambiguous at best (and no one ever said he wasn’t a smart politician). The question of who controls the House and Senate is interesting because I have often said in comments on other blogs that the record number of blocked votes for cloture and the record number of holds put on legislation means that the Republicans have been much worse about holding up legislation than the Democrats ever were in the previous six years. Just for the record, sixty democratic votes in the Senate scares me almost as much, but the Republicans have simply turned into this obstructionist force, and even bad change might be preferable here. But anyway the upshot is that the Obama supporters did not know about the “insidious” past of their candidate (although now we do, and we can’t say Jack didn’t warn us). But Jack doesn’t exactly blame the Obama supporters, they were ignorant dupes of the main stream media, in the pocket for Obama. I guess his message is that they could be easily led sheep by the truth telling conservative media as well as the liberal liars. Then if polled they would know the out of context and unfair conservative talking points (not that Jack characterizes it quite that way).

The second thing I want to say about this column is … who cares? We have to accept the wishes of the American people in elections. I know, you’re going to say that liberals called for Bush and Cheney to be impeached and removed from office. Sure, but that is inherently a political process, you have to have proof (which some liberal thought did exist), you have to convince both the House and the Senate, and if you remove just Bush you have President Cheney. Of course, Kelly starts off his column with an excerpt from an email where a (critical) reader suggests that the mass support that the republicans do have comes from “lower middle class voters, many of whom are poorly educated and inarticulate” and it later characterizes the base by saying “as a mass movement it reflects stupidity and ignorance”. So you can see why Kelly was interested in talking about how smart he thinks Obama’s supporters are. But I will say that now that the election is over, what is going to be important is how smart Obama and his staff will be. Now, lots of conservative commenters want to say that Obama coasted through school, that teachers and professors gave his good grades because of affirmative action. I doubt that very much, but regardless of what I or they think, we are about to see how smart Obama is. Either he will do things that will help get us out of our economic mess, and address more long term issues of infrastructure, or he won’t. I think that he is bound to bet some things right, and some wrong, no matter what, but the mix will be the interesting thing.

Obama is going to let some supporters down, and the conservatives will seize on those people as examples of Obama’s failures (some have already branded Obama a failure for appointing Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State, pending Senate approval). It hardly, matters, by April 20th we will have some record to look at, and then it will make sense whether to be hopeful or disappointed. At that point, Mr. Zogby’s poll and Mr. Kelly’s sour grapes will be entirely meaningless.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Religion (maybe later Ruth Ann) ...

It’s hard not to think a bit about the election. There is a sense of the “everything’s different” vibe that followed 9/11, but at the same time there is that sense that we are headed into a recession. Chris Briem keeps mentioning that things here have already been much worse, and aren’t bad right now (and may not get worse). Never the less, it is difficult to know how to balance the competing feelings; something is likely to happen, but it is impossible to say what.

One of the things I think about, which is not one of the things we are likely to address any time soon, is religion. Colin Powell put it well when he talked about the Republican attack on Obama that insinuated Obama follows the religion of Islam. He doesn’t, of course, but so what if he did? Are we saying there is a religious test for the American President? Of course there is, just like the test that says that Barney Frank is not going to be President any time soon.

I have always had some difficulty with religion. The whole you must take the existence of God on faith thing is bad enough. I have to take the efficacy of penicillin on faith too, but there is this whole written record of the history of penicillin, and most every doctor will say similar things about it. But even among Christians there is disagreement about how to worship and what God wants us to do (or what is ok with him). Even what I think of as the big commandments, like not killing, have a questionable history (religious wars?).

But then I think, who am I even to say that my religion is the right one, to say the Jews, Muslims and Buddhists are wrong? If not me, then who is the Pope, or a Rabbi or an Imam to say other religions are wrong? The fact that other people experience God differently makes me wonder if religion is reduced to just being a social club. Although plenty of people take it deadly serious.

Obama is interesting in that, based on my reading of his wikipedia biography and other things he’s said, he didn’t really have a religion growing up. Most of us have our religions picked for us by our parents; even if you convert, you are always at least a former Catholic, Presbyterian or Jew. Our political views and affiliations seem to work in a similar way. But Obama appeared to grow up with out a strong religious or political view. When he joined the whatis church in Chicago, after undergraduate if not law school, I gather that was when he made a religious commitment. It’s interesting to me that he chose a church with relatively radical ideology, although one where the minister was relatively established and well known, even considered an intellectual.

I don’t know if Barack Obama heard Jeremiah Wright preach some fiery note about the injustice of racism. I don’t know if Obama heard Wright reject America at some point, besides the famous sermon we have all heard ad nauseum. I will say that I think no less of Obama for not walking out if he did hear such things (I am 99% sure he did). I can not reconcile the conflicting notions for myself of past slavery and segregation and current racism, and the idea that we should be blindly reverent of the United States. White intellectuals (of all stripes) criticize political figures all the time, but African Americans should never say God Damn the United States? No double standard there.

I think Obama handled the Jeremiah Wright issue very well. He didn’t reject the church where he had embraced religion (in a thoughtful or cold manner, depending on your viewpoint), when those tapes from the past were circulated. But when Wright came out and spoke disparagingly of Obama, then Obama rejected the man. I think that certain crucial parts of Obama’s audience, some who take religion very seriously, understood the distinction.

Obama is not a post-racial President, but he is not very black, having grown up away from the black experience. But he may be a post-religious President, though; at least not as thoughtlessly religious as George Bush. He is not our first Muslim President. But because of him, we may have one during his lifetime.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And so ...

So Obama has won. Why do I still think about that Woody Allen quote, the one about the two roads we face (one to total calamity and horrible suffering, the other to total disaster, let us hope we have the wisdom to choose wisely yada yada). As of this writing, the Republicans have forty Senate seats, the Democrats have 56. Apparently four are too close to call.

Now, the Senate is crucial, because the Republicans had made the most of their 49 seats in last couple of years to block a lot of legislation. They may still do that if they have as little as one seat over forty. This could mean that a lot of Obama's proposals are DOA in Congress. Which may not be an absolutely bad thing, given the state of the economy. How we got so much in debt may not be as important as how we handle it from here on out. Obama’s proposal are ambitious, and will cost a lot of money.

On the other hand, we know from the great depression that investment in America yields good results. We know that too from the interstate highway system (which now needs reinvestment badly). Obama has said he wants to invest in the highway system, in American health care, in alternative energy (including working on the all important electric grid), and also make a general investment in America by improving secondary and making higher education more affordable and therefore more accessible. Down the line these kinds of investment could yield results that help us tackle our debt with a stronger economy. Trying to save money now, by contrast, might leave us weaker in the future.

But there is no guarantee that it is Obama’s proposals we would see moving through Congress, if the Democrats had 60 votes. Whether or not you think Obama is socialist, I strongly suspect there are more radical Congresspersons who might advance some problematic legislation, much higher taxes on capital gains than Obama has proposed, much higher spending on pet projects than Obama has proposed, an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, etc. I only vaguely remember 1993 politically, but I know we have been living through the fallout ever since.

It would be nice if one of the campaign promises both sides made, about ending partisan rancor and reaching across the aisle, could actually be kept. The Democrats did not filibuster much of any of President Bush’s legislation after 9/11. If the Democrats don’t reach 60 seats in the Senate, it would be nice if the Republicans could consider signing on to at least part of Obama’s agenda, and letting Obama know ahead of time. Then some legislation could be passed swiftly and then the rest could be debated nationally. If the Democrats reach that 60 seat number in the Senate, then it is possible the midterms will look like 1994

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The fallout from the choice ...

Since it seems more and more likely Obama will be elected, I wanted to look ahead a little. The fact that Obama refuses to admit that he will have to scale back his programs some in the face of the financial crisis tells me that a)Obama did not believe Jessica Lange when she told a disguised Dustin Hoffman that she just wanted to meet an honest man, and b)Obama has mastered the politician's trick of answering the question he wants to answer it, and in the way he wants to answer it. Which is to say Obama doesn't trust us enough to think we will still vote for him if he tells us the truth. And I can't blame him, it didn't work for Paul Tsongas.

But that leaves us with a question. Is Obama up to the tough job of saying no to Congress (or does he even recognize the coming need to do that). I vaguely remember a story (possibly from the West Wing) about a basketball player, possibly Wilt Chamberlin, who when he moved up to professional basketball was getting fouled left and right. His coach told him he would need to throw an elbow. Chamberlin, raised to be fair player, objected. The coach said, if you throw that one elbow, that will be enough.

Now, like I said, my memory of the story is vague and probably wrong, but I think the lesson could be valuable. Obama may need to veto an extravagant democratic initiative early. Maybe a spending bill with excessive pork, or that is just totally pork. The risk is the Democrats would punish Obama, but it might be worth it.

Now, there is another very related question in the up coming election, whether the Democrats will get 60 votes in the Senate or not. And I don’t know what to hope for. If the Democrats got 58 votes, they could lobby Olympia Snowe or Arlen Specter only on the important votes, for education and infrastructure, for Iraq and for the really important parts of the tax cuts, the increases in the EIC and tax increases on the rich. The rest of it they could let the Republicans threaten to filibuster and have some of the same problems as now. It would slow down government, which might make everybody publicly outraged and secretly happy.

Meanwhile, the biggest story here tomorrow may be the brown wrapper your Post-Gazette comes wrapped in.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Choice ...

So there have been all sorts of charges leveled at Barack Obama. That he was born in Kenya (the latest I have heard), that he is a secret communist or fascist, that he learned about politics in some fashion from one (or more) of maybe a dozen shadowy figures; William Ayres, Jeremiah Wright, or several other names I have heard in passing. The he wants to take money from the rich and give it to the poor (that accusation may have more traction). I wonder if it is all just because he is black. Obama seems to be doing much better than John Kerry was at this point. The American people seemed fed up with George Bush in 2004, but John Kerry seemed no better than a conventional choice, and in fact turned out to be something of weenie. In my opinion Barack Obama is also something of a weenie, but he wears it better. Obama comes off as a faculty member who has spent a lot of time trying pro bono cases, and has actually seen enough poverty to be able to think of it both in particular and make some generalizations. He also seems like a politician, in his way just as sharp as Sarah Palin but also able to hold his own (so to speak) with the likes of Daniel Moynihan. Could Obama be a communist? I suppose it could have been something that interested him in his youth, I really don’t know. But Obama seems to want to be President, seems very ambitious. I can’t believe any serious candidate for President would actually believe he could turn the United States into a communist nation. Obama has already promised to tax the rich and borrow from our future to put more money into the hands of both the poor and the middle class. So he would accomplish some symbolic wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor, and I am sure that would be satisfying to him.

And on the note I want to look at the Choice. I haven’t said anything about John McCain yet in part because no charges have been leveled against him apart from the obvious. He’s old. He’s temperamental. He’s become somewhat erratic, as evidenced in the debates and his appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday (whether you think he is erratic might be a matter of personal perspective, after all, all politicians answer the questions they want to, not the questions their asked). His choice of running mates raises questions. But the most important thing about John McCain to me is that if elected he will face an opposition Congress. Most of McCain’s promises will be DOA in the Congress. McCain’s promise to eliminate earmarks will be defeated by veto proof majorities on spending bills (the one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on, spending on themselves). If the Democrats don’t get 60 seats in the Senate the Republicans will continue to block a lot of legislation (this is true no matter who gets elected). So the country will drift along, with out any serious policy initiatives, much like the last eight years. Maybe there will be some peripheral stuff on education or immigration. Maybe.

If Obama is elected, his presidency will be affected by that 60 seat factor in the Senate. If the Democrats have 56 seats in the Senate, things are likely to proceed as they have, with Republicans blocking many measures. If they are closer, at 58 or 59 seats, then we will see what kind of arm twister Obama is, how good he is at influencing public opinion on specific issues, and using it to bring pressure to bear. He may have a shot at making Chuck Hegal or Olympia Snowe (or both) the de facto 60th Democrat. Possibly even Arlen Specter may be persuaded to vote with the Democrats, although he is a lot more conservative than people think. Obama may get parts of his agenda passed in this case.

If the Democrats do get 60 seats in the Senate, we should expect to see most or all of Obama’s agenda come into law. If well organized, and if the parts that create infrastructure jobs are set up first, they may have a good effect on the economy. If it were up to me, Obama could skip parts of the middle class tax cut, but it isn’t up to me. The only question is how far Democrats would go in their legislative spree. They’ve been frustrated for 16 years, so they may be out of practice, but I suspect they might instead try to make up for lost time. It’s not the laws like new CAFÉ standards or laws expanding the powers of unions to organize I would mind. It would be new spending initiatives that would bother me. I worry that Obama would feel obliged to sign everything, since after all it would be coming from his party. He might need to throw an elbow early on, veto a piece of legislation, just to get a point across. Unfortunately I doubt he would.

So that is the Choice, in my estimate. Our one little vote each of us has will probably not make any real difference. But the election will likely be close (I think, despite some of the polls), so we probably should get out their and vote our conscience.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I finally caught the KD/PG Sunday edition today, at it’s punted football season time of 8:30 am on Sundays. I’m glad I did because they had representatives of ACORN on, two women, one the local director and the other a woman who came to ACORN because her house is being foreclosed on and stayed to become a member and help others (both white, by the way). Ken Rice was able to ask them why they hate America and tear them apart, exposing them for the fascist communists they are … OK, actually not. They did talk about John McCain’s accusations against ACORN, and ACORN did not apologize. What they did say is what I have heard in a few places plus a bit more. The director talked about how they hire workers to register voters, and they hire from the low and middle income communities because ACORN wants to help low and middle income people, and they hire a lot of them. So some of them don’t do the job they are supposed to, and to the extent they are identified they are fired and ACORN may turn the workers name over to the county board of elections for prosecution (ACORN warns its workers when they are hired that this could happen). ACORN tries to call the phone number on the voter registration form three times, and if they don’t get the voter they flag the form with a cover sheet describing the possible problem. The director said she thinks it is illegal for ACORN to simply destroy voter registration forms they think are fraudulent, but she says that all the ones where they can’t contact someone they flag. She didn’t say what her criteria for flagging a registration form is. After all, there may be more than one Jerome Bettis and is likely more than one William Parker living in Pittsburgh, and if they answer the phone … So ACORN says it does its due diligence with regard to voter registration. I can see how that would work, too, in the sense that ACORN probably gets grants for its voter registration work, and probably hires as many people as it can. So it justifies hiring phone bank workers evenings and weekends by saying they have to verify registrations.

But let’s face it, you can see how the voter fraud operation would work. This could be done by communists working on their own, but it would be easiest to use the communist front operation ACORN. After filing out voter registrations forms with several different names at real addresses scattered over several different districts in the city (you would use apartment buildings, and load as many as twenty names maybe into a single apartment – any more would clog the mail box), ACORN would turn the registrations into the county board of elections at the last moment. ACORN would use the excuse that it had to verify registrations, but mostly it would be overwhelming the Board of Elections that the Democrats specifically under-funded to prepare for this day. On election day, operatives would drive from polling place to polling place, flooding the voting machines with Obama votes, using identification papers created by skilled communist forgers. When Obama took office, he would immediately rescind the second amendment, seize all the guns the Democrats had been keeping track of, and enslave us all. My Friends …

Sorry, got caught up in that a bit. It is theoretically possible that ACORN could be part of a big conspiracy to win the election for Obama. It would only work once, though, since the City of Pittsburgh would suddenly have many more voters than it had residents identified by census. And it would be hard to pull this fraud off in rural counties, where the distances between polling places is further and people are more likely to know each other. It is basically a silly idea. A number of people have talked about how it is possible to hack into electronic voting machines, or perhaps into the database that records votes. That would seem to be an easier way to get a lot more bang for your buck, and if I were trying to rig an election, that would be the way I would go. A few people throwing the election would have to be better than thousands of operatives, any one of which could expose the plot.

I want to talk about the woman whose house was foreclosed on, and about income redistribution in general, but I think I will save that for another day.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Joe the plumber, senator, independent/democrat, etc

Joe the plumber is starting to irritate me. It's not because he is a real guy, or that he turns out to be something of a real fraud, but because he is being described and is still being described as a symbol. Joe says the business he works for makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year, he says he would like to buy the business, and he asks why Obama is against the "American Dream". By the way, I have not watched, nor do I want to watch, the YouTube video of the back and forth between Joe and Obama. But I have watched what other people are saying about Joe, how he is now an important symbol. On the show Off Q, the two Republicans were arguing fiercely that Obama's (unfortunate and yet accurate for Joe) comment to Joe that we need to share the wealth. The Republican's were asking why would you tell people you were taking their money away for other people who don't work as hard as you do. On Washington Week, Doyle McManus was saying it didn't matter what Joe's actual circumstances are, what is important is his role as a symbol.

So apparently Joe was misrepresenting himself to the world. He was characterized as undecided and independent, when in fact he is apparently a long time Republican. I have heard the plumbing company does not make nearly as much as was claimed, and/or that if two men are sharing the revenue, then the 280,000 becomes less, maybe 230,000 and 50,000 or a more equal number. Either way, the owner of the company is not making the quarter of a million dollars that Joe apparently claimed he was anticipating. Based on what I know personally about taxes, it is possible that an individual could be set up as an individual corporation or some kind of partnership. But if you fill out a schedule C in your income tax, you are supposed to claim those expenses like supplies, equipment and depreciation, advertising, health insurance for yourself and any employees, etc, these things reduce your income for tax purposes. So Joe's whole problem is a red herring. Seeing him as a symbol of blue collar ambition is a lie. Plus he looks like a Republican plant, or at the very least, an opportunist. And he owes the State back taxes and is not currently a registered plumber and may be penalized for the attention that has been drawn to him.

So the symbol is a fraud. And that is really, really important. Why? Because incomes between the people at the top (say the top ten percent) and people at the bottom (the lower 90% or so) are showing an increasing gap for the last fifty years or so (with maybe some time off during Democratic administration). The "American Dream" is that anyone can work hard and succeed and have a pretty comfortable life or maybe even get wealthy, like Joe was saying he wanted to do. And Joe was asking Obama why he wanted to ruin Joe's dream (with the extra 4% of taxes). Joe's point is that electing Obama will end the American Dream for all of us.

But it's not true. We need to look seriously at what Obama's tax policy will do for us, what "spreading the wealth around" means. It would mean for poorer people, they will have a few more dollars back when they file their taxes (a few will cannily adjust their with-holding to take advantage of the new tax policy, but most will just save with Uncle Sam). They will also have incentive with a higher tax credit for education to get more or perhaps any training or education. And the people who provide some of the money to do all this will be the richer among us, the professionals who did work hard for their money like lawyers, doctors and businessmen. They do work hard and apparently many of them don't like giving their money to people who didn't have to work for it. But we should note that despite the few but prominent rags to riches stories we hear about, most wealthy people come from wealthy households with the advantages that come with knowing the right people. Further, I resent the idea that it is somehow harder to sit behind a desk and do work on a computer, or work in an operating theatre, or research and argue before a judge and jury, than to clean floors for eight hours, or take care of either the very old or the very young. I would agree that both types are hard, but if pay is based on how hard work is, then at worst everybody would be paid the same. As people keep asking, when did it become patriotic to avoid paying taxes. But that is what the wealthy have gotten away with for these many years. And it is the wealthy who can best afford to help the less fortunate, and part of the reason they are so wealthy is because of past policies, so it only appropriate that they take their turn paying their share.

Meanwhile, we need to think more critically about Joe, and what he really symbolizes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

That's Debatable ...

So the last debate has passed. I thought that, in debate world, John McCain landed some hits on Obama. The story about a fairly ordinary sounding guy, Joe the plumber, who apparently would be making over (at least) two hundred grand if he bought his bosses’ business. Personally I was thinking that Joe had never filled out a schedule C in his life, and didn’t understand the difference between gross receipts and income after expenses. I think that Joe may have sealed his fate too, Turbo Tax and/or H & R Block are probably descending on Toledo right now, trying to get video of Joe using their products. He may be the biggest winner of last night’s debate.

Speaking of which, despite McCain’s seeming success with a sneer about “spreading the wealth around”, I don’t know that either candidate did anything memorable enough to say “a-ha”. As I say, John McCain was better than he had been in previous debates. One commenter said that Republicans will be asking “where was this guy before?”. But I also agree with (I believe) David Brooks when he said that he thought McCain looked angry or flustered or both. Brooks wondered if voters would want four years of that. By comparison, Obama was his (now) usual cool and calm self. Occasionally he would, robot like, ratchet up his voice one decibel, modulate his tone up one unit, raise his finger and say “Bob, I have to respond to this”. The new algorithm would fire, the subroutine (“agitated”) would run through its instruction and the little sub loop would return to original program. This was a noticeable difference from the debate with Hillary Clinton before the Pennsylvania primary, where Obama was startled to find the moderators had switched from Sunday morning mode to “Hard Copy” mode (I notice no one from ABC moderated any of the Presidential/Vice debates).

During the debate William Ayers finally came up, in a section on negative campaigning. McCain did make a sort of meandering accusation, starting it with a silly “I don’t care about a washed up terrorist”. McCain mentioned a specific dollar contribution to ACORN as well. Obama gave a limited response about Ayers, mostly saying that the McCain campaign was hyping Ayers, that Ayers had served on a board with him (Obama) ten years ago, of a group that had a lot of republicans (Obama named four or so). Then Obama gave the short story on how ACORN had paid people to register voters and some of those people made up names, and Obama was not involved, had only once participated in a long ago lawsuit with the Justice Department and ACORN on motor voter rules in Illinois. Both good, coherent answers that really didn’t address McCain’s points (on ACORN at least), but should satisfy viewers because they were more coherent than McCain was being at the time. McCain and Obama then got in a back and forth when McCain fired off an accusation that Obama, together with Ayers, funneled $230,000 grand for the Woods foundation to ACORN and that Obama started his political career in Ayers’ living room. “OBAMA: That's absolutely not true. MCCAIN: And the facts are facts and records are records. OBAMA: And that's not the facts.” And then McCain fumbled around just a bit more with Ayers and ACORN. Even I would say Obama dodged the questions, yet Obama is likely to be seen as coming out on top of that exchange because he was so smooth about dodging them. McCain seemed like a petulant grand dad accusing grandson of messing with his vinyl LP’s. He might be right, but grand dad is always accusing somebody of something. Just let him talk and eventually he’ll go take a nap.

McCain was trying to say that Obama was wrong on many issues, and seemed to almost make his case. But Obama was too cool and intelligent sounding to really seem like a wrong guy. And McCain became visibly agitated as the debate wore on, fumbling for words a few times and coming back, somewhat randomly, to Joe the Plumber and Spreading the Wealth. In the end, you might wonder if McCain is right about Obama, but then you also might just wonder about McCain - period.

It will be interesting to see what Saturday Night Live does with the debate tonight on their (almost) regular Thursday night spot.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Philosphy is a smile on a dog ...

American elections are one of the few times Americans dust off the political philosophies and talk about them. I can’t help but think of Edie Brickell and her line in What I Am:”Chuck me in the shallow water, Before I get too deep”. We don’t engage in discussions of “political economy” in the US, at least not outside college campuses. But we do have limited discussions about whether more or less government regulation and more of less aid to the poor is a good idea. Mostly in the last eight years it has been that less regulation is a good idea, and that the poor should turn to churches for help. The Republicans are generally linked with the more laissez faire argument and democrats with the government aid position.

David Brooks attempted to address the state of modern conservative thought in the NYTimes on Friday. He described it as originating in dissent from a group of intellectuals, but has drifted away from that because (his words) Democrats keep nominating pointy headed intellectuals and Republican strategists decided to attack them based on class war. What Brooks is dancing around with, but does not say is that Reagan and the people who handled him used Reagan’s acting talents to out-folksy Carter (who had done something similar to Gerry Ford). Reagan promised the easy solution, promised that he would get government off people’s backs. Of course the term Reagan Democrat, a group of working class people without college degrees, who might be a union man or woman but didn’t think the unions were doing anything anymore, originated then. I have been using it, I think some people might have used it in connection with Hillary Clinton’s Pennsylvania race.

Brooks now decries the dumbing down of the Republican party, fueled by the “plain speaking” conservative talk radio jocks like Rush Limbaugh and, around here Jim Quinn. He actually says that Democrats are deliberative and self-examining (well, maybe more than the Republicans) while the Republicans now govern from the gut. It sounds like he is a fan of Steven Colbert.

George Bush is a near caricature of this. John McCain also has some elements of this, as a Navy pilot he would have prized instinct and split second decisions over a considered approach (that would be more Colin Powell’s approach). Brooks also praises Sarah Palin as “smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable”. But he says that nobody plays the class-warfare card “as constantly” than Palin.

There is a commenter on twopoliticaljunkies, John K, who says that George Will and David Brooks are not “real” conservatives. They want the adulation of liberals, according to him. John K and other conservative commenters scattered around the Pittsburgh political blogosphere are commenters that I think Rush Limbaugh would approve of. John K uses short sentences with simple statements like “You lefties worship Ayers and Dorn” (not an actual quote, although that is how he spells “Dorn”). He writes “lol” a lot, comments not on the post but on whatever subject might have come up recently that is favorable to conservatives, and makes personally negative comments about other commenters. Now 2PJ’s is an unabashedly liberal blog, so a certain amount of this is probably a good thing. But John K and other commenters of that ilk represent a wing of conservatism that does attack using key works like terrorist, Marxist and John K, for example, rarely if ever refers to Obama as Barack Obama; he uses Hussein Obama constantly.

This kind of thing is also happening at Universities. Institutions of higher learning are finding they can not be part of any discourse on current events. If they try to discuss current events, whether from a professor’ particular point of view or even as an illustration for a lesson plan, professor’s find themselves besieged by national and local politicians and by trustees. Of course one problem is that the professors who feel most strongly about politics are usually the first to speak out at a University, and expressing only their views may well distort debate. The extremists who do leap to speak out help make conservatives arguments for them.

So actual discourse may only still exist on the mainstream media, often called the liberal media. Programs like Washington Week In Review or round tables on Meet the Press or this Week. Today somebody, might have been Brokaw himself, mentioned on MTP how we are a credit card economy. Since Brokaw broke the idea, the other journalists were happy enough to “comment” on it (I suspect no one wanted to be first with an idea like that). That discussion is only just barely present in the media, let alone on the campaign trail. McCain and Palin seem to want to use George W Bush’s old stand by, fear, to win the election. There’s little we can do about this now, but feel free to pester the next President.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Anothr Sunday ...

The 2 Political Junkies were kind enough to find a story in the Rolling Stone I likely would have missed, which in fact made the cover of the “Rolling Stone” (like them, I couldn’t resist). I will now shamelessly comment on this story, which they did not do in their post. I basically respect the Rolling Stone when it chooses to do real journalism. This article, “Make Believe Maverick”, is an unflattering biography of John McCain. Whether it is accurate or not will be up to readers to decide, but I suspect enough of the information is basically public record that large parts, maybe most, will be hard to dispute. The tone of the article, of course, reflects the politics of the magazine.

I haven’t finished the article (I got up to McCain’s early political career), but there was a bit during the Vietnam that caught my eye. Right after a fire on the Forrestal where a F-4 “inexplicably” fired an unguided rocket that happened to go through the fuel tank of the A-4 McCain was sitting in here (no sinister suggestion on my part, but weird, right?), causing a fire McCain emerged largely unscathed from (but which killed 134 other sailors), McCain talked to a New York Times reporter. I’m sure the reporter was delighted, talking to the son of a four star admiral. McCain, for his part, liked the attention, according to the Rolling Stone. Apparently, among other things, McCain said:

“"Now that I've seen what the bombs and napalm did to the people on our ship," he told Apple, "I'm not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam."”

McCain of course did drop more "stuff", transferring to another carrier and flying more missions, until he was shot down. And after he was freed from the POW camp, he championed the idea of continuing the war, according to the article. Still, I think the Wikipedia might have used that NYTimes story as part of their bio of McCain, suggesting he at least partially opposed the conduct of the war, during the war (like John Kerry absolutely did). Even then, McCain played to his audience.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An anecdote ...

I remember an event, roughly twenty years ago, in the presidency of the first George Bush. He had campaigned on “Read my lips, no new taxes”. But at some point I guess he decided the Reagan debt was too much, he needed to raise taxes. He got the Congressional leadership on board, but when it came to a vote, the Congressional rank and file bailed. They split from their leaders and voted no. Sound familiar?

By the way, I believe the tax increase did go through eventually. I just remember that one vote, but the Wikipedia says that the first Bush did raise taxes.

No special point here, really just an observation. There’s more than a little irony, to me, that a similar thing has happened to the son. If we weren’t at risk for another depression, I might chuckle a little louder.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Excesses of (mostly in) the Sunday PG Fourm

Again I have been neglecting my own blog, although I have not been commenting as much on other people’s bogs. No one seems to have reacted to the debates. I think the partisans are upset that their candidates did not deliver a knock out blow to the other candidate. Jack Kelly, in his column this morning in the PG, did not mention the debates at all. I didn’t have my laptop on during the debate, but I would assume Kelly did some live blogging during the debate. I might go look for it later. But no column gloating about how McCain wiped the floor with Obama (even though I am sure the paper would have held his deadline for him), because it was not obvious that either man won. So Kelly satisfied himself with comparing ‘60’s radicals to Nazi war criminals. Well, you’re entitled to your opinion. And according to the PG, so are we.

The PG also carried Chad Hermann’s final shot at Pittsburgh, about how we aren’t smart enough for him. I would write a letter to the editor of the PG, but in part because of my exasperation at Hermann, I shot a letter off last month about bicycling (not in any way my best effort) at the same time Hermann was conducting his assault on bicyclists.

Hermann’s piece on today’s PG’s “Next Page” was absolutely vintage Hermann. He titled it “The Out Post”. I suspect he might have titled it the “Last Post”, but apparently part of the reason he stopped blogging is because he seemed genuinely stung when his flippant criticism of Randy Pausch was so negatively received (he said he received three death threats). The page is laid out in the style of his blog page, complete with the virtual bric a brac on the right (including an “official soundtrack”, an “official muse” and praise from readers).

I think this “Out Post” gives us the quintessential Hermann experience. How he started before everyone else, but not in political blogging. By the time he started, blogging was already a wasteland (he says “Voices rose. Standards fell”). He was begged to ride to our rescue, to open a window to higher culture and thought. He would post to the level of major-paper, op-ed quality. He would not be self-indulgent, but would write every day, “make every word, subject and syllable count”.

Now, anyone who reads my blog knows I have criticized Hermann in the past, but I will confess I enjoyed reading his stuff when he was telling non-political anecdotes. But I have been told a story about how Hermann antagonized a particular political figure during a political event, making whispered comments at this persons back and then feigning innocence when the person turned around. That may neatly capture, for me, the “Hermann” experience.

Hermann takes pains to criticize us all in his “Out Post”. Maybe he is just criticizing me, and the handful of other Pittsburgh bloggers, when he talks about how the philistines are everywhere and winning. He suggests looking at “a few local or national political blogs. If you have a strong stomach, dip into the comment threads. You’ll see why I never allowed them on TWM. And you’ll think you stumbled into an Edward Albee play. Without the wit or erudition.”

And there is the essence of the problem for me. Hermann complained about how people didn’t do him the service of writing “impassioned, respectful” emails, which he said he would respond to, and carry on exchanges. But Hermann says the emails became “bunkered assaults”, and he realized the “reach of my efforts exceeded the grasp of readers willing and able to engage them. As my reputation grew, the caliber of my audience precipitously declined”.

I don’t get a lot of readers, I know. Fewer when I don’t post as often, which is one reason I comment on other people’s blogs. Unfortunately, I drain some of my best ideas in comments, and I am uncomfortable recycling a comment into a post. But I do know I get more readers during the political seasons, like now (and I often post more during the political seasons, finding more inspiration). And I have complained about anonymous comments, and don’t have them on my blog, although commenters simply chose handles, which are more consistent but no less anonymous. But at least I allow comments. I want to do that in part because I want to encourage discussion, and in part because I don’t mind exposing the occasional ignorance of the most partisan of voices, on both sides.

Some times Chad Hermann would reprint parts of an email sent to him, usually to ridicule the ignorance of the sender. But we had no idea about whether we were seeing the whole email, or whether it was altered. Those who blog know you can not alter the comments on your blog, only delete them, and then the deleted comment leaves a visible hole you would feel obliged to explain, to retain the trust of your readers. But not Chad Hermann. He would have us believe he was carrying on (hidden) email exchanges with the intelligentsia of Pittsburgh, something us common folk could only dream about. When I emailed Hermann, I rarely got a response.

My blog, and the comments on my blog, stand or fall on their own. The Burgh Report, with its occasional breaking story and its established base, Two Political Junkies and The Pittsburgh Comet all have more readers than me, I am sure. Other blogs are up and coming. But I am satisfied with my place in the world, and think that I could get more readers if I wanted to. I don’t see any point in calling people stupid because they don’t praise me. I may rip apart national political figures because of their diction. But you will be able to insert you own comment about it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A McCain Presidency ...

Well, I apologize for neglecting my own blog. I have been busy commenting on other people’s blogs, plus engaging in real life sometimes. But I have an idea I have mentioned in comments, that I want to mention here too.

What exactly would happen if John McCain were elected. I don’t expect the Senate or House to move very much in their respective majorities. I don’t think the Senate will lose it’s Democratic majority, in fact I have heard here and there that the Democrats might pick up a seat or two. No one expects the Democrats to make it to 60 seats though. Even if the Democrats lose the Senate, I would expect the House to remain in Democratic hands.

So McCain is unlikely to be able to move as agenda through Congress. The Democrats in Congress also may not be able to move an agenda, considering the success of Senate Republicans in either blocking votes or blocking legislation. The only promise McCain may be able to keep legislatively is block earmarks. Since earmarks are buried in appropriations bills, and since Congressmen and women really depend on those to deliver favors to their districts, Congress (Republicans and Democrats) would likely fight McCain on that. We might see some veto proof majorities, but I see no reason for such bi-partisanship to last long. I think ultimately we would end up with White House/Congressional gridlock. Actually, we have that now in the Senate to some extent, but I think it would be much worse with a President McCain. What the Senate Republicans failed to kill, the President would.

Congress always finds it easier not to take action, and then blame someone else. The higher the stakes, the greater the cost of pissing a group of organized fringe constituents off, especially for Senators. An opposition President, particularly one like John McCain, whose campaign staff has been vilifying the Democrats even as McCain himself loudly proclaims his independence from the Republicans, would stand against everyone. He might cause a war or negotiate a peace, all to little avail. By the time of the midterms, Congressional incumbents might be thrown out by the bucket full, but to be replaced by who? Perhaps the Mickey Mouse party. They could hardly be worse.

I do think Obama would have a better chance of advancing an agenda (although the behavior of the current Senate makes me worry about the future). If Obama does achieve some goals, that brings a whole different set of consequences, which would be the topic for a different post.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Of suburbs and exurbs

I talked to my brother on Sunday. Being brothers, we talk not about family or jobs, but about bicycles and cars. I talked about a new bike and my old bike, and how my newish car has a ventilation system issue I am having addressed. He talked about how he has gotten as high as 30 mpg on the highway in his car (using the air conditioner). He has a six cylinder VW Passat (I believe, maybe a Jetta) with this in dash computer that will tell him his mileage. It’s a stick, in fact I think it is sort of a German muscle car. He told me something else I fouind frankly amazing, but before I repeat it I should back up a bit. My brother lives in Peachtree City, Georgia. He works for NCR, which has an operation 3 miles from his house. Peachtree City is a planned community dating back to the 60’s. It has an extensive walking/bike path network that parallels and crosses the street network, so that people can travel throughout the city only occasionally crossing streets and dealing with cars. Peachtree City is an affluent town, home to many Delta pilots and their families because of its relatively close proximity to the Atlanta airport. It also has the highest per capita number of golf carts in the country, or something (or so my brother says, I tend to believe him).

The surprising thing my brother said is that he had used only one tank of gas the whole summer. He backed off a little on that later (I think) and maybe allowed two tanks. What he does is bike to and from work (and home for lunch), and he has bought himself an electric golf cart. So he does all his grocery shopping with the golf cart, he visits his girl friend in the golf cart, they go to concerts or dinner or bars in the golf cart, and he charges it overnight.

Now, he says that he is pretty much one the few bike riders on the paths, and his is the only bike at the bike rack at his work, but the parking lot is full of golf carts. Golf carts crowd free public concerts, and of course use the walking/biking paths extensively. So this is not an excessively healthy or green town. Still, like my brother, they have the ability to live without using gas excessively if they happen to work locally. This is the sort of suburb that is likely to survive if gas prices skyrocket. Especially in the “sunny” South, he could install solar panels and certainly power the golf cart, if not his whole house. If his local Kroger would stock locally grown food, he could reduce his carbon footprint (should he choose to) significantly. If you compare that even to urban residents such as myself, he could potentially achieve what would be much more difficult for me. Of course, city residents such as myself could be served by wind farms or solar panel arrays for our electricity, and the size of a place like Pittsburgh makes it a good market for local farmers at the always busy farmer’s markets.

But it is interesting to me that a carefully planned community can yield as unexpected spin off benefit of a more green lifestyle.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The have it both ways campaign

When you compare John McCain to John Kerry, both of whom being in the navy, you look at two different definitions of hero.

Kerry joined the navy when the draft board denied a request for a deferment so he could spend a year in France, and also because some of his classmates had joined the navy. Kerry spent some time on a guided missile frigate picking up downed aviators off the coast of Vietnam but then requested an assignment on the “Swift boats” (at the time, he thought it would be a safe assignment). As we know, Kerry had several encounters with the Vietcong or North Vietnamese, and was wounded three times. He later protested the war.

John McCain was planning to be a career man in the Navy. After graduating Annapolis and then flight school, he requested a combat assignment during Vietnam, and flew bombing missions over Vietnam. Everybody pretty much knows he was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. His father, an admiral, became the commander of the Vietnamese theater of operations shortly there after, and the North Vietnamese offered John McCain a release, to show that children of privileged parents were taking advantage of their status. McCain said no, not until all POW’s were released. He stayed a prisoner for I believe around five years, helping some of his fellow prisoners keep their spirits up.

McCain’s heroic status comes from having been a POW, which is different than how we usually look at hero’s. Kerry’s heroic status is more conventional, although he was somewhat uncomfortable with it and of course it was called into question.

McCain is portrayed as a man who served his country with distinction, but at least one reality is that he was a competent but not great pilot, and the most significant feature of his military career was having been a POW. He left the military because he realized he would never be a full admiral like his father and grandfather (although he might have made the lesser rank of rear admiral).

Another reality is that John McCain married a former model as a young man, before going to Vietnam. When he returned from Vietnam, he came home to a wife who had been in an auto accident and had become less attractive. He started having extramarital affairs and eventually divorced her. He then married a former beauty pageant contestant who was (and is) also rich. How should we compare this behavior with Bill Clinton’s, or does the POW status excuse anything.

John McCain’s presidential candidacy this time has become a situation where his campaign staff viciously attacks his opponent while John McCain acts as though he is above it all. Mark Salter handed out tire gauges labeled “Obama’s Energy Plan” back in late July, although McCain later admitted that keeping your tire pressure up to recommended levels is a fine idea. Someone else in the McCain campaign called Obama an “arugula eating, pointy headed professor type”, yet John McCain said in his nomination speech that he would end partisan rancor. These are the have it both ways people.

This is the issue for voters to reconcile. Obama is proposing a lot of policy. Maybe too much. He wants to increase the amount and range of the EIC, he wants to double the hope credit, he wanted to implement an extension of the Social Security payroll tax on people making $250.000 (the tax currently is on incomes up to $102,000). He want to provide a tax cut for essentially everybody with incomes under 250,000 and raise taxes for people with incomes over $250,000. His own people project a three and a half trillion deficit by 2014 (I believe it was). And of course a universal health care plan with no mandates.

There is a chance Obama will get a lot of that, and we shouldn’t rely on Congress to reign him in.

Still, McCain is worse. His fiscal proposals include making the Bush tax cuts permanent, removing the tax free status of employer provided healthcare and a couple of more. It is truly difficult seeing a Democratic Congress doing any of that.

McCain seems more interested in trying to kill earmarks and reduce DC corruption. That’s fine, and more likely something he could actually do while in office, but the Country needs (and should want) more. We need someone to look at income inequality, and do all the government can do about that. We need someone to tackle the mortgage crisis, Social Security and Medicare. We need a detail President, and John McCain is not that man. Even Sarah Palin is not that woman. They are flashy people, jetting into a crisis and then jetting out. You know, celebrities.

McCain is back to even in the polls, though. Apparently a lot of people whose interests are congruent with barrack Obama’s are saying they will not vote for him. Some people on the Burgh Report say how other people they know are excited by McCain’s POW record. Sure, it gives you a reason not to vote for Obama.

I hope people will actually listen to the words and think, can this guy achieve this working with a Democratic Congress? And will it be good for me?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Personality versus issues

I caught the roundtable part of This Week on ABC and the Meet the Press on NBC this Sunday. This Week had a Republican strategist Mathew Dowd on, who said something startling to me, until I realized he was not so much describing as trying to direct. He said the election would not be about issues, it would be about the experience and values of the candidates. Well, sure, McCain wants the only issue to be that he will maintain the status quo, and Obama will raise taxes and change things. Whenever you can make it seem like a black man is saying “things gonna change ’round here”, you can make some large segment of the population nervous. McCain is going after the Republican base, the evangelicals (those presumably not already part of the Republican base) and independent and conservative white Democratic voters with no more than a high school degree. Obama presumably is going after educated white Democratic, independent and even Republican voters, as well as the Democratic base and a fair number of young voters. Mathew Dowd was at pains to say that many voters had no participated in the primaries (even though Democrats reported record turnouts) and that the young people who voted in the primaries would not turnout for the general.

There is a fair danger that Mathew Dowd is correct. It is pretty difficult to get and/or keep undereducated voters to focus on issues. They internalize character issues and scandal more easily (a lot of the time so too do educated voters). Obama is getting help from the NYTimes on this front, but even that is a double edged sword, reinforcing accusations that Obama is elitist. I suspect the unions will help. Despite the fact the Democrats felt somewhat betrayed by Clinton in 1992, I don’t think they want to risk losing Congress again.

If McCain is elected, he will likely face a Democratic Congress that still does not have a veto proof majority in the Senate. He will have to decide, if the Congress does decide to pass a universal health insurance bill (and in this situation they could pass Edwards’ plan as easily as Obama’s), would he veto it. If the Congress passed tax cuts for the middle class and poor, and let the Bush tax cuts expire, would McCain veto those. Honestly I have no idea, but certainly a return to government gridlock, for at least two years until the midterms, could be possible.

What’s interesting is that conservatives are partly right in talking about how liberal are talking about McCain. He used to be the Democrats best friend outside their own party. He attacked the Bush tax cuts, he supported Tom Daschle who wanted to investigate what the administration knew about 9/11 and he sponsored and passed the anti-torture bill. But McCain has backpedaled on quite a bit. He now wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent (Congress passed them as temporary) and he agrees with the administration’s definition of torture.

I think John McCain has the potential to be another Ronald Reagan, a plain spoken guy, this time a genuine hero (although a person being a hero for being a POW is a bit dubious), and someone liked even by some liberals like Jon Stewart. But I think if Obama sticks to talking about the issues, about how policy affects real people, he can keep the election focused where it needs to be - on us, not on the personalities or characteristics of the candidates.

One more brief note. Sarah Palin is described as an expert on energy policy. Maria Bartiromo said as much, based on Palin’s two years as governor, and unknown time on the State Oil and Gas board as the ethic commissioner. She resigned the board after sometime, complaining about the ethics of her fellow (Republican) commissioners. I note she raised the tax on oil and gas production at some point during the last two years. She placed the interests of 600,000 Alaskans over 299,400,000 lower 48 and 1 island Americans. This is an indication of her expertise?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A comment on the disappearance of no comments

I know I am a minor figure in the blogging scheme of things. I don’t break stories and my opinions are little noted. Which is fine with me. If I do come up with something or several things that are clever, maybe someone will notice. If I blog a lot more, perhaps everyday, I get more traffic, I know this. But I am content with my position in the order of things.

I do allow comments, albeit not (strictly speaking) anonymous ones. But Blogger and blogging in general have an interesting definition of anonymous. When you don’t allow anonymous comments, it means your commenters can not hit the “anonymous” button. I don’t know if that masks your IP address (probably not), but if you still want to remain anonymous on my blog or the other few blogs that don’t allow “anonymous” comments, you just choose a nickname for yourself when you sign up with Google. You could choose a new nickname every time you comment, except you have to give an email address, and having an unlimited supply of email addresses is beyond the abilities most people.

I decided not to allow anonymous comments because of Pat Dowd. He had expressed an irritation with anonymous commenters, feeling like their presence suppressed genuine debate (I hope I got that right). I tried to explain that anonymity is a tradition of the internet (I believe), but I also partly agreed with Dr. Dowd. Being forced to adopt a consistent persona, even if we don’t know who are, makes debate flow more smoothly, and more sophisticated arguments can be developed.

That’s why I think sites that don’t allow commenters are not really blogs. There are only a few; the Carbolic Smoke Ball and Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman are two come to mind. Actually, the Carbolic Smoke Ball is more like entertainment. Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman is Chad Hermann’s vehicle, which I have written about before.

Dr. Hermann has decided to hang up his blogging … er keyboard, apparently. In his second to last post he complained about an email he got where a reader told him it was not enough to not complain about Barack Obama, Dr. Hermann needed to actively praise him. Then Dr. Hermann posted this on Thursday:

(with this.)

The rest is silence.”

Now, my understanding is that Dr. Hermann is currently a speechwriter for Tim Murphy. I don’t have the faintest idea whether that is related, or if a commenter threatened him, or he wanted to vacate the stage to make way for Sarah Palin. I will say that I think the opportunities for comments are an important part of a blog. I know, I get very few comments, but I am ok with that. I could get more if I chose to stir the pot. And that would be a good thing. If you think that someone who writes things that other people may read is spreading falsehoods, it is actually a good thing to be able to argue with them, force them to back up their opinions. Dr. Hermann obviously did not do that, and if he ended up feeling mischaracterized on other blogs (hopefully not mine, but in fact probably on mine), he bears some of the responsibility. I liked some of the funny stuff he wrote. But I like pretty much all the funny stuff Dave Barry writes.

Just a quick, unfair note on Sarah Palin. John McCain’s first wife was a former model. McCain’s second wife participated in beauty pageants. And now he has picked as his veep candidate a former beauty pageant contestant. His first choice was said to be Joe Lieberman, but Lieberman tested poorly with Republicans (possibly because Lieberman is a Democrat). So McCain went with the adolescent boy choice. Meanwhile, since Palin is younger than Obama, with an equally brief resume, should we compare schooling? University of Idaho in journalism with a minor in Political Science, with no mention of class rank. Versus Columbia, BA in Political Science, Harvard Law – president of the Law Review and magna cum laude. Forget her being pro-life, she believes in teaching creationism. Our kids aren’t being educated now, and she wants to weaken the curriculum.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ford is Job One (was that the catch phrase?) ...

So by now Pittsburgh should know that Pat Ford resigned. His letter was carried online on the Post-Gazette and Bob Mayo’s websites. It was apparently aimed at Yarone Zober, but to my way of thinking it is practically gibberish and simultaneously career suicide. He starts by complaining that he has received no support from the administration. He complains that although it has been two weeks since the state ethics board cleared him, the administration has not talked about reinstating him. But what ford fails to distinguish is that it was Ford’s lawyer who declared Ford cleared, and no one has heard from the ethics board directly.

From there it takes a right turn into looneyville. Ford complains that he does not “support the actions of what I believe to be a failed administration and no longer desire to return to a position where I will again be forced to serve as a scapegoat for the inappropriate affairs and activities of others.”. He further says that he “believed that by working together we could have a positive impact on this City, embracing all that it has to offer. But that vision never materialized, and as I have always said, "Where there is no vision, people perish." I have no desire to perish along with Luke Ravenstahl's Pittsburgh.” Then there is the whole culture of deception and corruption thing and people who support him being retaliated against. Those things could be true, but the thing is that Pat Ford was a very high ranking official in the Ravenstahl administration. He could have resigned, could have worked to influence the Mayor to remove the corruption, could have worked within the URA to make it a better place. In fact, when this deception and corruption was taking place, Pat Ford was in charge of the authority that he apparently charges was deceitful and corrupt. How does that square with this high minded tone he is taking. He actually dictates the terms of his resignation, telling the chair of the board of the URA that he is cleaning out his desk, but the URA will still continue to pay him through December 31st.

I think the city is well rid of Mr. Ford, but I don’t think his departure is going to do much for us. We have so many problems, and a lot of them start and end with our Mayor. Surely this will hurt Our Mayor’s chance for re-election, but there is only a slim chance that he will be replaced by anyone better.

By the way, I wrote this morning's post fairly hurriedly. Some of the numbers I rattled off are in fact inaccurate. For example, Obama’s tax increase (rollback of the Bush tax cuts plus a bit more) would hit tax returns (individual or family) of more than $250,000. If you look by quintile, the top quintile loses money, but in fact the tax increase doesn’t start until you get to the top five percent. But really, to understand the idea, you should read the article.

short(ish) takes on Bikes and Obamanomics

It seems like the bicycling issue has died down. I noticed Ruth Ann Dailey, everyone’s favorite conservative columnist (apart from Jack Kelly), had a relatively pro bicycling piece on Monday, because her current husband is a bicyclist. To say my last words on the subject, if you asked a random selection of drivers what they think about other drivers and cars on the road, what do you think you would hear? Complaints about traffic, the condition of the roads, maybe about how rude other drivers are. One in a hundred might complain about how fast people drive on the Parkway or 28, but no more. But clearly if you ask drivers about bicycles, practically everyone will say first that bicyclists break the law every day, and then that bicyclists get in the way of traffic and cause problems where ever they go. The exceptions to that rule are if you ask a driver who is also a bicyclist.

Our Mayor wants the city to gain a “bicycle-friendly” designation by some date (two years, four years?). The new bike czar is going to have his work cut out for him, maybe having the “furries” (the people who dress in animal costumes who keep holding their conventions here) ride on bikes to make it seem cuter. Or give drivers a more fun target (how many points for hitting a guy dressed up like a giant rat on a bike).

The New York Times had an interesting article on Obama’s view of economics in the Sunday magazine this week. Well, interesting to me as I had never seen his views laid out like that. As a bonus, it also included a pdf of a report from the Tax Policy Center (buried on page five) that compares the tax and income implications of Obama’s and McCain’s proposed tax cuts. That 53 page pdf made really fascinating reading (well, skimming). Apparently McCain’s proposals, while benefiting the middle class slightly and the poor even more slightly, will be a huge windfall for the rich, further dropping their tax rates and netting them tens of thousands of dollars (or in some cases perhaps hundreds of thousands). Obama’s proposals, by contrast, help the poor and middle class significantly, but roll the gains of the top twenty percent back to 2000, and a bit more. Both proposals take the economy into deficit, but with Obama the deficits are lower.

The article itself details how Obama has been influenced by hanging around the University of Chicago. It is a conservative place, but in innovative ways; the economics department has been fairly influenced the newer theories of behavioral economics. For Obama, it has influenced his thinking. Now, he recognizes clearly that the free market has built in problems, things it ignores when left to itself. Pollution is the classic example, but health care in the US now is also a candidate. Traditionally, with pollution for example, the free market does not control for it because no one owns the air (or rivers, etc), so polluters are free to pollute as much as they want. Where Obama differs from old school democrats is that instead of criminalizing pollution, or regulating it with one technology (say scrubbers on smokestacks), Obama wants to use market techniques to most efficiently control pollution. So you have the carbon auction, you set up a market where companies buy, sell or trade pollution credits. You reduce pollution to the level you want, and if you sell credits you give them back to the consumer in tax reductions to offset the higher prices caused by pollution controls. This is a way of thinking very close to my heart. Definitely another reason it is so important to elect Obama over McCain.