Friday, December 10, 2010

The Tax Cuts

I know it’s sloppy journalism, but as I’m still coming out of my post-surgical funk, I thought I’d point people in the direction of Christopher Hayes’s article in the December 27 issue of The Nation, in his “Capitolism” column, entitled “The Bribery Model” (in print – online, the article is “Tax Cuts Forever”, and a little different). Hayes articulates perfectly many of my own concerns and frustrations with the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts. Below are some choice comments, with a small amount of my own input.

Firstly, on the subject of Republican anti-deficit activism/obsession:

“Republicans have spent two years — an entire election cycle and postelection victory lap — repeating with tourettic persistence dire warnings about the existential threat posed by large deficits and mounting government debt.”

So what? I hear you ask. Well…

“these same Republicans (and a few conservative Democrats), who love to offer lectures about the necessity of shared sacrifice, also spent the week demanding that all the Bush tax cuts be made permanent, a policy that would increase the debt over the next ten years by an astounding $3.3 trillion.”

And here is where it gets really reprehensible:

“the official Republican position, expressed in a letter signed by all forty-two GOP senators, was that they would not allow the Senate to vote on anything until the tax cuts were extended. With 2 million people set to lose their unemployment benefits in December, this meant that the GOP was ready to put 2 million Americans out on the streets the week before Christmas, unless millionaires got tax cuts!” (emphasis mine)

When you consider that many of these millionaires and billionaires are the Wall Street and Hedge Fund managers that had a considerable role in the collapse of 2008 and everything disastrous and ruinous that has come after it, this is doubly insulting. Why are they being rewarded? Just as calls for wage and bonus caps on bailed out firms was 100% logical and sensible (name one other instant when screwing up on this scale is allowed to go unpunished?), not extending the tax cuts to help out those who were screwed over by the rampant and flagrant gambling that took place on Wall Street would have been the right thing to do. Every time tax cuts have been given to ‘stimulate the economy’, the tax saving have never gone into stimulus spending. A billionaire saving a couple of million dollars in taxes is not about to spend a couple million dollars on American-made products, or invest more (if anything) in job growth. They are more likely to buy fancy, foreign-brand cars. And even then, probably not a couple millions dollars worth. On the other hand, give tax relief to the poor, and help the unemployed, and maybe some parents won’t have to be afraid of being unable to feed their families.

In this day, with the American and global economies in the state they are in, to favour the richest people in any society over those who desperately need help, who feel every drop in the economy, weather every bump in the road… that is cruel and unusual.

But, instead, President Obama rolled over.

Hayes writes about the stubbornness of the unemployment levels in the United States, and that any money back into the system was a good thing. Hm. Perhaps, but why not make the unemployment benefits contingent on public works? McCain wanted to expand civil service projects, so why doesn’t Obama suggest something like that? Republicans can’t complain about it being a ‘hand-out’ if they are in some way working for the money? Infrastructure in the US is slowly corroding due to lack of funds (if you don’t want to pay every time you use a road, taxes will be needed to keep the bridges from falling down…!), so why not get all the unemployed builders and labourers to help out with reconstruction and maintenance projects? Republicans are always saying how the average American would rather work to earn money than receive a hand-out (although, still no one ever seems to opt out of any form of ‘free’ money), so why not make unemployment benefits contingent on some form of community service?

Hayes finishes, describing the tax cut deal as

“the standard bribery model of legislating that has come to characterize Washington in the era of oligarchy: if you want to put food on the table of the unemployed, you must lavishly wine and dine the CEOs and bankers who laid them off. Obama didn’t create this system, but he is making it stronger before our very eyes.”

Monday, November 08, 2010

Obama more “hawkish” on China than Bush?

Not particularly…

I just read Peter Beinart’s article over on The Daily Beast, and I thought I’d give my two cents on what he has to say – not least because some of the people who commented on the article are… well, let’s just say they’re “internet people” (the speed with which they devolve into right-vs-left attacks, calling each other idiots… it’s frankly depressing).

First, a look at the Bush-vs-Obama China policies, going by what Beinart mentions in his article.

  • True, Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, has been quick to berate China about its territorial incursions (something that needed to be said), which I don’t remember Bush’s administration doing overly loudly (but someone probably did, because this is nothing new). The 2010 Midterms featured a few more anti-China attacks, which is certainly understandable given the greater focus on the economy and jobs in this election.
  • The US has conducted naval exercises with Vietnam – just as most administrations have with other Asian nations in the past.
  • The nuclear deal with Vietnam is interesting. Beinart says the Obama administration “may cut a nuclear deal with Vietnam that allows it to enrich uranium outside of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”. This would be ill-advised, in my opinion, but in what way is it more hawkish and as inflammatory as the 2008 nuclear deal Bush made with India?

As for the other issues, I don’t find them convincing enough. The author mentions that “Nancy Pelosi has long excoriated it over human rights; in 2008 she urged Bush to boycott the Beijing Olympics.” Very true, and Pelosi is someone who has cropped up frequently over the course of my PhD research. But also remember that, during the George H.W. Bush years, the Clinton years, and the George W. Bush years, the anti-China side of the political debate was extremely broad (not to mention truly bipartisan) and not at all afraid of voicing its opinion. There are many Republicans who have been staunchly anti-China for decades – some because they can’t move beyond Cold War anti-Communism, others because of China’s human rights record, and others because of a populist economic position, yet others because of the perceived threat of a strong, militaristic and nationalistic China (to name but four factions). On the Democratic side, we have economic protectionists and human rights activists (to name but two, though I can’t really come up with any others…).

Beinart does come up with an interesting point that’s worth mentioning:

“China is different. If the neocons want a new cold war with China, they’ll have to take on corporate America in the process, which would make for very interesting times in the GOP.”

Even this, however, is somewhat disappointing. He’s not wrong, that the economic and ‘strategic’ (if you will) factions of the Republican Party would be at odds over any perceived chances for conflict with China. In my own humble opinion, however, the economic faction would win out. Even the Democrats have a considerable faction that recognises the benefits America is reaping from China’s economic development – be it cheap products (raising the yuan would only make these products more expensive, and not by enough to make US-produced goods competitive or cheaper), and also the fact that China is financing America’s debt by buying millions-upon-millions of dollars-worth of US Treasury Bonds.

Beinart concludes:

“For the moment, America’s China debate takes place in two, artificially separate, spheres. When it comes to defense, the right—more than the left—uses the Chinese threat as a justification for bigger military budgets. But when it comes to economics, the left—more than the right—insists that the U.S. challenge the way China values its currency and treats its workers. The right wants America to grow more economically integrated with China even as we grow more militarily confrontational. The left wants America to risk rupturing our economic ties with China while any national security spills over.”

I think this is far too simplistic, as the economic side of the relationship is far too important and co-dependent for any side to really want to wreck them. Mostly, it is just rhetoric – and I think China recognises this, which is why they’re not really doing anything.

One must remember, though, that the Bush administration was totally distracted by the Middle East and the ill-advised misadventure in Iraq and the botched campaign in Afghanistan, and then spent much of the final years in office trying to fix their mess. He ignored China (save the EP-3 incident, really), because he simply wasn’t that interested in it, and the economic side of the relationship just kept ticking over (as it more-or-less did in Clinton’s administration, and will in Obama’s, I imagine).

Beinart’s article started with the argument that Obama is more ‘hawkish’ than Bush, meandered away from there to discuss the Republican-Democrat China arguments, and then stopped. I think the real difference between Obama and Bush is that the 44th President is engaged in the issues revolving around China far more than Bush – for whatever reason this may be, this can’t be a bad thing. China is the issue of the next few decades, and any president who distances himself from the issues is doomed to just give China the impression that the status quo will continue. Whether Obama deals with the issues properly, however, is an entirely different argument.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Superb (Properly) Republican Quote on Abortion

I got this from John Avlon’s piece over at the Daily Beast,The Tea Party Abortion Doctrine”. Candace Straight, the national co-chairwoman for the Republican Majority for Choice, had the following to say about the absolutist abortion policy espoused by the Tea Party candidates:

“The history of the GOP has always been about responsible policy and limited government. There is no policy more irresponsible and out of line with that history than allowing the government to ban personal reproductive choices even for women who have been raped... The fact that the new rising stars of the GOP are pushing this platform is not only scary, it could be a fatal blow for our hopes of recapturing the mainstream middle.”

The whole of Avlon’s piece is worth reading, so I’d urge you to scoot on over there to have a read.

As an addendum to this, I just thought I’d also include this bit from the RMfC website about the 20 Worst States For Personal Freedom, in which legislatures

“have passed various deceptive initiatives that nearly all block access to the full range of reproductive health options. Many of these state laws are so extreme that they are deemed unconstitutional by state and federal courts because they lack the proper exceptions and safeguards in emergency situations to preserve the life of a woman, while others have been found to create an undue burden to a woman.”

The offending states: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North & South Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia.

The site goes on to list and explain the offending laws in these states, and it makes for troubling reading. It is certainly one of the many hypocrisies of the ‘small-government’ Republican Party that they feel the need for government to legislate what women can and can’t do with their own bodies and especially their own reproductive systems.

Anyway, I just thought the site was interesting, and I’d never heard of it before.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another excellent Matt Taibbi post

No new journalism/writing in this post, I just wanted to point you in the direction of this article by Mr Taibbi, commenting on an article written by David Stockman, “Ronald Reagan’s former budget chief and economic Svengali”. It was posted on Rolling Stone’s TaibbiBlog.

There is a line near the end which caught my eye, and an observation I fervently hope is true:

“slowly gaining momentum in some Republican circles… there’s increasing acceptance of the notion that a monstrous betrayal of so-called traditional conservative economic ideals began to take place in the Reagan years”

I highly recommend you read this short post (as well as the New York Times opinion piece Stockman wrote, which Taibbi is discussing).

On a personal note, I’m rather happy that Taibbi has a new book coming out – Griftopia – which I have already pre-ordered. His books are normally insightful, intelligent, cutting, and amusing.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Intellectual dishonesty, Inc.

From the same Weekly Standard issue, here’s an article title and standfirst:

“DESPERATE DEMOCRATS. The only strategy they have left is personal attacks.”

Because, of course, members of the Republican Party would never, ever, ever resort to swift-boating or gay-/race-/elitist-baiting. Of course they wouldn’t. Beggar the thought…

A totally useless paragraph…

Been reading the latest issue of The Weekly Standard, and in particular an editorial smugly commenting on the collapse of the Left (they have a point, but sadly write about the Left in a way that could just as easily be turned around on the Right – as they seemingly always do). Aside from my political biases, I have a major problem with the editorial relating to the “evidence” the writer provides to support his claim that Obama’s administration is being ‘refudiated’ (yuck, don’t get me started on that…) by the voters:

“In a recent poll of likely voters, 54 percent strongly or somewhat supported the Tea Party movement, with 38 percent strongly or somewhat opposed. In another poll, of all adults, the movement did have a slightly negative image (30 percent positive, 34 negative)— but it was considerably better than the image of either the Democratic or Republican party.”

In a recent poll conducted by who? Other than “likely voters”, we know nothing. This is a common practice in journalism the Western World over (I can’t speak for the rest of the Globe) – the use of unattributed “polls”. It’s useless, and it still irritates me that publications can get away with it. A poll of ‘likely voters’ at a Head Shop would likely suggest overwhelming support for the legalisation of marijuana, but the same poll at an AA or temperance meeting would have the opposite effect. By not stating where the poll was conducted, or by whom, however, you now have support for both sides of the debate, and can give yourself a smug pat on the back. This is another example of the real world having nothing to do with academia – when I did my MA in International Journalism, we were specifically told that this sort of statement was useless and should be avoided at all costs.

There is no reason one shouldn’t suspect that the 54% of ‘likely voters’ in the poll above comprised the colleagues and family members of the author. The 38% could well have been ‘conducted’ by watching a couple of news programs on liberal news channels. Voila! A poll conducted, indicating support for my beliefs! This likely isn’t what happened, but by not properly attributing the poll, or giving us more information, they have presented ‘evidence’ for nothing save for their ability to pick and choose their data/poll sources.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Elena Kagan: Too ‘Academic’?

It really confuses me why everyone thinks Elena Kagan shouldn't be nominated to the Supreme Court because she “has no experience outside of academia” - this is something I heard on Saturday, and it’s totally wrong. This post is not about the Justices’ politics, or their performance cards, but about the oh-so-politically-hot-button issue of “experience”. Irrespective of whether or not you agree with her politics (most analysts and associates seem to think she's right-of-centre), she's actually had plenty of real "world experience", and her career is not dissimilar to sitting Supreme Court Justices.

If anything, there might be an argument to be made for choosing someone who has different experiences, as Kagan’s biography doesn’t read too differently from other Justices’. This fact has spawned a number of editorial cartoons that point out the Ivy League over-representation. Here’s one from Nick Anderson:

Nick Anderson

And one from Signe Wilkinson:

Signe Wilkinson


Lisa Benson

Anyway, let’s get back to Kagan’s experience and career:

- 1987 : Clerked for Judge Abner Mikva of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals

- 1988 : Clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall of US Supreme Court - something that most, if not all eventual Supreme Court Justices have done, I believe (could be wrong, I didn't go all the way back and check them all)

- 1988-91 : Worked for a DC law firm

- 1991 : Joins the University of Chicago Law School

- 1995 : Granted tenure due to reputation and skills as teacher, ‘despite her lack of publications’ (which seem to have focussed on First Amendment Rights, a big-ticket issue for the Supremes)

- 1995-1999 - President Bill Clinton's Associate White House Counsel and Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council

- 1999 - Because the Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee didn't schedule a hearing, Kagan's nomination to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals fell through.

- 1999-2001 - Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School (lauded article published about aiding the President in crafting regulative policy)

- 2001-3 - Made full Professor at Harvard Law School

- 2003-9 - Dean of Harvard Law School

- 2009-Present - Solicitor General for President Barack Obama

So I guess my point is... where's the lack of experience? She's worked as a lawyer, in academia, and in government. How is this so wrong? In fact, some might say she has more experience than Obama. She’s written articles and papers on Presidential Power, the First Amendment and prisoner rights – are these not pretty key issues that are ricocheting their way around the beltway at the moment? Paul Campos, who clearly is not enamoured with the idea of Kagan on the Court, ‘wittily’ wrote that

“Kagan’s work reminded me of Orwell’s observation that, if book reviewers were honest, 19 of 20 reviews would consist of the sentence, ‘this book inspires in me no thoughts whatever’.”

Campos’s premise is that Kagan’s not really any different to George W. Bush’s nomination of Harriet Myers, and perhaps even a worse choice. For example, he mentions that Kagan’s four years in the Clinton White House, “where she was associate White House counsel – a full rung down from Harriet Miers' position in the Bush White House”, clearly an attempt to further belittle her career. But, as we shall see, it’s the same “rung” that John Roberts served in.

For those conservatives who want to say she’s not good enough, shall we compare her career to that of pre-Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (information taken from the ‘The Justices of the Supreme Court’)?

- 1979-80 : Clerked for Judge Henry Friendly of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals

- 1980-1 : Clerked for then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist from 1980-1

- 1981-2 : Special Assistant to US Attorney General William French Smith

- 1982-6 : Associate Counsel to President Reagan under Fred Fielding

- 1986-93 : Principal Deputy Solicitor General (to use Campos’s terminology, “one rung below” the position held by Kagan under Clinton)

- 1992 : Just like Kagan, no hearing was heard for Roberts’s nomination to DC Circuit Court of Appeals

- 1992-2001 : Successful private practice

- 2001 : No hearing held for DC Circuit nomination (again)

- 2003-5 : DC Circuit Court of Appeals

So, overall, not a considerable difference. Their early careers seem to have been pretty similar, and the main difference is that Kagan was appointed to a ‘higher’ government job sooner than Roberts, which explains his couple of extra ‘lower’ governmental posts. (For the uncharitable, this might just suggest there was nobody better for the position when Kagan was around, if you are prone to think she’s feckless.)

So, even if you disagree with her politics, you might assume that those who worked with her thought her good enough to be appointed so soon/young – indeed, she has been described as “brilliant” and “extraordinary” by Lawrence Lessig, a Professor at Harvard Law School who worked with Kagan at Chicago University’s Law School. According to an ABC piece by Ariane de Vogue and Jake Tapper, Kagan

“is known as one of the finest scholars in the country, dazzling both liberal and conservative friends with her intellectual prowess and her ability to find consensus among ideological opposites.”

For an interesting, balanced, appraisal from a former colleague, read Richard Epstein’s article about Kagan, in which he explains how, despite disagreeing with some of her actions and policies while an academic, he thinks she would make a good nominee and Justice.

So, again I ask – why so inappropriate a choice? Because she doesn’t have the two year judicial experience that Roberts does from his time on the DC Court? Really?

To return to Lessig, he writes of “a general weakness in appointing law professors to high courts”, which is that

“We law professors – especially at places like Harvard or Yale – spend too much of our time worrying about abstract right, not practical right. We’re skilled in working out the very best theory. We’re not very good at figuring out how to engineer an argument to the best result. We’re the opposite of a politician, though we have just as many sins: Politicians care too little about what is right, and too much about getting the deal. Law professors care too much about what is right, and care too little about the strategy for getting what is right.”

Lessig then goes on to argue how Kagan is different:

“the core of Kagan’s experience over the past two decades has been all about moving people of different beliefs to the position she believes is correct. Not by compromise, or caving, but by insight and strength. I’ve seen her flip the other side. Those were the reports of her work inside the Clinton administration (Clinton’s nickname for her: ‘Judge’). Many describe her success at remaking a radically diverse law school (the Harvard I've returned to is not the Harvard I left). I’ve seen her earn the respect of people who disagree with her, and not by either running to a corner to pontificate, or by caving on every important issue.”

Kagan, Lessig argues, can see a fight and, “if she can see a path through... keeping her position in tact, she can execute on it.” Lessig goes on to say that, even when victory is obviously not possible, “she will engage the other side boldly”. It is extremely rare, also, for a Solicitor General to tell a justice he is wrong (as Kagan did to Scalia in the argument in Citizens United – this could make for interesting conversations in Chambers…).

Too Much Academia

For those who think Kagan should be disqualified because she spent too much of her time in academia (“too much time immersed in theory, not enough time in practice” is one way I’ve heard it), then this should surely disqualify Antonin Scalia. Scalia, who took his seat as Associate Justice of the Court in September 1986, has a pre-Supremes career of:

- 1960-1 : Sheldon Fellow at Harvard University

- 1977-82 : Professor of Law at the University of Chicago

- 1980s (couldn’t find exact dates) : Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown and Stanford Universities

- 1981-2 : Chairman of the Bar Association’s Administrative Law Section

- 1971-2 : Office of Telecommunications Policy General Counsel

- 1972-4 : Chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States

- 1974-7 : Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel

- 1982-6 : Appointed to the DC Court of Appeals (giving him one more year’s judicial experience than Roberts)

Clarence Thomas has only one year judicial experience pre-Supremes, after an exciting and brave career as a corporate lawyer for Monsanto (roughly during years when the company was attempting to take over South America again, so that had to be a little exciting). Thomas also had state-level governmental experience as well as national governmental experience, which sets him apart from the other Justices.

Think I’m picking on the conservative judges? Ok, let’s take a look at Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s career pre-Supremes:

- 1959-61 : Clerked for Edmund L. Palmieri, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York

- 1961–3 : Research associate and then Associate Director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure

- 1963-72 : Professor of Law at Rutgers University School of Law

- 1971 : Instrumental in launching the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union

- 1972-80 : Professor of Law at Columbia Law School

- 1977-8 : Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California

- 1973-80 : ACLU’s General Counsel (on the National Board of Directors from1974–1980)

- 1980-93 : DC Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Lack of Judicial Experience

For those who are bothered by her lack of judicial experience, take into account that a Senator held up her nomination hearing until the president who nominated her left office (as already mentioned above, the same has happened to others, but Roberts got another crack at it under George Bush Sr.). As for the bizarre negative that Kagan’s “spent too much time in academia”... John Roberts, John Paul Stevens, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor didn’t serve as professors. The other four all served in academia: Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg as mentioned above; Anthony Kennedy for 23yrs (McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific); Stephen Breyer for 27yrs (1967-94 at Kennedy School of Government, and also as a visiting professor at Sydney University and the University of Rome).

This strange anti-intellectualism that permeates US political society and many people who follow US politics (even if they are themselves postgraduates or PhDs) is difficult to understand. Susan Jacoby wrote an interesting book that took a look at this, The Age of Unreason, which is worth reading (in fact, there are many publications on this subject, and I urge you to look them up, if you’re in any way interested).

Some people will say that they are uncomfortable with someone sitting on the court with no judicial experience. I can understand that – who, really, wants anyone in a powerful position without ever having comparable experience either within that organisation or in a similar one? However, knowing that other Justices had minimal judicial experience before their appointment to the Supreme Court makes me wonder if it’s really so important? Perhaps, as some have argued, her lack of judicial calcification (my terminology) will allow for broader, less institutional thinking on the Court – something that might go some way to reviving the Court? Interestingly, the Justice she would be replacing, David Souter, had the most pre-SCOTUS judicial experience: 22yrs (1978-90).

Limited Publications

Another concern about Kagan is her relatively thin number of publications. Let’s return to Paul Campos, whose article reads like an attack piece, picking on minor issues that could be easily put at the feet of any judicial appointee he supported. In a rare sign of balance, he writes:

“Of course cynics have noted that today Supreme Court nominees are often better off not having an extensive ‘paper trail’ regarding their views on controversial legal issues.”

Unable to allow this to go without a snarky comment, he continues with:

“Who would have guessed it would be possible to retain this virtue while obtaining tenure at two of the nation's top law schools?”

Despite the tone and approach, I think I would actually agree with him on the latter comment. I also agree with the final point of the article, in which Campos compares Kagan’s lack of publications on important issues to that of Myers’s:

“For most of the past 20 years, Kagan’s job has been to both develop and publicize such views. That she has nevertheless managed to almost completely avoid doing so is rather extraordinary.”

Within universities, the ‘publish or perish’ mentality/policy is still alive and well, and for anyone to progress so far within academia without publishing much is indeed surprising. Or, could it be a sign of just how good she is in practice, rather than on paper? I don’t know enough about her to answer this question, but I think it’s something that warrants investigation. That she has never seen fit to publish on key issues (though, again, I would say that the First Amendment and Presidential Authority are pretty damn important issues...) just shows the same lack of courage that most, if not all, Supreme Court hopefuls seem to show of late. It makes her unexceptional, but she is in no way alone in this.

Breadth & Diversity of Experiences

To refer to my comment about Thomas’s state-level experience making him different from the other justices (he also worked for a Senator), it appears rare for them to have varied career biographies. Stevens stands out from his service in the Navy (1942-5), before a career path that is as similar to the rest as to make no odds. Kennedy was a member of the California Army National Guard in 1961 before being a professor and government appointee. Breyer was on the Watergate taskforce (1973).

Kagan would become the fourth sitting Justice who clerked for a Supreme Court Justice: Roberts, Breyer and Stevens. Does this not count for something? It is ‘common knowledge’ (i.e. something that perhaps shouldn’t be trusted) that Supreme Court clerks do a lot of work for the Justices (research, etc.) and sometimes are called upon to draft responses, opinions, and dissents for their Judge. Her admittedly minimal experience of the Court could stand her in good stead, if she were to join the ranks of the Supremes, at an institution that is so steeped in tradition and proper etiquette (i.e. nothing ever really changes).

On a note of personal interest, it is noticeable how the more conservative Justices have the least judicial experience before their appointment – this would include Kagan who, despite serving only Democratic presidents, is considered to the right of centre and quite conservative (although Lessig does remain convinced of her “progressiveness”).

[Most of the dates and facts for this post were taken from the PDF linked above, but also here.]

Just because there have been so many good editorial cartoons about the Supreme Court nomination process, here are a couple more from the past couple of weeks.

First, from Clay Bennett:

Clay Bennett

Mike Luckovich:

Mike Luckovich

Tony Auth:

Tony Auth

(Just to address the obvious criticisms of the Republican approach to Democratic nominees – deserved or not, there’s plenty to suggest that there will be no filibuster of Kagan’s nomination, and most people agree that she will likely be appointed.)

Thought it might be best to finish on a lighter note.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why let him Write about Technology?

Sticking with the current issue of The Weekly Standard, I wanted to comment on their Casual column, “Betamaxed Out”, by Philip Terzian (p.5). He’s writing about technology and the impossible-to-have-missed release of Apple’s iPad. Let’s take the first snippet I had a problem with:

"when it comes to electronic/computer gadgetry, not only am I actively uninterested in nearly everything about them, but I have striven to lead a happy, fulfilled existence, as much as possible, in their absence."

Great, this automatically makes any comment the author writes about technology totally and utterly useless and pointless, not to mention destroys all his credibility.

With the second part that irritated me, one needs to take into consideration that TWS was pretty much leading the charge on the ‘Obama-is-an-out-of-touch-elitist’ movement. Terzian writes,

“I have long since made my peace with DVDs and CDs — although, as I feared when vinyl LPs disappeared from the market, there are innumerable recordings (Glenn Gould’s version of the Schoenberg Suite für Klavier, the last time I looked) that don’t exist on compact discs.”

Ah well, in that case… I imagine Terzian doesn’t realise that just because you know of obscure classical pieces doesn’t make you refined or impressive. It is also clearly not a piece that was popular enough to transfer to CD (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was available, somehow, as an MP3, not that the author would deign to stoop so low as to embrace this medium). As someone writing for a conservative paper, he must be familiar – if not a fan – with the idea that corporations, including music labels, need to think of their bottom line, and therefore are less likely to produce stuff they aren’t going to make any money on. Anyway, back to the “we’re not elitists, Obama’s people are” thing – I somehow doubt that Sarah Palin (TWS editor Kristol’s item of obsession) would have the faintest idea who Glenn Gould is, let alone what the title of the piece actually means. I’m not saying she has to, but you can’t tout anti-elitism on the one hand, while actually doing everything in your power to exemplify every cliché of the Elite on the other. The National Review can get away with it because a) it’s a better magazine, and b) they know what they’re doing and talking about.

The whole feel of the piece is irritating pretty much from the get-go. I have no idea who Terzian is, what his qualifications are to discuss technology or progress thereof (apparently, absolutely zero, which puts him a notch below my grandmother), but his style is clearly that of someone who really wishes he was an eccentric, endearing aristocrat. Sadly, he is not, and his style is clearly affected. Only one person can genuinely pull this off: Prince Philip. Maybe also Prince Charles.

Misappropriation of UK Tories

From Hadley Arkes’s “The Crisis Republicans Should Not Waste”, in this week’s Weekly Standard (p.27):

“The current conflict may have brought us to one of those rare crises that produces a recasting, or realignment, of the political parties. At a similar moment, Margaret Thatcher destroyed Britain’s Labour party as a socialist entity, forcing it to abandon its schemes, long cherished, for nationalizing major parts of the economy.”

Fine, but she still left the NHS in place – given that this article is meant to be extrapolating from the passage of Obamacare, it’s a bad example. But I’m not really surprised that someone writing for TWS would pick and choose, without reading all the way through (think 2nd Amendment, any argument based on anything in the bible).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

If Memory Serves… (eBooks vs. Physical Books)

This is just another thought about both physical books and eBooks & their respective benefits.

One benefit of actual books is that you’re less likely to forget you have a physical book that’s on your shelf, where you can see it, than something you can’t see on a device or computer. Perhaps, if you have a Mac or Windows 7 PC, which offer ‘sticky-notes’ for your desktop, you are more likely to forget about books you’ve bought in electronic format.

Personally, I use the ‘sticky-notes’ to keep track of eBooks I still have to read & review. It’s true that I would probably forget about them if I didn’t do this. Because I receive many physical books to review from publishers (both fiction and non-fiction), it’s easy to forget about the books I’ve bought for my Sony Reader.

For example, one of my favourite authors is John Sandford, who, for inexplicable reasons, isn't well promoted in the UK. For this reason, I always make a point of buying his latest novels as soon as possible, which frequently means in eBook format: I have his latest 2 Virgil Flowers novels (Heat Lightning & Rough Country), but only in ebook format. I meant to read and review them close to when they were released, but I keep forgetting I have them, as all I see when I look at my shelves are the physical books that I buy or am sent..

It's very much a case of out of sight, out of mind.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Someone needs to read more…

In an article by Michelle Goldberg, House Minority Leader John Boehner said, in response to the passage of the Healthcare bill,

“Today we stand here amidst the wreckage of what was once the respect and honor that this House was held in by our fellow citizens… We have failed to listen to America.”

Ok, regardless of which side you are on in this debate, this is clearly ridiculous. The House of Representatives has consistently received terrible approval ratings! Let’s just take this Healthcare debate, and a CBS poll shows that only 32% of respondents approved of Democrats’ handling of the issue. Before Republicans get all gleeful, the same poll showed a dismal 25% approving of the GOP (this might be because they failed to offer any proper, adult response).

As for general approval ratings, take a look at this graph:

CongressApprovalRating Source: Gallup

I don’t have the time (at the moment) to check out what caused the spikes in approval (2002’s 84% must have something to do with 9/11, beginning or Afghanistan campaign or something like that – anyone know?), but it’s pretty clear that Congress hasn’t exactly been vastly popular. This does beg the question: how to Congressmen/-women keep getting re-elected? Sure, there’s plenty of gerrymandering, but if approval of these people’s handling of their jobs is so low, why aren’t they kicked out?

To return to the Healthcare debate, let’s take a look at Gallup’s latest polling data on who supports the latest bill:

20100324-HealthcareBacking Source: Gallup

I imagine the slight tilting against for those who have Medicare coverage will have something to do with a belief that this new bill will reduce their Medicare allowances. Or they’re some of the few who want the government to keep their hands out of their… uh, government-provided medical care… (See below)

govtoutofmedicare_1 Source

And this t-shirt design says it all:

MEDICARE350x338 Source

It’s interesting that the bulk of the support seems to come from not only the poor, but also the rich – take a look at the +3 margin for those earning $90k+. That’s something I wouldn’t have expected. Although, one final comment from the Gallup article does not seem to add up with the slight leaning towards yes for the wealthier bracket:

“In a related finding, 73% of nonwhites (disproportionally Democratic in their party identification) say the bill's passage was a good thing, compared with 40% of whites (who lean Republican). The average income of nonwhites is also lower than that of whites, which likely contributes to their higher support for the healthcare vote.”

I’m still sure that, when the bill gets enacted, and people start to see the benefits, it will become another protected provision. After the naysayers start to get cheaper healthcare, or are able to get healthcare, then maybe things will settle down. Who really knows. I only know one person who’s actually read the bill (he’s Republican-leaning), yet he still sees it as some tyrannical provision that will spell the end of America. I shall have to go read it, and report back.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Reading beyond the (Washington) post…

Got a link to a post on one of Washington Post’s blogs, about Sarah Palin’s tale of being taken to Canada for healthcare as a child, which was interesting, illustrating another peculiar incident of selective recall from Sarah Palin (though it’s not clear in which instance the recall is incorrect). What was most interesting, however, was the string of comments that came attached to it. The level of debate was disappointing to say the least. Beyond the occasional “pithy” comment about Palin, the comment string descended oh-so quickly into a conservative-he-said, liberal-he-said bitch-fight. Some of the comments are moronic in the extreme – clichéd misunderstandings of what liberals think/want, idiotic and patronising misunderstandings of what conservatives think/want… This on supposedly one of the US’s best, more intelligent newspapers? Really? So very disappointing.

One particularly frequent offender goes by the internet handle “idesign”, who randomly posted the following comment:

“Sarah Palin lives rent free in the heads of deranged liberals...LOL”

Quite beyond understanding what this means, it’s the “LOL” that really made this stick out.

Not to be outdone, a “liberal”, also known as “sasquatchbigfoot”, had this to say:

“I think you need to get on your knees, open your mouth wide and grab the HughGNutts.”

Naturally, “idesign” responds,

“Another intelligent post from a deranged liberal. LOL”

Again with the “LOL”… It totally destroys any impact his correct observation of a lame comment might have (not that we required “idesign” to point it out to us). This was met with another unintelligent comment from “sasquathbigfoot”, which really doesn’t make any argument other than: People who comment on US politics articles online are, by and large, People With Too Much Time on Their Hands…

Disappointment all around, then. To both liberals and conservatives on the internet: you need to stop.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Another Charlie Brooker article worth reading…

This time about Apple’s latest “game changer”, the tablet PC-thingy, the iPad (something I realise I haven’t actually thought that much about, so I will here). The title of Brooker’s article cracked me up, but it is rather apt for many people, I imagine:

“iPad therefore iWant? Probably. Why? iDunno”

I’m a PC person. Have been all my life. This does not, however, look as if it’ll be the case for much longer. Increasingly, I’m getting frustrated with PCs. Also, it goes without saying that Apple products are really very, very attractive… Sure, not a reason to buy one, but their functionality is certainly unparalleled (living in a postgrad environment, I frequently feel like I’m at a Mac convention, what with all the MacBooks around, glowing Apple emblems adding mood lighting to every room in the university).

Want to download an attachment? On a Mac, it’s as close to instantaneous as the human mind can comprehend. On a PC? Double-click, yes I’m sure, ok have a quick scan, yes download it, ok to that folder, yes I would like to open it, etc…

Anyway, I digress. Back to the iPad. Brooker’s take on the device is pretty blunt:

“Apple pretends it will make your life more efficient. Come off it. It's an oblong box that lights up”

Fair enough. He goes on…

“At first glance it resembles an iPhone in unhandy, non-pocket-sized form. But look a little longer, and… Nope. You were right first time.”

iPadI would, however, still like one. The reasons for me are simple – I read a lot of PDFs: almost all magazines that I subscribe to are digital editions, and I need to read a bundle of articles for my PhD and also tutoring topics. Not having to print them out, and hopefully still be able to highlight and make notes (which you can with Adobe Professional, and I think Mac PDF programs) would be a boon. If I can attach to Wi-Fi and check emails as well, all the better.

Which leads me on to Brooker’s other assessment (emphasis is for best line):

“The iPad falls between two stools – not quite a laptop, not quite a smartphone. In other words, it's the spork of the electronic consumer goods world. Or rather it would be, were it not for one crucial factor: it looks ideal for idly browsing the web while watching telly. And I suspect that's what it'll largely be used for”

Without being able to have a play with one, though, I really don’t know if it will be a game-changer. The scuffle over eBooks that occurred when Apple announced that they were going to have their own eBooks store was also something I’m not on Apple’s side with. The glowing screen of the iPad is unlikely to rival the reading experience of an eReader or Kindle, because it’ll likely cause eye-strain for anyone who does. It’s a backlit computer screen, after all, and not e-ink.

But, who am I kidding? I just want one…

Charlie Brooker on eBooks

This is little more than a post to refer you to a good article by Charlie Brooker (someone I’ve only recently started to read), over at the Guardian. He’s discussing eBooks, and this line about the new Kindle’s ability to read the book out-loud for you, was pretty good:

“It can also read books aloud, which is great if, like me, you've spent years wondering how the great works of literature might sound if recited by a depressed robot.”

In general, he makes a lot of good points about the pros and cons of the Kindle and eBook technology as a whole. Well worth reading, you can find the article here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chapter 7 done, but…

I’ve just recently been putting the finishing touches to a first draft of the seventh chapter in my PhD (a preposterous 17,500 words). I think it does as much as can be done on the subject given the resources and time available to me, and considering I am in the UK – topic was “Special Interests, Congress & US Foreign Policy”.

While typing up over the last couple of days, I’ve come up with a study that I would really like to do, and one I think would be beneficial to anyone studying the effects of domestic actors on US foreign policy. The only problem is, it would be impossible to do.

The study would take the form of a rather simple questionnaire about what and who influences Congressmen, Senators, and other government employees. So, for example, a series of questions might look like this (only better written):

  1. Are you influenced by the media?
  2. If yes, how (tick all that apply)…
    • Up-To-Date News
    • Information
    • Policy Proposals
    • Issue Awareness
  3. How do special interests influence your decisions?
    • Agenda
    • Information
    • Issue Awareness
    • Electoral Concerns
    • Policy Proposals

The use of multiple-choice is to keep things simple and easy, which would make it more likely that they’d have the time to complete it. But, of course, without funds and access, no study like this could ever happen. The questionnaires would be anonymous, listing only the person’s job (Congressman, Senator, Chief of Staff, etc.). Then the results could be tallied, follow-up interviews conducted where possible/willing and a proper study of domestic sources of US foreign policy could be undertaken, and also be more-or-less accurate.

It’s not an idea that I’ve spent much time thinking about, but I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d type this up. The questionnaire would need a lot of work, and a lot more questions before it could possibly be useful. Follow-up interviews with a broad selection of respondents would also help add depth and explain some answers and/or patterns that might become discernible.

If only funding were available…