Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

3/26/2010

They Told Me…

Filed under: Health Care,Media,Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 12:55 pm

They told me when opponents said I wouldn't actually be able to keep my insurance plan, even though I liked it, that it was a Republican smear tactic.

AP: Companies say health care costs hard to swallow.

(With respect to Instapundit.)

12/25/2008

The Economy and Ignorant Uses of Labels

Filed under: General,Media,Politics,Society — Tags: — Dangerous Dan @ 12:04 am

Ariana Huffington is someone whose naked ambition is impressive but her intellect is not.  I can't say I've ever read anything by her when I thought the woman was sharp.  This isn't just because I almost universally disagree with her politically and ideologically, but also due to her constant intellectual vapidity and sloppiness.

The latest example of this is her piece at Real Clear Politics.  In it, she claims that the current economic crisis is proof-positive evidence of the death of laissez-faire capitalism.  Indeed, she equates its failure and death with the failure and death of Marxism.

The collapse of Communism as a political system sounded the death knell for Marxism as an ideology. But while laissez-faire capitalism has been a monumental failure in practice, and soundly defeated at the polls, the ideology is still alive and kicking.

The only place you can find an American Marxist these days is teaching a college linguistic theory class. But you can find all manner of free market fundamentalists still on the Senate floor or in Governor's mansions or showing up on TV trying to peddle the deregulation snake oil.

A few points.  First, people in Cuba, Nepal, China, Venezuela, Bolivia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and various other places would probably be quite surprised to discover that Marxism is a dead political ideology given its impressive vitality in those locations.

Second, it's bizarre to assert that the crisis proves the failure of laissez-faire capitalism considering that laissez-faire capitalism doesn't exist in the U.S. or virtually anywhere else in the world and hasn't for some time (if it ever truly existed at all).  It's a bit hard to argue a policy has failed when that policy was never in effect.

Huffington is actually being extremely lazy with labels.  She refers to "free market fundamentalists" as laissez-faire capitalists and then goes on to name several such individuals on the right.  In actuality, however, you will find very few real laissez-faire supporters who believe the government should be completely hands-off on the economy.  The vast majority of free-marketeers believe in some kind of government regulation, but that lighter regulation is better while heavy regulation is harmful to individual businesses and the economy in general.  Calling free market folks laissez-faire proponents is a bit like when know-nothings call libertarians anarchists.  Anarchists believe in the complete abolition of government while libertarians argue for the fundamental necessity of government, though its scope should be limited and its powers restricted.  Conflating the two is laziness or foolishness and so is conflating modern supporters of the free market and those of laissez-faire capitalism.  The conflation, however, serves her rhetorical purposes and so she uses it.

I'd like to give Huffington the benefit of the doubt and say she's merely talking about people whose ideology is closer to laissez-faire and so they're discredited by ideological proximity.  She nowhere makes such a subtle distinction, though.  Instead, she asserts the laissez-faire line rather forcefully.

It's time to drive the final nail into the coffin of laissez-faire capitalism by treating it like the discredited ideology it inarguably is. If not, the Dr. Frankensteins of the right will surely try to revive the monster and send it marauding through our economy once again.

Even if she wants to push the subtlety, it only damages her since the point can easily be turned around to argue that she and statist heavy regulatory supporters are also discredited since they're much closer to the failed Marxists she already mentioned.

Also, while Huffington repeatedly claims that laissez-faire capitalists (or, though she doesn't deserve it, we'll be generous and say laissez-faire 'attitudes') caused the crisis, she never draws the causal link between the two.  It is an assertion that is no more than asserted and is accepted as fact.  Without making the case, she cannot use the crisis as proof of anything's failure.

If the crisis occurred in a laissez-faire environment, she might have something.  Given that it occurred in a regulated environment, the only question is about the degree and efficacy of regulation.  Sadly, the tendency among liberals when something like this happens is to automatically assume that a dearth of regulation is the culprit, while hardly ever examined (or at least too little examined) are the effectiveness of current regulations, the effectiveness of the regulatory agencies, and the effects of current regulations on the markets.  If, for example, current regulations could have stopped a crisis but didn't, then the implementation of those regulations need to evaluated and there's no need for new regulations.  If the effectiveness of regulatory agencies is to blame, then this needs attention and there's no need for new regulations.  If current regulations are to blame, then they need to be revamped.

The latter can happen due to the law of unintended consequences.  Very rarely do laws or regulations do only what is intended.  They also often have unintended and undesirable side-effects.  Regulations such as requiring banks to lend money to certain localized minority groups and to the poor (actuarial demographics that are poor credit risks) was an obvious cause of our current situation in that it altered business practices (the NY Times piece Huffington approvingly references says as much, though it incorrectly lays the blame on Bush, and as confusingly as Huffington, argues for both too much and too little government interference).  Indeed, the left often does not seem to understand how laws and regulations affect business and individual behaviors, even though liberals often use laws for the purpose.  At any rate, it is not at all clear that the crisis results from a lack of regulation since I've mentioned at least three other possibilities and I'd hazard there are more I haven't thought of.  To jump to the conclusion that more regulations or a heavier regulatory environment is needed is foolhardy.

Personally, I argue for a combination of the above factors.  First, the government interference.  There is the aforementioned government sticks compelling banks to approve loans and mortgages to people they ordinarily would shun.  This is the root cause of the mess and the sheer amount of bad paper being issued due to the federal government's compulsion was going to be disastrous regardless of what happened afterwards.

Aside from this, there was also the Fed's interference in interest rates.  When Greenspan dropped the interbank loan rate following 9/11, it also dropped the interest rate on many secure investments, like Treasury bills.  It got so low that capital naturally started trying to find secure investments elsewhere that offered higher yields.  This is when consolidated mortgage packages started looking so good.  And in the beginning, they were good since it was mostly good paper and mortgages, being backed by the collateral of houses, would rarely fail terribly.  As the various brokers realized the gold mine there, more and more money started shifting into them and to supply the demand, CDO's composed of worse and worse paper were sold throughout the financial system.  This is where the Wall Street greed part comes in as enormous commissions were quite appealing.  And for many mortgage brokers, approving bad paper was low risk since the mortgage, and therefore the high risk of the bad paper, was sold to somebody else, making it no longer the mortgage broker's problem.

There was some lack of regulation in that it is very low over the investment banks.  Even if those regulations were there, it's not assured that the regulatory agencies like the SEC could have caught it.  Many smart people work for the SEC, but they're still government employees who are usually not as smart as the high-paid Wall Street folks or who are but don't stick around at the agency long enough since they go on to be a high-paid Wall Street person.  This makes it difficult to spot and handle extremely complex dangerous phenomena like the mortgage mess.  The regulators either don't know what to make of it all, don't have the expertise to put all the pieces together, or they lack employee continuity for the effort.

Frankly, this mess is far too complicated to pin on any one cause and Huffington and those like her are being every bit as overly simplistic as those she vilifies.  We need to proceed slowly and carefully, two things politicians are terrible at doing in a time of crisis, no matter how real or imagined.  Things are definitely going to get worse and I fear measures are going to be implemented that will hinder a long term recovery, not help it.

11/3/2008

The Election

Filed under: General,Media,Politics,World — Tags: , , — Dangerous Dan @ 6:36 pm

My absence from my beloved blog is regrettable, and somewhat avoidable, but I'm a busy guy. I figured before the election takes place, I might as well give my view on things as they've been building up over the last few months.  And so this post will be a bit long.  But it's good.

First, a prediction. I'll be bold and predict McCain will win. The prevailing opinion is that this is a stupid prediction and it might be. Johnny Mac is down in all the national polls and isn't doing well in several battlegrounds. From what I've been looking at, though, McCain may very well pull this out. I'm not overly confident in the polls' accuracy. Most provide greater weight towards Democrats since more people are identifying themselves as Dem in this election. I'm not sure that this generic party preference will necessarily translate to corresponding Obama votes since it could just be an irritable reaction against the Republican administration, but those folks still don't plan to vote that way for president. There's also still a significant chunk of undecideds and I'd bet most of those who are still undecided at this point will be more likely to break for who they see as the safe choice. Next, most polls are counting on a high turnout of new voters, especially the young, poor, and minority, who will go for Barack. Counting on these people, though, is misguided. There will be a fair number of new voters, but I seriously doubt it will be what the pollsters are expecting. Every stinkin' election, for example, people make noise about how the youth will finally mobilize and vote in large numbers and yet each time, the proportion of youth who vote is about the same. Non-voters simply tend to be non-voters. They're not that way just because there wasn't a candidate to wow them enough for them to get to their polling location; they just don't care enough to bother voting. Finally, there's the dreaded Bradley Effect in which people may tell pollsters they're voting for Barack when really they won't. They lie because they don't want to appear racist (I've repeatedly seen this described as covert racism, but that's a straw man dismissal. People aren't lying because they're actually racist – they likely have very good reasons for not voting for Obama – they just don't want to appear racist and accusing them of covert racism only proves their worries about instead being accused of overt racism should they be honest.). I've read several accounts saying the Bradley Effect has lessened in the past 20 years, but I'm not so sure. There's never been an election of this scale to test it. Most of the citations for the effect's lessening are also not very good since they focus on candidates from mostly black neighborhoods or on black Republican candidates who are routinely impugned as not being authentically black and so eliminating the worry about appearing racist if you say you won't vote for him (you can't be racist for not voting for someone who's not really black, after all). So we'll see. The only poll that really matters is the one from the actual voters at the end of Tuesday night. I think McCain will eke it out, but here's an illustration of my confidence: If you asked me to bet a dollar on who I thought would win, I'd bet it on McCain. If you asked me to bet $10, I wouldn't bet it.

Second, I've been struck recently at what a weak candidate Obama really is. This seems like a surprising statement since he leads in the polls. But c'mon… he's the Democratic candidate in an election year that favors Democrats generally, the opposing party has a very unpopular lame duck president currently in office, he's raised an ungodly sum of cash totaling over $650 million which dwarfs the war chest of his opponent, he has ridiculously compliant and supportive media on his side, and his current advertising spending is third only to AT&T and Verizon… and yet despite all these amazing advantages, the man is still only polling 3%-7% over McCain in the average national polls. You'd think he'd be blowing McCain out of the water. That he hasn't done so is indicative of voters' less than confident opinion of him.

Third, both candidates are hurt by the fact they're senators. Americans simply don't like electing senators president. They much prefer vice-presidents, governors, and generals. The last sitting senator to be elected president was JFK in 1960. Before that, you have to go back to 1920 and Warren Harding. And before that… well… Harding was the last. That's right, only two sitting senators have ever been elected president and it sure ain't for lack of trying. There have been a number of senators who were the main party candidates and innumerable more who tried but were felled in the primaries. The voters' ambivalence towards senators is understandable. Senators are not executives. For many, their only executive experience is heading their campaigns. When it comes down to it, though, senators don't have to make executive decisions. They dither and argue, compromise, and cast votes. Successes can be claimed, but are still distributed among others while blame for failures can be spread around. These are not luxuries of an executive. Senators, for all their ability to see nuance, may actually be held back by the talent. I still recall in 2004 how John Kerry had this amazing tendency to nuance himself into decisive paralysis. He would on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand an issue so much that he ultimately couldn't come down on a side. A president needs to see the nuances of a problem, yes, but he still has to make a decision and stand by it. He can't put it off indefinitely, he can't blame somebody else for it (say, a staffer), he can't spread the blame around to other presidents, he can't just be out of the White House when the decision is made, and he certainly can't just vote 'present.' The lack of executive skills comes out during a campaign and voters notice it. A governor may not have the knowledge base for being president since a governor isn't that concerned with national and international affairs, whereas a senator is. The governor, however, knows what it's like to be the head of a government, to make executive decisions, work with a congress, have the responsibilities, etc. A senator does not. It's easier for a person to learn new data than it is to master new skills, which is why the august egos in the Senate don't do well in presidential elections.

Fourth, vice presidential choices. McCain's choice of Palin was a daring one, but it paid off. She energized the conservative base and helped remove the ambivalence they felt about McCain and his history of poking them in the eye. No other candidate could have done that. I also like how she's been more independent lately and breaking away from the McCain handlers who botched her rollout after the convention. She also brings that aforementioned executive experience to the ticket, which can't be found in any of the other three candidates. Obama's pick of Biden was a mistake, but not a serious one. He was an odd choice since Obama positioned himself as the candidate of change and then he picked a man who has spent more of his life in the Senate than out of it (can't we at least make that a term limit?!). I understand Obama needed to balance the ticket with more experience, but he probably didn't need to go in quite this direction. The man is also a gaffe machine who will say remarkably stupid things if you let him. That's why the campaign has kept him on a tight leash since about September 10th and has limited his impromptu speaking. Biden seemed to be a safe choice; he won't help that much, but if he's controlled, he won't hurt things either. At least he'll help bring in those desirable Delaware electoral votes.

Fifth, like many people, I have been amazed by the behavior of the media in this election. I've long been used to liberal bias in the media, but they haven't even bothered much to feign objectivity this time around. After Palin's VP announcement, there were reporters crawling all over Alaska looking for dirty laundry. That in itself doesn't terribly bother me because at this level, it's to be expected. That the media made fair game of her children, however, and splashed stories about them on the front pages was troubling. It was also annoying that hit pieces on Palin quoted only those with whom she had made enemies, of which the largest number were in her own party. By contrast, Obama has gotten nearly a free pass. There are plenty of interesting stories to investigate about Obama and his history and it's mostly been left up to blogs and the alternative press to look into them. It's understandable that the MSM doesn't want to reproduce the work of conservative sites, but they've shown a shocking non-curiosity about anything to do with possible shady aspects of Obama's past. It's not that they're not reporting on these stories that's the problem; the problem is that the media isn't even investigating them. They've consistently turned a blind eye to any stories that could hurt their preferred candidate. Even without the connection to Ayers or the rest, the mere fact he came out of the Chicago political machine means he's got to have dirt on him. A politician can't rise up out of Chicago without having sold parts of his soul, but the media has looked into none of it.

Sixth, the treatment of Palin and how ardently the left tried to personify her as an idiot made me realize a fundamental flaw in modern liberalism: many liberals make the error of equating being smart with being right. Intelligence is no guarantee against error and it isn't even much of a hedge against foolishness. Nor does it preclude emotions, personality traits, upbringing, or any other non- or semi-relevant factors from affecting the decision making process. Nevertheless, the association has been made and because of that, many liberals feel the need to constantly position themselves as smarter than their opposition. Proving your intellectual superiority, though, is more difficult than asserting the other side's inferiority and so the latter course is the one most often taken. Thus, conservatives must be painted as dullards. Ford was a clumsy bumbler, Reagan was a doddering old man, Bush 2nd is a raging moron, Palin is a ditz, etc. None of this is true, of course, but the memes must be established so as to demonstrate that conservatives are dumb and therefore necessarily wrong.

When this can't be done because the person is simply too obviously intelligent, another tack must be taken: the conservative is either evil or simply out of touch. Take Bush 1st, Bob Dole, and John McCain, for example. While efforts were/are made to denigrate their respective intellects, they don't play the role well enough for it to stick. Instead, they're old, out of touch, and sadly want to bring back a past that cannot be. On the other hand, folks like Tom Delay who are clearly smart and not out of touch are wily and evil.

This phenomenon can also create interesting problems. Bush 2nd was long established by the left to be incredibly stupid. But he somehow managed to win two presidential elections and his party controlled the House for 6 of his 8 years and the Senate for 4, a pretty rare feat in modern politics. An idiot shouldn't be able to do that – he should be incapable of outsmarting the smarter Democrats. This creates an unpleasant cognitive dissonance in that Bush beating them would indicate he's smarter and therefore right The resolution came in the person of Karl Rove, a very smart, but evil, man who orchestrated the victories.

So for liberals, conservatives will always be stupid, evil, or out of touch. That is often the only way the left can position themselves as being right since being smart equals being right. Ironically, circular logic sneaks into this arrangement. They are right because they are smarter and they are clearly smarter because they are right. Conversely, the opposition is wrong because they are dumber and they are clearly dumber because they are wrong. I argue most liberal positions are wrong not because of anyone's intelligence, but because they are just wrong (with backing reasoning, of course). I may accuse some on the left of being fools, but not of being of low intelligence.

This general attitude also leads to unfortunate perceptions of their fellow citizens. The red-staters in flyover country who cling to God and guns are not as smart as coastal lefties and therefore wrong (and circularly, vice-versa). They must be simultaneously combated and also led to the correct positions the liberals offer; they must be forced to be free and to abide by the general will the liberals have decided they themselves embody and represent. While the left may admit there are many uneducated and rather stupid folks who support their liberal positions, those are people who have seen some kind of light and given themselves over the paternalistic shepherding of their betters. And herein lays the danger of this liberal arrogance of intelligence equaling correctness. Classical liberalism dictates that individuals can better choose, pursue, and achieve their personal versions of happiness than can the state and so they must be given the freedom to do so. Too many of the liberal elites, however, view the masses as unwashed and in need of their benevolent guidance. The hoi polloi lack the smarts to know what is best for them and what is in their best interests and they must be directed to what the elites have deemed is happiness for them. It is nearly a secularized religious devotion in pointing people toward a decided-upon earthly heaven they may not even want. This is a dangerous Rousseauean zeal.

Seventh, taxes. Obama's tax plan borders on the obscene. It is a classic case of class warfare and exhibits one of the dangers of democracy (for the record, democracy is the only political system I endorse, but while the best, it is still imperfect, and its mere nature holds dangers). Since the majority are not in the higher income brackets, he can always appeal to their interests by saying he'll increase the taxes of the wealthier minority and provide the not as wealthy majority with the benefit. The majority democratically pillages the minority. This is itself unfair. What is more unfair is the mere concept that the government is permitted to confiscate such huge percentages of anyone's income. The current top marginal rate is 35% and Obama seeks to knock it up to 39.6%. That doesn't include concurrent markups in social security withholding rates or whatever cuts most states and even some cities take out of a person's income.

In this form of class warfare, Obama keeps talking about the rich as Warren Buffet types. He, as most on the left do, makes it seem as if the only people facing tax increases are oil-baron plutocrats who wear top hats and three-piece suits, and have indoor swimming pools filled with $100 bills in which they roll around. Most of those in the top brackets are not filthy rich. Let me tell you about my wife who is a doctor. I watched her spend four years in medical school working her butt off studying, learning medical skills, and taking overpriced board exams. I have watched her during her three-year residency also working her butt off on different rotations, spending the night at the hospital every third night while on call, leaving the house at 5:30 AM and not getting home until 7 PM, sacrificing time with our young daughter due to her job, sometimes even going one or two days without so much as seeing her awake. She has put a lot into becoming a doctor and racked up large debts in order to do so. And when she is practicing independently, she won't be a stock speculator or the manager of a hedge fund or some other demonized profession. She'll be a doctor providing a valuable service to her community. And while her salary will push us into the top bracket, it won't be by much. We will be well-to-do, but not filthy rich and could probably only justify a kiddie-pool filled with $1's. Yet, after she has spent eight years in higher education, three years in an apprenticeship, built up debt, all to be a success and provide valued services to society, the government will deem that she has been too successful and will take ever greater proportions of her hard-earned and well-deserved income. There are many Joe the Plumbers out there and one of them is my wife the doctor.

Is this what our society will be? Constant encouragement to achieve, to excel, to succeed, only to be penalized for daring to be too successful? That seems to be the case as Obama will take greater sums of money from the hard-working well-to-do and redistribute it downwards. While he often touts that 95% of Americans will receive tax cuts, he never mentions how this is possible when 47% of Americans pay no income tax. This is because people will qualify for refundable tax credits, meaning they'll receive checks from the IRS even though they've paid no tax. Its a simple and direct, yet hidden transfer of wealth.

Critics will argue that those who have done well owe more to society than those who have not, and this might be true. But why is the government the arbiter for how much shall be taken and how much shall be given?   Why not leave the money in the hands of the people to spend, to create jobs, to start businesses, to give to charities? Even Jesus said to give to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's. He didn't say give it all to Caesar and let him sort it out. People in society have different responsibilities to their fellow citizens, but the point is that those responsibilities belong to the individual, not the collective, and it is up to the individual to fulfill them. The sort of welfare Obama has in mind (or at least the kind he intends to increase) removes that personal responsibility from the individual. It is no longer the individual who is tasked with caring for his fellow man, it is the state. We have many responsibilities towards the weaker in our society, whether they be poor, young, old, infirm, or suffer some other issue: we are to aid them, protect them, help them improve, give them proper freedoms. Increasingly, though, those responsibilities are being abdicated to the Leviathan. It is the state that is tasked with providing aid. It is only the state that is tasked with protecting the weak. It is only the state that can improve people to the point that even self-improvement is improbable and no longer does one even have a responsibility to himself. it is the state that must grant freedoms, with positive liberties replacing negative ones. It is a dangerous society that gives up its rights, but still more dangerous when it gives up its individual responsibilities. Because when responsibility is collective, no one is responsible. When someone does not receive aid or protection, it is no one's fault and since no one feels the weight of responsibility, everyone may feel free to shirk it.

Eighth, health care. Obama isn't trying to directly create a national health care system. He's smart enough to avoid past Democratic mistakes. It is, though, an effective outcome of his system since it will gradually force more people into government insurance. I've always been mystified when people complain about insurance companies and HMO's and then their solution is to create a gigantic monopolistic HMO out of the federal government, as if it will be magnanimous, efficient, and not under financial pressures. This is absurd. Nationalizing an industry is a guaranteed way to make the industry moribund and eye-poppingly inefficient, cf. Amtrak. Current federal meddling in health care is already responsible for many of the field's problems. And a government can hardly do more violence to its citizens' health than by mandating national coverage. The systems often pointed to, such as Britain and Canada are not good. If all you need is a primary care physician, you might be ok. Since that's all most people need, the system frontloads the industry to these doctors and invests more resources there. If you need specialist care, however, expect that to be severely rationed. Remember that there is no market that will fill the demand for this care; the government allocates limited funds and since the minority will need this care, it gets less emphasis. You will be placed on waiting lists, be limited in what medication you may get (what good is free or cheap medicine when it is ineffective or less effective than other drugs?), and will likely not survive as long. The five-year survival rate for men diagnosed with prostate cancer in the U.S., for example, is 91.9%. In Britain, it's 51.1%. I'll take the 40.8% greater chance of living, thank you.

Ninth, foreign policy. To say I distrust Obama on foreign policy would be an understatement. He has been consistently wrong on what he has so far had a chance to weigh in on. He's been on the national stage for so little time, however, that he hardly has a record. His rhetoric, though, is indicative of weakness and a failure to realize that nearly all of America's soft power of diplomacy derives from its hard power of military might. Without the latter, the former cannot hope to be effective. On the one significant crisis that came up during the campaign, Russia's invasion of Georgia, Obama's first instinct was moral equivocation while his second was a soft-gloved almost-condemnation of Russia (more like furry-mittened almost-condemnation) and his third was calling for the UN Security Council (this was bad enough) to pass a resolution against one of the Security Council's veto-wielding members. His desire to immediately pull out of Iraq invites disaster, a destruction of everything we have so worked so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve in the past five years, and will finally be what achieves what the liberals have so tried so hard to claim is the result of Iraq: that the lives lost there were lost without purpose and were wasted.  They will fulfill their own prophecy.

Tenth, who is Obama? Rarely has such an empty suit ever been such a contender for the presidency. His life has been one of non-accomplishment save for getting elected to higher offices or appointed to better positions. He did nothing of note in teaching law school or as editor of the Harvard Law Review. Bizarrely, he has published nothing in his life except for his two memoirs, which even he doesn't claim are factually accurate autobiographies. Having taken a sojourn through academia, I can attest that this is remarkable. Publishing is not the expectation for professional academics, it is almost always a requirement. That Obama has nothing to his name is simply odd. It is also unfortunate since we have no written evidence of his constitutional interpretations, his real thoughts on law and the courts and judges, the nation's place in the world, an evolution of thinking, etc. All we have to go on is whatever he says at the time, which is as likely to be from shifting political expedience as from firm belief. Consider… I, an amateur little read blogger, have left far more evidence about my political thinking in the six and a half year operation of this blog than Obama has over the course of his life. From reading this site, you will know more about my political beliefs and interpretations than you will ever firmly know about Obama's. And yet, nearly half the country is prepared to vote for a man they do not really know and who they cannot claim to know.

But Obama is the candidate of the abstract concepts, of hope and change, and so people who hope for whatever and who want change will vote for him, heedless of the fact that change can be either good or bad, that hope is at best merely potentiality, not actuality, and is meaningless unless it is hope for something.

Eleventh, the economy. The economy is troubled and it is suffering from a big crap sandwich that lots of people made, but too few of whom will have to a bite. Deregulation played little role in the subprime lending debacle, while greed was more prominent and government meddling in the lending market is most to blame (another case of government interference in a market causing problems). The government's heavy-handed "encouragement" of lenders to give mortgages to the poor and minorities whose credit ratings would not normally qualify them for large loans was a prime ingredient in the tasty recipe for economic disaster. With the threats and backing of the feds, the loans were made and then creative accounting took over, seeking to minimize risk to the bank while increasing profit by securitizing the mortgages and then spreading them out throughout the financial sector. Shockingly, the default rate was much higher than was speculated and the damage started hurting everything else. Despite warnings and attempts by Bush, McCain, and other Republicans to reign in the problem, especially the risky mortgage backings by the quasi-governmental Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the Dems plowed ahead, saying there was no problem and any claim to the contrary was tantamount to racism. Barney Frank was the worst of all and has so many conflicts of interest in this debacle, he should be impeached. Now that the economy is troubled, however, the Democrats seek to capitalize on it. It's a great irony that the problems they did so much to cause are being used to their electoral advantage, as if their further intervention will make things better.

The bailout was a mistake and is yet more government meddling and preventing the markets from natural self-correction. It is also dangerous to allow the government to hold stocks in private companies. While the idea was for the government not to have voting or controlling stakes and for the stocks to be bought back, don't count on it. Should the government decide to exercise control based on its stock holdings, there is little to stop it. It can certainly exert influence unofficially. The state is also not inclined to give up whatever power it is given and so will not be inclined to give up its ability to manipulate the banking system. For their parts, the banks and companies, while disliking government meddling, will grow to like the financial backing of the government. The possibility for failure is gone and the removal of this market-driven competitive fear will make the companies worse for consumers and inefficient for stockholders.

Into this fray steps Barack Obama whose policies will sound really good, but will only make things worse. If he follows FDR's example, though, he will continue to tout what good he's doing and how the economic downturn is only due to Republican malfeasance and how the economy's failure to improve is due only to Republican intransigence.  How great will Obama be able to make this downturn?

Twelfth, the nightmare scenario is that Obama wins, the Dems significantly extend their majority in the House, and then they gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. This would allow them to ramrod almost whatever measures they want through the government: Fairness Doctrine, national health care, whatever. Due to libertarian sensibilities, I prefer a divided government since that slows down just how much the government can do and it therefore minimizes just how much damage it can do. The Republican dominance was certainly not a success story in small government. If the Dems take the executive branch, I'll be happy to be left with a consolation prize of a Republican filibuster minority in the Senate. If the polls can be trusted, it looks like the Repubs will get it.

The Democrats then have two years to prove themselves to America. If things don't turn around by 2010, they may find their majorities in Congress slashed. If Obama wins, they will already be pressured by the trend in modern politics of no party controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency. Obama himself will have just four years. Considering how close things have been for him this time, without a real record for him to stand on, 2012 is no lock. And if McCain wins… Sarah Palin 2012?

Thirteenth, I think I'm finally done.

4/25/2008

CNN Shirts?

Filed under: General,Media,Pics — Dangerous Dan @ 11:03 am

If you're like me and you frequently visit CNN.com, you may have noticed the appearance of a new icon next to some stories. The icon is a t-shirt and if clicked, you will be taken to a new page where you will have the grand opportunity to buy a t-shirt with that new story's headline on it.

Now, why you would want a shirt with a headline on it is beyond me. Unless you want to come up with some kind of dirty double entendre, which I guess you could do with this sinkhole shirt if you really try and gutterize your mind.

The humor value of other headlines, though, may be a little better than others.

3/5/2007

Ads in the Personals Section Will Be Next

Filed under: Media,Politics,World — Dangerous Dan @ 9:28 pm

ABC is reporting that the CIA is rushing resources into Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden:

Armed with fresh intelligence, the CIA is moving additional man power and equipment into Pakistan in the effort to find Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahri, U.S. officials tell ABC News.

"Reports that the trail has gone stone cold are not correct," said one U.S. official.  "We are very much increasing our efforts there," the official said.

People familiar with the CIA operation say undercover officers with paramilitary training have been ordered into Pakistan and the area across the border with Afghanistan as part of the ramp-up.

Apparently when these undercover officers arrive in Pakistan, they plan on finding bin Laden by driving around in firetrucks with the sirens going while shouting on megaphones, "Osama!  Osama, are you there?!  Ummm… candygram."

Honestly, who are these "U.S. officials" who are leaking what would seemingly be top secret and very important information that you probably don't want, you know, being broadcast to the world.  Either this is part of some kind of scheme against bin Laden or some idiot in the CIA with loose lips and a feeling of self-importance needs, in this order, a swift kick in the balls, a pink slip, and an indictment for revealing state secrets.

1/22/2007

The Other “F-Word”?

Filed under: General,Media,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 12:18 am

While I'm talking about vapid entertainment news, another recent brouhaha has embroiled Grey's Anatomy's Isaiah Washington.  According to reports, back in October while on-set, Washington referred to his co-star, T.R. Knight, as a 'faggot.'  Knight is gay.  Though this wasn't publicly known as the time, it seemingly was the cast and crew.  The incident was apparently privately resolved when it happened.

Earlier this month, however, it started prickling entertainment reporters' ears and then Washington was asked about it backstage at the Golden Globes, to which he replied, "No, I did not call T.R. a faggot.  Never happened, never happened."  People are now demanding Washington's head for uttering the term at the Globes… not so much for the angry invocation of it in October.

This is bizarre.  Washington wasn't using it maliciously on the latter occasion, he was using it in context (and denying its use at that, lending to his dislike of the term) as prodded by reporters.  While I quite agree that the word is inappropriate, I also think it should still be used given the proper contexts, such as, "One should not refer to someone as a 'faggot.'"  Given the uproar with Washington, however, it seems improper to use it in even this way.  Washington in his lengthy mea culpa, for example, apologizes for "using a word that is unacceptable in any context or circumstance."  If this is the case, then I cannot but wonder why no uproar has arisen against media outlets that reprinted the term.  Weren't they also quoting or using it in context as Washington was?

It seems that 'faggot' is now going the way of 'nigger' in that the term is so frighteningly offensive, it can only be referred and alluded to by some silly euphemism.  For the latter, it's 'the n-word.'  Unfortunately for the former, 'the f-word' is already taken by another very versatile obscenity, so it will have to come up with something else. 

Let me be clear that I am against the malicious and/or discriminatory use of either term and both should be used with some prudence.  But it seems simply ridiculous that any term should be so loaded with meaning, that no one dare utter it, even when it's being quoted or used in a context such as the above.  Using a euphemism for it is akin to a child using gustatory terms to refer to his/her personal anatomy.  Words are not to be feared, only their improper use.  The euphemisms already do language an injustice.

The argument has been made that the euphemism for 'nigger' is used because the term is so fraught with hideous meanings and implications that sensible African-Americans and anybody with a reasonable conscience will and/or should have fainting spells upon hearing it.  Poppycock.  The euphemism actually succeeds in a strange paradox in that it strengthens the fear of the word while simultaneously removing it's meaning.  People come to fear the word itself for the use of the euphemism makes it plain that the term is to be feared.  At the same time, the meaning of the actual term slips away as it is never directly used in any context.  The word itself is feared and not what it stood for.  It's becoming a linguistic 'boo!' – something that is itself supposed to frighten though it has no real meaning.

As best as I can remember, the use of the 'N-word' euphemism first came into vogue during the O.J. Simpson trial.  Detective Mark Fuhrman was on tape using it numerous times and the media outlets felt queasy using it context.  While I don't care at the moment to wade through the transcripts, I believe Simpson's attorney, Johnnie Cochran, used it in the trial.  This was a brilliant act of courtroom theatrics since he was trying to discredit Fuhrman.  By acting as though the word were so offensive to him and civilized people that he could only allude to it by a euphemism just made it seem so much magnificently worse than anyone imagined, and Fuhrman that much more of a monster for having said it, thereby completely impugning his character.  How curious that the euphemism was given birth and popularity in the cynical, theatrical service of freeing a double-murderer.  Not an auspicious birth, to be sure.

1/21/2007

American Idol Flack

Filed under: General,Media,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 11:25 pm

Ah, it's American Idol time.  This is when the show starts up with plenty of bad singers, fame-coveting no-names, and twits who just want to get on TV, show up and perform poorly while the few talented make it through to further potential cuts.  This is also the time when people start whining about how mean the judges are.  It's now become an annual rite as some are complaining about comments made during the auditions that were televised last week.  This is all somewhat amusing because I remember quite well last season when there were complaints about how mean the judges were being, how it was much meaner than in the past, etc. – pretty much everything being said now.  The public has a short memory.

The lead whiner is The View's Rosie O'Donnell.  Rosie is apparently a human PR machine for The View as she has made a habit of picking fights with other quasi-celebrities and utterly manufacturing controversy where there none existed.  Thus far, she has publicly feuded with Kelly Ripa, Donald Trump, The View's own Barbara Walters, and now American Idol.  Be warned not to peek inside Rosie's teapots lest yea be blown away by the tempests.

All that said, yes, American Idol is a silly, somewhat unfair show.  At each city audition, there's one or two rounds of cuts before people get to see Randy, Paula, and Simon.  Plenty of talented people are assuredly turned away in those cuts, and many clearly talentless self-deceived people are sent through for the sole purpose of being ridiculed by the judges and the American public.  It's a talent show, but it's also a reality show and events are unfairly manipulated for TV.  Once you realize this and get past the hang-ups, it's possible to be entertained by it.  I am entertained and I know it's quite silly; I am entertained because I know it's quite silly.  I am as much amused by the absurdity of it all as by the amount or dearth of talent.

As to Rosie's comment that the American public doesn't like the fare being provided by the show, this seems to be an eminently disprovable statement through empirical evidence: the two shows last week had nearly 40 million viewers.

7/19/2006

NRO Plagiarism

Filed under: General,Media — Dangerous Dan @ 2:54 pm

So I was doing some reading on Title IX and I was looking at past articles that National Review Online has had on the subject. Among the results, I came across one by Tim Powers from 10/28/03 and another one by Eric Pearson from 11/17/04. Let me know if you see any eerie similarities between the two.

Powers:
This practice doesn’t benefit women in any way, mind you, it is just about making the numbers fit.

Pearson:
This practice doesn't benefit women in any way, mind you — it is just about making the numbers fit.

It gets worse.

Powers:
And the reforms were as basic as can be. One vague provision already a part of the law says that schools can comply by providing teams based on the level of interest. So, the commission suggested, we should find some clear ways to measure how interested men and women are in athletics.

Pearson:
But the reforms are as basic as can be. One vague provision already a part of the law says that schools can comply by providing teams based on the level of interest. So shouldn't we find some clear ways for schools to measure how they can reasonably meet the interest of men and women who want to participate in athletics?

Here are the good ones.

Powers:
But anyone who thinks that the college coaches who started this reform effort will be discouraged by politicians or the gender police ought to think again. We practically invented the word tenacity and our only special interest is in seeing that all athletes get a chance to live their competitive dreams.

Pearson:
But anyone who thinks that the college coaches who started this reform effort will be discouraged by politicians or the gender police ought to think again. We practically invented the word tenacity and our only special interest is in seeing that all athletes get a chance to live their competitive dreams.

And this:

Powers:
So let’s make it clear, once and for all: Everyone agrees that Title IX is a good law and that men and women should have equal opportunity to participate in athletics. The problem is with the unreasonable gender quota — which is clearly causing schools to cap and cut men’s teams. President Bush ran on a promise to, "leave no child behind." Isn't this ideal woven into the fabric of the American Dream and shouldn't we, who call ourselves educators, be about securing this promise rather than limiting opportunities for students to pursue their dreams?

I believe firmly that there is a middle ground where we can craft a solution. Coaches, parents and athletes are there. Women like Cynthia Cooper and the University of Maryland’s Debbie Yow are there.

Pearson:
So let's make it clear, once and for all: Everyone agrees that men and women should have equal opportunity to participate in athletics. The problem is the unreasonable gender quota, which is clearly causing schools to cap and cut men's teams. President Bush ran on a promise to "leave no child behind," an idea woven into the fabric of the American dream. Educators should be working to secure this promise rather than limiting opportunities for students.

I believe firmly that there is a middle ground, and that a solution is possible. Coaches, parents, and athletes are there. Women such as the WNBA's Cynthia Cooper and the University of Maryland's Athletic Director, Debbie Yow, are there.

That's some pretty bold plagiarism, especially considering that Pearson copied from a piece on the same subject from the same site. I sent an e-mail to NRO about this and I will see how they respond. Being a devoted reader of the site and a lapsed subscriber to NRODT, this is dismaying.

It appears that both Powers and Pearson are associated with the College Sports Council with Powers as a member and Pearson as executive director. Thus, I imagine they know each other and Powers may even have helped Pearson. That, however, doesn't allow Pearson to just copy and paste Powers's words without credit. Pearson should have quoted and credited Powers, should have listed Powers as a co-author, or merely should have let it come under Powers's byline. Whatever the method, NRO essentially reprinted an article.

7/17/2006

Profane Bush

Filed under: Media,Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 7:48 pm

Eek, Bush cussed! Not that the piker could hold a candle to guys like Nixon or LBJ who could make a sailor blush. Do I care that he cussed? Nope. He was having a private conversation at the time (or as private as you can get under the circumstances), not making a public address.

What I got a kick out of was that if you watch the video, Tony Blair is trying to talk to Bush about the latest Mideast crisis and Bush is sitting there stuffing his face. Classic.

6/27/2006

Lies, Damn Lies, and You Know the Rest

Filed under: General,Media,World — Dangerous Dan @ 9:07 am

"Poll: Majority of Americans want withdrawal plan for Iraq" says the USA Today headline.
If you go to the poll results, though, you find the following:

17% said withdraw immediately. 33% said withdraw in 12 months. That makes 50%, which is not a majority; it's half. 41% said withdraw, but keep troops in Iraq as long as needed and 8% said send more troops (1% had no opinion). So that means a full 49% don't want the troops out within a strict 12 months, which, again, is about half. Given the 5% margin of error, it could easily be the case that a majority of Americans want troops out in 12 months or want them to stay as long as necessary. Also notable is that the percentage of 12 month folks as gone down from 54% in March.

I suppose it could be said a clear majority wants withdrawal since three of the five options say withdraw (at differing times) for a total of 91%, but that’s like saying a majority wants clean air or low crime. Of course people want our troops withdrawn; nobody wants them there permanently. It’s the details that matter.

The article later says, "The poll finds support for the ideas behind Democratic proposals that were soundly defeated in the Senate last week."

This is apparently pure speculation based on 57% saying Congress should outline a withdrawal plan. I guess the author wants to think that because Democrats have been pushing for such a plan, that it explains that number. It's completely contradicted, however, by the 25% who think the Dems have a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq compared to the 68% who think they don't, which is even worse than Bush's 31% and 67% respectively. I don't think that qualifies as "support for Democratic proposals."

The Pot Says What?

Filed under: Media — Dangerous Dan @ 8:28 am

Dan Rather on Katie Couric as news anchor:

I asked [Rather] if Katie Couric could do as good a job [as he did].

He said, "CBS thinks she will."

"The question was: Do you think she could?"

Dan said, "In time, I think she will. It took her 15 years to make the 'Today' show a hit. I'm sure it will take her longer than that to beat Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams."

Right. This from the guy who started out in first place in the 80's after taking over for Cronkite and then slipped to second and then, in the 90's, to a permanent third place behind Brokaw and Jennings. Maybe, Dan, it will take her so long to beat Gibson and Williams because you started her out in the hole.

6/21/2006

Media Irony

Filed under: General,Media — Dangerous Dan @ 1:32 pm

"Relatives 'devastated' to learn of soldiers' deaths on TV," says TV outlet CNN that reported on the soldiers' deaths before the families had been notified.

6/20/2006

My Name is Dan Rather

Filed under: Media — Dangerous Dan @ 10:37 pm

It appears that Carson Daly concept of karma has caught up with Dan Rather. In his farewell statement, Rather takes a jab at CBS for forcing him into retirement by sidelining him with the promise of occasional stories that have not come:

I leave CBS News with tremendous memories. But I leave now most of all with the desire to once again do regular, meaningful reporting. My departure before the term of my contract represents CBS's final acknowledgement, after a protracted struggle, that they had not lived up to their obligation to allow me to do substantive work there. As for their offers of a future with only an office but no assignments, it just isn't in me to sit around doing nothing. So I will do the work I love elsewhere, and I look forward to sharing details about that soon.

Why is this poetic justice? Because it was Rather who forced Walter Cronkite into the same sort of retirement some 25 years ago. Rather threatened to leave CBS unless he got the anchor gig, so CBS sent Cronkite to the bench. Uncle Walt never got the specials or investigative reports CBS promised him as anchor emeritus because Rather didn't want Cronkite interfering with his rising star and he strong armed the network into putting Cronkite out to pasture, permanently and practically-speaking.

And now it's come full-circle. Rather is getting the very same treatment he forced upon Cronkite (not that I care much for Cronkite either). To add to the delicious irony, it is again Rather's own actions that are bringing about his comeuppance. Instead of some new hot shot nipping at his heels, it was Rather's own ambition and hubris that did him in. Ya gotta like it.

5/3/2006

Drowning Puppies? Try it FREE

Filed under: Media,Pics — Dangerous Dan @ 1:56 pm

CNN.com should probably rethink its format for enticing you into using their Pipeline feature.

Here's a cap of the main page with a blowup of the bottom right corner.

homepage

pipeline

3/20/2006

V for Vendetta

Filed under: General,Media,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 1:53 am

I saw V for Vendetta last Friday. I thought it was a well-executed movie with an engaging story.

Other than that, I thought it was dreck.

The modern political commentary was unmistakable, heavy-handed, and distinctly moonbatty. Possessing a Koran earned the death penalty. So, apparently, did being a homosexual. Many other cultural objects were prohibited for being unwholesome. A right-wing fascist dictator has taken over England and uses fear and Christian faith to control the populace. America's in a civil war after "its war" that started 20 years prior went horribly wrong (although it seems Texas is ok in this war since Dell is still making computer monitors). Government surveillance is omnipresent and the control of media absolute. Oh, and at one point, two central characters are aghast at discovering that the worst terrorist attack in the country's history was inflicted by its own government so as to generate fear and… to control the populace.

If there's something that's always annoyed the hell out of me, it's how movies always depict dystopian futures as being that of some conservative theocratic fascism. Why not make them about atheistic socialist dictators that control their citizenries through fear, killing their own people, constant surveillance, and control of the media? Nah, for liberals, the very concept of such a thing would just be too far fetched and unrealistic.

While the tools of control can belong equally well to a fascist or communist dictator, dystopias of the far left have been far more common over the past century as well as longer lasting and more pervasive. Two hands and at least one foot are required for rattling off the communist totalitarian regimes whereas the fascist ones need just a few fingers.

Moreover, while conservatives long ago learned what an ultra-right-wing government looked like and wholly rejected it as abhorrent, liberals have never thus rejected ultra-left-wing governments. The same people who pat themselves on the back for rebuking conservatives and waling about a slide towards an utterly improbable fascism are the same ones who for years denied that Stalin, Mao, Kim, and other communists were doing any wrong. Then when the atrocities became impossible to deny, they merely claimed that the same countries they had so long touted as paragons of leftist idealism were impure forms of socialism and so a socialist utopia should still be attempted. I imagine that Conservatives in the UK would be surprised to learn they're on the cusp of taking ultimate power since the Labour party has been thoroughly dominating them. All of Europe decidedly belongs to the left and most countries are at least quasi-socialist, if not outright so. Their surveillance methods are also far more liberal (ahem) than our own. The world is not in danger of a fascist dictator. It is in danger of a socialist or communist one. Or at least a new one since I can think at least five current ones just off the top of my head.

It is a further irritant that V for Vendetta intimates intolerance towards Muslims will outlaw them. This is high-handed morality considering that the only countries that outlaw religions are Islamic nations. While V portrays a future in which Korans are illegal, in the present, Bibles and any non-Islamic religious texts are forbidden in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere. The movie shows a future Christian theocracy, though the only theocracies that exist now are Islamic. Instead of commentary on what isn't and won't be, why don't filmmakers criticize actual religious injustice? The thought that any modern Western society is a step away from outlawing unfavorable religions, homosexuals, and certain cultural artifacts borders on the absurd. Yet the very societies that already do this, the Islamic societies, are given sympathy as victims. Instead of placing V in an improbable future London, why not put him in actual modern-day Riyadh or Tehran?

Another real shame here is focusing on the terrorist tactics of some supernatural hero who is a latter-day Guy Fawkes, speaks of revolution, says words are powerful, and is more than mere flesh, but is also an idea and "ideas are bulletproof." These men don't exist. Real men who resist totalitarian regimes really are mere flesh and suffer because of it. They live in fear of the consequences of their resistance, they are arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and often executed directly by bullet or indirectly through work. These are the men of Tiananmen Square, of the Hungarian Revolt, of Solidarity, of the gulag in the Soviet Union, of the laogai in China, of the labor camps in North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Nazi Germany. These are Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sinyavsky, Oskar Schindler, Raul Wallenberg, Lech Walesa, Wang Dan, Shen Liangqing, and millions more who go unrecorded. Their ideas may have been bulletproof, but they weren't. Where are the films in their honor? Schindler got one, what about Wang Dan? What about Sinyavsky? They didn't/don't have fancy knives, explosives, or kung-fu moves that get them out of trouble like V does. Real heroes are the men who persevere despite the overwhelming chance of failure, not the ones arrogantly guaranteed of success.

V for Vendetta is a morality tale warning of things that could be in the same way that Mars Attacks! implored us against complacency towards alien threats. The events (or anything similar to them) of neither are going to come about. V is another version of the oft-told tale liberals tell each other whenever history fails to steadfastly march to their drumbeat. Conservative power necessarily means fascism while liberal power means utopia. They ignore their own sins, they ignore the threats they present, and they ignore the sorry history of the extremism of their own ideology. And we're all the worse for it.

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