Thursday, November 18, 2010

Complain, Don't Act

Recent developments suggest a few favorite tea party congressfolk are adopting a strategy of Complain, Don't Act.

 From Politico, Appropriations Panel Loses Its Luster
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was asked to be an appropriator and said thanks, but no thanks. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a tea party favorite, turned down a shot at Appropriations, which controls all discretionary spending. So did conservatives like Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an ambitious newcomer who will lead the influential Republican Study Committee.

Indeed, the Appropriations Committee just doesn’t seem to be the plum assignment it once was, and the line is short for new recruits to join a panel where the longtime focus on bringing home earmarks and other goodies will shift to finding $100 billion in spending cuts. Even conservative reformers who do get assigned to the committee are likely to be stymied once their appropriations bills reach the floor and get amended to death, then potentially earmarked into oblivion by a Democratic Senate.
These are exactly the sorts of signals we need from new Republican congressfolk to finally convince Americans to support independent candidates who might listen to the people, figure out what they want, and then actually try to follow through.

This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry patiently explains to the car rental rep that it's the holding of the reservation that matters. "Anyone can just take 'em!" Same goes for the complaints of the people. Anyone can just take our complaints and then rant them back at us. It's the addressing of the complaints that matters.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Palin Jumps Shark

For months I have been telling both Palin-despising liberals and Palin-adoring conservatives that Sara Palin is not going to run for President. "She's happy and comfortable in the roles she's carved out as a sideline cheerleader, "I've told everyone. "She has no interest in actually playing in the big game."

Well, now Palin has a reality show. It's some sort of an infomercial for her, and for Alaska.

With this action, I declare that Palin has officially jumped the shark. She's maybe a list or two above Kathy Griffin, but that's it. Do we need a clearer signal to tell us that she's not running? I say no. But I also note that this doesn't  mean that she's through playing coy. It's in the interest of prolonging her appeal to display how serious she is about her important work. So this show could well be the most explicit signal that she's not running, at least for the next 6 months.

I warn you all to stay away from such soul-sucking fare as Palin's show. But if you must watch, keep an eye out for moments where Palin name drops smart people in a sad attempt to signal that she has more than a feeble grasp of a complicated issue that smart people right serious books about. I can't bring myself to keep watch for it myself, but it's a safe bet to happen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Research Must Pursue The Truth Wherever It Leads"

Can't recall whether the hat tip I owe should be directed at Instapundit or Marginal Revolution. Here's British economist John Kay on a practice that really chaps my ass:

The studies I have cited are carefully referenced and use advanced statistical techniques. But sophistication of method is used to torture data to reveal conclusions that do not obviously follow from them, but which fit either the researchers’ preconceptions or the sponsor’s policy objectives, or both.

Bad arguments do not necessarily invalidate the causes in which they are deployed. People should not drink and drive. Smoking is unpleasant and perhaps harmful to non-smokers. But these observations do not justify blurring the distinction between genuine scientific analysis and propaganda disguised as science. Policy should follow evidence, not evidence policy. It is time to reassert the principle that research must pursue the truth wherever it leads: the principle on which the social and economic progress of the past few centuries has depended.

Amen, brother.  Every time I hear another innumerate nitwit dismiss data with the insufferable "lies, damn lies, and statistics" line, I have the urge to declare douchnozzle clobberin' time. But when so many skilled practitioners of research and data analysis torture data in the way Kay describes, one can hardly blame careless observers from dismissing the entire enterprise of collecting data to, you know, learn something true.

Of course, this never really changes. So count this as a reminder to everyone who feels Kay's pain: keep fighting.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Deficit Hawks Versus the Plain Old Hawks

Englebert Humperdinck once famously crooned

After the lovin', I'm still in love with you... .

After the lovin' of last week's  GOP congressional victories, how long will the afterglow endure? I predict the next tune is Robert Cray. Because the forecast calls for pain. 

Everyone knows that the traditional conservative rant against federal overspending exempts our military. The GOP will wrap itself in as many flags as need be to ensure the security of our good fighting men at risk, protecting our freedom overseas. And to ensure funding for a new weapons program, Especially if it's in their district.

But for a hint that Boehner, Cantor, and McConell may face a cat-herding task, see below. [Hat tip to sometime amigo tillyosu over at donklephant for pointing out that Think Progress compiled these]:
OK senator Tom Coburn this week said:
Taking defense spending off the table is indefensible. We need to protect our nation, not the Pentagon’s sacred cows.
 Kentucky Senator-elect Rand Paul said:
In order to address the deficit the only compromise that I think we can have is you have to look at the whole budget. We’ve always excluded the military and said we’re not gonna look at the military…everything has to be on the table.
PA senator-elect Pat Toomey said:
But the fact is, there is waste pretty much everywhere in the government, and that includes the Pentagon. Part of the problem is Congress voting on systems the Pentagon doesn’t even want.
 Illinois senator-elect Mark Kirk said:
For example, I back spending restraint across the board. At the DOD like no second engine for the F-35 Fighter, closing down joint forces command, across the board reductions.
Georgia senator Johnny Isakson said:
Well first of all there’s not a government program that shouldn’t be under scrutiny. And that begins with the Department of Defense and goes all the way through.
TN senator Bob Corker said:
Everything! I mean, look, Secretary Gates will tell you there’s a lot of waste there. We need to streamline it.
 So the GOP is apparently not unanimous in extending the military's exemption into the promised era of the new austerity

Let the acrimony begin!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tim Pawlenty Making Sense

Here's Tim Pawlenty with some good points, similar to the ones Chris Christie has been making. Be sure to read the whole thing here. Below, my edited version of his short list:
1. Set clear priorities but cut almost everything else. Not everything government does is equally important.

2. Reform out-of-control entitlements. By far, the biggest long-term driver of the federal debt is entitlement spending, including Social Security and Medicare. These programs are going to have to be changed. And despite Beltway rhetoric, it can be done.

3. Sacrifice. Americans have sacrificed enough; it’s time for government to sacrifice for a change.
The explanations behind this short general list can be found at the link. While I am personally not reflexively opposed to tax increases in some cases, as Pawlenty is, I think he's pointing in the right direction. And has good concrete examples of things he did in his state.

These are the sorts of changes the future holds for all of us, If we are lucky and wise, we get on board now and do them by choice. If not, they happen anyway when insolvency forces them on us in more ugly, unfair, uneven, unpleasant ways.

Positive Feedback for Talking Sense

Sadly for Independent prospects, the path is straight uphill. That means walking right up to the turd in the punchbowl, patting him on the back, and saying "Tell me more." We live in a political environment where a true but unpopular message usually brings no more than a chastening firestorm.

For any effort to encourage political independent to survive and thrive, we have to be ready to reward independent, good-faith truth telling no matter who is telling it, and no matter whose ox it gores.

Here's one simple truth as I see it, and the teller is Tim Pawlenty. Quoted at Thinkprogress from his appearance on MSNBC:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) essentially called his party’s congressional leaders liars, saying anybody says they want to cut spending but won’t touch entitlements or defesne is “lying to you”:

HOST: What are you going to cut?

PAWLENTY: If you look at a pie chart of federal outlays, discretionary spending being the red, non-discretionary being the blue. The blue is already over the over the half way mark and it’s growing in double digits. Anybody who comes in here and tells you they’re not going to cut anything other than waste fraud and abuse, they’re not going to touch entitlements — they’re lying to you. If you want to deal with the spending issue, in terms of total federal outlays, you got to deal with interest on the national debt, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid — if you have the time I can walk you through my ideas. But that’s the truth, you got to do entitlement reform, particularly if you’re going to hold defense harmless.

Predictably, THINKProgress's focus is expresing glee at a republican who apparently suggested his party leaders were liars. I've got a different takeaway.

Tim Pawlenty is telling the unvarished truth about our federal budget. We should applaud that, and acknowledge its truth and the ramifications that come with it. I could not have LESS interest in any argument about the relative truthiness of party-leading talking heads.

Any sensible independent has to read this and think, "hmm, I am willing to listen to more of what this guy has to say on the federal budget. I think his many not even be relevant to this matter."

More to come.

Open Thread: Potential Independent Leaders for 2012

It's an open thread, so smoke if you got 'em on any topic. Sports, beer, whiskey, cool gadgets, what you're up to.

And if you have a mind to, can you point me at some leaders out there who seem willing to face facts about our future even if these facts are inconvenient and suggest unpopular solutions. Have at.

Republicans: Is the New Script the Old Script?

It's not very hard to understand why so many republicans are so sure today that their script was always right, and the reason the last show bombed was bad acting.

It's also not very hard for longtime politics wonks to see that both parties reach this conclusion each they go through their boom-bust cycle. Democrats "learned" that they should have really passed healthcare, so when they got their next swing at the ball, they made sure they did it, by whatever means necessary. How'd THAT work out? To this day, they are convinced of their courage and rectitude on HCR.

And now it's the GOP's turn to fail to learn. Even as the president (granted, predictably) announced his commitment to identifying and working on important business with the GOP at the table. various GOP members trumpeted their zeal to be uncompromising. I must have missed the part where we all voted for our leaders to fiddle while the nation keeps burning.

We're poised for an epic 2-year food fight where almost nothing gets achieved, and nearly every political act by both sides is done first for the sake of signaling. The GOP seems ready to keep talking big about cuts. Then they plan to deliver little, and blame democrats. Because most of them lack the courage to propose unpopular cuts or structural adjustments to the nondiscretionary spending that comprises most of the budget, and they are terrified to cut the only arguably discretionary portion of the budget that is a big chunk: military spending.

So they'll nibble at non-defense discretionary spending, and blame the subsequent lack of success at cutting spending on the democrats. They will act without courage, because most of them cannot get past their gut instinct that such courage is political suicide.

As an advocate of independent thought and independent candidates in 2012, I am hoping to identify some politicians, regardless of party, who have on occasion shown a willingness to speak the truth even if its inconvenient for their side. How about an open thread for that?

The Things Barack Obama Still Doesn't Seem to Get

When it comes to empathy for the electorate., Barack Obama continues to show that he's no Bill Clinton. Clinton, warts and all, had an innate connection with the evolving whims and feelings of the people. On top of that, he genuinely likes and enjoys interacting with all sorts of people.

As of 2010, the passionate sure-footed candidate of 2008 is gone. He's been replaced by a careful, tempered, detached President, riddled with doubts. Worst of all, his deep attachment to his sense of the world as it was for the 2008 candidate continues to threaten his future viability. And his effectiveness as a President in the upcoming months.

He is clinging to the elephant of two years ago. But the economy didn't bounce back as  he promised, making people doubt the wisdom and efficacy of the stimulus. The healthcare reform he was sure people wanted in 2008 has given way to the bastardized reality of a package that improved access but failed to address the real problem of cost. A package that was bought only at the price of ALL the political capital he had.

Yesterday, Obama showed he wasn't entirely clueless by stressing that the nation has urgent business and that he is ready to work with both parties in congress to do it. Then he went on to show that he is still wedded to the kinds of approaches that sounded good  to some in 2008, but which many Americans are deeply skeptical about in 2010.

How long will Obama persist in believing in expanded rail and other expensive public works projects without any demonstrable acid test of regard for whether any given project is truly necessary. Necessary beyond providing short-term employment at taxpayer expense, that is.

And how much longer will Barack Obama remain so cool, so tempered, so detached, so careful in tumultuous times? He would do well to talk to Mike Dukakis, who learned the lesson of the value of passion and fight too late. Obama needs to find passion and fight, and he needs to find the lyrics to the right song. Vy that I mean a song that resonates with the public circa today, not 2008.

On the Matter of the Blind Men and the Elephant (or Donkey)

The teaching tale of The Blind Men and the Elephant feels apt today.
But finally, an old blind man came. He had left the city, walking in his usual slow way, content to take his time and study the elephant thoroughly. He walked all around the elephant, touching every part of it, smelling it, listening to all of its sounds. He found the elephant's mouth and fed the animal a treat, then petted it on its great trunk. Finally he returned to the city, only to find it in an uproar.

Each of the six young men had acquired followers who eagerly heard his story. But then, as the people found that there were six different contradictory descriptions, they all began to argue. The old man quietly listened to the fighting. "It's like a wall!" "No, it's like a snake!" "No, it's like a spear!" "No, it's like a tree!" "No, it's like a rope!"  "No, it's like a fan!"

The old man turned and went home, laughing as he remembered his own foolishness as a young man. Like these, he once hastily concluded that he understood the whole of something when he had experienced only a part. He laughed again as he remembered his greater foolishness of once being unwilling to discover truth for himself, depending wholly on others' teachings.
I'm convinced today of the greater foolishness of the leaders of both parties, who remain convinced that their own teachings are complete, and who seek always to attract followers by persuading them it's unnecessary to discover truth for yourself.

In my next two posts, why I think neither side has demonstrated that it really gets the whole message of either the 2008 or 2010 elections.

Wasn't Reagan an Actor?

Peggy Noonan says that Sara Palin demonstrates what the Tea Party needs to get, if it wants to grow and succeed. On Fox, Palin said:

"Wasn't Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn't he in 'Bedtime for Bonzo,' Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor." 

Here's Noonan's response:

Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped their lids, but I'll voice their consternation to make a larger point. Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.

The point is not "He was a great man and you are a nincompoop," though that is true. The point is that Reagan's career is a guide, not only for the tea party but for all in politics. He brought his fully mature, fully seasoned self into politics with him. He wasn't in search of a life when he ran for office, and he wasn't in search of fame; he'd already lived a life, he was already well known, he'd accomplished things in the world.

Here is an old tradition badly in need of return: You have to earn your way into politics. You should go have a life, build a string of accomplishments, then enter public service. And you need actual talent: You have to be able to bring people in and along. You can't just bully them, you can't just assert and taunt, you have to be able to persuade.

Complaining? Noticing what's wrong? Criticizing the doers from the sidelines? That's easy.

Going to Washington and changing things? Getting people to work together? Representing the whole nation and your own broad constituency? That's hard. That's why we should try to elect people who we think can do it. The things that make people appealing to vote for are not always the same things that make them able to lead and govern with the touch that the nation wants.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

GOP: Obama Must Narfle the Garthok

I’d put the chances at better than 50-50 that Republicans take such a hard line on the budget.
But they are on the meter now, and people will be watching. Suppose the President moves right and puts substantive cuts on the table, and offers to make some of the changes to healthcare reform that the GOP has suggested. Imo, this a given, just as it is a given that the GOP will countersell any such offers as far too little. Americans will split the difference and assume the truth is somewhere in between. the usual partisan half-truths. Remember, few Americans trust politicians to give it to us straight
Then suppose the GOP digs in its heels and says it’s not enough. That’s likely to please the hardcore. Right? But I seriously doubt that it will please impatient independents who would like to see pragmatic moves in the right direction. Now.
In such an environment, the chances are better than ever for viable independent and moderate candidates.
Possible Obama line: “The Republicans are leaving a perfectly good half loaf at the table, and going home to Americans empty-handed with a story that it’s the Democrats’ fault.”
The brinksmanship of insisting that only a whole loaf (or most of it) will do is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Newt Gingrich was sure it would work against Clinton, But Americans blamed Republicans for being too rigid and shutting down the government. The result was that Bill Clinton got to take most of the credit for later balancing the budget. Because Clinton positioned himself as the reasonable one, protecting regular folks from overweening partisanship.
Gingrich BTW is a really smart guy with a colossal ego. So he and the cohort of the GOP inner circle may have convinced itself that this time some sort of similar brinksmanship scheme will work. The basis is probably that people are angrier this time, and more committed to shrinking government.
Maybe they are right. Or maybe Americans, while quite committed to the idea in general, will prove more squeamish when faced with drastic particulars.
Will they want an extra couple hundred billion in cuts if they directly reduce federal aid to their state, which will reduce state aids to towns. Which will force each town to choose between higher property taxes and less police,m fire, and school money. Maybe we’ll all be that brave and that willing to sacrifice now. If Republicans lead the way in making an insolvent California grovel and insist on draconian cuts and policy changes, how will that play out across California, and on TV before the nation.
Even if you or I are basically behind the making of hard fiscal choices, we have to appreciate what a tightrope this will be to walk. Every hard move of brinksmanship by the GOP is a bet on the intestinal fortitude of Americans, on their willingness to put what’s best for the country fiscally as a whole against their personal interests, whether that means school funding, social security, still uncontrolled healthcare costs… .
Right or wrong policywise, it’s a ballsy bet if the really GOP chooses to make it. If they do, they’ll be the ones forced to endure an endless parade of TV anecdotes about the people being hurt, and the phones ringing off the hook with constituents telling them that while they agree with the policy of across the board cuts, their particular sacred cow really does need full funding, because they’ve already cut to the bone.
It has been comparatively easy for the GOP to talk tough at the national level. It is going to be MUCH harder to act tough with the whole country watching. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

From Indignation to Indy Nation

In Alaska, Lisa Murkowski is poised to defeat both anointed party choices via a write-in campaign. Hooda thunk that Alaska would so cheer Indy Nation so soon as after polluting the waters with Robo-mom Sara Palin?  

Democrats want to spin Murkowski's win as an anti-tea-party or anti-Palin result. The GOP wants it to prove that disloyalty is a bad thing. It proves neither. What it proves is that the people who win elections are the people who best represent their constituents, not the people who best represent their party.  

Alaska should be happy that they were able to avoid the horns of the sort of false dilemma that Nevada faced: odious liberal versus odious conservative. Folks ought to appreciate how hard it is to get 41% in a 3 way race as a write in candidate. That's a very loud shot by the people of one state against partisan politics yielding abysmal choices. the abysmal partisan dilemma CAN be evaded I dunno about other states, but MA had more independent and unaffiliated candidates than I have ever seen. And I voted for many of them. I think there is plenty of room for more growth in the market for candidates who are not affiliated with either party.

And so, Tuesday's indignation can lead to Wednesday's Indy Nation, where the beady-eyed crap weasels of both parties should be beginning to feel the heat. As noted in other posts, several prominent conservatives had already warned their party against triumphalism. That's become the dominant spin in the aftermath...that this represents a last chance for Republicans to adjust our nation's headings to match public needs and desires.

The early returns suggest to me that they are determined to fail in part, because they are twisting these results to fit their version of the truth, which only ever tells half the story. Where the results show that the public is deeply upset by economic circumstances, the GOP insists that the results are simply a rejection of Barack Obama's polices. As usual, only about half right.

Many of us may well want smaller government and lower taxes. But we all know that the economy didn't suddenly collapse because of big government deficit spending and taxes. It collapsed because both parties were asleep at the switch, unwilling to speak to an unsustainable real estate bubble overinflated by deeply questionable lending and risk-selling practices at every step of the process by powerful business entities with Congress's ear and sympathy.

In a morning CNN poll, Americans give "wall st bankers" the most blame for our economy's current state. In this context, Republicans continue to insist we give freer reign to business. Apparently, there is not a politician in congress or a pundit on the DC beat who is willing to connect these dots. Smaller government and lower taxes probably can help lead us out of our current hole. But as long as we are dominated by two parties that never tell more than half the truth, and who spend most of their time fundraising and serving powerful special interests, the people will never come first.

As long as this endures, Democrats and Republicans will never be able to see the real world, only the world through the lenses of various special interests who sign checks for re-election campaigns. Congresscritters will spend their time speaking only to the issues as seen by the groups signing the checks, and the party power brokers setting the agenda and bulleting the talking points. If it's not an issue in the eye of some specific powerful special interest, Congress can't see it.

By supporting independent candidates with the freedom and the actual ability to see and describe MORE than half of the truth, we can wake up the partisan zombies pulling the switches. Here's to that come 2012.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Gauntlet to Throw Down Beginning Wednesday

The rising GOP tide is at this point a foregone conclusion in all quarters. The only remaining question is "how high?" I dunno the height of this peak, but I think there's a very good chance I know the time of the peak. Tuesday Night. In the run  up to the midterms, I've already noticed at least three smart conservatives warning the GOP to understand that this represents a last chance of sorts for them. To deliver for regular folks. Fiscal sanity and sensible policy.

Americans don't want to see triumphalism and celebrations. What do they want to see? Asses and elbows,  that's what. Hard work. Real work. Ignoring special interests. Listening to the people. Delivering actual policies that really demonstrate that.

Heres the pollster Rasmussen on the trend he sees, plain as day:

The reality is that voters in 2010 are doing the same thing they did in 2006 and 2008: They are voting against the party in power. This is the continuation of a trend that began nearly 20 years ago.... This reflects a fundamental rejection of both political parties.

More precisely, it is a rejection of a bipartisan political elite that's lost touch with the people they are supposed to serve. Based on our polling, 51% now see Democrats as the party of big government and nearly as many see Republicans as the party of big business. That leaves no party left to represent the American people.

Voters today want hope and change every bit as much as in 2008. But most have come to recognize that if we have to rely on politicians for the change, there is no hope. At the same time, Americans instinctively understand that if we can unleash the collective wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, there are no limits to what we can accomplish.

In this environment, it would be wise for all Republicans to remember that their team didn't win, the other team lost.

The gauntlet for us all to throw down beginning Wednesday? That we're all ready to keep shuffling the deck. We're ready to vote in droves for independent candidates who put regular folks first.  If party politicians don't stop throwing poop, if they don't stop putting special interests and reelection first, if they don't start listening and delivering, we'll consider  party affiliation to be a stain, a scarlet letter that says "don't vote for me."